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May 2005                      A Glance at Major Literary Movements               Abdeslam Badre




                   A Glance at Major Literary Movements



I. 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 revolution
against the monarch and the aristocracy: they called for liberty, equality, and fraternity. The
movement is also associated with the industrial revolution in England where the industrial town grew
dramatically and a large working class, which was living very bad conditions, emerged. As mode of
thinking, romanticism revolutionizes literature, religion and philosophy. It questioned the settled way
of thinking, which had widely spread, with the age of Enlightenment: the age that gave priority to
reason, and preference to ideas. The romantic ideological novelty can be seen, for example, in the
French philosopher, Jean Jack Rousseau, who says: ‘ I felt before I thought’. In this
statement, he opposes Descartes who rather supports reason: ‘ I think therefore I am ‘. Rousseau
also stated that Man should liberate his spirit. This must bring a new idea, which is feelings may lead
to ‘truth’. Hence, the romantic philosophy rejected the 18C. Concept of the mind as a mirror or as a
simple recipient of the reality out-there; it rather considers the mind as itself the creator of the
universe it perceives.

         Romanticism had a great impact on literature. Literary Romanticism has changed the notion
of literature. The latter, prior to the 18C., simply consisted of essays, history, and the study of ancient
Greek & Roman languages. It was restricted to the study of Classics, and it was not something
imaginative/inventive; rather, it was very much limited and dominated by rationality. Poetry was
regarded primarily as an imitation of nature. Then, Romanticism came as new beginning with new
conception for literature, by introducing new ideas and ways of perceiving things. By this time,
literature was becoming virtually synonymous with the ‘imaginative’ & ‘inventive’ & ‘creative’. The
literary work itself came to be seen as an organic unity: it became, as William Wordsworth
defined it: ‘ the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling’. Poetry acquired then deep social,
political and philosophical implications. Literature has become a whole alternative ideology governed
by ‘imagination’.

        The major romantic literary themes are those that are concerned with the individual and his
interaction with nature. Broadly speaking, the romantic writer was chiefly concerned with nature and
its 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


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May 2005                      A Glance at Major Literary Movements               Abdeslam Badre
pivotal occupation of the romantic poet. Also, the romantic writer put a strong emphasis on the
liberation of the individual from conventions and social constraint, pointing out that the individual
must not submit to any limitation, since the human mind is the creator of the universe. The romantic
literary hero was a mixed character: not obviously bad nor good, thus creating a sort of ambiguity that
allowed a freedom of interpretation. Both the poet as well as his hero escaped all what is logical or
urban, and took refuge into nature.


II. Realism –19 th Century

The 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 naturalism
came as response to Romanticism. The purpose and main distinctive feature of realism was to
represent “life as it is” as opposed to romanticism, which was based on feelings. Realism in
literature was derived from art, especially painting. In Europe, this mode of thinking is associated with
Balzac, 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 of
Naturalism, who build up his novels on scientific discoveries, and focused on ordinary people who
turned to be the product of their environment. In England, the realist movement was associated with
writers 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 it
is and not as it should be. John Ruskin in Modern Painters stated that what is important in
painting is what is expressed through the act of painting. That is, a painter who simply copies faithfully
objects of the reality out-there has just learnt the basic techniques/language of art through which the
artist’s ideas are to be expressed. Therefore, for Ruskin, greatness in art is not achieved through the
exact imitation of nature, it is more importantly achieved through the many ideas that are expressed
though that imitation. Put otherwise, greatness in art is the artist’s capacity to convey reality through
great 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 the
subject as an illusion that looks like reality. The heroes of the realist fiction are the figures that have
been neglected by the romantic writer. They are common people, uprooted from lower and working
classes, living under ordinary or humble circumstances. By way of example, Daniel Defoe’s heroin
Moll Flanders, under whom the novel is titled, is a female outcast, who after many failed
experiences, turns to an adulterous, whore, thief, and ends up in the prison. The pioneers of the
English realist fiction are Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. Those
three have broken with the old fashion romance, adopting a new method of writing which shapes up


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May 2005                      A Glance at Major Literary Movements               Abdeslam Badre
its structure on a real human experience with a realistic aspect of life. This realistic aspect of life does
not 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 that
differentiates 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 than
any other literary form, the novel raises the question of the correspondence between literary work and
imitated reality. The novel came to assert that the individual’s experience which is free from any past
assumptions or traditional beliefs may lead to the “truth”. Accordingly, the novelist rejects literary
traditionalism: he moves away from the traditional plots, adopting the individual experience, which
guarantees the novel its originality. Realist writers, unlike all those who have preceded them, do not
plot their narratives on reliance on mythologies or histories; but original plots. They also stress at the
fact that the plot should be acted by particular people in particular circumstances. This new tendency
has the effect of individualizing the fictitious characters and giving them a detailed presentation of
their environment, as it is demonstrated in the novel of Emile Zola. Adding to that, the focus on
the character’s real personal identity with contemporary name and surnames and not with traditional
ones.

