chapter  9
Ordinary People and Academic Critics: A Response to Richard Levin
ByGerald Graff
Pages 15

Academic criticism is seen as narcissistic, competitive, and subject to the vicissitudes of fashion, while 'ordinary' reading is seen as healthy-minded, unconcerned with the pedantries of interpretive conflict, and ultimately enduring though it may go temporarily out of fashion. The aim of ideology criticism resembles that of the forms of theatrical defamiliarization developed by Bertolt Brecht and numerous artists and directors in Brecht's wake. The distinction between thematic reading and non-thematic reading further reinforces the ideologically suspect characterization of certain forms of academic reading as prone to factionalism, self-interest, and politics in a way that ordinary reading supposedly is not. In Richard Levin's words, when feminists claim that a play is 'exploring' or 'commenting on' the central theme, this implies a conscious purpose. The questions raised by Levin about the compatibility of 'ideological criticism' with notions of objectivity, rational debate, and what Levin calls 'neutral reason' have a long history in Marxist theory and an even longer one in philosophy.