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April 13, 2007

EL312: Up to my ears in theory: frustrated and... liking it (?!)

Now that my presentation on de Man is over, my senior English portfolio is turned in, and I have a job for when I graduate, I can finally think clearly (maybe) about my term project for literary criticism.

I might be absolutely crazy, but I think I want to write about Nabokov's Pale Fire (which i responded to poorly the first time around... I'm considering writing about structuralism and/or post-structuralism also (since the structure of the book is obviously not typical... more like Humpty Dumpty in book form).

I hear Dave and Lorin are also working with Pale Fire. We can go crazy together, guys, haha. A lit. crit. support group.

I'm basically writing this blog to help me think through some ideas I have so if anyone in our class has ideas for me or questions that might spur me along, PLEASE comment with your input. I will probably have a very big smile on my face if you help me. Not that you can see my smiling through the computer... but you can comment and think "Well, I'm making Karissa smile right now. I'm awesome." Because it'd be true.

Anyway... my sources have given me some interesting info, but I'm looking into the kind of theory I want to investigate insofar as its application to the text now.

Structuralism. What I've read on this has huge neon flashing signs pointing to Pale Fire--"significance of an element is determined by other elements in a given situation" (reminds me of math for some reason), "an entity cannot have significance determined without integration into the system," (this is semiology at work, I think), and "stories derive their meaning from structure or 'langue' and not in isolated themes."

I think the things I quoted (from my new favorite website) with general simplified ideas on the theory might point me to bigger, more complex parts of the theory that I could apply to the novel. But what will I argue?

Post-structuralism. The things I've read about this (most recently de Man's theories on rhetoric and semiology) somehow say that while the thing has meaning there is no way for me to know what that meaning is except to sit down in the haystack of signs that doesn't have a needle in it (transcendental signifier). Here's what I took notes on: "deconstructionism/post-structuralism/post-modernism is vs. language as a closed system and vs. definite meanings," "play exists in structure but at the same time can't exist in structure because of the nature of structure," and "inherent contradictions in texts are called aporia."

What I'm seeing is that with structure we have a chance at organization while always fighting the off-chance that the structure actually disorganizes the information (even though structuralism says the story gets its meaning from the structure, I'm thinking this also applied for when there is a lack of structure). So in Pale Fire there is obviously enough structure to have the book bound an with page numbers, enough structure to follow the conventions of another typical form (the poetry-with-criticism/notes), and enough structure to allow the "novel" to exist through the plot interaction between the characters in retrospective only what they tell us about the interactions or interpret from the other's actions. But does the structure defeat itself when Kinbote tells us to read the book differently than its pagination (and our cultural training as readers of English) suggests to us? Does the structure somehow turn itself inside-out and cannibalistic in the sense that it denies its own existence?

What specific contradictions does the text place within itself, structurally (physically and within the text)? How do these contradictions guide the reader--astray? To an unforeseen conclusion? To ANY conclusion at all? To draw her own conclusion?

What about the contradictions inherent to the text, as post-structuralism claims? Does this mean that every work is flawed? Does this argument debunk any argument that claims the structure is misleading? (Or is it really misleading at all? Structuralism says it's put that way for a reason... but does that mean the page numbers or the instructions of the text (i.e. Kinbote's verbal reorganization of the text)? Are we supposed to take Kinbote literally?

(Oooo, I might be going somewhere with that. More later.)

Comments, suggestions, and "wow, Karissa, I think you're crazy" statements are welcome! Thanks! :)

Posted by KarissaKilgore at April 13, 2007 3:35 PM


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