How should one go about analyzing a text? Alas, a worthy question, one we have spent the semester addressing. In my attempt to answer it, I have decided to focus upon a single aspect of the grander picture, a constituent of the overall question: what decides literary and artistic value? Is there something inherent in a text for which analysts should search, or does the reader decide meaning? Let’s say, just for the moment, that literary value is measured in the ability of a text to relay gender stereotypes. Who is to say, then, that a silly YouTube advertisement—“Why men run away: 10 mistakes that women frequently make”—does not hold literary value? The advertisement is trashy; chances are, the author didn’t put a whole lot of thought or effort into writing it. Regardless, I think that such an advertisement does hold literary value; and in this way, I am a true advocate of new historicism.
The advertisement itself does not deconstruct gender stereotypes. Perhaps the kinds of texts that do are in a way more valuable than those that simply relay them. But we cannot deny that throughout history, literature has performed both functions—relaying and deconstructing. The job of a literary critic is not to decide the value or intelligence of an author. Our job is to understand a text within its context—the context of the author’s emotional heartbreak, the context of a warring England, or the context of gender stereotypes in the United States. This is literature in its essence: a contextualized mirror, with the capacity to reflect or deconstruct culture. The YouTube advertisement reflects culture: it appeals to perceived female insecurities, reinforces the notion of men’s emotional disconnect, broadens the gap between the sexes.
“The historicity of texts and the textuality of history”: such is the mantra of new historicism. This YouTube advertisement shall not (nor should it) do down in history as a masterpiece. But the ad has meaning. It should be contextualized within its purpose, if known (to redirect YouTube-goers to, within its intended audience (probably teenaged to middle-aged women) within culture (gender relations), and of course, within other texts. Let’s look at the ultra-famous novel He’s Just Not That Into You, and this internet ad, and a recently-published thesis on social culture at Dickinson College.
As I continue on in my literary travails, I would like to keep in mind the idea of perspective. For any piece of work, there are probably hundreds (okay, maybe not quite hundreds) of different contexts in which I could view it. I feel that my job is to keep looking, because culture, like meaning, is everywhere. It is the sub-context of the words all around us, even the words we’ve learned to ignore, like those constituting YouTube ads. Potential meaning, however, is locked up in isolation; the job of the critic is to contextualize it, and thus to liberate it.

Literary Theory Manifesto: James George

In our English 220 class we’ve discussed many different ways in which literature can be analyzed. We have applied this knowledge while reading the texts of Mrs. Dalloway, Othello, and various poems. We have also read and discussed many articles from the leading authorities on these literary theories such as Foucault’s “What is an Author?” and Wimsatt and Beardsley’s “The Intentional Fallacy.” Now the time has come for us to decide which of these theories (if any one) do we consider the best. This question can be daunting because there is such a wide variety of theories to choose from.

Every theory offers a unique and enlightening perspective on most literary texts, but I find Gender Theory particularly interesting. Of course my choice to use this theory would depend greatly on the evidence found in the text, but I feel that I can find a sufficient amount of evidence in most texts. The important question to consider when choosing a theory to analyze a text with is, “What evidence can I use to support this theory?” There are elements of almost all theories in almost all texts, but to make a truly convincing argument, there must be enough evidence to strongly support your thesis.

There is no right literary theory, but there are more convincing arguments. The choice of a theory by a literary critic depends on the text. Although having a great amount of evidence for a particular theory can be helpful, it may be more interesting to identify the way in which obscure theories apply to texts. Broadening the thematic implications of a text is the purpose of literary theory and applying obscure theories that would not be ordinarily applied to a text can make the reader read the text in a very different way.

In the future when I read literary works I will make sure to keep as many of these theories as possible in mind. Focusing on one theory can be limiting although it may be helpful when gathering evidence for a paper. Keeping a broad perspective on literature and not ignoring it’s many layers is important and I plan on considering as many theories as possible while reading literature. Exploring the application of these theories in the works I have previously read will also be helpful in understanding the different theories. The pursuit of understanding more theories is never ending, but I also plan on researching other theories that we did not discuss in class in order to gain a better understanding of the ever expanding breadth of literary theory.

