Dustin Friedman responds to Ellis Hanson

What does it mean to find pleasure in a literary text? What role should readerly pleasure play in the writing of criticism? In the “Preface” to Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), Walter Pater famously states that the “original facts” the aesthetic critic must work with are the answers to the questions, “What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me? What effect does it really produce on me? Does it give me pleasure? and if so, what sort or degree of pleasure?” For Hanson, there is a clear response to these questions: to write well about eroticism in literature, one must participate in it, allowing oneself to be passively “ravished” by the pleasures of the text. The logical rigor Wright brings to his analysis of the Victorian novel is, Hanson suggests, excessively chaste, and therefore mismatched to its object of study. Yet, as Wright persuasively argues, bad logic is the means by which desire becomes social and communicable. Bad Logic ultimately privileges ethics over aesthetics in its emphasis on bad logic’s ability to render desire an object of moral deliberation. Hanson’s model of criticism makes the reader of criticism a voyeur into the closed-circuit bond between the critic and his object of desire. Wright dials down the passion, but does so in order to let us, his readers, in on the merriment. Is it not a truism that logistics become more complicated as the number of participants increases?

%d bloggers like this: