Review of Week 13 (November 14, 16) and Preview of Week 14
2:00 class (by Shaina Anderson)
We talked about a lot this week! In class Monday, we began with the TT definition of Postmodernism as post-1945 “disjunctive, ironic, reflexive” artwork. We reviewed the shoe pictures (pg 133) as representative of the contrast between modernism and postmodernism, and then transitioned to the topic of Poststructuralism. As it is based upon the complete and thorough understanding of Structuralism, we reviewed: Structuralism is the study of the signifying or symbol systems that support any signified cultural phenomena, and governs it in some way. Any system or structure requires culturally understood and associated meanings. Dr. Seaman asked us to think of this definition in terms of our textual expectations regarding literature. As readers, from the view of Structuralism, our job is to decode the signals we derive from the system of meanings; in this case, it is in terms of the system through which we understand literary meaning. We discussed that Poststructuralism uses systems of meaning too, but that the system to show that the system exists and how it is used. That is, it is a critique of the system. Dr. Seaman mentioned that we should note that for Poststructuralism the system is constructed, and is not natural, unlike in Structuralism.
We also applied these ideas to the Differences chapter we read in TT. The professor noted that although gender and sexuality may seem like “straight forward and direct” topics, they are historically constructed concepts, according to Poststructuralism. Dr. Seaman pointed out that the Bedford Glossary offers a good explanation of Poststructuralism, and especially noted that the Theory Toolbox takes a Poststructuralist approach throughout. Class discussion naturally turned toward the manner in which literary criticism has “evolved” over time; Dr. Seaman noted that we have discussed various modes of criticism that were very popular at particular times in the past, and that at any time, literary critique orients itself toward the concerns of the time. The class dialogue then turned to Postcolonialism, discussing the ways that some prefer the term “Neocolonialism” as the “post”-term implies the completion of a time period (which is currently up for debate). Highlights of Poco (abbreviation for Postcolonialism) as outlined in TT included the nature of representations of groups of people, the postcolonial effects of divisions between high and low culture, and hybrid identities.
Returning back to the Differences chapter, we discussed gender, sexuality, race, queer, and class theories. Dr. Seaman talked about class markers that distinguish us from our community, referring back to discussions of gender from earlier in the semester. She stated that these “markers” culturally determined, culturally marked, and culturally-bound. Culturally-bound refers to the fact that our markers would not necessarily mean the same things in other cultures. They also, to some extent, bind us. We discussed that these markers can be difficult to change and are constraining once in place–that they can be limiting, but modifications do still occur. Dr. Seaman mentioned that physical differences traditionally determined gender differences, which still persist to this day. We finished by talking about race. Although we are very aware that class differences exist, we are the least attuned to them; she noted that there is largely a “massive denial” of class in America.
On Wednesday, our pace slowed a bit, and we discussed psychoanalytical readings of the Wife of Bath, tracing both author-oriented and reader-oriented psychoanalytic approaches. Fradenburg addresses the role of the reader, and what it tells us about what we desire, and what literature offers to us. We talked about Lacan, and about his “universal orientation” of the self; the universal human “self” is born with a set of desires that our society (symbolic order) then shapes in a certain manner. The self is formed through the cultural encouragement of certain and discouragement of other features. This fits in perfectly with literature! (We’ve been building on this all semester, albeit in various ways.) Fradenburg states that she analyzes the critics that explore psychoanalytic readings of the Wife of Bath; we compared modern versus medieval readings of the meaning of her sexuality. We discussed various connections between romance and fantasy, gender and class, and the significance of economic power in the Wife of Bath. As we only talked briefly about a psychoanalytic approach, we will re-address this again soon.
Erin: “Nothing is inherent”
Dr. Seaman: “A red octagonal sign in the middle of the ocean would not mean much”
Matt: “a word means something, but everyone has to understand it [structuralism]”
Dr. Seaman: “[Lacan] is almost wholly oriented to language”
3:20 class (by Hannah Starke)
On Monday, we revisited Postmodernism, Poststructuralism, and Postcolonialism. Per Dr. Seaman, a good way to differentiate between the former to is that P.M. is geared more towards texts (cultural products), while P.S. is more about a way of seeing things.
As we had already discussed Postmodernism on Friday, our discussion mainly revolved around Poststructuralism and Postcolonialism. First, we must go back to the time before there was a post tacked on either of these. For Structuralism, it attempted to make a connection among several different things and find what is universal about them.
Poststructuralism, on the other hand, wants to analyze who social constructs create meaning, and mandate that nothing is ‘universal’ because there are a vast array of different cultures around the world.
Colonialism could be considered both a theoretical orientation and a time in history, which is part of the reason that the term ‘Postcolonialism’, also called ‘PoCo’, is challenged. There are several critics who advocate that it should be called ‘neo colonialism’ because ‘Post’ implies that it has ended when, in fact, it has not.
