Once again, this perennial question has resurfaced, this time on the NASSR list-serv. While I do not shy away from negative criticism, as I believe that there is something to be gained from even distasteful projects (either through the reading process or the work itself), this question seems to me to be beside the point.
The larger question that seems to be at stake is whether we should open up the canon to “lesser” works. Or maybe it’s that we shouldn’t consider works that haven’t been thoroughly vetted by the IVORY TOWER. Or maybe it’s that we can’t trust any book that actually turned a profit because that would be “selling out.” Whatever that means.
The anxiety surrounding Stephenie Meyer in particular (and YA angsty-vampire love in general) is not new; it’s not going away; and it can’t be resolved–today, at least. Remember Keats’s theory of Negative Capacity: we have to accept that there are things about which we will be uncertain. The unresolvability of “Twilight” stresses academics and high-readers out even though they have no problem looking the other way when analyzing “The Excursion.” Francis Jeffrey infamously begins his 1814 review of Wordsworth’s great poem by claiming “This will never do!” He claims that “The Excursion” bears little in common with “Lyrical Ballads” which wavered “so prettily … between silliness and pathos.” Ouch!
And while I’ve often taken the cantankerous Jeffrey as my critical anti-hero (Say what you mean and mean what you say!), the response of academics to Meyer has been resoundingly (and I would argue, un-critically) “This will never do!”
Really? Millions of readers seem to think it will do just fine.
Critical readers may say (and already have said in other venues) that Meyer does not “deserve” critical attention. I’m not sure from whence this animosity arose. No, I haven’t read “Twilight.” I watched 20 minutes of “New Moon” on the flight from Paris and decided it wasn’t my thing. Did I think that it wavered between silliness and pathos? Sure. But Meyer’s not writing for me. I find Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult to be equally silly and pathetic. Does that mean they’re not good at what they do? No, it means that I’m not reading the right book.
Preparing a course and deciding whether or not to teach a text depends on the teacher and the course. “Twilight” would not be appropriate in a course on Shakespeare, just as “Hamlet” may not be appropriate in a post-modern class (I kid; “Infinite Jest”? C’mon, “Hamlet” reeks of post-modernity). My point is, it seems like a waste of time for academics to keep wringing their hands and clutching their pearls about a book that’s not going away anytime soon. If you can’t say something nice, at least say something constructive.