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March 11, 2007

Questioning Mimesis

Culler, ''Structuralism and Literature'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

"We do not believe that there is a real correlation between perfect or blemished complexions and perfect or blemished moral character, but certain genres permit inferences of this kind" (293).

I thinnk Culler provided a very sound argument for his case. This is the first thing I have read that makes me question the validity of mimetic criticism. It would obviously be willful ignorance that would allow a person to truly believe that a person's character can be determined by the number of zits on their face, yet this detail of appearance would indeed be used in literature to signify someone of a lesser moral character. In the same way the pure-hearted princesses in fairy tales are always beautiful, the evil sisters and mothers incredibly ugly, and the handsome princes are always brave and daring. Perhaps there is some merit to looking at works in terms of their conventions...although I still think that those conventions must somehow arise out of some aspect of reality.

I suppose if nothing else perhaps the appearance convention of fairly tales with beauty=goodness and ugliness=evilness could come out of some subconscious desire to be able to define people that way so easily. How much easier life would be if you could tell if someone is a good person or not just by looking at them. Then no one would be hurt by other people and all the "good" people in the world would be happy and the "bad" people miserable. But, then at the same time there is this part of me that conflicts greatly with this ideal because I believe that there is good in every person and so that would make the whole judging by appearance thing counterproductive. So yeah I guess that leaves me back at where I started with my questioning of literature being based in reality.

Posted by LorinSchumacher at March 11, 2007 1:44 PM


Sometimes the disfigured or mentally deficient person is singled out by an unusual purity of soul, so sometimes the "ugly=evil" dynamic is inverted for shock value. But you're right to point out that it's a powerful convention. (Every kid learns quickly that the guy with the scar or the hook-hand or peg-leg is assumed to be the bad guy.)

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 11, 2007 6:22 PM

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