The Influence of Culture


"In any culture there is a general symbolic economy made up of the myriad signs that excite human desire, fear, and aggression" (Greenblatt 440).

This quote represents how society makes symbols in literature. If it was not for society, then we would not be able to create these symbols?

Greenblatt's next point involved "language" and how it is connected with culture. Let’s think about how society changes the meaning of words in reference to literature. Let’s also recall Bethany's presentation last night and how we discussed how the word "wallpaper" was written. Is society/culture the ones who are making the meaning or is it the author?

I also want to notate another quote that stated "The current structure of liberal arts education often places obstacles in the way of such an analysis by separating the study of history from the study of literature" (440).

I would have to disagree with this quote because at Seton Hill we do not separate history from literature. We learn both of them at the same time in order to understand the literature that we are reading. What is "the current structure?" Is it the university or is it the type of education that "liberal arts" provides?

So, what do you think about culture forming the meaning and symbols in literature? If it was not for culture, then who would form these ideas?

Click here for the web page devoted to Greenblatt.


I think that the liberal arts curriculum is very important. It exposes us to ideas that we would not have been exposed to otherwise. At Seton Hill, the professors do a great job of demonstrating how history inderacts with literature. The two disciplines go hand-in-hand. Just as there is history needed to form literature, literature is needed to form history. Without the written explanations of history, there would be no history. Literature, such as Sinclair's The Jungle, played an important role in improving working conditions.

To answer your last question, you cannot escape culture. I don't think it is possible to separate culture from our society just as you can't separate literature from history. Culture dictates nearly everything we do from dating to eating to even going to the bathroom. All of our etiquette comes from culture. Thus, our literature is also inseparable from culture as well.

Derek, I like how you question whether it is society/culture or the author who creates the meaning of a text. I think that that answer is that they both do. Culture constrains and mobilizes the author and the work. All societies must find a happy medium between allowing the people in it to have freedom (mobility) and requiring them to act in certain ways for the “good” of the rest of society and to prevent anarchy (constraint). Greenblatt explains that authors act as improvisers within these boundaries. They help create new boundaries, challenge old boundaries, and reinforce old ones through their texts. So, the author does have some control over the meaning of a text, but so does the culture of when that author was writing and so also does the culture of today. How we perceive things now affects “the meaning” or how we interpret the text. However, there is not an infinite number of meanings we can create based solely on culture, we still need to consider the words themselves (the words that the author wrote) and the formal aspects to discover “the meaning.”

Did you look into the history of when Mt. Rushmore was carved, and when Keats lived? Unless someone is doing time travel, I don't think it's possible for Keats to have intended that particular connection, but a referenced to monuments in general would be universal.

When we were learning about deconstruction in reference to Keats's poem, I thought about this connection. Your right though because Mt. Rushmore is in a much different time period than when Keats was writing. :)

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This page contains a single entry by Derek Tickle published on April 17, 2009 2:17 PM.

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