My favorite novel is War and Peace, and part of the reason why I love it isn’t just because of the writing but because of the reasons why Tolstoy wrote it. Now I never considered that my love of the novel was in fact a part of what the new historicism critics were doing, but I think I can give a good example of how this works.
Barry says that, “the word of the past replaces the world of the past,” (Barry, 175) meaning that all we have to go on are the texts that have been left behind to us since the actual time in history no longer exists.
In Tolstoy’s case we could include in our analysis of War and Peace:
- His wife’s daily journal. If you ever wanted to know what a pain in the ass Tolstoy was, as well as some insight into Tolstoy’s attitude towards women, serfs, the upper-classes, and how he behaved in general, read his poor wife’s journal.
- We could look at Tolstoy’s military records (he served in the Crimean War 10 years previous to writing the novel) as well as his correspondence writing from that war in which we see him grow more disillusioned with war itself.
- We could also look at the political reforms of the 1860’s, specifically the Russian Serf Emancipation of Emperor Alexander II.
So armed with these additional texts we could get a better picture of what the author was living through at the time as well as give us extra insight into the author himself. Combined we get a bigger picture of not just what the novel is about, but why it exists in the world, why Tolstoy felt a book about the beginnings of the Decembrists Revolt was relevant half a century later.
War and Peace as seen through the old historicism lens could read:
- The characters of the novel are constrained to act in accordance with their constrained social status under the ultimate rule of the Tsar and their desire to fight Napoleon’s invasion of their country.
War and Peace as seen through the new historicism lens could read:
- The characters of the novel are greatly influenced by the new thinking of the age, such as nihilism, radical political reform, social justice, and the erosion of and political complicitness of the Orthodox church in regards to the power of the Tsar.
Barry asks, “If normative language can be seen as in some way male-orientated, the question arises of whether there might be a form of language which is free from this bias, or even in some way orientated towards the female.”
Perhaps a difference can be seen in examining the stereotypes of how men and women use language. For example, men are seen as using language with a specific goal in mind, the stereotype being men try to fix their partner’s problems with “why don’t you just tell your boss X or Y?”. Conversely, the stereotypical female use of language is to use language as a way of expressing emotion, such as “I’m really frustrated with my boss.”
These of course are stereotypes and tropes in our society since men do express their emotions to their partners and women do explain to people how to perform tasks. And the same can be seen in art, such as the character Ripley in the Alien films who performs both stereotypically male and female roles, often at the very same time (protecting a child in her arms while firing a flamethrower).
So what then would be a non-masculine language? Marks and Courtivron seem to be saying that a whole new language – written through their (women’s) bodies – must be invented. Even “pronouncing the word ‘silence’” would be done away with since that would impose a syntax, or a male-dominated control over the language. What this language would be I could image as a form of dance, a physical expression of want and desire and feeling, sort of like bees using their bodies to tell the hive where the pollen is located. Of course this presents the problem of their still would be a language with a rigid syntax that has been imposed on the culture.
Another critque here is by acknowleging we could have any number of finite descrptions in an infite universe of possibilities then we wind up with a Zeno’s paradox situation where the hare never catches the tortise or the arrow is never actually in a location. We have to pick something, no matter how arbitary,.
Saussure makes the distinction between ‘langue’ and ‘parole’, where parole is a part of the larger langue. The oedipus myth fits here in that the play itself is the parole but the whole cycle of plays connected to Thebes is the langue in which we find larger, greater context. Patterns emerge, motifs, contrasts, etc.
Another example of how arbitary this is, is, for example, colors. We have 7 primry colors, but why not 14?Why only 4 seasons instead of 8? Langauge, then reflects the way we see the world, but is not objective reality itself. Of course, there is a definite moment of spring during the equinox, so these moments do exist.
As far as language constitutes our world, meaning is attirbuited to the object or idea by our mind. Luke Skywalker is either a hero freedom fighter, or a terrorist. Margert Thatcher’s plan is either a poll tax, or a community charge. There are three versions to every story, yours, mine, and the truth.
Saussure’s train analogy is good at illustrating what he’s getting at: What gives a train its identity? Every day the cars are different, the engine is different, the passangers are different, it leaves and arrives at different times, and in an emergency might be a bus to the next station. “A train doesn’t have to be a train.”
