This spring, my Jack Kerouac School undergraduate Introduction to Critical Theory class read Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights through various critical approaches, including that of J. Hillis Miller’s “Wuthering Heights: Repetition and the ‘Uncanny,’” which I supplemented with selections from On Literature. On February 28, 2013, the class conducted an interview with him. Miller happens to be the first critic who I saw speak in person. This was 2004 at Colorado College. I admit that I was offended when the audience, including the friend who invited me to the talk, deigned to ask him questions. I don’t know what that was about—probably church memories. I was even more stunned by Miller’s open and genial responses. Of course, when I contacted Miller out of the blue this spring, he agreed to address our questions, some of which, frankly, could be answered by simply reading his very cogent writing. This warmth and graciousness is really the ethos of his critical method: As a critic, he forestalls neat conclusions, in part to sustain the pleasure of reading (or performing) the “strange” text but also to decenter the definitive reading, that is, his own authority. We are incredibly grateful to have engaged with one of this period’s most important critics.
The students in the Introduction to Critical Theory class who conducted this interview are Alexandria Bull, David Chrem, Jacob Cohen, Lauren DeGaine, Charlie Epstein, David Hall, Elizabeth Kolenda, Anna Meiners, Jade Cruz Quinn, Chey Watson, Indigo Weller and Matt Robertson.
The Class: In your book, On Literature, you speak about the relationship between technology and literature. In a world where the printed word is dying out, do you believe physical books still play an important role to literature?
J. Hillis Miller: Printed books, including printed books of literature, will be around a long time yet and will play an important role in the cultural diffusion of literature. I still read most of the literature I do read in printed books. Nevertheless, we are in the midst of an extremely rapid and world-wide change in media technology. This means that literature will more and more be available in electronic form for those who want to read it that way.