… Many ages of criticism, and none more than the present, are avid for a general theory of literature. It is hard to see why. A theory that explained the totality of literature, or even some vast area within it such as tragedy, would plainly diminish its interest. A general theory is reductive: convenient as it may be, it contracts the object to be studied in its subtle complexity. Much recent critical theory, from Northrop Frye to the Nouvelle Critique, has failed to take account of this. It is not just that these grandiose theories have failed to work, at least in the absolute sense once hoped for them. It is rather that one may be glad they did fail. It is good to know that the literature of Western man is not reducible to these fribbles.
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