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A Glance at Major Literary Movements


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This paper provides a brief summary ob the major literary movements from the 18th to the 20th century. I also highlights the major works of the prominent figures of each literary era.

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A Glance at Major Literary Movements

  1. 1. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre A Glance at Major Literary MovementsI. Romanticism: 18 th &19 th Century  Mary Wolstoncraft - a call for the education of women.  Mary Shelly – she talked about woman’s body as a literary experience.  Dorothy Wordsworth – a silenced female writer under patriarchy-  Jean Jack Rousseau (In Europe): ‘ I feel before I think’  Simon de Beauvoir (In Europe): “The real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic”  William Wordsworth ‘ Poetry is the Overflow of Powerful Feeling’  Samuel Taylor Coleridge ‘ Fancy’ & ‘Imagination’ - Romanticism is a revolutionary movement associated with the French working-class revolutionagainst the monarch and the aristocracy: they called for liberty, equality, and fraternity. Themovement is also associated with the industrial revolution in England where the industrial town grewdramatically and a large working class, which was living very bad conditions, emerged. As mode ofthinking, romanticism revolutionizes literature, religion and philosophy. It questioned the settled wayof thinking, which had widely spread, with the age of Enlightenment: the age that gave priority toreason, and preference to ideas. The romantic ideological novelty can be seen, for example, in theFrench philosopher, Jean Jack Rousseau, who says: ‘ I felt before I thought’. In thisstatement, he opposes Descartes who rather supports reason: ‘ I think therefore I am ‘. Rousseaualso stated that Man should liberate his spirit. This must bring a new idea, which is feelings may leadto ‘truth’. Hence, the romantic philosophy rejected the 18C. Concept of the mind as a mirror or as asimple recipient of the reality out-there; it rather considers the mind as itself the creator of theuniverse it perceives. Romanticism had a great impact on literature. Literary Romanticism has changed the notionof literature. The latter, prior to the 18C., simply consisted of essays, history, and the study of ancientGreek & Roman languages. It was restricted to the study of Classics, and it was not somethingimaginative/inventive; rather, it was very much limited and dominated by rationality. Poetry wasregarded primarily as an imitation of nature. Then, Romanticism came as new beginning with newconception for literature, by introducing new ideas and ways of perceiving things. By this time,literature was becoming virtually synonymous with the ‘imaginative’ & ‘inventive’ & ‘creative’. Theliterary work itself came to be seen as an organic unity: it became, as William Wordsworthdefined it: ‘ the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling’. Poetry acquired then deep social,political and philosophical implications. Literature has become a whole alternative ideology governedby ‘imagination’. The major romantic literary themes are those that are concerned with the individual and hisinteraction with nature. Broadly speaking, the romantic writer was chiefly concerned with nature andits elements that stimulate the individual’s feelings and thus usher him to ‘truth’. In this respect,freedom, independence, equality, love and identity are all some of the issues that represented the 1
  2. 2. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badrepivotal occupation of the romantic poet. Also, the romantic writer put a strong emphasis on theliberation of the individual from conventions and social constraint, pointing out that the individualmust not submit to any limitation, since the human mind is the creator of the universe. The romanticliterary hero was a mixed character: not obviously bad nor good, thus creating a sort of ambiguity thatallowed a freedom of interpretation. Both the poet as well as his hero escaped all what is logical orurban, and took refuge into nature.II. Realism –19 th CenturyThe main figures:  Balzac (in Europe)- The Human Comedy- focus on humble fictitious characters.  Gostave Flaubert (in Europe)- Madam Bovary  Emile Zola (in Europe)- the father of Naturalism  George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans (1818-80)- the pioneer of the realism in England  Daniel Defoe (1661-1731)- the father of the realist novel  Samuel Richardson (1689-1761)- the pioneer of the realist novel  Henry Fielding (1707-1754)-  John Ruskin (1819-1900)“expressive realism” Imitates reality to express great ideas Realism is associated mainly with the 19c. Having began in the 18c, realism and naturalismcame as response to Romanticism. The purpose and main distinctive feature of realism was torepresent “life as it is” as opposed to romanticism, which was based on feelings. Realism inliterature was derived from art, especially painting. In Europe, this mode of thinking is associated withBalzac, who is considered the father of literary realism, Gustave Flaubert, whose novels -following Balzac- were based on observation of real life. Then, came Emile Zola, the father ofNaturalism, who build up his novels on scientific discoveries, and focused on ordinary people whoturned to be the product