This essay considers the “descriptive turn” in literary studies from the vantage point of poetics, arguing that the history of Western poetry, from the Greeks to the present, offers through the category of epideixis a theory and practice of description that illuminates some of the methodological impasses of contemporary literary studies. Epideixis, a basic mode of pointing or linguistic ostension, confers value, often by way of praise or blame, without trying to persuade its audience with the practical immediacy of political or forensic rhetoric. Drawing on the ordinary language philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell, the essay suggests that praise constitutes a philosophically rigorous alternative to critique. This argument is exemplified via the work of Mark Doty, a contemporary poet of description-as-praise.

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