February 26, 2007

Feminism: Take Two

"One can argue, of course, that a woman reader can suspend her femaleness and appreciate great works which have male protagonists (and objectified women) when the protagonists are wrestling with univeral human problems. In other words, one can argue that one can transcend one's sex in appreciating a literary work" (Donovan 230).

I'm seeing some overlapping with the Kolodny essay here. Apparently, this is a pretty universal thought: not only do men and women not see eye-to-eye on a variety of subjects (including the need and usefullness of having investing large amounts of money on designer purses), but we can't even read the same literature. Perhaps we should have two different sections of the bookstore- those for books with "male" themes and another side for ones with "female" themes. I'd hate to get confused and read something that I might not "understand".

I'm not sure where this huge shifting of thoughts and ideas came from when reading literature, but I'm not 100% sure I agree. Just like the Kolodny essay, one shouldn't have to "learn" how to read a piece of literature just because it was written by a man or a woman. While the storylines and plot may differ, there are universal elements that can be found in literature written by either gender. Men may convey a meaning by writing about it with male-themed symbolism, and a woman with her own version of female symbolism, but they can still be the same theme and idea. Why make this huge distinction between the two?

Additionally, feminist readers, like Donovan in "Beyond the Net: Feminist Criticism as Moral Criticism", are concerned with the way women are portrayed in the literature written by males since, well, it isn't often the most flattering of pictures. Women were often written, the "traditional" (male-written) literture as either insignificant to the plot or a seductress, representing evil. Yet, and I stress this in every lit class where feminism comes up (ie all of them), this is how it was when the works were created. Sure, it wasn't great, or fair, or morally correct, but that's how it was. Men did the writing, women did the sinning (I don't support this idea, so I don't want angry comments- I'm just summing up the feelings of the era here). And although we can pick apart these works and chastise them for being so horribly wrong, at the time, they seemed perfectly fine. The strong feminism we see now just wasn't around in the past...so why apply our modern views on a historic piece?

Donovan, ''Beyond the Net: Feminist Criticism as a Moral Criticism'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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The "Real" Characters

"Through the novel's rhetoric we become aware of the meaning which the characters' experience has for a mind like that of the implied author, and we enter thus into his subjective world...that if we view him as a fictional persona, as another dramatized consciousness, rather than as an authoritative source of values, the implied author, too, enlarges our knowledge of experience" (Paris 221).

One of the first things I learned when I started to take an interest in studying literature (around high school) was that character anaylsis just doesn't cut it. Most readers can formulate some sort of idea about the characters in a story but never go beyond this surface to find a deeper analysis of the work. Why pay so much attention to characters anyway? It's not like they are real...

Or are they? As Paris states in "The Uses of Psychology" while fictional characters may not be actual living people, they are representative of the realistic fiction and are therefore, "real" in their own way. By creating plausible characters in a realistic work, the author can manipulate and draw in the reader, creating responses and feelings about the characters and, then the author's intent of the story. In order to convey the meaning or theme, the author first must draw in the reader through dynamic characters- without them, the meaning may be lost since the reader is not as actively engaged with the text. When we read, we inevitably look for things we understand or can relate to- especially the characters. We want to form a type of connection with them and in doing so, can understand the character's world (talking again as if they are real and have a world) and therefore, can understand the author's intent.

Paris, ''The Uses of Psychology'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 25, 2007

The Gender Gap

"Women authors, however, reflect the literal reality of their own cofinement in the constraints they depict, and so all at least begin with the same unconcious or conscious purpose in employing such spatial imagery. Recording their own distinctively female experience, they are secretly working through and within the conventions of literary texts to define their own lives" (Gilbery and Gubar 261).

It's all about the metaphors, ladies.

As Karissa also stated in her blog entry, Gilbert and Gubar claim that while women authors do use metaphors in their writing, they are of the more obvious variety and not on the same plane as men. The metaphors, they continue, are also more limited to the domestic variety, since this was the woman's main place of seclusion and writing material during the time when these feminist writings were emerging (the 19th century). Men, on the other hand, seem to use a variety of metaphors in their writing to describe their own psychological issues since they have more to explore- ie nothing in the home. So not only do men and women read differently, but they can't even use the same metaphors to describe seclusion? What's next?

It seems like the metaphors brought up in the article "'The Yellow Wallpaper'" (wow, that was creative, Gilbert and Gubar) are pretty basic ones...so obvious, in fact, that one almost hates to refer to them as metaphors. A house representing oppression, the domestic items as a metaphor for repression...nothing extremely new here. And when applied to "The Yellow Wallpaper" it came up with the same results- same basic ideas. I mean, how could anyone not read "The Yellow Wallpaper" and just be hit over the head with metaphors? And yet, why didn't I find anything new and interesting when reading the article? Am I a metaphor genius? Um...no; I'm just used to them. Back in the time this story was written, such metaphors being presented by women writers was probably a radical and new idea- much like Kolodny remarked in her article that men had to "get used to" reading works by women because they were so shocking and far from the normal standards of female writing at the time. Much like the metaphors in the stories. They are not "basic" or have less meaning than those by men but are simply related to the lives and women at the time. Now, however, the average reader understands both the writings of men and women, including their metaphors (and true lack of diversity between the two genders) and do not find the ideas as shocking when reading "The Yellow Wallpaper".

