I Think I Found a Muddy Point

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“Frye’s belief was that criticism was in a sorry unscientific mess and needed to be smartly tidied up.  It was a matter of subjective value-judgments and idle gossip, and badly required the discipline of an objective system.”

From Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction, Chapter 3, "Structuralism and Semiotics," page 79

"Literature is not a way of knowing reality but a kind of collective utopian dreaming which has gone on throughout history, an expression of those fundamental human desires which have given rise to civilization itself, but which are never fully satisfied there."

-From Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction, Chapter 3, "Structuralism and Semiotics," page 80 

Is it just me, or do these quotations seem to directly contradict one another?  Eagleton first suggests that Frye believes that criticism should be scientific, but then suggests that Frye believes that literature is used to interpret, understand, or create a “utopian dream.”  How can someone objectively and scientifically study a dream?  And I know what you’re thinking-“That science is called Psychology or dream analysis-it already exists.”  However, I don’t think that this is what Eagleton or Frye are suggesting, or this would be a chapter about Psychological Criticism.

 Also, I thought that I understood how the text-based forms of criticism worked; however, now I’m not so sure.  Eagleton writes that Structuralism, Formalism, and New Criticism are all very different.  I had thought that New Criticism was only called this because it was a revival of Formalism after an era where Psychological and Feminist Criticism reigned.  I do not really see the difference now between these three types of criticism, which makes me think I found my muddy point for next week’s class.  Does anyone else have this problem, or can any one help me differentiate between these types of criticism a bit better?



Katie Vann said:

Erica, I had the same problem. I really couldn't see the difference between the three, expecially between Formalism and Structuralism. Doesn't it seem that structuralism should be a part of Formalism? Isn't Formalism looking at the poem itself: the structure, word choice, etc. I wasn't really satisfied with the explanation in the book describing the difference between the two; I think it only confused me more.

Ellen Einsporn said:

I agree that the two comments you posted about Frye can be somewhat conflicting; however, this is how I made sense of it. By "dream," I don't think Frye was referring to the wanderings of our subconscious; I think he was talking more along the lines of ideals. We can study these ideals relatively objectively since we have not experienced them--they are a part of us only in our desire to reach them; we do not have the pleasure to experience such idyllic dreams in "real life." According to Frye, our experiences in reality are what lead to our subjectivity; thus, if we can focus on what we cannot experience, what we can only wish to experience, we might be able to retain a sense of objectivity. ...At least this is how I interpreted it...

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