21st Century Literature discussion

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Question of the Week > How Familiar Are You With Literary Theory & Does It Impact Your Reading In Any Way? (9/8/19)

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message 1: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
Is literary theory something you are familiar with in part or whole? Does it influence or play into either your reading selections or how you read in any way, shape, or form?


message 2: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2715 comments Mod
I have no literary qualifications, and I am a little wary of theory...


message 3: by David (new)

David | 242 comments The only things I (might) know about literary theory are things other readers might have mentioned in discussions, but if you asked me right now to tell you anything I know about literary theory it would be nothing at all. I've never been curious to find out. I just know I like reading, I like thinking about the things I read, and I like discussing the things I read. I don't feel like I am missing anything by not having theories to apply to my reading.


message 4: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 220 comments This Yale Open Courseware course, "Introduction to Literary Theory," is great if anyone has an interest.

https://oyc.yale.edu/english/engl-300


Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments As long as it doesn't become a case of the tail wagging the dog-- I like what I've picked up in the past concerning lit theory, and I often find discussions about it interesting. I think it has broadened my appreciation of things that I would have had trouble absorbing before.


message 6: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 220 comments I'm not much of a "school of" sort of reader of criticism--it's more just being in awe of people who read deeply and who can make connections for me that I don't have the expertise to discover for myself. I love reading good literary essays as much as I love reading fiction.

Here are some that I enjoyed reading:

Simon Armitage's essay that introduces his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight completely set up the reading experience of the poem for me--it was wonderful.

Essay collections:

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose

On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction by Brian Boyd

Native American Fiction: A User's Manual by David Treuer

A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction by Ruth Franklin. This is an incredible book and has informed my reading on other topics--the very sticky problem of how to depict "truth". Useful even in my fiction reading.

The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide by Robert Pinsky


message 7: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Lark wrote: "This Yale Open Courseware course, "Introduction to Literary Theory," is great if anyone has an interest.

https://oyc.yale.edu/english/engl-300"


Excellent!, thanks for sharing this link, Lark.


message 8: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Marc wrote: "Is literary theory something you are familiar with in part or whole? Does it influence or play into either your reading selections or how you read in any way, shape, or form?"

Yes. Yes.


message 9: by Tea73 (new)

Tea73 | 45 comments I went to college when structuralism and deconstruction and semiotics were all the rage. It made me convinced I would never be an academic. I was lucky to have had great English teachers in high school who did not kill my love of reading.


message 10: by Robert (new)

Robert | 437 comments Although I didn’t read English at university, I had to apply such theories to the subjects by the time I read for my masters these theories became ingrained. As one can guess I do the same while reading a novel but I do try hold back a bit when writing a review.


message 11: by David (new)

David | 242 comments I just recalled that there is one sort-of literary theory I do know about: Kurt Vonnegut's theory of the shapes of stories. There's the cosine curve ("man in hole"), the sine curve ("boy meets girl"), the bad-to-worse curve ("The Metamorphosis"), the horizontal line (Hamlet), and the steps-fall-and-rise ("Cinderella", The Bible).

I never think about his theory when I read or try to apply it to what I read. I think he'd be ok with that.


message 12: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 08, 2019 09:06PM) (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments It disappoints me that there isn't more of it in GR reviews. A review by someone who is no longer on the site, highlighted the relevance of Derrida to a novel (in such a way that I was pretty sure the author had read him), as well as less widely-known areas of theory - a novel which a number of other reviewers who liked to think themselves well informed had dismissed as insubstantial. (This could be taken as a dig at one person though I am actually thinking of at least 4 different postings I've seen about the same book.) I would like to see more of that sort of insight employed on here. From what I've noticed online generally, I think that too many of the people who think in such terms are either not bothering with GR in the first place or are just dismissive of it.

