Presentation on theme: "Through the Literary Looking Glass"— Presentation transcript:
1 Through the Literary Looking Glass Critical Theory in PracticeSian 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 audienceAcademic purpose: to justify the academic value of studying literature by qualifying the theoretical process in a scientific mannerMove literature out of “ivory towers”Explain why it is an important subject2 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 textsThey can offer a fresh and original view of a classic textDeeper literary analysisBroader connections across textsMeaningful application to their own livesPushing for excellence in essaysRelating texts to own life/ideasRelation to real worldRelation to other textsMakes 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 needTouches on plot, character, setting, styleFocus on theme: author’s exploration of human nature, and a moral or didactic message on how we should liveLiberal = not politically radical, non-committal on political issuesHumanism = non-Marxist, non-feminist, non-theoreticalBelief in “human nature” as a constant, which great literature expressesTraditional 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 natureA criticism of societyA warning to the individualFocus on author’s didactic purposeDoes 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:RepressionTransferenceProjectionSublimationParapraxisOedipal complexId, ego, superegoDream works:Displacement(= metonymy)Condensation (= metaphor)Any terms here that are completely new to you?Oedipal complex = development of superegoDisplacement = one object/person represents anotherCondensation = several objects/meanings/feelings in one symbolTransference – of emotions for one person to anotherSublimation – turn unacceptable desires into something noble
11 Applying Freudian Criticism: “Miss Brill” The story is viewed as a case study in processes of unconscious repressionMiss Brill represses both her desire for companionship and her knowledge of the sadness of her own lifeSublimation: “not sad exactly – something gentle”Projection: “something funny about them”Transference of emotions to fox furDream work: deals with her desires through fantasyBEFORE 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 balanceStory 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 sistersSelect 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/SimonHamlet – delays punishing Laertes because Laertes has done what he himself wants toDaddy – 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 College2011Psychoanalytic CriticismFreudian PsychoanalysisLacanian PsychoanalysisUnconscious processesRepressionSublimationTransferenceProjectionParapraxisResolution of the Oedipal complex: id superegoDream analysisDevelopment occurs in terms of relationship with languageResolution of the Oedipal complex = transition from the imaginary symbolicThe mirror stageRecognition of lawDiscovery of languageWe 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 College2011Lacanian Psychoanalytic CriticismMore likely to focus on psychoanalysing the text as a whole, rather than looking at individual themes or charactersSees the text as an enactment of Lacanian views on language and the unconsciousDemonstrates broader Lacanian processes or ideas within the text
16 Lacanian Criticism: Key Concepts Sian Evans, Christ's College2011Lacanian Criticism: Key ConceptsImaginarySymbolicInfantUndefined sense of selfUndefined relationship to exterior world (eg. Symbiotic & confused relationship with mother)Little ‘a’ (other)AdultSeparation of own internal identity and perceived external identityFits into pre-existing structures (language, social conventions)Big ‘A’ (Other)
17 Lacanian Criticism: Key Concepts Sian Evans, Christ's College2011Lacanian Criticism: Key ConceptsProgression from Imaginary to Symbolic stages occurs through:Mirror stageThe understanding that there is an external concept of “me”, seen by others, which doesn’t correspond exactly to my own view of myselfRecognition of lawExternal rules, networks and conventions pre-exist me, and I will have to conform to them rather than vice versaDiscovery of languageSimilarly, my thoughts and communication must conform to a pre-existing systemSTOP – what might a Lacanian reading of MB look like?
