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Geoffrey H. Hartman--Literary Commentary as Literature

        Hartman asks what the "proper" relationship is between "critical" and "creative" activities, and "primary" and "secondary" texts. He then goes on to observe that a "fusion of creation with criticism is occuring in the writings of contemporary critics. We are now in the presence of something that, if not entirely new, is now methodically pursued, and without the backing of any specifically literary authority." Criticism has stopped being "dependent" on literature, because it has stopped being specifically about literature. The next question Hartman asks is "what to make of the 'brilliance' of this phenomenon, which liberates the critical activity from its positive or reviewing function, from its subordination to the thing commented on."
        Hartman goes on to a discussion of the pre-Marxist Lukacs. "Lukacs does not accept subordination as a defining characteristic of the essay." For Lukacs, everything in "the essayistic mode" is ironic. "That the critic should talk about ultimate issues only in the guise of reviewing pictures or books is considered a deep irony." Much of contemporary criticism is actually a consideration of some idea, and the artifact ostensibly being discussed is discussed in terms of its relationship to the idea being considered. This criticism is self-referential, it "can insist quietly and proudly on its fragmentary character against the minor perfections of scientific precision." This seems to be the essential position of poststructuralism: the creative/critical project of poststructuralists insists on its fragmentary character against the minor perfections of the structuralist models of Levi-Strauss, Frye, etc.
        The criticism Hartman discusses "tends to proceed . . . by shifts of perspective that expose the non-homogeneity of the fact at hand, the arbitrariness of the knots that bind the work into a semblance of unity." This kind of criticism determinedly rips the veils of illusion away from us, showing us the mystifications and strategies by which we achieve "any kind of unitary, consensual view of the artifact." This kind of criticism is "critical: we are allowed to survive but not to substantialize our illusions."
        It is the ability of criticism to put things in context, "its strength of recontextualization," which makes it important that we do not consider criticism a "supplement to something else." Hartman repeats the by-now well-worn attack on "totalization" in any metaphysic: "There is no absolute knowledge but rather a textual infinite, an interminable web of texts or interpretations." From here, Hartman launches into a discussion of the infamous Glas "by" "Derrida." "Derrida exerts a remarkable pressure on privileged theoretical constructs, in paarticular those of origin, self, author, and book," says Hartman. I suspect however, that despite Derrida's "remarkable" pressuring of "privileged" notions of author and book that he made quite certain that he would be paid all royalties and fees due him as the author/nonauthor of Glas.
        The primary problem today with criticism is not with critics of literature but with critics of other critics, "those that bark at their own kind." Criticism--turning now more and more into that "rough beast" called theory, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born as a new kind of literature.