Presentation on theme: "Trites Begins With a Definition of the YA Novel Growth is defined by how well a protagonist understands the power relationships that define his/her life."— Presentation transcript:
Trites Begins With a Definition of the YA Novel Growth is defined by how well a protagonist understands the power relationships that define his/her life. Characters learn how to deal with institutional power that resides in schools, government, religion, family, etc.
Adolescent Lit vs. Children’s Lit “Children’s literature often affirms the child’s sense of Self and her or his personal power” (3). “…in the adolescent novel, protagonists must learn about the social forces that have made them what they are” (3).
Weber’s (1864-1920) Definition of Power Power is “the possibility of imposing one’s will upon the behavior of other persons [which] can emerge in the most diverse forms” (4).
Althusser’s (1918-1990) Definition of Power Althusser builds upon Weber’s definition by specifying exactly HOW power works within society. He notes that in the modern world, super-structures such as governments and corporations use ideology to maintain control over populations. That’s why he calls such institutions “Ideological State Apparatuses.” In fact, Althusser and others have pointed out that ISAs view their basic mission as the maintenance of their own existence. It takes a HUGE blunder to make people want to tear down an ISA.
Foucault’s (1926-1984) Definition of Power Foucault (Foo-Coh) refined Althusser’s ideas by arguing that there were really two basic types of power relationships, the “contract-opposition” schema and the “domination-repression” schema. Schema is another word for “model.”
The Contract-Oppression Model This model suggests that all people hold a certain degree of power that they voluntarily give up in exchange for the benefits of living in a structured society. For instance, I’m willing to accept that I have to follow the speed limit and pay my taxes. In exchange, the government assures that almost everyone follows the speed limit and that roads are well-paved. Because the government is meeting my infrastructure needs and is insuring that I have a relatively decent experience on the roads, I’m willing to give up my power to drive 100 mph on US-131.
The Domination-Repression Model This model suggests that economic institutions really have the power – and that we only possess power when we are engaged in the act of spending. For example, many government policies are the direct result of the wishes of corporations. As a result, we can view politics in the US as a struggle between accommodating the desires of corporations and accommodating the desires of “the people.” The current economic crisis illustrates quite effectively the power that economics hold over our lives.
Trites Applies Foucault’s Models Trites shows how each theory might apply to Cormier’s The Chocolate War: The Contract-Oppression Model: Jerry breaks his contract with the governing power in his refusal to sell chocolates, and he is oppressed by that institution (represented by The Vigils) The Domination-Repression Model: “Jerry actually exists in a chain of power, a chain that involves the selling of education as a commodity that results in the commodification of chocolates. Their sale is a means of production for the students. Jerry’s power in the situation is fluid: he both has and does not have power, depending upon his relationship to the market forces…” (5). His attempt to influence the market leads the market to retaliate.
Trites Begins to Insert Her Own Ideas into the Discussion At this point, Trites enters into the discussion, noting that there are problems with both of Foucault’s models because neither takes into account the idea that individuals can use power for positive reasons. Instead of viewing power only as a force that dominates people from outside, Trites argues that people can be transformed internally by their use of power.
Subjectivity Let’s take a moment to consider the word “subjectivity,” as it is a very important part of contemporary discussions of power. Subjectivity refers to the ways that we end up viewing ourselves as individuals in the world. A person’s self-knowledge is what determines how he/she acts in the world. For instance, I have a sense of myself as a professor, which means that when I walk into the classroom, my behavior is dictated by that construct.
Subjectivity Of course, not every professor has the same internal understanding of what it means to be a professor. Keep in mind, too, that my power as a professor is controlled by external factors, as well. For instance, if I were teaching at a university that emphasized a religious worldview, I might be expected to put forward that point of view in the classroom. That’s one form of power that might help to construct my persona in the classroom. Or, I might teach in a part of the world where women were rarely in positions of power – and that fact my constrain how I behaved.
Butler’s (1956-) Definition of Power When Butler argues that a person is “at once formed and subordinated by power” because “power not only acts on a subject…but “enacts the subject into being,” she means that I am both influenced by the power structures around me AND, in a way, I am powerful because of the institution I inhabit. Huh? Well, if there weren’t universities, I wouldn’t have been able to earn the education that enabled me to rejoin a university as part of its power structure. As such, I exert power over my students as PART of a power structure. However, if my students didn’t like my teaching, they could appeal to the power structure to strip me of my power. Moreover, I am now able to help form the university’s policies, so I can exert power in that way. See how fluid power can be?
Butler’s Definition of Power “Butler thus concurs with Foucault’s analysis that power is a process, but her definition allows for an internally motivated subject who can act proactively rather than solely in terms of taking action to prevent oppression or repression” (5). In other words, Butler believes that not every action is related to deflecting the power of institutions. Sometimes, people act in support of their own interests, independent of institutions.
