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Through the Literary Looking Glass

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1 Through the Literary Looking Glass
Critical Theory in Practice Sian Evans (Knox Grammar School) Who has studied lit theory before? Who uses in classroom? Aims: - recap/introduce a few theories - brainstorm some ideas of how & why we would change our approach to teaching texts - leave you with further reading

2 Why literary theory? Social purpose: to make literature more applicable to a varied modern audience Academic purpose: to justify the academic value of studying literature by qualifying the theoretical process in a scientific manner Move literature out of “ivory towers” Explain why it is an important subject 2 types of theory: “social group” (feminist, marxist, lesbian&gay, new historicist, psychoanalytic) and “academic group” (structuralism, narratology, stylistics)

3 What theory means for teachers:
An answer to the tough questions! “Why do we have to do this?” “What is the point of studying literature?” “Aren’t you making up stuff the author never intended?” Easier to engage students in lit when they can look at it from diff points of view, and in ways which may be more meaningful to them. Death of the author

4 What theory means for students:
They choose their own ways into texts They can offer a fresh and original view of a classic text Deeper literary analysis Broader connections across texts Meaningful application to their own lives Pushing for excellence in essays Relating texts to own life/ideas Relation to real world Relation to other texts Makes their essays stand out

5 Approaching literature
What is my own natural reading practice? What first made you decide to study literature? What did you hope to gain from it? Was that hope realised? What have your studies in literature taught you about life, human nature, or literature itself? Before we begin to look at new ways of approaching lit, we need to understand how we currently do so. Our reading practices are influenced by our personal background, experiences, education and ideology. Do quite quickly – you might want to spend some time doing this exercise yourself in writing

6 Traditional literary criticism
Close Reading “Liberal Humanism” Reading the text largely in isolation  it contains everything we need Touches on plot, character, setting, style Focus on theme: author’s exploration of human nature, and a moral or didactic message on how we should live Liberal = not politically radical, non-committal on political issues Humanism = non-Marxist, non-feminist, non-theoretical Belief in “human nature” as a constant, which great literature expresses Traditional view of literature, against which all other literary theories define themselves. We would probably find that liberal humanism is our “default” view of literature. (Lib Hum derisive term – not used by these thinkers). Not a BAD way of looking at literature, but: - vague, -makes assumptions about human nature and experience, -difficult to justify why the study of literature should be considered an art/science

7 Looking at literature in new ways
‘Our job is not to produce “readings” for our students but to give them the tools for producing their own. Our job is not to intimidate students with our own superior textual production; it is to show them the codes upon which all textual production depends, and to encourage their own textual practice.’ – Robert Scholes (Textual Power, 1986) There isn’t just one way into literature, or one answer as to what a text means. What we’re going to do today is take one text and produce several different readings of it, to show how literature can be approached differently by different people for different purposes. HAND OUT Miss Brill.

8 A comment on human nature A criticism of society
Applying Liberal Humanism: “Miss Brill” How would a traditional close reading approach to the story present itself? A comment on human nature A criticism of society A warning to the individual Focus on author’s didactic purpose Does everyone know the story? Give handout – ten minutes to read. If already know well, jot down some ideas of what the main focus of your analysis was. Who has taught before? Brainstorm in groups what a traditional close reading approach to the text would uncover.  Focus on DIDACTIC purpose of AUTHOR. Crit theory ignores author (Barthes – death of the author)

9 Freudian Psychoanalytic Criticism
Psychoanalyses characters within a text (or an author by studying a range of their work), OR: Attempts to discover unconscious motivations and feelings of a character/author, OR: Demonstrates classic Freudian stages, conditions or processes within a text, OR: Analyses how great works of literature gain popularity through a psychological hold on society.

10 Freudian Criticism: Key Terms
Developmental stages: Unconscious Processes: Repression Transference Projection Sublimation Parapraxis Oedipal complex Id, ego, superego Dream works: Displacement (= metonymy) Condensation (= metaphor) Any terms here that are completely new to you? Oedipal complex = development of superego Displacement = one object/person represents another Condensation = several objects/meanings/feelings in one symbol Transference – of emotions for one person to another Sublimation – turn unacceptable desires into something noble

11 Applying Freudian Criticism: “Miss Brill”
The story is viewed as a case study in processes of unconscious repression Miss Brill represses both her desire for companionship and her knowledge of the sadness of her own life Sublimation: “not sad exactly – something gentle” Projection: “something funny about them” Transference of emotions to fox fur Dream work: deals with her desires through fantasy BEFORE showing bullet points – suggestions from audience on how we could read MB from Freudian perspective

12 Applying Freudian Criticism: “Miss Brill”
Conclusion: Miss Brill has not successfully negotiated the Oedipus complex, and as a result has an unhealthy id/superego balance Story works as “good literature” because it resonates with readers: the process we see in Miss Brill is one we have all negotiated (with varying degrees of success) “Conclusion” is not so much a thematic message or exploration of author’s purpose as a case study analysis of MB as a person.

