April 12, 2007

The Question Mark Is There For A Reason

In the reading I am proposing, the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" enacts a complex process, stemming from Keats's initial failure to read the urn. ne consequence of this failure is an "affirmation of aesthetic categories" which, however, remains tentative - for it "succeeds" or "works" only by expressing, at the same time, the "negative knowledge about the reliability of linguistic utterance" which de Man calls "literary."
Barbara Jones Guetti, "Resisting the Aesthetic"

Barbara Jones Guetti leads off her critical analysis of John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" with a statement from Paul de Man's essay, about the crucial differences between "grammar and rhetoric, which implicitly raise questions about competing kinds of verbal authority." This not only serves as an admirable introduction, but sets up the tone for the entire essay; one long set of partially agreeing quotes from de Man.

The driving point of Guetti's essay, "Resisting the Aesthetic," is the interpretation of the question mark. As she puts it, "Virtually no critics have thought of reading the questions Keats addresses to the urn literally." Instead the questions have been viewed as rhetorical, not as "sincere and urgent demands for information." Guetti is looking for a more literal interpretation on the part of Keats, although not necessarily his readers. She saw the poem in its most basic form - a plea to the urn from a Keats desperate for information from an artifact that couldn't respond through any medium but its aesthetics. In Guetti's eyes,

the poem, far from being an assertion of the eternal values of art regardless of time or history, is a meditation on how the loss of meaning in the course of history creates aesthetic masterworks, such as the urn.

Not only does Guetti look at punctuation as a method for reading the text; she also looks at it in terms of the style of the text, "readers of Keats's poem, who are however, being instructed at this point not to "read" the poem, but rather to permit its language to evoke for them something that is not susceptible to "reading"at all. The words of the poem, in other words - in Keats's words- tease us."

Guetti's translation of Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" ends with a power observation; one that only works if you buy into Guetti's theory of the poem,

far from containing the ashes of the dead, it instructs us to forget, to remain ignorant of its meanings, referents, or origins. What it offers us does not even "belong," properly, to the Greeks or to any particular culture: the same poem could have been written about any human artifact whose historical identity has been erased, so that we could no longer know the answer to the questions Keats keeps asking about it.

Looking at Guetti's essay critically is not an act restricted to the confines of the second floor of the Administration building at Seton Hill University (or the bed-chambers of those that meeting there each Thursday night.) The University of Maryland has its own "Critical Methods for the Study of Literature" class studying, and more importantly blogging, on the essay. I found particular insight from one student's entry, "The Ageless Urn." Her approach to the essay was slightly different then I had seen in the Seton Hill community, "[Guetti] does not stop at claiming that the poem itself has become canonized in our culture, but takes her examination to another level by asserting that the urn is “canonized within the poem,” making it aloof and difficult to approach critically (Guetti 386)." (Oh, the convenience of using the same book . . . ;) I found this look at the text inspiring. Not only has society become obsessed with the poem as a "sacred cow" but the poem is doing the very same thing - perhaps making this interpretation a more understandable one?

Speaking of this more common interpretation, Kevin did a wonderful job questioning the reasons behind the necessity of questioning its validity,

Guetti claims that the problem with our readings is because of the fact that we are not reading the urn. This question therefore I pose:
Can we really learn more from the urn if we answer the questions?
He is exactly right. Reading Guetti's essay was an interesting experience of a variant reading of the poem - but she seems to be arguing that her reading is the "correct" way of thought. What Kevin reminds readers of Guetti's essay is: it isn't the only way to look at it. Karissa noticed a similar fact, "meaning is relative and based entirely on subjectivity of an individual upon an issue, work, or topic. 'Meaning' is derived from how the thing means not WHAT it means, since there cannot exist one true meaning." Rhetorical questions or not, Guetti's interpretation does what it set out to do - a raw reading of Keats's poem looking at where the reader should fit in.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 10:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 11, 2007

A Critical Fan Fiction Medley

I'm a bit of an abstract figure that people can project their fantasies on; it's pretty much what we all are, otherwise we wouldn't be stars, and people wouldn't be interested. But people project things on you that have nothing to do with what you really are, or they see a little something and then exaggerate it. And you can't really control that.
Salma Hayek

As I see it, Salma Hayek is talking about the relationship between a subject and audience. (Okay, okay, she is having a mildly ego stroking celebrity moment.) However that is merely a reflection on her statement, not its contents. Back to my point: the audience: fan fiction authors; and the subject: the original media. It just so happens that the audience went a little overboard on the zealous side and is now the subject to a class of literary critics (in training).

