Review of Week 8 (Oct 10, 12) and Preview of Week 9
2:00 class (by Phoebe Doty)
Today in celebration of English Studies day, two guest speakers came to discuss and answer questions about English Studies and all that it involves. Dr. Chris Warnick, an assistant professor in the College’s English Department who teaches rhetoric and composition studies, explained that in composition he focuses on studying the production of texts, especially the writing of students. Additionally, Carol Ann Davis, an associate professor, spoke of poetry and creative writing, for she directs the creative writing concentration within the English major at the College. Both professors are experts in fields of English they see as “on the fringe” within English Studies. Warnick noted that rhetoric specialists and poets often have to articulate in their own department the scholarship of their fields because they are relatively new. With this shift in English studies due to the expansion of different fields, Warnick mentioned that rhetoric is growing within different English departments across the country, especially since some schools offer a major in Writing Studies. Likewise, within our own English department here at the College, under the new major students must take either creative writing or rhetoric classes, further expanding a student’s knowledge beyond just literature.
After a general discussion of English Studies and its changes over time, students were encouraged to ask questions about English and what it means to be an English major. On this track, both professors addressed the questions of job choices and graduate school. Both Warnick and Davis explained that English as a major, unlike more specific scientific majors, can be applied to almost any occupation. In fact, Davis noted that in the U.S today many small business owners have their degrees in English. Unlike the common belief, an English student does not necessarily have to go on to be an English teacher. The guest speakers also encouraged students to pursue graduate school, but only if the students receive a stipend for teaching or a tuition waiver because graduate degrees in the humanities don’t always ensure a higher paid job. The professors both noted that the College currently has a Master’s program in English, often used by teachers and others in the city to further their education.
In the beginning of Wednesday’s discussion we briefly went over the topics addressed by the guest professors from Monday, explaining the highlights of their lecture. We also touched upon the events of last Thursday, the English department’s Open House and the Guest Speaker. After this re-cap, we then transitioned into a discussion of the Marxist reading of the Wife of Bath. Dr. Seaman noted that a Marxist approach to a text is not irrelevant in today’s society; it is in fact still used today and is important in the literary community. As a historicist approach, Marxist criticism critiques different issues in a culture, whether they are race, gender, or the like. Unlike Formalism, we noted that Marxism finds meaning in relation to culture instead of ignoring cultural contexts. Marxist readers see texts as a product of work and as something that does work because it addresses the values of a particular culture.
After addressing the basic concepts of Marxist criticism discussed in Ross Murfin’s initial essay, we took a critical eye to Laurie Finke’s essay on the Wife of Bath. Taking both a feminist and Marxist approach, Finke analyzes the economic changes of Chaucer’s time period in relation to the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale. We explained in class that Finke claims Chaucer created the Wife of bath in reaction to class consciousness and to challenge the idea of being a decentralized “woman.” Finke notes that Chaucer purposefully re-contextualizes the Wife, which shows Finke’s investment in feminism and Marxist criticism. Throughout the discussion, we addressed the idea of the Wife “breeding capital.” Finke explains that she accumulates wealth instead of children in her marriages. In this way, we concluded that the Wife treats her husbands as interchangeable commodities. In Finke’s essay, we also noted that Finke continually refers to transformation in the Wife’s Tale, such as the shift from rape to a game or quest. Finke believes that the Wife dis-empowers sexual violence to reflect the changes in the economic conditions at this time, for there was a shift from feudalism to capitalism. Finally, we concluded our discussion of Finke’s essay by exploring the differences between how we first read the Wife of Bath to how Finke approaches it. We used a more Formalist approach in our reading by depending on mostly just the text, while Finke uses literature as history to focus on culture.
