Approaches to Criticism Traditional, Formalistic, Mythological and Archetypal
The work of art frequently appeared to be of secondary importance, before 30’s something that merely illustrated “background”
Studying literature was basically biography or history rather than an art
New criticism is a reaction to the traditionalists
Avoid danger of interpreting a literary work solely as biography and history—the end result of the traditional method
Literature is primarily an art; art does not exist in a vacuum. It is a creation by someone at some time in history, and it is intended to speak to other human beings about some idea or issue that has human relevance
Types of Traditional Approaches
Not precisely a method of criticism but important tool in literary analysis
Correct meaning of words in their historical context. Authenticity of text
Reader may assume text has come down unchanged
Poe’s original verse from “To Helen”
“ To the beauty of fair Greece
And the grandeur of old Rome.”
“ To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.
Types of Traditional Historical-biographical
Reflection of author’s life and times or the life and times of the characters in the work.
The Jungle, Poe, Oliver Twist
Expressive, which sees literature as a source of unique knowledge deriving from the artist’s imagination and therefore glorifies “self-expression” as the true function of art
Impressionist is what the critic feels in presence of a work of art
Poets have from earliest times been the historians, the interpreters of contemporary culture, and the prophets of their people. Remember Emerson and the “poet owns the landscape”
An approach as old as classical Greek and Roman critics
The larger function is to teach morality
Critic is not aware of form, figurative language, other aesthetic considerations, but are secondary.
The important thing is the moral or philosophical teaching.
All great literature teaches in the larger sense
Less likely to err on side of over-interpretation
The object of formalistic criticism is to find the key to the structure and meaning of the literary work
We search for form which is necessary for real understanding
A unifying pattern is the pattern that as modern critics say, informs or shapes the work inwardly and gives its parts a relevance to the whole
We must narrow our attention to what the literary work says but we must first consider how it is said
Suggests that the reader see what is in the poem, novel, or the play rather than to consider what is outside it.
First step in explaining the literary work is to discover what the words actually mean in their full denotative and connotative value.
Find point of view used by author
Principle by which content and form inseparable—
Imagery, tone, meters, rhymes, etc
Most controversial, most abused, for the most part the least appreciated
Trad. Overlooks structure, Formal neglects historical and biographical, Psychological’s limitation is its aesthetic inadequacy.
Abuses and Misunderstandings:
Aristotle used it to define tragedy
Psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and followers
mistrust from abuses because sexual in nature
Emphasis on unconscious aspects of the human psyche
Most actions are motivated by psychic forces over which we have limited control
Most of the individual’s mental processes are unconscious
All human behavior is motivated ultimately by sexuality
Id—primary source of psychic energy
Ego—protects the individual; rational governing agent of the psyche; the conscious mind
Super-ego—to protect society, moral censoring agency. Acting either directly through the Ego, the super-ego serves to repress or inhibit the drives of the Id, to block off and thrust back into the unconscious those impulses toward pleasure that society regards as unacceptable. Parental influence develops super-ego.
Concerning child psychology
Infancy and childhood a period of intense sexual experience
Mythological and Archetypal approaches
Myth critic seeks out those mysterious artifacts built into certain literary forms which elicit dramatic and universal human reactions.
To discover how it is that certain works of literature, image a kind of reality to which readers give response
A close connection between mythological criticism and the psychological approach: both are concerned with the motives underlying human behavior
Psychology tends to be experimental and diagnostic; its is related to biological sciences
Mythology tends to be speculative and philosophic; its affinities are with religion, anthropology, and cultural history
Mythology is wider in scope
Psychoanalysis attempts to disclose about the individual personality, the study reveals about the mind and character of the people.
Myths are symbolic projections of a people’s hopes, values, fears, and aspirations.
The common misconception of the term, myths are merely primitive fictions, illusions, or opinions based on false reasoning
Mythology encompasses more than grade-school stories about the Greek and Roman deities or clever fables invented for the amusement of children.
