The aim of this blog is to serve as a meeting point to those who study or have studied English philology and, more broadly, to all those who love literature and language.

21 Jun 2010


Yesterday I attended a book club session on The Art of Fiction, by David Lodge. Apart from commenting on several novel excerpts and literary devices, we discussed the convenience, usefulness or even influence of previous study on the act of reading. To what extent does acquaintance with literary criticism and text analysis help us enjoy a book?

Probably understanding and therefore appreciating some kinds of works requires prior or subsequent access to guides and essays but most readings can be better 'digested' if we allow ourselves discovery and personal interpretation without feeling prejudiced in some way by brainy pieces of literary criticism.

Related to this issue, I found amusing a short essay by Juan Marsé in which he mocks the triviality of some studies by imagining titles of theses.

“ Por un breve instante, horribles fantasmas de posibles tesinas pasadas y futuras desfilan por mi mente con extravagantes títulos: El significado de los toros y de la humilde patata en la poesía de Miguel Hernández - Estructura, calor y sabor de las magdalenas en la obra de Proust - El Pijoaparte hijo natural semiótico de Henry James, con permiso de Félix de Azúa - Los silencios de Moby Dick y su relación metalingüística con la pata de palo de John Silver y con el mezcal y los barrancos de la prosa de Malcolm Lowry - Madame Flaubert soy yo, dijo Federico García Lorca”.


  1. Reading literary criticism, I think, is not the best way to enjoy literature. Actually, the relationship between literature and literary criticism works the other way round. Literary criticism is not there to allow you to enjoy literature, but to understand it better. If that deeper understanding leads to enjoyment, so much the better, but it need not. Understanding will lead us to a deeper enjoyment of some works (arguably the greatest), but will dissipate the charm of others. Indeed, understanding may lead to distance, skepticism and disillusion, as does the philosophical or scientific understanding of any other aspect of life. Someone said the relationship between literature and criticism was exactly the contrary. One does not read literary criticism in order to enjoy literature: rather, one reads literature in order to be able to read, understand and enjoy literary criticism– which is, as Oscar Wilde said, a higher intellectual pleasure, fit for the gods—though perhaps it is not much of a pleasure for humans who try to enjoy stories, songs, and the illusions of art.

  2. Thank you for your enlightening comment, José Ángel. When studying English Philology I found literary criticism – especially some poststructuralist approaches – really hard to understand both regarding postulates and purpose. Reading some analyses from the point of view of deconstruction, for instance, – or trying to do something similar with a text – made me think of two distancing worlds.

    Another question that arose the other day in the discussion was to what extent writing or editing texts for professional reasons, i.e. activities that involve continuous language analysis, affect the way of reading.