Review of Week 7: Feb 22, 24 (Gage and Chris W.)
There wasn’t much preparation for Tuesday’s class this week besides a brief section from the MLA Handbook. We opened our discussion by defining plagiarism and noting that isn’t just the theft of an author’s words, but a theft of an author’s ideas. We worked to establish the line between plagiarism and common knowledge. When should we cite? When shouldn’t we cite? A few examples helped to clarify in our MLA Handbook.
Here are some notes concerning citations: keep records of your sources, do what you can to hang onto a copy of the source, and when in doubt, cite it! Accidental plagiarism isn’t the end of the world, but do your best to avoid putting yourself in a bad situation. We discussed that we are in a society where ideas are freely exchanged and as long as you acknowledge the ideas of others you are free to say what you want. It is also important to note that all of these concepts are culturally constructed.
After our riveting discourse about plagiarism we read two response essays using Tompkins’ “Masterpiece Theater” as a jumping off point. The first essay was an overly personal summary of the article. The second was an interesting personal take on Appalachian story telling. Dr. Seaman brought these two pieces in to show us the versatility of this assignment. Don’t feel restricted; this can be personal, fun, and informational.
In preparation for Thursday’s class we were to have read Ross Murfin’s introduction to Marxist Criticism in regards to the Wife of Bath, as well as the essay that followed by Laurie Finke titled “All is for to selle”, which looked at the breeding of capital in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale.
As is customary when beginning a new topic of discussion, we began the class by taking a closer look at the definition and foundations of Marxist criticism, to establish a better understanding of the topic at hand and the essays that followed. To establish the foundations of Marxist criticism, we first took a look back at the principles of New Criticism to show where the shifts in interpretation were occurring. New Criticism treats texts as self-contained, independent, aesthetic objects, often searching for the hidden meaning within the text. A Marxist criticism is quite different, instead looking at a text through the social context from which it came, as well as evaluating the impact of the text. Numerous members of the class expanded upon this definition, adding that Marxist criticism deals heavily with the concept of social and economic class structure.
With a basic understanding of Marxist criticism under our belts, we began our discussion on Murfin’s essay. We looked at the beginning of Murfin’s piece in which he defends the continued use of Marxist criticism even after the fall of the former USSR. While commonly thought to have spawned from Eastern European and Soviet Communism, Marxist criticism was around nearly a century before the Bolshevik revolution. We used Murfin’s explanation on pg. 155 to come away with the understanding that Marxist criticism is not communist propaganda, but rather a “form of critique, a discourse for interrogating all societies and their texts in terms of specific issues”. This quote did a great job of simplifying the goal of Marxist criticism in a way that all members of the class seemed to comprehend. We next looked at Murfin’s distinction between Marxist criticism and more traditional forms. In this section, Murfin states that unlike Marxists critics, traditional critics often try to coax the text into “giving up its true, latent, or hidden meaning.” We discussed how his idea of “coaxing meaning” from a text is often used in literary analysis, and also how a somewhat sexual interpretation can be made from this term.
Murfin continued his explanation of the roots and convections of Marxist criticism, providing the perfect background of understanding for Beidler’s introduction to Finke’s piece, as well as Finke’s piece itself. Before we began both Beidler’s and Finke’s pieces, we had a brief discussion on the value of having prior knowledge of the chosen form of critique by which a piece is written. There was a general concern that by looking at a piece under specific critical convections, you may allow yourself to make assertions and connections within the text that are not actually present. However, the majority of the class felt that a prior knowledge of the form of critique aids the reader in better understanding the material, as well as the authorial intent.
Beidler prefaces Finke’s piece by explaining that her views on the Wife of Bath Prologue and Tale deal heavily with the concept of hegemony, or the set of values, practices and beliefs that constituted lived experience during Chaucer’s time. Another driving force behind Finke’s piece, as discussed in class, was the portrayal of economy in terms of the Wife’s sexuality and her subsequent marriages. We discussed how through her analysis of the Wife, Finke shows the shift from feudalism to capitalism. The division of lands after successive generation was no longer beneficial, for unlike money, land cannot grow. Much of the in-class discussion of Finke’s essay was centered on the concept of Commodification and the misogynistic invective. We looked at commodification as reducing something to an object that is defined by its market value. In regards to misogynistic invective, we looked at a challenging set of paragraphs in which Finke discusses how these invectives have changed women to an all encompassing “Woman,” subsequently making an attempt to remove women out of time and history. Members of the class argued the point that to combat both of the previously mentioned trends, Chaucer purposefully made the Wife of Bath commodify herself, and the societal terms under which she lived. We also looked at the Wife’s quote, also the title quote of Finke’s pieces, in which she states, “All is for to sell,” as a distinctively forward thinking approach, in a time when there was much tension in relation to the shift from feudalism to capitalism.
Another key point we found in Finke’s critique was her assessment of the Wife’s demystification of the Romance. The wife of bath does this through her “use” of marriage, adapting its previous convections to that of the merchant economy in which she was a part of. We finished the class discussion by looking at a very important segment of Finke’s closing paragraphs in which she explains her intent and meaning. She cautions the reader against taking her words as the unquestioned implication of Chaucer’s overall meaning. Rather, she states that this is simply her interpretation of the Wife of Bath’s tale from a Marxist perspective. However, the point was made in class that this removal of the authorial intent is bordering on new criticism, but altogether Finke’s piece has a definite Marxist feel.
Pg. 52 of the MLA Handbook- A bit about plagiarism, “Passing off another person’s ideas, information, or expressions as your own to get a better grade or gain some other advantage constitutes fraud.”
Pg. 155- In regards to what Marxist Criticism is used for…
“Not as a form of communist propaganda but rather as a form of critique, a discourse for interrogating all societies and their texts in terms of certain specific issues.”
Pg. 172-173…. In regards to the treatment of women in the wife’s prologue….
“ As Howard Bloch noted, the sheer repetitiveness of misogynistic invective reduces women to an unchanging essence-Woman-and removes her from history.”
Preview of Next Week:
Tuesday morning at 8 your first version (not to be confused with your “rough draft”) of the Response essay is due in the OAKS dropbox.
Tuesday and Thursday will be spent with the Theory Toolbox after a week away from it. Tuesday we will spend more time with the notion of Culture, a concept and issue we’ve encountered at various points these past few weeks, but without tackling it head-on the way we will Tuesday. Thursday’s topic in TT is ideology, which is similarly something we’ve discussed in relation to different readings, particularly in the Wife of Bath book but also earlier in the semester’s PDF readings. Both of these concepts are complex and rich and have much to offer us as we encounter literary texts. Prepare each chapter carefully.