My Manifesto

I believe that literature should be read selfishly, contextualized through personal and applied connections to modern and historical culture, and analyzed in a group.  Throughout this course, the unsurpassable divisions and blatant differences between some of the critical methods have been interesting to look at.  However, through our efforts as a class to work through the two major texts, Mrs. Dalloway and Othello, I have found it fascinating how our new awareness and personal preference when it comes to this new group of unique critical approaches has been able to work together to dig out so much more meaning than just one approach would be able to.  We are able to hand-pick a method that we believe to be the most worthwhile and all write different papers about a single text from an infinite amount of perspectives.  I believe that literature is about becoming conscious, not just of details in the text and the author’s intent, but of the way these details isolate and clarify, or even create, something in the modern and historical culture.  This ability a text has, as a collection of language and plot tools, to both exemplify and create in the context of modern culture and historical culture leads me to believe that the critical approach of New Historicism is the one that we have studied that I agree with the most.

New Historicism seems worthy of a following to me because Greenblatt, the founder, and the approach as a movement acknowledges other critical approaches in its definition (by defining New Historicism as a break away from its predecessors’ gradual move to looking simply at the text for meaning.)  New Historicism allowed the idea of text to move from a verbal icon to a cultural artifact.  I find that if one is reading a text, the relationship between form and function and the internal meaning will pop up inevitably, and New Historicism is much more worthwhile as an approach because it moves a step further. The concept embedded in New Historicism that makes it stand out the most to me is the relationship between the historicity of texts and the textuality of history.  History creates texts and texts create history; we study literature to learn about our history, but with texts like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, would history even turn out the way it did if the text didn’t exist?  New Historicism acknowledges other critical approaches along with this unbreakable connection between history, culture, and text, which I find most conducive with the way I believe literature should be read, contextualized, and analyzed.  New Historicism has taught me that critical approaches can stem from a reverence or a disdain from a previous approach, which I will definitely use in my future pursuit of literary methods.  This class has taught me the logicality and usefulness of the range of critical approaches around for utilization today, and I plan on increasing my own personal connection to text through utilizing a multiplicity of approaches.

Quantitative Analysis

Quantitative Analysis is a scientific approach to understanding literature by treating the words in the text as data. As opposed to close reading, like we’ve been doing all year, Franco Moretti advocates “distant reading”.  He argues that since no one person can truly understand and identify patterns between vast amounts of literature, readers should employ various computer programs. These programs analyze and compare various texts and are able to decipher categories such as genre through patterns that a reader would never be able to do, such as the prevalence of specific words.

As an example of distant reading, I selected Robert Frost’s first book of poems, “A Boy’s Will”, published in 1913. I chose Frost not only because there are so many great examples of his work but also because of his method of recycling words throughout the course of his poetry and the variety of uses and definitions attributed to them. On the website Wordle, which evaluates various writings and artistically portrays the repetition of words in the works, I imputed the entire book of Frost’s poems.

http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/4503999/Robert_Frost%27s_A_Boy%27s_Will

As you can see, the word that is used the most is “one”. I then searched the word “one” on Google Ngrams, a website that displays the popularity of words in the collective works of Google Books, spanning from 1500-2000. The word “one” was a bit of a roller coaster up until 1800 but then steadily became more popular until peaking about the time that this book was published.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=one&year_start=1500&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

The pitfall of “distant reading” is that not only is the reader limited by the amount of literature/data they are using but there can be inaccuracy when relying on it to identify literature. The next most commonly used word in our Wordle is “love”, a very popular word in the English language so you would expect it to be consistently popular in Ngrams, but take a look:

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=love&year_start=1500&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3

We see that not only did the word not really start to be used in our catalog of Google Books until about 1570, but has really fallen out of favor since the 1700’s. While the word “love” was certainly used during Frost’s time, we would be inclined to say that this book was most likely published between 1580 and 1680, we could even go so far as to narrow the years down to 1671-1674, when the word peaked in popularity. So while I believe that the idea of “distant reading” is very interesting and should certainly be explored as a possible method, but I believe that readers may not yet be able to use this tool effectively in the course of trying to understand a work of literature.

