Literary studies and the sciences

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


We may begin to grasp the importance of exploring the relations between literary studies and the sciences by reflecting on some of the implications of a recent scholarly publication in literary theory. The example that I have in mind is an article by Ruth Salvaggio, entitled "Shakespeare in the Wilderness; or Deconstruction ithe Classroom," which was included in an anthology called Demarcating the Disciplines. In her article Salvaggio reproduces and comments on a paper written by Andrew Scott Jennings, a second-year student in an American university who was enrolled in her survey course on British literature. The paper, she convincingly argues, ably embodies five major features of deconstructive criticism. Although she admits to having taught deconstruction ithe course, she claims that she did not encourage the members of the class to write deconstructive papers, and thus was quite surprised when she received a student essay that boldly reduced Shakespeare's sonnet 104 to the formula: "i + i + i = + 0," concluding that interpreting the poem is a "silly game." Salvaggio comments: "Iwasn't quite prepared. But I am now moving toward acceptance, maybe even welcome. And I am changing many of my assumptions" (102). In his introduction to the volume, Samuel Weber would seem to approve of Salvaggio's willingness to let the sophomore's essay demolish her previous assumptions about the goals and meaning of literary criticism. According to Weber, his volume "assembles protocols of an alteration at work in what is perhaps the beginning of an institution turning itself inside out" (xii). It would seem that Salvaggio's account of what Weber refers to as "the confrontationf a college teacher of literature with a strange and remarkable undergraduate paper" deserves to be printed along with one of Derrida's readings of Hegel because both texts contribute to the deconstructive enterprise by exploring the relations between the reading and writing of texts and the operations of the institution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-31
Number of pages17
JournalModern Language Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1990
Externally publishedYes


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