Is there such a thing as a specifically literary discourse, distinguishable from other modes of thought and writing? Is there any way to defend the intuition that a work of literature says something that can’t be said in any other way? Drawing on recent work in the philosophies of language and action, Steven Knapp presents a challenging new definition of “the literary” in a forceful analysis that will radically change the sometimes heated debate about formalism.
Formalist theorists have maintained that the uniqueness of the literary lies in the special nature of literary language. Their critics argue that to draw sharp distinctions between literary and nonliterary language is to privilege one kind of text and to insulate cultural activity from social conflict and political change. In the course of a rigorous engagement with such literary theorists, old and new, Knapp develops a provocative defense of the notion of a uniquely literary mode of discourse—a defense that challenges proponents as well as critics of formalism. He extends and deepens current debates about the literary canon, the purpose of literary study, and the aims and implications of the recent critical return to history. His bold and surprising argument has significance for the ethical and political role of literary studies that no one interested in literary theory or the philosophy of art will be able to ignore. Literary Interest will engage theorists, literary critics in all fields, and philosophers addressing issues of aesthetics and language.