Gender is Not the Only Factor

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From Annette Kolodny’s “A Map for Rereading: Or, Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts”:

“…all readers, male and female alike, must be taught first to recognize the existence of a significant body of writing by women in America and, second, they must be encouraged to learn how to read it within its own unique and informing contexts of meaning and symbol.  Re-visionary reading, if you will” (203). 

I admit I had some internal battles with Kolodny’s essay.  I’d like to think of myself as being sensitive to women’s present and past struggles for equal rights and inclusion in society.  However, I found myself through almost all of her essay biting my tongue.  I felt she was so completely focused on the differences between males and females that she missed the greater issue at hand—that past experiences of readers affect how they read, no matter what it is that affects or causes these experiences. 

Kolodny commented, “…that single feature which critics like Iser and Bloom still manage so resolutely to ignore: and that is, the crucial importance of the sex of the ‘interpreter’” (200).  However, I’m not sure that Iser and Bloom would even disagree with her as she condemns them.  I don’t think that they would argue that a person’s gender would affect his/her interpretation of a text.  I think they do not explicitly state gender as a factor, but they do say that a reader’s past experiences do change his/her perspective.  And I consider gender to be a factor in this.

 I felt for most of the essay she was far too willing to only talk about men’s misreading of female’s texts, when the same could be said about so many other groups.  I mean, I as an American, could easily misunderstand a French text, simply because I am not French.  I don’t think that it is limited to just gender. 

I do not mean to say that there was no value in Kolodny’s essay, there were parts of it I liked, for example the quote I chose at the top of my blog entry.  I really like two parts specifically of this quote.  First, I liked how she broadened her argument to “all readers, male and female alike,” because I think all readers need to keep this in mind, not specifically males.  Secondly, I really liked her comments on “re-visionary reading.”  I think it is extremely important for us to constantly be reviewing not just what we read, but how we read.  And this “how we read texts” is really what literary criticism is all about.  Kolodny’s call for this “revisionism” is in a broader sense, simply a call for the reader to carefully consider his/her chosen method(s) of criticism. 

Read more on Kolodny's essay. 

2 Comments

Derek Tickle said:

I thought that Kolodny's essay provided us, the reader, with a viewpoint of gender isolation. Whether you are male or female, it is important to analyze the text with a careful critical lense instead of quickly applying gender studies to a piece of literature.

Wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_studies

I think that a reader should chose a specific criticism and run with it throughout the text or work. This would make the reader apply a specific critical lense to a work instead of searching their mind in order to find whether it is gender, race, class, or ethnic background.

Question: Should a reader choose a specific criticism when analyzing a piece of literature?

Greta Carroll said:

You ask an interesting question, Derek, and honestly I can see pros and cons for each side of the issue. I mean, if you read a text with a particular type of criticism in mind, it helps you carefully focus your lens and really glean all the little details from the text surrounding that issue.

Yet, at the same time, if when you are reading you ignore everything else but that one type, I think it could be very limiting, almost blinding to do so. There could be some other very obvious interpretation which if nothing else, in realizing it exists, it could help you argue against it.

And then in some cases of schools of criticism, like author-intention, it is almost impossible to make a believable argument, only using it. I guess my final answer would be that it depends (I know, it’s a very common answer in literature). But even if one chooses to use only one type of criticism, I think that that person at least needs to be aware of the other possibilities while they are reading, so they realize what other possible readings are out there.

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