If we've come together to understand the writings and meanings between the works of either genders, why keep bringing up their differences if we now see that the ideas and themes are universal to either group?

Gilbert and Gubar, ''The Yellow Wallpaper'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Everyman and Everything

When I think of a musical, I imagine the "traditional" plays filled with elaborate costumes, catchy songs, and a nice tidy ending. Instead, with Everyman, I got death and a moral lesson.

Before watching the play I didn't know anything about the story- I certainly wasn't expecting an Old English Christian-themed play about the immorality of man and how this should be corrected before death. The old language was a sharp contrast to the modern, well, everything- costumes, scenery, and most of all, the Indigo Girls music. Now, even I know that the Indigo Girls weren't around when this play was written...no historical research needed.

The decision to mix the modern music with the historic play was an excellent idea- it broke up the Old English dialog (which took a minute to get used to) and the strong Christian subject matter (would you expect any less from SHU?). The music seemless for the theme of the play...almost as if it had been written especially for the play. I mean, who writes songs with so many spiritual references in them? Indigo Girls, did you have this play in mind when writing your songs?

Anonymous, ''Everyman'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 24, 2007

Write Me a Picture

"The Ut pictura poesis tradition includes a very old, special, and fascinating strain. If poetry is to be like a picture then, by a natural transition, it might be very appropriately be about a picture...Indeed, there is no purer way of insuring that poetry will be strictly picture-like than to make it speak about a picture" (Brann 245).

Ah, poetry and pictures. It does seem like a pretty obvious transition- I have always felt that literature and poetry can always "paint" words and create a picture for the reader, if it is written well. One needs to be just as skilled in order to create a vivid world for the reader as a painter is with a brush. It's all art, all the same idea.

If poetry can paint, then why not reverse it, as mentioned by Brann in "Pictures in Poetry: Keat's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'". Keats "Ode on a Grecian Urn" creates this iconic poetry by taking from a real object and reproducing it in a work of literature as something new and different, and yet the same. The reader can still "see" the piece through his words and descriptions but can now also gain something else from the piece as well- the meaning or purpose of it as Keats writes in the poem. Keats gives the piece of art a voice, a verbal way of interpretting it, rather than through sight alone.

Brann, ''Pictures in Poetry: Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Mimetic What?

"Mimetic criticism ignores the very things that make poems poems. Whatever ideology or philosophy is used to provide the standard of 'truth', none can very well account for the art of poetry, and all are inclined to seperate form and meaning, to extract the paraphrasable content of the poem and to judge that as if the poem were a philosophic treatise or a religious or economic tract....Thus, the opposition between artistic design and imitation accuracy troubles virtually all mimetic theories, and it especially troubles those with an empirical basis" (Keesey 211).

Oh wow am I going to have a hard time with this theory. All this Plato, Aristotle, and "true" talk sounds like philosophy to me...something I have never been able to "get". Freshman year I took the Honors Philosophy class (sounds more impressive than it was) and I couldn't tell you more than one basic theory of any philosopher. Heck, I was proud of myself for understanding the bed example in reference to Plato in this article.

So the mimetic critic is looking to see the "truth" in the work- how it is reflecting the "reality" of the world? Something similar? Poetry represents a "true" form of our world? I'm not sure if I buy into that idea, if I'm even close to understanding this theory. How does poetry represent the truth and, really, what is this elusive truth we are searching for? And why must a work be "real" (I've gone quotes crazy in this entry) and correspond to the reality of our world? Isn't that the fun of literature- to create anything we want? Who cares if it matches what is real in the world?

Usually I can gain a nice overview of a form of criticism through Keesey's Introductions but with this one, I'm going to need a bit (ok, a lot) of clarification.

Keesey, Ch 4 (Introduction) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 21, 2007

The One, the Only, the Blog Portfolio

You missed the blog portfolio, don't lie.

