by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
R.V. Young writes for the Martin Center about a recent examination of literary scholarship.
A recent book by Thomas L. Martin and Duke Pesta, The Renaissance and the Postmodern: A Study in Comparative Critical Values represents something of a critical cat among the contemporary theoretical pigeons. Martin and Pesta, associate professors of English at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, respectively, set out to judge the results of applying current literary theories to Renaissance works by measuring them against the critical, philosophical, and religious principles of the Renaissance authors themselves.
One indicator of the importance of their undertaking is the baleful influence of the unholy French trinity of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan in departments of English and foreign languages over the past 50 years. These men have dazzled the eyes of American literary scholars, although their influence in their own fields has been problematic and ephemeral.
The general effect of their ideas on literary study has been to question the distinction between imaginative literature and other forms of written discourse, to undermine our sense that written documents of any kind convey a clear, stable meaning, and, finally, to maintain, in conjunction with Marxism, that all texts are the products of the material forces of history rather than the conscious intentions of authors. By demonstrating that the literary ideas of Renaissance authors themselves provide far more convincing accounts of their works than interpretations based on postmodern theory, Martin and Pesta provide important insights into the sources of the cultural decadence with which we grapple today.