I am largely satisfied that I read through the lenses of history and certain areas of psychology (though I'm not fond of old-fashioned psychoanalytic which is quite prevalent in lit theory) as I do not enjoy reading most critical theory enough to do much of it for leisure. I think it is interesting when people bring other disciplines to reviewing fiction. But I am now more aware that I and others are missing important things in novels all the same by not overtly involving more literary theory in their reading and reviewing.

One GR friend did an adult education course about literary theory and I think that is an excellent idea if one has the wherewithal and takes this business seriously. (If I could afford to do several major courses I admit I would have 2-3 other priorities first in other areas where I feel I have unfinished business, but on the list after those would be a lit masters.)


message 13: by Tamara (last edited Sep 09, 2019 07:56AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 273 comments I have a Ph.D. in English Literature and so had to immerse myself in literary theory through grad school. It got to be a bit of a pain sometimes because I felt as if we were forcing characters in a novel or the novel itself to conform to a specific theory.

I remember one graduate seminar where all we did was psychoanalyze characters in a number of novels. It got to be quite painful. I still have the text for the course:
A Psychological Approach to Fiction: Studies in Thackeray, Stendhal, George Eliot, Dostoevsky, and Conrad,.

I think a background in literary theory helps inform my reading of novels and enriches it in some way because at certain times things pop up as I read a novel that may not have occurred to me had I not had that background. However, I never approach a novel with a specific theory in mind. I never try to force it to conform. I let it speak for itself and see what jumps up at me.

I think to impose any kind of theory on a novel before actually reading the novel is to do it a great injustice. And it may actually ruin one's enjoyment of the novel. The horror! The horror!


message 14: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 09, 2019 08:40AM) (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments Tamara wrote: "I think to impose any kind of theory on a novel before actually reading the novel is to do it a great injustice.."

Absolutely. What I think would be good would be, in the same way that people draw connections between different novels, to see more of "such and such is reminiscent of this thing in Deleuze", or whatever: particular elements of books rather than trying to impose whole schemas on novels.

Quite a lot of authors with academic literature backgrounds will have read such stuff so it would be worthwhile for insight into modern novels; yet I'm not sure it gets as much respect or attention outside academia as, for example, when a reader-reviewer with a background in physics has stuff to say about the physics that's more overtly apparent in some Pynchon novels than are uses of critical theory elsewhere.


message 15: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 220 comments 20 years ago Melvyn Bragg invited Harold Bloom and Jacqueline Rose to debate the merits of their very different kinds of literary criticism, on his "In Our Time" show.

It's incredible fun to listen to because of Bloom's fussy prickly irritation about feminist literary criticism, or what he thinks the term means.

But more than that, it's a serious discussion between a critic who thinks that his job is to explain the One True Meaning of a great work of literature, vs. a critic who thinks her job is to open minds to all the true possibilities of interpretation that are nested in a great work of literature.

I've listened to it several times on my way to becoming a Jacqueline Rose fan--

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p005...


message 16: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 273 comments Lark wrote: "20 years ago Melvyn Bragg invited Harold Bloom and Jacqueline Rose to debate the merits of their very different kinds of literary criticism, on his "In Our Time" show.

It's incredible fun to list..."


Wow!

Lark, thank you so much for posting that. I started listening to Melvyn Bragg's In our Time only a few years ago, so I missed that discussion.

What a gem! I loved the back and forth. I loved the way Prof. Rose responded to Prof. Bloom. She was so feisty and so right on target and so interesting and so articulate and made so many salient points that it almost so made me wish I was so back in graduate school : )


message 17: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments Ah, I rarely scroll back that far in the archive, thanks.

Lark, and other In Our Time listeners, you may also like a similar programme I've just discovered, The Forum. It's from the World Service and the panels are more international, plus some episodes cover more contemporary topics.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004...


message 18: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 273 comments Antonomasia wrote: "Ah, I rarely scroll back that far in the archive, thanks.

Lark, and other In Our Time listeners, you may also like a similar programme I've just discovered, The Forum. It's from the World Service ..."