of their environment. In England, the realist movement was associated withwriters as Daniel Defoe, the father of the realist novel, Moll Flanders, Samuel Richardson,and Henry Fielding. Realism in art deals with scenes of ordinary people in their humble life: it represents life as itis and not as it should be. John Ruskin in Modern Painters stated that what is important inpainting is what is expressed through the act of painting. That is, a painter who simply copies faithfullyobjects of the reality out-there has just learnt the basic techniques/language of art through which theartist’s ideas are to be expressed. Therefore, for Ruskin, greatness in art is not achieved through theexact imitation of nature, it is more importantly achieved through the many ideas that are expressedthough that imitation. Put otherwise, greatness in art is the artist’s capacity to convey reality throughgreat ideas by virtue of the expressive and mimetic skills. This is John Ruskin’s theory of“expressive realism”. Realism in literature is mode of writing, which bases itself on rationalism and represents thesubject as an illusion that looks like reality. The heroes of the realist fiction are the figures that havebeen neglected by the romantic writer. They are common people, uprooted from lower and workingclasses, living under ordinary or humble circumstances. By way of example, Daniel Defoe’s heroinMoll Flanders, under whom the novel is titled, is a female outcast, who after many failedexperiences, turns to an adulterous, whore, thief, and ends up in the prison. The pioneers of theEnglish realist fiction are Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. Thosethree have broken with the old fashion romance, adopting a new method of writing which shapes up 2
  3. 3. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badreits structure on a real human experience with a realistic aspect of life. This realistic aspect of life doesnot only reside in the kind of life under study or the identity of the character that acts the experience,but also in the way this life-experience in represented. In short, Realism is one feature thatdifferentiates between the new form –namely the novel- and the other forms of writing. The major novelty brought about with the rise of realism is “the novel” genre. More thanany other literary form, the novel raises the question of the correspondence between literary work andimitated reality. The novel came to assert that the individual’s experience which is free from any pastassumptions or traditional beliefs may lead to the “truth”. Accordingly, the novelist rejects literarytraditionalism: he moves away from the traditional plots, adopting the individual experience, whichguarantees the novel its originality. Realist writers, unlike all those who have preceded them, do notplot their narratives on reliance on mythologies or histories; but original plots. They also stress at thefact that the plot should be acted by particular people in particular circumstances. This new tendencyhas the effect of individualizing the fictitious characters and giving them a detailed presentation oftheir environment, as it is demonstrated in the novel of Emile Zola. Adding to that, the focus onthe character’s real personal identity with contemporary name and surnames and not with traditionalones. Other specificities of the novel form are the correlation of space as well as time dimensionand the referential language. On the one hand, the realist writer defines their characters by referringto space and time, for those elements have a great impact on shaping up the personality of thecharacter. On the other hand, the type of language that realism uses is prose style, which gives a senseof authenticity. Hardly composed of the rhetorical and figurative images, language becomes morecorresponding to the things it describes. By so doing, the realist writer wants to convey the concretereality of words. And by this exhaustive presentation rather than elegant concentration, the writer isenabled to get closer to what he describes.II.1. F.R. Leavis: The Great Tradition F.R. Leavis attempts to fix a definition of greatness in literary fields. For so doing, he traces atraditional going to Fielding and Richardson, the ones who led to Jane Austan, George Eliot, HenryJames, Joseph Conrad, and D.H. Laurence. Those novelists are, in Leavis’s view, great because theythrough their literary productions promote human ‘awareness of the possibility of life’. Forleavis, Jane Austan is great not because she has individual talent, but because she successfully carriedout the tradition, in the sense that she led to appearance of other great literary figures who learnt fromher. Together with George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad, she has a conveyed ideology thatteaches the reader. Their work is “great” because it is involved with the tradition of Morality.Another element that helped those figure to attain “greatness”, in Leavis’s stand, is their concern with“form”. All the above-mentioned novelists were chiefly concerned with “form” as well as the questionof how morality is revealed through “form”. Charles Dickens was also a great writer, however hiswritings tend more to entertain than to teach morality. Indeed, leavis’s judgments have paved the way for a whole critical discourse along with thenotion of the ‘canon’. He permeated a whole literary culture, a whole educational system, whichproduced a high degree of consensus concerning the criteria if greatness in literature. He is the onewho defined the great tradition, which, in return, produced the notion of the ‘canon’, for peoplewanted to be taught something worthwhile at universities. Hence, the old religious ideology, whichhad lost force, has been replaced by the entity of literature which now provide the reader with amorally correct ideology, aiming at guiding people toward universal human values, and thus to the 3