Coverage and Timeliness
Creating Tradition- The first entry for the new semester. Good thing I started it off right.
Stop Criticizing Me- I don't take criticism well
What is Literature? Good Question...- And we still don't really know
Hola Benito!- Benito! Mi chico, que pasa?
Wordage- The first of many
Don't Look Back- The great debate over criticism
Interpretations or Lack Thereof- The infamous Hirsch article, our favorite
Crazy is as Crazy Does- What else would this be about? "The Yellow Wallpaper" of course!
Melville Wasn't As Creative As We Thought- That liar
Even YOU Can Be a Formalist- For the low low price of $19.95
Revisiting the Tempest- She hasn't changed a bit
We All Have Our Reasons- They just aren't always good ones
Isn't It Ironic?- Wow, an entry about irony from Vanessa. Shock
Fun With Historical Readings- What? You mean you don't do lit crit for fun?
Eternal Keats- Figures he'd be the eternal one
Wordage- Numero dos
That Crazy Keats- I always knew he was a little off
Wordage- And yet a third time!
Criticism for Hippies- Peace, man
Tempt Me...With Your Words- Ooo...Shakespeare...
Melville, You Liar- You can't trust that man for anything
Chic-Lit- My favorite type
I Want to be the Ideal Reader- Don't we all?

Creating Tradition
Don't Look Back
Even YOU Can Be a Formalist
Criticism for Hippies
I Want to be the Ideal Reader

Blog Carnival
The Blog Carnival Needs Some Rides- Seriously, we need a ferris wheel and some soft pretzels

Hola Benito!
Stop Criticizing Me

What is Literature? Good Question...
Stop Criticizing Me
Don't Look Back
Interpretations or Lack Thereof
Crazy is as Crazy Does
Even YOU Can Be a Formalist
Isn't It Ironic?

Comment Primo
Tiffany- Musical Poetry, This is Your Life, Falling Slowly Into Depression
Karissa- Step Off Author...This is My Poem Now, Our Own Thoughts on the Urn Ode, Author Reliance, Cutting Out the Author
Valerie- Shakespeare, You Dirty Man!, Dr. Jerz Just Caught Me Making the Blog, As BatlySaid: I Meant to do That!, Interdisciplinary Lesson?, Donald Keesey Gives Me a Complex

Comment Grande
Karissa- Author Reliance
Valerie- Dr. Jerz Just Caught Me Making the Blog, As BatlySaid: I Meant to do That!

Comment Informative
Tiffany- This is Your Life
Valerie- Donald Keesey Gives Me a Complex

I'm Not Your Friend If You Don't Comment On My Blog- Just as random as you'd expect from me

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The Blog Carnival Needs Some Rides

We're only less than half way through the semester and already I feel like we've covered so much material in class. There have been many many readings, all covering a different way of looking at a piece of writing, and each (mostly) unique and interesting. When Karissa posed the blog carnival question of what critic has been the most stimulating, Iser's article, "Readers and the Concept of the Implied Reader" immediately came to mind. And I bet you all thought I'd pick the irony article...

So why Iser and not the expected irony article? Well, while I love irony and live it through every word dripping in sarcasm, it didn't spark anything "new". Iser's outline of the different types of readers when analyzing literature made me question what type of reader I am and why there needs to be so many distinctions between them in general. It was also an excellent article in providing insight into the reader-response form of criticism, one of my favorites.

Just because I enjoyed the article and found it most "stimulating", it does not mean I agreed with everything written. It was just one the provided me with the most "food for thought", as they say (who is "they"? Why do "they" get to say things all the time? Is there an implied "they" as well as the "real" they? Which am I?) I agree that there are different types of readers when looking at a piece yet...I'm not sure if so much value should be placed on one specific type. The ideal reader is just that- ideal. Something unobtainable. Why not focus on the "real" reader, the common one? Because real people say stupid things about literature, and that makes for poor literary criticism.

I like what Jay wrote about reader-response in relation to this article, "While competence is a necessary component to reading literature, the fact that a reader already brings in their own judgments into a text is very influential to the literature itself." It is what the reader takes from a piece of literature that is important, not that they are necessarily conforming to a type of reader. Different pieces mean different things to readers and, for the most part, that's ok.

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Im Not Your Friend If You Don't Comment on My Blog

When we were little, we were forced to learn that when someone does something nice to us, we should do something nice back to them. Failure to receprocate properly meant that the kind acts would become less and less and, since we were kids, eventually lead to the end of a friendship. Growing older, the same idea applies and now even more so with blogs. Blogs have created yet another social rule for us to follow with the consequences reminding me of when I was a kid- "If you don't comment on my blog, I'm sooooo not your friend anymore!"

There are so many overused cliches I could make here for this theory; I'll refrain, but the basic idea is that blogging, like friendship, is a give and take relationship. In order to keep getting comments, you have to comment on other people's blogs as well. It's like sending a Thank You card after you receive a gift- it's the polite thing to do and, if you want Aunt Milly to keep buying you nice jewelry, the right thing to do according to our social standards.

