< EL312: How Not to Do Homework, by Karissa | Main | EL312: The Greater Whole, defined by its parts >

February 10, 2007

EL312: Purposive and not likely to conform

Watson's argument in "Are Poems Historical Acts?" pushed me to think more about the cause of a work rather than what readers feel it represents merely because it was created at a certain point in history. Surely we cannot know ultimately know the cause (for the same reason that we cannot wholly know the meaning of a work), but I think Watson strikes a point regarding the creation of literature:

For most men who have valued the literary experience in the past century and more, literature is by contrast the supremely purposive activity: "an objective, a projected result," as Henry James once called it emphatically, adding sententiously: "it is life that is the unconscious, the agitated, the struggling, floundering cause." (30)

I particularly like the addition from Henry James about life as the unconscious (since many seem to think that it is art that is the unconscious...). Sure "art for art's sake" sounds nice, but art with a purpose makes it seem more worthwhile (and for the artist, worth the struggle), right?

Just to connect with that quote with the rest of the reading a bit, here is something that follows on page 31: "But then to fulfill an intention, in literature as in life, is not necessarily to behave as one should." It's impossible to achieve, at times, without sacrificing some "shoulds" along the way. In the same way that we're raised to know wrong from right--what we should do and should NOT do--we are taught in literature that certain types of pieces should do certain types of things (which other pieces should NOT do).

While that's all very vague, what I mean is that leaving behind criteria from a particular time period is what brought authors and poets to new heights. On page 32 Watson mentions the 18th century novel's development--he calls them "hesitating attempts" from the uncertainty in the new form. But consider the novel now--not so hesitant, is it? Moreover, sub-genres have sprung up around specific genres when they are spawned from the already existing genres of a particular time period. How exciting!

So how about those poems? Are they historical acts? I'm not quite sure, to be honest. I do wish Watson would have further defined "historical act" instead of leaving that for open interpretation... But I do think I've gleaned a little something from the argument that might help me find my answer if I digest it a bit more.

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

Posted by KarissaKilgore at February 10, 2007 1:28 AM


I do agree with you Karissa, Waston should have defined his idea of what a historical act is to him, so the reader and he could have been on the same page, because as we all know, a historical act has various meanings, depending on who you ask.

Watson defintely raised a good question, but it seems to still be indefinable...

Posted by: Gina at February 15, 2007 4:05 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)