Review of Week 5 (Sept. 19, 21) and Preview of Week 6
Review of Week 5 (by Paige Wallace)
The reading in Theory Toolbox provides a clear distinction between author and authority. The definition of an author is a concept hard to grasp but it is directly tied to authority. Authority is about how something is considered; therefore, authority is granted and materializes from somewhere. It is not innate, but a production orchestrated by critics rather than something that materializes. There is also a discussion of the importance of what an author means. It is essential to realize that the meaning does not depend on what the author intended. The goal is to contemplate what meaning the texts produces and not what meaning the author intended. Meaning is also not found, but produced and because it is produced, there is no fundamental meaning. Claiming that a fundamental meaning does not exist supports the idea that readers are always generating new interpretations. Claiming the authority of the author prevents abundant readings, but after reading Theory Toolbox it is pivotal to understand that a book with a set meaning is likely to fall from favor. It is supported in this text that with the death of an author culture will value a variety of readings and if there is only one reading then the text is not molding and adapting to the generations which prevents it from being a classic.
Much like Theory Toolbox, Tompkins discusses the nature of a classic in her essay. There are two fundamental questions that Tompkins deliberates. She is interested in determining how an author becomes an author and how a classic becomes a classic. She concludes that a classic is dependent on its ability to change which supports the argument found in Theory Toolbox. To prove her point Tompkins uses Nathaniel Hawthorne as an example of how an author is born and how works are thrust into the state of being classics. Tompkins argues that the literary reputation of Nathaniel Hawthorne and all other authors is purely a political matter meaning that individuals who are interested in maintaining the beliefs and interests of the particular author and his or her work are responsible for advocating for the reputation of the author. In regards to Tompkins’ second question she claims that a classic maintains its position because it has the ability to appeal and relate to subsequent generations. Tompkins argues against the definition of a classic given by Samuel Johnson. Unlike Samuel Johnson who believes that a classic is defined as its ability to transcend time without changing, Tompkins argues that a classic is just the opposite. It has the ability to provide different generations with new and changing interpretations. To emphasize this point in her argument Tompkins turns to the analyses of Hawthorne’s works conducted by influential figures like Poe and Melville. These men developed and revered entirely different readings of Hawthorne than the readings that are widely accepted in today’s society.
As Dr. Seaman pointed out we have all read “The Wife of Bath” numerous times by this point in our English studies. So why are we reading it now? We are currently reading this text so that we can prepare ourselves to take a variety of approaches to it through the essays in the back of our book. First, we’ll approach it in a way that is “familiar” to us from previous English classes (so probably a combination of formalism and historicist approaches). In class we divided the tale into distinct sections. The Wife of Bath begins her Prologue with a defense of marriage against lifelong chastity. In this defense she is debating with the authorities and giving her own interpretations. She challenges textual glosses, an industry of the Middle Ages that provided an explanation of something. Often times the glossing or interpretations of a text were given more priority than the actual reading of the text. The Wife of Bath is indirectly emphasizing that she has the ability and knows what it takes to interpret a text. The Wife describes her marriages. She had been married five times. Her first three husbands were old, wealthy men and her fourth husband was younger and had a mistress. She tricks all four of her husbands into submission. The practice of glossing appears again in the prologue when she is describing her husbands and particularly her fifth husband. This last husband she loved deeply despite the fact that he was horrible to her. He read to her from a book that took women from the classics and highlighted qualities to illustrate them as wicked women which is a prime example of glossing. She cannot trick him into submissive behavior because he is young and she is old. He is not controlled by physical desire for her. In the end he allows her to become the legal husband after a fight in which she destroys his book. She becomes his true wife going beyond what is legal because his book indicated that there are no true wives. This indicates that he has truly accepted her as having the power of both his tongue and his hand.
“…how someone who authors becomes an author is intimately tied to the question of canocity…” (Giroux, Nealon, 11).
“The argument that follows is not critical of the way literary reputations come into being, or of Hawthorne’s reputation in particular. Its object, rather, is to suggest that a literary reputation could never be anything but a political matter” (Tompkins 138).
“It becomes clear upon examining these contemporary evaluations of Hawthorne’s work that the texts on which his claim to classic status rested were not the same texts we read today in two senses” (Tompkins 140).
Wife of Bath’s “Prologue”
“that gentil text kan I well understonde” (29)
“He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste, /At which book he lough alwey ful faste” (671-672).
“He yaf me all the bridel in mine hond, /To han governance of hous and lond,” (813-814)
“And that he seyde, ‘Mine owene trewe wif,’” (819)
Taken from Theory Toolbox
Canonicity- involves the list of accepted “great” works that are deemed worthy of continued scholarly attention; establishes authority through the designation of genius or greatness.
Taken from Bedford Glossary
Author- Traditionally an author is the writer of a text or more broadly, the person deemed responsible for its creation and for controlling its meaning or meanings. This view of the author was uprooted when intentional fallacy was developed as a means of rejecting the practice of basing textual interpretation on an author’s intentions. “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes argued that the author should be viewed not as an original and creative master, but rather as a scribe more or vehicle of the text. The author was dethroned in favor of the reader as the focus of writing. Later Michel Foucault argued that an author was a “function of discourse” in which society “limits, excludes, and chooses” among “the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations” (Murfin, Ray 33).
Authorial intention-Defined narrowly, an author’s intention in writing a work, as expressed in letters, diaries, interviews, and conversations. Defined more broadly, authorial intention involves unexpressed motivations, designs, and purposes, some of which may also be unconscious. The debate over whether critics should try to discern an author’s intentions (conscious or otherwise) is an old one. Intentional fallacy was coined by William K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley to refer to the practice of basing interpretation on a writer’s expressed or implied intentions (Murfin, Ray 33).
Preview of Week 6 (by Dr. Seaman)
You’ll begin the week by submitting your formal written summary of Tompkins’ essay “Masterpiece Theater” by 9am in OAKS.
Later on Monday, we’ll continue our Wife of Bath reading by discussing her Tale. In many ways, it’s a surprise given its presenter: an Arthurian romance, set in the elite world of the court that the Wife herself would of course never have been a part of and would, as with the scripture and the interpretations of her Prologue, have known them only through hearing such stories told.
Remember that Beidler in his introduction included summaries of various analogous tales. Considering Chaucer’s version alongside those can help us see what might mark his as distinctive.
And, as I encouraged at the end of Wednesday’s class, you should pay special attention to how the Tale concludes, compared to how the Prologue concludes. What might you make of the similarities and differences there? Consider especially what leads to the reconciliation in both cases.
We will also start our discussion of the research paper—the process of research, which is going to be a central focus for us over the next two months—through the chapter in the MLA Handbook.
Wednesday, having spent time last week with the author and authority, will turn to the reader. We’ve touched a bit on the notion of reader-response, or reader-oriented, criticism. This chapter will allow us to address relevant issues in more depth.