Nutshell: person who has read a half dozen novels and no literary theory writes treatise on literary theory.
OpenPart IIII of multi-part review series.
Nutshell: person who has read a half dozen novels and no literary theory writes treatise on literary theory.
Opens with an dictionary definition of manifesto, regarding a declaration of intentions by an organization, then promptly states that this manifesto is “not issued in the name of an organization or movement. I speak only for myself” (v). The title is therefore revealed in the preface to be dishonest. We are accordingly off to a standard start in a Rand book, wherein if her mouth is moving, then she is lying.
Severe Dunning-Kruger effect on display in such comments as “the humanities have been virtually abandoned to the primitive epistemology of mysticism” (15), “The cognitive neglect of art has persisted” (16), and “the principles are defined by the science of esthetics--a task which modern philosophy has failed dismally” (43). These comments prophesy that the entire project here will be completely silly, and later developments completely bear out the prophecy. At least prophetics come true in Rand, if nothing else.
Core of Randian literary theory is naïve beyond reckoning: “The psycho-epistemological process of communication between an artist and a viewer or reader does as follows: the artist starts with a broad abstraction which he has to concretize, to bring into reality by means of the appropriate particulars; the viewer perceives the particulars, integrates them and grasps the abstraction from which they came, thus completing the circle” (35). This theoretical assertion is that authors fill texts with meanings, and readers must extract the meanings therein by reproducing the author’s understanding. Literary theory has long abandoned this model as untenable; it simply is not what happens when one reads--and literary theory had moved on from this cartoonish understanding by the time this essay was written in 1966. Rand nonetheless believes that “what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: ‘This is life as I see it’” (35), whatever the hell that means. That’s why a painting of “a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips” is “a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values” (34). Huh? There is just no middle ground in this pseudo-philosophy.
But, this “vicious attack on man” is bizarre, considering her comments otherwise about “collectivism.” Consider that an artist “who presents man as a deformed monstrosity is aware of the fact that there are men who are healthy, happy, or confident; but he regards these conditions as accidental or illusory, as irrelevant to man’s essential nature--and he presents a tortured figure embodying pain, ugliness, terror, as man’s proper, natural state” (37). So, here’s the standard Randroid bad pop psychology, imputing to other people motives for which there is no evidence. Worse than the bad pop psych, though, is the bizarre collectivism of the analysis: “man” is presented in the painting of an ugly person, and Rand distinguishes in the same sentence that there are some “men” who are not ugly, like the ugly person in the painting. Why impute the collective representation to the artist? This is not Rand attacking a known evil socialist artist, but rather categorically stating that any painting a woman with a blemished face is an attack on all humanity. There is no basis for any of it, though of course she can read however she likes--it just comes across as silly, inconsistent, reckless. This is the basis of her ongoing polemic against alleged naturalism: it has “bleak metaphysics” (41) that substituted “statistics for a standard of value” (89).
Adopts Aristotle’s poetics as an explanation of all literature, but distills down the six elements of tragedy: mythos (Rand‘s “plot“), ethos (Rand‘s “characterization“), dianoia (Rand’s “theme“), and lexis, melos, & opsis (collapsed into Rand’s “style“). This particular essay (45-63) is a bad simplification of Aristotle’s concepts, and expansion of them to cover all writings, illustrated with passages from The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Good job!
Rand doesn’t really care about literary theory or Aristotle, though. Rather, important for her is the fifth essay, regarding romanticism, which contains the primary overt political content of the volume (though she is sufficiently undisciplined to fly off the handle on every page otherwise in denouncing altruists or rooting our collectivists or laying down spenglerian denunciations or identifying insufficient moral clarity among her unidentified contemporaries).
That fifth essay opens with the dogmatic insistence that “romanticism is a category of art based on the recognition that man possesses the faculty of volition” (64). Huh? That’s not really a distinguishing feature of romanticism. But her bete noire, naturalism, “denies it” (id.). Alrighty then!