Thanks for letting us know. I hadn't heard of it. But it looks like my cup of tea. So I just subscribed.


message 19: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 220 comments Tamara wrote: "I loved the back and forth. I loved the way Prof. Rose responded to Prof. Bloom. She was so feisty and so right on target and so interesting and so articulate and made so many salient points that it almost so made me wish I was so back in graduate school : ) ..."

Me too, Tamara. I loved the way Rose made me re-think the first sentence of Middlemarch, for instance. Her observations had an impact on how I read now.


message 20: by lark (last edited Sep 09, 2019 12:00PM) (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 220 comments Also I love that Harold Bloom, even when he talks out loud, says things like "that needs much labor of thought"


message 21: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Antonomasia wrote: "Ah, I rarely scroll back that far in the archive, thanks.

Lark, and other In Our Time listeners, you may also like a similar programme I've just discovered, The Forum. It's from the World Service ..."


this is delightful. Thanks!

I also wish more reviewers would engage in more literary analysis, but then I choose not to spend the time it would take to write those sorts of deeply analytical reviews either, so I am a complete hypocrite on this topic.


message 22: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) Lark wrote: "20 years ago Melvyn Bragg invited Harold Bloom and Jacqueline Rose to debate the merits of their very different kinds of literary criticism, on his "In Our Time" show.

It's incredible fun to list..."


Oh - this is exciting. I've only become mildly inquisitive about theory recently -- VERY recently, so I know nada right now, but I had already downloaded the Yale course as an intro (I got interested in that course b/c I got very hooked on another Yale open course - I think it's just post-45 American Fiction where they read a bunch of books.)

I took zero/null/none courses in anything even remotely connected to english or literature at the university level. Worse, I went to high school at a school for the arts (in music.) I did learn things about literature (tons of literature has been adapted into music, so you do learn things - often in the incorrect language...)

Sadly I had to read very little for any of my schools, so I basically just tripped over reading as something I really liked to do. I've always just done it for fun. My graduate degrees are in the science area - so I've never even taken "English 101".

Now that I'm older, I do think seriously about auditing a course at Hopkins or U of Md, which is connected to my hospital, so I can at least feel a bit less stupid when I read. This is often why I don't review books - I feel unqualified. All I really know is whether i liked something.


message 23: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 09, 2019 11:23PM) (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments Going by the titles in the resource collection for the Yale course, they appear to cover more theorists than the UK equivalent.

https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/courses/l...

Quite a lot of time and money for material that a lot of people here would be able to read in a couple of weeks. And looks little different from the stuff that was taught when I did first year Eng Lit as an extra twenty-odd years ago. One of my reactions then was "so we're only doing a week or two on the things people actually talk about?" i.e. structuralist and post-structuralists, and stuff that these days is often subsumed as critical theory. (I was kind of opposed to it in principle at the time, because of media critics I was a fan of, but I did believe one should have a good grounding in it nonetheless.)

Cultural studies seems to cut to the chase more quickly about applying that stuff. (As do philosophy of [other subject] disciplines but they wouldn't perhaps make it so apparent about applying the tools to other areas.) And there aren't as many adult education courses in that.

Things like New Criticism and reception theory are often more useful in classifying the ways other people are talking about books than in understanding allusions made by authors IMO.

It's the more complex stuff beyond what they cover in that Oxford course that probably benefits from having a discussion group to supplement it. As a student I tried to read whole books by several theorists I had hoped would be taught in the English module and weren't, but I didn't enjoy them and found the material slippery, and didn't finish a single one. I think it would have benefited from discussion to make it click.


message 24: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) Antonomasia wrote: "Going by the titles in the resource collection for the Yale course, they appear to cover more theorists than the UK equivalent."

Also the yale course is free to anyone. They are older courses, but it feels really wonderful that they remain online (someone keeps those websites up and connected even when Yale has changed its web presence over the years.) I've used a couple of their science courses to supplement courses I've taught through the years. Students seem to love to watch people talk on a screen. (I don't know why this doesn't extend to a live human in a classroom, but it doesn't.)