“If you’re a hardcore poet you won’t care if you make money”- Carol Ann Davis
“Composition is the red-headed step-child”- Dr. Chris Warnick
“Writing needs to be re-visited”- Carol Ann Davis
“Writing provides the tools through which students learn to understand themselves”- Carol Ann Davis
“Marxist criticism focused on the base and the superstructure in society”- Brandon
“Marxism criticism is very of-the-moment in its concerns”-Dr. Seaman
“A text does a job of reaffirming certain values of a culture”- Erinn
“The Sexual Economy”- Laurie Finke on pg. 172
“Very historicist kind of approach”- Dr. Seaman
“Marriage is a way to get the money”- Nicole
- Composition Studies- the field of rhetoric studying different ways to write, emphasizing diverse forms of persuasion and argumentation
- Marxist Criticism- a form of critique, a discourse for interrogating all societies and their texts in terms of specific issues including race, class, and the attitude within a given culture (155)
- Karl Marx- nineteenth century German philosopher best known for writing Das Kapital, the seminal work in the communist movement, and the first Marxist literary critic (157)
3:20 class (by Stephan Amann)
Dr Bruns and Dr Thomas visited our class to give us an overview of their field of study and the type of research they do within their fields. Dr Bruns discussed his background and the field of Film Studies. He completed his undergraduate degree at Notre Dame, followed by a graduate program at the University of Southern California. He talked about his early interest in films, as far back as his childhood. The idea of Film Studies as being part of English Studies always made sense to Dr. Bruns. Many concepts, ideas, and theories are shared by both text based analysis classes and film based classes. In a close reading of sorts of a selection from an Alfred Hitchcock film, we looked at elements, such as setting, tone, and dialogue, authority, and multiplicity in meaning, that are found in English Studies. He also gave a brief history of the rise of Film Studies, which did not really take off in America until the 1960s. This is due to a shift from traditional literary studies to a focus on contemporary social issues in a broader selection of media. The late 60s and early 70s saw an exponential growth in Film Studies programs throughout the United States.
Dr Thomas’s field focuses on Renaissance Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies, often taking a Cultural Historicist approach. Surprisingly, she was a physics major until her junior year of her undergraduate studies. Working as a T.A. for a Western Literature course changed all that. She continued to Penn State for graduate studies, focusing on Gender Studies. Dr Thomas described a shift within Gender Studies from masculinity and femininity as binary concepts to a continuum of social norms. Her research looks primarily at graphic adaptations of Shakespeare, such as comics. Dr Thomas looks at adaptations from several periods; noting how the medium is used to express social issues. and how the medium itself changes Shakespeare’s work.
We discussed Marxist Criticism and Laurie Finke’s “’All is for to selle’: Breeding Capital” in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale.” Marxist Criticism views literature as a product of work which comments on societal issues, including race, gender class and is comfortable dealing with political issues. In this way, literature usually has the aim of enforcing and reinforcing the prevailing ideology of a society. Taking an approach similar to Historicists, Marxist criticism focuses on the text and its relationship to the issues and values in society. Finke’s essay views literature as a superstructure produced by the base of the society in which Chaucer was writing. It aims to fill in the gaps in the history of Europe’s shift from feudalism to capitalism looking at the role of women in economy. Feudalism’s land based system sets the women as property whose link to wealth lies in producing legitimate heirs. In a capitalist economy the woman has the ability to accumulate wealth outside of the production of heirs. Finke argues that the Wife’s ability to breed wealth instead of children fills in the gaps with a shift in sexuality, marriage, and monetary gain that was crucial to the rise of capitalism and left out of Marx’s history. The Wife’s tale presents several transformations that point out this shift, including friars to fairies, the old woman to young bride, and rapist knight to submissive husband.
- “A literary work is first viewed as a product of work” (156).
- “That work is usually to enforce and reinforce the prevailing ideology, that is, the network of conventions, values, and opinions to which the majority of people uncritically subscribe” (156).
- “Central to Marxism and Marxist literary criticism was and is the following ‘materialist’ insight: consciousness, without which such things as art cannot be produced, is not the source of social forms and economic conditions. It is, rather, their most important product” (158).
- “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale, read in conjunction with Marx’s account of primitive accumulation, restores to Marx’s narrative of capital’s prehistory a dimension that is notably missing – that is the role of sexuality and marriage in the accumulation of wealth that enabled the transition from feudalism to capitalism” (172).
- “I would argue that the primary function of the transformations that structure the Wife’s tale is to mystify the sexual violence required as marriage is transformed to serve a money economy rather that a land-based one” (180).
- “What is new in the old woman’s pillow lecture, then, is not that she expresses such sentiments – after all, she admits she is quoting Dante – but that these ideas appear in the superstructure – in literature – long before they have come to dominate the economic base” (184).
- primogeniture: (from the WB) a system in which the eldest son in the family inherited the family estate intact.
- Marxist Criticism: (from the WB) a form of critique, a discourse for interrogating all societies and their texts in terms of certain specific issues
- base: (from the WB) economic reality
superstructure: (from the WB) the corresponding or ‘homologous’ infrastructure consisting of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and the arts
Preview of Week 9
Monday, we will all be enjoying Fall Break. On Wednesday at 9am, your Response essays are due in OAKS. In class, we’ll be turning to the Culture chapter in the Theory Toolbox.
On Thursday at 7pm the department’s visiting scholar Jeffrey Cohen, here from George Washington University, will be giving a public lecture that I encourage you all to attend. Indeed, if you do, I will give you extra credit. We can negotiate that in class on Wednesday.