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Chapter 24

American Theory and Criticism-I

Background and Introduction


American theory during the early 1970s includes the social and political struggles of the 1960s, and can be also seen as a leftist response to the various issues marking 1968, a year which witnessed the assassinations of artin !uther "ing #r$ and %obert "ennedy, the &oviet

invasion of '(echoslovakia, the beginning of the offensive in )ietnam, antiwar protests around the world, and a strike and students protests in *aris$ +he strike and protests in *aris proved to be of special significance since their violent suppression by authorities caused in ,rench intellectuals a need for critical metalanguages in order to analy(e the damaging effects of power in all systems of daily life, along with the deterioration of the humanistic conception of the sub-ect, and the fundamental disunity of artworks$ .ndeed it became increasingly important during this time for radical ,rench and American theorists to reveal and move to subvert the conservative ideologies whether in relation to society, the individual, or literary genres and their frameworks$

Structuralism /eoffrey 0artman1s 2&tructuralism3 +he Anglo4American Adventure5 619967, an essay that appeared in a special issue of Yale French Studies dedicated to situating structuralism in its various domains of use3 literary criticism, anthropology, aesthetics, psychology, and linguistics$ &tructuralism is believed to be established 8uite prominently in America by 1970 with the publication of The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man$ &tructuralism in the 70s was an important phenomenon because of the publication of a number of influential e9pository works by American academics, including ,rederic #ameson1s PrisonHouse of Language, %obert &choles1s Structuralism in Literature , and #onathan 'uller1s Structuralist Poetics and Saussure$ As #ameson1s title suggests, structuralism was a vision of a world knowable only through the system of differences that is language, itself conceived by structuralists following ,erdinand :e &aussure in terms of the primacy of langue 6the linguistic system7 to parole 6individual speech acts7$ ,or structuralists, specific utterances only assumed a meaning relative to some pre4e9isting system of rules and conventions, the mapping of which was identified by 'uller as the primary goal of literary interpretation, and not the making of the meaning per se$ ;e must understand that structuralism helped to eliminated any sense in which literature operated outside or apart from culture by stressing the implication of literature and other cultural practices in an elaborate network of signs$ +his also led to the undermining of the artist or the author$ 0ence %oland <arthe1s now famous claim that the author was 2dead$5 ;hereas critics had once worked to show how apparent contradictions could in fact be resolved to underscore the fundamental unity of literary te9ts, structuralists became concerned, often for political reasons, with demonstrating the reverse$ +his e9plains the critical turn during the 1970s away from what <arthes called the 2writerly5 6often realist7 te9t

and toward its 2readerly5 6often modernist or postmodernist avant4garde7 counterpart= away, that is, from an aesthetic appreciation of closure and toward a politically grounded affirmation of the virtues of open4endedness, opacity, and at times incoherence$ +his shift accompanied and was consistent with the view, argued for in Structuralist Poetics, that the making of te9tual meaning is primarily the reader1s responsibility$ +he reader features prominently in a variety of approaches to te9tual meaning known in America as %eader4%esponse +heaory$ +his encompasses theorists linked by their belief in the central role played by the reader in making te9ts mean$ &everal American critics during the 1970s, including >orman 0olland , ichael %iffaterre and &tanley ,ish 6 in his highly

influential Is There a Text in This Class?7, called for the interpretive authority within the reader 6and >?+ in the author nor in the te9t7 and asserted that the underlying structures within te9ts re8uired for making their interpretation possible should be systematically identified and catalogued$ ,ish1s influence in this area has proven the most significant$ .n his essay 20ow to %ecogni(e a *oem ;hen @ou &ee ?ne5 ,ish concludes that readers are responsible not merely for the meanings assigned to te9ts but for the very te9ts themselves$ Again ,ish, in 2.s +here a +e9t in +his 'lassA and 2.nterpreting the Varioum,5 argues for a legitimacy of interpretation$ .n addition to informing reader4response theory, structuralism during the 1970s fused with earlier formalisms to provoke an analysis of narrative form subse8uently termed >arrotolgy$ structuralist narratology owes much to ,rench theorists like /earard /enette and %oland <arthes$ ,rom the early 1960s, critics such as ;ayne <ooth in The hetoric of Fiction, also played an important role in shaping narratology1s scope$ +hroughout the 1970s theories proposed by <ooth, <arthes, /enette and &eymour 'hatman 6 Stor! and "iscourse7

continued to influence scholars interested in further refining and clarifying our understanding

of such narrative elements as narrators, time, mood, and point of view$ A ma-or argument between narratologists has focused on the concept of the implied author$ Deconstruction 'ounterposed against &tructuralism during the 1970s was :econstruction, a methodology that coincided with structuralism following the publication of the 2poststructuralist5 and phenomenological works by #ac8ues :errida and *aul :e an to the structuralist anthology

