January 2009 Archives

On the Fence

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"The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material." (Eliot)

Before I go into the debate about whether or not poetry contains emotions (which seems to be a big topic with this assignment), I want to first look at the point that Eliot made about how you cannot look at a new author without remembering the authors that have come before him. A new poet may have great, new poems, but the poet had to derive their inspiration and even some of their style for writing from somewhere. Unknowingly, there are fragments and traces of the writing of the works of others in newer forms of writing from new authors. It is not someone intentionally taking someone else's idea or inspiration, but maybe just a new way of approaching the same topic or idea.

Getting back to whether or not there is emotion/personality in poetry, I am kind of in between in the argument. I can't say I agree completely with either side. I think emotion and personality can be shown in poetry. However, I think experience plays a big part into how that emotion and personality is expressed in poetry. For example, Sylvia Plath wrote many powerful poems that didn't exactly fill us all with a happy, feel-good-about-yourself kind of feeling. Looking at her background, we all know she was depressed and eventually committed suicide. She could have written her poetry as she was feeling the emotions she was describing. However, she also could have written after she had experienced an emotion. If she had written after experiencing an emotion, she would have had time to think about how she wanted to describe the emotion and probably would not have been experiencing it at the moment she was writing about it. This would relate to what Eliot pointed out in his discussion: "The poet's mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together". Plath, even though she might have been describing her emotions, she would have been writing from the experience she had of those emotions. Maybe.

However, on the other hand I think personality has to have some impact on when and what you write. Personality affects your viewpoint and your interests. I don't think it is always present in an author's work, but I think it can be. Looking back on Plath, her poetry/other works match her personality pretty well in my opinion: they are mostly dark and depressing, as was she during some of her life. Also, if you look at Keats and his poem we just studied, from the background personality we learned about him from Austin, I would say his personality fit his poem as well.

With all of this to consider, I still can't say if I agree or disagree with what Eliot stated. The more I think about it, the less black and white I see in the answer and the more a shade of gray appears (which I have learned is very common in literature).

Go back and see the differing opinions about this assignment. 

Will we ever know?

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"E.D. Hirsch offers an effective way of approaching such dilemmas. In Validity of Interpretation, he suggests, reasonably enough, when 'interpretive disagreements...occur, genuine knowledge is possible only if someone takes the responsibilty of adjucating the issue in the light of all that is known.' This involves determining a general standard of critical sanity or sensibleness, identifying the various interpretations (in this case, of Keats's lines), examining the evidence relating to each (including biographical and historical), and then judging which interpretation is most probably valid." (Austin 48)

When I first read this passage, I thought Hirsch's strategy that Austin was using and preparing to explain would be very helpful and eventually determine some guidelines for how Keats's poem was to be interpreted (I knew going into the rest of this reading that there wouldn't be a final right way because for literature there usually isn't). However, by the time I reached the end of the reading, I really didn't know what to think about Austin. I had a mixed reaction to his work.

What I did enjoy and appreciate from Austin's work was his use of Hirsch's strategy and the very careful piecing together of information from the six most common and most reasonable interpretations of Keats's poem. I could understand (for the most part) each interpretation and how each one had a possibility. I then appreciated how Austin went back, after giving supporting evidence for each interpretation, and discussed the faults each interpretation had. Finally, I loved how Austin included background information of Keats and used it to help eliminate some of the interpretations. I really liked this approach because usually when I read a critic's thoughts about an author's work, I'm always wondering how much opinion is involved and how that would play out in the critic determining their comments. Austin included several different interpretations and some background information to try to compare what was the same or what could be the most accurate between them. I think this limited some opinion and relied some what more on fact. 

However, despite everything I liked about Austin's discussion, I still found it amazing that all of his work just led to a search for an answer that he could never find completely. I know he used as much historical fact and reason to eliminate some of the interpretations, but with literature there isn't a final answer or correct intrepretation. As Erica pointed out in her blog, we will never know what Keats was really thinking when he wrote the poem. Austin could be right with the interpretation he chose as the correct interpretation; however, for some unknown reason, he could also be completely off. His nine page analysis (for a much shorter poem) could be heading in the right direction, or he could have missed completely. I think it is interesting to try to figure out what the author's original intent of a work was when it was written, but I think it is also important to see how a work influences its readers who may not look at it through the same perspective as Austin or Hirsch. I believe a work's original intent is important, but its actual influence, regardless of its original intent, must also be considered. An original intent may never be known while an influence may be easier to see and claim. I think both are important to understanding someone's writing. 

Go back. 


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"There is no 'literary' device - metonymy, synecdoche, litotes, chiasmus and so on - which is not quite intensively used in daily discourse." (Eagleton 6).

Although Angela and I share the same sentence, we're not sharing the same word (and my blog lacks a Steelers example).

I chose to define "litotes" because I have come across this word more than once when reading and I never looked it up. According to Hamilton, litotes "is a figure of thought in which a point is affirmed by negating its opposite; the surface denial serves through ironic contrast" (57).

An example is "The door is not open" which could as be stated as "The door is closed". It is simply a statement that could be stated with or with out a negation yet have the same meaning (the wording will change in order to keep the same meaning).

Go back and see what other words were defined.

Same Start, Different End

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"We can begin, then, by raising the question: what is literature?" (Eagleton 1).

I think every literature class I have taken so far has begun with the same question: what is literature? I have heard a variety of definitions to what literature is, although I don't believe I've met anyone who had a Formalist view and ignored the content of what they were reading. However, I was slightly surprised how this chapter broke down the multiple attempted defintions of literature and decided in the end that there isn't a complete/textbook answer for the definition.

One section that really stood out for me was the author's discussion on the influence and importance of value-judgement by readers. I related to I. A. Richards's study and could easily see myself as a student who would unknowingly (and realistically knowingly) criticize and dismiss a highly honored work. My favorite point that Eagleton made in that paragraph was that Richards's students' "reponses were deeply entwined with their broader prejudices and beliefs" (15). This statement helped me to understand not only why certain critics react to different works, but also how I develop my own opinions about what I am reading. This section was important for me because it will help me to understand the possible source/reason for criticism of a work later in this course (by a critic I am reading about of from myself/peers).

Go back to the original page, or check out Ellen's or Gretta's blog. I found it interesting that both pointed out how the lack of a definition for literature gives and allows reading to keep its value.

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