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ENG 371 - [Political Criticism]

ENG 371 - [Political Criticism]

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Published by Turhan Uludag
literary theory, criticism and philosophy in general and of course the pupose of them.
literary theory, criticism and philosophy in general and of course the pupose of them.

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Published by: Turhan Uludag on Nov 07, 2008
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06/21/2010

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Turhan Uludag002729ENG 371Dr. Rodney SharkeyPolitics of Non-Political CriticismWhat is “Literary Criticism”? According to one definition, it means “analysis, interpretation, and evaluationof works of literature in light of existing standards of taste, or with the purpose of creating new standards”.
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Shouldliterary criticism only analyze literary works, or, can it expand into other areas of study—philosophy, science, politics, psychology, theology etc? In this essay, I will attempt to illustrate how literary criticism should not just dealwith literary works, but also political, sociological and cultural issues. I will also show the development of literarycriticism in the 20
th
century, and how it improved to be political.Historically, literary criticism has started with the works of Plato. Ever since Aristotle wrote about theworks of Plato, literary criticism has been the history of critical arguments. In the 20
th
century, by the establishmentof English literature departments, F.R Leavis dismissed “all literature except the small amount of genuinely realizedwork which represented the “great tradition”.
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Leavis made an assumed distinction between good literature and probably bad literature.According to Leavis, every work of art must contain within itself vibrant language, must have a moral pointand also must connect to the organic community. A piece of literature that does not employ these characteristics,according to his taste, would be considered not a good literature. Obviously, Leavis’ biased notion of what is goodand bad literature is a subjective opinion of his own understanding of literature. First, because what is consideredmoral, vibrant piece will be seen differently by the eyes of another reader—it might be vibrant to me, but it may not be vibrant to someone who has read literature 30 years (which, of course, has a accumulated vocabulary).Furthermore, to give another example, Shakespeare’s work might be culturally vibrant now, but was anordinary language at the time he was writing. Leavis thought that literature had intentional vibrant language whereasthat was not the case; he looked literature in its moral sense. That is why the first criticism was called “moralcriticism”. Again, in moral criticism, authorial intention was present because critics sought to understand the moral point of the author—if there was any, of course. In moral criticism, critics looked at the conflict between good and
 
Uludag / 2 bad; and who was the main character of the story. To give a broad example, fairy tales exemplified these moralcharacteristics.Russian Formalism emerged in Russia during the second decade of the twentieth century and remainedactive until 1930s. Formalists, “first and foremost emphasized the autonomous nature of literature and consequentlythe proper study of literature as neither a reflection of the life of its author nor as by product of the historical or cultural milieu in which it was created”.
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This also parallels with the theory of New Criticisms which they thoughtthat literature is just about itself. The main two characteristics of Formalism are “defamiliarization” [ostranenie] and“literariness”. Defamiliarization, as the word suggests “makes strange” either by the function of the form, or by thefunction of the content. Formalists thought that literature is different from non-literature; and what makes a piece of writing is its literariness. Again, one can ask the question: what is special about this literariness? For Formalists, perhaps it can be speculated that literature is fictional, whereas a newspaper text is factual; literature is about stories,which have plots, whereas political speech is not.In United States, with the arrival of New Criticism, (analogously similar with Formalism) author’s culturalcontext, biography, and intention was considered meaningless when analyzing a piece of literature. W. K Wimsattand Monroe C. Beardsley have identified five fallacies on this account, which the reader should consider whenreading a text. They argue, that the author is the cause of a work, but he/she are not the result [meaning]; the presence of writing a text is not important because the readers can never be in that presence; the object [aim] of  poetry is not singlitude in meaning but multitude [ambiguity]; narrator of a text is not the author; and finally, draftssignify the incapacity to communicate.I. A. Richards, in his
 Practical Criticism
(1929) “emphasized the importance of close textual reading andwarned against the dangers of sentimentality, generalizations, and lazy, careless reading”. (Encarta 98) His work hasalso affected the development of New Criticism. New Criticism, as it is indicated above, is involved in taking a closelook at the text, finding out what the text can say in its own. Thus, new critics limited themselves to the formalstructures of a text.How can New Criticism be a political criticism? New Criticism, in some sense, can become political because it makes the readers realize that meaning is not always found outside of the text, but inside. Furthermore, itforces readers’ imaginativeness to expand by making them to focus and create commentaries about a little materialthus the readers become aware how much they can produce from less data.
 
Uludag / 3A work can be political in three different ways: culturally, formally or textually
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;so, in this case, New Criticism is both textually and formally political, but not culturally.Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, attempted to discover “phenomena by focusingexclusively on them”, and also, how these phenomena represented themselves to the consciousness of the reader.Husserl divided this consciousness into two: “noesis” (act of consciousness) and “noema” (object of consciousness).Thus, marked the interconnection between the reader and the text. Phenomenology believes that texts do not exist inisolation; they only exist—or become existent—when there is a reader to contemplate what the text is about.Moreover, it deals with how the reader is affected by a work and in the long rung, how that work will be affected byits reader. So, reader and the text is extricably dependent on each other. Reader can not exist in solitude, nor can theobject itself. Phenomenology was probably the thirst theory to discuss the effects of a text upon its reader by bringing this “inter-subjectivity”.Then, how do we apply all these theories to literature itself? What different interpretations can we come upwith? In what ways do these theories overlap with each other? For instance,
Waiting for Godot 
, in moral criticism isabout the hopeless and remedyless situation of humanity, thus, the characters in the play are waiting for purification by divine will. It can also be about the perverse nature of humanity, where there is no harmony between one andother (Vladimir and Estragon) or the corruption of communication between them.For the Formalists, it was an attempt to “make strange” our beliefs about the nature of play per se. Or, withthe content presented, it can also be an eccentric play because there is no happy ending and the readers are totallyastonished to see that this guy/girl called Godot does not arrive. For the New Critics, the play was just about itself.The conflict between Pozzo and Lucky is relevant because in some ways it displays the binary oppositions in the play—say, master/slave. What about presence and absence?Phenomenological approach would be the immediate affect it had on the readers. While reading
Waiting for Godot 
, we have constructed ourselves into believing that there is such thing as Godot in the play that must somehowarrive. Let’s say that Godot was going to show up at the end of the text, we would have never known it beforereading it. Therefore, the play needs a reader—audience—to convey its ideas, it cannot exists alone. Beckett did notwrite this play into thinking that nobody will ever read it, maybe he did. What Beckett did is that he “bared thedevice” he showed the “means of production” in his play because the readers, while reading, understood the differenttypes of discourses that were taking place in the play—the discourse or economics, religion, politics etc.

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