Lit 204: Criticism & Literary Theory Brendan Stone [email_address]
<ul><li>There is no such (singular) thing as ‘Theory’ </li></ul><ul><li>But.... </li></ul><ul><li>But in some of what I say I will proceed to ignore this point and talk as if there is... </li></ul>A caveat
<ul><li>Core texts </li></ul><ul><li>Peter Barry, Beginning Theory (2nd or 3rd edition) </li></ul><ul><li>Vincent Leitch et al. (eds.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2010) </li></ul>The basics For an entertaining and polemical intro to ‘theory’, try this book: Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice
<ul><li>Reading </li></ul><ul><li>Peter Barry, Beginning Theory </li></ul><ul><li>1 (sometimes 2) chapters per week in advance of lectures & seminars </li></ul><ul><li>Norton Anthology (and online sources) </li></ul><ul><li>1 or more pieces of theory per week in advance </li></ul>The basics
<ul><li>Assessment </li></ul><ul><li>2 pieces of writing: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>A critical analysis </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>An essay </li></ul></ul></ul>The basics <ul><li>Key advice </li></ul><ul><li>CLARITY of prose and arguments </li></ul><ul><li>AVOID generalisations </li></ul><ul><li>BACK UP assertions with EVIDENCE </li></ul><ul><li>CORRECT grammar, punctuation, spelling, referencing </li></ul>
<ul><li>What is common sense ? </li></ul>Common sense & theory
<ul><li>It doesn't take much to show that common sense is unreliable . [...] What I think we're often doing when we appeal to common sense is expressing a kind of exasperation . Something seems obviously true or false to us and we really don't think it is worth the effort explaining why. Appealing to common sense is thus just a shorthand way of saying we think something is obviously true or false. But it's a misleading strategy, since it evokes some kind of external authority . "Common sense" implies a kind of universal standard of rationality which is more than just what ordinary people happen to think, but which requires less than specialised knowledge. But if it is more than just what people happen to think, doesn't it just become what we believe people ought to think? And if this is what we mean when we talk about common sense, shouldn't we say so and make clear why we think they ought to agree with us? Saying it is just common sense is a way of shifting responsibility for having to explain why we think what we do onto some mythical judge of ordinary reason. </li></ul><ul><li>So common sense is not just unreliable, it's hazy and ill-defined. We should try to avoid using the phrase altogether and instead replace it with something that at least makes the basis of our judgement clear: it is what people generally think; it is what all experience points to being true; it is received wisdom; it is what I think is obvious; it is self-evident. Not all of these are good justifications for belief. But at least they are clear and make it possible to honestly assess what the justifications are. Saying something is common sense is just a way of trying to avoid justifying it altogether. </li></ul>Doing Theory – ‘common’ ‘sense’ Julian Bagginini, Bad Moves: Appealing to common-sense http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/badmoves.php
<ul><li>Common sense = “the collective and timeless wisdom whose unquestioned presence seems to be the source and guarantee of everything we take for granted” </li></ul><ul><li>BUT …. </li></ul><ul><li>perhaps common sense is actually “ ideologically and historically constructed ”………. </li></ul><ul><li>…………………“ The obvious and natural are not given but produced in a specific society by the ways in which that society talks and thinks about itself” </li></ul><ul><li>Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 3 </li></ul>Doing Theory – ‘common’ ‘sense’
<ul><li>In acquiring one’s conception of the world one always belongs to a particular grouping which is that of all the social elements which share the same mode of thinking and acting. We are all conformists of some conformism or other […] The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is , and is ‘knowing thyself' as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. Such an inventory must therefore be made at the outset. </li></ul><ul><li>[…] </li></ul><ul><li>Common sense is a collective noun, like religion: there is not just one common sense, for that too is a product of history and part of the historical process. </li></ul>Doing Theory – ‘common’ ‘sense’ Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (Lawrence & Wishart, 1971), pp. 324 & 325-6.
<ul><li>“ Common sense proposes a humanism based on an empiricist-idealist interpretation of the world. In other words, common sense urges that 'man' is the origin and source of meaning, of action, and of history ( humanism ). Our concepts and our knowledge are held to be the product of experience ( empiricism ), and this experience is preceded and interpreted by the mind, reason or thought, the property of a transcendent human nature whose essence is the attribute of each individual (idealism)....” </li></ul><ul><li>Belsey, p.7 </li></ul>Doing Theory – ‘common’ ‘sense’
<ul><li>“ ....These propositions, radically called in question by the implications of post-Saussurean linguistics , constitute the basis of a practice of reading which assumes, whether explicitly or implicitly, the theory of expressive realism . This is the theory that literature reflects the reality of experience as it is perceived by one (especially gifted) individual, who expresses it in a discourse which enables other individuals to recognize it as true.” </li></ul><ul><li>Belsey, p.7 </li></ul>Doing Theory – ‘common’ ‘sense’
<ul><li>The qualities of literature [such as] timeless value, the secrets of human nature, the moral lessons literature teaches -- all belong to a particular tradition in studying literature. [T]hese ideas about the value of literature come from a particular perspective, which is generally called "liberal humanism" or just "humanism." Liberal humanism started to lose its credibility in the late 1960s. [...] In a nutshell, literary critics responded to the social and political questions arising about race, gender, class, sexuality (etc.) by asking whether these timeless universal human truths found in literature really were timeless and universal, or whether they weren't just as bound to race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture as everything else in the world . In other words, they started to ask questions like, is Shakespeare really "universal," or did he write as a white male in the 16th century? And if so, how [and why ] did we come to read Shakespeare as "classic" and "timeless"? </li></ul>Humanism, literature, & common sense Mary Klages, ‘Humanism and Literary Theory’ < http://www.colorado.edu/English/courses/ENGL2012Klages/humanism.html >
<ul><li>Children make the best theorists , since they have not yet been educated into accepting our routine social practices as "natural", and so insist on posing to those practices the most embarrassingly general and fundamental questions, regarding them with a wondering estrangement which we adults have long forgotten. </li></ul><ul><li>Since they do not yet grasp our social practices as inevitable, they do not see why we might not do things entirely differently . "Where does capitalism come from, mummy?" is thus the prototypical theoretical question, one which usually receives [the] reply: "This is just the way we do things dear." </li></ul><ul><li>It is those children who remain discontented with this shabby parental response who grow up to be emancipatory theorists, unable to conquer their amazement at what everyone else seems to take for granted . </li></ul>Doing Theory – places to start Terry Eagleton, The Significance of Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), p. 34.