One of my post-docs this year has an undergrad in English lit & she doesn't know it yet, but she's going to be my "discussion group." (Heh... That is so illegal, but I shall request it at least.)


message 25: by Adrian (new)

Adrian Alvarez (adrianasturalvarez) | 19 comments I studied a lot of critical theory in undergrad and it certainly informs how I read any text. How wouldn't it? Theory isn't something you can divorce from reading very convincingly, IMO. It is the study of how one approaches a text and either a reader is conscious of their approach or stumbling about finding their own way, which may already be a well trodden way.

I would love for more readers on GR to be versed in theory (more people everywhere, really) but at the same time I'm very aware that Goodreads makes money from the free content produced by its community so you won't catch me complaining about a lack of rigorous reviewing standards. The reviewer has to ultimately get something from her review beyond its instructional value for others, unless that's what the reviewer cherishes, in which case I am ever grateful, but also maybe go get paid for your work. :-)

On a lighter note, I recently read Charles Baxter's Burning Down the House, which I guess is a classic but new to me, and I highly recommend it. It is a very readable collection of essays and a refreshing way to look at the intersection of fiction and cultural circumstance. 5 stars!


message 26: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 220 comments yes, the Yale Open Courses are all from 2008 and they're all free, and I still think they're the best thing that's ever been offered in terms of free access to higher learning in some high-interest areas. I mean they're all incredible. All done before the big aggregators got involved in the online higher education market (and kind of spoiled it, imo).

Here is a link to all the English classes. The poetry and novel courses are both fantastic. I haven't listened to Milton (I've done all of these via audio)l

https://oyc.yale.edu/english

The history courses are also incredibly good.


message 27: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Lark wrote: "yes, the Yale Open Courses are all from 2008 and they're all free, and I still think they're the best thing that's ever been offered in terms of free access to higher learning in some high-interest..."

Delicious. Not literary, but the history classes from UVA are also most excellent. I'm still a Coursera fan. edx is so not user friendly.


message 28: by Clarke (last edited Sep 12, 2019 12:06PM) (new)

Clarke Owens | 121 comments There should probably be a distinction between literary theory and critical theory, although in practice the distinction has not been easy for me to articulate, other than to say that literary theory would deal with the nature of critical approaches to literature, and critical theory would deal with the nature of criticism as an approach to literature, but really, is there any meaningful difference there? I don't know.

European literary criticism was just getting up a head of steam back in the mid 1970s when I got my master's degree in creative writing from UC Davis. We CW students were required to take a class in criticism, and we read an anthology of European critical essays. I don't remember any of us saying that we understood any of it or liked any of it. In our fiction class, we did read Wayne Booth, and that seemed more palatable, but it was still a version of earlier 1950s type new criticism, form criticism. Then, ten years later when I studied for the PhD at Ohio State, theory was big, big. I unwisely resisted it then, but later read a fair amount of it, Derrida, Habermas, Bakhtin (sp?), Jameson, Eagleton, Barthes, Lukacs, Ortega y Gasset, Cullers, and others. One of the Habermas essays made the claim that the borrowing of one discipline's methods by the other cheapens both disciplines, so apparently he stood to some extent in opposition to his own enterprise, or that of his peers. In any case, reading this "theory" helped me to understand where the theory people were coming from, but it doesn't really inform my reading of literature too much. Theory is a form of philosophy. It is often not about literature. It is more about how we perceive truth claims of various kinds. Derrida wants to undermine the logos as the basis of knowledge, for example, an argument against authority of all kinds, especially the hieratical or priestly type, one would think. You can read Huck Finn and get the same idea in different form. As for the form criticism, suppose you're able to define 25 different points of view technique. I don't think that really helps you grasp a novel much better than if you read the novel and understand it through the example. You might think about it less, but you'd probably still understand it. This is not to denigrate theory, but just to say that it's really a separate intellectual exercise from reading novels and poems, in my view.


message 29: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments By critical theory, I was meaning not the theory of literary criticism but a) the Frankfurt School and successors as usually defines the term critical theory b) structuralist etc theorists and philosophers who often end up casually / implicitly grouped alongside them in online & media content, now that 'critical theory' is the more widely used term


message 30: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 156 comments I would also distinguish to an extent between applying such theory to old books (like Huck Finn) and to later literary works whose authors may have read the theory themselves or absorbed some of its ideas by osmosis from wider culture.


message 31: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) Antonomasia wrote: "I would also distinguish to an extent between applying such theory to old books (like Huck Finn) and to later literary works whose authors may have read the theory themselves or absorbed some of it..."

