Review of Week 12 and Preview of Week 13
2:00 class (by Alexis Dorman)
Monday began with us discussing “New Historicism.” First we talked briefly about its history and then moved on to discussing some different influences on new historicism. We found that New Historicism wasn’t only reacting against old historicism, but that Marxism, Feminism, Post-Structuralism and Reader-Response criticism/theories influenced New Historicism as well. Going into greater detail, we talked about the difference between old and new historicism; while old historicist critics read literature within the context of the time it was written, new historicists are less likely to think of things in terms of specific eras. We talked about using the “montage” technique, as well as seeing events as a “social text” and seeing literary texts as a social event. Then, we broke up into groups of threes to discuss Patterson’s essay and what it said about Chaucer and the Wife of Bath. While one group said Chaucer ignored history, another compared his writing to the satire of Monty Python. We concluded that when doing a historicist reading, the Wife of Bath is much more literary than historical.
After the discussing the summer-like weather and how it’s not appropriate for boots, class began on Wednesday by discussing the upcoming annotations due, as well as the sample body paragraph. We were given a couple examples of past sample body paragraphs and discussed and evaluated them in groups and as a class. We discussed setting up the sample body paragraph by starting with an analytical claim, as well as how to properly use quotes. From there we moved on to The Theory Toolbox to discuss “Posts”- Postmodernism and Poststructuralism- and the differences between the two. While Postmodernism describes cultural products-like art and pop culture- Poststructuralism is used in a more complicated way, like with languages. The differences between modernism and postmodernism were illustrated by comparing the two different shoe artworks in Theory Toolbox; while the painting of the boots represented the labor done while wearing them, the second (Warhol) was much more directed at the shoes themselves as consumer products.
“New historicist critics are less fact- and event-oriented than historicist critics used to be, perhaps because they have come to wonder whether the truth about what really happened can ever be purely and objectively known.” -P. 117, WB
“New historicism doesn’t see history as a context that you read literature in, but that literature is a part of history. These things are not separate categories; they are intertwined.” -Dr. Seaman
“All that had been carefully excluded from the literary criticism in which I had been trained- who controlled access to the printing press, who owned the land and the factories, whose voices were being repressed as well as represented in literary texts, what social strategies were being served by the aesthetic values we constructed- came pressing back in upon the act of interpretation.” –Greenblatt, p. 121, WB
“A montage is covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time.” –Blake
“In thus defining her not as an individual (not even as a woman) but as wife, Chaucer was reproducing the conventions and, to a large extent, the social realities of his day.” –P. 137, WB
(On the sample body paragraph) “You want to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot” –Zach
“Postmodernism is art about art.” -Zach
3:20 class (by Hayley Phillips)
This week on Monday we talked about New Historicism, a school of literary criticism which arose in the late 1970’s and flourished in the 1980’s, focusing initially on texts from the Renaissance period. New historicism, in effect, argues that literary texts themselves are historical documents. We discussed how New Criticism arose as a response to (the old) historicism, and how old historicism had been alternative to the psychoanalytical approach. Then we broke down into smaller groups to discuss Patterson’s interpretation of Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath.” We were asked to ignore the text as a “New Historicist” reading while we considered our reactions, and in truth, Patterson’s reading proved equally as viable and informative as our other studied schools of criticism. In his essay, “Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale,” Patterson systematically addresses the various aspects of Alisoun provided by Chaucer for his reader. What we discover via Patterson is not that Chaucer strove to highlight the injustice of the social system in which Alisoun was a part, or emphasize the ways in which the Wife of Bath resisted this system for “feminist” or “revolutionary” purposes. Rather that, for Chaucer, “the most important aspect of Alisoun’s social identity is her status as a wife” (Patterson 135) Thus we see, in looking at the social norms of the day, Alisoun is not represented in the ways in which she defies social conventions, but rather as a tool to embody medieval societal conventions, functioning rather as a literary symbol or representation. The motives for presenting her this way are operating on the basis of a “timeless literary tradition” rather than dealing with the “historical specificity of his contemporary world” (Patterson 136). Eventually we found Patterson compelling, in that Chaucer was more interested in exploring literary culture than making a contemporary, immediate assessment.