The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man $ .nterestingly it was republished in 197B under a new title3 The Structuralist Contro#ers!$ .f nothing else, this retitling signals the e9tent to which, even as it entered the American critical consciousness, structuralism e9isted as a deeply fraught concept, a methodology divided against itself in ways that would prove e9traordinary generative for literary and cultural critics as the 1970s drew to a close$ Case study Read the following excerpt from Stephen Greenblatts The Circulation of Social Energy <ut what is Csocial energy1A +he term implies something measurable, yet . cannot provide a convenient and reliable formula for isolating a single, stable 8uantum for e9amination$ ;e identify energia only indirectly, by its effects3 it is manifested in the capacity of certain verbal, aural, and visual traces to produce, shape, and organi(e collective physical and mental e9periences$ 0ence it is associated with repeatable forms of pleasure and interest, with the capacity to arose dis8uiet, pain, fear, the beating of my heart, pity, laughter, tension, relief, wonder$ .n its aesthetic codes, social energy must have a minimal predictability444enough to make simple repetitions possible444and a minimal range3 enough to reach out beyond a single creator or consumer to some community, however constricted$ ?ccasionally, and we are generally interested in these occasions, the predictability and range will be far greater3 large

numbers of men and women of different social classes and divergent beliefs will be induced to e9plode with laughter or weep or e9perience a comple9 blend of an9iety and e9altation$ oreover, the aesthetic forms of social energy are usually charactreri(ed by a minimal adaptability444enough to enable them to survive at least some of the constant changes in social circumstance and cultural value that make ordinary utterances evanescent$ ;hereas most collective e9pressions moved from their original setting to a new place or time are dead on arrival, the social energy encoded in certain works of art continues to generate the illusion of life for centuries$ . want to understand the negotiations through which works of art obtain and amplify such poerful energy$ (Green latt! Stephen" #The Circulation o$ Social %nergy&! p" '("

Discussion ,or /reenblatt, te9ts manufacture as well as reflect codes$ :iscuss this statement in the light of >ew 0istoricism$

Geo$$rey )artman*s !eyond "ormalism! and de +an*s !lindness and #nsight :errida and de an1s early poststructuralist works, along with 0arold <loom1s The Visionar! iller1s Thomas

Com$an! 619717 and The %nxiet! of Influence, 6197D7 as well as #$ 0illis

Hard!, 619707, and 2Ariadne1s +hread,5 619767, were grouped in the manifesto "econstruction and Criticism 619797$ .n &e!ond Formalism 61966 7, 0artman points out the core principles of deconstruction, such as its e9aggerated emphasis on the arbitrariness of the linguistic sign, the acknowledgement of the hierarchical arrangement of terms con-oined within structuralist binary oppositions,

and :errida1s proposition of the inescapability and irreducibility of the 2te9t$5 +his view is independent of language1s inherent ambiguity, self4referentiality, and indeterminacy dramatically changed the deconstrcutionists1 sense of what their method, was supposed to result in$ ;hat deconstruction does seek to encourage is readerly 2play,5 centering on what :errida in 2&ignature Event 'onte9t5 6198B7 refers to as 2reversing and displacing a conceptual order as well as the nonconceptual order5$ *aul de an1s suggests in &lindness and Insight 6198D7 that very often critics1 insights

derive from their inadvertent violation of their declared principles, which, 8uite literally, leaves them saying things they do not mean$ ?ne of the main criticisms levelled against deconstruction is that its philosophical density, self4 referentiality, and privileging of te9tual play over e9egesis of the te9t insulates it from the world$

,-I.
1. Answer the following3

i$ ;ho were the structuralistsA ii$ ;hat is narratologyA >ame some of its influential theorists$ iii$ ;hat is the ma-or criticism against deconstructionA B$ atch the following3 Author i ii %obert &chole ,rederic #ameson +itle a Prison-House of Language b Stor! and "iscourse

ii i

#onathan 'uller

c Structuralism in Literature

iv &eymour 'hatman

d Structuralist Poetics

Ans/er key B3 i4c =ii4a= iii4d = iv4b Suggested readings0 /reenblatt, &tephen$ 2+he 'irculation of &ocial Energy$5 &hakespearean >egotiations3 'irculation of &ocial Energy in %enaissance England$ ?9ford3 'larendon *ress, 1989$,ull te9t 3http3FFwww$scribd$comFdocFGBD0D790F/%EE><!A++4+he4'irculation4of4&ocial4

Energy 6accessed D0 :ec B01B7$

Suggested /e sites

http3FFweb$mst$eduFHpsyworldFstructuralism$htm http3FFtvtropes$orgFpmwikiFpmwiki$phpF ainF:econstruction http3FFwww$rlwclarke$netFcoursesFlitsBD06FB0104 B011F11<,ish,.nterpretingthe)ariorum$pdf