Literary Theory Pwr Pt. - Garnet Valley School District

January 9, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Social Science, Psychology, Social Psychology
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Literary Theory Looking at the conditions that make meaning possible.

Access to a text A writer is never in complete control of what he/she says. The writer never really has complete control over language. Language has meaning and logic of its own.

Reading a Text 

You should not read a text only to uncover the author’s intent, but read it from your own point of view. In other words, from the perspective of how it affects you. You can read a novel from many different perspectives and it can generate different impressions.

Interpreting a Text

 Access to a text is always mediated by a theory.  All interpretation is theory dependent.  The whole explosion of theory is actually a recognition.

Two Ways to Look at Literary Theory

 An intrique into debates in cultural inquiry.  An entry into engaging in philosophical questions. Meaning does not reside in the text. It is produced for the text.

19th Century Approaches Authored-Centered 

Literary Theory was “Authored-Centered.” If you understood the author, then you understood the text.

Psychobiography 

Looking at the piece through a psychoanalytical profile of the author. (i.e. Dickens – analyzing why there are so many villians in his writing.

19th Century Approaches continued…

Text-Centered 

In this approach the text is isolated from the author and concentration is on the internal dynamics. What makes the meaning work is based solely on the text.

Reader-Centered 

Emphasis is on the role played by the reader in constructing a meaning for the text.  The theory is that the act of reading is to bring in all kinds of conventions to make it have meaning in the first place.

19th Century Approaches continued…

History-Centered 

This theory looks at the way a country’s culture shapes a text.

Deconstruction 

In this theory meaning does not reside in the text. All you have is meaning effectively spread across the surface of the text. This is based on the belief that language is essentially unstable due to the fact that all works carry more than one (1) meaning and that the same words have different associations for people. In essence, the meaning of the text is essentially indeterminate.

Evaluating Text Certain features make a work more literary: Packaging – the way certain writers are marketed. Implicit evaluation of the work of different writers. Withstanding the test of time – more substance. Political dimension – i.e. Shakespeare has been deified (canonized). Who counts and who doesn’t count is more than just what the critics think. Writers can be de-canonized. Some fall and new ones enter.

There is no stability in a writer’s reputation.

Intrinsic Approaches  Focus on the mechanics of the text. Internal. i.e. How does irony, methaphors, etc. work? How does the writer use syntax? In other words, examining the formal properties of the work.  Intrinsic Critics: Russian Formalists, New Critics, Structuralists and Deconstructionists.

They all look at the text as if it exists in a social vacuum.

Extrinsic Approach The focus is on the circumstances of the writing  Psychobiographers, Culturalists and Historical Criticism look at what is psychologically, socially & culturally, and historically specific about the text. What is it about this time and this society that make it possible to write at all?  Feminist, Marxist and Sociological Criticism look at the cultural, social and political implications of the text.

In essence, there is no final reading of a text. No one has the last word.

Literary Criticism Sociological Criticism 

Sociology through literature – The way of looking in how a literary work is entangled in the process that surrounds its production, its inception. Factors that influence literature – Writers in the middle ages were paid by the page. That is why so many of the works are so long. “The vulgarity of the market shaped this literature that we revere.” (Dr. Paul Maltby) For example: Political constraints - Blake’s symbolism is as a result of being jailed for his remarks, so he wrote in “code.”

Literary Criticism (continued…) 

Russian Formalists – (between 1915 – 1930) Instead of questions of interpretation, they considered what makes a work specifically literary. Looking for criteria – literariness and defamiliarization. They are asking if it helps you see the world in a new way? This would be a good sign for the Russian Formalists. It is a way in which to desensitize us to the world, our surroundings, i.e. to make it look strange again. For the Russian Formalist, literature has to perpetually renew itself to remain literary. They look at the way in which the material is arranged – shaped. For example, flashbacks may be a way in which a story is arranged. The literary devices are used to create effects. For the Russian Formalist, literature is the kind that goes beyond the cliches. Russian Formalists are exclusively intrinsic. They lack social dimension.

