Total Syntax


Total Syntax is not “literary criticism” in the habitual, apolitical sense of discovering patterns in writing or deal­ing with author’s emotions or overlaying a work’s themes onto a preexisting socio­logical grid. Instead, literature is seen not as an institution but as an act, one in which writing of necessity must remold itself at all points—from syntax between words to the kinds of interactive changes that take place between writer and audi­ence and society.


In Watten’s view, there is no frame of reference for writing that writing cannot reach, reevaluate, and transform. The meaning of a sentence, a poem, a literary career, or an entire movement is seen as ceaselessly reinventing itself. Total Synta­x is an insistent attempt to place the act of writing in as wide a context as pos­sible. Throughout the book, a wide range of materials is dealt with, not to make a world out of writing, but to address a larger issue: the transformation of the writer’s role in the actual world.

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