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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Literature as a Construct

Mr Pinto’s Class Note on THE RISE OF ENGLISH, Terry Eagleton.

7th July, 09

One of the important arguments in Eagleton’s ‘The Rise Of English’ is that Literature is a construct.

The obvious questions that arise are who constructs it and why is it done? It is certainly done for social, political and cultural reasons by certain influential forces. A prominent example of such a construct is gender identity. We can see the journey gender identity (heterosexuality, incest love, homosexuality to name a few) has taken place throughout the history of literature and how its suppression becomes a construct of social/political control and influence.

Lets trace this back to the much studied Greek tragedy ‘Oedipus The King’ by Sophocles. On unknowingly obliging a prophecy and killing his own father (Laius) and marrying his own mother (Jocasta), Oedipus, King of Thebes, being a fair and just King decides to go into exile after blinding himself. What can be observed is that there is a control exerted by Greek Literature here to suppress a form of sensuality. Mother – Son.

Interestingly, Judith Butler (Gender Trouble) had raised the question as to why the prophecy existed in the first place. Her archive based research showed that Oedipus’ father, Laius, had been engaging with a young boy, the result of which invited the curse of the Gods and hence the prophecy. Here we observe that the sensuality between man and man is being disapproved, suppressed and controlled by suggesting that sexuality of that kind is punishable by the Gods.

Another important Greek tragedy was of Antigone. Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus. Antigone’s conflict with Creon, Oedipus’ brother, arises when Creon declared that the body of Antigone’s brother may not be given a proper burial as he was suspected to have betrayed Thebes. But Antigone wishes to give her brother a proper burial nevertheless and defying Creon’s orders, buries him. Conclusions drawn were that her incestuous love for her brother resulted in her taking a stand against the King and his orders. Clearly, a covert disapproval of incest sensuality between brother and sister.   

All three cases, when studied individually, suggests a taboo against homosexuality and incest through the medium of literature. With the hope of idealizing or supporting heterosexuality? That can be left open to interpretation. There is, however, a certain masculine hegemony being promoted because nowhere does it raise the taboo against female homosexuality (lesbianism). In fact, the subject doesn’t even get addressed in order to be disapproved of. But what is irrefutable is that through a systematic representation and repression of such ideas, ‘illegitimizing’ (for want of a better word) certain kinds of sensualities proves that Literature is indeed a ‘construct’ for socio-political and cultural reasons by powerful social forces. 

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