But can not commenting on a blog really kill a friendship? Yes, I think it can. Those who fail to comment back in an appropriate fashion (remember, one comment does not equal the six that someone else wrote) are first subject to a lack of comments. If someone can't be bothered to take four minutes to respond to something on my blog, why should I bother to look at their's? There are plenty of other bloggers out there who would appreciate my loving comments. Next, the dislike outside of the blogosphere. The snide looks, under the breath comments ("Yeah, well, you never comment on my blog so...why should I care what you think?"), the general dislike of someone on class just because of a failure to comment. By not conforming to the new social standard of commenting, you could become "The Boy/Girl Who Doesn't Comment" and become generally ostracized from the group. Trust me, I've seen it happen. It's a sad time.

I don't mean for the entry to reflect my current blogmates (actually, I just needed a Xenoblog for my portfolio. Hi Dr. Jerz!) and their ability to comment. I just thought it was a unique idea- that blogging can influence people so strongly as to create actual tension over something so simple as commenting. I guess it's true- "Do unto others as you wish they to do unto you" (sorry, I just had to use one of the cliches in this entry. I'm done, I promise).

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February 18, 2007

I Want to be the Ideal Reader

"The ideal reader, unlike the contemporary reader, is a purely fictional being; he has no basis in reality and it is this very fact that makes him so useful: as a fictional being, he can close the gaps that constantly appear in any analysis of literary effects and responses. He can be endowed with a variety of qualities in accordance with whatever problem he is called upon to help solve" (Iser 142).

Sure, you can do a reader-response reading of a text, but the real question is what kind of reader should be responding? According to Iser in "Readers and the Concept of the Implied Reader" there are several different forms of a reader- the "real", "implied", and "ideal". I strive to be the "ideal" but, in reality, am the "real".

Reader-response often creates the question of "Whose reading is valid?" Sure, everyone's interpretations of a text have value, but some have more than others, as Iser points out. The writer has his own version of the reader in mind- the reader that understands everything, who gets all the symbolism and carefully crafted wording. This person exists for the writer, and sometimes the writer alone, as the reader in actuality often misses symbols and meaning and is forced to study the text intently. This is the "implied" reader- the way we should read the text- with the author in mind.

The "ideal", although she doesn't exist per se, is what we base our criticism on, and what we can only aspire to become. What I read as the "real" reader isn't necessarily interesting or engaging...in fact, it's barely valid for any literary study. "Real" readers bring in their own thoughts and experiences, their own biases toward the writing, while the "ideal" is like a world unto itself- it has no experiences or biases so it reads with clear eyes and therefore can uncover the true meaning of the text, through exploration of words and syntax (in which the "ideal" is well-informed. Genius reader). This is why the "ideal" does not exist- readers have trouble seperating their thoughts, concious or unconcious, from the text which can create different interpretations. The "ideal" sets our standard of reading, our "model which makes it possible for the structured events of literary texts to be described" (147).

Iser, ''Readers and the Concept of the Implied Reader'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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"While neither the Gilman nor Gaspell story necessarily exludes the male as the reader- indeed both are directed specifically at educating him to become the better reader- they do, nonetheless, insist that, however inadvertently, he is a different kind of reader and that, where women are concerned, he is often an inadequate reader" (Kolodny 201).

We all know that guys and girls are different in numerous ways but, now, we even read differently and take different meanings from literature? I guess there is a reason we have "chiclit".

While the majority of Kolodny's "A Map for Rereading: Or, Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts" recounts Bloom's texts practically word for word, her overall arguement is that women's literature at the time of "The Yellow Wallpaper" was not only written by women, for women, but also to show men they have no idea what girls are talking about most of the time (which is true). Yet another divide among the sexes.

"The Yellow Wallpaper", according to Kolodny, is not only a text about the descent into madness, but a woman's response to the misunderstanding of our thoughts and lives during the era in which it was written. John does not understand his wife, eventually causing an even greater slip into insantiy, just as men could not understand women's literature. Really? Is a woman's writing so different from a man's? Are our themes so strange that men simply cannot grasp the meaning? I'm pretty sure that some ideas are universal, regardless of gender.

However, this is looking at the text during the time of the text, when a woman's writing truly was radically different. "...women were expected to write specifically for their own sex and within the tradition of woman's culture rather than within the Great Tradition. They never presented themselves in the footsteps of Milton or Spencer" (Baym qtd. in Kolodny 196). Men were confused to see a woman writing, especially about troubling subjects such as sexuality, insanity, and the treatment by men. Their loving wives really didn't think this way, right? It was a time of shock for male readers, who didn't really know how to "take" this emerging genre of women writers. The male is not unable to understand the writing of women, he just must adjust his thinking in order to better understand the meaning and realize women have thoughts too, and they don't all involve the kitchen.

Kolodny, '"A Map for Rereading: Or, Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Melville, You Liar

"The narrator is a shadow figure in 'Benito Cereno' who operates in the background, stirring the pot and adding murkiness that appears unnecessay to the plot (unleess a crucial plot element is seen to be the creation of confusion, not just in Delano, but in the reader as well)" (O'Connell 191).

