Weekly Review 9: March 22, 24
Hey, Rebecca here. I took secretarial duties for Tuesday, and will be passing the baton to Brooke for Thursday.
We began Tuesday’s class be going back to our Theory Toolbox chapter from last week, Space/Time, and reviewed certain aspects of that chapter such as:
-Types of spaces and how they dictate the behavior of those people in them. As an example, we discussed the example of how students act differently in a classroom than they do in cafeteria.
-Hierarchy of space: how socioeconomic status can affect a person’s access to certain spaces; how handicapped people are shut out of certain spaces because of poor building accessibility; how the idea of space changes based upon one’s location (as an example, we talked about the difference in size between an apartment that’s classified as a “studio” in NYC and one in Charleston).
As a subcategory of the above point, we discussed barriers to access and broke them down into two possible categories: Physical and Social. Physical barriers are fairly straightforward, with the example of a physically handicapped person not having the ability to access certain places because of its structure. The second category, social barriers, is a little more complex. After Billy told his story about being addressed as “white boy” and told he was in the wrong part of town, Professor Seaman noted that social barriers often seem like they are based upon race but in reality, they are more often based upon class differences (which generally translates down to how much money you have.) She also noted that sometimes people choose not to frequent certain spaces because they hold certain prejudices about what goes on in those spaces, and that the expectations people hold about who will frequent certain spaces often keeps others from going there (for example, people would probably be uncomfortable if they saw someone from a homeless shelter sitting in a formal concert at Carnegie Hall).
We went on to discuss TT’s authors’ ideology critique of the romanticizing of urban/inner city spaces on page 121. We decided that the main point they were tying to convey through this little vignette was to make their readers aware of the constant re-definition of the use of certain spaces. As an example, Professor Seaman had us think about the Charleston City bus system. She noted that in other cities, using the public transportation system is encouraged and looked at as a good thing, but somehow, in Charleston, people shrink from using it, looking on it as a dirty, possibly dangerous space.
From there, we turned to the concept of the Global Village and discussed whether the explosion of technology that has enabled people to be more connected than ever before in history has actually caused to be more connected. We discussed how interpersonal communication has changed with the advent of cellphones, texting, Facebook, email etc and noted that this technology seems to have taken much of the physicality out of communication by drastically limiting face-to-face contact. While this is a concern, I gave an example of the opposite argument with my story of how my best friend and I began our friendship through lengthy Facebook chats that led to lengthy lunch dates and on to a strong friendship. In this case, the “non-personal” form of communication of Facebook chatting actually instigated face-to-face contact that most probably would not have occurred without it.
From there, we turned to our Bedford Glossary of Literary and Critical Terms for a look at the definition of Historicism. We briefly discussed the aims of Historicism, in which the critic hopes to situate a literary work in the time period in which it was written in order to study its meaning. We noted that Historicism is not the same as the study of history. History is the study of historical events themselves, while historiography, according to Dwight E. Lee and Robert N. Beck in “The Meaning of ‘Historicism’’, “[has] mainly been concerned with epistemology, with the meaning of history, and the meaningfulness of historiography” (Bedford 226).
From there, we turned again to our Theory Toolbox book, looking at the chapter on history. We discussed the main claim put forth by the authors in this chapter: that history is a construction, not a re-construction. They say that history has traditionally seen itself as a field that reconstructs past events in an unbiased, “news reporter” type way. They counter this idea on page 96 by claiming that history is not and can not be an unbiased report, but has to be mediated, or interpreted by the person recording the events. The perspective of that person will affect the account they are generating simply because their vantage point and experiences of a certain time, place, or event will be different than someone else’s. Every account of a certain event is shaped by personal experience, and therefore, according to the authors, history in a construction of events (created account) not a reconstruction (an unbiased, re-telling of facts).
We looked on page 101 at the account in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to discuss the idea that as people are chronicling their lives (documents that eventually become “history”), they do not necessarily know what events will be the ones that will be seen in hindsight as really important. In addition, the fact that The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle documented mostly religious and nature-themed occurrences (phases of the moon etc) shows us what was important to people at the time, but also shows plainly that there was necessarily many events left out. From this observation, we brought up the point that just because people in the past were interested in different things than we are in the 21st century, doesn’t necessarily mean that we are any more “civilized” or “advanced” than they were. The fact that we value government and economics rather than religion and nature simply makes us different from medieval society, not better.
As we concluded class, we moved to page 98 in TT, where the authors again applied their common theme of the book (that a meaning is not necessarily inherent to something) to the subject of events. They claim that an event on its own has no inherent meaning, but we as humans assign meaning to events. They compare the way meaning is assigned to events, (especially historical events) to the way it is assigned to literary texts by saying that “it’s the over-arching plot, the ‘master narrative,’ the bigger context, that gives meaning to the otherwise random events of history [as well as] the otherwise random words that can make up a poem…” Context, background, personal experience or understanding, they claim, is what truly makes something meaningful.
