Presentation on theme: "In-Class Exercise:. I invite you to pretend that you have just read a hundred fairy tales (you may also consider films – contemporary or dated – that."— Presentation transcript:
I invite you to pretend that you have just read a hundred fairy tales (you may also consider films – contemporary or dated – that embody the fairy tale paradigm). Jot down a few characteristics you would find in more or less all one hundred tales. Do not worry about odd or uncharacteristic features, which we will get to momentarily.
A character is jealous of another’s beauty or goodness Main character is a virtuous woman who is put to a test (she is helpless in the face of external predicaments, setting up the need for a “knight in shining armor”) Heroine is afflicted by evil female (archetypal “bad mother”) Heroine is helped out by magical creature(s) – Godmother as archetypal “good mother” Heroine is poor, both defined by and imprisoned within the domestic space Because of her virtue, she is rewarded Goodness is always rewarded; foolishness or evil are punished Etc.
What conventions are in order for the chronology of these events? Orientation Events Complications Resolution Happily-ever-after ending
In this version, we hit the part of the story where the Prince comes to rescue Cinderella, and then—suddenly, she dies. Is this possible? Why not? Or,...
Let’s say that we hit the point at the end where the Prince comes to rescue Cinderella, but he ends up leaving instead with the stepsister. Not imaginable, right?
Unlike the new criticism, which sees concepts as intrinsic, in isolation from each other (and texts as intrinsic objects apart from the world around them), Structuralists understand concepts by unearthing the broader system of which they are a part (we call this “context”).
In the first part of our exercise, we plotted what structuralists would call the “grammar” or “poetics” (deep structure or system) of fairy tales – that is, its codes and conventions. Note well: We all know the form so well that we did not have to think much about it! As Structuralists would point out, we have an adept competence as readers of the fairytale story (text) precisely because we are familiar with its codes and conventions (context).
The form’s conventions dictate that certain things can happen in a classic fairytale and certain things cannot happen (any examples from the class??). Cinderella cannot die and the Prince cannot end up with the evil stepsistser because it’s not in the form. It’s not part of the poetics. Playing with the possibilities around the edge of the system helps uncover a poetics and set of conventions that we did not know we knew.
Each new wave of fairytale form defines itself in relation to the previous wave. ◦ Consider, for example, some contemporary films that both draw from and expand upon fairytale conventions: Ever After, Pretty Woman, and Maid in Manhattan. What new possibilities are included? How do these revisions help to expand the hermeneutic circle? Our understanding of these newer forms comes partly through the way that they play off the standard expectations. ◦ For instance, we understand the humor and irony that inform Anne Sexton’s poem “Cinderella” or the recent kids’ flick, Shrek, in relation to the system it both draws upon and revises/rejects (a relationship known as intertextuality).
Each subsequent text’s revision of the fairytale popular form unmasks the dominant concerns, anxieties, fears, desires of the culture that produced that text – whether about gender, race, class and economic structuring, or all the above. ◦ This explains the natural evolution from classical structuralism to more popularized contemporary brands (like semiotics) that see meaning in a broad range of signifying practices, literary and cultural. Semioticians, to name one camp, look beyond the structure itself (the fairytale conventions and norms) to seeing the cultural import and broader historical significances of that structure. They would see each representation as a signification of the culture that produced it – its fears, desires (stated and repressed), ideologies, accepted outlooks and values, mainstream practices, etc.
To this extent, all contemporary theories are “structuralist” in nature. Feminists, for instance, would be concerned about the patriarchal assumptions at the core of the traditional fairytale conventions and be interested in how (and to what extent) newer versions continue to lay out and revise these conventions. Marxists would be interested in class relations: “How is the rich/poor binary symptomatic of an all-encompassing meta- national capitalist narrative?” they might ask. A Marxist might read the glass slipper semiotically, as an ideological apparatus of the dominant hegemony – a tool, mechanism, or function of the dominant group in that it delineates class and gender constructs. Etc.
For instance: ◦ What can we glean about gender norms and expectations in these stories and, diachronically speaking, how these norms have changed over time (as reflected in modernized fairytale versions)? How has the modern fairytale evolved to accommodate more contemporary ideas about gender roles, race, etc.? ◦ Why do contemporary fairytale versions still adhere to certain class and gender assumptions? What might this reveal about cultural desire, fear, the tenacity of patriarchal outlooks and presuppositions? ◦ Is the fairytale paradigm dedicated to covering up, repressing, or masking certain social realities: i.e., poverty, the plight of the minority, cultural biases, etc.?
From this we can infer one of the core assumptions of Structuralism: meaning can only be understood within the broader socio-linguistic context that produces it. We can conceptualize this idea in a broad range of dichotomies: text/context, story/discourse, surface structure/deep structure, parole/langue, etc.
The conventions, not the author, “write the work.” (Writing reflects not just a single personality but also a cultural world.) In fact, we are all constrained by the discursive frameworks that surround us. We cannot see beyond or outside of the social, linguistic, cultural codes that define our existence. These discursive frameworks construct reality as we know it; there is purely no “objective” reality. Conventions change over time, thus furnishing new possibilities for meaning (all sign systems are what Structuralists call polysemic), but not without linkages to prior socio-historical conventions. All signifying practices, in the words of Keith Mosley, “are a tissue of conventions that have been handed down from generation to generation by the members of the culture of which we are a part” (cited in Schroeder 1998, 225). Schroeder 1998, 225 We have an internalized system of linguistic competence that is virtually “invisible” to us, such that we take it to be “natural,” part of an objective reality (Daniel Chandler).