Review of Week 2: January 18, 20 (by Shelby Snider)
This week we delved into a lot of material dealing with literature and writing. We first tackled “How We Might Read: Literary Study as Conversation.” In this reading we discussed the importance of rhetorical strategies and how they might be used when writing a paper for an English class. These strategies include explaining significance, stating your own personal beliefs, and finding connections in your reading. All of these strategies should be used in hopes of persuading your audience. This reading also explains how to enter into an academic discourse. In general, writers need to have confidence in their own personal beliefs. This will in fact help ease the writing process and make it more enjoyable.
Another reading we discussed was how English Literature came to be popularized. As we stated in class, the topic was used by the British as they colonized India to “civilize” the people. The British believed that by civilizing this society it would, in turn, help stabilize the social and political scene in a growing Great Britain. The English language then became a legitimate learning tool after World War I. In the years following the war, the Leavises created an approach to studying the language. Students would need to carefully scrutinize what was being read and, in turn, look at it from a critical standpoint. This way of teaching would be passed down from teacher to teacher in hopes of creating a standard way of learning the subject.
Finishing out the readings discussing the English language is the article called “Literature, Value, and the Canon.” Eaglestone begins by saying that literature cannot have a definition put on it. Instead of making literature a noun, the author states that it should actually be a verb. Literature is actually an act of something. A person reads a novel so maybe studying literature is an act like that. The author goes further and explains that even though literature cannot be defined, the literature we read in classrooms today have been defined in set groups for years. He calls these groups, canons. The term comes from the Catholic Church and would be used to decide whether certain texts were of divine revelation or not. This was applied to literary texts, to determine which were considered most worthy. As the idea caught on, literature became even more divided into groupings based on cultures, authenticity, and value. Today, we see this idea prevalent in television and movies.
To finish the readings for the week, we discussed Peter Beidler’s introduction to the textual features of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath. The first discussion was on Beidler’s introduction to his version. He puts a lot of emphasis on the changes he made even though readers of the original text can see these are very minimal. Beidler then goes on to emphasize how scholarly it is to be taking on a task like this. Overall, the introduction shows us how Beidler is trying to justify himself to other Chaucer scholars.
The last section from Beidler’s text this week was the description of the Wife of Bath in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. It is here that the narrator (a character called Chaucer) introduces us to the Wife. This older woman is described to readers as red haired, gap toothed, and wide hipped. All of these characteristics have a specific meaning to be taken away. The red hair symbolizes power and strength as well as fierceness. The gap-toothed mouth comes off to most people meaning that she has a very “healthy” sex life. She is explained as having wide hips as well but readers are not told whether this meant she had children or not. Either way, this description tells us that she is very capable of having children. Readers are also told about her anger and conceitedness when it comes to being first for offerings in Church. She is more worried about her reputation than of her spirituality. Then, we discussed her love life. The Wife knows how to get men and succeeds a lot of the time seeing that she has been married five times. This is very uncommon for the time she lived in. Usually it is the men that outlive their wives. Lastly, we learn about her pilgrimages. She had already visited Jerusalem a few times and she is now on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. This shows readers that she is very independent and is quite comfortable being by herself on journeys that are mostly completed by men.
“When writing an essay on literature, you should begin by comparing the work with your own experience.”
- Use your own personal response to start formulating thoughts you want to get across. Where is your connection in the reading?
“If you are going to become a critic, you need to find out how things are done. But you need to find out for yourself. You are unlikely to learn by simply following someone else’s directions.”
- To invent a critical response, look at the different ways people use these conventions. It makes the experience of writing very liberating.
“Put simply, knowledge is power. The more you know about the field’s issues, techniques, and motivations, the easier the subject is to learn. Knowing “about” provides “know-how.”
- As a student, you have to have confidence stepping into a conversation with your own ideas. Being able to manipulate the response and give a different take on the subject takes guts.
“The Leavises’ ideas about studying literature remain at the heart of much English teaching: a ‘civilizing’ mission; objective judgment; personal sensibility; practical criticism; the canon; a sense of intrinsic artistic worth.”
“The canon represents the meeting point between (1) judgments of the artistic (or aesthetic) value of a text, and (2) the presupposition and interests, either implicit or explicit, of those who make those judgments and have the power to enforce them.”
Preview of the coming week (by Dr. Seaman):
This week we have our first round of individual meetings outside of class. You have signed up for times Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon (see the schedule and further information here). These meetings will be in my office at 22A Glebe Street, room 102. Each meeting should last around 10 minutes, during which time we will take the opportunity to give each other feedback on how things are going as we settle into the semester.
Tuesday’s class we will spend becoming very familiar with the methods and aims of Formalism, which was the dominant approach to interpreting literature in American English classes for most of the 20th century and continues its influence into this century. Formalism’s methods of close reading (if not its fundamental premises) are familiar to students and is so dominant that it can come to seem like the natural way of interpreting. We will situate Formalism in terms of the history of the field that we established through Eaglestone last week and will consider what its preferences “do” to our relationship to literary texts.
On Thursday we will, in workshop, practice some Formalist approaches on a shared text, a Shakespeare sonnet that is linked to in the Online Readings area of the blog. We will do some further analysis of the way Beidler is preparing us for our encounter with the Wife of Bath, and we will make use of the MLA Handbook for the first time this semester, in this case by (re)familiarizing ourselves with some of the central conventions for writing about literature.