13 Applying Freudian Criticism
“Lord of the Flies” “Hamlet” “Great Expectations” Works of the Brontë sisters Select a text that you teach or know well and brainstorm a rough draft of a Freudian psychoanalytic reading. LOTF – no adults (=loss of parents, no resolution of oedipal complex), devpt of superego, Jack/Ralph/Simon Hamlet – delays punishing Laertes because Laertes has done what he himself wants to Daddy – Electra complex (lost father before resolution of) Brontes – no positive mother figures (lost own mother) After every theory will give you some texts that I think would work particularly well with this theory – but the point is you can use any text with any theory.

14 Psychoanalytic Criticism
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Psychoanalytic Criticism Freudian Psychoanalysis Lacanian Psychoanalysis Unconscious processes Repression Sublimation Transference Projection Parapraxis Resolution of the Oedipal complex: id  superego Dream analysis Development occurs in terms of relationship with language Resolution of the Oedipal complex = transition from the imaginary  symbolic The mirror stage Recognition of law Discovery of language We did look at Freudian crit last year, but will go through again briefly (at risk of boring you), so we can contrast it with Lacanian crit.

15 Lacanian Psychoanalytic Criticism
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Lacanian Psychoanalytic Criticism More likely to focus on psychoanalysing the text as a whole, rather than looking at individual themes or characters Sees the text as an enactment of Lacanian views on language and the unconscious Demonstrates broader Lacanian processes or ideas within the text

16 Lacanian Criticism: Key Concepts
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Lacanian Criticism: Key Concepts Imaginary Symbolic Infant Undefined sense of self Undefined relationship to exterior world (eg. Symbiotic & confused relationship with mother) Little ‘a’ (other) Adult Separation of own internal identity and perceived external identity Fits into pre-existing structures (language, social conventions) Big ‘A’ (Other)

17 Lacanian Criticism: Key Concepts
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Lacanian Criticism: Key Concepts Progression from Imaginary to Symbolic stages occurs through: Mirror stage The understanding that there is an external concept of “me”, seen by others, which doesn’t correspond exactly to my own view of myself Recognition of law External rules, networks and conventions pre-exist me, and I will have to conform to them rather than vice versa Discovery of language Similarly, my thoughts and communication must conform to a pre-existing system STOP – what might a Lacanian reading of MB look like?

18 Applying Lacanian Criticism: “Miss Brill”
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Applying Lacanian Criticism: “Miss Brill” The story sets up an immediate other/Other tension: we are seeing the world through Miss Brill’s eyes, but also seeing Miss Brill through the eyes of a third-person narrator Miss Brill is trapped in the Imaginary stage Displays interest in surroundings without considering her own place in this world Seems to think it exists only for her enjoyment (music changes to reflect her moods)

19 Applying Lacanian Criticism: “Miss Brill”
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Applying Lacanian Criticism: “Miss Brill” She begins to recognise that she cannot control the world when a “little dog trot[s] on solemnly” Develops the fantasy of the play in an attempt to place herself (Other) in this pre-existing world Lacan’s mirror stage forced upon her through the notice of the young girl, and realises that her external Other is very different from her internal other Transfers comments to her fox fur, making this her Other  fails to come to terms with the Symbolic stage

20 Applying Lacanian Criticism
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Applying Lacanian Criticism Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett) Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk) The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan)

21 Sian Evans, Christ's College
2011 Stylistics Linguistics vs literary theory Super-close analysis of technical aspects of text Lexical choice Syntax Grammatical forms Literary devices Move from ‘sentence grammar’ to ‘text grammar’: how text works as a whole to achieve its overall purpose Existing readings vs new readings Applied to any text (literature, advertisements, discourse) Stylistics can be used to back up existing readings OR form new readings of a text. Largely aim to provide ‘hard data’ to back up existing ‘intuitions’ about texts. For example, consider the seduction/rape scene in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles: we might read this as a subjection of Tess to the social and physical superiority of Alec. With a stylistic reading, you can back this reading up by examining how Alec is more often the subject of Hardy’s sentences, and Tess the object.

22 Stylistics vs close reading
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Stylistics vs close reading Relationship between literary & everyday language Analysable components vs ‘impenetrable essence’ Uses hard data to back up claims Scientific objectivity Specialised technical vocabulary Compare: “Hemingway has a plain style which is very distinctive” “73% of the verbs Hemingway uses in…are without adjectival or adverbial qualification” Close reading traditionally emphasises difference between everyday and literary language; stylisticians focus on connections Breaking lit into lowest common denominator rather than vague gushing about its ethereal beauty. Stylisticians see traditional close reading as vague and unscientific Stylisticians aim to demystify literature.

