Michel Leter

Lecture 1




This course on the aporias of literary criticism is developped from my research which was presented to the French Language and Literature Department of University of Vincennes-Paris 8, first as result of my thesis defense in 1994, then in the framework of the departmental seminar in 1996.

The course will start with the preliminary question of definition : what is literary knowledge? If I argue today that literature is not the object of literary research, most will hold this premise as absurd. But my argument is that academics have yet to prove that literary criticism is a discipline that can be built on the knowledge of either literature as a whole or text in its singularity. Are literature or texts scientific objects (understandable hermeneutics) or only works in progress (involving hermeneutics only through heuristics) ?

In the seminar that I directed during the academic year 1990-1991 at the Collège International de Philosophie entitled Theory of Literary Heuristics, I try to exhume one of the branches of philosophy: heuristics. I am working towards using this concept as the new basis of a methodology of literary criticism whose interpretation (or more largely hermeneutics) would no longer be the aim but the means.
Facing the problem of literary metalanguage in the context of a study of autonymy in French poetry, I attempted to show that heuristics could constitute the pragmatic horizon of hermeneutics (in contrast to Gadamer who considers that application (Anwendung) is a part of the hermeneutic triad). This link is all the more necessary since american and european philosophers endeavored recently to marry hermeneutic and pragmatic by the only virtue of an a priori syncretism.

Heuristics which hitherto was hidden by hermeneutic monology in social sciences departments could become the new principle of literary criticism and give at last a pragmatic and teleological horizon to hermeneutics, a possibility that has been lost with the so-called critic of historicism.

Beyond the problems of textuality and "reader's horizon" (Jauss, Iser, Eco)what is at stake, beyond interpretation, is the reconnection of methods of literary criticism to poetic invention (heuristics as fuzzy logic of discovery) .

In the domains of inquiry and research, the key for literary criticism thus is no more the reader (because he doesn't leave clues) but in the author that could be considered as an reader who leaves traces (collected or not in books) that an other writer will read to write in his turn.

One cannot overcome this basic aporia of literary criticism without taking into account the double institution of literary research. Indeed literary research and research on literature are distinct. Or, in other words, there is a double institution of literary research.

Thus it doesn't make sense on the side of the critic to deconstruct the authorship and on the side of the author to denounce criticism. But it is true that nowadays the two institutions of literary research are not fairly balanced. When the researcher (writer) is at the same time professor (critic) he has to deal with the paradox that he will not earn his living from his artwork but undoubtedly from his anti-authorship literary theory (given the fact that economically hermeneutic value comes before heuristic value).

Nevertheless it is this double institution and not hermeneutic methodology (which one used to oppose to empirical and formal methodologies of hard sciences) which gives literary research a specific place, not only within the social sciences but compared to sciences of nature. In contrast to Dilthey, Gadamer and Rorty, we defend a heuristico-pragmatic distinction: the physicist makes physics, the critic does not make literature (except as canon).

After this main aporia which consists in the double institution of the author five other aporias dissuade us to accept without any further examination the interpretative methodology of literary criticism. The first aporia, which is a consequence of the fundamental aporia, consists in hermeneutic monology --with no consideration of the illegibility of the reader; the second consists in the suspension of judgement (influence of barthian anti-normative and foucaldian genealogical thought) which paradoxically leads literary criticism to neo-dogmatic; the third aporia lies in the university separation of the critical practice and the poetic practice; the fourth in the divorce of critic and esthetic; and the fifth, which is the sum, holds with the fact that literary criticism retains only the contingent of the texts and excludes their necessity.

The course will follow such an aporetic process : 1) agreed idea of literary criticism (it rests on interpretation) 2) examination and refutation 3) aporia (absence of exit = knowledge of our ignorance.of literary objects) 4) will to learn; new formulation of the question (what are literary heuristics ?) 5) search for new definition of literary criticism.

The thread of the course will be marked by the following questions : Why does literary criticism rests on the reader, the one person who has no voice? What is an author? What is a reader? To what extent can these two categories be linked together ? In other words, what becomes of an author when he reads and what becomes of a reader when he writes ?Is the text an object of knowledge? And if so what is a literary knowledge? Is literary knowledge given to us by interpretation? Does the University teach literature? Which would be the conditions so that literary research becomes a university discipline?



