Flesh on the critical bones
Like an intellectual version of a now mortgaged and married college football player I decided wanted to re-introduce myself to literary theory and criticism. Even phrasing it like that, 're-introduce', creates more dissassociation from the practice than I'm comfortable with, but truthfulness to oneself matters: I've been an avid reader, not a critic.
This is one of the reasons I read Eagleton's After Theory (the main reason was it simply interested me). The introduction to The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism is the re-introduction I really wanted. Why did my lecturers never give me this context? If they had sat on my knee, looked me in the eye and said 'read this photocopy here, it's got a little bit about classical and neoclassical criticism, renaissance and romantic theory, Marxism and psychoanalysis and where you should give a damn about this anachronistic twaddle about class struggle and dreams. And there's something about formalism too, which is what you've been doing since IGCSE despite no one telling you as much, and then there's structuralism and post-structuralism, neither as tedious as they sound and neither as daft as deconstruction. And then there's the random bits and pieces, you know, the women and the gays and the foreigners. And then, to bring us up-to-date, there's cultural studies and new historicism, which are probably the best bits right now.' That would have been helpful.
I went on to read Chinua Achebe on the racism in The Heart of Darkness. He thinks the undisputable racism knocks if off the top rung: he thinks anything so unaware and callous about the suffering of Africans is beyond the pale. I'm close to agreeing that it is debased by Conrad's racism urges, but I have a lot of sympathy with the new historical approach: we're post 60s civil rights and third or fourth wave feminist. It's not a case of forgiving Conrad, it's a case that maybe we don't have a right to forgive him. Hella racist though, not doubt about that.