I’m aware this is rather past the time of the due date for posts, but I’m not one to be solely motivated by grades so I’d like to throw some thoughts out on this past week anyway.
I liked the focus on both the reader and the process of reading in our readings. Eek, can I use a form of reading any more in one sentence? I’ve always found the basic mental process of linguistics to be interesting, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the chance to study it in class before so that was fun for me. I loved the metonymy/metaphor bit, and it reminded me of the connaitre/savoir conversation of a few weeks ago. These are not directly related terms, but I think they are at the very least comparable.
Studying the reader-response theory helped me solidify my mental picture of the best way to approach the issue of authority in literature. I think very visually, so the way it makes most sense to me is to see authority as a three-sided pyramid, with each base corner being author, text, and reader. Combined, this triangle (the strongest geometric shape) points to a common peak of truth– that the authority is shared, that the most truth can be obtained by understanding each component to have a strong role in the upstanding structure. It is helpful to focus on only one or two sides of the pyramid but you cannot stop there. Putting the pieces together is the only way to have a full grasp of a work.
As far as the Wife of Bath, I simply adore that crazy old woman. Her rambling, tangent-heavy voice is so strong even when she is telling her tale. It is easy for me to forget that the tales in the Canterbury Tales are being told, not solely by Chaucer, but by a character of Chaucer, but with the Wife, her voice is so distinct I do not have that problem. It makes me chuckle to imagine the old woman in the tale lecturing wisely about the moral merit of poverty because I see that as how the Wife wants to, or thinks she is, perceived when she lectures about marriage and sexuality earlier. It’s amusing because she is telling the tale, so she IS capable of successful wisdom, but only indirectly.
In Professor Seaman’s preview of this week, one question seemed to stick out in my mind as being extremely thought-provoking. I think it is intriguing to notice how the Wife of Bath’s prologue concludes in relation to her actual story’s resolution. She asks for permission to commence her story instead of presuming authority to simply begin as she wishes. However, in her tale, the female character is given total authority to do as she pleases when the knight says, “put me in your wise governance” (85).
One must consider that in her history, her husband too gives her free reign, saying she can “do as [she] [wish]” (72). In this case, the two endings are extremely similar and promote the action of giving women freedom. However, in each scenario the discretion for each woman must be given by a man and cannot really be taken by the woman herself unless it is offered first. The Wife of Bath’s tale ends with a peculiar quote that might combat this statement, though: “I pray Jhesu shorte hir lives/That wol not be governed by hir wives” (85). This means that the governance by one’s wife should be seen as preferable and as the most agreeable situation that can lead to a lasting marriage and life.
This week presented a lot of food for thought, but due to the impending summary paper I am going to focus on reactions of readings other than Thompkin’s essay for this blog. I find myself increasingly impressed by the Bedford Glossary. While I will admit to being pretty excited about owning a literary glossary when I bought the book, that was more of a nerd moment of pride of possession than an excitement to read the content. However, the terms addressed are useful and their descriptions are fascinating. In particular, I am drawn to the idea of Barthes’ that the author is dead. Here, I spent all these years learning how he is alive! Ha! I must say, however, he has a point. In general, one can do any great amount of things with one’s life but if one does not make a lasting impression on the world at large, the way they spent their life is important to a limited amount of people. Once one becomes an author (not to be confused with a writer) (sorry Stephen King), the things one has done are put under a microscope by literary enthusiasts and analyzed as critically important windows into understanding the text. Or, depending on your school of thought, completely ignored (but that’s another blog post).
My other main focus of fascination was in the Theory Toolbox. Call it a plague of being raised speaking English, but I never really made a cognizant connection between “author” and “authority.” I think the choice one makes in placing the authority in the author, reader, or text, or, perhaps, some combination of two or even all three is such a telling way to see that person psychologically. That, though, is not the stuff of literary studies so it is but an interesting aside. The choice is equally telling for the interpretation of the text. For example, if someone who puts the authority in the text is reading a critical essay by someone who puts the authority in the author, they reader may not grant the essay full relevance. They may limit their acceptance of the interpretation because they have a hugely different set of viewpoints on the approach, thus making parts of the essay moot. It definitely begs the question of where I put authority, but I am not entirely sure what the answer to that is quite yet. I am tempted to say it depends on the text or that it is placed in all of them, though at this current moment I don’t feel authorized (har har) to state explicitly my opinion as it is too underdeveloped.
I found this article had a lot in it that went back to my previous post on what defines literature, but also did a good job preparing a theoretical foundation for reading Tompkins article. What defines an author? at what point does something shift from being a great work of literature to a canonical classic? This point seems to be compounded when we consider the ‘American’ body of literature, where not only the idea of the ‘author’ is in question but what ‘American’ actually implies? I liked the specific example used of Christopher Columbus’ extensive journals of his voyage. I had never read any of, or even heard that, he kept journals, which moderately surprised me in light of his glorified position in American History. Other journals have evolved into classics that I am familiar with, from the comparatively dry Darwin’s Voyage of the M.S. Beatle, to Plath’s Unabridged Journals and the well known Diary of Anne Frank. How could a journal covering the pivotal journey of discovering the ‘new world’ not make it into America’s classical canon, while ‘Diary of Anne Frank,’ an inherently European work, is literally a classroom staple? I think the answer lies in two things: the intention of the author, and the modern socio-political relevance of what is being recorded. I’m surmising that Columbus’ journals are probably more like logs, with lots of allusions to inventory, navigation and weather, which, though expressly important at the moment the Mayflower sailed, no longer has relevance in modern society. Compare that to the journal of a young girl who is a victim of increasingly hateful and escalating prejudice. There is something human in this narrative that can be applied universally, not just in express instances of prejudice but also as psychologically insightful into the human condition of being oppressed. This sheds revealing light on one of the tenements central to the founding of The United States: the concept of religious choice and freedom from oppression. Might this not say more about what it is to be ‘American’ than the chronicles of the voyage actually discovering America? And secondly, I mentioned authorial intent, which is sure to arise in conversation this upcoming week. Certainly, while Ann Frank may not have been writing with the intent of publication, she was voicing a perspective that fervently needed to be expressed and heard. While Columbus’ voyage, though at its end unique and historical, had no urgency in its message, and no design to convey any message.