Detailed plan of the course





1. impregnable position of the professor (at the same time hermeneut and author) --two texts of topicality
on this question: Literary Theory Is Not All Bad (Chronicle of Higher Education, November 1995), Ecrivains à l'université (entretien Coquet-Janvier- Mouchard), Littérature n° 100, décembre 1995.

2. pragmatic definition of the literary disciplines (who do what for whom)

3. definitions of the aporias

4. Literature & philosophy
4.1. the odd new harmony of philosophy and poetry
4.2. why it is impossible to drive out the philosopher :influence of the genealogy and contemporary anti- humanism on literary criticism



1. Apodictic character of hermeneutic in the second institution
of literary research.

2. Hermeneutic necessary but insufficient
2.1. The treason from the laic
2.1.1. Patristics of the hermeneutic : the myth of the open work and exegesis : Umberto Eco and Northorp Frye
2. 1. 2. The constitution of a profane canon
2.2. The razor of Ockham
2.3. Autonomy of the social sciences without hermeneutic monology, a critic of Habermas: what is really the theory of Rickert and Windelband on the epistemology and the axiology of the social sciences ?
2.4. Contingency of hermeneutic taking into account the double institution of literary criticism and the necessity for text
2.5. Hermeneutic reduction of interdisciplinary approaches of literature
2.5.1 Hermeneutic reduction of Freud by Ricoeur
2.5.2. Hermeneutic reduction of Marx by Adorno

3. Outline of going beyond this aporia starting from internal contradictions within the hermeneutic monology
3.1. What a marxist critic could have been : remarks on the " strategy of containment " of interpretation (Frederic Jameson)
3.2. On the validity of interpretation: two contradictory currents resulting from Schleiermacher hermeneutic (Heidegger, Gadamer vs. David Hirsch). 3.3. Does application (Anwendung), third term of Gadamer's hermeneutics, concern hermeneutics ?
3.3.1. Anti-literary value of the hermeneutics of question (Gadamer, Jauss)
3.3.2. From hermeneutics to heuristics :
the Trente-six ballades joyeuses à la manière de François Villon by Théodore de Banville.


­ III ­ AXIOLOGICAL APORIAS (on the absence of a critical theory of value)

Preamble : Who is dogmatic? Barthes, Foucault and the genealogical reduction of the axiology to normative.

1. Ethical aporias
1.1. Illegibility of the reader
1.1.1. Why the reader is not a scientific category
1.1.2. The reader is readable for us only as author
1.1.3. The author-reader third-excluded from "reader-response" criticism, ambivalence of the concept of "reading-writing": Schleiermacher, Barthes, Hartman, Johnson 1.1.4. Uchrony as historicity suitable for literary ethics
1.1.5. Example of an ethical
practice of reading-writing: Morale élémentaire of Paul Fournel

1.2. The author or how to get rid of him
1.2.1 Stanley Fish and the concept of interpretive community
1.2.2. Harold Bloom and poetic
community dedicated to "misprison" and
1.2.3. Limits of interpretive community: semiotic role of the author in the constitution of interpreting.

1.3. Can this aporia be solve by critical authorship? 1.3.1.The question of the critical authorship : when the critic is the author.
1.3.2. Critic and invention in Michel Butor 1.3.3. Problems raised by Michel Butor's Improvisations sur Michel Butor of Michel Butor
1.3.4. Sample of literary heuristic : the conception of Michel Butor's
Génie du lieu 6.

2. Epistemic aporias (value of truth)
2.1. What is literary knowledge?
2.2. Can the text be an object of knowledge?
2.3. Which original donation: the
manuscript, the text or the book?
3. Aesthetic aporias
3.1. Aesthetica and heuristica: autonomy of esthetics with regard to the hermeneutic tradition
3.2. Criticism of the opposition between poetic and aesthetic
3.2.1. Herder and esthetics
3.2.2. The " modernity " of Baudelaire preceded by esthetics
3.2.3. Heuristic fictions: Schelling,Coleridge and Balzac
3.2.4. Poetry in the esthetics of Hermann Cohen - 3.3. Criticism of the reduction of esthetics to ideology