Tara K Menon response to Anna E. Clark

Borrowing Elisha Cohn’s term, Anna E. Clark sees Farina’s Everyday Words as part of the recent “anti-subjective turn” in character criticism. Even while she is convinced by Farina’s argument about the need to recover the “surficial model of character,” she takes issue with the way he uses interiority as the foil for his argument. To do so, she argues, is “oddly anachronistic.” In highlighting this, Clark raises several provocative questions about this increasingly prevalent mode of writing about “character” that consciously turns away from subjectivity and interiority. Clark focuses on how Farina doesn’t sufficiently engage with work by the likes of David Kurnick and Deirdre Lynch that has already decentered interiority, but the sharp questions she poses also imply a need for work like Farina’s to closely engage with the recent character criticism that convincingly recenters subjectivity. In the preface, Farina acknowledges but quickly sets this work aside by noting that Alex Woloch, Susan Manning, and even Lynch “remain attached in different ways to an equation of character and personhood, psychologically realistic personages, and the moral values associated with them” (xiii) while he is interested in a different sort of character altogether. Like Clark, I am convinced by Farina’s argument about the need to pay attention to other modes of character (superficial, surficial, non-human, etc.) but I am also persuaded by Clark’s insistence on the need for answers to her questions. As she intimates, recent work on character which turns away from subjectivity would do well to interrogate why even new criticism “remains attached” to the equation of character and personhood. By addressing this question, rather than skipping past it, anti-subjective character criticism could strengthen its claims about the importance of deemphasizing interiority.

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