New Historical Criticism And Mrs. Dalloway

  

 

Kennisha Williams

11.18.11

 

               New Historical Criticism, takes different texts written today by previous authors and assumes that each work is formed from a historical moment. New Historical Criticism also takes literature and places it on the same level as history; both literature and history can be read as the same text. Literature and History are equally important as well.

              Taking into account history in a literary text, the New Historical Criticism would view Mrs. Dalloway written by Virginia Woolf as an example. In Mrs. Dalloway ,Woolf reveals a main character named Septimus. Septimus, in the text, is a war hero who suffers from shell-shock after witnessing the death of his friend Evans. Septimus’ humiliation of seeing Evans causes the people around him to classify him as a mentally ill person,. Septimus’s doctors feel that he’s incapable of caring for himself. When discussing problems about Septimus the doctors uses his wife Rezia as a way of speaking to him, instead of directly communicating with him.  By the end of the novel,Septimus eventually committs suicide. New Historical Criticism would now connect Septimus’ mental illness with the time period in which this took place, World War I. Septimus’ conditions exemplify the many other soldiers in the war. Many solderers witnessed death of their fellow men and therefore became traumatized. New Historical Criticisms would then link Septimus’ Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Virginia Woolf herself; for during her life time, Woolf was also struggling like Septimtus. Woolf had Bipolar Disorder. Similar to Septimus, she experienced hallucinations and eventually committed suicide.

             New Historical Criticism, unlike the traditional historians, doesn’t just look at what happened in the past and simply ask what the event tells us now about history, it looks at how the event that has occurred has been interpreted and what questions it might pose. Such questions include, what does the interpretation of the event tell us about the interpreters and is it just as important to know the background information as it is to understand the text.

 

 

Here are the two biographies of about Virginia Woolf in case anyone is interested to read more about her.

http://www.biography.com/people/virginia-woolf-9536773?page=7

http://www.notablebiographies.com/We-Z/Woolf-Virginia.html

 

New Historicism and Mrs. Dalloway

New Historicism developed in the 1980s, largely through the works of critic Stephen Greenblatt (a name we’ve already encountered this semester).  We’ve also discussed that New Historicism attempts to understand both the “historicity of texts” and the “textuality of history”.  In simpler terms, this theory outlines two ideas: the reading of any literary text would benefit from being put in its proper historical context, and any document of history can be analyzed in the same way that we analyze literary texts.  In that sense, New Historicism does away with notions of background versus foreground information; literary and non-literary texts are inseparable in a greater mission to understand history.

Given this information (an extreme version of the textual criticism argument that “context is content”), there are a variety of paths I could take in relation to Mrs. Dalloway.  If I so desired, I could consult historical documents (doctors’ records, timely medical journals) of shell-shock patients in conjunction with Woolf’s characterization of Septimus Smith to get a better understanding of returned WWI soldiers.  I could seek out information on Parliament activity and debated topics in conjunction with the character of Richard Dalloway to comprehend the mindset of post-WWI conservative British politicians.  I could even find information on popular opinions of lesbianism to combine with the relationship between Clarissa and Sally Seton so I may have a clearer knowledge of post-WWI understandings of lesbianism’s place in society.

But since I have a particular affinity for Peter Walsh (how can a girl resist a sensitive yet desperate romantic?), I might compare opinions of British-Indian race relations in this time period with Woolf’s specific depiction of a scene between Peter and Clarissa.  When Peter declares that he is in love with an Indian woman, Clarissa is horrified by the idea “that he at his age should be sucked under in his little bow-tie by that monster” (44).  Clarissa believes the Indian woman “flattered him; she fooled him…” and that Peter’s love for an Indian woman is “what a waste! What a folly” (45)!  From this, one can assume that Clarissa Dalloway would look down on this romantic connection.  By loving a racially non-white (and therefore impure) Indian woman instead over a more traditional white-white relationship, Peter does two things.  First, he allows himself to be tricked by an Indian woman’s savage witchcraft, betraying his own British sense of moral incorruptibility.  Second, he wastes his pure bloodline, potentially letting British whiteness be tainted by the Indian Other.

