A prominent strand of literary criticism today assumes that literature as literature is not significant enough to merit critical scrutiny. Instead of attending to the features that distinguish literature from everyday expression, this criticism values literature for its closeness to and reflection of life. Different as they might appear in their subject matter and approach, Character, The Disposition of Nature, and None Like Us share this "literature-as-life" orientation. In Character, Toril Moi, Rita Felski, and Amanda Anderson remind us of the pleasures of identification, embracing the layperson's native inclination to consider "characters as objects of identification, sources of emotional response, or agents of moral vision and behavior" (4). Blending life writing with cultural criticism, Stephen Best uses his own narrative to attempt to rewrite the "'traumatic model of black history' in which the present is merely an endless, Oedipal repetition of slavery and Jim Crow" (6). Instead of the presence of an identity founded on this never-ending circuit of remembrance and despair, Best wants to dwell in impossibility, contradiction, paradox, and in-betweenness. Jennifer Wenzel's study, The Disposition of Nature, blends paraphrases of literary representations of real-world environmental problems with references to political and cultural theories and to historical and journalistic accounts. In Wenzel's case studies on such things as the story of oil extraction in the Niger Delta, the lifelikeness of literature engenders a meditative kind of outrage and skepticism. Given the fact that literary critics are no more expert in life than are their readers, the literature-as-life orientation shared by these authors leads to a kind of critical self-destruction.


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pp. 216-224
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