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Richard L. W.

Clarke LITS2002 Notes 01

1 EARLY MODERN THOUGHT (c.1600 - c.1785) 17th CENTURY: THE AGE OF REASON 18th CENTURY: THE ENLIGHTENMENT The Author: literature is largely an impersonal exercise not a vehicle for self-expression or selfexploration; the author matters only insofar as his genius and wit are responsible for the creation of the work in question. Literary Form: there is a general tendency to look towards the past for the sanction of established authorities and practices (hence, an emphasis on tradition in this sense). Indeed, emulation of the style of the Classics is extolled to the point of a prescriptive and formulaic conformity to those rules (e.g. the three unities) extrapolated from the work of the ancient masters. Diction: figurative language is viewed as a two-edged sword in that, used wrongly, it can muddy and obfuscate but also, used rightly, it can shed light on the object depicted. Genres: Poetry, early forms of prose fiction (the rise of the novel). Dominant Mode: satire


Literature: the view predominates that literature is an essentially rational undertaking, i.e., it is founded on mainly rational principles and appeals principally to the reason shared by all humans in its quest to better humanity.

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2002 Notes 01

2 Literary History: An essentially static and universalist conception of literature prevails, i.e., there is little sense that literature changes and develops over time or that it varies from place to place. In fact, there is an assumption that there is a common core to all great literature which remains essentially the same from period to period, place to place, irrespective of external superficialities such as the particular language in which it is written, etc. In short, certain classic works are both timeless and universal. The Reader: a pragmatic conception of literature prevails according to which literature must be utile et dulce, i.e., both entertaining or interesting to the reader in some way (dulce) and educational or didactic (utile). It accomplishes this mainly by appealing to his/her reason, rather than the passions. Representation: the basic assumption informing both the writing and the criticism of literature is that of imitation / realism, i.e., literature is conceived of as a mirror held up to nature that ought to be judged accordingly, i.e. in terms of its veracity. In competition with the realist impulse described above, there was also a preoccupation with the Beautiful, i.e. those attributes of the natural world and artworks which in the perfection of their form approximate the order and beauty of the ideal world.

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2002 Notes 01

3 Semantics: a correspondence / instrumentalist theory of meaning prevails, i.e., the meaning of a word (e.g. c-a-t) is an idea (in this instance, the idea cat) which is in turn a reflection of a part of external reality (the referent, e.g. what we call a cat, i.e., a real, furry little creature that purrs, etc.). Ideas exist prior to language but words are the necessary medium by which thoughts are communicated from one person to another. Language is, in short, a vehicle of communication. Diction: precision, clarity and transparency are the qualities accordingly extolled, underpinned by a strong suspicion of the potentially obfuscatory effects of figurative language such as similes and metaphors for their ability to cloud, rather than shed light on, the referent. Conformity to the linguistic norms of the community in question is extolled, that is, to the standard version of the language in question common to the community of speakers and writers of which the speaker/writer in question is part and which is accordingly not peculiar to him/her. The result of this was that little by way of experimentation, innovation, neologisms, etc. was encouraged. There is little or no recognition of or emphasis on historical change. Rather, the prevailing assumption is that the world is essentially static, any changes being seen as essentially cyclical in nature (in the manner of the recurrence of the seasons). History as an institutionalised discipline of study would develop only during the nineteenth century. A timeless, universal human nature is extolled; determinants such as gender, race, place of birth, etc. are thought of as merely accidental, superficial and unimportant features appended thereto. In other words, there is an assumption that human nature is not historically- or culturally-specific in that it does not vary from period to period or place to place and is unaffected by factors such as ones sex or skin-colour.




The Mind: a dualistic conception of the mind (i.e. the view that the mind is different in substance from the physical body) consolidates itself. The Self: an essentially Platonic, hierarchical conception of the self (in which the reason [associated with the head] ought to prevail over the emotions [the heart] and the bodily appetites [stomach, genital organs]) continues to hold sway.

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2002 Notes 01

4 Empiricism: this is the view that the ideas which comprise our consciousness are a reflection of the external world. Consciousness is a posteriori. Key figures include: John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume Rationalism: this is the view that at least some of our ideas, the most important ones, precede our intercourse with the external world and thus are intrinsic to our consciousness. Consciousness is, at least in part, a priori. Key figures include: Ren Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Johann Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant. Objectivity: the view predominates that the absolute truth can be known about any and all things and objectivity is to be striven for. Realism, Positivism, Scientism There is less an emphasis on the filtering effect of tradition in the sense described above and greater stress placed on a direct encounter with the things themselves which are fundamentally the same everywhere and at all times. In other words, notwithstanding differences of place and time, we are always already talking about more or less the same things, 'reality' being fundamentally unchanging over time and invariable from place to place. The Neoclassicals accordingly believe that, culturally speaking, we need to be selective: it is not a question of absorbing wholesale what one's culture bequeathes to you but of respecting those of our ancestors who were able to see things as they really are and accordingly were able to hold a mirror up to nature. From this point of view, novelty is an illusion in that there is arguably nothing inherently new under the sun. Moreover, it is Pope's argument that our earliest ancestors were arguably closer to the truth than we are because they were came on the scene before anyone else and encountered things directly whereas our own thoughts have been necessarily tainted to some degree at least by the intervening speculations, right and wrong, of the persons who stand between us and them. Pope, et al. in the eighteenth century accordingly sought to ground their own work in the literature and culture of Ancient Greece and Rome (hence the label 'neo-classical') by emulating the work of greats like Homer.


Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2002 Notes 01

5 Physics: during the 18th century, thanks in large part to the work of Isaac Newton, the image of a mechanistic, dead universe that operates according to purely mechanical, material principles began to gradually take hold, at least in academic circles. The foundations of modern science are being laid at this time through the work of the natural philosophers. Metaphysics (Religion): the general public remains religious and, specifically, Christian. A (Platonic) belief persists that there exists another non-material, ideal world which is our true home. To put this another way, a Christianised Neoplatonism continues to prevail, that is, the view basically that the material world (the Earth) is an imperfect reflection of a better, if not ideal world (Heaven). This is normally accompanied by a hierarchical vision of natural and social order for which E. M. Tillyard coined the term the Elizabethan World Picture, i.e., a belief in a hierarchical universe with God located at the top, man somewhere in the middle, flora and fauna beneath him, and inanimate objects at the bottom (Popes Essay on Man is a wonderful illustration of this schema). A hierarchical economic, social and political order prevails in most societies; The Economy: a rural agricultural economy is gradually giving way to an urban, industrialised economy. Social Structure: a rigid class structure is in place with a minority of people owning the land and, later, the factories. The majority of persons live in poverty and even squalour, labouring in the fields or, later, in the factories for very little.


SOCIETY Politics: conservatism (the preservation of or, at least, failure to question the status quo) is the dominant political mood. Radical challenges to the status quo are to be repudiated precisely because it is thought to have been designed by God, though intra-class power struggles are common and variously justified. Gender: a patriarchal social order prevails, i.e. discrimination on the basis of gender is widespread in that women are largely objects exchanged between men and denied ownership of property.

Richard L. W. Clarke LITS2002 Notes 01