Sometimes even I can tell (the girl who knows nothing) that the author is doing something related to theory. Without knowing much about it beyond some names, it's hard to tell exactly what that is. The question is would I know even if I took a bunch of theory courses? Not sure, but I would at least feel more solid in my assessment of certain books -- especially some of the more experimental stuff coming out in recent years.


message 32: by Clarke (new)

Clarke Owens | 121 comments OK, the Frankfurt school. I know almost nothing about it. Have read some Marcuse, Benjamin, and as stated above, some Habermas, and that's it. They aren't even concerned with literature, as I understand them, more with Kant (Yes, I've read Kant!) than with lit. I was responding above to the question posed by the thread, which referred to "literary theory" and one's reading of literature.


message 33: by Lily (last edited Sep 12, 2019 01:09PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Clarke wrote: "Derrida wants to undermine the logos as the basis of knowledge, for example, an argument against authority of all kinds, especially the hieratical or priestly type, one would think. You can read Huck Finn and get the same idea in different form...."

LOL! Much enjoyed the comment, Clarke! (Yet Derrida on forgiveness is part and parcel of my thinking, whereas Huck Finn can be harder for me to bring into my daily being. So be it.)


message 34: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
While there is a fair amount of overlap, there are probably two important distinctions to make between literary theory and critical theory:

1) Lit theory is primarily descriptive/analytical and limited to literature (whereas critical theory covers literature but also culture and other mediums from film to advertising); and,

2) Critical theory aims to change culture/norms through the use of art/culture and not just describe/analyze it.

That's my basic understanding.

One of my English professors said something very similar to what was already posted in this thread: Basically, we all use theory to some extent, we're just not always aware of it. (E.g., In general, when you come across the word "bird" in prose fiction, you probably see it a realistic representation of a flying creature; whereas, if there is a "bird" in a poem, you might be more apt to think of its potential symbolic meanings, as well.)

The distinctions are never as clear in practice as they sound in theory, but many readers will have strong reactions (positive or negative) when they hit a type of writing that does show strong distinctions (maybe something more meta-fictional or postmodern like If on a Winter's Night a Traveler). "Experimental" or "avant-garde" fiction seems to usually involve structure/technique emphasize above plot or characters (or sometimes exchanged for them entirely).

I like the notion, also previously mentioned above, of theory as a set of lenses and each one allowing you to see a text in a slightly different way. Not all of them fit or are really useful for every text.

I'm no expert on theory. Most of my reading of it has been done after schooling and has been quite scattershot (some Derrida, some structuralism, a fascination with the concept of postmodernism, etc.).


message 35: by Vic (new)

Vic Cavalli | 17 comments As a young undergraduate I was a philosophy major reading Heidegger, Habermas, etc. Later, I studied literary theory in my PhD program when I shifted into English Literature. I found it interesting but usually very distant from actual texts.

Later as an English professor, when I shifted away from writing scholarly articles back to painting and creative writing, I abandoned the sophistication of theoretical discourse in favor of the sweaty simplicity of my pre-university young logger's life--setting chokers in a foot of mud, falling and bucking trees, etc.

In my older age now, as a novelist, I can't imagine consciously keeping theory in mind as I work; it would paralyze me. Although I suspect that a psychiatric Freudian or Jungian critic would have a field day with my work, I'd still prefer to have someone actually read my work, and not just send up verbal fireworks from its quoted fragments.