I admit, I fell for it. Melville, you rat, you got me again. You made me believe the story was about slavery, you made me believe in Delano. Now I see, that was all part of your master plan. Point: Melville.

Melville crafted a sneaky little narrator in "Benito Cereno", one who adds a confusion to an seemingly straightforward story. "It's about slavery, right?" we all thought. Sadly, this just proves that we are not the "ideal" reader Melville had in mind when creating his novella. The "ideal" reader would have seen right through the narrator's trick and understood right away how the audience was made to trust Delano through a series of carefully crafted description and obersations. However, I am anything but the "ideal", took the bait, and trusted the narrator like a good little reader. Why then, Melville, would you create a story just for the "ideal"?

Because he wants to see us try, fail, and then try again (like Buddhist enlightenment?). As O'Connell describes in "Narrative Collusion and Occlusion in Melville's 'Benito Cereno'", "...[is is] extremely easy for an actual reader to fall into the position scripted for the reader within the text" (188). He had a plan for us all along! The narrator was written to obscure the truth, to make the reader dig deeper into the text, and look beyond the obvious into the meaning of the text. Melville is trying to make us "ideal" readers, those who can see what the text's actual purpose. Sadly, I wish I would have known this trick earlier- I could have read so much more into the story.

O'Connell, ''Narrative Collusion and Occlusion in Melville's 'Benito Cereno''' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Tempt Me...With Your Words

"The play encourages its audience to scrutinize the linguistic and structural patterns for meaning, but it stoutly refuses to yield those meanings easily or fully" (McDonald 105).

You have to love a text that teases. In McDonald's "Reading 'The Tempest'" (creative much?) he explains how "The Tempest" is a text full of secret meanings that Shakespeare is in no hurry to offer up easily. Is the repetition important? What does it mean? How does it help us in understanding the text?

This was an excellent formalist reading since it examined the play piece-by-piece, letter-by-letter. As Keesey explains in the Introduction to formalism, "...formal critics appear to be simply pointing to features or patterns in the poem that we might have overlooked" (78). And overlook we did. Even while trying to study a text in-depth, we may gloss over non-obvious patterns or words or sounds, missing the purpose behind each. The meaning is found through Shakespeare's words in this instance, not his life. The text is standing alone, as an entitity unto itself, and any interpretation stems from the word choice and the flow of the text, not a historical background.

This is what makes "The Tempest" so frustrating when looking soley at the language. As McDonald states, "...the text never fulfills the expectations of clarity in which the discovery of such patterns engenders" (105). We search and search for a meaning beneath Shakespeare's intricate web of words, and yet never seem for fully grasp what he is intending. It is like he is teasing us with the repetition and the rhythmn of the words to see if the reader can understand the meaning behind them. It's a test- are the readers adept enough to find the interpretation in his works? All words have a purpose, yet it might not always be on the surface of the text.

McDonald, ''Reading The Tempest'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 17, 2007

Criticism for Hippies

"...different people react very differently to the 'same'poem. Some see superficiality where others find profundity; some praise uplifting sentiments where others complain of cliches; some discover coherence where others see only chaos" (Keesey 133).

There is a good reason why I'm not majoring in math (other than the fact that sometimes, when I multiply, 6X7 comes up 52). In math or science, there is always that one "right" answer. Everything is always very black and white, right or wrong, with no room for creative interpretation. Literature, however, lacks such strict boundaries between the correct and the incorrect, allowing the reader to draw their own answers from the work, rather than having to understand it one certain way.

Reader-response is a form of criticism after my own heart. It's sort of like the hippie, free-sprited cousin of other literary criticisms, since it focuses more on what the reader thinks and feels, rather than what the author intended. "Most reader-response critics have little interest in authors or intended meanings. The poem exists now. It affects us now. These, they claim, are the crucial facts, and any relevant criticism must be built on them" (Keesey 129). Take away all the fluff of historical readings and the ambiguious meanings by the author and just look at the text. In the end, it is the text that is important and what we take from it.

However, as Keesey notes in his "Introduction", there must be some sort of boundary for doing a reader-response criticism of a work. Every reader can't be right and valid all the time, can they? To some extent, sure they can. If it seems plausilble enough, then who is to say one interpretation is less valid than another one? As I noted earlier, that's the beauty of literature. Like the quote states, while one may see chaos and the other peace, each reader brings their own interpretations and meanings into a poem and creates something new and interesting each time it is read.

Keesey, Ch 3 (Introduction) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 16, 2007

That Crazy Keat's

"The lifeless desolation of art uncovered by the ode's fourth stanza is thus already implied by the grammatical and rhetorical elements of the third stanza and, in particular, by its dependent quality" (Kent 115).

