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Scholes Towards Poetics of Fiction

Scholes Towards Poetics of Fiction

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Towards a Poetics of Fiction: 4) An Approach through GenreAuthor(s): Robert ScholesSource:
NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction,
Vol. 2, No. 2 (Winter, 1969), pp. 101-111Published by: Duke University PressStable URL:
Accessed: 04/08/2009 11:19
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 NOVEL: AForum on Fiction.
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TowardsPoetics fTiction
4)AnApproachthroughGenre1ROBERTSCHOLESInthis"ageofsuspicion"theopeningphraseof Aristotle's Poetics mustprovokeanostalgicsigh,aswecontemplatethe earnestconfidencewithwhich hebegan-thatconfidencebornofalmost Adamicinnocencewith whichhepreparedtonamethedenizensof hiscircumscribedworld:
IIept
7rorCr7LKqs
av7's
re
KaL
rTv
Cd&Lv
avr1~s
...
(About
poetryitselfand thespeciesofit
...).
Howtentative,in com-
parison,is ourtimid "towardsapoeticsoffiction."Andhowniceitmightbe ifwecouldparaphraseAristotle'sentireopeningparagraphin this manner:Aboutfictionitselfandits variousgenres,with the characteristicfunctionofeachgenreand thewayitmust be structuredtosucceed,andwith thenumberandcharacterofthepartsofafictionand other relevantmatters,letusinquire,beginningasnaturedirects,withfirst principles.But"nature"does notgiveus directionssoplainlyanymore,andhere weare,arguingaboutfirstprinciplesbeforemoving hesitantlyin the directionofapo-etics offiction.Myowncontributionto thisargumentwillbe tomake thecase forgenericstudyasthe centralelement inapoeticsoffiction. Butbeforebeginning my argu-ment,andatthe riskofbeingstiflinglymethodical,Iwishtoinquireintothepurposeof such apoetics.Afterall,fictionhasgotonwithoutonefairlywellforsomecenturies;sowhybothernow? Wefeeltheneed forsuch athing,Ibelieve,for reasonsprimarilypedagogical.Thespreadofhighereducationhas resulted inmoreand moreteachingof literature tolessandlessinterestedstudents,byteachers lessand lesscertainof whattheyaredoing.Atpresentthe liberal arts-andespeciallyliterarystudies-areunderstrongpressuretojustifytheir exist-ence interms ofpracticalvalue tothestudentand socialvalue tothecommunity.Thismeans wemust choosebetweenofferingapseudo-scientificjustificationofwhatwearedoinginliterarystudies-with allthedeceitanddishonorthatim-plies-andofferingagenuinelyliteraryandimaginativejustificationofthestudyofimaginativeliterature. Hereis where wefeelthe needof apoetics.We needtobeabletosaymuchmoreclearlywhatwe aredoingwithsuch athingastheundergraduatemajorinEnglish-andweneedto doit better.Myownfeelinginthismatter is thatwecan nolongerjustifyourselvesinanArnoldianway.We
1
RobertScholes'approachthroughgenrewasprecededinthis seriesbyMalcolmBradbury's approachthroughstructure(Fall1967),DavidLodge's approachthroughlanguage(Winter1968),andBarbaraHardy'sapproachthroughnarrative(Fall1969).
 
NOVELJWINTER
1969
cannotsaythat we arepresenting"the best thathas beenthoughtand said" soastoequipthestudentwith moralstrengthand conservative values.Seenclearly,suchasystemamounts to akind ofbrain-washinginwhichstudentsarepre-sented withideasaboutliterarytexts but neverequippedto criticizethosetexts orproduce comparableones themselves.How,then,dowejustifyourteachingandstudyofliterature?Wedoitpartlyon thepragmaticgroundsthatweareteachingvaluablelinguisticskills,andthatliteraryworks,beingthe mostpowerfulandcomplexkindsof verbalexperience,areappropriateandnatural materials with which todevelopsuchskills.Andweaddto this ourclaims for literature as adeveloperoftheimagination-thebestavailablemeansofencouraging sensitivityandenlarging sympathies.If thefor-malstudyofEnglishisto maintain itsplaceas a liberalart,of value to amanascitizen or aspersonandnotjustas a kind ofprofessionaltraining,it musttake asits end theequippingofits students to encounterliteraryworks aftergraduation,inthe midstofnon-literarycareers and otherpublicandprivatedistractions.OurgraduatesinEnglishshouldbe,simply, literate-capableofmakinganadequateresponsetothebestcontemporaryliteratureand theliterature of thepast,andcapableofexercisingrealjudgmentinreacting criticallytothe workstheyread.Theyshould alsobesincerelyanxioustoread-turnedon,not turnedoff,bytheireducation.Inrecentyearswehavemade some stridesindevelopingapoeticsfor theteachingoflyricforms. After I. A.Richards' PracticalCriticism,arealrevolutionintheteachingofpoetry began-andthoughthat revolutionis unfinished and insomeaspectswrong-headed (inmy view),it hasplacedpoetry clearlyahead offictionin thatmanyteachersofpoetryknowwhattheyaredoingwhentheyteachapoem,whileveryfewteachersoffictionhave anadequateideaofwhattheyaredoingwhentheyteach a novel.This,Iwish tosuggest,iswhywefeelsopressinga need forapoeticsoffiction;andthis istheneed thatapoeticsof fictionshouldfill. Itshouldhelpus to teachfictionbetter,so that our students will read itbetteraftertheyhavegraduatedandleftour hands.Incidentally,it willhave to makebetter readers ofus in theprocess.NowIwanttoarguethatapoeticssuch as the oneIhave mentionedshould beessentially genericin character.And thismeansIwant toarguethat our instruc-tioninthe classroomshouldalsobeessentiallygeneric.My argumentwill takeuptwoaspectsof thequestion:first,thereasons forbasingapoeticsongenre-study;andsecond,the natureofageneric studyof fictionreally adequatefor thepur-poseIhave sketched out.Inmaking myinitialcaseforthestudyof fictionalgenresandmodes, then,Ishouldlike itunderstood thatIam notadvocatingthesimple-minded,pigeonholing operationwhichhassometimespresenteditself asgenre-studyin thepast.Tobeginwith,thenotion ofapoeticsoffictionisalready generic.We have as-sumed,at leastprovisionally,that fiction doesnotwork the samewaythatlyricpoetrydoes,andbeyondthat,thatimaginativeliterature does not workthewaythat certainother verbal constructs-which arenotimaginative-doin factwork.
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