  4. 4. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badretruth. Leavis’s ‘tradition’ has challenged the moral set up of aristocracy, and questioned theassumptions of the upper classes.III. New Criticism- 20 th Century New criticism is a literary approach or a mode of reflection in literary works. It has emanatedchiefly from American literary criticism schools, with the publication of New Criticism by JohnCrowe Ransom. Before its emergence, critics were concerned in their analysis of texts with thehistorical context and the author’s biographies in an attempt to uncover the meaning of the text.Accordingly, they depended on an extrinsic analysis, focusing mainly on the elements outside the textfor interpretation. This common mode of analysis was, however, rejected by the new critics. For thelatter, the poem, which is synonymous to any literary work, be it writing or painting, is a self-enclosedand a concrete entity. It has an objective existence, and can therefore only be objectively evaluated:with no feeling as was the case with the romantics, or moral values as believed the new humanists, orimpression in the work’s beauty as did the impressionists. Thus the new critics apply an intrinsicanalysis of the text, focusing on the “words on the page”, not on any thing outside it. Thy overlookedthe author’s historical background along with influence of his life on his work of art. New criticism is associated basically with American school of criticism, emerged in 1910. Itsmain figures are I. A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks, T. S. Eliot, and John Crowe Ransom. The mainprinciple of N. Criticism is the ‘words and the words only”: it focuses on the text in an intrinsicmanner rather than extrinsic way of analysis. It considers the content as well as the structure of thegiven text as the only but ample element for providing ‘meaning’. In so doing, N. criticism isconsidered as a frontal attack on the ‘expressive realism’, relating the text to its author andestablishes a link between the work the world/the out-there reality. American new criticism hasderived some of its principles from some British critics and writers who helped lay the foundation ofthis form of criticism. The idea that criticism should be directed to the poem and not the poet wasborrowed from T. S. Eliot. In many of his critical essays, he insisted that a poet does infuse thepoem with his or her personality &emotions, but uses language to incorporate within the text his/herexperiences that are similar to human beings’. That is, the poet does not reflect his/her personalfeelings & experiences, but simply mirrors experiences basically shared by everybody. The principles of the new critics are basically verbal. They conceived of literature as a specialkind of language whose attributes are defined by symptomatic opposition to the language of scienceand logical discourse. What pushes them to believe that a text must be cut off from any historical orbibliographical references are the belief that literature is verbal, and meaning and structure gotogether. For them, the distinction between literary genres is not essential. And the concept of the‘text’ is public, for language is a publicly shared entity. The new critic relegates both the reader’s as well as the author’s authority, allowing autonomyto the text alone. Believing, that the text is a self-sufficient entity, functions as ‘an organic unity’whose basic components are the images, paradoxes, irony, the new critic considers all the elementsoutside the text as useless not only for the act of interpretation but even for the text itself. Hence, theydisregard the author’s biography or intentions along with the reader’s impressions. This way ofrejecting the author’s biography or any ideological or historical assumptions during the act of readingcreates a sort of hierarchy between the author or the reader and the literary work, putting the latter atthe top of the pyramid Another important element in new criticism is the method by which a text is interacted,namely ‘close reading’. It is one of the main mode of analysis adopted by the new critics, stressingthat the poem is neither the author’s nor the reader’s property. This is why they anchor on the 4