        Other specificities of the novel form are the correlation of space as well as time dimension
and the referential language. On the one hand, the realist writer defines their characters by referring
to space and time, for those elements have a great impact on shaping up the personality of the
character. On the other hand, the type of language that realism uses is prose style, which gives a sense
of authenticity. Hardly composed of the rhetorical and figurative images, language becomes more
corresponding to the things it describes. By so doing, the realist writer wants to convey the concrete
reality of words. And by this exhaustive presentation rather than elegant concentration, the writer is
enabled 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 a
traditional going to Fielding and Richardson, the ones who led to Jane Austan, George Eliot, Henry
James, Joseph Conrad, and D.H. Laurence. Those novelists are, in Leavis’s view, great because they
through their literary productions promote human ‘awareness of the possibility of life’. For
leavis, Jane Austan is great not because she has individual talent, but because she successfully carried
out the tradition, in the sense that she led to appearance of other great literary figures who learnt from
her. Together with George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad, she has a conveyed ideology that
teaches 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 question
of how morality is revealed through “form”. Charles Dickens was also a great writer, however his
writings tend more to entertain than to teach morality.

       Indeed, leavis’s judgments have paved the way for a whole critical discourse along with the
notion of the ‘canon’. He permeated a whole literary culture, a whole educational system, which
produced a high degree of consensus concerning the criteria if greatness in literature. He is the one
who defined the great tradition, which, in return, produced the notion of the ‘canon’, for people
wanted to be taught something worthwhile at universities. Hence, the old religious ideology, which
had lost force, has been replaced by the entity of literature which now provide the reader with a
morally correct ideology, aiming at guiding people toward universal human values, and thus to the




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truth. Leavis’s ‘tradition’ has challenged the moral set up of aristocracy, and questioned the
assumptions 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 emanated
chiefly from American literary criticism schools, with the publication of New Criticism by John
Crowe Ransom. Before its emergence, critics were concerned in their analysis of texts with the
historical 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 text
for interpretation. This common mode of analysis was, however, rejected by the new critics. For the
latter, the poem, which is synonymous to any literary work, be it writing or painting, is a self-enclosed
and 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, or
impression in the work’s beauty as did the impressionists. Thus the new critics apply an intrinsic
analysis of the text, focusing on the “words on the page”, not on any thing outside it. Thy overlooked
the 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. Its
main figures are I. A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks, T. S. Eliot, and John Crowe Ransom. The main
principle of N. Criticism is the ‘words and the words only”: it focuses on the text in an intrinsic
manner rather than extrinsic way of analysis. It considers the content as well as the structure of the
given text as the only but ample element for providing ‘meaning’. In so doing, N. criticism is
considered as a frontal attack on the ‘expressive realism’, relating the text to its author and
establishes a link between the work the world/the out-there reality. American new criticism has
derived some of its principles from some British critics and writers who helped lay the foundation of
this form of criticism. The idea that criticism should be directed to the poem and not the poet was
borrowed from T. S. Eliot. In many of his critical essays, he insisted that a poet does infuse the
poem with his or her personality &emotions, but uses language to incorporate within the text his/her
experiences that are similar to human beings’. That is, the poet does not reflect his/her personal
feelings & experiences, but simply mirrors experiences basically shared by everybody.

          The principles of the new critics are basically verbal. They conceived of literature as a special
kind of language whose attributes are defined by symptomatic opposition to the language of science
and logical discourse. What pushes them to believe that a text must be cut off from any historical or
bibliographical references are the belief that literature is verbal, and meaning and structure go
together. 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 autonomy
to 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 elements
outside the text as useless not only for the act of interpretation but even for the text itself. Hence, they
disregard the author’s biography or intentions along with the reader’s impressions. This way of
rejecting the author’s biography or any ideological or historical assumptions during the act of reading
creates a sort of hierarchy between the author or the reader and the literary work, putting the latter at
the 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, stressing
that the poem is neither the author’s nor the reader’s property. This is why they anchor on the



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words on the page and turns their back to the words and the world. That is, meaning can be
defined through the harmonious ‘intensive’ interaction of words with the paradoxes and the
rhetorical images within the text. These paradoxes, maintain the N. critics, are resolved within the text
itself. Therefore, through an objective and close reading of the text, a reader may come up with
meaning. And any reliance on the author’s intention or the effect of the text on the reader’s mind
during the act of interpretation will simply mislead the critic, and thus, falling in- what the new critics
call – either the intentional fallacy or the affective fallacy. This castigation of both the
intentional and the affective fallacies goes back to the fact that both of them tend to distinct between
the 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 a
self-sufficient body proved to be inadequate; knowing that a text is full of gaps, silenced voices, and
unsaid testimonies, the reader has to provide a reading between the lines in order to cater for those
made-absent elements: he has to voice the silences, fill the vacuums, and bridge the gaps within the
text. 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 to
identify the quality of the text and therefore cope with its content. Only than the meaning of a given
text is produced. So, without the interference of the reader the meaning of the text is still not
localized.

