Context Stinks

Author:Felski, Rita, Department of EnglishUniversity of Virginia

My title is a none-too-subtle provocation, though not, I should point out, a self-authored one. What word could be more ubiquitous in literary and cultural studies: more ear- nestly invoked, more diligently defended, more devoutly kowtowed to? The once commonplace but now risible notion of “the work itself” has been endlessly dissected, dismembered, and dispatched into New Critical oblivion. Context is not optional. There are, to be sure, end- less disputes between various sub elds and splinter groups about what counts as a legitimate context: Marxist critics take umbrage at New Historicist anecdotes and styles of social description; queer theorists take issue with feminist explanations that assume a bipolar gender world. Context is, in this sense, an endlessly contested concept, subject to often rancorous rehashing and occasional bursts of sectarian sniper re. But who, in their right mind—apart from a few die-hard aesthetes mumbling into their sherry glasses—could feasibly take issue with the idea of context as such?

- abstract taken from 1st paragraph

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Source Citation:

Felski, Rita. "Context Stinks." New Literary History (2011).

University of Virginia
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