Myths do not meet our current standards of factual reality, they reflect a more profound reality. Metaphoric truth.
“ Myth is fundamental, the dramatic representation of our deepest instinctual life, of primary awareness of man in the universe, capable of many configurations, upon which all particular opinions and attitudes depend.”—Mark Schorer
“ Myth is to be defined as a complex of stories—some no doubt fact, and some fantasy—which, for various reasons, human beings regard as demonstrations of the inner meaning of the universe and of human life.”
Similar motifs and themes may be found among many different mythologies.
Images that widely separated have a common meaning or, tend to elicit comparable psychological responses and to serve similar cultural functions.
The myth critic is interested more in pre-history and the biographies of gods.
Form concentrated on the shape of the work itself.
The myth critic probes the inner spirit which gives that form its vitality, its enduring appeal.
This approach is relatively new and poorly understood:
Proper interpretive tools become available through the development of such disciplines as anthropology, psychology, and cultural history.
As with psychological approach, the reader must take care that his enthusiasm for a new-found interpretive key does not tempt him to discard other valuable critical instruments or to try to open all literary doors with this single key.
Myth critic tends to forget that literature is more than a vehicle for archetypes and ritual patterns. He runs the risk of being distracted from the essential experience of the artifact itself; he forgets that literature is above all else, art.
Jungian psychology and its archetypal insights
Primary contribution to myth criticism is his theory of racial memory and archetypes.
Beneath the personal unconscious—primeval, collective unconscious shared in the psychic inheritance of all members of the human family.
Jung believed: “Mind is not born as a tabula rosa (clean slate). Like the body, it has its pre-established individual definiteness; namely forms of behaviour. They become manifest in the ever-recurring patterns of psychic functioning.”
“ Myth-forming” structural elements are ever-present in the unconscious psyche; he refers to the manifestations of these elements as “motifs” “primordial images,” or “archetypes.”
Theorized that myths do not derive from external factors such as the seasonal or solar cycle but are the projections of innate psychic phenomena.
Myths are the means by which archetypes become manifest
Archetypes reveal themselves in dreams; dreams are personalized myths/myths are personalized dreams.
Personal unconscious is private to the individual—experiences which have been forgotten, suppressed, repressed, ignored. Includes fantasies and dreams
Four functions of myth:
Faith is believing in something when there is no reason to or when there is no scientific explanation.
2. Scientific function: This explains the physical workings of nature and natural phenomena according to the scientific understanding of the time.
3. Sociological function: Supports and validates social order of the society in which the myth took place. It conservatively defends the status quo.
4. Pedagogical/Instruction: Shows how one should live one’s daily life; rules to live by.
The Archetype of the hero
Part I: Departure
The Call to Adventure
Refusal of the call—not always
Supernatural aid—benefit of wisdom of others, can’t succeed entirely by self, the force which is within.
Crossing the first threshold—separation from home, present comforts of home
Belly of the whale—death experience—death of old self. The whale is the unconscious unknown fears. Usually there is a mentor or wise person somewhere in here.
Part II: Initiation
The road of trials: the adventure—to prove status
Meeting with the goddess/woman—not enslaved to lust—avoiding temptations
Atonement with the father—must in course of journey to adulthood be on same level
The Ultimate Boon—reward—sometimes physical sometimes knowledge
Part III: The Return
Refusal of the return—not always, but must return to society and responsibility
Magic Flight—sign of favor
Golden Age or Garden—early man
Loss of innocence—the “fall”--childhood
The flood—destructive but cleansing; renewal
The hero—model for us; standard to judge our lives by; of man but apart
Wise old man/wizard—helpful to man
Trickster—achieves goal by cunning; not always good
Metamorphosis—transformation into something else
Dragons—Western world=greed; Eastern world=wealth and wisdom
Snake/serpent—knowledge and immortality
Tree/tree of life—symbol of connection of all levels from underground to heavens—Christ’s cross
God teacher—bridge between man and God; brings gift to man but with consequences