March 26, 2007

Wright's Right

"The question naturally arises why we should bother ourselves....that has produced the text from which we can generate a wealth of meanings" (Wright 399) The entire paragraph.

Finally! It's everything I've been talking about for a year! (Or at least awhile now). Wright's "The New Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism" helps to resolve some of my "issues" with literary criticism. I often complain that with all the anaysis we are doing, how can we or anyone ever really know what is "right" or what the author really intended. With all the different forms of literary criticisms, some of it just seems a bit contrived in order to fulfill the requirement of the criticism- to get something that wasn't there in the first place.

I also feel that sometimes with criticism, we are reading a bit too much into things...placing meaning where there originally was not any. (Not with everything, mind you. Some symbols are devestatingly obvious) You think Shakespeare intended for his pieces to be deconstructed and such meaning to be taken from them? Precisely what Wright hits on. Sure, the authors may have never initially intended to put such meaning into a work, but it came out subconciously whether the like it or not. Exploring their words helps the reader and the writer to find connections that neither may have thought existed. Sure, I still have some gripes (I really want a literary critic to take a look at some of my stories and tell me what they see- that would be funny) but at least one critic admits that some of it may sound far-fetched, and that's ok.

Wright, ''The New Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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I Really Feel Like Buying Jeans Now

Let me begin by saying when I first glanced at the text I saw the word "metaphysics" and got so upset I couldn't read the article for an hour. That word shouldn't be in a lit crit book.

"One can therefore describe what is peculiar to the structural organization only by not taking into account, in the very moment of this description, its past conditions: by failing to post the problem of the passage from one structure to another, by putting history into parenthesis. In this 'structuralist' moment, the concepts of chance and discontinuity are indispensable" (Derrida 362).

What an article. First, it was structure is good. We can learn a lot from structure. Then, signs are good too. Check them out. Then Levi-Strauss, Levi-Strauss, myths, Levi-Strauss (think he got made fun of as a kid? I hope so). I would have rather read the Levi-Strauss article- I would have gotten more out of it, I think.

So it is the structures that make a work? We should look at them and how they came about in the social and cultural context in order to understand a work (I hesitate to say "text" here, as per Keesey)? Derrida's "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences'" does not exactly outline structuralism for me- or how to relate it well to a literary work. "The center is not the center"? Ok then, what is it, and how can I read a piece of writing with this in mind? I applaud you, Valerie, for taking on this difficult article.

Derrida, ''Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Creating the Text

"But are unity and coherence really features of the poem, or are they simply fuctions of the critics' own rage for order?" (Keesey 343)

Initially, I just chose this quote because Keesey uses "rage" to describe literary critics. They're a ruthless bunch. However, the more I thought about it, the quote does more than poke fun at the ferocity of the literary world. With literary criticism, we (the reader) are often forced into a way of examining a text, all depending on what the literary critic thinks is "right". "Benito Cereno" just must be read with historical criticism because the critics say it should, right? It was put in this nice little box and categorized without looking at all parts of the text.

Again Keesey has annoyed me by contradicting his previous thoughts on criticism in favour of a new one. Each time I read an Introduction, I swear up and down that this new criticism is the be-all-end-all...until the next chapter. In this one, the language and the structure is important...everything else is flawed and objective. And our previously thought idea of "text"? Out the window. The "text" is not just limited to the work itself now, but applies to the linguistic cultural forms of expression and thought. "Text" is becoming something larger than the work itself. Sometimes I feel we are no closer to getting the meaning of a text than anyone else...

Keesey, Ch 6 (Introduction) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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March 25, 2007

Mortem for a Modernist

First, a little story:

Over Christmas break when I bought Postmortem for a Postmodernist I thought it was a little strange to have a whole novel on literary criticism. What a weird creation- people need hobbies. Then I read it before break ended because I thought Dr. Jerz told us to get a head start by reading the novel. Apparently, I was wrong because we're half way through the course...oh well. It was my venture into the wonderful world of literary criticism and I thought if all literary criticism forms would come in novel form, maybe they'd be more interesting to understand. I was, of course, wrong.

