The Use and Abuse of Literature

Marjorie Garber, Pantheon, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-375-42434-2
Harvard English professor Garber (Patronizing the Arts) leads an expedition through the archives of literature, rejecting expansion of the term's meaning to include all printed material or just about anything professional or research-based written in words. She sets out to reclaim the word, asserting that "the very uselessness of literature is its most profound and valuable attribute." Employing the history of literature to demonstrate the difficult work the act of reading entails, she draws on examples from authors as diverse as 15th-century Leon Alberti ("No art, however minor, demands less than total dedication") and Virginia Woolf on the difference between reading fiction and poetry; she even works in a reference to Oprah's book club. Garber describes approaches to literary scholarship such as the close reading of the New Criticism and deconstruction to justify her claim that how a text is studied and analyzed will determine if it is literature. She succeeds brilliantly at demonstrating that true literary reading is the demanding task of asking questions, not of finding rules or answers. Though the book is peppered with specialist terms like catachresis, Garber's erudition serves to educate general readers willing to embark on a moderately difficult trek with an authoritative guide. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/2011
Release date: 03/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-307-27712-1
Open Ebook - 233 pages - 978-0-307-37962-7
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