As a social scientist, I’ve always clung to the idea that context is content. There is no thought that could have 0% relevance in any scenario, since, if it did, the idea would never cross one’s mind in the first place. Given that personal assumption, I have a hard time saying that any critical analysis method could ever be “better” than another. Nothing is ever so simple that a new perspective could not possibly add to the conversation. The more points of view we can approach a topic from, the better. Some may be more useful in specific circumstances than others, but each has its merits. Otherwise the useless ones would have ceased to exist, and we probably wouldn’t have covered them in class!
That being said, I do have a bone to pick with the New critics, who argue that if we stick to the words of the text itself, we can agree on one specific connection between form and meaning. It’s a simple enough concept, and relatively easy to put into practice. And if that’s all one is looking for out of literature, if that helps people to sleep more peacefully at night, then more power to them. But I find that approach insanely limiting. While it yields a meaning that is easy to conceptualize, it completely disregards all of the context simply for the sake of it being “easier that way” There is no discussion of the greater significance of the work, no putting it into its proper time-period, and therefore no real discussion of why we read the work in the first place.
It is safe to assume, then, that I prefer the critical methods that allow for more discourse. What makes literature (and life, more generally) beautiful is its complexity. I had read Othello a few times before stepping foot in English 220, but each time I get something new that I had never noticed before. There are almost 7 billion people in the world, so theoretically there could be 7 billion different analyses of any given work. Any critical method that allows us to better understand the range of these interpretations is obviously one I would be in favor of. Since I am privy to the thought process of my own mind, I am not interested in analyzing what I think and how I came to think it. Instead, I’m more fascinated by how that differs from what other people interpret, and why it is that we see things differently. What is it about the variety of life experiences that allows two human beings to read the exact same grouping of words and come to different conclusions? I love the basic premises of New Historicism, postcolonialism, deconstruction, race theory, gender theory and cultural studies for this exact reason.
500 words obviously isn’t enough space for me to flesh out these concepts in a way that I would find satisfying. But I’ve always found that the most complicated discussions end up being the most rewarding. There is both a human reader and a human author behind every work, and there is a reason every work was created in the first place. People may argue that those two facts are/should be irrelevant, but I think that disregarding them entirely is a crime.