While I applaud Berger for disguising literary criticism as a novel (and appealing to all those die-hard lit critics out there), I'm not sure how much I actually gained by reading the novel in general. Other than the fact that Postmortem for a Postmodernist didn't make for much of a mystery, I wasn't very engaged in the postmodern part of the book. Sure, a lot of information was just "given" to the reader throughout about postmodernist (because yes, people just bring those things up in typical conversation...right...), but they were big "information drops" (CW term). I felt like I should be taking notes during my mystery novel.

Berger, Postmortem for a Postmodernist -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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March 19, 2007

What Do Cans Have to do With Literature?

The smart thing to do would have been to read Freud's (ugh, Freud) "The Uncanny" before going to see Blade Runner. Then I could have sat there like an informed student and picked out how it related to the movie in order to write a well constructed paper on the symbolism. Instead, Val and I heckled the screen. Oh well. Live and learn.

However, I was able to pull a good amount from the article and relate it to the movie, weirdly enough. The idea of the uncanny isn't limited to psychology or literature, but can expand to all media forms, like the movie.

"It is true that the writer creates a kind of uncertainty in us in the beginning by not letting us know, no doubt purposely, whether he is taking us into the real world or into a purely fantastic one of his own creation" Freud 382).

Although this refers to a really distrurbing story about the Sandman, this idea holds true for any literature, or even a movie. By twisting things around, the author (or screenwriter) allows us to step back and see that things are different- they are uncanny. We are then able to put ourselves into this make believe world now that we understand its purpose and function. The story is meant to engage the reader and make him or her wonder about the outcome- to worry and have uncertaintly about the plot and, on a larger scale, about life. This uncertaintly then becomes Freud's "uncanny"- our not knowing.

As I already mentioned in my crically-acclaimed blog entry on Blade Runner, I also found the uncanny present in the setting of the movie. Once again we are drawn from our beliefs and expectations and placed in another world that is unexpected and fully uncertain. The place is uncanny and the director and screenwriter want to keeps the viewer here, suspended between what they hope will be true about the future and what the future "is" (or what they are seeing it to be). Not only does it make for good movie watching (in theory), but also a tool for explaining all our weird, creepy feelings.


Freud, ''The Uncanny'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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You Disappoint Me, Harrison Ford

Nothing says fun on a Sunday night then a screening of a 1982 sci-fi thriller, Blade Runner. Even though it stars Harrison Ford, a potential perk of the movie since the rest of the actors were 80s B-listers, even he was a disappointment most of the time. Harrison is supposed to do the beating, not the other way around. What a disappointment.

That aside, I really find myself at a lack of appropriate things to comment about this movie. Sure, I could go on about how for most of the movie Val and I were making dirty comments about when Harrison and a Replicant were going to hook up, or how the unicorn was completely random and useless and how 2019 is in the very near future and we are no where close to having flying cars. But as a piece of literary criticism?

I found the mood and the tone of the movie a bit, shall I say it, "uncanny". There was that (as Freud went on and on about) sense of dread throughout the entire movie and we know that something bad could happen at any time (the anticlimactic music didn't help). I would like to believe the future is a bit more, um, sunny than what was presented but having a dark and rainy setting heightened the experience of the uncanny. Had it been light and cheerful, how afraid would anyone have been of the Replicants? Also, as readers/viewers we imagine the future to be a wonderful place, full of amazing electronics, no war, and all our problems solved so we can merely enjoy the non-UV ray containing sun. Although idealized, I think everyone expects (or at least hopes) for the future to be, if not better, clearner, happier, etc. than now. But to take away what is expected, make it dark and full of Japanese people, weird guns and rain- that is a bit uncanny, dontcha think?

Scott, dir. Blade Runner (Director's Cut) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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March 12, 2007

The (Not-so) Mysterious World of Cereno

"Here we can see how appropriate the form of 'Benito Cereno' is for the theme: the problem of duplicity, of false meanings, of masks accompanied by the threat of hidden violence is precisely the problem that the mystery story needs and addresses" (Swann 322).