As a formalist reading, I understand how one has to read the text "as is". Yet, I'm not sure how I feel about breaking up the stanzas and interpretting them each differently, instead of taking them as a whole. In Kent's "On the Third Stanza of Keat's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'" If a poem was written as a whole, then shouldn't it be read as such? Each stanza might have a different meaning and idea to it (as it should) but they should then be interpretted together. To look at it this way is to make a stanza its own poem as Kent notes in the third stanza's "dependent quality".

Kent, ''On the Third Stanza of Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn''' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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What NOT to look up in the Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary terms: reader-response criticism.

"Reader response criticsm encompasses various appraoches to literature that explore and seek to explain the diversity (and often divergence) of readers' responses to literary works. Reader-response critics raise theoretical questins about whether our responses to a work are the same as its meaning(s), whether a work can have as many meanings as we have responses to it, and whether some responses are more valide than others. They also provide us with models that aid our understandings of texts and the reading process" (391).

I could have gone on for four pages.

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

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February 13, 2007


With all this talk about irony, I decided to look up what it really meant.

Irony- originally a deceptive form of understatement; hence an attribute of statements in which the meaning is different--or more complicated--than it seems.


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

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February 12, 2007

Eternal Keats

"A reader who considers Keat's poems and letters knows that Keats would not under any circumstances mean that knowledge of eternity is the only knowledge that Man needs. Keats would have had to mean that earthly intimations of eternity was all the knowledge of eternity that Man needs" (Austin 51).

Who knew Keats was so hung up on eternity. Without this article, I doubt I would have initially seen the idea of eternity in "Ode to a Grecian Urn". Actually, I doubt I would have seen a lot of things in the poem...like why the Urn is suddenly personified to be an object to give the reader an understanding about life.

So how did this idea of eternity in the poem come about? By looking at the past, we can understand the present- at least with literary works. Instead of looking at Keat's personal life regarding his religious feelings on eternity and the ideas about it during his time, Austin reviews his own works instead. Past works reveal a lot about a writer and maybe even more so than their biography. If evidence of eternity is found in other works, why not apply this theme to "Ode to a Grecian Urn"? His letters as well add an insight into what Keat's believed in and how it could have been represented in the poem. This is almost as good as asking Keat's himself.

Austin, ''Toward Resolving Keats's Grecian Urn Ode -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Fun with Historical Readings

"...The Tempest invited the audience to formulate a critique of political obedience which demurred at the 'obvious' next step of repudiation" (Yachnin 40).

In order to do historical criticism, you have to have two majors- that in English and one in history. You have to know far too much about a time period not to devote another degree to historical study. Also, without a good historical background, you fail to see important elements of a work, such as this one. I can do a fairly good historical reading of a text, but I doubt I would have noticed a political obedience theme in "The Tempest" without prior knowledge.

I can argue for the idea of obedience in "The Tempest"; the play is filled with opression, obedience, and serving one's master. However, political obedience never really came to mind since A) I don't know much about it and B) I don't think about political oppression much. However as Yachnin argues in "Shakespeare and the Idea of Obedience", the audience would have seen this idea of political obedience during the performance of the play, due to the turmoil at the time. And I'm sure some did. But in general, the audience was just looking for a good time. You think the groundlings, while throwing food at the actors, really cared to examine the political meaning behind Gonzalo and his impact on the play as well as provide political commentary? No. Is it possible, when studying literature, to take a historical idea and stretch it a bit, trying to get it to relate to a work just because it "should" fit? Was this a concious meaning by Shakespeare, or was he just trying to get a play out in order to pay his rent that month? Politics may have beent he farthest thing from his mind.

Yachnin, ''Shakespare and the Idea of Obedience: Gonzalo in The Tempest -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 11, 2007

Isn't It Ironic?

"Those critics who attribute the use of ironic techniques to the poet's own bloodless sophistication and tired scepticism would be better advised to refer these vices to his potential readers, a public corrupted by Hollywood and the Book of the Month Club. For the modern poet is not addressing simple primitives but a public sophisticated by commercial art" (Brooks 90).

Not only is Brooks talking about irony in "Irony as Principle of Structure" but he himself is a bit sarcastic and ironic in his description of the art as well, which I love. I'm all about irony.

As per Brooks in the quote, irony is not the sophisticated technique that we imagine it to be, conveying a sort of meaning that only the well informed can understand (much like British humour). To think this way is to be part of the class of people "corrupted" by Hollywood- the apparently unread who have found sophistication in television and not books and have lost the meaning of irony. Is this why irony is difficult to determine at times? Because as the readers corrupted by the Book of the Month Club (full of pop literature that lacks any irony and, if there is any, is really obvious and takes the fun out of searching for it) can only see what is in front of them, instead of the detailed irony that lies beneath? Irony is great because things are not always as they seem, making the verses more interesting. Is it a flower, or is it something more? And if so, can we determine what that "something" is?