        Additionally, the idea that meaning is housed within the text alone, away from the outside
elements, is also questionable. The new critics by cutting off the text from any bibliographical or
historical references fall short to performative contradiction. That is, the fact of tackling the text
with no preconceptions and far from the notion of intertextuality is not possible anyway, since a
reader cannot be free from ideological reading. To comprehensively read a text, one ought to have
read many other texts. This is so because there is no ideological-free interpretation: an
interpretation derived independently from the out-there reality. Otherwise, the act of reading and
interpreting a text would run the risk of being confined to limited viewpoints. This implies that the
concept 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 intrinsic
reading of a text meaning. It gives autonomy to the literary work and relegates the role of the reader in
the act of interpretation. It considers the work of art as an organic whole whose main opponents are
the structure and the content. It opposes the expressive realist’s approach of associating between the
work and the world. Its main points of strength is that: it makes science of literary criticism, enables a
professional discipline together with developing a close reading of the text, and it offers critical
answers in analyzing poetry. The main areas of weaknesses are that it ignores production and multiple
interpretations of a single text, ignores reception and gender, which creates a passive reader. Also it
considers criticism inferior to literature. It is worth noting that unlike all the mode of criticism, new
criticism does not set up any kind of theory or procedures its ideology. Left to be said that the heroes
of the new critics are the Metaphysical poems, for they provide the former with appropriate literary
backgrounds.


IV. Literary Criticism & Science and Poetry

        Clean Brooks, Robert Warren, and W. K. Wimsatt are among the prominent figures who
adopted new criticism as a mode of textual analysis. Despite some individual differences concerning
the various elements that constitute a poem, they shared a number of similarities. First, they asserted
that a poem has ontological status: possessing its own being. For them a poem should be regarded as
independent and self-sufficient body. Second, they considered the poem as an artifact and



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autonomous unit, with its own structure. Third, they believed that the meaning of a given text must
not be equated with the authors’ intentions. Indeed, they warn against critical modes, which localize
the text meaning in the private, experience or intention of its author. The new critic referred to this
tendency as the “intentional fallacy”, pointing out that if reliance on the author’s intentions
misleads the critic towards this fallacy. Likewise, they warned against the “affective fallacy”, which
stations 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, it
becomes public and cut off the emotions of its creator. Forth, they adopted the strategy of closure
with a perception of a text as a self-enclosed entity, sealed of the outside world; accordingly, a critic
should interact with it through a close reading: stick to the text and outlook what is outside it to
produce 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. They
believed that a poem couldn’t be understood through paraphrasing. This error, they called, “ heresy
of paraphrase”. that is no simple paraphrasing of the poem can lead to its actual meaning, though
they 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 the
text 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 text
from new criticism perspective. A critic should begin with a full and innocent immersion in the poem
then 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 outside
element that may affect the reader’s judgement.

                However, new criticism, like any critical mode of reflection, has its areas of strengths as
well as drawbacks. The fact that new criticism made a science of literary criticism by following
objective analysis and evaluation is one of the advantages of this mode, adding to that the professional
discipline it provided. This strategy leads to a complete criticism of the text without leaving any
unasked question or gaps within it. However, the rejection of the historical context together with
notion of intertextuality, reception, and gender are the inefficiencies of the new critics. They also give
importance to the text and literature, but relegate the role of the author and literary criticism, which
creates a sort of passive reader.

               To put it in nutshell, new criticism is a theory broke with the previous theories that
followed traditional ways of interpretation, depending mainly on an extrinsic strategy. It has also
rejected the idea that great literature is the product of the great man, since, for them, the author has
no authority over the text. The attempt to find the author within the text or the work of art through
the author can simply mislead toward either the intentional or the affective fallacies. Left to be
said, that new criticism, unlike many of the critical approaches, did not set up any kind of theory
under 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 Response
Theory rose to prominence. With this theory, the reader is no longer the passive receiver nor does
the author control the center of the literary work. Unlike the Romantics who gave priority to the
author in shaping up the poem’s meaning, or The New Critics who focused on the text to localize
its 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




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the 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. Prior
to 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 an
ontological status: it became an autonomous entity whose meaning can be derived in dissection of any
element outside of it. However, with the advent of Reader Response Theory, the text alone is no
longer regarded as the owner of meaning; the reader becomes a prerequisite element for the text’s
interpretation. That is, only through a transactional engagement of the reader with the text that
meaning 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 those
gaps, to voice those silenced moments, and provide answers for those questions. Only then, the text’s
meaning is determined. The reader in this respect becomes a co-writer, for to derive the text’s
meaning, he has to write another text.

        Reader Response Critics can be divided into three main groups. Each group espouses its
own methodologies and assumptions in approaching textual analysis; nevertheless, they all agree on
the 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 active
participant in the creation of the meaning of the text. But the text, for this group, has more control in
the interpretative process than the reader. The majority of this group’s adherents belong to
Structuralism; 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 the
interpretative process. They follow Rosenblatt’s assumption that the reader is involved in a
transactional experience with the text. That is, reading, according to her, is an event that leads to the
creation 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 is
a pure study of phenomenon: it is a modern philosophical tendency that concentrates on the object
under study. The third group positions the reader in the highest level for the creation of the meaning
of the text. Unlike the two mentioned above groups, the third group places a great emphasis on the
reader in the interpretative process. This mode of criticism is said to be subjective for it focuses, more
than 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, as
readers, find and shape our self-identities in the reading process. And by merging our dreams and
fantasies with the elements within the text, we produce a valid interpretation that could be accepted by
members of our culture.