Oh, this poor poor story. We (the literary world) keeps beating the thing to death. And Swann's "Whodunnit? Or, Who Did What? 'Benito Cereno' and the Politics of Narrative Structure" attempts to make his own case for yet another new reading of "Benito Cereno". But to shelf it, categorize it, and place it in a genre?

Sadly, as much as I want to disagree with Swann's huge article, he does make an appropriate case for "Benito Cereno" being a mystery story- at least in regards to an intertextual reading where it follows the literary (say it with me now) conventions of the mystery genre. Against all appearances one may discredit this reading but, when looked at against other mystery stories, "Benito Cereno" does correspond- if you hold the same conventions of a mystery story as Swann. Personally, I look for a few other things when categorizing, so does that mean that I either am not following the understood traditional conventions or have I just not read enough to examine the story fully? That's what seems to make intertextuality so subjective- my ideas and my conventions may not hold up against others. Or I may see something in one work that appears to be similar in another and examine them together, when someone else may discredit the idea. Ah creative liberties.

Swann, ''Whodunnit? Or, Who Did What? 'Benito Cereno' and the Politics of Narrative Structure'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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And the Circle Continues

"Structuralism leads us to think of the poem not as a self-contained organism but as a sequence which has meaning only in relation to a literary system, or rather, to the 'institution' of literature which guides the reader. The sense of a poem's completeness is a function of the totality of the interpretive process, the result of the way we have been taught to read poems" (Culler 291).

Now this- this I like. Culler's "Structuralism and Literature" paints a much better literary picture of intertextuality for me. The idea of looking not only indepthly at the poem itself, but to explore it within the context of other poems- great idea. From reading my other entries, you'll see I'm not 100% behind the idea of intertextuality, but the idea that the poem is not it's own little world, or "self-contained organism", is an excellent way of looking at a work when doing literary criticism. A work should never be just seen as only itself and nothing more, not affected by other literary works, conventions, or authorial intent. A poem is made up of not only what the author puts into it, but also the conventions and corresponding parts of literature that govern how we read, respond, and react to a poem or other piece. The more we read, the more we know. And the more we know, the more we can know about literature.

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

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March 11, 2007

Literary Realism

"When we enter the world of The Tempest, with its curious feeling of being a world withdrawn from both death and birth, we recognize again that that world is being specifically identified with the world of the drama" (Frye 303).

Was Shakespeare's The Tempest following (our favorite term for this form of criticism) the conventions of drama at the time to create a world and a play that we can view as both unique and familiar when compared to other dramas of the time?

Frye's "Shakespeare's The Tempest" illustrates Shakespeare keeping with the norm for drama and literature at the time, displaying the traditional elements found in most works, his own included. I wondered, though, if he was trying to create a sense of reality and if so, wouldn't this then lend itself to a mimetic reading? If we can use Caliban as an allusion to cannibalism in the New World and find the historical elements of the play, then have we crossed the line of intertextualism?

Or perhaps a form of "literary realism" is created with Shakespeare's works, especially The Tempest. Readers expect a certain amount of fantasy in literature and usually receive it, even when there is no actual magic. Literature does not always have to draw upon the real of our lives- what fun is that? Instead it creates its own realism through expected elements and, dare I say it, conventions that the reader has come to understand and know as the familiar in poems, plays, etc. Shakespeare follows the "literary realism" in The Tempest- keeping the structure of the play similar to what others were writing (or his other works as well) in addition to forming a "dramady". Again, to understand what he is doing with the play we must understand the "literary realism" as well as the other forms of literature and criticism and hence, create this intertextuality of the work. Ah Frye, you've done it again.

Frye, ''Shakespeare's The Tempest'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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A Critical Path Indeed

"It seemed to me obvious that, after accepting the poetic form of a poem as its primary basis or meaning, the next step was to look for its context within literature itself. And of course the most obvious literary context for a poem is the entire output of its author" (Frye 183).

Frye is on a quest, it seems in "The Critical Path". The age old quest to find the perfect form of literary criticism- one that can find the "true" meaning of the literature, if there even is such a thing. And intertextuality is it?