Saussure also explained how words a relational. Context is derived from adjoining words related to it, such as “hovel, shed, hut, house, mansion, palace.” We know what a hut is because we understand how it relates to other types of dwelling/storage places, but it has little/less meaning without that context.
Saussure says that langauge is (basically) arbitrary and is a system which sands apart from that which it attempts to define. The word ‘hut’ is not the same as a thing you can live in, it’s just part of the sign system used to identify verbally that thing people are living in. (even onomatopoeia is arbitrary)
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist and helped develop modern language study by studying “patterns and functions of lnguage in [current] use … with the emphasi on how meanings are maintained and establisehed,”
Structuralism’s approach takes us “further away from the text, and into large and comparatively abstract questions of genre, history, and philosophy, rather than closer to [the text]. Donne’s ‘Good Morrow’ is best understood in context of it subverting the genre it paradoies, for example.
Structurealism began in France in the 1950s via Claude Levi-Strauss and Roland Barthes. The (very) basic idea is that “things cannot be understood in isolation” – context is key and the more context, the better.
F.R.Leavis picks up the ideas of Arnold: “if you have read the best, and can identify its qualities, then you can be confident in looking at new writing and reacing a new judgment on it.” The author here relates this to a very Protestant mode.
Basically what Eliot is saying as far as ‘originality’ is concerend is that poetry is not a “pouring out of personal emotion,”but rather, “transcending of the individual by a sense of tradition”, and that the poet’s “predecessors can be most clearly heard speaking through him.” Nothing new under Eliot’s sun
Eliot mjor criticl ideas can be broken down into 3 parts: Dissociation of sensibility, impersonality (individual talent essay), and objective correlative. His ideas are rather controversial and my essay on Baraka and Eliot goes into detail on this.
Matthew Arnold came up with the idea of literary ‘touchstones’ which suggests using literature of the past to measure the the quality of the present literature. He believes we need to keep the masters in mind, which is what T.S.Eliot was saying we always do anyway in his essay (individual Talent)
Matthew Arnold feared that the decline in religion would lead to a fractured society with no common beliefs to hold it together and saw literature as a replacement for the middle class to latch onto, however they would need critics to interpert this canon and show the masses its value.
Practical criticism leads through Samuel Johnson and T.S. Eliot and centers upon the close analysis and the ‘close reading’. Idea criticism deals with how the work is structured, how does it affect the audience, how does literature realte to contemporary matters, philosophy, and other ‘ideas’.
Shelly Said ot poetry that it compels us to feel that which we perceive, and to imagine what we know It strips The veil of familiarity , What the Russian’s called defamiliarisation
SAmol Johnson wrote first detailed commentary on something other than the bible=Shakespeare. As the church was Suspicious of entertainment this marks a move towards the secular
Ovid = docere delictendo= to teach by delighting(to entertain is literature’s goal) Sir Philip Sidney said it has to at least entertain or else it would probably not suceed At All in any other matter
Critical theory predates literary theory Aristotle in his Poetics said literature is about character, And that character is revealed through Action . Tragedy stimulates the emotions of pity And fear and should end .with a Cartharsis When emotions are exercised
The job of criticism is to interpret the text, to mediate between it And the reader
Sincerity is to be discovered in the text in such matters AS the avoidance of cliche or over- inflated forms of expression, Emotions should emerge implicitly from the presentation of the event
The purpose of literature is essentially the enhancement of life and the propagation of humane values. Keates” we distrust literature which has a palpable design upon us”
Human nature is essentially unchanging. of poetry=” what oft was thought but never so well expressed”
Good literature is of timeless significance. Ben Johnson (on Shakespeare) “not for an Age, but for all time” EZRA Pound=”news which stays news”
I. A. Richards at Cambridge= Practical Criticism(1929)- isolating the text from history and context = just study the words on the page
with religion waning and a growing economic divide, education, espcially English lit, would help build a national unity. Interacting idea to use it as a form of stale propaganda
English literature would serve” to emancipat us … from the notions and habits which ar peculiar to our own age” connecting us instead with ” what is fixed and enduring” F. D. Maurice,1840, King’s College
I had no idea the first English degree was taught in 1828