         Indeed, figures such as Louise Rosenblatt, Wolfgang Iser, and Hans Robert Jauss
have contributed with a great deal, through their works and theories, in enlarging the Reader
Response 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 a
transactional experience. The text, she maintains, acts as a stimulus for eliciting various past
experiences or readings of other texts. The text, in this respect, shapes the experience of the reader
who, in return, comes to determine the text’s meaning. Hence, a poem becomes an event that takes
place during the reading process or the aesthetic transaction: the poem, in other words, is created
each 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


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hand, is an act performed for the sake of getting information only. On the other hand, Aesthetic
reading is an aesthetic engagement with the text’s words, images, and other patterns: it is a
transactional encounter with the text meant to experience the text.

        Second, Wolfgang Iser brings the notion of the indeterminacy of meaning. Like
Pierre Machary who talked about the symptomatic reading, Iser considers the text as a
palimpsest - layers of writing- full of gaps, blanks, and indeterminacies. The reader accordingly has
to look for this gaps and silenced moment within the text and fill them in, which has the effect of
creating a variety of interpretations and multiplicity of meaning, for each reader will provide different
answers for those gaps. One of the interpreter’s tasks’, as Iser believes, is “to catch the writer’s
nodding”: 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 in
line 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 on
the form of the text in order to locate its meaning. Also, he argues against Marxism because the latter
overlooks the form and focuses on history only. Jauss tries to bring the two trends together by
adopting Gadamer’s notion of the fusion of horizons: the role of the critic is to mediate between
how the text was perceived in the past and how it is perceived in the present. In short, those figures
are the pioneers of the reader response theory. Belonging to the trend of phenomenology, they all
stress the crucial role of the reader in deciding the text’s meaning, since -for them- object can have
meaning only if an active consciousness absorbs or notes the former’s existence.

VI. Structuralism, 20 th century
The 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 but
in the relationship between their system and structure. Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, first
brought 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 no
inherent 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 of
principles, scientific, as they are, on which the work of art is analyzed. Its major adherents are: Roland
Barth, 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 has
its most tenets attacked by mainly Machery and Recouver.

        Language is, first, arbitrary. It is a sing system based on arbitrariness, in the sense that language
is 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 word
depends in its definition on its syntagmatic (contiguity) position within a sentence, which already
hints at the idea of the intrinsic meaning. This is why language is said to be relational. Third, and


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finally, 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 does
not 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 was
debunked. Prior to structuralism, language had been perceived mainly by liberal humanists as a
transparent medium which reflects “the reality” out-there. Structuralism’s dimension does not
consider language as a pure medium that reflects the out-there reality; the expressed reality is merely
part of language: what the latter reflects is not something which is independent from language, but a
language-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, but
only in relation to other things. Believing that meaning is relational, structuralism stresses at the idea
that 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 “signifying
system” becomes a wide concept indicating any organized set of sings. For structuralism, a sign
is- 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- that
works as a structure. They accordingly developed a theory for texts’ analysis. The main literary
advocates of structuralism are: Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, Gerard Genette- they are
all 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 to
study the European one. For so doing, he brings about the notion of codification, stating that a
fictional 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 story
is structured in a similar way a sentence is syntactically composed. That is, the components of the
story, which are: characters, events, themes, function in a similar way the sentence’s units operate
within the former; whereas, Lévi-Strauss works on the interpretation of myths. Holding that the
world is a structure, he demonstrates that individual myths are part of a bigger structure, which
encompasses the myth of “civilized” societies with those seen as primitive ones. For Strauss, they are
linked: 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 on
others. Though each of the two perceives language from a different angle, both modes focus on
language. On the one hand, the new critics focus on the text where all meaning resides; they look at
language in the traditional way: how minute elements of language- imagery, device- help to build a
unified whole: the form and the content of the text. Structuralists, on the other hand, look at language
not as an innocent or a pure tool; but medium, loaded with ideologies, of which the writer does not
have a complete control. However, unlike the N. Critics who set up no theory, the structuralists
developed 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: they
consider meaning as part of the whole structure. Finally, structuralism perceives of the text as a
species of social institution called “écriture”; whereas, New Criticism considers the text as an
autonomous entity, endowed with “public” meaning accessible to all competent readers




                                                     9
May 2005                      A Glance at Major Literary Movements              Abdeslam Badre
VII. Roland Barthes: Science vs. Literature

         R. Barthes talks about the difference between science and literature in term of language. He
states that, science conceives of language in a way similar to liberal humanists; that is science is the
content and language is the form used to convey that content. Language, for science, is a transparent
medium, a mere instrument. Whereas, for contemporary literature, language is literature’s being: it is
both the form and the meaning of literate. Roland Barthes maintains that structuralism and
literature are homogeneous, and talks about literature as basically “écriture”. The difference
between science and literature is essential for structuralism, because the latter is derived mainly from
the science of linguistics, which means that it is about language, and finds its subject matter in
literature. In other words, structuralism is a scientific study of language and finds its object in the
literary discourse. He also opposes between science’s views of language with that of literature in term
of referentiality. While science perceives of language as a referential tool: a form that corresponds to a
content out-there; contemporary literature views language as a self-referential: its form refers to its
content, creating the reality of the literary work.




