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Theorizing vs. Teaching Literary Theory: What Is to Be Done with Crime and Punishment?

Olga Meerson. "Theorizing vs. Teaching Literary Theory: What Is to Be Done with Crime and Punishment?." Formulations: Teaching Nineteenth–Century Russian Literature A Celebration of the Teaching and Scholarship of Robert Belknap. Ed. Liza Knapp, Cathy Popkin, Irina Reyfman. New York: Harriman Institute, Columbia University, 2010.

The article explores the need to eclectically apply several theoretical prisms to teaching a structurally complex literary text--in this case, Dostoevsky's. The lenses applied are: Bakhtin's notion of Another's Speech in Polyphony, and the rupture between the expected referent and signified that the poetic use of Deixis entails. With pronouns, the vaguer their referents, the more important their signifieds. Another's Speech and the poetic potency of pronouns have been explored by Bakhtin and Jakobson respectively, but they are each other's theoretical adversaries. Yet students can learn from both--provided they first encounter the primary texts and do not "theorize ahead of the facts".

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