Top ten lists, literary criticism, and the pleasures of pointlessness

Over at Wordmunger, Dave has a smart posting from a few days back in favor of charting a middle course on the subject of literary criticism: good criticism (which I take to mean interpretations of literature informed by theory) and theory (which I take to mean treaties on how to read literature that may or may not include examples) can do much to illuminate our readings of the books and poems we love. Putting things through a theory machine (theorist + text = brilliant reading) doesn’t exactly inspire.

But I am guessing, from what I see on the web, that blogging itself is an outgrowth of the frustration with theory’s inability to connect to the experience of reading. In spite of Chekhov’s Mistress’ musings over the impact of Top Ten lists (such as the one at the Guardian), the real message I hear--and not just in this one post--is of excitement about this new opportunity to write about reading, even if it seems sometimes like all we're doing is writing about other blogs. (He manages to strike an admirably detached tone over the feeling of being left off, moreso of surprise at who else is left off, and about the impact of mainstream journalism suddenly seeming to want to notice.)

I’m not all that interested, in the end, in reading more about theory’s failures. I have found many things of value in the theory I’ve read. What gets me excited, though, is the idea that somewhere on the web, I can be reminded, every day, of Samuel Pepys and that, in thinking of his diary or Addison’s Spectator, I can think of the ways in which what we’re doing is and isn’t like that; that I can hear a great story about the best spy novels ever on NPR (but miss the list) and then be reminded of it again, thanks to The Elegant Variation; that Jenny Davidson over at Light Reading, is combing Michael Chabon’s gigantic website to find that he’s writing an introduction to the D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths and that, finding it, I am inspired again.

I think, I hope, in my happiest moments, that we are inventing a new way to talk about literature right here.