Similarly, when I read modern literary fiction now I read like a simple man, primitive, and feeling much more than thinking and theorizing.


message 36: by Carol (last edited Sep 13, 2019 07:04PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments This is the most wonderful thread with the most thoughtful, introspective comments. Bravo, Marc.


message 37: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
It's the members who make or break these threads! I'm very much enjoying this one, too, Carol.


message 38: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 452 comments Marc wrote: "It's the members who make or break these threads! I'm very much enjoying this one, too, Carol."

Unusual or less common prompts are some of the magic you bring, though. Thank you.


message 39: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 279 comments Vic wrote: "As a young undergraduate I was a philosophy major reading Heidegger, Habermas, etc. Later, I studied literary theory in my PhD program when I shifted into English Literature. I found it interesting..."

I love this comment. It sounds like the ideal trajectory, to me, to have internalized the knowledge and moved past it.

And you've articulated what I've been thinking as I read through this thread: "I read like a simple man, primitive, and feeling much more than thinking and theorizing."


message 40: by Sam (last edited Sep 14, 2019 10:31AM) (new)

Sam | 203 comments I had some familiarity with literary theory and various schools of thought and feel there are pros and cons. One of the cons was the competition between theories and my belief is that you can draw ideas from the theories, but beware getting dragged down by rules. Aristotelian objectivity and Platonic subjectivity both have merit. Classical stress on form does not disqualify Romantic quest for freedom. I tended to be attracted to the formalism adapted by New Critics for the emphasis on close reading and primacy of the text, but New Critics could be pretty dictatorial in arguing against the dicussion of biographical influence, authorial intent, or the subjective reader's response. And like the other schools, works most elevated are those which best fit into the limits of the theory. I think the idea of an introductory literary theory course is good but would consider it incomplete without references to other arts or social criticisms. I fall back on ideas I have adapted from literary theories but it is a double-edged sword. I also find myself falling back on learned critical no-no to excuse my dislike or disinterest for a particular text. For example I found the repetition in Milkman enough to dismiss the novel when my real problem was with Burns light approach to the "Troubles." I have found my best experiences to be with a specific critic's work rather than a theory. I still love Cleanth Brooks The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry or Mathew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy and even enjoy reading theory just to disagree with it.


message 41: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) I spent the day cleaning out very old work emails, and I used to put a different quote at the bottom of every non-work email (turns out there are a lot of nonwork emails in my work email from the early 2000s). I came across the quote below in one of those emails from 2003, and it reminded me of this conversation -- Vic's response in particular:
What should be remembered is that books are the adventure, not the making of books. Emerson said, ''Tis the good reader that makes the good book; . . . in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear.''

~ from Martin Arnold's farewell column, 3rd Mar, '03
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/06/boo...

(The Times still has this goodbye column up - I checked)


message 42: by James E. (new)

James E. Martin | 77 comments I totally agree with Marc that everyone applies some sort of theory to our reading but it's usually unconscious and even naturalised. I got a PhD in American Lit & Rhetoric in the late '80s of the last century and was immersed in theory, to put it mildly. Well, I feel it did open my mind to a more conscious reflection of meaning and opened a path of resistance to what our school teachers indoctrinated us with (given my age, that would be New Criticism). I appreciate insights of all the schools of theory but have gravitated to Cultural Criticism, particularly of the post-Marxist bend. All-in-all , I think Lit Crit is useful as long as the reader doesn't become too rigid.


message 43: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2718 comments Mod
James E. wrote: "...as long as the reader doesn't become too rigid."

Seems like good advice in general, James, but definitely when applied to theory.

I sometimes find myself trying to save myself from a reading experience (i.e., one I'm finding boring, obligatory, or otherwise off-putting) by turning to questions related (or semi-related) to theory (e.g., Why did the author structure the narrative this way? Does this book have anything to say about society, history, psychology, etc.? If I'm living in some sort of postmodern, hyper-reality, why can't I just upload this whole thing to my cerebral cortex and save the reading time for something else?).


message 44: by Lily (last edited Dec 22, 2019 11:04AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Marc wrote: "If I'm living in some sort of postmodern, hyper-reality, why can't I just upload this whole thing to my cerebral cortex and save the reading time for something else?..."