Brooks, ''Irony as a Principle of Structure'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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We All Have Our Reasons

"When we ask of a poem questions on the order of 'What did the poet intend it for?'...this is surely a good question to ask, and anybody who objects at this point that the search for the author's intention is necessarily a fallacy should be sent about his business" (Watson 31).

I couldn't help but notice a bit of sarcastic and condescending tone in Watson's "Are Poems Historical Acts?". So of course, I loved this article even more! To sum it up- don't be stupid. Of course there is a reason why an author writes something. That's what we have to go looking for.

This is my kind of way of looking at text. I like to explore why the author wrote it...what he or she was trying to get across rather than bringing in other historical elements to try and create a reason. In the end, the author is obviously the most important part of any piece...without him or her, there would be no text. Sure, as Watson noted, their original intent may be different than what we read into it today, but it is still valid. When writing, words are chosen carefully and deliberatly, to evoke some sort of meaning or feeling from the reader. Even the Victorians knew what was up- they read the poem as just the poem, not with a different historical view or purpose, but with the understanding that the literature and the author was important; everything else was just extra fluff. Everyone writes for a reason. It's up to us to discover what that reason is.

Watson, ''Are Poems Historical Acts?'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Revisiting the Tempest

Admittedly, I had to read a quick summary of "The Tempest" just to remember all the key points. The last time I read it was freshman year, In Dr. Jerz's Intro to Lit Study class (I also blogged about it but didn't feel the need to revisit those. They were awful) so granted, I forgot a few key plot points. And characters...I forgot Ariel was even a character, actually.

"You taught me language, and my profit ont
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
"(I.ii.366368)- Spoken by Caliban

As I recalled the play, I came across this quote-one of my favorites. It's Caliban's little way of telling Prospero that if he is going to try and "educate" him, he can use this education for other purposes. It is an excellent example of Prospero and Caliban's relationship, as one of control and defiance. Caliban rejects his colonization and in turn, rejects language, since he feels it has not helped him do anything more than have the ability to swear. Language is Caliban's reminder that he is the captive of Prospero, physically as well as mentally since he has learned language.

Shakespeare, The Tempest -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 9, 2007

Even YOU Can Be a Formalist

"Whereas historical critics, for example, usually appear an experts who are supplying information obtained through months or years of research into an author's life or times, formal critics appear to be simply pointing to features or patterns that we might have overlooked" (Keesey 78).

Alright, sounds like my kind of criticism. I don't need to do research, any formal training, and I can have a valid literary idea? Sign me up.

Finally, a criticism for the rest of us. For those who don't really care what the author ate the morning she wrote the poem but instead want to focus on the words and their meaning in the context of the text, formalism is it. By not following the conventions of high literary criticism but instead concentrate solely on text, formalists have been a group unto themselves, shunned by the members of other criticism parties. A majority of the class seems to fall into this category, since we focus on the poem "an an 'object', as something that exists independently of its creator" (76), instead of focusing on authorial intent. It really isn't a revolutionary idea- to read the poem as a poem and nothing more involved than the words and their meaning or purpose, on the paper.

My favorite part of Keesey's Chapter Two "Introduction" is that apparently "we can all play the game" (79). Criticism for the rest of us. No formal training, no late nights, just a keen eye and an understanding for reading the text as it should be read- as a world of its own.

Keesey, Ch 2 (Introduction) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 4, 2007

Melville Wasn't as Creative as We Thought

Apparently, Herman Melville was a plagarist of history. Looking at his background, and the events at the time the story was written, Melville didn't create a new tale but rather stole from the real-life dramas of the time. Good one, Hermy.

The title of the article is what struck me really more than anything: "Herman Melville and the American National Sin: The Meaning of 'Benito Cereno'" by Sidney Kaplan. Really, the meaning? Can Kaplan really make such a claim? How can one ever truly know the meaning of the story? Is Kaplan magic? No, he just used the author's history, of course.

I think this was a bit of a historical reading, since a lot of history about the time in which Melville wrote "Benito Cereno" was given. I learned more about ships of the 1800s than I ever cared to know. Was this information useful in shedding light on the meaning of the work? Not entirely. It really only displayed Melville's lack of creativity on his part, instead of giving me much insight. Another case for the lack of necessity for author biography/history on a work?

I also doubt Kaplan's admission of supplying the meaning to the story. I must say, none of the information presented was entirely earth-shattering: black vs white, slave vs owner, good vs evil, and all the dark foreshadowing. Gee, who would have thought? It is not necessary for the reader to know whether Melville was a Yank or Southerner in order to pick out his feelings on slavery and the view of blacks in this era, as well as the predjudices experienced by most Americans at the time. While helpful, it is not crucial, as the reader can pick up these key elements from the story regardless.

