Meritocracy and its Discontents   /   Summer 2016   /    Book Reviews

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

B.D. McClay

Achilles Searching for the Shade of Patrocles, 1803, byHenry Fuseli (1741–1825); Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland/Bridgeman Images.

Literary studies,” writes Rita Felski in her new book, The Limits of Critique, “is currently facing a legitimation crisis, thanks to a sadly depleted language of value that leaves us struggling to find reasons why students should care about Beowulf or Baudelaire. Why is literature worth bothering with?”

This question, she suggests, is either sidestepped by readers who stress suspicion as the default way in which to read, or else answered circularly: “As critical thinkers, we value literature because it engages in critique.” Suspicious readers view themselves as the most ruthless and scrupulous of readers; they transcend naive enthusiasm, see through everything, and are able, through persistent effort, to uncover the sin that each work of literature wishes to disguise.

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