Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Politics of Post-structuralism

First off, let me apologize for the lateness of this post. I hope this didn’t screw with anyone’s schedule or cause any general sense of unease.

Both essays by Eagleton and Said seem to suggest a material quality of a text, questioning the binary relation of speech to writing. According to Eagleton, the text has been treated as the shadow of the spoken word since Plato, considered in Western thought as a tool to approximate the presence of experience. In response to the structuralists who had constructed scientific methods of interpretation based on a model of representation,  E and S attempt to unground the referents that stand before them (e.g. God or Truth), claiming that a fiction’s will can be felt directly in the creation of its own contexts. To these authors, there is something deeply political at work in a writing. With this in mind, how do E and S constitute meaning as a system of power relations?

Lévi-Strauss and Lakoff/Johnson

Both articles discuss the notion of the fundamental unit of language. Lévi-Strauss’ article argues that myths should not be analyzed as a series of sentences with a definite chronological order; the important part of a myth lies in its story, not its syntax. So long as the story is not lost, myths can be told in all kinds of different ways. To Lakoff and Johnson, the fundamental units of literature (or at least of metaphors) are words and sentences. They argue that words and sentences have meaning independent of their context or speaker(s) and believe that different people having different interpretations of a word/sentence does not  present a tremendous problem.


The Lakoff/Johnson piece was more interesting to me because it gave so many specific examples of metaphors and tried to interpret the logic behind them (i.e. physical space). What I wonder is how Cleanth Brooks’ article (“Metaphor, Paradox, and Stereotype”) ties into Lakoff and Johnson’s ideas. Brooks talked about how metaphors can become outdated and therefore no longer useful. We all understand the metaphors in Lakoff and Johnson’s article; we use those expressions routinely in everyday life. However, if our human thought processes are indeed “largely metaphorical” as Lakoff and Johnson argue, what will happen to our thought processes or the literature that gets created if the metaphors we take for granted in everyday life become outdated?

In the Cage

We’re going to be spending tomorrow’s class with Henry James’s “In the Cage.”  What I’d like to ask you to consider here is the extent to which this narrative serves as an allegory of reading.  Which of the essays we’ve read to this point in the semester does “In the Cage” intersect with?  How does the novella represent the act of reading?

Narrative, Character, and Voice

In the narrative chapter, Brooks is cited as describing a story as having characteristics that involve moving from   a “state of equilibrium or stasis through a disturbance of this stability, and back to a state of equilibrium at the end.” But what of the stories that do not return this equilibrium? Are they truly narratives? Or is there something inherent in the story itself that says a failure to return back to equilibrium is making a final comment nonetheless through it’s lack of conventional ending?

I was also concerned with the idea about character as a “complex but unified whole.” While I agree that these traits are what make characters relatable and “real,” this also raised a question about flat characters. As said in the chapter, flat characters do not   have this complexity to them and therefore are more of stereotypical ideas than actual people. While they most certainly have their purpose, I wonder what a narrative would be like without flat characters. If every character was as complete and complex as a protagonist, would it make the story itself more real or more difficult to comprehend? Would the excess of human realism offer too much for the reader to handle?

literary history

I was just wondering if anyone understood what Jauss is trying to say in his sixth thesis. I can’t figure it out…

Fish and Jauss

Time for a little compare/contrast: what objections do Fish and Jauss raise against the formalist/new critical approach to literary analysis? How do they similarly and differently attempt to account for the reader in their view of criticism?

Open Thread

Hi, all. Assuming you’ve read your email lately, you can probably imagine that it was a bad day in Crookshank. I want to throw open the discussion here, to let you respond in any way you like, including thinking about the role of the author as redefined by the new critics. I’ll look forward to talking with you all Monday.

Literary Series

A quick announcement, in case you haven’t seen the flyers: the first reading in the fall Literary Series will be this coming Tuesday, September 16. Susan Straight, who is a fantastic novelist, will be our first visitor in the series. The reading will start at 7.30 pm, in the Ena Thompson Reading Room (Crookshank 108).

I’d like each of you to attend at least one reading this fall, so that we can talk some about the relationship between reading and listening, as well as the effects that the presence of the author has on your interpretive practices. Plus, the authors coming are all fantastic. I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

Information about the Blog

A quick post to lay out some of the details of the blog assignment:

  • Each of you have signed up for a blog facilitation slot. If your assigned slot is on a Monday, you should post your opening questions or comments by midnight Saturday; if your slot is on a Wednesday, you should post by midnight Monday.
  • Each of the rest of you should check the blog on Sunday/Tuesday, and should respond in the comments at least once a week, contributing to the conversation begun by your classmates.
  • And each of you should post, either at the top level or in the comments, at least once more a week. This post need not focus on the reading — it can be about any of the things I listed in my opening post, or anything else besides.
  • Let me know — perhaps here in the comments — if you have questions…


    Hi, all. Most of you have sent me your usernames, and your accounts should be up and functioning. Do make sure that you test them by logging in with the information emailed to you by the system. (If you’re not logged in, you should see a link to do so at bottom right; if you are logged in, there’ll be a link that reads “site admin.”)

    Once you’re logged in, come back to this post and leave a comment. I’ll pose a question to get us started, but you should feel free to raise questions of your own.

    My question(s): What surprised you, if anything, in the essays by Fruit and Lockwood? What caught your attention? What seems notable in the picture those essays create of the state of literary criticism in the early twentieth century?