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Sunday, June 13, 2010

V Semester Literary theory class notes 2

11 June 2010


A study of anything in a university converts it into a discipline. The institution prescribes a set of writers and thinkers as the authentic thinkers and writers. There is first choice of names then the choice of texts and then the choice of methods.

After the choice of names there are only a select texts of that name that are prescribed. For example the most studied work of Marx is “capitol”, although there are many other works of his which might even be better which are not being studied.

John Donne was never a favourite until T.S. Eliot started writing. Eliot was a philosopher who wrote a powerful essay called, “metaphysical poets”. Eliot in his works put Shakespeare first then Donne then himself and then other writers. He completely ruled out Wordsworth from his choice of writers.
F.R Leavis was in the department of English at Cambridge. He drew two categories: one was the Great tradition, the other minor tradition.

All the writers that Eliot referred to were the Great traditions and others which he considered ‘small’, such as Emily Dickinson and Bronte sisters came under minor traditions.
Also since the past hundred years the English taught in India is the one prescribed by him and has yet not been challenged!

Now the problem that occurred was that the names that he considered small were actually great. For example in Shakespear’s time Christopher Marlow was equally famous.

Coming to methods, disciplines usually use the existing methods. For which they went to philosophy.
Hermeneutic is a school of philosophy which is the theory of interpretation. It was interpretation of primarily The Bible. They tried to read and understand what God said and what God meant when he said those words.

So the theory suggested that Author, like God, has produced something and, to put it in Mr. Pinto’s words, “you waste your lifetime trying to understand what he meant.”
This was also an effort of secularizing the method.

So the question asked constantly is, “What did the author perhaps mean when he wrote?”

And examinations are exactly a test of whether the screwing in of this question has been successful or not. It is a training to think in a particular way and to stop any creativity or thought process.
The next question is,

“How do I know what the author meant?”

Therefore to know what he/she really meant, their biographies were studied.

Was Shakespeare gay?

Start reading about his life

Start reading the text more closely

Make connections!

Then came the formalist approach. Form referring to and paying more attention to structure and discouraging history. Seeking an interpretation which has all its evidences in the text itself.
This was introduced by I.A. Richards who was the first H.O.D. of English in Cambridge at the age of 24 years!

He gave the same poem to two different classes say A and B. But with different names. To class A he gave the poem saying it is by someone called John, and to class B he gave the same poem informing that its by someone called Joan.

Now class A had very positive views of the poems appreciating its style and structure and so on. Whereas class B considered the poem not worthy of praise and discarded it as a poem with nothing to appreciate.

This experiment proved that the readers had connected the names to the sex of the poet and were hence biased.

Therefore Richard suggested that knowing the history of a writer can make you biased, which is why one must concentrate only on the text.
Both these methods continued to be dominant till 1950’s. After which comes “Structuralism” and changes literature and the way it is studied. Mr. Pinto is happy that it happened and promises to explain it in the next class.

Pinto, Anil. Class lecture. Introduction to Literary Theory. Christ University. Bangalore, India. 11 June 2010.

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