Lacan’s (1901-1981) Definition of Power Lacan asks us to be self-conscious in our understanding of how we are part of the power structure. “Lacan describes individual power in terms of assomption: the individual’s active assumption of responsibility for the role into which society casts her or him” (5-6). For instance, my grandpa strongly focused on his membership in the UAW. He was both DEFINED by his class status and employment – and he EMBRACED his class status and employment. At the same time, he hoped that I would transcend this status.
Lacan’s Definition of Power Trites then applies Lacan’s ideas, noting that adolescents must “reckon with both their sense of individual power and their recognition of the social forces that require them to modify their behaviors” (6). Trites mentions Karen Coats’ use of Lacan to interpret The Chocolate War, noting that Jerry’s decision to permanently inhabit the role of rebel that is first thrust upon him is an example of someone coming to define himself with a role that he comes to accept.
French’s (1929-) Definition of Power French argues that traditional ways of viewing power, from Weber on down to Lacan, assume that power always has to do with domination of others. She points out that we might want to view power a bit differently: “There is power-to, which refers to ability, capacity, and connotes a kind of freedom, and there power-over, which refers to domination.” (6).
Trites Applies French’s Theory Trites observes that “I am interested in how adolescents are empowered (and disempowered) in terms that French uses: when are teenagers in young Adult literature allowed to assume responsibility for their own actions and when do dominating adults refuse to acknowledge their capacities?” (6).
What happened here? This section of Trites’ essay provides a perfect illustration of what it means to be a scholar. A scholar learns what previous thinkers have written about a particular subject. Then, the scholar enters into DIALOGUE with those previous thinkers, as a way of coming to his/her own conclusions. Once the scholar has established his/her opinions about previous thinkers’ ideas, the scholar can put forward his/her own set of beliefs (at that point).
Trites Now Puts Forward Her Own Definition “Adolescent characters exist in a ‘perpetual relationship of force’ (Foucault, Power 92) created by the institutions that constitute the social fabric constructing them. Because they are defined within perpetual forces of power, power ‘enacts [them] into being’ (Butler, Psychic 13). That is, the social power that constructs them bestows upon them a power from which they generate their own sense of Subjectivity. As acting subjects, they assume responsibility for their position in society (Lacan, “Science and Truth” 7), whether they engage their power to enable themselves or to repress others (French 505).
Trites’ Definition “Power is a force that operates within the subject and upon the subject in adolescent literature; teenagers are repressed as well as liberated by their own power and by the power of the social forces that surround them in these books. Much of the genre is thus dedicated to depicting how potentially out-of-control adolescents can learn to exist within institutional structures” (7).
What Defines the Genre of YA Lit? “Adults create these books as a cultural site in which adolescents can be depicted engaging with the fluid, market-driven forces that characterize the power relationships the define adolescence” (7). After all, publishers set the terms for this genre, not kids. Trites notes that “Young Adult literature shares many characteristics with books marketed to adults about adolescents” (9). Most importantly, both focus on development.
The History of the Bildungsroman Trites refers to a number of literary historians, as she develops her definition of the Bildungsroman. The key insight she derives is that “the protagonist’s growth is neither accidental…nor simply a matter of normal developmental growth…; rather, the hero self-consciously sets out on a quest to achieve independence. The Bildungsroman is therefore an inherently Romantic genre, with its optimistic ending that affirms the protagonist’s entry into adulthood” (11-12).
The History of the Entwicklungsroman Trites contrasts the Bildungsroman with the Entwicklungsroman, noting that “many of the YA novels that emerged in the 1970s that have subsequently been referred to as ‘problem novels’ are Entwicklungsromane: the character grows as s/he faces and resolves one specific problem” (14).
Why This Emphasis on Growth? “On some implicit level…adolescent literature is at its heart a romantic literature because so many of us – authors, critics, teachers, teenagers – need to believe in the possibility of adolescent growth” (15). Trites goes on to note that contemporary authors may be calling this romanticism of individual growth into question: “the postmodern era influenced authors to explore what it means if we define people as socially constructed subjects rather than as self- contained individuals bound by their identities” (16).
From Romanticism to Postmodernism During the “Romantic Era,” social institutions were viewed as forces that bolstered the individual and his/her development. During the “Modern Era,” social institutions were viewed as the opponents of an individual’s desire to define him or herself apart from the influence of those very social institutions. During the “Postmodern Era,” individuals have come to recognize that they are defined by the economic forces that exist around them in every institution.
Shifts in the Way the Purpose of Adolescence is Defined EraAdolescent’s Relationship to Society Romantic Era (1800-1900)“Individual grows into an adulthood of autonomy and self-determination” (18). Focus on the “transformative power of maturity” (18). Modern Era (1900-1960)“Maturity often takes the form of a conscious rejection of society” (18). Post-modern Era (1960-Pres)An individual’s growth is marked “largely in terms of [his/her] increased participation in capitalism” (18).
The Contemporary YA Novel Rather than transcending or separating from one’s environment, the Postmodern Self recognizes how one EXISTS WITHIN society. In the contemporary world, growth “is defined as an increasing awareness of the institutions constructing the individual” (19). “The YA novel teaches adolescents how to exist within the (capitalistically bound) institutions that necessarily define teenagers’ existence” (19).