From today’s New York Times: In Defense of Naïve Reading  Have critical theory and the use of the sciences in the study of literature gone too far?

The main aim was research: the creating and accumulation and transmission of knowledge. And the main model was the natural science model of collaborative research: define problems, break them down into manageable parts, create sub-disciplines and sub-sub-disciplines for the study of these, train students for such research specialties and share everything. With that model, what literature and all the arts needed was something like a general “science of meaning” that could eventually fit that sort of aspiration. Texts or art works could be analyzed as exemplifying and so helping establish such a science. Results could be published in scholarly journals, disputed by others, consensus would eventually emerge and so on. And if it proved impossible to establish anything like a pure science of exclusively literary or artistic or musical meaning, then collaboration with psychoanalysis or anthropology or linguistics would be welcomed.

This is not all that literary study should be: we certainly need a theory about how artistic works mean anything at all, why or in what sense, reading a novel, say, is different than reading a detailed case history. But there is also no reason to dismiss the “naïve” approach as mere amateurish “belle lettrism.” Naïve reading can be very hard; it can be done well or poorly; people can get better at it. And it doesn’t have to be “formalist” or purely textual criticism. Knowing as much as possible about the social world it was written for, about the author’s other works, his or her contemporaries, and so forth, can be very helpful.

I don’t have much criticism or any huge questions about this. But, I came across this article and definitely drew formalist and structuralist concepts from the opinion piece. I think what we’re seeing here is a lot of what we are learning in class. The social world the works are created for are relevant, along with other works the creator has produced along with social context. I think also, what we see here is that we have these scientific ways to analyze things that are simply not done scientifically and there is a disconnect there.

The question, then, is how do we properly critique/compare two competing devices? Let’s say we want to critique and compare the Google Maps with Yahoo Maps. There is absolutely a level of creativity that went into designing both of these systems (color, zooming interface, scalability of API, integration with other products in brand). How do we account for that in a critique? Do we need to narrow everything down to a binary?