To get a better sense of what the British mindset towards mixed-race relations would have been in the post-WWI period, I looked to historical documents on a social movement that was in its heyday right around this time: the eugenics movement.  Inspired by the 1870s theory of Social Darwinism and the sociopolitical implications of the expansion of the British Empire, the eugenics movement came out of a societal desire to protect the superior white race. The eugenics movement started among scientists and radiated outward until it became a popular opinion in the 1910s-1920s.  I was able to find articles from sources such as The British Medical Journal, The Scientific Monthly, and the Journal of Social Forces that use pseudoscientific evidence to support post-WWI racial prejudices and re-enforce the current arrangements of power. Advocates argued that whiteness itself is very fragile and must be protected, but it is entirely possible to guide the evolution of humanity and use the artificial selection of human mates to potentially create the perfect species through the limitation of mixed-race relationships.

New Historicism would encourage me to make connections between the eugenics movement and Clarissa’s mindset.  Clarissa’s distrust of the Indian woman relates to the eugenicist view that Caucasian is the superior race.  Since Peter is a rational British man, the only way he would be seduced into loving an inferior woman must be through some unnatural force.  Similarly, Clarissa’s declaration that their love is a “waste” is a nice way of saying that she disapproves of the union based on the eugenicist principle that it would tarnish Peter’s pure white bloodline.  Peter is a suitable candidate to pass on socially acceptable Anglo-Saxon genetic material, but a child with an Indian mother would undeniably be considered non-white.

Both of these texts reinforce each other, validating the New Historicist argument that they should be considered side-by-side.  The eugenics movement documents give readers a more detailed understanding of the motives behind Clarissa’s strong reaction to Peter’s announcement.  Similarly, the scene from Mrs. Dalloway gives scholars of the eugenics movement a physical representation of how the ideology manifested itself in a realistic, daily-life scenario.

Bottom line: Can there ever truly be “too much information?”

Sources:

Cunningham, J. “Some Factors in Racial Immunity and Susceptibility to Disease.” Man 26 (1926): 184-888. Print.

Garth, Thomas R. “Race and Psychology.” Scientific Monthly 23.3 (1926): 240-45. Print.

Goldenweiser, Alexander. “Race and Culture in the Modern World.” Journal of Social Forces 2.1 (1924):127-36. Print.

Schuster, Edgar, Harry Campbell, and J. Stewart Mackintosh. “Discussion on “Eugenics”” British Medical Journal 2.2744 (1913): 223-31. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2005. Print.

Postcolonialism and Mrs. Dalloway

Throughout Mrs. Dalloway, we are reminded of the importance of the cultural context in which the novel occurs. Though the book is set after the height of British imperialism, there remains a strong sense of cultural and national superiority. The “British Empire” is often referenced, and plays a significant role in the mindset and discourse of the characters. Our Dictionary of Critical Theory defines the postcolonial as “referring to all the cultures affected by the imperial processes from the moment of colonization to the present day” (pg. 304). In these terms, Mrs. Dalloway is not necessarily a postcolonial text. The novel does, however, present an interesting alternative; Woolf explores the British reaction to it’s own colonialism through her characters. In the mind of many of the characters, Britain is much more than a country. The success of British authority seems to legitimize colonial rule, as it’s empire becomes a symbol of the superiority of Western civilization. This ideology of British superiority then manifests in the discourse and actions of the characters in Mrs. Dalloway.