My original questions on the subject of fan fiction were relatively understated, or so I thought. I asked if fan fiction was an advanced form of reader-response criticism and, regardless of whether it is or not, what the authorial intent of fan fiction authors is. Let's see what our literary critics had to say:

Jason Pugh: Fan Fiction: A Diana Geleskie Carnival Event

Jason took fan fiction into account by doing what the pros do; consulted the experts:

Wolfgang Iser writes that "...the reader is situated in such a position that he can assemble the meaning toward which the perspectives of the text have guided him" (Keesey 147). So basically, from the reader's perspective, he cannot rewrite, or even respond to a piece of literature, without already having some guidance.
Fan fiction accepts its own unoriginality - because it is done in honor of the original work. Making for not only a new take on the work, but an intertextual reading as well.

Vanessa Kolberg: Blog Carnival: a Ferris Wheel of Fun

Vanessa took Jason's intertextual reading of fan fiction to heart and added her own spin on it.

Fan fiction draws off of one work of literature (or another form of media like a movie or tv show), models it with the same characters and similar plot structure of the original, and mirrors the style. That screams intertextuality. One work drawing off of another, or being influenced by another, to create something new.
The originality of the authors of fan fiction is a debatable point, as Karissa contrasted in her own entry, "I think, however, that fanfic falls short of the ORIGINAL authorial intent--not insofar that it is deriving something the author didn't intend, but that it deviates from the author's style and becomes a kind of Frankenstein of the original writing." Monster of the original or not, the intertextual context of fan fiction is clearly examined.

Karissa Kilgore: EL312: Fanfic Carnival: slip 'n slide of style

Karissa looked at fan fiction from an extreme intellectual approach.

[Fan fiction] lacks some of the necessary parallel truth to be part of the original text. It can't be considered a continuation or alternative to the text since the text is complete as the author wrote and published it.
In terms of the cannon of literature, fan fiction truly can't be included within the authors works, nor can it be looked at as another version of the same. The cannon is unchanged by fan fiction, but it isn't unaffected.

Mitchell Steele: Blog Carnival Topic: Fan Fiction.

These new authors are bringing in aspects that they, as an audience, wanted to see. The audience is taking over. This is their way of either continuing a story, or recreating an old one. The hero and villain can switch roles, or they could face new opposition. There are no rules. They are making them.
Like in Karissa's entry, Mitchell showed just how rule-bending fan fiction is. The original author isn't there, only their text is present. From that text fan fiction authors find their muse and run with it - without bothering to stop and ask for directions so to speak.

Tiffany Brattina: Fan Fiction Fun

So what exactly are the authors of fan fiction getting out of all this? A valid question, one that Tiffany investigated fully.

From what I understand some authors have lashed out at the fans for taking their work and turning it into something new. Others have looked at it as the greatest form of flattery that is out there. I would think that when a fan sits down to write a fanfiction this is what they have going through their minds. Responding to what they have read and taking it a step further to their enjoyment and to the enjoyment of other fans as well.

There you have it. Fan fiction and literary criticism - not just a random idea thrown together by pulling words out of a hat.

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

April 3, 2007

Just How Far Does Fan Fiction Go?

"Lets get it started in here!" Oh, I feel a blog carnival coming on.

Literary criticism is all about literature, obviously, but it isn't too much of a stretch to name fan fiction as a branch of literature, so how does literary criticism handle it? Perhaps as an advanced style of reader response? While we're at it, what is the authorial intent of fan fiction?

I've opened up trackbacks on this entry (I think I did at least. I'll be the first to test it.) Happy blogging!

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 8:54 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack