February 2009 Archives

Portfolio 1

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Welcome to my blogging portfolio!

This is the first collection of my blogs for Literary Criticism Spring, 2009.  I have organized them into categories in order to present them for easy reading. I have highlighted the blogs that I personally feel are not only the best, but that also show my advancement in blogging and in the class, my deep or insightful treatment of the material, and my communication with classmates. 

Also, I want to say that I have a much more positive view of blogging this semester than I did when I first experienced blogging.  I know that it almost forces me to understand the text to a certain extent before going to class, and I really think it aids in the conversation in class.  Because we only meet once a week, our class time is valuable, and the blogs help to direct the discussion much more than a question-and-respond method.  They also create an environment where we as students lead discussion instead of listening to the professor lecture. 

Anyway, here are some of my best blogs from this semester.  I hope you enjoy them!




These are all of the blogs that were on time and well done, yet did not fit particularly well into the other categories.  I actually think some of these may be better or more helpful than those listed below.  Please enjoy them!

"Who Can Be a Critic?"


"Is It a Help, a Hindrance, or Just Plain Crazy?"


"Who Is the Reader?"


"Yay--There Are Pictures in This Book!"


"I Think Watson Has Learned Something from Sherlock"


"History and the Audience"


"No More Paraphrase (Okay, We Have to Use it Sometimes)"


"An Aphorism and Chiasmus"

"Understanding Formalist Criticism"




"Really, Who Is the Unidentified "they?": This entry shows depth because not only did I critique and question Eagleton's essay, I also applied it to John Keat's poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn." 


"Formalism, Corresponsence, Coherence, or a Little Bit of Everything?: By connecting two of the authors' (Austin and Hirsch) ideas we are reading in this class, I feel that I took a more in-depth approach to analysis and understanding than in some of my other blogs.


"Letters, Novels, or Blogs-What Really Is Literature?":  I feel that this is an in-depth blog because I touched upon many ideas concering the way literature has developed over the time, including ideas about current and future literature in relationship to Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction.


"I Get Her Condition, but What about the Rest of the Story?":  I was very interested in "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, so I did a lot of research to find out exactly what sort of psychological disorder the woman had in the story.  It is actually really interesting, especially if you are fascinated by the human mind as I am. 


"Is Reader-Response Criticism One School or Four?": I feel that I did a really good job of using the descriptions in the text to explain my confusion.  Even though I was very confused by Donald Keesey's essay, I was able to explain my confusion in depth and was thus able to achieve understanding once we talked about it in class.  By not understanding it, but doing so thoroughly, I was later able to understand it thoroughly.



Blog Carnival:

"Colonialism Carnival":  Jenna Miller, Bethany Merriman, and I created this blogging carnival based on Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno" and Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."




"I Get Her Condition, but What about the Rest of the Story?":  Although I also referred to this blog as an in-depth blog, I also interacted with my peer's assessments of the story "The Yellow Wallpaper."  While they suggested the main character in the story was suffering from postpartum depression, I thought she was dealing with a much more serious disorder.  Read to find out more about it!


"Reader-Response Criticism + Others= Understanding":  Although I did not challenge a peer's ideas, I did help two peers understand the text a bit better through my description.  I included this here because I felt that it applied more to the definition of interaction than it did to the definition of the informative Xenoblog, since I had no intention of answering a question aside from my own. 




"Getting Ready for 'Life Is a Dream'":  I included this blog within the discussion section because of the discussion Angela and I had.  I think that, although I was able to answer one of her questions, she also provided me with an opportunity to being to think about the play that we are going to see either this week or next.  I was happy to find out that someone else knows a little Spanish so that we can help each outer understand this text better than if we worked on it only by ourselves. 


"I Think I Found a Muddy Point": I chose this blog because I proposed one way of reading Terry Eagleton's essay entitled "Structuralism and Semiotics, while Katie questioned it and Ellen answered with another point of view.  Even though only two comments were made, I feel that this blog was one of my best because such varied opinions were given and supported.


"A+ Example of Style and Organization, but I'm Not Sure about the Rest": I chose this blog because, much like the one above, those who commented had varied ideas about Kent's accuracy in choosing Keats's third stanza as the turning point in "Ode on a Grecian Urn."  I was able to create a controversial blog where all opinions were valuable and interesting.   


Greta's blog, "Misleading, Misinforming, Misguiding: The Flip Side of Literature": I was the first person to leave a comment on Greta's blog and soon after, others commented, including Greta.  This blog shows that not only can I create discussion on my own blogs, but I can also do so on others' blogs.  I think the points that Greta brings up are worth reading, and our discussion is interesting as well, so please read them!




All of my blogs were turned in on time, and usually the day before they were due; however, I posted "I Think I Found a Muddy Point" two days before it was due, a great feat, in my opinion, when we have so much difficult reading to do.  Perhaps this is the reason why the reading caused a muddy point!




"Animated Shakespeare":  I chose this as a xenoblog because, based on the comments, this seems to be an informative blog.  Jodi especially seems to have benefited from the links to the Animated Shakespeare episodes, probably because we are both visual learners.  I hope you enjoy the links as well!


"Where Is the Perfect Formula for Literary Criticism?":  This blog, although it does not link to other's blogs, it does mention Angela's assessment of Literary Criticism being similar to Philosophy.  She talked about this concept in class, so, although I could not link it to another blog, I think it is important to relate what occurs in class to our blogging.  Her idea sparked my imagination as I read McDonald's piece and wrote this blog.


"Thank Goodness We Have Hamilton!": In this blog, I looked up the word "philistine," which had appeared in texts read in Literary Criticism as well as other classes.  Two of my classmates found their questions concerning the meaning of the word answered by the information in my blog.




"Lack of Personality and Emotion-Is this really what writing is about?": I have included this blog because not only did I enjoy Eliot's essay, but I also found a lot of valid meaning in it.  This blog is also very well written and discusses how reading Eliot's essay has helped me to be a better author, reader, and critic. 


"Litotes and Chiasmus-I've Never Heard of Them, but Did Keats?": I really enjoy this blog a lot because it helped me to apply the literary definitions of the words I looked up in Hamilton.  Also, although I could not find an example of litotes in the poem when I wrote this blog, our class discussions allowed us to find one.  This blog was also highly commented on and seemed to be appreciated.


Overall, I feel that my progress has been good.  I do hope to continue to post timely, planned, helpful and interesting blogs.  However, I also hope that next time, I will have more blogs that fall into the categories of discussion and interaction, as well as blogs that attract more attention from my classmates.


To take a look at some other portfolios, click here.   

Colonialism Carnival

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No, this title does not mean we are celebrating the antics of Colonialism, but rather we are discussing Colonialism and Imperialism in Herman Melville's Benito Cereno and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  A few of us saw the same theme popping up in both of these works and have provided discussions at the links below.  Please take a look!


Jenna Miller compared scenes regarding Colonialism from both stories.  She believes that the characters Kurtz and Delano are similar in that the slaves trick the men into think they are in charge, while they, the slaves, slowly take control.  Take a look at her blog called "It's Like Conrad's Book"


In my blog, "A Little Fun and a Little Analysis," I told a fun story about Melville and my sister, and then discussed Melville's style and use of the theme of the upheaval of Colonialism as compared to Conrad's use of the same theme. 


Bethany Merriman discusses the contrast between light and dark in her blog "Are There Clowns." She points out that both Conrad's and Melville's stories have this contrast that relates directly to the skin color of the two races involved in these tales about Colonialism.


See what our other coursemates thought about Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno."


If anyone would like to add to this carnaval, please let me know!


A Little Fun and a Little Analysis

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“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.”


-From Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism,  page 491


When I saw that we were going to read a story by Herman Melville, I was immediately reminded of a memory from my childhood.  One day, I decided to read the first chapter of Moby Dick that I found online, just to see if I liked it, and I printed it.  Later that day, my younger sister found the chapter (without the title or author) in our desk drawer.  She brought it to me and said in mystified voice with such a serious face, “Erica, look at this.”  I, of course knew what it was, but played along wondering what she thought it was.  She said, “I think Daddy wrote this, and it must be really good because it has tons of big words I don’t know in it.”  She thought that my father had written it because he liked to write, especially poetry, for fun.  It was too funny!


 However, as I read this story, I could see that she was right-Melville does use tons of “big” words.  Now, though, I can further appreciate it.  Although the quote above that I chose does not have any especially large words, I really liked the depth of this description.  Out of all of the descriptions of the San Dominick (and there was at least a page’s worth), I thought this sentence really painted the picture of the ship for me.  Melville speaks of it almost as if it were a ghost ship, and when we see the captain and those on board, we can see why.  It represents the ghost of a man, the ghostly souls of the people on board who lived in cramped filth only to be sent to similarly terrible conditions, in many cases, once they arrived on land, and the ghostly darkness of colonialism and slavery represented in this story.


It actually reminded me a lot of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  Both stories were  and dealt with the dark views of Colonialism and Imperialism related to Africa.  Both also offer confusing accounts that leave the reader debating the status quo in the story, and at times, in their own lives.  These are stories that are concerned with "things falling apart," as Chinua Achebe titles his novel about colonialism--preconcieved notions concerning the status of the two races and their classes within them are turned inside-out and upside-down.   


Also, take a look at our blogging carnival on this subject: Colonialism Carnival 


See what others have to say about Melville’s novella.

Getting Ready for "Life Is a Dream"

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"Drama (from the Greek verb for 'to do' or 'to act') is the major literary form that presents characters directly to the audience, usually without the intermediary of a narrator...Drama is classified according to the effect intended on the audience, as well as the choice and rendering of the materials in order to achieve that effect..."

-From Sharon Hamilton's Essential Literary Terms, page 1


I thought that since we will be reading and viewing "Life is a Dream" by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, I would look up the technical definition of drama.  Also, although I haven't read the play yet and am not sure exactly how it ends, the back of our copy of the book does call it a "romantic" drama.  Hamilton refers to Romantic Comedies as dramas that "center on a love affair between a beautiful and resourceful maiden...and a worthy suitor, who must overcome social and personal obstacles to arrive at a joyous resolution" (4).  I'm not sure if this is the type of romantic drama that the author has in mind, but I'm sure we will find out.

I also wanted to point out that Hamilton says that a drama is usually categorized "according to the effect intended on the audience" (1).  I think she might have been listening to our discussions about author's intent.

Back to course website.

Reader-Response Criticism + Others = Understanding

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“A reader today seeking meaning in the way Harold Bloom outlines that process might note, of course, a fleeting resemblance between the upstairs chamber in Gilman…and Poe’s evocation of the dungeon chambers of Toledo; in fact, a credible argument might be made for reading ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ as Gilman’s willful and purposeful misprision of ‘The Pit and the Pendulum.’”


- From Annette Kolodny’s “A Map for Rereading: Or Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism, page 197


The first thing I noticed about Kolodny’s work is the title; she refers to using gender as a way to assess the text.  I was confused because this is supposed to be a chapter on Reader-Response theory, not on Mimetic criticism in the form of Feminist criticism.  I kept thinking about this idea as I read, but when I got to the above quote it sort of clicked for me.  I realized that this article was placed within this section in order to show how Reader-Response criticism must sometimes involve other schools of criticism.  It seems to me that, at least in a case such as this one, another school is necessary in order for the argument to work.  One cannot discuss or psychoanalyze the roles of men and women a reader could find in a work without using another form of criticism as well, such as Mimetic criticism as in the title or Intertextual criticism as in the above quote.  I really enjoyed this article, not so much for the interpretation, but for its use of multiple schools of criticism in order to prove an argument based on Reader-Response criticism.  It is really going to help a lot when I write my casebook essay.


See what others think about Kolodny’s essay.

Who Is the Reader?

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“I argue that ‘Benito Cereno’ employs an insidiously unreliable narrator to ‘set up’ the reader, and that the reader is incorporated into the text in a subject position analogous or at least complementary to Delano’s.”


- From Catharine O’Connell’s “Narrative Collusion and Occlusion in Melville’s ‘Benito Cereno’” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism, page 186


When I read this line I immediately noticed that O’Connell never actually told this reader from which reader’s point of view she was writing.  In Keesey’s introduction and in Iser’s essay, we were told that there are many types of possible readers.  Reading on I saw that O’Connell never actually chooses one.  Instead she discusses how various critics have looked at the novella through the eyes of many different types of readers (some of whom were not even mentioned in the introduction or in Iser’s essay).  


Did anyone else notice this?  What did you think of it?  Do you think it is acceptable for us to do this in our own essays, or should we focus on one particular reader?


Back to course website.

Is It a Help, a Hindrance, or Just Plain Crazy?

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“But since this meaning is neither a given external reality nor a copy of an intended reader’s own world, it is something that has to be ideated by the mind of the reader.  A reality that has no existence of its own can only come into being by the way of ideation, and so the structure of the text sets off a sequence of mental images which lead to the text translating itself into the reader’s consciousness.”


- From Wolfgang Iser’s “Readers and the Concept of the Implied Reader” in Donald Keesey’s Context for Criticism, page 147


Well, these two sentences basically sum up the reasons why I did not choose to major in Psychology.  As a future teacher, I understand the importance of the Educational Psychologists-I get Vygotsky, Piaget, and even Freud a bit.  I understand why there are stages of child and adolescent development, why there are “boxes,” as a good friend of mine calls them, that people are put into based on their level of cognitive, emotional, physical, social, etc. development, and even why people are placed into similar boxes based on their personality traits.  However, when I see a sentence like this, I wonder why people believe Psychology is real, especially when those using Psychology (i.e. the Reader-Response critics) acknowledge that its ideas, or ideas determined through the use of Psychology, are not part of reality. 


However, because I run the risk of ranting, I’ll focus on what I learned from this essay.  I have learned that there are many different types of readers that one can refer to when completing Reader-Response criticism.  This idea helped me to better understand why I cannot simply write “I liked this poem because…,” as I mentioned on another blog about Keesey’s explanation of Reader-Response criticism.  The reader is never Erica Gearhart, college student, English Literature major, etc-the reader is never this personal.


Instead, there can be the “‘real’ reader” and the “‘hypothetical’ reader,” the “contemporary reader” and the “ideal reader,” and the “reader whose psychology has been opened up by the findings of psychoanalysis” (how this type can be analyzed without the input of a Psychologist, I don’t really understand, but I’ll save this complaint for another blog) (141).  Also, by looking at the various readers that can be referred to when completing this type of criticism, one can see why it is so difficult for a critic to keep history (real reader), author (ideal reader), and reality (contemporary/psychoanalyzed readers) separate from Reader-Response criticism.  And, finally, because there are so many variations of Reader-Response readers and use of other schools of criticism, one can see why so many variations of Reader-Response criticism have developed. 


Am I changing my major?  No way!  But, I am understanding this crazy-I mean interesting-type of criticism a bit better after having read Iser’s essay.


See what others have to say about Iser’s essay.

Is Reader-Response Criticism One School or Four?

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“So this variability gives rise to one set of problems: How can reader-response critics avoid the conclusion, and the total relativism it entails, that a new poem is created with every reading?  How can they establish a standard to measure the adequacy of any particular reading without assuming the stability of the text and importing that standard from some other context—in other words, without grounding meaning in the text or the author, or the structure of language?”


- From Donald Keesey’s Context for Criticism, Chapter 3 Introduction: “Reader-Response Criticism: Audience as Context,” page 133


I think that Keesey presents an interesting point here that we have been making all along in class—how can the different types of criticism be used purely on their own?  I thought that Formalism was difficult to use alone; however, Reader-Response criticism seems even more difficult.  Based on the way that Keesey sometimes attributes its descriptions to various critics, it seem as thought this is the closest criticism can get to us being able to write, “I liked this story because…” 


At first, this idea appealed to me, but then I remembered, of course, that we cannot simply write the above statement in an academic paper, nor should we want to write it.  Now I am thoroughly confused.  Do we follow the advice of “some reader-response critics” who believe “this goal is neither attainable nor even especially desirable,” who “contend that our responses to literature are in themselves a subject of sufficient psychological interest as to require no further justification” (133)?  Do we follow critics such as Wolfgang Iser who has “a strong interest in phenomenology, a philosophy that stresses the perceiver’s role in perception and insists it is difficult to separate the thing known from the mind that knows it” (134)?  Do we follow critics like Norman Holland “who usually operates at a considerable distance from the textual end” much nearer than Iser to the psychoanalytical area (136)?  Do we follow David Bleich who sees no “‘object’” separate from the “‘subject’” (136-137).  Or, do we agree with Stanley Fish who after moving along the line from text to reader, seems to have decided “that the reader creates the poem in the very act of perceiving it” (137)?  Reader-Response criticism seems to be even more like Philosophy than any of the other schools of critical thought we have thus far discussed. 


Keesey seems to be as confused as I am, concluding that these major reader-response critics “agree on one main point: since the ‘poem’ exists only when the reader (however defined) encounters the text, literary criticism must focus on that encounter” (138).  There never is a straightforward answer for us, is there?


Click here to see if my classmates understand Reader-Response Criticism better than I do.

An Aphorism and Chiasmus

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"However, the best known of these sentences has been reduced to an elliptical aphorism ("'Beauty is truth, truth beauty;'") once described by T.S. Eliot as 'grammatically meaningless.'"

-From David A. Kent's essay "On the Third Stanza of Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'" from Donald Keesey's Contexts in Criticism, page 113

I was not sure what the meaning of "aphorism" was, so I looked it up.  Sharon Hamilton in her Essential Literary Terms defines it as, "a terse statement on a serious subject" (20).  I found it interesting that this seemingly simple phrase is an example of both an aphorism and chiasmus. It really makes you appreciate the Formalist point of view when you see that so simple a grouping of words can have so much literary meaning and significance.

“More often, however, the third stanza has been perceived as central to the ode’s structure and development.  For example, Kenneth Burke described it as ‘the fulcrum’ in the poem’s ‘swing.’”

-From David A. Kent’s essay “On the Third Stanza of Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’” in Donald Keesey’s Context for Criticism, page 113.


Reading this article to assess the way that it was written was extremely helpful.  I have a better picture of how to organize a critical essay, mainly because this one was well organized and easy to understand.  I also see that including the authors of opposing arguments is helpful in refuting them an backing up one’s own argument, as we discussed in class.  I had not done this in my other essays, and I now see that not doing so made them much weaker than they could have been.  

However, I'm not sure that I agree that the third stanza is the climax of the poem as Keant suggests.  I would choose the fourth stanza, mainly because the sentence forms used there.  Most of them are questions, very different from the other stanzas.  If climax is based upon emotional height, then I would agree, but doesn't climax also suggest a turning point.  I think the turning point, based on both structure and content, occurs in stanza four, but I'm not the published author.  Maybe I'll have to write my next casebook essay on this idea. Even though I don’t really buy Kent’s entire argument, I do respect the way that he wrote the essay and learned a lot from looking at its style and organization. 

See what others have to say about Kent's essay

Understanding Formalist Criticism

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 “On the contrary, he [the poet] must establish the detail, must abide by the details, and through his realization of the details attain to whatever general meaning he can attain…For here it is the tail that wags the dog.”

-From Cleanth Brooks’s “Irony as a Principle of Structure” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism, page 84-85


Brook’s descriptions and explanations in this essay, especially the one I’ve quoted above, really helped me to better understand how Formalist criticism should be handled.  One almost has to think backwards when completing a Formalist critique of a work.  I did a mostly Formalist critique of John Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” for our first casebook essay, and although I did well, I had a really hard time coming up with an argument.  Now, I know that as I read I have to look for similar details that will help me to complete this type of criticism, instead of thinking of an idea and then finding details to back them up.  

See what others have to say about Brooks

No More Paraphrase (Okay, We Have to Use It Sometimes)

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“This is the fundamental principle of formal criticism, and it leads directly to the formalist’s famous distrust of the ‘Paraphrase’ on the grounds that too many readers are inclined to confuse the poem’s paraphrasable content with its ‘meaning’…”


-From Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism, Chapter 2 “Formal Criticism: Poem as Context,” page 78


This idea stuck out right away as I was reading.  I think it is so interesting that the Formalists do not value the paraphrase, when for the last seven or so years of my life, my teachers have been emphasizing the importance of using more paraphrase than direct quote.  In fact, I think that my experiences in writing and reading have been decidedly anti-formalist in nature.  My teachers and professors have always emphasized the importance of the author’s background and the historic time period.  I understand why they did this because of this article: Formalism has not always been the most valued form of criticism in the literary world, and the history and biography are rather important, especially for young students who are just beginning to discuss literature.  But it is nice to know that all of those times when I wanted to include short direct quotes into my papers, frustrated that I had already used my quota of three or so, I was actually on to something.


I also think that it is completely ironic that we are even now learning about the history of Formalism. Would Formalists like this? Or are we just doing historical and reader-response criticism on them? 

See what others have to say about Keesey

I Think I Found a Muddy Point

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“Frye’s belief was that criticism was in a sorry unscientific mess and needed to be smartly tidied up.  It was a matter of subjective value-judgments and idle gossip, and badly required the discipline of an objective system.”

From Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction, Chapter 3, "Structuralism and Semiotics," page 79

"Literature is not a way of knowing reality but a kind of collective utopian dreaming which has gone on throughout history, an expression of those fundamental human desires which have given rise to civilization itself, but which are never fully satisfied there."

-From Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction, Chapter 3, "Structuralism and Semiotics," page 80 

Is it just me, or do these quotations seem to directly contradict one another?  Eagleton first suggests that Frye believes that criticism should be scientific, but then suggests that Frye believes that literature is used to interpret, understand, or create a “utopian dream.”  How can someone objectively and scientifically study a dream?  And I know what you’re thinking-“That science is called Psychology or dream analysis-it already exists.”  However, I don’t think that this is what Eagleton or Frye are suggesting, or this would be a chapter about Psychological Criticism.

 Also, I thought that I understood how the text-based forms of criticism worked; however, now I’m not so sure.  Eagleton writes that Structuralism, Formalism, and New Criticism are all very different.  I had thought that New Criticism was only called this because it was a revival of Formalism after an era where Psychological and Feminist Criticism reigned.  I do not really see the difference now between these three types of criticism, which makes me think I found my muddy point for next week’s class.  Does anyone else have this problem, or can any one help me differentiate between these types of criticism a bit better?


History and the Audience

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“Gonzalo’s participation in the overthrow of Prospero calls into question the validity of Prospero’s praise of Gonzalo as his savior, and beyond that, calls into questions Prospero’s practical intelligence, acuity and authority.”


-From Paul Yachnin’s “Shakespeare and the Idea of Obedience: Gonzalo in The Tempest” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism, p. 39


Yachnin’s essay seems to go perfectly along with Watson’s essay in that the latter shows the importance of considering ever angle of history in criticism, while the former is an example of this thorough consideration.  Here, Yachnin recognizes the possible meanings that the play could afford the reader, and more importantly, the audience in Shakespeare’s time.  At the end of his essay, he suggests that there are “…contradictions of English Renaissance political culture…” that are at work within the play.  This time, the audience and history decided that there would be no one side that would be held in favor, as is sometimes the case when this school of criticism is used.  However,  it does seem to me that both historical criticism and reader-response criticism must be employed at the same time for either to truly work when considering a piece of literature that was written in the past. 



Click here to see other responses to Yachnin's essay. 

I Think Watson Has Learned Something from Sherlock

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“But then the historian, whether of literature or of anything else, is no way committed to the view that everything about the past is of equal interest: in fact it is precisely the historian who is expected to show the greatest skill and experience in sorting the important evidence from the insignificant.”


-From George Watson’s “Are Poems Historical Acts?” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism, p. 33


I really enjoyed Watson’s reading.  Although it was relatively short, he covered many different ideas that I have been considering since the start of this class, especially since last week’s discussion about using the author’s biography and other historical information to look at a work of literature.


Completely opposite of Formalism, Author’s Intent allowed me to do what I like to do: research the history behind a work.  However, I felt that I still needed to do much more research in order fully understand the text.  I think this is a major problem sometimes.  Where does one stop?  When do we know whether or not we have found enough information to back up our interpretations of the text?  And, how critically should we be reading the history itself? 


I think that, as Watson points out, there are again no perfect answers to these questions.  When we use historical criticism we almost have to act as detectives, deciding what is most important to our interpretations and what is not. Watson wisely suggests at the end of his essay, we have to just carefully consider whether or not our interpretations would work at that time period based on the historical information we have, as well as on the text.  


See what others have to say about Watson's essay.

Yay--There Are Pictures in This Book!

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"To study criticism systematically, we need to make these arguments explicit.  And we need a conceptual scheme or organizing metaphor that will help up define, analyze, and compare the various contexts within which all particular interpretations are made.”


-From Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism, “General Introduction,”  p. 2-3


I am so glad that someone finally found a way to organize the schools of criticism in a way I could easily understand!  I was so confused when reading the textbooks, and especially when we have been reading actual critiques that do not explicitly say which type(s) of criticism have been used.  Keesey’s diagram has been so helpful while I have been reading the rest of this week’s essays.  I am primarily a visual learner, but I also need some audio learning incorporated as well, so this was perfect for me.  I am sometimes disappointed when I see college textbooks with no illustrations or diagrams to help me remember, but I guess it should be expected! Keesey, however, kindly included one picture in his book.  It clearly shows each type of criticism (Formal, Historical, Intertextual, Reader-Response, and Mimetic) and which part of a text, etc. it goes with (the work, the author, the literature, the audience, or reality, respectively).  This diagram, along with the readings and all that we have discussed aurally in class, have allowed me to better understand criticism and exactly which schools affects which domains.  Now that I have this diagram, I can refer to it when necessary, and perhaps even add the other forms of criticism that are not listed.


See what others have to say about Keesey.


Where Is the Perfect Formula for Literary Criticism?

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"The True corrective in either case is close, careful analysis with attention to 'the most minute formal details.'"


-From Keesey’s introduction to Russ McDonald’s “Reading The Tempest” Contexts for Criticism p. 99


This quote of McDonald’s reminded me of Hirsch’s arguments a bit, especially because both authors mention that “coherence” and context should be employed when critiquing a work of literature.  However, while McDonald cites the use of too much context in other critics’ work, Hirsch cites the use of too much coherence.  Where does the perfect formula exist, or does it exist at all?


I really liked when, in class, Angela brought up the fact that criticism seemed to be just like Philosophy.  I really have to agree with her; however I think I like the fact that criticism is like Philosophy.  When I was younger, and still a little now, I hated Math because there always had to be only one correct answer.  I really only chose to be an English major rather than a Math major for this reason.  I like it when practically anything goes.


I think, though, that this creates a barrier between many people and literary criticism.  We are told that there is a correct way to do it, and then we are taught that there are an infinite number of correct ways that often conflict with one another, but we have to know how to do them all, and we are supposed to find the one that works best for us, but we should always read a text with all of them in mind, and yet some schools of criticism only fit certain texts while others can be applied to most texts…  As the list of contradictions goes on it begins to sound more and more like adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons. 


However, I think if we all keep on going, we will find that it will get easier and that the contradictions won’t matter so much.  Sometimes it is very hard, or even scary, to complete a task when one does not have to work towards only one correct answer, but when this situation does arise, we just need to remember that even though we may come up with answers that completely conflict with one another, we can still all be right. 


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Animated Shakespeare

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A confused noise within: ”Mercy on us!” - “We split, we split!” -“Farewell, my wife and children!”  “Farewell, brother” -“We split, we split, we split!”


-From William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act I, Scene 1


These lines really help to allow the audience to visualize Prospero's storm that sets into motion the rest of the story, but it is often fun and beneficial to actually see what you are reading after you have read it. I was already pretty familiar with The Tempest, so instead of rereading it, I looked for a BBC film adaptation of it online.  Although I couldn’t find the entire BBC film on youtube with real actors, I did find a BBC animated version that is surprisingly in line with the text.  It is shortened for viewing by children; however, it uses lines directly from the text and is very accurate (even referring to the Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda).  If you need a refresher, this might help, plus it is really funny to see all of the characters in Claymation.


Part I

Part II

Part III 


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Thank Goodness We Have Hamilton!

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Like many of my classmates, I could not find a word that I did not understand that was defined in Hamilton.  I did, however, find a word in Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction that I did not know that I had read in work due for another class as well: “philistine.”  I am familiar with the Philistines of the Bible; however, I was not sure of the relationship between the word in Eagleton and this group of ancient people.  Eagleton writes, “In England, a crassly philistine utilitarianism is rapidly becoming the dominant ideology of the industrial middle class, fetishizing fact, reducing human relations to market exchanges and dismissing art as unprofitable ornamentation” (17).  Dictionary. com defined the word as “smug and ignorant and indifferent or hostile to artistic and cultural values.”  I felt that it is important to incorporate this word in our discussion of Hamilton because it seems that people who view art and literature in this manner would have no use of Hamilton.  Thank goodness that we care enough about our development as writers to use Hamilton so that we can escape such a terrible label.


Click here to see other difficult literary terms.

Who Can Be a Critic?

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"The fact that the term 'criticism' has now come to designate all commentary on textual meaning reflects a general acceptance of the doctrine that description and evaluation are inseparable in literary study.”


-From E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s “Objective Interpretation” in Donald Keesey’s Contexts for Criticism, page 18



I thought it was really interesting that Hirsch did not include any reference to “academic,” etc., literature.  I think that anyone can provide criticism, yet Hirsch does not make that distinction here.  Is anyone’s criticism valuable, and can any critic’s work be used in literary study?  Perhaps he is thinking of the various schools of criticism that we are going to discuss within this course; however what about the average person who critiques a work?


I believe that all criticism is important, especially that of the common reader.  In the only writing of fiction course I have taken, the non-English major student was the one gave the most important and helpful feedback that allowed me to be a better creative writer, rather than those students who were experienced writers.  Perhaps this is just it: this student was an experienced reader while the others were experienced writers.


I think that often a focus is put on interpretation or simple criticism.  When we read a work in high school or lower level college courses, we identify the literary devices and then say whether we liked the work or not, forgetting to really look deeply at the work for what could be improved or what true meaning it there.  I agree with Hirsch’s statement, but, like the good critic, believe that he should add that the “description and evaluation” should come from all circles of readers, not just those who are studying literature as trained critics.


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I Get Her Condition, but What about the Rest of the Story?

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"Now why should that man have fainted?  But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!" 

-From Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," in Donald Keesey's Contexts for Criticism, page 538 

Although this story seems to be easily understood by most of my classmates, I had a lot of trouble understanding exactly what happened in the end.  I understood right away, before researching the author, that this story was obviously written in a feminist perspective by a woman (thus allowing me to assume that she was a feminist), that she wrote this about a woman who’s concerns were pushed aside by her husband in a time when women had few rights, that Gilman seemed to want the reader to believe that the woman had some form of mental illness after having a baby because of her constant references to her “condition,” etc.(diagnosed as postpartum depression by most of you), and that, at the end of the story, the reader is supposed to believe that the main character’s  husband’s lack of attention or rather his misplaced attention, causes the woman to go insane because of her illness.  However, the last line that I quoted above made me look at the story again, as did a few opinions of my classmates. 

First, this line stumped me.  Why would an apparently sane, stable doctor faint when he saw his wife walking around the room with a rope around her?  Wouldn’t he run to her to help her?  He obviously knew something was wrong with her, or he would not tell her to rest, he would not keep her from heavy entertaining and exercise, he would not constantly offer positive comments to her, and he would not have search for an axe to break down the door when she locks it.  Then I began to wonder if she somehow killed her husband.  Why else would she be able to creep over and over him for a seemingly long time without someone else finding them or without him awaking?  Perhaps this could all be in her mind, but I think that there must be some other explanation.