Although nothing can be “causeless” (16) (despite a later contradiction that “man is a being with a self made soul” (28)), it is said that “Romanticism is non-existent in today’s literature” (66), which bears “the crushing weight of the philosophical wreckage under which generations have been brought up--a wreckage dominated by the doctrines of irrationalism and determinism” (66-67). So: strike determinist doctrine, and all that’s left is indeterminism--causelessness.
Even though romanticists of the 19th century were great individualists, “they were for the most part anti-Aristotelian and leaning toward a kind of wild, free-wheeling mysticism” (68). They “predominantly were enemies of capitalism” (70)--but nevertheless are “champions of volition” (id.)--how’s that work, when volition and capitalism are otherwise equated? Her local commentary on particular works and writers is extremely jaundiced: Tolstoy is “evil” (43); Wells, Verne, & Lewis are “unconvincing” (74); Dracula and Frankenstein belong to “psychopathology more than to esthetics” (78); Shakespeare is the father of the thesis that “man does not possess volition” (80-81), seemingly because he deployed (Aristotelian!) concepts of hamartia, which Rand does not seem to understand, even though she affirms Aristotle otherwise. Overall, romanticism is good because romanticist authors “owe no allegiance to men (only to man)”--Rand’s odd idealist collectivism of humanity (82-83).
Naturalists are death-choosers because they represent “misery, poverty, the slums, the lower classes”--”mediocrity” (90). Modern literature is worse, representing criminals and marginals: “The hopeless love of a bearded lady for a mongoloid pinhead [!]” (id.).
Some unintentional comedy in the pronouncement that “I am referring here to romantic love, in the serious meaning of that term--as distinguished from the superficial infatuations of those whose sense of life is devoid of any consistent values” (32), which is merely the most polite way that she phrases this asinine distinction between “romantic love” and “superficial infatuation,” to which one must respond, “Are you a virgin, or something?”
Even though it is asserted early that “art is not the means to any didactic end” (22), Rand later gets her dogma confused in a nasty contradiction that also reveals the mean-spiritedness of objectivist parenting theory (because they are likely virgins, they probably know nothing of parenting, though, poor things): “Thus the adults--whose foremost moral obligation toward the child, at this stage of his development, is to help him understand that what he loves is an abstraction, to help him break through into the conceptual realm--accomplish the exact opposite. They stunt his conceptual capacity, they cripple his normative abstractions, they stifle his moral ambition” (114). How do these evil altruist-collectivists choose death for their children? “It is easy to convince a child, and particularly an adolescent, that his desire to emulate Buck Rogers is ridiculous” (id.). Seriously? Really? Is this the Colbert Report?
Recommended for dipsomaniacs, drug addicts, sexual perverts, homicidal maniacs, & psychotics, and for bearded ladies in love with mongoloid pinheads. ...more
Sets out its task in terms reminiscent of Kant's assertion that "philosophy stands in need of a science" in the CritiqA superior display of erudition.
Sets out its task in terms reminiscent of Kant's assertion that "philosophy stands in need of a science" in the Critique of Pure Reason: "If criticism exists, it must be an examination of literature in terms of a conceptual framework derivable from an inductive survey of the literary field. The word 'inductive' suggests some sort of scientific procedure. What if criticism is a science as well as an art?" (7). Both Kant and Frye strike me as latter day Miltons, who, within their respective fields, desire to assert Eternal Providence, And justify the ways of God to men.
Frye is of course much more humble about it than Milton (but who isn't?), and, in addressing his miltonic-kantian task, offers this volume as a mere attempt to annotate T.S. Eliot's ideas (18) (which ideas I regard as thoroughly reactionary and dullard). Frye is more lively than that, though, even as he sets out neo-aristotelian schematics, neo-spenglerian distinctions, neo-arnoldian pseudo-sociology. As with Toynbee or Delbruck, Frye's panoramic reading makes plausible associations across time and space, dispelling problems about which I'd been thinking for years in a sentence. That's not to say that he possesses the answer (it's literary theory, after all)--but that he has an answer.
Much like "42," though, sometimes answers arrive without any question requiring their presence. This volume arrives during the height of the New Criticism, and marks out several departures therefrom, including some arriere garde dangers. But it is nevertheless a study of formalism.
