Livia Woods Responds to Alicia Christoff

Like Alicia Christoff, I appreciate Elisha Cohn’s “refraining momentarily from the rigors of constructing a massive critical apparatus and the momentum of argument-making to immerse us in literary texts and their representations of attenuated consciousness.” And I am engaged by Christoff’s interest in the effects of the demands of the first book (and of early-career scholarship in general). I wonder, though, about the degree to which Cohn’s “thorough [critical] engagement [and] painstaking distinctions” can be separated from Still Life’s investment in pauses narrative and critical and associated more neatly with instrumental pressures. I do think these encyclopedic critical moves resonate with practical career concerns, but I also find the dreamlike pleasures of the book as much in its immersive critical engagement as in its readings of lyrical narrative moments.

Perhaps there is limited “reward” to be isolated from the soup of Bildung theories in which Cohn suspends her reader (how exactly, could we use these moments in our own work?) but such non-instrumentality seems to me to be at least potentially part-and-parcel of the work she describes, rather than necessarily opposed to or undermining of it.

In any event, I find the tension between the professional functionality of critical comprehensiveness in a first book and a sense that such comprehensiveness doesn’t quite function in Still Life an interesting way into thinking about what we are meant to do with the instruments of scholarship.

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