On the Danger of Confusing Literary Criticism with Real Life

There are differences between the two, and they are crucial.

Difference #1: Literary criticism deals with texts; real life deals with people. Texts have no feelings, and can be taken apart and examined from all angles without feeling the slightest pain. People, on the other hand, are apt to find such operations intrusive, especially when performed upon them without prior invitation. Nor does the deconstruction of one text cause sympathetic pain in other texts that happen to share a common author, or reside upon the same shelf.

Difference #2: In literary criticism, authorial intent matters somewhere between very little and not at all. (Since most of history’s authors are dead and beyond interrogation, this perhaps makes a virtue of necessity; but I digress.) In real life, intention matters a very great deal; it is the difference, for example, between accidentally spilling some oil on the basement stairs, and deliberately greasing them.

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