What Lies in Wildness: My Ecocritical Manifesto

Evidence exists to support multiple interpretations of meaning in a text. That method which takes advantage of the largest number of methods, and applies them in a way that affects change outside literary study, is the method I prefer. A method commonly called “ecocriticism” is the approach I’ve found that fits this bill best. Ecocriticism explores the way texts reflect humanity’s interaction with the non-human world. I have included links to more resources on ecocriticism below, but the methods here are my take on this approach.

Ecocriticism sees texts as manifestations of how a culture feels towards its physical environment. It notes commonly overlooked textual elements, such as space and attitudes towards the “natural” (e.g. flora, fauna, climate). Figurate language, particularly personification, should be read with a consciousness of how humans interface with nature. Ecocriticism seeks out implied hierarchies among characters or non-characters (such as animals, or resources). Ecocriticism reads texts with a desire to examine how humans and other elements of the ecosystem cohabit the intra-textual system.

An ecocritical analysis utilizes most critical approaches to probe the human-non-human relationship, but feminist, gender, race, and postcolonial theory are the most commonly used. Their terminologies frame how the human-non-human relationship is described, and the way elements of a text are assigned meaning within that relationship. An ecocritical analysis of Mrs. Dalloway might describe the various attitudes towards London presented in the novel, and how concepts of the other and postcolonial theory privilege that space over others in the novel, such as the countryside at Bourton or India. “Mending Wall” could be viewed through the lens of how ideas of racial segregation find legitimization in agriculture’s use of monocropping (“his pines…will never eat my apples”). Ecocriticism’s analysis is expansive and inclusive, just as the environment is expansive and encompassing.

Ecocriticism articulates with all possible contexts and cultural phenomena; connections with others fields and theories are crucial and foster growth. Literary representations of environmental injustice beg ties with Marxist theory, while elements of Shakespeare or Chaucer would lend themselves easily to New Historicist applications of ecocriticism. Broad and diverse contexts in which to situate texts also encourage involvement beyond literary studies. Ecocriticism gives literature and its study a dialogue and call to action in engaging this major issue of our time.

Ecocriticism adds a seat for the environment at the critical feast. Not only is it a growing subject of study in English departments nationwide, but it also resonates very well with the discourse of sustainability on the our own campus. Benjamin Rush’s writings are widely accessible on campus; what does Rush have to say about the natural world? About humans’ role in it? How does your favorite novel or short story portray the human-non-human relationship? That economics article you just read?

The Ecocriticism Reader, Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism (by a Dickinson Professor!), Early Modern Ecostudies, The Future of Environmental Criticism

My Reflection on Criticism

During this class, I was astounded at the various ways one can look at a piece of literature, or any written material. One word can change how one reads a poem or novel, or even the order the words in a sentence and what words come, the author’s background, the historical context, and the societal structures can influence interpretations of what the text means and what the author intended to write. In addition to learning about different ways of studying literature, I discovered that I usually pay a lot of attention to the authors, and am used to thinking from a biographical critic’s point of view. This class was a chance for me to look at text differently. The biggest change this class brought to my thinking of literature was that text could be analyzed independently from the author or the society, as the new critics do.

I learned about the importance of the words, their repetition, and their double meanings most when looking at Mrs. Dalloway. From small things like the usage of the name “Mrs. Dalloway” versus “Clarrissa,” to indirect discourse and stream of consciousness in this book, I realized that the text provided me with all that was needed for analyzing the text. It is possible to argue that Clarrissa’s life can be compared to that of Virginia Woolf herself, but the fact remains that the text tells you the inner thoughts of Clarrissa and describes her sufficiently to build a character for which we do not really need a real-life match.

When reading the poetry of Robert Frost, I discovered how fascinating it is that the structure of a poem, mainly the rhyme and meter, can provide us insight about the meaning of a text and give away the doubts, paradoxes, ironies and tension that exists in a single piece. New criticism allowed me to see that using a rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD not only is a technique, but can also portray the deeper meanings of the text; maybe it brings an emphasis on change.