Kaplan, ''Herman Melville and the American National Sin: The Meaning of 'Benito Cereno''' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 3, 2007

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

Ah, the old literary favorite, "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Like most in the class, I've read this before and have even blogged on it. It's funny to see how my interpretations of the story change from then to now.

I'm not going to go into depth about how crazy the woman was in the story, how awful her husband treated her, and how the room aided her progression into madness. The story is pretty cut-and-dry, considering some other pieces of literature. (Then again, I still hold that she kills herself in the end. We had a nice arguement about this in my American Lit class last year.) Instead, let's take a look at the author (since this is the theme for the week).

I can't pick just one quote from the story to look at, since all aspects should be taken it. In summary- the woman is depressed, she is kept in a room by her husband (who felt this was the best course of treatment, considering the time it was written), and the room holds all her fears and worries, driving her to insanity. I've read a statement by Gilman explaining this story and her own battle with depression, therefor killing any unique thoughts or ideas about the text. By defining it exactly with her own experiences, the author takes away the "fun" of literature- exploring the work and interpreting it for ourselves. Sure, it is nice to have the author's purpose there in black and white, since it takes away the infamous guessing game, but it also takes away from the story. We are then conditioned to immediately ask, "Was the author like this? How could they write a story if not?" after each piece read. Another arguement for the lack of a need for author history in examining literature? Perhaps.

Gilman, ''The Yellow Wallpaper'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Interpretations, or Lack Thereof

"But to say that a text might represent several structures of meaning does not imply that it does in face represent all the meanings which a particular word sequence can legally convey" (21).

I have to admit, this was not the easiest text for me to get through. I'm sure E.D. Hirsch, Jr. had a lovely meaning in "Objective Interpretation", but I'm not sure I understood it as I should. Then again, isn't that like literature in general? We know there is meaning behind it, but sometimes we fail to understand it correctly, or at all. It's the eternal struggle for English majors. The elusive meaning.

Throughout the essay, Hirsch was stressing the actual words of the text, rather than the author's intentions (I think). We need to stop reading between the lines for a look at the background of the author but take the works as their words and make meanings just from them. That's what literature is- the words. It is not what the author ate for breakfast when they wrote it, but what words they used to get their meaning across. Without analyzing this important factor, we can understand nothing.

Hirsch, ''Objective Interpretation'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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February 1, 2007

Don't Look Back

In class tonight, Dr. Jerz posed the question (or something similar, as I can't recall the exact phrasing), "What do we need to know about an author to appreciate his or her work?" Several people finished the exercise quickly, simply writing down "nothing". Others practically composed an entire essay on the importance of the author's history in relation to understanding their works. Although I don't think that knowing the background of an author is impairative for reading and appreciating a work, the study does have some merit. I'm a bit on the fence, just as Keesey seemed in places in his "Introduction".

"We naturally expect that the investigator will get around to telling us something interpretive about poems...Critical procedures using the life to explain the work can easily get entangled with biographical procedures using the work to explain the life, and the result may be a vast tautology" (10).

Readers or literary scholars often want to know the "why" for a writer. We are never content with making our own inferences, but want to delve deeper and get to the "true" meaning the author intended, even when he or she had no (conscious) meaning at all. And since most of our favorite players in the literary world are dead, we turn to their lives for clues. Scholars dig up everything about an author: where they lived, what they did, where they went to school, the name of their dog when they were 8, and the first person they kissed. And if this information cannot be found, researchers move onto looking at the time period and what the average person would have done, lived, named their dog at age 8, and who they would have kissed. It is believed that by knowing every little nuance about an author, this should give insight into why they wrote a certain line, or used a certain figure. However, as interesting as all this is (hey, I want to know who Dickens met on October 24, 1843), is it important to the overall piece?

I am in no way discrediting the study of authors and how this may have affected their works. This is where I take two stances, if possible: while I think that in some ways, the economic, geographic, and political history of a writer largely impacts his or her works and can shed some light onto various symbols or allusions, I don't think it should be initially considered when forming a criticism on the work. When reading a piece for the first time, I don't want to know that the author was a Communist right away. I think we should make our own inferences about the piece and what it represents before looking at the biography. The background information should merely be a support for the reading. A kind of "Ah! That's why they mentioned this!" moment. Literature should be looked at with fresh eyes from the start and allow us to make our own assumptions.

Assumptions here being the key word, of course. How do we ever really know? Will we ever really know? We are simply assuming that the author meant this when writing a story or poem, and use the background evidence to support our ideas. Yet, as Keesey points out, we are again assuming that the author was "typical" for his or her time. It's a lot of assuming on our part, and you know what that does...makes a confused lit scholar.

Keesey, Ch 1 (Introduction) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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