  5. 5. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badrewords on the page and turns their back to the words and the world. That is, meaning can bedefined through the harmonious ‘intensive’ interaction of words with the paradoxes and therhetorical images within the text. These paradoxes, maintain the N. critics, are resolved within the textitself. Therefore, through an objective and close reading of the text, a reader may come up withmeaning. And any reliance on the author’s intention or the effect of the text on the reader’s mindduring the act of interpretation will simply mislead the critic, and thus, falling in- what the new criticscall – either the intentional fallacy or the affective fallacy. This castigation of both theintentional and the affective fallacies goes back to the fact that both of them tend to distinct betweenthe form and the content of the text which are indivisible as far as the N. Criticism’s approach goes. However, the new critics’ stand is attacked by other critical approaches. The fact that a text is aself-sufficient body proved to be inadequate; knowing that a text is full of gaps, silenced voices, andunsaid testimonies, the reader has to provide a reading between the lines in order to cater for thosemade-absent elements: he has to voice the silences, fill the vacuums, and bridge the gaps within thetext. For so doing, a reader has to be well equipped with some preconceptions from the world out-there. In other words, the act of reading a text entails a sort of background that enables the reader toidentify the quality of the text and therefore cope with its content. Only than the meaning of a giventext is produced. So, without the interference of the reader the meaning of the text is still notlocalized. Additionally, the idea that meaning is housed within the text alone, away from the outsideelements, is also questionable. The new critics by cutting off the text from any bibliographical orhistorical references fall short to performative contradiction. That is, the fact of tackling the textwith no preconceptions and far from the notion of intertextuality is not possible anyway, since areader cannot be free from ideological reading. To comprehensively read a text, one ought to haveread many other texts. This is so because there is no ideological-free interpretation: aninterpretation derived independently from the out-there reality. Otherwise, the act of reading andinterpreting a text would run the risk of being confined to limited viewpoints. This implies that theconcept of intertextuality is very much operative, if not prerequisite, for concluding meaning. In short, new criticism is basically an American school of criticism, calling for an intrinsicreading of a text meaning. It gives autonomy to the literary work and relegates the role of the reader inthe act of interpretation. It considers the work of art as an organic whole whose main opponents arethe structure and the content. It opposes the expressive realist’s approach of associating between thework and the world. Its main points of strength is that: it makes science of literary criticism, enables aprofessional discipline together with developing a close reading of the text, and it offers criticalanswers in analyzing poetry. The main areas of weaknesses are that it ignores production and multipleinterpretations of a single text, ignores reception and gender, which creates a passive reader. Also itconsiders criticism inferior to literature. It is worth noting that unlike all the mode of criticism, newcriticism does not set up any kind of theory or procedures its ideology. Left to be said that the heroesof the new critics are the Metaphysical poems, for they provide the former with appropriate literarybackgrounds.IV. Literary Criticism & Science and Poetry Clean Brooks, Robert Warren, and W. K. Wimsatt are among the prominent figures whoadopted new criticism as a mode of textual analysis. Despite some individual differences concerningthe various elements that constitute a poem, they shared a number of similarities. First, they assertedthat a poem has ontological status: possessing its own being. For them a poem should be regarded asindependent and self-sufficient body. Second, they considered the poem as an artifact and 5
  6. 6. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badreautonomous unit, with its own structure. Third, they believed that the meaning of a given text mustnot be equated with the authors’ intentions. Indeed, they warn against critical modes, which localizethe text meaning in the private, experience or intention of its author. The new critic referred to thistendency as the “intentional fallacy”, pointing out that if reliance on the author’s intentionsmisleads the critic towards this fallacy. Likewise, they warned against the “affective fallacy”, whichstations the reader or the author’s emotional response to the center for the interpretation of the text.The new critics held that the poem is neither the author’s nor the reader’s own: once it is published, itbecomes public and cut off the emotions of its creator. Forth, they adopted the strategy of closurewith a perception of a text as a self-enclosed entity, sealed of the outside world; accordingly, a criticshould interact with it through a close reading: stick to the text and outlook what is outside it toproduce meaning. Fifth, one important point for the N. Critics is that literature is verbal:form/structure and content/meaning go together and constitute a verbal organization of devices. Theybelieved that a poem couldn’t be understood through paraphrasing. This error, they called, “ heresyof paraphrase”. that is no simple paraphrasing of the poem can lead to its actual meaning, thoughthey did not deny that the paraphrasing of a poem may help for only an initial understanding. Finally,the new critics disregard the distinction between literary genres, for what is essential for them in thetext is not characters or plot, but the paradoxes, ironies, and images. Cleanth Brooks and Robert Warren re-commanded a method of analysis to approach a textfrom new criticism perspective. A