We see both departure and danger in one representative passage: "The verbal action of Figaro is comic and that of Don Giovanni tragic; but in both cases the audience is exalted by the music above the reach of tragedy and comedy, and, though as profoundly moved as ever, is not emotionally involved with the discovery of plot or characters" (289). This bit departs from New Criticism by delving into the "affective fallacy," but it's not reception theory proper, as it reduces audience response to the formal categories of the text, rather than carrying out a materialist's inductive survey of actual reception. The latter is laborious, surely--whereas formalist heretic Frye is content to read the form of the operas and decide what an audience should do with it.
Thickest citation block in the index is Shakespeare, naturally, followed by other predictables: Milton, Chaucer, Joyce. His commentary on individual texts is usually very impressive, such as classifying Shakespearean plays and whatnot. An example: the text lays out a tidy scheme for prose fiction--the novel is extroverted and personal; the romance, introverted and personal; the confession, introverted and intellectual; the menippean satire, extroverted and intellectual (308). Texts can partake of any of these prose fiction genres simultaneously--and therefore the genius of Joyce's Ulysses (and I agree) is that it registers on all four in a unified manner (313-14). Slick, surely.
But the slickest bit is self-referential. Noting that "menippean satire" is unwieldy and misleading as a designation, Frye adopts the term anatomy, eponymous of Burton (311). The anatomy as genre is marked out "by piling up an enormous mass of erudition" and "in overwhelming pedantic targets with an avalanche of their own jargon" (id.). Its object is "mental attitudes" such as "pedants, bigots, cranks, perverts, virtuosi, enthusiasts, rapacious and incompetent professional men" (309). There's much more to be said in platonist definition, but wittgensteinian examples sometimes work better: Lucian, Erasmus, Rabelais, Swift, Apuleius, Petronius, Voltaire, Burton, Joyce are practitioners; best known works of the genre: Moby Dick, Tristram Shandy, Don Quixote, Brave New World. Even Boethius is considered in this connection. (I'd add that the subtitle of Kraken should get us to think of Mieville seriously in terms of menippean satire.)
With reference to this text's own title, we can only conclude that it signifies as assertive, persuasive rhetoric regarding a non-literary purpose, as laid out in the statement of authorial purpose, supra. Frye then notes that allegedly "non-literary prose" might be read in a literary way by criticism (326 ff.). This means that Frye's non-fictional anatomy should be read also as an anatomy in the tradition of Lucian and Sterne. It's a big satirical fuck you! to the literary theory establishment as well as a love letter to same.
an introductory text, I suppose for undergraduates. contains some thoughtful essays and a few of the more famous excerpts. a reader such as this textan introductory text, I suppose for undergraduates. contains some thoughtful essays and a few of the more famous excerpts. a reader such as this text should not really be considered a useful substitute for actually working through the original volumes, however....more
Includes very useful contributions on the bakhtinian theory of parody, a confrontation between post-structuralism & Bakhtin (including an essay by de Man), and a debate about coerced speech.
Other items include a lengthy introduction by Emerson & Morson, in part summarizing TPA, as well as some writings about Bakhtin's recently-noticed prefaces to a collection of Tolstoy. (The "Tolstoy Prefaces" are in the appendix.) E&M comes out in the introduction as proponents of the thesis that Voloshinov and Medvedev really did write the books on which their signatures appear, incidentally, and engage in a moderate polemic with Holquist & Clark on this issue.
The sections on parody, post-structuralism, and coercion are top-notch--the latter is a fairly heavy-hitting critique of dialogism, relegating it essentially to the same position in which Habermas' ideal speech situation commences.
Usefulness of the volume will be limited for those who haven't read much Dostoevesky and Tolstoy; the coercion section is reliant on an extended reading of Conrad, and the parody section looks at the history of utopian/dystopian writings. So, some knowledge required just to slip through the door on this one. ...more
Indispensible for students of literature & literary theory. Designed principally for undergraduates, and providing a broad selection of western liIndispensible for students of literature & literary theory. Designed principally for undergraduates, and providing a broad selection of western literary theory.
Not a substitute for actually reading all of the seminal texts, this volume will certainly fill the need for knowledge of the history of theory.