Finally, on page 97, the authors claim that history is the least scientific field of study. They liken history to literature and its production saying, “it is written from a point of view, out of a certain cultural position, and its author, like the author of a literary narrative, does not simply control its meaning. History itself…requires interpretation…” (98). This prompts us to question the good of Historicism as a context for interpreting literature. If realizing history is itself a construction, it seems to be a less valid starting-point for understanding literature because we realize that we are stuck in the circle of interpreting an interpretation. As we move on to New Historicism on Thursday, perhaps we will find that some of these issues are addressed and possibly remedied.
“People seem to think that the way we interacted in 1985 before the internet was somehow natural compared to how things are now. But 1985 was just as different as it was in 1875 or 1785.” -Professor Seaman
“We [as a culture] are mistaking organization for progress.” -Jeff
Thursday: March 24, 2011
Hi! It’s Brooke, taking over for Thursday. Before class got under way this afternoon, Dr. Seaman announced a department-sponsored speaker traveling from Boston College. She also reminded us of professors’ visits to our class next week.
We only read out of Beidler’s book today, focusing on Historicism v. New Historicism. Beidler’s introduction begins on page one-hundred-fifteen. We discussed what exactly distinguishes New Historicism from just plain ole’ Historicism. We concluded that New Historicism is: less fact and event oriented. New Historicists look at history as a social science and collection of data (117). They look at it from an interdisciplinary approach. Why is that? It is in order to look at history as how it is perceived versus the events of history. By looking at the events of history by themselves, they seem exclusive of their relationship to other areas of history.
To look at something from a New Historicist P.O.V., means looking into a text as an explanation. It is the idea of analysis versus description. Everything is an interpretation and it requires one to read history within the terms of context. How is this wrapped up in other events, actions, etc.?
We determined that New Historicists see every piece of writing as a historical text. They do not believe in a “zeitgeist” or “Spirit of the Age” (zeit means “time” in German, geist means “spirit”). They view history as a linear development and progress; the line between political and poetic concepts is blurred.
On page one-hundred-sixteen, we read that “Reader-Response” criticism was a reaction to Formalism. Post-structuralists argue you can only find form by overlooking the gap. These are still focused on the text. The Goal of New Historicism is to show there is something beyond the text and what they produce isn’t just textual. The texts have a mutually influential relationship. It is considered the negotiation of History; it serves as a way around or through older notion of subject being formed by the culture. There are newer ways of seeing the subject as influencing it, not solely being made by it.
Lastly, we looked at Lee Patterson’s essay, beginning on page one-hundred-thirty-three. Patterson claims it’s harder to distinguish New Historicism from other forms of criticism. He’s concerned with how the Wife is presented, yet he keeps Chaucer in there. What could Chaucer’s authorial intent be? He’s interested in what the author is doing. A question came up about Chaucer’s motivation. We determined that intent is existing outside of time, motivation is more tangible. Chaucer is showing the character rather than her environment. Patterson asks what is the most productive way to read “The Wife?” It is to read the Tale in terms of cultural options.
Patterson examines several features about the Wife of Bath. We listed them all and discussed why he might see them as being important.
We did not really elaborate on this theme, but I wrote it down anyway.
He claims that reading her as a professional isn’t needed. He looks at a range of possibilities. Concludes that Chaucer’s intent was to portray her as a wife and her dependence on marriage.
This could be read as how devout she is, but it could mean that she wanted to have an adventure. He quotes the line “Wandering by the way,” and claims that this could indicate “moral and probable sexual errancy” (136). Chaucer is avoiding contemporary social conditions. He doesn’t want to position her in terms of those characteristics. This could end up being unrealistic. He wants a literary stereotype.
Patterson says Chaucer emphasizes what men are afraid of in that time period. He is interested in philosophical questions and uses her as the agent to examine them. The Wife is called “the nightmare of the male imagination” (141). It’s determined that in the end, she wants equality in marriage. She’s an idealist, and peruses her fantasies in marriage. Chaucer is using it to comment on the people as a whole. Uses her as a very realistic display of a woman of her class.
You can’t have one without the other. History and Literature are products of art and they influence each other.”—Ashley
“In the beginning he presents her as a sexually veracious creature, then twists it.”—Jacob
“It wasn’t like you had to post your announcement on the church door for three weeks so people could say: ‘No, no! You can’t marry her! She had three children by my brother.’”—Dr. Seaman
Preview of Next Week [Arielle will have secretarial duties]
Tuesday at 8am the Preliminary Bibliography is due in OAKS.
This week we are visited by various English professors, as we enjoy our own personal English Studies Week.
On Tuesday, the focus will be Doing English Studies. Two professors will be sharing with us their experiences as scholars working in the discipline: Alison Piepmeier, who is an English professor and also Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program, and Lindsey Green-Sims, a visiting professor in the department who specializes in non-Western texts, including film. These two guests will help us broaden our sense of what “English Studies” involves.
On Thursday, our focus will be Writing in English. Two more professors will visit us to share their own experiences in this regard, including that of scholarly writing in English (Scott Peeples) and student writing in English Studies (Anton Vander Zee).
The NEXT Tuesday (April 5) at 8am the Formal Annotation will be due.