January 29, 2007


Pragmatic Criticsm- found on page 7 of "What is Literature", I realized I don't actually know what this means. I've read it, heard it, and probably discussed it as if I knew, but alas, I don't. Hello, Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms! According to the famed text, pragmatic criticism is "a type of criticism...[which] emphasized the effect of a literary work on its audience. Pragmatic critics believe that authors structure works in such a way as to attain specific effects on and elicit certain responses from the reader or audience. These critics thus evaluate a work based on their perception of the success or failure of that work (or author) to achieve its objectives" (368).

Glad they could clear that up for me.

Murfin and Ray, Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Hola Benito!

"The ship seems unreal; these strange costumes, gestures, and faces, but a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep, which directly must receive back what it gave." (491)

If something seems too good to be true (or too strange), it probably is. When writing, every word an author puts has a reason- whether to move a story along, add description, or to add an important plot point. Therefore, when pages and pages of text are used to describe the "strange"ness of the boat, you'd better believe it was done for a reason.

Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno" employs so much effort to the description of the boat that the reader simply has to think "What the heck is this all about? It must mean something!" And, what do you know, it does! As Karissa touched on in her blog entry, the story seems consumed with darkness and troublesome images, which give insight into the turmoil of the story to come. It's a type of foreshadowing- Melville didn't create a shadowy ship just to fill up space. Characters are not always the only element in a story that can create a mood or theme. Often, the setting in which it occurs is just as important to understanding of a story or novel...would we have gotten the same idea if the story took place on a nice, sunny, well-kept ship?

Melville, ''Benito Cereno'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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January 28, 2007

What is Literature? Good Question...

What is literature? Why don't we ask something a little more vague, like what is love? How can we pin down literature to package it up and define it? The answer, we can't.

"Some texts are born literary, some achieve literariness, and some have literariness thrust upon them." (8-9)

While this is a cheesy spoof of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night quote, it works well in Eagleton's "Introduction: What is Literature?". Basically, some things are immediately called literature, due to their use of English in a "literary" way, some are called literature after a period of time or criticism, and others are being called literature more recently due to the new views on what constitutes as literature and what does not. Is it style, history, or merely others that make literature...literature?

However, Eagleton does not pin down the definition of literature, as it appears almost impossible to do so. He makes several attempts though which questions the difference between true literature and inferior literature (although, let's note, they are both "literature"). If it's literature anyway, how can it be inferior to anything else? Because it is simple, short, simplistic, or technical? Truly, I have no idea and never really did find what I was looking for...an answer to an all important question.

Eagleton, ''Introduction: What is Literature?'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Stop Criticizing Me

"Every reading is an act of criticism and every reader is a critic." (1)

Some of us, however, are a bigger critic than others.

Donald Keesey's Introduction briefly overviews the idea that there are several different ways to interpret a text, each with its own variations, and although one cannot say whether one is "right" or "wrong" they are all valid in their own way. As per the quote, we are all critics and can make inferrences and judgements on literature and can validate these readings. Personally, I'm doubting this a bit.

I've always been the type to view some forms of literary criticism as a bit of a stretch. Sometimes a story is just a story, as sometimes a flower is just a flower. No hidden meaning or agenda...just a basic tale. Granted, I know this isn't true in most cases, but I've always felt that some could take the interpretting a bit too far. If I claim that the paper a character was writing on is symbolic of his inner fear of committment, does that make me right? Or just crazy?

So how did we get from people just talking about literature and drawing their own idea on it to an actual study? If we are all critics, as per the quote, then why so many schools of thought on literary criticism? The "real" literary critics must have come from somewhere; their ideas taken from some school of thought. They are the ones that set the standards for how we evaluate literature and what ideas we can infer from it. Sure, we may all be critics of literature, but it doesn't mean we're all worth listening to.

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Creating Tradition

"But we might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticizing our own minds in their work of criticism."

"No poet, no artist, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead."

How do we write? Where do "the Greats" get their idea and how did they become so highly regarded? Are they just such amazing manipulators of the English language that they have created something new, or are they instead drawing on the past, using other's forms, and it is we, through our criticism of the works, that make them grand names in the literary world?

T.S. Elliot would agree with the latter in his "Tradition and the Individual Talent". The great writers are not just great due to their impressive writing, but their ability to draw upon other writers and create something new, yet familiar. We may not have a set-in-stone literary tradition, but this is the closest thing to it.

As per Elliot, the new great writers become that way when the old greats become even greater. Confused? Something that is already good and highly regarded looks amazing when held up to the new. Writers do their best when they are impressioned by the past, but should not conform to the old style of writing completely (or else it wouldn't be new. It would be copying, which no one likes. You want Keats condeming you from his grave for using his style? No, I didn't think so). And when a writer produces something, it is these standards and styles of writing that the reader holds him or her up to, and criticizes accordingly.

What is new is in some respects old, and we like it that way. Elliot explains that to be able to draw upon the Greats is a sign of maturity in writing and a knowledge that to be acclaimed, one must take a cue from the past and, in a sense, give the people what they want. Readers want a bit of familiarity in their writing (as Elliot also explains through the sections on personal writing and emotions), but with a twist.

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