One of the best individual selections is Mazzoni's reading of Plato, in discussing Dante, regarding the functions of the fantastic and the icastic. The latter concerns the representation of things which have been found to exist, whereas the former concerns the representation of untrue things. It gets a bit more complicated than that, but the conclusion, following Aristotle, is that we should prefer the representation of credible impossibles to incredible possibles. Very slick....more
a bit vulgar, perhaps, in its facile deployment of base/superstructure metaphor, and in its Freudian assumptions. author died fighting fascists in thea bit vulgar, perhaps, in its facile deployment of base/superstructure metaphor, and in its Freudian assumptions. author died fighting fascists in the Spanish civil war, which personal sacrifice made him something of a rockstar despite perhaps an implicit Stalinism....more
Refreshing. Not at all ludic--which makes sense because poststructuralism/postmodernism were in their infacnies at the time of this text's publicationRefreshing. Not at all ludic--which makes sense because poststructuralism/postmodernism were in their infacnies at the time of this text's publication. It's marxist, generally, but, again, refreshingly without constant calls to the authority of other marxist writers--especially irrelevant ones, such as comrade Lenin or Chairman Mao. He mentions dialectics often enough when working through contradictory positions in the argument, and generally is interested in history, as well as a materialist interpretation of same.
Much of value in the argument, which is not a straightforward history of criticism, but rather the presentation of several related issues in the history of literary theory. Definitely informative, well-reasoned, serious, with professional tone and rigorous referencing.
The volume is six essays: the first is introductory, laying out his problematics & apparati; the second is his critique of tradition; the third is the critique of US formalism; the fourth is the critique of structuralism; the fifth is further work on formalism; the last, an essay on perspective.
Highly recommended for those who like literary theory, left aesthetics, and so on. On the whole, it may appear less sexy to some students of languages & literatures because it wants an understanding of contemporary linguistics--but that's a pathetic graduate student gripe....more
Collection of essays on various literary texts, unified only by the titular items, i.e., not really at all.
Decent entries by. F Smith on Toni MorrisonCollection of essays on various literary texts, unified only by the titular items, i.e., not really at all.
Decent entries by. F Smith on Toni Morrison and M. Cornis-Pape on Pynchon. Best bit is C. Siegel, regarding Laclos' *Les Liaisons dangereuses*.
The rest of the articles are decent, professional, polished, &c.--but they're a bit out of my normal range (Fenimore Cooper, DH Lawrence, Nabokov, Wallace Stevens, e.g.), so I have less interest, even if the critical methodologies are generally oriented toward late 20th century developments and thus are interesting from that perspective. (This last point is a recognition of my own imperfection, rather than a complaint about the volume.)
The collection arises out of a particular academic conference, which explains the haphazardness of its presentation--it is like a journal issue, to a certain extent.
Recommended for literary professionals generally, and nerds who might pursue items mentioned specifically, supra....more
Collection of essays, some better than others, some pro, some contra. Foucault this, Geertz that. Predictable, &c. Worthwhile for literature studeCollection of essays, some better than others, some pro, some contra. Foucault this, Geertz that. Predictable, &c. Worthwhile for literature students who are interested in late 20th century developments.
Spivak's contribution is top notch. Fineman's reading of Thucydides is also slick, as is Shaeffer's reading of Vico. The standout is Pecora's interpretation of Geertz's work on Indonesia, which juxtaposes "local knowledge" and "thick description" against the 1965 CIA coup, which resulted in 500,000 murdered human persons and 900,000 unlawful detentions, whereof Geertz was constrained to a bizarre quasi-silence.
There's a few essays on feminism, and on marxism, and on variosu aspects of specific periods of literary history--all of which are a bit less memorable. The two afterwards, by Hayden White and Stanley Fish, respectively, aren't particularly memorable, either; ditto, Greenblatt's introduction. Graff and Lentricchia each also make contributions--but I've already forgotten their arguments, too. ...more
Definitely a smarter entry in the subgenre made famous by Kimball's Tenured Radicals, this collection of interlocked essays challenges, back in the eaDefinitely a smarter entry in the subgenre made famous by Kimball's Tenured Radicals, this collection of interlocked essays challenges, back in the early 1990s, the critical apparati used at the time by academic literary theorists (marxism, feminism, poststructuralism, critical race theory, and so on).