He argues that critics need a form that does not draw too heavily on one idea, but encompasses all of them, like a mixture of all criticism. One should not draw too much on the historical elements, as they are often not as important to the piece as the reader may assume. Much like Keesey's Introduction, the other criticisms can be disregarded to make way for intertextuality- being able to find that perfect relationship between one form of literature to another and drawing ideas of each other. It has less to do with influence than similarity- the reader understanding one piece in order to understand another. Intertextuality moves away from other forms that are often forced on a piece of literature, and may not work to bring out its meaning or purpose, by looking at the text (and other texts) instead. But how important is this understanding of the "central theme of literture" and not other forms of criticism? Can't we use all of them at some points?

Frye, ''The Critical Path'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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Conventions, Conventions, Conventions

"A particular poem can be understood only by someone who understands its conventions, but these conventions must be learned by studying similar poems, and a reading of each of these requires in turn a knowledge of conventions" (Keesey 275).

So I'm thinking "conventions" might be important with this theory- just a hunch. The word was mentioned three times in one sentence and countless times in the article. Probably important.

Why does this form of criticism remind me of Justin Timberlake's new song, "What Goes Around Comes Around"? (Other than the fact I am listening to it right now) Because, strangely enough, it relates quite well (minus all the stuff about a gilted lover- just ignore that part). In the Introduction we see that intertextual criticism is like a circle- we must know something about the conventions and type of literature in order to understand the literature...and how do we learn these conventions? By reading more literature. It's a beautiful and unbreakable circle. Everything about literature just builds off of each other with intertextual criticism. It's kind of like math (ew)- you have to know how to do one problem before you can do another. Same with literature, in a way- you have to know how to read and understand a poem (as well as understand and identify the literary conventions used to create a poem or any piece of literature) in order to evaluate it against others.

To base a critical look of literature off of other similar forms of literature and the traditionally accepted conventions seems to question other types of criticism- or at least that's how Keesey presents it. He always tries to make a case for whatever method he is describing, probably because as editor, he has to. However, it seems as if he is dismissing the other forms in favor of this one being more "correct" and less troublesome than the others. Formalism- look outside the box. Authorial intent- eh, who cares. Reader-response- who are these readers anyway? It all boils down to the poem itself and how it is read and measured against others of its kind and the conventions of literature that create the form as well.

However, to me, it seems that intertextual criticism can get a little confusing. If we are caught in this circle of only being able to understand the text by reading and understanding others, than where is our starting point? Do we hold one text up to Shakespeare, because he is one of the "Greats" or Shakespeare up to another text, because they are similar? And can these conventions, in which we place so much attention, be differed? I understand the point, and the purpose of intertextual criticism and find it an interesting idea, although maybe as a "side" to another form of criticism as well. If we can mix criticisms with literature, drawing a little here and a little there, then intertextual criticism would make a lovely addition to another form when evaluating literature.

Keesey, Ch 5 (Introduction) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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March 9, 2007

*Insert Confused Look Here*

As I made my way through Pale Fire I generally had one deeply intelligent thought- "What the *&$%& am I reading?" I came into it expecting a poem...and got that. Then I got a rambling nonesensical commentary. It then dawned on my somewhat spring break slowed mind that the commentary is the novel as well! Silly Russians. Who does that?

Was I the only one who truly believed I was reading a completely random commentary about a poem by a real editor for the first part of the novel? Wow I hope not (because then I'll just look stupid). I can't even stick Pale Fire into any nice category of literature- it is in a world all its own. Nabokov has entered into a new genre, by creating a story within a story, characters who appear as real people. While the poem itself is unique and, at least for me, somewhat difficult to follow, the real "star" of the novel is the commentary which provides its own story. The reader must uncover (albeit slowly, if you're me) that not only is the editor not actually real, but that he is the more interesting tale- all the ramblings about Zembla and King Charles is actually a story in of itself. You almost have to read the book twice, just to go back and understand everything missed, especially since it appeared as a completely pointless commentary at first glance.

I don't have much more to comment, since I'm still scratching my head about this one. The highlight of the work though? "Vanessa" is mentioned in the poem. Any book is instantly better with the addition of such a great name.

Nabokov, Pale Fire -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

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