Key Theories of Geoffrey Hartman

Hartman advocates the use of incomplete references, and seeks a critical language that is highly figurative and critical at the same time. His is a rich in eccentric style of writing that is self-conscious and constantly calls attention to the manner of his own writing. Thus erudition, vast scholarly references and cliches are present together in Hartman’s work, thus suggesting that his own writing is an intertextual construct. Hartman is completely textual in his orientation (as indicated in the title of one of his several books “Saving the Text“), preferring to laboriously explicate the literary work rather than connect the work to politics or institutions. Hartman and others represent the American turn to deconstruction as a purely textual exercise.

(1) Hartman argues that there are two extreme tendencies in modern criticism. The scholar-critic relies excessively on elucidation of texts. The philosopher-critic uses the text as a step in attaining absolute thinking. One has to bring these two strands together. According to Hartman, this is what deconstruction achieves.

(2) Hartman regards criticism as inside literature, best argued in his essay “Crossing Over: Literary Commentary as Literature.” He argues that critical reading should not seek meaning but should reveal the contradictions and equivocations in a text. Since criticism is inside literature, it must also be as unreadable as literature, i.e. the language of criticism must be as figurative, allusive and elusive as the poem it seeks to interpret.

(3) Hartman rejects the “death of the subject” and the idea of unlimited freeplay. For Hartman the Derridean notion of the completely undecidable is unacceptable.

(4) proceeding from (3) above, interpretation is a “consciousness of the self’ for Hartman. This consciousness must be raised to critical heights and interrogate the turning of the mind upon itself. This self-reflective and self-conscious style has been Hartman’s hallmark, most visible in his great book on Wordsworth.

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