23 Stylistic analysis: some common terminology
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Stylistic analysis: some common terminology Transitivity Different sentence patterns in which verbs can occur Under-lexicalisation Lack of adequate words to express a concept Collocation Expected co-occurrence of words Cohesion Lexical items used to bind grammatically separate sentences into a single utterance By no means a definitive list, just some concepts we will look at in MB. Use of these (among other) techniques are a large contributor to overall style in a text. Eg. Unusual transitivity of sentences (not providing objects) or repeated under-lexicalisation (vague nouns) will create a particular picture of the narrator of a story. *Collocation (eg. A box of…. Chocolates; an uninvited… guest; as white as a… sheet) – expected patterns of language. A common feature of poetry is to break habitual collocation patterns. Also, btw, a common feature of discourse in schizophrenic patients. * Cohesion: eg. Through use of pronouns to avoid repetition (pronominalisation). Literature, particularly modern and postmodern literature, often plays around with accepted conventions of cohesion.

24 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill”
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill” “ it was so the with spots of over the Jardins Publiques .” Although brilliantly fine blue sky powdered gold and great light like white wine splashed Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur READ ALOUD Blue sky – a very typical collocation, very positive connotation 2. gold and great – bold alliteration 3. light like white wine – overt assonance 4. powdered / splashed – metaphor So we have all this lovely, big, bold, positive stuff happening here, all very typical of descriptive creative writing. Typical collocations, typical techniques 5. Dashes – hedging  contradicting, sandwiching it all in. Atypical cohesion – a long sentence to be used as a relative clause 7. Miss Brill was glad… – bland, pragmatic statement right at the start, positivity and creativity of the setting is reduced to the pragmatic, and negated. Initial positivity is brought into question. And by whom? Miss Brill. Language is working to tell us something about her character – she is an unreliable character and her view of the world is not necessarily the same one as that of the narrator Thus stylistics uses scientific data about the language to clarify and back up our liberal humanist reading of the text

25 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill”
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill” Language shifts from the (narrator’s) boldly creative to (Miss Brill’s) insipid and often negative Consider these connotations in the first paragraph: chill motionless iced box moth powder black

26 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill”
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill” Ambiguity and ‘woolliness’ about lexical choice which reflect Miss Brill’s lack of clear insight “a faint chill” “drifting” “nowhere” “dim” “some black composition” “not at all firm” “seemed” “something” “somehow” Still looking just at the first paragraph. *chill – in itself a weak and imprecise word – not temperate, not cold, not icy, not freezing. Under-lexicalisation. Made even more vague by the qualifier “faint”. A qualifier, but also a type of under-lexicalisation. Not mild, soft, delicate, but faint: suggesting a vagueness, a lack of clarity.

27 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill”
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill” Under-lexicalisation, hedging, lack of cohesion “Now there came a little ‘flutey’ bit – very pretty! – a little chain of bright drops” Conditionals “if he’d been dead she mightn’t have noticed for weeks” Questioning “Was the conductor wearing a new coat?” Hedging conjunctions but (x13) though (x5) if (x5) yet (x3) *sentences all thrown together with dashes - stream of consciousness, but also cloudy and often illogical in terms of cohesion. Reflective of a wandering, vague consciousness *conditionals instead of definite statements *questions = uncertainty ESSENTIALLY, the language suggests a lack of confidence in Miss Brill’s point of view, and meanders its way through ambiguities and questions and conditionals, to unadulterated fantasy, until the dramatic shift in the story which comes with the entrance of the young couple – and is reflected in the language.

28 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill”
Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill” Compare the language of the young girl: “No, not now.” “That stupid old thing” “at the end there.” “It’s exactly like fried whiting.” Followed by Miss Brill’s first use of precision and accuracy: “like a cupboard.” A return to the simple and the definite. Her final statement actually uses the word “exactly” in stark juxtaposition to Miss Brill’s ambiguous ramblings; and includes a simile – a return to the bold creative writing that Miss Brill hedged in and eliminated at the start. Miss Brill forced into reality by this language – forced to accept definite truths for the first time. The language throughout the text has served to: reflect Miss Brill’s character – a vague and fluffy old lady to show how she deliberately obscures the ultimate truth from herself and to simultaneously obscure the truth from the reader.