Or have the electronics figure out what would be an add to knowledge and understanding, rather than assuming infinite cerebral storage space with zero-limit assessing and processing time? (I am struggling with that question practically, without that electronics, in deciding what NOT to read, as well as what IS worth the time investment....)

Or maybe, Marc, you were thinking of something entirely different relative to reading "efficiency"?


message 45: by Clarke (new)

Clarke Owens | 121 comments Marc wrote: "James E. wrote: "...as long as the reader doesn't become too rigid."

Seems like good advice in general, James, but definitely when applied to theory.

I sometimes find myself trying to save myself..."


No reading experience should be boring, obligatory or off-putting. If it is, I put it down and move on. Life is too short.


message 46: by Vic (new)

Vic Cavalli | 17 comments All of these comments are interesting. Just yesterday I watched an interview with the French abstract painter Bernard Frize. In one section he says, "You can describe a painting, but you can't explain it. If you could, it would not be a painting." That really struck a cord with me because I've always felt the same way about my own visual art and creative writing. I think if we allow theory (both art & literary) to describe what we see and read, and leave the deeper meaning unexplainable, really, by the works' very natures, we'll probably find a healthy balance between intellectual understanding and intuitive reception on a non-verbal level.


message 47: by James E. (new)

James E. Martin | 77 comments Vic, your comments bring to mind the famous New Critical mottos "a poem should not mean but be", and "the heresy of the paraphrase". Later critics would say that intuitive reception is in fact traceable to linguistic, psychological, cultural sources, for example. Many would argue against non-verbal reception. Personally, I have nothing against trying to explain deeper meaning theoretically but maybe we should take a Popperian approach and accept that there may indeed be some meaning beyond our perception..


message 48: by Vic (new)

Vic Cavalli | 17 comments James E. wrote: "Vic, your comments bring to mind the famous New Critical mottos "a poem should not mean but be", and "the heresy of the paraphrase". Later critics would say that intuitive reception is in fact trac..."

I can see what you are saying and I don't disagree, James. I guess for me the mystery lies in the author's or visual artist's conscious perception of what they are trying to achieve in their work. Perhaps the non-verbal dimension is the waiting period(s) between epiphanies?

I remember one critic saying of Flannery O'Connor's fiction, "If she knew what she was actually doing in her fiction, she'd be terrified." That was his perception, but certainly not Flannery's.

I also remember Yeats saying somewhere that "The more unconscious a work is, the stronger it is." And him explaining how it sometimes took him years to understand the meaning of a poem he had written.

I don't know if these points make our discussion clearer or muddier? Have a great holiday season.


message 49: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2159 comments Mod
Vic wrote: "I remember one critic saying of Flannery O'Connor's fiction, "If she knew what she was actually doing in her fiction, she'd be terrified." That was his perception, but certainly not Flannery's. "

This is where I ride in on my high horse and proclaim that I seriously doubt any critic would have said that if O'Connor had been a man. She wrote some of the most deliberate, controlled, fiction of any writer. The idea that she is somehow 'accidentally' stumbling onto deeper, disturbing content is such fucking patronizing BS.

I know this has nothing to do with the discussion at hand, but my hackles needed to be settled. (I also note that you recognized my point in your comment, Vic, I'm certainly not criticizing you.)


message 50: by James E. (new)

James E. Martin | 77 comments Vic, I think you are, to some extent, conflating reception and production. As I understand them, lit critical theories are largely theories of reception and not necessarily production. Many writers consciously craft their writing in the context of some theoretical orientation, but I feel reception is liberated from authorial intention (i e. Barthes' "death of the author"). Surely Poe didn't consciously apply deconstruction when writing The Purloined Letter but I can use that theory to discover insights about the story's meaning...


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