A.S. Byatt’s Possession offers a good reason why I don’t really enjoy literary scholarship as it is practiced, or as it was practiced when I was in grad school in the ’90s: There is a sense of "possesion," of being overtaken by your subject, as seems to have happened to the scholars Blackaddder and Cropper. They are obssessed with Randolph Ash (a fictional poet, as far as I know) down to the minutest details–and what for? Of what value is this sort of scholarship? Possession also reveals problems with lit theory. 

When Roland and Maud are reading Christabel LaMotte’s personal letters, Maud is shown reading a critical study of LaMotte’s work filled with the falseness of literary theory:

The theme was of particular interest to a woman writer, as it might be said to reflect a cultural conflict between two types of civilisation, the Indo-European patriarchy of Gradlond and the more primitive, instinctive, earthy paganism of his sorceress daughter Dahud . . . . "

Fictive scholarship about a fictive poet. It’s a bit of fictive genius for Byatt to have imagined this, but this passage just drains the poet of her imagination, killing her with theory–a theory that it’s likely a victorian poet wouldn’t have. The critic is imposing her views on the poet’s mind, invading it with jargon.


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