Constrained polemics

The Dictionary of Sensibility consists primarily of annotated entries, each of which cites a passage from the primary literature of sensibility, and appends a brief commentary to it. The entries are in no way seen to contribute to a linear argument. They are homeless in a double sense: the cited passages are ruthlessly extracted from the original contexts which provided them, and the commentary which follows is often suggestive on several registers but never explicitly integrated into a larger critical picture. These comments are distinct from each other in shape, tone, level of detail, critical stakes, and above all, polemics. Each entry faces a formal paradox: because it is homeless (or maybe "bracketed"), its polemical possibilities are unlimited. Yet these polemics are forced to live entirely within the entries themselves, since there is no formal opportunity for them to be drawn out in sustained argument. The affiliation with the core list of keywords unifies the higher terms of the discourse; this analytical and descriptive structure, therefore, replaces the call for a synthetic argument. In an academic essay, by contrast, local acts of decontextualization must always be purchased with a broad act of recontextualization (within a new argument). A polemics such as the Dictionary employs -- one which trades in extensive local insight rather than in broad critical argument -- might be especially useful in courses where the literary domain is either over-familiar or quite unfamiliar, where decontextualization (or non-contextualization in the latter case) opens up creative possibilities that would be unavailable to an argumentative essay.

Related terms:

article title
list of keywords