Anna E. Clark responds to Tara K Menon

I was interested to see that both Menon and I honed in on Farina’s antagonists. Of course, it’s not unusual to selectively shape one’s foils. Doing so can succinctly define the terms of an argument and clarify its stakes. But I wonder if such moves stand out rather pointedly in Everyday Words because so much of the character of prose Farina elucidates seems born from how language pulls out subtle differences and comparisons, and because his own teasing out of this meaning is, in his close readings, so careful and nuanced. In his preface Farina asserts that “everyday words” helped Victorian literary critics “characterize their work as genuine knowledge production in a world that seemed obsessed with facts and useful knowledge,” and that their study might do something similar for those of us at institutions “all too bent on positivist, pragmatic, or commodifiable knowledges” (xix). This is an intriguing and, for me, deeply appealing claim, and it highlights what might be at stake in the common critical tendency to frame one’s own arguments against an attenuated version of someone else’s. Doing so can feel inevitable, but it also risks reducing others’ work to its critical use value, extracting the meaning that will best fuel our own claims and discarding the rest. We’re in a moment of heighted critical self-consciousness – a good time, then, to inquire into the kinds of knowledge production we want our structures and conventions of argument to engender.

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