Cheever: "...there used to be two schools of thought. One was the I.A. Richard's school, responsible for what is referred to as the New Criticism, which says you must consider every piece of writing out of context and in a vacuum [NOTE: This type of close-reading focus-on-the-text is what I was trained in as an English major at the U of C in the early 90s]. If you know anything about who wrote it, where and when it was written, that pollutes your ability to read. Then there was F.R. Leavis, who said you have to see everything in context. So there were these two very passionately argued schools of thought. Richard's school of thought is now gone....People don't even think about doing it a different way anymore. Even the idea that it's better to read work without knowing anything about it has been lost."Mostly I just want to agree with her. I think it's really interesting, coming at a text from both these perspectives, holding them both in your head and seeing how the interpretations speak to each other. It reflects my own reading experience too -- some books I read knowing nothing about the authors, their historical time period, etc. Some books I already know lots. Some books I start out knowing nothing and over years, learn all kinds of things. And all of those perspectives for reading are interesting, and valuable to me.
Interviewer: "Are you saying you think it would be better to go back to the old way of holding the work sacred?"
Cheever: "No. I'm saying there should be two competing ideas, one that work should be read in a vacuum, and the other that it should be read in context."