29 Sian Evans, Christ's College
2011 Applying Stylistics Start with a word cloud (eg. Start with tone Start with connotation Move to syntactical and grammatical choices  do they back up your existing ‘liberal humanist’ reading? Short texts cf. novels Poetry, speeches, short stories Close reading of studied or unfamiliar texts (AOS) *Show word cloud of Miss Brill  these generators will allow you to take out common words, and also provide a word count of every word in the text *Decide on a word to describe tone/mood of text: circle every word/phrase that adds to that mood *Circle every ‘positive’ word in the text; then every ‘negative’ word in the text. Count. SKIP THROUGH STRUCTURALISM IF OUT OF TIME

30 Structuralism: background concepts
Nothing can be understood in isolation; texts must always be viewed in terms of larger structures of which they form a part A concept, word or text can only be understood in how it relates to others of its kind There is no meaning contained inside a text (or word, or concept); meaning must attributed from outside No differentiation between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art Structuralism attempts to turn literary criticism into a science – break down how literature is created, and make the act reproducible (like any scientific experiment). A v. broad & complex theoretical system, but can just use parts of it. Cf how words can only be understood if you speak the language Eg. Day/night, good/evil, hut/house/mansion As is no inherent meaning in a word/concept unless reader gives meaning  meaning of texts co-constructed As easily applied to Shakespeare as to a billboard

31 Structuralism Ignores moral or didactic implications of literature, and focuses solely on how it is constructed Relates texts to a larger containing structure (conventions, genre, universal narrative, complex pattern of motifs) Interprets literature in terms of underlying parallels in the structure of language Treats language and literature as a ‘system of signs’ to be decoded by the reader Completely different to traditional literary criticism in that it completely ignores themes/characters etc, and isn’t focused on finding “the answer”. Answers that it does come up with can often be quite contrary to what a traditional close reading would discover. Meaning itself is less important than how this meaning is achieved through language. Break literature down through dissection into smallest component parts – render it understandable and replicable.

32 Structuralism: Key Processes
Literary Codes Structuralists look for: Proairetic: provides indications of action (story) Hermeneutic: poses questions to provide narrative suspense (plot) Cultural: contains references to ‘common knowledge’ beyond the text Semic: connotations inherent in word choices (style) Symbolic: basic binary polarities in the text (theme) Parallels in plot Echoes in structure Reflections/repetitions in character and motive Contrasts in situation or circumstance Patterns in language and theme Proairetic: The ship sailed in the night. Hermeneutic: There was a knock at the door. Cultural: They were at a cocktail party (we presume dress, behaviour) Semic: aka connotative code. Word choices, particularly to describe character, and subtle inferences reader creates from these Symbolic: theme (and setting and character and style) can be broken into binary polarities – which help human mind to understand concepts better (good & evil, day & night, civilisation & savagery). STRUCTURALISTS LOOK FOR: all about patterns, parallels  noticeable codes and conventions in the way stories are constructed.

33 Applying Structuralism: “Miss Brill”
Consider “Miss Brill” as a single utterance within the ‘language’ of Katherine Mansfield’s stories. Does it form part of any wider cycle? Is it similar to others in its structure and content? Do you note any binary polarities in terms of characters, setting or theme in the story? Stories concerned with Burnell and Sheridan families – reader gains understanding of each of these in terms of the others Similar to “Bliss” in that it conveys a huge shift of feeling in main character, during a single scene Male/female, youth/age, energy/lethargy, talking/silence, light/dark, companionship/loneliness Get them to discuss and brainstorm left-hand column before showing right. MB not part of Burnell/Sheridan cycle, though this is something that would interest structuralists in her work. Structurally related to many of her stories, though (Bliss just one example) Most interesting structural element of story is the thematic opposition which is mirrored in binary oppositions in character (young/old, male/female, talking/silence) and setting (light/dark, garden/cupboard, warm/cold)

34 Applying Structuralism
“Romeo and Juliet”: Structured around a series of binary oppositions – Montagues/Capulets, parents/children, love/hate, light/dark, Verona/Mantua, etc. Part of the wider structure of myth, love story, Shakespeare’s tragedies, etc. Can easily be analysed using Vladimir Propp’s seven spheres of actions (character types) and thirty-one functions (plot events) HANDOUT: Propp’s spheres and functions Structuralism a very broad and very fascinating field – we have barely touched on it but there is so much you can do with it! Look it up.

35 Further Literary Theories:
“Social” Theory “Technical” Theory New Historicist criticism Feminist criticism Lesbian/gay criticism Marxist criticism Postcolonial criticism Ecocriticism Cultural materialism Post-structuralism Deconstruction Postmodernism Narratology

36 Want to explore further?
Your local university library or bookshop Terry Eagleton, Peter Barry, Green & LeBihan “Through the Literary Looking Glass” published by NZATE: me for geeky discussion:


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