Many of Woolf’s characters assume mindsets that are indicative of colonialist thinking. Clarissa seems to have assumed a distinctly euro-centric outlook that often lends itself to selfishness. Despite Richard’s involvement in British foreign affairs, Clarissa remains ignorant to non-western civilization. She “cared much more for her roses than for the Armenians. Hunted out of existence, maimed, frozen, the victims of cruelty and injustice (she had heard Richard say so over and over again) — no, she could feel nothing for the Albanians, or was it the Armenians?” (pg. 117). In this instance, Clarissa seems to espouse an “orientalist” mindset. Despite hearing Richard speak of the Armenian genocide, Clarissa disregards the distinction between these cultures, and thus groups them into a category of “other.” Her xenophobic mindset ultimately prohibits her from attempting to understand the affairs of an Eastern country. Clarissa goes on to ask “but she loved her roses (didn’t that help the Armenians?)” (pg. 117). In this context, Clarissa espouses euro-centrism in a way that denies this eastern culture an identity separate from the West. She assumes that the Armenians must in some way benefit from her love of roses. The absurdity of this claim embodies the ignorance inherent in a British colonialist perspective.

Peter Walsh’s questioning of British imperialism presents an interesting juxtaposition to Clarissa’s distinctly colonialist perspective. Although Peter has served the British in India, he questions the merit of Western imperialism and empire as he reflects on the civilization that surrounds him: “Coming as he did from a respectable Anglo-Indian family which for at least three generations had administered the affairs of a continent (it’s strange, he thought, what a sentiment I had about that, disliking India, and empire, and army as he did), there were moments when civilization, even of this sort, seemed dear to him as a personal possession” (pg.  54). Peter finds himself wondering how he can respect the civilized nature of British society, while criticizing British foreign policy. Unlike Clarissa, he was witnessed the effects of imperialism, whilst Clarissa has merely been influenced by the colonial era itself.

In comparing Clarissa to Peter, we see a distinction between euro centrism and a simply isolationist attitude. Clarissa is blithely unaware of the affairs of British colonialism, yet still perpetuates an orientalist worldview. On the other hand, Peter has administered the affairs of the British Empire, and now simply wishes to withdraw and exist solely within the bounds of developed society. In Mrs. Dalloway, we see range of reactions to British colonialism. Each experience in this cultural context seems to result in a decidedly Westernized mindset, regardless of its severity.

Sources:

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harcourt, 2005. Print.

Macey, David. Dictionary of Critical Theory. London: Penguin, 2001. Print

“British Empire: The Map Room: Asia: World: Maps.” The British Empire. Web. 11 Nov. 2011. <http://www.britishempire.co.uk/maproom/pinkbits.htm>.

Race Theory and the Poetry of Robert Frost

While Frost’s poetry is not brimming with explicit representation of race or commentary on race, racial implications are present in several of his poems.  Frost wrote most of his poetry in the early 20th century, a time when identity politics was a major topic of discussion and study.  The Dictionary of Critical Theory defines identity politics as “a demand for the right to be different, and for that difference to be recognized as legitimate” and says it is based on “the contentions that collectivities and individuals defined by criteria of ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual have interests that are not or cannot be promoted or defended by broader agencies such as class or a constitutional state.”  Frost’s “Mending Wall,” which we read in class, deals directly with these ideas and can be found at this link:

http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html

It is a poem centered around the ideas of borders between people, and the inherent differences between the narrator and his neighbor.  The symbolism of the fence, and the two distinct plots of land it creates, is that of the separation of identity groups.  When put in to the context of the early 20th century, this separation of identity groups most likely revolves around race.  The early 20th century was a time of racial turmoil for the United States – heinous acts such as lynchings and the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan were juxtaposed with one positive racial milestone: the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance.  Society was on its way to tolerance, but was very far from the finish line.  Relating to this, describing a section of the border between the narrator and his neighbor that does not need the fence, Frost writes, “There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across.  And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him” (23-26.)  In these lines, Frost is exemplifying the 1920’s idea that racial difference is a legitimate difference, but that different identity groups may be able to live in “peace” (“peace” here would be a sort of separate but equal ideal that we have been working to get away from today) without harsh borders because of their inherent differences.