The major point is ad hominem: the literary theorists in question are somehow hypocrites because they attempt, in one way or another, to critique bourgeois patriarchy, but partake of that system and are very effective market participants. This fact troubles Mr. Fromm quite a bit, and the demand appears to be that marxists (and others), in order to be authentic, ought to live impecunious existences on the margins of society, rather than taking over English departments and installing their methods as hegemonic. (The suggestion, it seems, is that the various methodologies critiqued herein work in tandem to form a cartel that locks out philologists, aestheticists, formalists, romantics, and others who came before the 1960s, including those who simply Love Great Books--the suggestions is of course manifestly erroneous.) I for one see no problem with marxists being market participants, though we may agree that Mercedes Marxists are getting a bit carried away. (Recall the class position of Engels, though.)
There is comparativly little actual refutation of the theorists that Fromm dislikes--they are held out, as in Kimball, as villains. Sure, there's some whiney contemplation that the affective aspects of the text are ignored, that the literary tradition is marred, that students are alienated from literary study, that theorists write primarily for themselves, that public intellectualism is dead, and so on--all of which contemplation is not bad.
There are likewise some portions that a marxist could've written, such as when Fromm suggests that capitalism has produced manifold horrors, but it is nonetheless superior to conditions prior to its existence. (It is a strawperson of marxism to suggest that marxism rejects capitalism as wholly without merit, after all--and it is disappointing that a writer as smart as Fromm otherwise appears to have fallen into it.) There is likely some virtue in his complaint about academics as self-serving bourgeois who prance around as radical peacocks to get moneys (a note about the conditions under which Gramsci wrote is sufficient, toward the end, to hammer home this point).
That said, the text at times shows some woefully inadequate readings. The seemingly uncritical discussion of the "whiteness" vel non of H.L. Gates got my hackle up a bit, as did some of the dismissive commentary about feminist writings. The endorsement of Searle's feckless polemic with Derrida was also a strawperson of deconstruction, sadly.
In the end, the useful critique here (and there is much of it) is lost among the dismissive ad hominem attacks on academic lefties, which attacks nonetheless do not in the slightest go to the arguments presented by those persons....more
mid-level undergraduate primer that lays down basic concepts for several schools of literary interpretation: romanticism, formalism, historicism, strumid-level undergraduate primer that lays down basic concepts for several schools of literary interpretation: romanticism, formalism, historicism, structuralism & post-structuralism, psychologism, feminism, &c. (the edition that I had in school relegated Marxism to a footnote.)
probably good for its intended task of preparing the student for more detailed study of literary theory. best part is the trippy illustrations....more
as far as these types of theory anthologies go, this one wasn't too ineffective. it contains some of the more foundational stand-alone articles in theas far as these types of theory anthologies go, this one wasn't too ineffective. it contains some of the more foundational stand-alone articles in the NH and CM traditions.
as is almost always the case with this sort of text, there is often a lack of rigorous theoretical differentiation that might allow a student to pick up an article and discern quickly whether it is in fact NH,CM, or something else entirely (such as just-marx or simply-foucault)....more
not a bad little introduction of film appreciation. has a progressive component to it, as title might imply. useful for apprehending film as a rhetorinot a bad little introduction of film appreciation. has a progressive component to it, as title might imply. useful for apprehending film as a rhetoric, with a grammar and suchlike....more
This is one text that anti-feminists like to highlight as allegedly containing the thesis that all sex is rape. This thesis is a distortion of the argThis is one text that anti-feminists like to highlight as allegedly containing the thesis that all sex is rape. This thesis is a distortion of the argument here, which reads various literary texts and argues that sex, as presented in the literary texts, is rape by any reasonable legal definition. Text then develops an interpretation of what all this might mean. The text does not argue that all actual sex is rape.
I didn't care much for the manner of literary interpretation that the text uses, which is basically a species of US formalism. It adopts a coarse rhetoric, which is understandable, given the subject matter, but that's not really persuasive....more