                                                    10

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A Glance at Major Literary Movements

  • 1. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre A Glance at Major Literary Movements I. 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 revolution against the monarch and the aristocracy: they called for liberty, equality, and fraternity. The movement is also associated with the industrial revolution in England where the industrial town grew dramatically and a large working class, which was living very bad conditions, emerged. As mode of thinking, romanticism revolutionizes literature, religion and philosophy. It questioned the settled way of thinking, which had widely spread, with the age of Enlightenment: the age that gave priority to reason, and preference to ideas. The romantic ideological novelty can be seen, for example, in the French philosopher, Jean Jack Rousseau, who says: ‘ I felt before I thought’. In this statement, he opposes Descartes who rather supports reason: ‘ I think therefore I am ‘. Rousseau also stated that Man should liberate his spirit. This must bring a new idea, which is feelings may lead to ‘truth’. Hence, the romantic philosophy rejected the 18C. Concept of the mind as a mirror or as a simple recipient of the reality out-there; it rather considers the mind as itself the creator of the universe it perceives. Romanticism had a great impact on literature. Literary Romanticism has changed the notion of literature. The latter, prior to the 18C., simply consisted of essays, history, and the study of ancient Greek & Roman languages. It was restricted to the study of Classics, and it was not something imaginative/inventive; rather, it was very much limited and dominated by rationality. Poetry was regarded primarily as an imitation of nature. Then, Romanticism came as new beginning with new conception for literature, by introducing new ideas and ways of perceiving things. By this time, literature was becoming virtually synonymous with the ‘imaginative’ & ‘inventive’ & ‘creative’. The literary work itself came to be seen as an organic unity: it became, as William Wordsworth defined it: ‘ the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling’. Poetry acquired then deep social, political and philosophical implications. Literature has become a whole alternative ideology governed by ‘imagination’. The major romantic literary themes are those that are concerned with the individual and his interaction with nature. Broadly speaking, the romantic writer was chiefly concerned with nature and its 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. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre pivotal occupation of the romantic poet. Also, the romantic writer put a strong emphasis on the liberation of the individual from conventions and social constraint, pointing out that the individual must not submit to any limitation, since the human mind is the creator of the universe. The romantic literary hero was a mixed character: not obviously bad nor good, thus creating a sort of ambiguity that allowed a freedom of interpretation. Both the poet as well as his hero escaped all what is logical or urban, and took refuge into nature. II. Realism –19 th Century The 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 naturalism came as response to Romanticism. The purpose and main distinctive feature of realism was to represent “life as it is” as opposed to romanticism, which was based on feelings. Realism in literature was derived from art, especially painting. In Europe, this mode of thinking is associated with Balzac, 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 of Naturalism, who build up his novels on scientific discoveries, and focused on ordinary people who turned to be the product of their environment. In England, the realist movement was associated with writers 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 it is and not as it should be. John Ruskin in Modern Painters stated that what is important in painting is what is expressed through the act of painting. That is, a painter who simply copies faithfully objects of the reality out-there has just learnt the basic techniques/language of art through which the artist’s ideas are to be expressed. Therefore, for Ruskin, greatness in art is not achieved through the exact imitation of nature, it is more importantly achieved through the many ideas that are expressed though that imitation. Put otherwise, greatness in art is the artist’s capacity to convey reality through great 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 the subject as an illusion that looks like reality. The heroes of the realist fiction are the figures that have been neglected by the romantic writer. They are common people, uprooted from lower and working classes, living under ordinary or humble circumstances. By way of example, Daniel Defoe’s heroin Moll Flanders, under whom the novel is titled, is a female outcast, who after many failed experiences, turns to an adulterous, whore, thief, and ends up in the prison. The pioneers of the English realist fiction are Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. Those three have broken with the old fashion romance, adopting a new method of writing which shapes up 2
  • 3. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre its structure on a real human experience with a realistic aspect of life. This realistic aspect of life does not 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 that differentiates 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 than any other literary form, the novel raises the question of the correspondence between literary work and imitated reality. The novel came to assert that the individual’s experience which is free from any past assumptions or traditional beliefs may lead to the “truth”. Accordingly, the novelist rejects literary traditionalism: he moves away from the traditional plots, adopting the individual experience, which guarantees the novel its originality. Realist writers, unlike all those who have preceded them, do not plot their narratives on reliance on mythologies or histories; but original plots. They also stress at the fact that the plot should be acted by particular people in particular circumstances. This new tendency has the effect of individualizing the fictitious characters and giving them a detailed presentation of their environment, as it is demonstrated in the novel of Emile Zola. Adding to that, the focus on the character’s real personal identity with contemporary name and surnames and not with traditional ones. Other specificities of the novel form are the correlation of space as well as time dimension and the referential language. On the one hand, the realist writer defines their characters by referring to space and time, for those elements have a great impact on shaping up the personality of the character. On the other hand, the type of language that realism uses is prose style, which gives a sense of authenticity. Hardly composed of the rhetorical and figurative images, language becomes more corresponding to the things it describes. By so doing, the realist writer wants to convey the concrete reality of words. And by this exhaustive presentation rather than elegant concentration, the writer is enabled 