Literary Criticism 


New Critics – In the 1930’s, Capitalism fell into crisis. In the environment Marxist theory came into dominance. The new critics, many from the southern U.S., wanted to form a new criticism--something like Marxist literary theory (which should be used as a weapon in class war, the ideal of Marxist literature).

Literary Criticism 


New Critics – Flourished during the 1930’s and 40’s. A text-centered criticism. We don’t know the author’s intentions 99% of the time. Close reading – looking at the words on the page and how they behave. Language is public property. All a critic needs is a knowledge of how language operates. Even author’s can’t give a definitive account of their writing.

Literary Criticism 


New Critics (continued…)

What new critics value about literature is the extent to which it deviates from scientific discourse which is unequivacal---clear and to the point. Literature goes to the other extreme. It exploits to the full extent, i.e. ambiguity, irony, etc. It can be treated totally independent of the world around it.

Literary Criticism 


New Criticism (continued…) Deficiencies of this approach to literature: * No relationship between time and place. * The reader is not able to read like scholars and have a grasp of how parody etc. are used in the text.

Literary Criticism 

New Criticism



* You lose the interconnections between texts. We learn from the text---we read certain kinds of codes and bring this to the next text. * Meaning resides inside the text. You dig down into the text and pull it out as if timeless. However, this does not work because it does not take into account the different interpretations of different readers and how language has different meaning over time. The word on the page can change its meaning over time. No two people read the same text in the same way.

Structuralism 

Structuralism overthrew the model of objects existing independently of language. Barthe – “It’s impossible to write a narrative without an implicit set of rules. According to Barthe, “The reader is a repository of the rules of conventions insofar as they are aware of the rules.” The goal of all structuralism activity is to reconstitute the meaning---discover how meaning is possible in the first place.

Codes (can apply to all literature) Engine code – recognize what counts as a mystery and the clues that lead to a solution. Recognize Character Symbolism Cultural Code – need knowledge to make sense of a text. Codes collectively make up the language. There is not “langue” without the codes.

Structuralism 


Structuralists believe they are the most scientific. As structuralists, what makes us human is that we generate meaning. Reading is an institution that produces meaning for the text.

Structuralism 


Saussure – If words stood for pre-existing concepts, they would all have exact equivalence in meaning from one langue to the next. Different languages chop up reality in different ways. It is language that structures what we take to be reality. There can never be an ultimate classification. The way we perceive the world is structured for us by the language we use. Language does not reflect the word---it constructs an image of it.

Semiotics 

Semiotics is the study of sign systems in which linguistic sign systems serve as the paradigm. Chomsky – Langue / Parole vs Competence / Performance

Semiotics   


Competence – Innate ability; how produced. Parole – what is spoken Langue – the underlying system of rules, grammar. Saussure says language is a system of differences without positive terms. The relationship between a word and object is arbitrary – the sign itself has no intrinsic meaning. There is no meaning without an underlying system of rules. All meaning is dependent on language.

Saussure The linguist who introduced Post-Structuralist criticism Signifier (SR) (Meaning or Words) SIGN Signified (SD) (Meaning or Concept) 

Saussure says that the SR and the SD are as inseparable as the 2 sides of a piece of paper.

Post Structuralism – SR & SD continued… 

For Saussure SR & SD are as follows:


PIG Break down to sound or the markings. What they signify is a 4-legged farm animal.

Post Structuralism – SR & SD continued… 

Derrida argued that, in fact, SR & SD are not inseparable. Below is an example of how the signifier can be the same but have a different signified. not cow


fluffy creature

Biblical reference (lamb of God) The Silence of the Lamb



All different meanings, shifting meanings, meanings changing over time.

Post Structuralism – SR & SD continued… 

Derrida – The term he used to denote what he saw as shifting meanings was deferred. The meaning is deferred; in other words there is no fixed, stable meaning behind words.