One of Frost’s most famous poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which we read in class, is a poem one would never initially expect to have much to do with race. It can be found at this link:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621

However, when juxtaposed with a poem by Thylias Moss entitled “Interpretation of a Poem by Frost,” both poems can be analyzed with an approach focused on racial theory.  The text of Moss’ poem can be found under this link:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177061

In terms of my own reading of Moss’s poem, my mind immediately went to the W.E.B. Du Bois chapter we read in class, and double-consciousness.  When Moss discusses the promises the child has to keep, such as “the promise that she bear Jim no bastards,” she is outlining this idea of double consciousness – the idea that this child must be aware of how other people are viewing her, along with the tasks at hand in her life and her own self-image.  The snow is the oppression that whites impose on blacks, and when the child shakes off the snow she is attempting to shake off that oppression.  But despite this effort, the poem ends with the sentiment that the child has miles to go before racial lines are successfully crossed.  In Frost’s poem, the snow is a potential threat to the man but is falling in a forest that belongs to a member of his own village, which is very different than the meaning of the snow in Moss’s poem.  Both poems follow a similar pattern, a weary traveler encounters a metaphoric snow in a metaphoric woods that does not belong to them and realizes he or she has miles and promises to go and keep before they can sleep or die.  However, Moss (an African-American)’s poem is racially charged, while Frosts (a white American)’s poem presents a universal journey-of-life struggle.  This brings up the question of whether or not the race of an author should matter – and if Moss’s poem is what Frost’s would look like if Frost were an African-American.  Could Frost’s poem and its universality work for both a majority and a minority audience, or does Moss’s poem bring something to the table that Frost’s cant?  I believe it does bring something more to the table…as it presents a struggle much more personal to a certain audience, and therefore much more meaningful.

Even though the Warren reading we discussed in class disagrees with this idea, black literature does still exist.  Moss, in the modern age, can write a meaningful poem about African-American struggle….made even more meaningful today than it could’ve back in the early 20th century by today’s modern critical racial theory and comparison to Frost.

Villainy, villainy, villainy!: Textual Criticism of Othello

Title page of the first quarto (1622)

When reading Othello it is hard to believe that the words that are on the page may the words that William Shakespeare originally wrote, but this may be the case. For experts there are two texts that are seen as the tests that may define what Shakespeare truly meant Othello to be. One of them is the earliest text of Othello, published in 1622 and the other is the second printing, a folio that was a collection of Shakespeare plays that was published a year later in 1623. It is the differences between these two texts as copy texts that form the basis of the controversy over the true text of Othello.

One of the most overlooked differences between these texts is the method of printing and binding used in the two texts. The first was a quarto, which is a binding method that in which the original sheet of paper is folded into quarters, creating eight pages and making the book smaller and rectangular. The second was a folio, which is a binding method in which the original paper is folded in half creating four pages and creating a larger book. Though this seems subtle this could possibly have changed the way the text was laid out including line length and the way the lines are arranged. Also the quarto would have been much longer due to the smaller page size and thus things may have been excised to keep the book to a reasonable length. As these factors affect the way that the text is read and were all deliberate choices, it is important that they not be ignored when textually criticizing Othello.

Another difference between the two possible seminal copy texts is probably the most important, the word choice itself. The second printing in 1623 had one hundred and sixty line not contained in the original quarto; also it lacked thirteen lines or partial lines present in the first printing. This is a significant amount of text not matter how you look at it, and it all gets back down to the important question; “Which one is Shakespeare’s writing?” Due to the vagaries of history it isn’t known whether the folio printing was an actual revision by Shakespeare or a third party revision which could completely change the meaning of the text. One of these most interesting textual differences is Act 5 Scene 2 Line 357 which is Othello’s final monologue before committing suicide. Our text is based on the first folio which uses the word Indian, as in savage or uncivilized while the quarto text used Iudean, meaning unbeliever or infidel. This single word change influences how Othello can be seen as perceiving himself in the end, as either an ignorant savage or an infidel and would have an influence on a psychoanalytic reading of the character of Othello in these moments before his suicide.

