These notes are part of a series and I'd welcome response.
“As for the threat that science might post to the liberty and singularity of the literary experience, it suffices, to do justice to the matter, to observe that the ability, produced by science, to explain and understand that experience—and thus to give oneself to the possibility of a genuine freedom from one’s determinations—is offered to all those who want to and can appropriate it.” (Preface xvii)
I greatly appreciate the idea that explaining and understanding the literary experience can offer a “genuine freedom” from one’s determinations, and that this possibility should be offered to all those “who want to and can appropriate it.” But a distinction is being made here between the literary experience (all the things that go into the making of a work of literature) and the work of literature itself. And scientific analysis is certainly well-suited tell us a lot about the “literary experience.” But of course isn’t one of the promises of literature itself that it can explain and understand experience, and in so doing give us the possibility of a genuine freedom from our determinations? If it weren’t for the slippage between “literary experience” and the idea of the work of literature, there would be a real danger here of implying that the work of literature does not offer the possibility of genuine freedom from one’s determinations, that it is the job of the scientist to do so.
Literature, because it often shows rather than tells (some of it), has often been treated as needing to be explained by someone else. Yet it’s not at all clear that a scientist is better able to free us of the determinations of the world than a work of literature simply because the work of literature shows those determinations at work. And if the scientist is more capable of direct explanation, that would simply be because direct explanation is not usually the way literature goes about exploring the world. It embodies, rather than explaining from outside. And is literature or science more capable of dealing with those moments when explanation breaks down? Isn’t literature more capable than science of dealing with those things about the world that maybe cannot be explained, if there are any such things?
Brooklyn Rail features ‘Nasty Woman’ poem - Thanks to Anselm Berrigan for publishing in the Rail!
3 days ago