critic should begin with a full and innocent immersion in the poemthen raise inductive questions that would lead the critic to examine the materials within the text.Brooks focussed on the point of innocence approach of the text, meaning to disregard any outsideelement that may affect the reader’s judgement. However, new criticism, like any critical mode of reflection, has its areas of strengths aswell as drawbacks. The fact that new criticism made a science of literary criticism by followingobjective analysis and evaluation is one of the advantages of this mode, adding to that the professionaldiscipline it provided. This strategy leads to a complete criticism of the text without leaving anyunasked question or gaps within it. However, the rejection of the historical context together withnotion of intertextuality, reception, and gender are the inefficiencies of the new critics. They also giveimportance to the text and literature, but relegate the role of the author and literary criticism, whichcreates a sort of passive reader. To put it in nutshell, new criticism is a theory broke with the previous theories thatfollowed traditional ways of interpretation, depending mainly on an extrinsic strategy. It has alsorejected the idea that great literature is the product of the great man, since, for them, the author hasno authority over the text. The attempt to find the author within the text or the work of art throughthe author can simply mislead toward either the intentional or the affective fallacies. Left to besaid, that new criticism, unlike many of the critical approaches, did not set up any kind of theoryunder which their study might be carried out.V. The Reader Response Theory – 20 th Century Though its root can be traced at 1920s, 30s, it was until about 1970s that Reader ResponseTheory rose to prominence. With this theory, the reader is no longer the passive receiver nor doesthe author control the center of the literary work. Unlike the Romantics who gave priority to theauthor in shaping up the poem’s meaning, or The New Critics who focused on the text to localizeits meaning, Reader Response Theory gives credit to the reader in producing the text’s meaning:the reader is no more that passive receiver of knowledge; rather, he, through his preconceptions,prejudices, expectations, and past experiences, becomes an active doer in localizing and producing 6
  7. 7. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badrethe meaning of the text. The main figures of this critical approach are: Louise Rosenblatt,Wolfgang Iser, Hans Robert Jauss, and Pierre Machery. Reader Response Theory comes as an empowering theory on behalf of the reader. Priorto this mode of thinking and with the advent of Romanticism, importance was put on the author:the latter was regarded as a god-figure who can assume truths unrecognized by the common men:critics, in deriving a text’s meaning, had to rely on the author’s biography, feelings, experiences...With the rise of New Criticism, emphasis once again shifted to the text. Hence the text acquired anontological status: it became an autonomous entity whose meaning can be derived in dissection of anyelement outside of it. However, with the advent of Reader Response Theory, the text alone is nolonger regarded as the owner of meaning; the reader becomes a prerequisite element for the text’sinterpretation. That is, only through a transactional engagement of the reader with the text thatmeaning is produced. This is so because the text, as the R. R. Theorists believe, is full of gaps,silenced moments, and unanswered questions. Accordingly, the task of the reader is to fill in thosegaps, to voice those silenced moments, and provide answers for those questions. Only then, the text’smeaning is determined. The reader in this respect becomes a co-writer, for to derive the text’smeaning, he has to write another text. Reader Response Critics can be divided into three main groups. Each group espouses itsown methodologies and assumptions in approaching textual analysis; nevertheless, they all agree onthe important role of the reader in producing meaning, and endeavor to answer the same question:what is the reading process in general? The first group believes that the reader must be an activeparticipant in the creation of the meaning of the text. But the text, for this group, has more control inthe interpretative process than the reader. The majority of this group’s adherents belong toStructuralism; the main figure is Roland Barthes, the one who first mentioned the notion of the“readerly” as opposed to the “writerly” text. The advocates of the second group hold that the reader and the text play equal parts in theinterpretative process. They follow Rosenblatt’s assumption that the reader is involved in atransactional experience with the text. That is, reading, according to her, is an event that leads to thecreation of the poem. The adherents of this trend are: Wolfgang Iser, Hans Robert Jauss,Louise Rosenblatt and George Poulet. They are associated with phenomenology. The latter isa pure study of phenomenon: it is a modern philosophical tendency that concentrates on the objectunder study. The third group positions the reader in the highest level for the creation of the meaningof the text. Unlike the two mentioned above groups, the third group places a great emphasis on thereader in the interpretative process. This mode of criticism is said to be