Brian Abel Ragen believes that literature is a source of pleasure, wisdom, stimulation, solace, and consolation and that it is, above all, a medium whereby minds separated by vast expanses of time and distance can nevertheless communicate. He believes that the literary scholar seeks truth and that a clear understanding of the stable meaning of texts is attainable. He believes that all valid readings must to some extent be historically informed and that evaluation is one of the duties of any critic. He believes gender, sex, and class are not always the most important questions with which a reader has to grapple. These ideas were being rejected as hopelessly unhip when he was in graduate school, but seem to be getting a hearing again now that we are all sick of talking about the absence of presence and pretending that Paradise Lost and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko are both just texts the reader himself constructs in the reading and thus equally worthy of attention.

Most of Ragen’s works discuss specific works in their contexts, but he often considers broader issues in passing. He has addressed issues of theory more directly in two important essays, however. One, “Semiotics and Heraldry,” runs another sign system through the mills of theory to see what semiotics can tell us about that body of texts and, by implication, about literature itself. Another, “An Uncanonical Classic: The Politics of
The Norton Anthology” addresses the issue of the literary canon.

“Semiotics and Heraldry”

“An Uncanonical Classic: The Politics of the Norton Anthology