Metaphysics of Presence – to believe there is a meaning that is fully present behind a word. Derrida says this is an illusion. There is no stable meaning. Words continue to attract new meanings. The word Derrida uses is “play.”

Post Structuralism – SR & SD continued… 

Transcendental Signified – Derrida argues that core terms cannot serve as a foundation because that term is subject to the “play” of language like any other word. Foundational Terms – i.e. God, Mind, Spirit, Freedom. They could only truly be foundation if they actually stood outside of the “play” of language, yet they cannot do that because all words impact on others.

Post Structuralism – SR & SD continued… 

“Play” – As a result of Derrida’s use of this word, it can be seen why Structuralism is sometimes referred to as antifoundational. Western philosophy was built on the foundational philosophies that there is an abiding meaning under every signified that is the same for all of us. Derrida says we have meaning effects; no fixed meaning, but superficial play of signifiers. The consequence of Derrida’s belief is that it undermines the scientific text. For example, the Bible. A debate can be ended if you say the Bible was written by God---the ultimate “transcendental signified.”

Post Structuralism – SR & SD continued…

Post Structuralism is sometimes explained as a “decentralizing philosophy.”

Post Structuralism Saussure & Derrida 

Saussure – When he spoke of the SR and the SD and their inseparability, he was not thinking about cultural differences and different periods of time. Linguistics at the time were not thinking that way, even though to us it may seem evident. Derrida – “There is nothing outside the text.” We can only know the world through text.

Post Structuralism-Derrida 


Derrida – We do not have meaning. We have meaning effects (constant change of meaning) In other words, it is how cultures understand a word, not individuals. We are not in control of language, language is in control of us.

Post Structuralism-Derrida vs Structuralists continued…

We want to make sense of the world so we need these transcendental signifieds --- as a people --- that’s why we put fixed meaning to them. However, per Derrida, it really does not exist. No center core, ultimate meaning or foundation. According to Derrida, our concepts are generated by the “play” of language. It is not that the concepts were already there and we applied language to them.

Derrida vs Structuralists 

Derrida says we can only know the world through language.

Structuralists Views – Scientific approach to understanding a text. Language is stable. There is a center; some sort of foundation.

How Do All These Ideas Relate to Literary Theory?

Deconstruction – A Particular Way to Read a Text For Deconstructionist Critics there can never be absolute knowledge of anything because language can never say what we intend it to mean.

A Deconstructive Reading of a Text Undecidability – They highlight the undecidability of a text - how indeterminate its meanings are. Prior to deconstructionism, the whole premise of literary criticism was to discover the meaning of the text. Once you have done away with author and decisive meaning, you have opened it up to a plurality of meaning. THE LINK BETWEEN TEXT & MEANING IS CUT.

A Deconstructive Reading of a Text A Deconstructionist reading tries to bring out the logic of the text’s writing as opposed to the author’s intent. Can do this because the author has no control of how the language behaves on the page.

The Deconstructionist View Their readings avoid closure. They advocate a freedom to interpret and reinterpret meaning. We need not live with restricted definitions of things. Deconstructionists are only interested in the words on the page and how they operate (a text-centered approach).

Deconstructionists are playing with meaning.


The “hayday” of Deconstructionism was during the late ’70’s. It has been in decline since the ’80’s.

A Deconstructionist View Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad pg.219(para 2) – Hillis is saying there is no ultimate voice in the narrative that can serve as the guarantor of the meaning. pg.19 (6 lines from the bottom) – glow is to haze as story is to meaning. Seems like that is what he is trying to say.

A Deconstructionist View Deconstructionism - expose the illusionaryness of meaning. Why do this? Can be seen as annalistic. Is it irresponsible to reduce a text to simply a play of words when could interpret its intended meaning?