<ul><li>“ T here is no practice without theory , however much that theory is suppressed, unformulated or perceived as ‘obvious’.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ What we do when we read, however natural it seems, presupposes a whole theoretical discourse, even if unspoken, about language and meaning, about the relationships between meaning and the world, meaning and people, and finally about people themselves and their place in the world.” </li></ul><ul><li>Belsey, p. 4 </li></ul>Doing Theory – places to start
<ul><li>I understand […] theory to be what I call an ‘intelligibility effect’ – a historical understanding of the material processes and contradictory relations through which the discourses of culture make sense. </li></ul><ul><li>I therefore find it difficult to see how any cultural act that produces ‘meaning effects’ could be outside such historical mediations and the workings of social intelligibilities and be atheoretical . To produce and to understand meaning effects is always already theoretical. </li></ul><ul><li>Poetry is as much a theory of reality as any other discourse; it produces intelligibility and knowledge, and knowledge is always an effect of cultural and political institutions. To say, as you do, that poetry is by nature atheoretical amounts to saying that poetry is a transdiscursive act that is autointelligible – that it makes sense and is meaningful in and of itself outside all cultural mediations and without being entangled in the material signifying practices of society. </li></ul>Doing Theory – places to start Mas’ud Zavarzadeh and Donald Morton, Theory as Resistance: Politics and Culture after (Post)structuralism (New York: Guilford Press, 1994), p. 31.
<ul><li>Theory is what breaks out when agreement about such terms as text, reading, history, interpretation, tradition, and literature can no longer be taken for granted , so that their meanings have to be formulated and debated. </li></ul><ul><li>Admittedly the term theory is used here in a very broad sense, denoting an examination of legitimating presuppositions, beliefs, and ideologies […] All teachers [and students] of literature operate on theories, whether they choose to examine these theories or not. </li></ul>Doing Theory – places to start Gerald Graff, ‘Taking Cover in Coverage’, in Norton , p. 2060.
<ul><li>Literature, in the meaning of the word we have inherited, is an ideology . It has the most intimate relations to questions of social power. </li></ul>Doing Theory – places to start Terry Eagleton, ‘The Rise of English’, Norton , p. 2243. Literature cannot escape from class power structures that shape our every day life . Here a writer has no choice… his work reflects one or more aspects of the intense economic, political… struggle in a society. What he or she cannot do is to remain neutral. Every writer is a writer in politics. The only question is whose politics? Ngugi Wa Thiong’O, Writers in Politics , (Heinemann, 1997), p. xvi.
Theory on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DW1cwGr9e_c
<ul><li>Theory....is.... about... </li></ul>Doing Theory disability marxisms feminisms ‘ men’ ‘ women’ ‘ race’ deconstruction queer violence sex bodies writing text the canon madness (un)reason ‘ reality’ psyche dreams class culture technology war
<ul><li>Texts and transparency </li></ul><ul><li>The neutral gaze? </li></ul><ul><li>Our own situatedness & partiality </li></ul><ul><li>Interpretation – why/how? </li></ul><ul><li>Status quo and common sense </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Naturalness ’ </li></ul><ul><li>Social construction </li></ul><ul><li>Identity </li></ul><ul><li>History </li></ul><ul><li>Power </li></ul><ul><li>Money </li></ul>Doing Theory
<ul><li>Freud </li></ul><ul><li>Marx </li></ul><ul><li>Language </li></ul>Doing Theory – self/subject
<ul><ul><li>Universal human nature </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The importance of the individual </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The primacy and importance of reason </li></ul></ul>Doing Theory – self/subject Humanism.... <ul><ul><li>“ The Cartesian, autonomous subject is in charge of him/herself and engages (or at least is capable of engaging) in rational debate with other subjects to arrive at a consensus. This conception of the self or subject is fundamental to humanism and underlies, for example, the typical understanding of liberal democracy.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(Mick Underwood) </li></ul></ul>
<ul><ul><li>From self -------- to subject </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Subject = product of social structures and patterns of signification </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Postmodern subject = </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Decentred </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Multiple </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fractured </li></ul></ul>Doing Theory – self/subject 'Anti-humanism‘.....
<ul><ul><li>The subject is an effect of language. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Subject born into a world constituted by language. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Language has already assigned the subject a place. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Concepts, ideas, meanings are already in place: subject must fit into these linguistic constructions. </li></ul></ul>Doing Theory – self/subject Language ....
<ul><ul><li>Language brings the person into being . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Our 'nature', thoughts, feelings, & experiences, are the result of language . </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ We can only represent our experiences to ourselves and to others by using the concepts embedded in our language [...] our thoughts, feelings and how we represent our behaviour are all pre-packaged by language.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ The way that language is structured determines the way that consciousness and experience are structured .” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(Vivien Burr) </li></ul></ul>Doing Theory – self/subject Language ....
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