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 a traditional going to Fielding and Richardson, the ones who led to Jane Austan, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and D.H. Laurence. Those novelists are, in Leavis’s view, great because they through their literary productions promote human ‘awareness of the possibility of life’. For leavis, Jane Austan is great not because she has individual talent, but because she successfully carried out the tradition, in the sense that she led to appearance of other great literary figures who learnt from her. Together with George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad, she has a conveyed ideology that teaches 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 question of how morality is revealed through “form”. Charles Dickens was also a great writer, however his writings tend more to entertain than to teach morality. Indeed, leavis’s judgments have paved the way for a whole critical discourse along with the notion of the ‘canon’. He permeated a whole literary culture, a whole educational system, which produced a high degree of consensus concerning the criteria if greatness in literature. He is the one who defined the great tradition, which, in return, produced the notion of the ‘canon’, for people wanted to be taught something worthwhile at universities. Hence, the old religious ideology, which had lost force, has been replaced by the entity of literature which now provide the reader with a morally correct ideology, aiming at guiding people toward universal human values, and thus to the 3
  • 4. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre truth. Leavis’s ‘tradition’ has challenged the moral set up of aristocracy, and questioned the assumptions 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 emanated chiefly from American literary criticism schools, with the publication of New Criticism by John Crowe Ransom. Before its emergence, critics were concerned in their analysis of texts with the historical 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 text for interpretation. This common mode of analysis was, however, rejected by the new critics. For the latter, the poem, which is synonymous to any literary work, be it writing or painting, is a self-enclosed and 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, or impression in the work’s beauty as did the impressionists. Thus the new critics apply an intrinsic analysis of the text, focusing on the “words on the page”, not on any thing outside it. Thy overlooked the 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. Its main figures are I. A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks, T. S. Eliot, and John Crowe Ransom. The main principle of N. Criticism is the ‘words and the words only”: it focuses on the text in an intrinsic manner rather than extrinsic way of analysis. It considers the content as well as the structure of the given text as the only but ample element for providing ‘meaning’. In so doing, N. criticism is considered as a frontal attack on the ‘expressive realism’, relating the text to its author and establishes a link between the work the world/the out-there reality. American new criticism has derived some of its principles from some British critics and writers who helped lay the foundation of this form of criticism. The idea that criticism should be directed to the poem and not the poet was borrowed from T. S. Eliot. In many of his critical essays, he insisted that a poet does infuse the poem with his or her personality &emotions, but uses language to incorporate within the text his/her experiences that are similar to human beings’. That is, the poet does not reflect his/her personal feelings & experiences, but simply mirrors experiences basically shared by everybody. The principles of the new critics are basically verbal. They conceived of literature as a special kind of language whose attributes are defined by symptomatic opposition to the language of science and logical discourse. What pushes them to believe that a text must be cut off from any historical or bibliographical references are the belief that literature is verbal, and meaning and structure go together. 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 autonomy to 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 elements outside the text as useless not only for the act of interpretation but even for the text itself. Hence, they disregard the author’s biography or intentions along with the reader’s impressions. This way of rejecting the author’s biography or any ideological or historical assumptions during the act of reading creates a sort of hierarchy between the author or the reader and the literary work, putting the latter at the 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, stressing that the poem is neither the author’s nor the reader’s property. This is why they anchor on the 4
  • 5. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre words on the page and turns their back to the words and the world. That is, meaning can be defined through the harmonious ‘intensive’ interaction of words with the paradoxes and the rhetorical images within the text. These paradoxes, maintain the N. critics, are resolved within the text itself. Therefore, through an objective and close reading of the text, a reader may come up with meaning. And any reliance on the author’s intention or the effect of the text on the reader’s mind during the act of interpretation will simply mislead the critic, and thus, falling in- what the new critics call – either the intentional fallacy or the affective fallacy. This castigation of both the intentional and the affective fallacies goes back to the fact that both of them tend to distinct between the 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 a self-sufficient body proved to be inadequate; knowing that a text is full of gaps, silenced voices, and unsaid testimonies, the reader has to provide a reading between the lines in order to cater for those made-absent elements: he has to voice the silences, fill the vacuums, and bridge the gaps within the text. 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 to identify the quality of the text and therefore cope with its content. Only than the meaning of a given text is produced. So, without the interference of the reader the meaning of the text is still not localized. Additionally, the idea that meaning is housed within the text alone, away from the outside elements, is also questionable. The new critics by cutting off the text from any bibliographical or historical references fall short to performative contradiction. That is, the fact of tackling the text with no preconceptions and far from the notion of intertextuality is not possible anyway, since a reader cannot be free from ideological reading. To comprehensively read a text, one ought to have read many other texts. This is so because there is no ideological-free interpretation: an interpretation derived independently from the out-there reality. Otherwise, the act of reading and interpreting a text would run the risk of being confined to limited viewpoints. This implies that the concept 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 intrinsic reading of a text meaning. It gives autonomy to the literary work and relegates the role of the reader in the