The Anatomy of Criticism
I find it extremely difficult to write about literary passages. This of course poses a problem since this is my job. But there is something about hermeneutics – interpretation, analysis, whatever – that does not lend itself well to the page. It is so much easier to explore a passage in class with students than it is to fix one’s reading on the page. I am always changing my mind about what a passage means or what the overall argument should be or even what individual details to focus on. It’s this latter problem that I think is the most difficult. Even in the shortest of passages, what one can say is almost limitless, and this runs counter to the economy of “argument.”
I thought I would try to illustrate this difficulty in a variety of fragments that all try to address – make “sense” of – one of my favorite passages in the Travels: the anatomy scene. This is such an important scene to the novel and it is so rich, it was excruciating to try to unpack it and to pack it up – to get at all of the details (and hopefully get them right) and to limit them to a usable number.
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