Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Use and Abuse of Literature by Marjorie Garber

I haven't exactly been riding this blog and putting it away wet lately - in fact, I only just realized I hadn't posted this review of Marjorie Garber's The Use and Abuse of Literature, which ran in the Toronto Star last weekend.

Here's a taste:

The jacket copy for Garber’s book positions it as something polemical, even reactionary, in the vein of E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy (1987) and Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education (1991), but if anything, it is a witty and fleet-footed argument against literary polemics. In fact, for the first few chapters, it’s a little tough to work out what ultimate point Garber is trying to make. There are seeming digressions into scholarly disputes of the past, the use of literary allusions, the rise of graphic novels, the idea of a literary canon and even a brief look at some of the other books that use the phrase “the use and abuse of …” in their titles.

Eventually, however, it becomes clear that this digressive method is the message: Literature is not something about which one should write manifestoes, but something that needs to be seen as uniquely welcoming to contradiction and a diversity of thought. It also becomes clear that Garber sees both the “use” and the “abuse” of literature as two sides of the same coin — the inevitable distortions of meaning merely create new meanings.

And here's the whole thing.