Weekly Review 13 (by Ashley Maggio)
Overview: This week we continued some discussion of the Theory Toolbox’s Differences chapter and also discussed the Agency chapter, along with the Psychoanalytic Criticism chapter in Beidler’s The Wife of Bath and Louise Fradenburg’s essay.
We started the class today with an extended discussion of the previous class readings of the Differences chapter in the Theory Toolbox. Dr. Seaman wrote a sentence on the board from the The Bedford Glossary’s entry on Constructionism, “‘Homosexual’ is ‘a discursive, and homophobic, construction’ rather than a natural category.” The class began deconstructing this statement by defining ‘discursive’ which students explained as a discourse, conversations and shared assumptions of language, as well as the shared assumptions of ideologies or values. Many started to ‘what is a natural category?’ and how do we define something as ‘natural’? As well, as why and how do we label/categorize people? Labeling and categorizes some students claimed is a way to separate groups of people, and some described this process as necessary and “descriptive.”
Then, discussion moved on to class and the romanticization of the ‘rags to riches’ quintessential American narrative. This concept of wealth as a matter of putting yourself up by your “bootstraps,” Dr. Seaman explained, is a very recent concept of wealth. In contrast, medieval culture emphasized the “fixed” nature of class and that one was born into a class, rather than ‘becoming’ and working your way up into a certain class. A lot of discussion revolved around this idea of the “working class” and how this background is idealized, valued by famous people in the media who claim this background. As the Theory Toolbox and others in discussion noted, wealthy and privileged backgrounds are still a great determinant for opportunities available, like social/professional connections, status, culture, and language. These privileged opportunities and options are considered “cultural capital” according to the Theory Toolbox. This narrative of “rags to riches” can be very harmful, when it is used to discredit people who do not have successful stories; this narrative is then used to blame people for weaknesses of character for their lack of financial and social success. As this narrative, as indicated by Dr. Seaman, is only really representative of a very few cases of actual ‘rags to riches’ stories, most people in extreme poverty will not experience this narrative. Dr. Seaman also emphasized that rather than characterizing ‘rag to riches’ as a narrative or story, realistically it is essentially an American myth.
The class then went on to look at two examples of abstracts and pointed out which example was successful or unsuccessful. Many emphasized the importance of ‘state setting’ of the papers and having just enough summary, but not too much. The more successful paper had clearer, concise language, and had an actual title that indicated an argument. While the unsuccessful paper lacked analysis and a clear argument, as well as not really having an argumentative title.
Lastly, in class we discussed the reading in Beidler’s The Wife of Bath, which was an entry on psychoanalytical criticism and the execution of this type of criticism by Louise Fradenburg. Dr. Seaman discussed Fradenburg’s use of psychoanalytical criticism as different from the traditional usage. Psychoanalytical criticism was a popular approach when major literary criticism only consisted of a historicist approach or a psychoanalytical one. Fradenburg, uses ‘interpretative tools’ to use this type of criticism on the critics of The Wife of Bath, rather than any actual characters in the narrative. Fradenburg finds through psychoanalytical criticism of the critics that criticism is constantly changing in relation to the time period and culture of the critics. Fradenburg also explores the use of fantasy in her essay, especially the social purpose of fantasy in The Wife of Bath as not “purely escapist,” but as representing an alternative reality, a potential reality. The Wife of Bath, or rather Chaucer, constructs her tale as a ‘romance’ and a ‘fantasy’ of the potential reality of a more egalitarian marriage institution. Fradenburg demonstrates by using psychoanalytical criticism on the critics of The Wife of Bath, she discovers more about the readers of the work from the critics than about the actual work – she finds that critics read what they want to read, and The Wife of Bath is just enough of an ambiguous text to allow for many differences of readings and analysis.
We begin class by going over the up-coming assignments that are due – the annotations, paper proposal, and the final class presentations. Dr. Seaman went over the guidelines that are posted on the blog and offered suggestions for presentation styles. For example, she encouraged the narrative style of presenting research, and explaining how the research contributed to the overall critical conversation of the selected work .While discussion today was only on the last chapter of Theory Toolbox, Agency, there was a lot of input and debate, especially about the Adbusters images. Adbusters was defined though the discussions as a mocking, critiquing, and parody of American consumerism and the advertizing industry. This last chapter of Theory Toolbox encouraged the use of theory and the responsibility of having the awareness of these themes described throughout the book. Theory is also represented as collective and part of an ever changing conversation.
Agency is defined as the “power to do something,” and is represented as choices/options that are vey subjective according to one’s time period, culture, and privilege. Agency is defined in the Theory Toolbox as rooted strongly within context and the contexts influenced by time, place, and status – but, these contexts are not ‘inevitable’ or ‘determined’ fates, but may reduce or increase opportunities and options. Power is brought up along with agency, with this connotation that power means wealth and increases potential options/choices. Although, this may be true in some cases, it is still an oversimplification. Power is based on a combination of factors, not just determined on one or two attributes, and is never “fixed,” but continually “negotiated.” Dr. Seaman also pointed out a quote from page 197 in Theory Toolbox which described power as “diffuse, multiple, decentered.” She indicated that this concept of power is now very current to critical theory and conversation at the moment. This critical theory also encourages the idea of interconnection and networks. Toward the end of discussion, a quote from Foucault was discussed, which relates to this idea of networks; he writes “[Power] must be considered a productive network which runs through the entire social body much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression” (TT 201).
“‘Homosexual’ is ‘a discursive, and homophobic, construction’ rather than a natural category” – The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, page 79, Constructionism entry.
“The Wife of Bath shows us that associating the past with happiness and wish fulfillment was also a medieval practice. She moves us sharply away from fairyland to her modern world, fulfilled not of ‘fairy’ but of the inventoried objects of a disenchanted reality”—The Wife of Bath, Fradenburg, Psychoanalytic Criticism, page 217
“Cultural capital – access to certain ways of speaking , certain cultural codes of behavior, taste, and discrimination – pays just as surely as economic capital…cultural capital determines who has ‘class’ and who doesn’t” –Theory Toolbox , page 185
“But at the end of the day, these choices are not simply or unproblematically ‘our own.’ The contexts in which any particular agent acts and makes decisions have a good deal of influence on those decisions…There are, it seems clear, contextual factors that make certain people more likely to engage in certain acts” – Theory Toolbox, page 194
“Our choices always are made in contexts that we do not control…we learn to want the things we desire in the context in which we find ourselves…Our agency – what we want, what we strive for—has contextual sources rather than some source deep inside us” –Theory Toolbox, page 195
“[Power] is a much more diffuse, multiple, decentered, social field that is continually shifting and always negotiated” –Theory Toolbox, page 197
Fun/Random Quote: “Call the authorities. Halt ye vandal!” – Billie/Billy