Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Quote of the Day: Colin MacCabe on the "Text"

In the process of trying to overcome my instinctive dislike for the electronic delivery mechanisms favored by our university "library," I'm putting together a virtual reader for my graduate course that will consist entirely of articles that can be accessed from home. If the University of Arizona won't subscribe to the print version of a publication, I might as well get their money's worth from Project Muse.

At any rate, in the process of poring over journals I discovered this quote in a piece called "A Defense of Criticism" by Colin MacCabe, one of my favorite 1970s Screen-era cultural theorists. It's good piece, one that serves equally well to remind people like myself why we're doing what we're doing and to introduce students and others into the practice of theorizing interpretation.

In the passage I'm choosing to showcase here, MacCabe says something that many, many people have said -- not least in meetings to discuss the domain of English departments -- but he says it particularly clearly and compactly:
If there is one short and sweet word from the sixties that seems to me to have produced genuinely new possibilities of reading and criticism, that word is text. It has the advantage of being an old word and of taking us back to philology, but its use in the last four decades makes clear the implicit premise of philology: Works have no obvious limits or boundaries. There is an interconnectedness of meanings, which means that every text leads us into the genuine infinity of language. As importantly, it is a word that gives no ontological priority to the printed book—it can apply to a fragment of conversation, a scrap of papyrus, a poem, a novel, radio play, a film, or a television documentary. All these now seem proper matter for criticism (boundary 2 28:3, 2001).
I think I'll have my English 380 "Literary Analysis" course read this before I start throwing films and comic books at them.

It's always encouraging -- particularly after some of the black-hole density of language I witnessed at the MLA (see my commentary on the Paul De Man panel) -- to be reminded that someone known as a "theorist" can communicate effectively with people who do not think of themselves as capable of "doing" theory.
Tags: commonplace book, theory

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