CENTER APPROACHES TO CRITICISM Life experiences shape meaning of a text. Each time one reads is different.  Interpretation is situational. Thus, the different approaches to criticism based on perspective are the following: *Author-Centered *Text-Centered *History-Centered *Reader-Centered 


Meaning resides with the author. The purpose is to uncover the author’s intention.


Meaning resides exclusively in the text. There is no concern with who the author is or the historical backdrop.

This approach deals with the mechanics within the text, i.e. metaphors, etc.

The Literary Theories fitting into this approach are Russian formalism, Anglo-American New Criticism , Structuralism and Deconstruction

HISTORY-CENTERED APPROACH History is put first. The historical context is established first. It reflects the world around it.

It can be subjective because read from their own social position.


Relatively new form of criticism perspective.  Began with Structuralists.  Cultural response on the part of the reader.  Text’s literary repetoire influences the reader’s reaction.  How the reader reacts to the text and how the literary devices of the text manipulate the reader’s reaction. 

Cultural Criticism  

Challenging the idea of the canon. Identify the cultural forces that make a literary text formidable. Challenges New Criticism and Formalism attitude that meaning lies only within the text. A Cultural Critic is concerned about for whom the author is writing.

Cultural Criticism Continued . . .

 

 

Cultural Critics re-established the history of the text. Cultural Critics reject the idea that meaning is the product of an isolated mind. Cultural Critics look at all things to get a network of meanings. Cultural Critics look for what made the consciousness of the author in the first place.

Cultural Criticism Continued . . .

Overview of Cultural Theory   

 

Cultural Criticism recovers the cultural space out of which a literary work rose. Cultural Criticism examines texts in relation to other texts. Cultural Criticism is more thorough than critiques of the past. Cultural Criticism believes that society is an arena in which a plurality of cultures compete for cultural supremacy. Cultural Criticism acknowledge that subjectivity is understood as a cultural construct. Cultural Criticism supports the idea that consciousness is culturally constructed.

Cultural Criticism Continued . . .

The Cultural Critic is a political being. Why? 

Because we are dealing with a classstructured society Because we have conflicting ideologies.

Cultures are competing thus the critic cannot stay neutral.

Cultural Criticism Continued . . .

A Cultural Critic needs to do research. The Cultural Critic has to know the author and the context (time) in which the author is writing.

New Historicism 

Stephen Greenblatt coined this term. He was a professor at Berkeley in California and is currently at Harvard. This is an approach to reading literature in an historical context. History is written by the conquerors and the victors. History is always competing for the state of being official.

New Historicism continued… 

What counts as history is always selective. Different generations come along and rewrite history according to their sense. Counter-Memory – A counter view to the official memory. Literary Artifact – Ways something could be considered.

New Historicism continued… 

New Historicists see certain problems with the recording of history:

History is received in the form of narratives- it is textual.  Often times there is narrative commentary. There is a selection process, i.e. on t.v. one is dependent on the camera location. At a miner’s strike the cameraman is behind the police, thus only see miner’s charging the police and never the other way around. 

You only experience any event through your own culture’s prevailing discourses.

New Historicism continued… 

Representational model of History Not necessarily accurately reflected. A version of something.  Institutions determine how history is written, i.e. Warren Commission or Academia, thus will get a different point of view.  No truth is universal.  Literature cannot be understood outside of history. 

You only experience any event through your own culture’s prevailing discourses.

New Historicism continued… 

An Interactive Model

Literature can itself shape events.  Literature feeds off of other texts.  New Historicists try to locate a literature text in relation to institutes, beliefs and power relations.  Subjectivity – Historical critiques are shaped and formed by discourses of their own time. They can only read a literary text from their social position. 

You only experience any event through your own culture’s prevailing discourses.

New Historicism continued… There will always be different versions of history competing to be the official history. A story or poem needs to be located within its social circumstances. Ex. Heart of Darkness – Conrad’s book was set in the colonial period. What was the accounting given for? Civilizing this other culture Enlightening this other culture

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