Sunday, January 16, 2011
2CEP- What Is Literature? by Terry Eagleton
WHAT IS LITERATURE
ABBREVIATIONS USED: lit= literature, lang= language
ABOUT TERRY EAGLETON:
- Still alive, from UK, Teaches at Cambridge, currently working on theology, comes from Marxist tradition.
-Raymond Williams influenced Eagleton. Williams is a key figure in culture studies. Eagleton differed from Williams, a general pattern in academic relations.
WHAT IS LITERATURE- General ideas
- Kant organized academics into disciplines
- Only 18th century Romantics, began trying to define lit.
- ‘Theory’ cannot have a single exception, because method means that all research should arrive at the same conclusion. Science does this best
- In Social Sciences, answers and conclusions are unimportant. The method or arriving at the conclusion is important, ie: how and why. ie: argumentation > conclusion
-Humanist vs Post Humanist
Post Humanists emphasize the varied ‘Positions of Author and Recipient’, and interactions of Speaker and Listener, Identity and Subject Position, Individual and Subject.
-Texts undergo cycles of relevancy
E.g.: Feminists loved, then hated, and are now re visiting Marx and his theory of labour. Environmentalists are referring to Marx’s idea on resources.
Broad topics argued by Eagleton, to define literature:
b-Fact or fiction?
(His first 2 ideas, were Common Sense explanations of Literature. Common Sense is a literary concept from Plato till 1967, until Derrida broke it.)
c-Literature vs. Literature
d-Formalism (“organized violence committed on ordinary language”) (associated to Linguistics, Structuralism, Saussure). Formalism employed ‘scientific spirit (Pg 2)’: they relied on method and tried to be Objective. (Science can be falsified- Karl Popper) --Emphasis of Form/ Structure over Content -Importance of Devices
(Eagleton isn’t saying that the Formalists didn’t believe content was important. He says that Formalists believed that content isn’t the business of critics, but devices are)
e- Paradox: This estrangement from ordinary language (that the Formalists spoke of) brings us into a fuller possession of experience!
f- Norms?: Formalists identified lit. as a deviation from the norm (ordinary lang.). But what is the norm then? Ordinary lang. itself differs across time and place. Slang doesn’t fit into this idea of the Formalists either.
g- Shift and Change: of time, place and context. (“context tells you it is literary but not the language”)
h- Making strange/ Matter of contrast (Pg 6)
i- Formalists think all lit = poetry, and thus prose is judged by the same scale as poetry.
j- “lit. may be at least as much a question of what people do to writing as of what writing does to them.” .
k- “lit is a non pragmatic discourse with no immediate practical purpose, but referring to a general state of affairs” . But what about Orwell’s essays studied as literature? (Pg 7-8)
l- Points j. and k. imply that lit is not Objective, but is up to how a person decides to read a text and not the nature of what is written (see also Point g.). There is no essence of lit (pg 8 & 9).
m- “Some texts are born literary, some achieve literariness, and some have literariness thrust upon them” (pg 8-9).
NOTE- I have made no lecture notes for pages 10, 11, 12, 13
n- Ideology: there is no randomness (Pg 14) (In India, when we began to include texts by Indian authors in Lit sylabbus, we included Ananthamurthy, RK Laxman. They all happen to be upper class, Hindu, males while most students of Lit were women. Power is maintained and exercised.)
o- Lit is constituted of value judgments. There can be no absolute definition of it, and only definitions that are “according to xyz” (Pg 15)
NOTE/ DISCLAIMER- My notes are by no means comprehensive of Eagleton’s original text. I have only included the information given by Mr Pinto during his lectures and some broad arguements covered in the essay. And out of my lecture notes, only that which is (seemingly?) relevant has been put up here. You still have to break your own head over the essay:).