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Texts and readers in the Age of Marvell$
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Christopher D'Addario and Matthew Augustine

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781526113894

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9781526113894.001.0001

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Impractical criticism: close reading and the contingencies of history

Impractical criticism: close reading and the contingencies of history

(p.17) 1 Impractical criticism: close reading and the contingencies of history
Texts and readers in the Age of Marvell

Michael Schoenfeldt

Manchester University Press

Over the last seventy years, the discipline of English literature has been marked by an unnecessary and largely counterproductive tension between aesthetics and history. For many politically oriented critics, aesthetics was either uninteresting or implicated in the elite practices they deliberately opposed. And for those who focused on aesthetics, history frequently seemed like a distraction from what made the work of art a special kind of utterance, separate from other modes of language. This chapter revisits some of the signal literary engagements in the latter half of the long twentieth century, in order to consider what has been accomplished, what we have left out, and where we may be going next. With reference to writers from Donne and Herbert to John Milton, the chapter suggests, finally, that our analyses have too frequently ignored the decidedly impractical pleasure that emerges from literary activity, and argues that by bringing our own pleasure out of the closet, we can begin to restore to literary criticism some of the visceral thrill that drew us to it in the first place.

Keywords:   Aesthetics, History, Work of art, Literary pleasure, George Herbert

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