Even though this class was eye opening for me in terms of the importance of looking at text independently to discover some meanings in the book and analyze paradoxes or ironies that exist in the writing itself, I have also realized that there is no wrong way of looking at a piece of literature. New Criticism might allow the reader to stay focused on the text and analyze it as an independent object; there are many right ways of reading and analyzing literature. After looking at various methods and theories of criticism In future, I will most likely use New Criticism as my method of studying text to not overwhelm myself with historical, societal or biographical context that may or may not be relevant to the text, but I believe the one thing this class definitely teaches students is to be open to learning about diverse ways of looking at literature.




Just My Own Personal Opinion/Rant

As a social scientist, I’ve always clung to the idea that context is content.  There is no thought that could have 0% relevance in any scenario, since, if it did, the idea would never cross one’s mind in the first place.  Given that personal assumption, I have a hard time saying that any critical analysis method could ever be “better” than another.  Nothing is ever so simple that a new perspective could not possibly add to the conversation.  The more points of view we can approach a topic from, the better.  Some may be more useful in specific circumstances than others, but each has its merits.  Otherwise the useless ones would have ceased to exist, and we probably wouldn’t have covered them in class!

That being said, I do have a bone to pick with the New critics, who argue that if we stick to the words of the text itself, we can agree on one specific connection between form and meaning.  It’s a simple enough concept, and relatively easy to put into practice.  And if that’s all one is looking for out of literature, if that helps people to sleep more peacefully at night, then more power to them.  But I find that approach insanely limiting.  While it yields a meaning that is easy to conceptualize, it completely disregards all of the context simply for the sake of it being “easier that way”  There is no discussion of the greater significance of the work, no putting it into its proper time-period, and therefore no real discussion of why we read the work in the first place.

It is safe to assume, then, that I prefer the critical methods that allow for more discourse.  What makes literature (and life, more generally) beautiful is its complexity.  I had read Othello a few times before stepping foot in English 220, but each time I get something new that I had never noticed before.  There are almost 7 billion people in the world, so theoretically there could be 7 billion different analyses of any given work.  Any critical method that allows us to better understand the range of these interpretations is obviously one I would be in favor of.  Since I am privy to the thought process of my own mind, I am not interested in analyzing what I think and how I came to think it.  Instead, I’m more fascinated by how that differs from what other people interpret, and why it is that we see things differently.  What is it about the variety of life experiences that allows two human beings to read the exact same grouping of words and come to different conclusions?  I love the basic premises of New Historicism, postcolonialism, deconstruction, race theory, gender theory and cultural studies for this exact reason.

500 words obviously isn’t enough space for me to flesh out these concepts in a way that I would find satisfying.  But I’ve always found that the most complicated discussions end up being the most rewarding.  There is both a human reader and a human author behind every work, and there is a reason every work was created in the first place.  People may argue that those two facts are/should be irrelevant, but I think that disregarding them entirely is a crime.

How should literature be read?


           I feel literature should be read in a new historicist criticism. I would being reading the giving text as if it’s written as a historical literature. The text the author wrote would contain historical events that took place within the time period before the text was published, or the period in which the text was written. Take for example “Othello”a play written by Williams Shakespeare. While reading this text a person should view the play as commenting on the relationship between woman and men during the Renaissance in England. The use of military power demonstrated by the main character Othello, I would view this as an example of how the Treks military system of government was established during their time period. Another text I I feel should be read as an historicist criticism is Mrs.Dalloway, written by Virginia Woolf. My first impression of Woolf revealing Septimus as a character dealing with a post traumatic stress disorder made me think about a time period where individuals were experiencing this kind of mental trauma. Furthermore I got the impression that the author must have written the text based off of her own personal experience during, and after the first world war in London during 1923.The fact that history is written within these two texts say that we should read literature as an historicist criticism. Another way how I feel literature should be read is by connecting what an individual have learned in the text their looking at and apply it to a text that they may have read previously. Connecting two different text can help a person understand why is it the author wrote the text in the first place. In a way this can lead the person in the right direction of understanding why the text was constructed during that time period, and how the past is translated in the text itself. Connecting the text can also help a person understand the text as a whole.

            In the future I plan to use my methods in reading literature by applying it to knew texts that I will read over the years. This way I am able to fully understand the text. I can also apply theses methods to any essay assignment that I may have in the up coming year. That way applying the methods I will help my future professor and classmates understand the gist of where I’m coming from; when analyzing a text we may read in class. The use these methods would help my essay’s to be more clear,and consistent.