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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Literature and philosophy notes- 26th Monday -2011

Literature and Philosophy

The class discussed the second chapter of Peter Zima’s The Philosophy of Modern Literary Theory. The particular chapter deals with the Kantian components in Anglo-American New Criticism and Russian Formalism.

The historical conditions which caused the birth of New Criticism and Formalism are traced out.  ‘Text-only’ methodology of New Criticism proposed by I.A. Richards was seen as an impact of the historical conditions of the then contemporary society. Poetic analysis was the only possible way for I.A Richards to establish the methodology of New Criticism in the overcrowded classrooms. In fact this insight explains the argument that the socio-political conditions of the society are ingrained in philosophy.

Although the two literary theories belong to different countries, both primarily placed ‘expression plane’ as more important than ‘content plane.’ It is the Kantian philosophy which asserts the autonomy of art through ‘expression plane’ and hence it cannot be reduced to socio-historical content.

The section titled “Abortive dialogue between Marxists and Formalists” is discussed in detail. Marxists were interested in the ‘ideological contexts of literary texts.’ On the other hand, Formalists primarily looked at the question of how literary texts are made and completely neglected the social set up and political aims it articulates. Paul Medvedev        relates the formalist ‘how’ with the Marxist ‘why’ and ‘what’ (as qtd. in The Philosophy of Modern Literary Theory). But the Formalists were prevented from a further dialogue with Marxists for political reasons in 1920s and 1930s and the ‘aborted dialogue’ turned to a dialogue in the 1970s.

An introduction to the third chapter is given in the class. Like the Formalists, Structuralists were also Kantian and followers of avant garde. They looked primarily at the ‘expression plane’ and defied conceptual definition. Here the class got into the discussion of ‘monosemy’ and ‘polysemy.’ Polysemy of the expression plane (signifier) and monosemy of the conceptual plane (signified) are thus introduced into the class. Different ways to evoke the same concept explain the monosemy of the ‘conceptual plane.’

The Hegelian elements in Mukarovsky are discussed in the class. The historical conception of art and the sociological idea that art can have an impact on a society’s system of values and norms are incompatible with Kantian stance. This also raises a challenge to Kantian stance of ‘disinterested pleasure.’ In the class ‘Semantic gesture’ of Mukarovsky is explained with European music which works purely through sound.  

The six functions of language which were identified by Roman Jakobson are discussed in detail. Any literary text can thus be read on an ‘emotive’, ‘conative’ or any other functions of language. This reveals the fact that literary text contains other functions which cannot be reduced to the poetic component. This is yet again incompatible with the Kantian stance.

The class left with the insight that much of the issues around translation studies owe its origin from Kantian philosophical stance.


Works Cited:

Pinto, Anil. “Class on Anglo-American New Criticism and Russian Formalism.” Christ

          University. Bangalore. 26 Oct. 2011. Lecture.

Zima, Peter V. The Philosophy of Modern Literary Theory. New Jersey: The Athlone 

           Press, 1999. Print.
Prepared by sharon Abraham

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