ENL 6934 Literature of Knowledge and Power
Craddock F6-8 TUR 2341
According to Thomas DeQuincy, texts can be divided into two categories, "Literature of Knowledge" and "Literature of Power." "Literature of Knowledge" is a piece of writing that seeks to be a transparent medium through which skills and information are transferred from the writer to the reader. It gains its authority from its (apparent) reliability in representing the world of phenomena--anything from recipes and telephone books to historical analyses and scientific articles. It succeeds best when it is transitory--when it generates successors that surpass it. It is designed to become obsolete. "Literature of Power," on the other hand, creates its authority by creating the world it represents. It cannot be falsified by appeals to the phenomenal world, but only by internal weaknesses and inconsistencies. It includes all or most of the texts in the genres of poetry, drama, and prose fiction, withsome essays, dialogues, orations, and the like.
Such distinctions, though often taken for granted in practice, have recently come under theoretical attack from various directions. They would also have seemed wrong to virtually all writers prior to the nineteenth century, and to many of DeQuincy's contemporaries. Many of the greatest works in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century, and some in the twentieth as well, are written in genres DeQuincy would presumably have dismissed as mere "literature of knowledge"--journalism, biography and autobiography, history, natural history, political argument, travel accounts, and literary criticism. While the modern approach might argue that the virtues DeQuincy sees as occurring separately do not occur at all, we will explore the eighteenth-century proposition that writers in these and similar genres can and do achieve both sets of virtues. We will examine some of the great nonfictional texts of the last 200-300 years in their own terms and in the terms of late twentieth-centry critiques of the claims of representation and detachment.