subjective for it focuses, morethan anything, on the reader’s though, beliefs, and experiences in shaping a literary work’s meaning.The adherents of this group are: David Bleich and Norman Holland. They decree that we, asreaders, find and shape our self-identities in the reading process. And by merging our dreams andfantasies with the elements within the text, we produce a valid interpretation that could be accepted bymembers of our culture. Indeed, figures such as Louise Rosenblatt, Wolfgang Iser, and Hans Robert Jausshave contributed with a great deal, through their works and theories, in enlarging the ReaderResponse Theory. First, Rosenblatt, through her book The Reader, the Text, the Poem,clarifies her early ideas. According to her, the reading process involves a reader and the text in atransactional experience. The text, she maintains, acts as a stimulus for eliciting various pastexperiences or readings of other texts. The text, in this respect, shapes the experience of the readerwho, in return, comes to determine the text’s meaning. Hence, a poem becomes an event that takesplace during the reading process or the aesthetic transaction: the poem, in other words, is createdeach time a reader interacts with the text. Rosenblatt, also, distinguishes between two kinds of reading,namely the Efferent Reading and The Aesthetic Reading. Efferent reading, on the one 7
  8. 8. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badrehand, is an act performed for the sake of getting information only. On the other hand, Aestheticreading is an aesthetic engagement with the text’s words, images, and other patterns: it is atransactional encounter with the text meant to experience the text. Second, Wolfgang Iser brings the notion of the indeterminacy of meaning. LikePierre Machary who talked about the symptomatic reading, Iser considers the text as apalimpsest - layers of writing- full of gaps, blanks, and indeterminacies. The reader accordingly hasto look for this gaps and silenced moment within the text and fill them in, which has the effect ofcreating a variety of interpretations and multiplicity of meaning, for each reader will provide differentanswers for those gaps. One of the interpreter’s tasks’, as Iser believes, is “to catch the writer’snodding”: the things which writer has written inadvertently and which s/he did not want to write.They are, in other words, blind spots, going against the thrust of the author’s argument. This is inline with P. Machary’s symptomatic reading. Third, and finally, H. R. Jauss stresses the notion of historicity of interpretation.Influenced by Gadamer, Jauss argues against formalism because it overlooks history and focuses onthe form of the text in order to locate its meaning. Also, he argues against Marxism because the latteroverlooks the form and focuses on history only. Jauss tries to bring the two trends together byadopting Gadamer’s notion of the fusion of horizons: the role of the critic is to mediate betweenhow the text was perceived in the past and how it is perceived in the present. In short, those figuresare the pioneers of the reader response theory. Belonging to the trend of phenomenology, they allstress the crucial role of the reader in deciding the text’s meaning, since -for them- object can havemeaning only if an active consciousness absorbs or notes the former’s existence.VI. Structuralism, 20 th centuryThe main figures:  Firdinand de Saussure: langue/parole/ signified + signifier = sign  Roland Barthes: “codification”  Levi-Strauss: “myth”  Gerald Genette: “figures”  Tsvetan Todorov: “gramar  Jaques Lacan (a psychologist) : the real, the imaginary & the symbolic Structuralism is a scientific mode of looking for reality not within the individual things butin the relationship between their system and structure. Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, firstbrought the concept. The central idea of Saussure’s linguistics is that the “sing” consists of a“signifier” and “signified”, and the relationship between them is arbitrary. That is, there is noinherent or fixed relationship between the word-signifier- and the concept- signified; and therefore,meaning is maintained only by convention. According to Saussure language is ‘arbitrary’,‘relational’ and ‘constitutive’. As a literary theory, structuralism bases itself on a number ofprinciples, scientific, as they are, on which the work of art is analyzed. Its major adherents are: RolandBarth, Lévis-Strauss, Gerald Genette, and Todorov Tzvetan. Like any other literary theory,structuralism has contributed to a certain extent to the development of literary criticism, but it hasits most tenets attacked by mainly Machery and Recouver. Language is, first, arbitrary. It is a sing system based on arbitrariness, in the sense that languageis not a reflection of the reality out-there; rather it is a system out of the reality it claims to portray.Second, the definition of any given word depends on other words within the sing system. Every worddepends in its definition on its syntagmatic (contiguity) position within a sentence, which alreadyhints at the idea of the intrinsic meaning. This is why language is said to be relational. Third, and 8