Taken as a whole these facts serve to show that textual criticism, though subtle, is something important to take into account especially when a text as old as Othello. Though it may never be proven whether the quarto or the folio should be used as a copy text, they both remain valid writings of Othello and can be interpreted in a myriad of ways.

Sources:

Shakespeare, William, G. Blakemore Evans, and J. J. M. Tobin. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Print.

Shakespeare, William, and Kim F. Hall. Othello, the Moor of Venice: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Robert Frost’s Feminist Poem?

Christian traditions argue that Eve is the reason for the damnation of human soul and their exile from heaven because she tempted Adam in committing the “original sin.” In this tale, Eve is blamed for the misery of humankind. “Never Again Would Birds’ Song be the Same” is a poem about the influences of Eve on nature and on the world. In this poem, Frost indirectly questions this story by focusing on the positive legacies of Eve on earth. By criticizing the discriminatory and unjust perceptions about Eve, who exemplifies women in this poem, Frost makes one feminist claim, but whether or not this text a feminist one is debate worthy because Frost does not question the story of the “original sin” directly; in fact it is not even mentioned in the poem.

In “Never Again Would Birds’ Song be the Same,” the narrator writes about Eve’s sound as if it is a gift to nature. The phrase “an eloquence so soft” and the references to the interweaving and sharing of sounds between the birds and Eve portray the legacy of eve, women, in the world as a collaborative addition to the beautiful sounds of the woods in contrast to the portrayal of women’s participation in the history of human kind through the “original sin,” and the eternal doom of human soul. However, this contrast is not mentioned in the poem and we cannot assume that the poet meant to criticize the unjust views about women that exist in the story of creation. In addition to that, this poem defines Eve, in other words women, from the point of view of a man and the woman’s view and perception about herself or womanhood is completely ignored from the text. Even, the intention of Eve’s existence, to share her song with the birds, is defined by a man, therefore even in this text, the woman is not given the chance to explain her intentions and define her impact on the world. A man, limited by his own perceptions of the woman, tells the story from his point of view. Granted they story is flattering and positive, but it still excludes the woman’s voice.

On the other hand, Monique Witting, in One is not Born a Woman, argues that women are not a natural group and that the idea of womanhood exists because we re-enforce it through our actions everyday. Based on this principle, Monique would argue that to destroy one perception and definition for womanhood, in his poem, Frost has presented a another one, that may be more positive but it still re-enforces gender definitions and roles. Monique would argue that Frost has taken a materialist approach towards gender, because a materialist feminist sees women and men as separate classes, which she argues will mean that if there is no longer a group called “men,” there won’t be one classified as “women.” Unlike Frost, who attempts to redefine womanhood as a positive contribution to the world, Witting calls for the rejection of the myth of “woman” altogether because she believes that equality will be reached when sex is destroyed completely and humans are defined based on personal identity.

A feminist text, according to the Dictionary of Critical Theory, brings to light the inequalities that exist in the society. Therefore, even though this poem portrays a positive picture of Eve, because it does not even discuss the injustice that exists in the story of the “original sin,” we cannot assume that the author has written the positive story with the intention of making a feminist criticism of how Eve is portrayed in the story of creation. The poet could have written this poem simply to portray the relationship between human beings and nature or the grief of a man who has lost a woman who was important in his life. The lack of direct references to the injustice of human perceptions about women and the one-sided-ness of the story of the “original sin” that holds women responsible for human misery and banishing from heaven, and the fact that the poem defines womanhood and women’s contribution to the world from a man’s point of view, prevent this text from being a feminist one. A feminist text, according to Witting is one that eliminates sex and gender interpretations and because Frost identifies gender and defines womanhood, Monique would argue that Frost’s text is not a feminist one.