On Wednesday we began by reviewing what will be expected for our sample body paragraph, the key points being: follow the MLA guidelines, and work on synthesizing your own analysis with the voice of the critic, while remembering to make some sort of claim. Then we proceeded to examine two different sample body paragraphs, the first concerning Frankenstein and the second addressing The Great Gatsby. For the Frankenstein article we determined it was a good example of several high-school writing tendencies that we should now avoid, focusing on condensing references to critics and their articles, and also avoiding ending a paragraph with someone else’s (i.e. a critic’s) finds as it weakens the authority of one’s own voice. In the second example focused on Gatsby we found a “more baked” body, in reference to the analogy Professor Seaman offered of the paper to a cake. We liked that it referenced other sections and had a more discernible argument, but found some portions made good points about composition and readability. We decided it had a few too many, and maybe superfluous, quotes, and learned not to worry that you are “talking down” to the reader but rather explain further in order to help the reader be lead through the argument.
Finally, we moved on to a discussion of the “Post” chapter, emphasizing mainly Postmodernism and its close relationship to Post structuralism, though Postcolonialism was also touched on, and all three share the quality of being “informed by changing world views.” Postmodernism was characterized as being ironic, detached, self-conscious, calling attention to its construction, focused on process not product, and describing a specific object or work of art. One of its other notable qualities was the “meta-narrative” which calls to attention the artificiality of something, like Seinfeld being “a sitcom about sitcoms.” Then we highlighted the subtle differences in Post structuralism, which is more of a philosophy or critical approach. We used the sample artwork of Van Gogh and Warhol to illuminate these distinctions between modernism and postmodernism: while Warhol’s piece called to mind commodity, trends, consumer society, and attention to construction, Van Gogh’s piece was more naturalistic, an example of everyman, attempting realism, evoking the idea of the laboring worker.
“[New Historicists] have erased the old boundary line dividing historical and literary materials, showing that the production of one of Shakespeare’s historical plays was a political act and a historical event, while at the same time showing that the coronation of Elizabeth I was carried out with the same care for staging and symbol lavished on works of dramatic art.” (118 WOB)
“‘In William’s lectures,’ Greenblatt writes, ‘all that had been carefully excluded from the literary criticism in which I had been trained—who controlled access to the printing press, who owned the land and the factories, whose voices were being repressed as well as represented in literary texts, what social strategies were being served by the aesthetic values we constructed—came pressing back in upon the act of interpretation.’” (121 WOB)
“Another example of Chaucer’s avoidance of contemporary social conditions in preference to a literary […] stereotype is his use of Alisoun’s habit of going on pilgrimage..” (136 WOB)
“In this defining her not as an individual (nor even as a woman) but as a wife, Chaucer was reproducing the conventions and, to a large extent, the social realities of his day.” (137 WOB)
“Maybe the most cogent definition of “postmodern” is disjunctive, ironic, and/or reflexive artistic works produced after 1945.” (144 TT)
Austin: “Our eight-minute creative final project.”
Seaman: “That’s not for this class.”
Austin: “Our seven-minute final project.”
Seaman: “Ah… I was taking too literal an interpretation.”
Preview of Week 13 (by Dr. Seaman)
Monday we will continue with the “Posts” chapter, particularly Poststructuralism and Postcolonialism; and will address the topic of Difference in the reading. Be sure to allot time for reading and considering the various terms I’ve assigned you to look up in the Bedford glossary.
On Wednesday, we will move on to our final critical reading from Beidler’s collection on The Wife of Bath’s Tale. We’ve taken New Historicist (Patterson) and Marxist (Finke) approaches, and now we will see what a Psychoanalytical approach “does” to and with the text. As before, you should be prepared to discuss Ross Murfin’s introductory material on Psychoanalytical Criticism and then Fradenburg’s essay on the Wife.
Before we discuss Fradenburg’s essay on Wednesday, we will begin class with a workshop on abstracts, which will center on the expectations of the proposal that you will be writing for your Big Project. I will bring some examples that we will analyze and discuss.
On Thursday your sample body paragraph is due. Be working on your Annotated Bibliography, too, as it’s due on a week from Tuesday.
Remember to be blogging, and also that your posts can deal with the work you’re doing on your Big Project. If there’s anything you can imagine getting useful feedback from fellow students about, please post on it.
Also remember that I have office hours Monday and Wednesday 1-2 and 4:40-5:10. And get ready for the last 3 weeks of class!