Sunday, June 26, 2011

Apparently, I'm a strucuralist.

A week or two ago, in a fairly magnificent discussion that lasted the better part of an hour, it became apparent (so I'm told) that I'm a structuralist. As far as literary criticism goes. Odd, I thought, I don't know what that is. Enter, our good friend wikipedia, where I find out that:
Structuralism argues that there must be a structure in every text, which explains why it is easier for experienced readers than for non-experienced readers to interpret a text. Hence, everything that is written seems to be governed by specific rules, or a "grammar of literature", that one learns in educational institutions and that are to be unmasked
It's not something I agree with entirely. I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is meaning in every text. For the non-critical theory people out there (of which I'm one) text doesn't have to be written language, it could be interpretive dance for all they care. And the specific rules being learnt in educational institutions is a bit exclusive. It may help to have a formal education, but that doesn't mean someone can't be self-educated extremely well.
I'm not hugely well versed in the field of literary criticism, so I've started off with a book, which comes highly recommended to me by a critical theorist <waves at Alex> called "Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory" by some chaps called Bennet and Royle. I'm only a few pages in and already I'm having problems. Specifically, the authoritarian nature of the writing. Things like:
"Through emphatic effects of intertextuality in particular, Eliot's poem suggests that originality, the notion of beginning as singular, definable, stable is severely problematic. To ask where or when Eliot's poem begins is to meet with a series of questions concerning the identity of the author, the text and the reader, and finally of the Western literary tradition in general"
Given that the book is an introduction to a field, the use of jargon fine. It is only polite though, to explain what the jargon refers to. Intertextuality isn't defined for until right down at the bottom of the page. General rudeness aside, I find these sentences to be authoritarian. By which I mean that they are stating the authors opinion as fact and moving on, offering no reasoning or evidence to support them. I would be quite willing to accept these sentences with the following modifications:
"Through emphatic effects of intertextuality in particular, Eliot's poem
can suggests that originality, the notion of beginning as singular,
definable, stable is severely problematic. To ask where or when Eliot's
poem begins is to meet with can create a series of questions concerning the
identity of the author, the text and the reader, and finally of the
Western literary tradition in general"
The authors might not have been intending to sound authoritarian, but without careful qualification of what they are saying, they can very much appear so. It's going to be an interesting read that looks like it might cause some frustration on my part, at the same time, it might start a few interesting conversations. I'll keep you posted.





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