Review of Week 3 (Sept 5, 7) and Preview of Week 4
2:00 CLASS (by Morgan Mikolajczyk) [see below for Preview of the coming week; there was no secretary in the 3:20 class this week]
This week started off with some lovely quotable moments, failing technology from the iPad, a tragic story of a bumblebee bite, and a discussion about the origins of ‘English’. On Monday, we noted an excerpt from a “British book written for British English majors”—written by Robert Eaglestone—about the introduction of English studies as more than just focused on language, but also on literature that held value. The emphasis on classics was used in a study of philology, which in turn utilized literature as proof or examples instead of its own concrete subject. Blake noted a shift during WWI where England imposed control through the distribution of literature. Nikki notes that during this period the “morality of the world” was compromised, and technology was viewed as dangerous and de-humanizing. WWII then showed that a focus on the arts wasn’t universally effectual due to the fact that Hitler was a known artist. Now, English studies are “interactive,” according to Blake: it’s a collection of ideas that affect society. It has become more guarded: it doesn’t exactly question morality but instead analyzes it. “What is the author trying to say?” asks Professor Seaman. The key ideas of the Leavises—the scholars who first made the case for English literature to stand on its own—are summarized as follows: literature humanizes people, critics should make objective evaluations, the reader must have a sensibility to the text, critical/close readings are beneficial, and there is a canon of great literary works that all should admire. Our discussion on this last concept—the canon—began with the author attempting to define literature. He categorizes it as a verb versus a noun, and Anna pointed out the creative process between the author writing and the audience reading. Another important question surfaced: Why does something have to last for it to be meaningful? We came to a collective decision that literature that is pertinent and admired by us today is still meaningful for our generation—whether or not it will be for future generations—due to the fact that it holds value for us and that “it does things through how we employ it” (M. Seaman). We then began to discuss the Wife of Bath, and how her description actually said things about her character (i.e. her deafness signifying perhaps her stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to others). It was also interesting that she was extremely angry if any woman produced an offering before her turn in church.
Wednesday opened with a discussion of due dates and creepy pictures being uploaded on OAKS by certain interesting professors. Professor Seaman declared that next week we will be reading a Shakespearean sonnet and applying a Formalist approach to analyzing it. New Criticism is an American product and a subset of Formalism. Dobie, on page 33, asserts two distinct words: “extratextual” and “metaliterary”. In this case, the “extratextual” meant using background information (totally anti-Formalist) and “metaliterary” was similar. According to the Formalists, literature is an aesthetic product; therefore, many readers of our generation have an issue with the Formalist theory because they feel as though they’re missing out on something. Professor Seaman goes as far as to say that “New Critics are fooling themselves: you can’t really talk only about a text”. As the study of English literature was somewhat of a response, so is Formalism: a response to biography- and philology-focused classical studies. New Criticism used aesthetic tools versus the linguistic approach, choosing a theme and finding evidence. We then defined “theme” as: truth presented, concept, universal human experience. Therefore, using background information or using judgment as an evaluative tool were unacceptable. We also discussed how one word in a text could potentially change the entire meaning (examples quoted were Hemingway and Chaucer). Tyson’s essay on The Great Gatsby reflects the tools of New Criticism, but not necessarily the “dogma” of it (M. Seaman). Blake points out that one approach isn’t the way to examine literature; multiple approaches are preferred for a better learning experience. The key areas of concern for Formalists include rhetorical strategies—especially irony, ambiguity (Anna points out here that multiple meanings give a piece depth), and paradox—and the text must show which meaning is meant through evidence. Nikki states that what they discarded along the way is the basis for what we study today—we love the background information and cultural significance! The Bedford Glossary defines Formalism as “[devoting] attention to a text’s intrinsic nature”: this assumes that there is a deeper meaning to find (Bedford 189). We then talked about how texts don’t really have an intrinsic nature: different people will read a text differently due to dissimilar cultural backgrounds or life experiences. We ended with a hurried, “Next class we’ll apply this!”, alluding to the Shakespeare sonnet for next week.
“There seems to be a malignant growth on that side of the room” –M. Seaman
“English studies is a tool of Empire” –M. Seaman
“For Collins, studying literature was a ‘moral and aesthetic education’, and had a positive and healthy influence on ‘taste’, ‘tone’, ‘sentiment’, ‘opinion’, and ‘character’” –Eaglestone, p12
“I could be as equally moved by a sandwich” –Zach
“These Western European values are unquestioningly assumed to be the universal human values, the most important values that apply to all people at all times and in all places” –Eaglestone, p54
“How a literary text means is inseparable from what it means” –Tyson, p138
“Once an author creates a work, it belongs to the world” –Zach
Key Terms: See Overview.
PREVIEW OF WEEK 4 (Sept 12, 14)
On Monday we will, in workshop, practice some Formalist approaches on a shared text, a Shakespeare sonnet (which is linked on the course schedule). Have a statement of the poem’s theme (the primary concern of a New Critical reading) ready for the workshop. As you prepare, really consider the “source” of your responses to the poem—to see if you’re committing the affective fallacy or the intentional fallacy along the way, and what happens to your reading as you keep your focus specifically on meaning and on the text alone.
Also on Monday we will do some further analysis of the way Beidler is preparing us for our encounter with the Wife of Bath (pay attention to the assigned page numbers, on the course schedule), 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. Remember to consider which seem familiar to you, which don’t, and what purposes these conventions seem to serve.
On Wednesday, we begin our “transition to theory” by opening Theory Toolbox for the first time and reading its introductory chapter, “Why Theory?” Similar to how Eaglestone and others felt the need to define “literature” before discussing the student of literature, Nealon & Searls Giroux set out to establish what “theory” is, and what its purposes might be, before entering the book-long discussion of it. (You might consider what their central metaphor of the toolbox shares with Garett-Petts’ example of the parlor discussion.)
Bressler does something similar in the chapter you have in PDF form for Wednesday, so we will put those texts in conversation in class. The Bedford glossary definitions for Wednesday are pretty long and detailed; make your way through them carefully. We will also discuss more of Beidler’s introduction to the Wife of Bath, in this case looking at the literary tradition in which the texts (Prologue and Tale) are rooted. Consider what that information prepares you to do, with Chaucer’s narratives. Finally, we will go over the assignment sheet for the first formal writing assignment (due on Monday, September 26).