An Open Letter to Steven Pinker: The Importance of Stories and the Nature of Literary Criticism

21 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2015

Date Written: March 13, 2015

Abstract

People in oral cultures tell stories as a source of mutual knowledge in the game theory sense (think: “The Emperor Has No Clothes”) on matters they cannot talk about either because they resist explicit expository formulation or because they are embarrassing and anxiety provoking. The communal story is thus a source of shared value and mutual affirmation. And the academic profession of literary criticism came to see itself as a repository of that shared value. Accordingly, in the middle of the 20th century it turned toward interpretation as its central activity. But critics could not agree on interpretations and that precipitated a crisis that led to Theory. The crisis has quited down, but is not resolved.

Keywords: stories, narrative, literary criticism, method, literature, mutual knowledge, cognitivism

Suggested Citation

Benzon, William L., An Open Letter to Steven Pinker: The Importance of Stories and the Nature of Literary Criticism (March 13, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2577936 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2577936

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