act of interpretation. It considers the work of art as an organic whole whose main opponents are the structure and the content. It opposes the expressive realist’s approach of associating between the work and the world. Its main points of strength is that: it makes science of literary criticism, enables a professional discipline together with developing a close reading of the text, and it offers critical answers in analyzing poetry. The main areas of weaknesses are that it ignores production and multiple interpretations of a single text, ignores reception and gender, which creates a passive reader. Also it considers criticism inferior to literature. It is worth noting that unlike all the mode of criticism, new criticism does not set up any kind of theory or procedures its ideology. Left to be said that the heroes of the new critics are the Metaphysical poems, for they provide the former with appropriate literary backgrounds. IV. Literary Criticism & Science and Poetry Clean Brooks, Robert Warren, and W. K. Wimsatt are among the prominent figures who adopted new criticism as a mode of textual analysis. Despite some individual differences concerning the various elements that constitute a poem, they shared a number of similarities. First, they asserted that a poem has ontological status: possessing its own being. For them a poem should be regarded as independent and self-sufficient body. Second, they considered the poem as an artifact and 5
  • 6. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre autonomous unit, with its own structure. Third, they believed that the meaning of a given text must not be equated with the authors’ intentions. Indeed, they warn against critical modes, which localize the text meaning in the private, experience or intention of its author. The new critic referred to this tendency as the “intentional fallacy”, pointing out that if reliance on the author’s intentions misleads the critic towards this fallacy. Likewise, they warned against the “affective fallacy”, which stations 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, it becomes public and cut off the emotions of its creator. Forth, they adopted the strategy of closure with a perception of a text as a self-enclosed entity, sealed of the outside world; accordingly, a critic should interact with it through a close reading: stick to the text and outlook what is outside it to produce 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. They believed that a poem couldn’t be understood through paraphrasing. This error, they called, “ heresy of paraphrase”. that is no simple paraphrasing of the poem can lead to its actual meaning, though they 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 the text 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 text from new criticism perspective. A critic should begin with a full and innocent immersion in the poem then 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 outside element that may affect the reader’s judgement. However, new criticism, like any critical mode of reflection, has its areas of strengths as well as drawbacks. The fact that new criticism made a science of literary criticism by following objective analysis and evaluation is one of the advantages of this mode, adding to that the professional discipline it provided. This strategy leads to a complete criticism of the text without leaving any unasked question or gaps within it. However, the rejection of the historical context together with notion of intertextuality, reception, and gender are the inefficiencies of the new critics. They also give importance to the text and literature, but relegate the role of the author and literary criticism, which creates a sort of passive reader. To put it in nutshell, new criticism is a theory broke with the previous theories that followed traditional ways of interpretation, depending mainly on an extrinsic strategy. It has also rejected the idea that great literature is the product of the great man, since, for them, the author has no authority over the text. The attempt to find the author within the text or the work of art through the author can simply mislead toward either the intentional or the affective fallacies. Left to be said, that new criticism, unlike many of the critical approaches, did not set up any kind of theory under 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 Response Theory rose to prominence. With this theory, the reader is no longer the passive receiver nor does the author control the center of the literary work. Unlike the Romantics who gave priority to the author in shaping up the poem’s meaning, or The New Critics who focused on the text to localize its 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. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre the 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. Prior to 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 an ontological status: it became an autonomous entity whose meaning can be derived in dissection of any element outside of it. However, with the advent of Reader Response Theory, the text alone is no longer regarded as the owner of meaning; the reader becomes a prerequisite element for the text’s interpretation. That is, only through a transactional engagement of the reader with the text that meaning 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 those gaps, to voice those silenced moments, and provide answers for those questions. Only then, the text’s meaning is determined. The reader in this respect becomes a co-writer, for to derive the text’s meaning, he has to write another text. Reader Response Critics can be divided into three main groups. Each group espouses its own methodologies and assumptions in approaching textual analysis; nevertheless, they all agree on the 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 active participant in the creation of the meaning of the text. But the text, for this group, has more control in the interpretative process than the reader. The majority of this group’s adherents belong to Structuralism; 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 the interpretative process. They follow Rosenblatt’s assumption that the reader is involved in a transactional experience with the text. That is, reading, according to her, is an event that leads to the creation 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 is a pure study of phenomenon: it is a modern philosophical tendency that concentrates on the object under study. The third group positions the reader in the highest level for the creation of the meaning of the text. Unlike the two mentioned above groups, the third group places a great emphasis on the reader in the interpretative process. This mode of criticism is said to be subjective for it focuses, more than 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, as readers, find and shape our self-identities in the reading process. And by merging our dreams and fantasies with the elements within the text, we produce a valid interpretation that could be accepted by members of our culture. Indeed, figures such as Louise Rosenblatt, Wolfgang Iser, and Hans Robert Jauss have contributed with a great deal, through their works and theories, in enlarging the Reader Response 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 a transactional experience. The text, she maintains, acts as a stimulus for eliciting various past experiences or readings of other texts. The text, in this respect, shapes the experience of the reader who, in return, comes to determine the text’s meaning. Hence, a poem becomes an event that takes place during the reading process or the aesthetic transaction: the poem, in other words, is created each 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. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre hand, is an act performed for the sake of getting information only. On the other hand, Aesthetic reading is an aesthetic engagement with the text’s words, images, and other patterns: it is a transactional encounter with the text meant to experience the text. Second, Wolfgang Iser brings the notion of the indeterminacy of meaning. Like Pierre Machary who talked about the symptomatic reading, Iser considers the text as a palimpsest - layers of writing- full of gaps, blanks, and indeterminacies. The reader accordingly has to look for this gaps and silenced moment within the text and fill them in, which has the effect of creating a variety of interpretations and multiplicity of meaning, for each reader will provide different answers for those gaps. One of the interpreter’s tasks’, as Iser believes, is “to catch the writer’s nodding”: 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 in line 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 on the form of the text in order to locate its meaning. Also, he argues against Marxism because the latter overlooks the form and focuses on history only. Jauss tries to bring the two trends together by adopting Gadamer’s notion of the fusion of horizons: the role of the critic is to mediate between how the text was perceived in the past and how it is perceived in the present. In short, those figures are the pioneers of the reader response theory. Belonging to the trend of phenomenology, they all stress the crucial role of the reader in deciding the text’s meaning, since -for them- object can have meaning only if an active consciousness absorbs or notes the former’s existence. VI. Structuralism, 20 th century The 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 but in the relationship between their system and structure. Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, first brought 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 no inherent 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 of principles, scientific, as they are, on which the work of art is analyzed. Its major adherents are: Roland Barth, 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 has its most tenets attacked by mainly Machery and Recouver. Language is, first, arbitrary. It is a sing system based on arbitrariness, in the sense that language is 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 word depends in its definition on its syntagmatic (contiguity) position within a sentence, which already hints at the idea of the intrinsic meaning. This is why language is said to be relational. Third, and 8
  • 9. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre finally, 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 does not 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 was debunked. Prior to structuralism, language had been perceived mainly by liberal humanists as a transparent medium which reflects “the reality” out-there. Structuralism’s dimension does not consider language as a pure medium that reflects the out-there reality; the expressed reality is merely part of language: what the latter reflects is not something which is independent from language, but a language-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, but only in relation to other things. Believing that meaning is relational, structuralism stresses at the idea that 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 “signifying system” becomes a wide concept indicating any organized set of sings. For structuralism, a sign is- 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- that works as a structure. They accordingly developed a theory for texts’ analysis. The main literary advocates of structuralism are: Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, Gerard Genette- they are all 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 to study the European one. For so doing, he brings about the notion of codification, stating that a fictional 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 story is structured in a similar way a sentence is syntactically composed. That is, the components of the story, which are: characters, events, themes, function in a similar way the sentence’s units operate within the former; whereas, Lévi-Strauss works on the interpretation of myths. Holding that the world is a structure, he demonstrates that individual myths are part of a bigger structure, which encompasses the myth of “civilized” societies with those seen as primitive ones. For Strauss, they are linked: 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 on others. Though each of the two perceives language from a different angle, both modes focus on language. On the one hand, the new critics focus on the text where all meaning resides; they look at language in the traditional way: how minute elements of language- imagery, device- help to build a unified whole: the form and the content of the text. Structuralists, on the other hand, look at language not as an innocent or a pure tool; but medium, loaded with ideologies, of which the writer does not have a complete control. However, unlike the N. Critics who set up no theory, the structuralists developed 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: they consider meaning as part of the whole structure. Finally, structuralism perceives of the text as a species of social institution called “écriture”; whereas, New Criticism considers the text as an autonomous entity, endowed with “public” meaning accessible to all competent readers 9
  • 10. May 2005 A Glance at Major Literary Movements Abdeslam Badre VII. Roland Barthes: Science vs. Literature R. Barthes talks about the difference between science and literature in term of language. He states that, science conceives of language in a way similar to liberal humanists; that is science is the content and language is the form used to convey that content. Language, for science, is a transparent medium, a mere instrument. Whereas, for contemporary literature, language is literature’s being: it is both the form and the meaning of literate. Roland Barthes maintains that structuralism and literature are homogeneous, and talks about literature as basically “écriture”. The difference between science and literature is essential for structuralism, because the latter is derived mainly from the science of linguistics, which means that it is about language, and finds its subject matter in literature. In other words, structuralism is a scientific study of language and finds its object in the literary discourse. He also opposes between science’s views of language with that of literature in term of referentiality. While science perceives of language as a referential tool: a form that corresponds to a content out-there; contemporary literature views language as a self-referential: its form refers to its content, creating the reality of the literary work. 10