After I noticed this line, I looked at what others had to say about the story.  I found a consensus- most believed that the woman in the story has postpartum depression.  However, after reading about her hallucinations her movements, and her mood swings, I decided to research postpartum depression a bit further.  I have taken an Introduction to Psychology course that included a brief discussion of postpartum depression, and from what I remembered, this woman in the story obviously has more severe symptoms.   At mayoclinic.com, I discovered that there are three stages of postpartum depression: the “baby blues,” postpartum depression, and postpartum psychosis.  While the postpartum symptoms seem to fit with her behaviors at the start of the story, they do not fit with her hallucinations revolving around the moving of the wall and the creeping woman outside the house.  Postpartum psychosis; however, does.  Symptoms include “confusion and disorientation, hallucinations and delusions, paranoia, and attempts to harm [oneself] or the baby” (Mayoclinic.com).  The website also said that this is an extremely uncommon occurrence. 

I found it very interesting that this author would write such a severe case of mental illness into a story during this time period without actually knowing that it could occur, so she must have experienced this first-hand, through a story, or through a friend or relative.  The biographical information that I could find suggested that Gilman herself may have had postpartum depression and that this story was in fact partially autobiographical; however I highly doubt that she suffered from such severe symptoms because she went on to divorce, become involved in feminist and literary organizations, married again, and seems to have used work as a cure for her condition (this information is from wikipedia.org , and may not be the best of information, but it seems to have reliable sources). 

I do not wish to simplify Gilman’s life’s battles, only to bring to light that it is probably very unlikely for her to have recovered from an illness such as the one in her story by going to work when today three types of medication and sometimes even electroconvulsive therapy are used as treatments (mayoclinic.com).  

However, because this week’s topic is author’s intent, I did a little more research to try to find out more about her when I came upon this article: “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper by Gilman herself. In the final line of the article, she writes, “It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy…”  I think that this quote may bring readers as close as possible to understanding the purpose story,  which is very possible since she devoted her later life to working for women, but hopefully someone will be able to help me understand the ending of the story a bit better. 




Letters, Novels, or Blogs-What Really Is Literature?

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"With the need to incorporate the increasingly powerful but spiritually rather raw middle classes into unity with the ruling aristocracy, to diffuse polite social manners, habit of 'correct' taste and common cultural standards, literature gained a new importance.  It included a whole set of ideological institutions: periodicals, coffee houses, social and aesthetic treatises, sermons, classical translations, guide books to manners and morals.  Literature was not a matter of ‘felt experience’, ‘personal response’ or ‘imaginative uniqueness’: such terms, indissociable for us today from the whole idea of the ‘literary’, would not have counted for much with Henry Fielding.”


-From Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory: An Introduction, Chapter 1 “The Rise of English,” page 15-16



I have always been fascinated by the way that literature over the centuries has changed.  Could you ever imagine a world without female novelists such as J.K Rowling or Stephanie Meyers? However, less than two hundred years ago, women were frowned upon for writing novels for payment.  Could you even imagine a world where fantasy, mystery, horror, or science fiction novels either did not exist or were seen as frivolous and second-rate?  Now, the most successful writers seem to produce works within these genres. 


But literature has not changed only within the area of novels.  Eagleton mentions that letters, newspapers, sermons, and books on manners were considered “literature” in the late 1700s to the 1800s.  Today, people rarely write letters or even thank-you notes (something that personally irritates me); email and apparent lack of gratitude have taken over this lost art.  Now, people can find all the news they are looking for online and, though more accessible, has created, in some cases, an increase in human interest pieces rather than information people should know and care about.  Also very few people now study sermons-a fact that many, including myself, are thankful for.  However, in English and Theology classes, sermons are still part of the curriculum, just as they are still read in religious circles, but rarely are sermons important in public circles.  Finally, books on manners have been virtually extinct since the 1950s, but often I think that a revival is necessary for most people.  


Although I think that some of the outdated literature needs to be revived today, I do still appreciate literature of the 1900s and 2000s.  I also often wonder what literature will be made into in the future.  Will people be reading blogs as the primary form of literature instead of novels?  Will text-speech be used in published papers instead of the formal academic English we now use?  Will we return to a more functional literature than the "aesthetic" literature that is popular now?  


I think that answers can be guessed at by using the Reception Theory that Eagleton talks about.  In the future, will writers hope to appeal to persons who have used text-speech all their lives?  I have already seen teen novels that use emails or IMs (of course with incorrect spelling and grammar) as modes for their stories.  If this is so, then we can expect to possibly see only this type of language used in the future-a very interesting thought for those of us who pride ourselves in our writing abilities now and who look forward towards careers in writing.


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