There is also a lot of contention in the argument of PoCo really representing the society from which it hails. As Theory Toolbox points out that a lot of PoCo work is still heavily influenced by colonizer, their expressing it through the tools that are remnants of colonialism. Essentially, the idea of hybridty is incredibly prevalent in these works.
We then moved on to the ‘Differences’ chapter, which was filled politically charged topics that spurred a lot of debate in the class. Their four categories of ‘different’ were: Gender, Queer, Class, and Race.
The ‘Queer’ section was a place that our class lingered on. Predominantly, we focused on the debate of homosexuality as a genetic predisposition or as a choice. As Dr. Seaman pointed out, Lady Gaga sang about this very topic in her song Born this Way, which indicates our society’s extreme interest in it. We also talked about how it was a ‘socially generous’ thing to think in these terms, because if someone chose to be gay, what would this mean about our society?
This is the very question queer theorists want us to ponder. They advocate that we are simply ‘performing’ in terms of our sexuality and gender.
On Wednesday, we first talked about the project proposal that is looming ever nearer (12/6 to be exact). While looking at the guidelines on the blog, Dr. Seaman elaborated on a couple points.
1.) Your Subject – think about it narrowly. For example, if it is gender, make sure you specify what approach you’re taking to it.
2.) Your approach – include your critical interpretations
3.) Your method – be sure to include how you’re going to set up your paper, as seen in the 2nd example paragraph on Wednesday.
4.) As an extra tidbit, she assured us that it’s perfectly fine to use the first person
To get us better acquainted with the format, we looked at two different example. Below are the problems and attributes we saw with each of them.
1.) It doesn’t say how the paper is going to unfold
2.) It simply gives a summary of other works but says nothing of their own
3.) ‘Interesting’ has no use in these types of papers
4.) The part about ‘post human’, which is essentially their argument, needs to be moved to the beginning of the paper
5.) This shows an early stage proposal
1.) Much less description of the novel
2.) Really details the course the final paper will take
3.) Start with your easier to understand reading and then make sure you fully describe any readings that may be confusing to the audience
4.) It’s okay to be somewhat repetitive and restate your thesis towards the end of the paper
We then moved on to a Psychoanalytical reading of ‘The Wife of Bath’. This kind of reading is far from new. Along with a historicism type of reading, it dominated the field of literature, and continues to be very popular today. Because Freud focuses so much on narrative, reading it in a Freudian style made so much since that it quickly became a given. However, over time, we have switched from focusing on Freud’s views to paying more attention to Lacan, who saw the self as constructed, which was very appealing to Post-Structuralists.
Another shift over time has happened in terms of who the critics focus their study upon. It started out with Psychoanalytic reading being directed at the author, and then drifted towards the characters, and has now come to rest upon the readers themselves. The author here focuses on the last one, namely in her question of ‘Why are critics so concerned with the wife being modern?’ (205).
Though her argument started out Freudian, it quickly became Lacanian as she focused on the meaning of the words that Chaucer used. Though much of her argument seemed lofty and seemed to focus more on the ideas behind Psychoanalytic study rather than the text, section III showed that this was not the case. And while she began with an idea that was pretty easy to grasp, namely that Chaucer though fantasy was a way to embrace possibility, Fradenburg ends in a place that’s much more complex.
Post Structuralism – the general attempt to contest and subvert Structuralism and to formulate new theories regarding interpretations and meaning, initiated particularly by deconstructurs, but also associated with certain practitioners of psychoanalytic, Marxists, cultural, feminist, and garner criticism.
Post Colonialism – a movement produced by authors with roots in countries that were once colonies of established by European Nations
Psychoanalytical Criticism – a type of psychological criticism that emerged in the early twentieth century and that analyzes the relationship between authors or readers and literary worlds, emphasizing the unconscious mind, its repressed wishes and fears, and sublimated manifestations in the text.
“You can’t ever get to a point that’s not a construct” – Dr. Seaman about post structuralism
“Any time you bring up Hitler, you need to explain it.” – Austin
“She’s so modern because she’s praising her own libido.” – Dr. Seaman about the Wife of Bath
Preview of Week 14 (by Dr. Seaman)
We have a short week this week, if a busy one: On Monday we finish up with the readings from last week (some more with Fradenburg and psychoanalytical approaches, and some last bits on Differences) and we discuss Life. I know, it seems we’ve been discussing life all semester, but here we address developments in thinking about Life within theoretical discourse. Really consider why the editors might have found it important to include this new chapter in the new edition of the book. What has been happening in the past decade that is reflected in this chapter? How do these various changes, technological and otherwise, influence us to think fundamentally differently about life?
Tuesday: Annotated Bibliographies are due Tuesday night at 11pm in OAKS. Then: to eat, and rest, and do lots of work. All of us.