18 Applying Lacanian Criticism: “Miss Brill” Sian Evans, Christ's College2011Applying 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 narratorMiss Brill is trapped in the Imaginary stageDisplays interest in surroundings without considering her own place in this worldSeems to think it exists only for her enjoyment (music changes to reflect her moods)
19 Applying Lacanian Criticism: “Miss Brill” Sian Evans, Christ's College2011Applying 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 worldLacan’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 otherTransfers 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 College2011Applying Lacanian CriticismPride 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 2011StylisticsLinguistics vs literary theorySuper-close analysis of technical aspects of textLexical choiceSyntaxGrammatical formsLiterary devicesMove from ‘sentence grammar’ to ‘text grammar’: how text works as a whole to achieve its overall purposeExisting readings vs new readingsApplied 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 College2011Stylistics vs close readingRelationship between literary & everyday languageAnalysable components vs ‘impenetrable essence’Uses hard data to back up claimsScientific objectivitySpecialised technical vocabularyCompare:“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 connectionsBreaking lit into lowest common denominator rather than vague gushing about its ethereal beauty. Stylisticians see traditional close reading as vague and unscientificStylisticians aim to demystify literature.
23 Stylistic analysis: some common terminology Sian Evans, Christ's College2011Stylistic analysis: some common terminologyTransitivityDifferent sentence patterns in which verbs can occurUnder-lexicalisationLack of adequate words to express a conceptCollocationExpected co-occurrence of wordsCohesionLexical items used to bind grammatically separate sentences into a single utteranceBy 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 College2011Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill”“ it was so thewith spots ofover the Jardins Publiques.”Althoughbrilliantly fine–blue skypowderedgold and greatlight like whitewinesplashed–Miss Brillwas glad that she had decided on her furREAD ALOUDBlue sky – a very typical collocation, very positive connotation2. gold and great – bold alliteration3. light like white wine – overt assonance4. powdered / splashed – metaphorSo we have all this lovely, big, bold, positive stuff happening here, all very typical of descriptive creative writing. Typical collocations, typical techniques5. Dashes – hedging contradicting, sandwiching it all in. Atypical cohesion – a long sentence to be used as a relative clause7. Miss Brill was glad… – bland, pragmatic statementright 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 narratorThus 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 College2011Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill”Language shifts from the (narrator’s) boldly creative to(Miss Brill’s) insipid and often negativeConsider these connotations in the first paragraph:chillmotionlessicedboxmoth powderblack
26 Applying Stylistics: “Miss Brill” Sian Evans, Christ's College2011Applying 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 College2011Applying 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 conjunctionsbut (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 = uncertaintyESSENTIALLY, 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 College2011Applying 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 ladyto show how she deliberately obscures the ultimate truth from herselfand to simultaneously obscure the truth from the reader.
29 Sian Evans, Christ's College 2011Applying StylisticsStart with a word cloud (eg.Start with toneStart with connotationMove to syntactical and grammatical choices do they back up your existing ‘liberal humanist’ reading?Short texts cf. novelsPoetry, speeches, short storiesClose 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 partA concept, word or text can only be understood in how it relates to others of its kindThere is no meaning contained inside a text (or word, or concept); meaning must attributed from outsideNo differentiation between ‘high’ and ‘low’ artStructuralism 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 languageEg. Day/night, good/evil, hut/house/mansionAs is no inherent meaning in a word/concept unless reader gives meaning meaning of texts co-constructedAs easily applied to Shakespeare as to a billboard
31 StructuralismIgnores moral or didactic implications of literature, and focuses solely on how it is constructedRelates 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 languageTreats language and literature as a ‘system of signs’ to be decoded by the readerCompletely 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 CodesStructuralists look for:Proairetic: provides indications of action (story)Hermeneutic: poses questions to provide narrative suspense (plot)Cultural: contains references to ‘common knowledge’ beyond the textSemic: connotations inherent in word choices (style)Symbolic: basic binary polarities in the text (theme)Parallels in plotEchoes in structureReflections/repetitions in character and motiveContrasts in situation or circumstancePatterns in language and themeProairetic: 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 theseSymbolic: 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 othersSimilar to “Bliss” in that it conveys a huge shift of feeling in main character, during a single sceneMale/female, youth/age, energy/lethargy, talking/silence, light/dark, companionship/lonelinessGet 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 functionsStructuralism 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.