  9. 9. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badrefinally, language is what constitutes our reality, and not merely a tool representing reality. That is,meaning exists in the human mind, which tries to relate the object through language; meaning doesnot reside in the out-there object but in our mind and it is given shape through language. Therefore,there is no truth outside language. With the advent of Structuralism, the chief principle of liberal humanism wasdebunked. Prior to structuralism, language had been perceived mainly by liberal humanists as atransparent medium which reflects “the reality” out-there. Structuralism’s dimension does notconsider language as a pure medium that reflects the out-there reality; the expressed reality is merelypart of language: what the latter reflects is not something which is independent from language, but alanguage-constructed reality. So, without language, we would be unable to reach the reality of nature. The central idea in structuralism’s view is that things cannot be understood in isolation, butonly in relation to other things. Believing that meaning is relational, structuralism stresses at the ideathat phenomenon must be seen as part of a system of phenomena in order to understand the former:each thing has to be considered as part of and in relation to its structure. The notion of “signifyingsystem” becomes a wide concept indicating any organized set of sings. For structuralism, a signis- like language- any element that carries cultural meanings. It can, for instance, be a literary work,cars’ brand or any cultural artifact. Structuralism perceives literature as a field of study- like any other cultural artifacts- thatworks as a structure. They accordingly developed a theory for texts’ analysis. The main literaryadvocates of structuralism are: Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, Gerard Genette- they areall narratologists- and the anthropologist, Lévi-Strass. Applying structuralism to literary criticism, R.Barthes in his Mythologies uses some methods used by Lévi-Srauss in studying ‘primitive culture tostudy the European one. For so doing, he brings about the notion of codification, stating that afictional work is a sum of codes- cultural codes, literary codes- which are governed by rules; the critic,just like a linguist, has simply to codify and classify those codes. As to Todorov, he uses the notion of “grammar” in his study of narration. For him, a storyis structured in a similar way a sentence is syntactically composed. That is, the components of thestory, which are: characters, events, themes, function in a similar way the sentence’s units operatewithin the former; whereas, Lévi-Strauss works on the interpretation of myths. Holding that theworld is a structure, he demonstrates that individual myths are part of a bigger structure, whichencompasses the myth of “civilized” societies with those seen as primitive ones. For Strauss, they arelinked: there is no high or low culture since both are relational, and both contain a structure. As to G.Genette, he is interested in “figures” that operate at the rhetorical level in the text. Indeed, Structuralism shares some points with the New Criticism, and disagrees onothers. Though each of the two perceives language from a different angle, both modes focus onlanguage. On the one hand, the new critics focus on the text where all meaning resides; they look atlanguage in the traditional way: how minute elements of language- imagery, device- help to build aunified whole: the form and the content of the text. Structuralists, on the other hand, look at languagenot as an innocent or a pure tool; but medium, loaded with ideologies, of which the writer does nothave a complete control. However, unlike the N. Critics who set up no theory, the structuralistsdeveloped a method of text’s analysis. Besides, while the new critics anchor on the text’s elements(paradoxes, ambiguities, imageries and words) the structuralists focus on the text’s structure: theyconsider meaning as part of the whole structure. Finally, structuralism perceives of the text as aspecies of social institution called “écriture”; whereas, New Criticism considers the text as anautonomous entity, endowed with “public” meaning accessible to all competent readers 9
  10. 10. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam BadreVII. Roland Barthes: Science vs. Literature R. Barthes talks about the difference between science and literature in term of language. Hestates that, science conceives of language in a way similar to liberal humanists; that is science is thecontent and language is the form used to convey that content. Language, for science, is a transparentmedium, a mere instrument. Whereas, for contemporary literature, language is literature’s being: it isboth the form and the meaning of literate. Roland Barthes maintains that structuralism andliterature are homogeneous, and talks about literature as basically “écriture”. The differencebetween science and literature is essential for structuralism, because the latter is derived mainly fromthe science of linguistics, which means that it is about language, and finds its subject matter inliterature. In other words, structuralism is a scientific study of language and finds its object in theliterary discourse. He also opposes between science’s views of language with that of literature in termof referentiality. While science perceives of language as a referential tool: a form that corresponds to acontent out-there; contemporary literature views language as a self-referential: its form refers to itscontent, creating the reality of the literary work. 10