Dr. Andrew Strombeck
18 April 2016
Introduction to New Materialisms Worksheet
In the introduction to New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Samantha Frost and Diana Coole call for a renewed interest in materialism due to recent advances in science and technology regarding our knowledge of matter and how it functions in ontology, epistemology, politics, culture, society, etc.
Term 1 significance: Methodological realism
An experimental form of materialism in which “critical social theorist are analyzing current events and developments in a way that is congruent with the pluralist, contingent rhythms of materialization noted within new materialism’s other main strands” (25).
Term 2 significance: Dark matter
Dark matter is the percentage of the universe’s matter that humans don’t understand or can’t explain according to scientific theories and models (yet). Frost and Coole use the astronomical concept of dark matter to explain how advances in science and technology demand a philosophical re-approach to materialism and its facets.
Term 3 significance: Biotechnological advances
Frost and Coole use the example of synthetic bacteria and the possibility of it producing a new biofuel to explain why they think there should be renewed interest in materialism (18). A biotechnological advancement such as this could have unknown and unmediated consequences on politics, economics, the environment, etc., and therefore need to studied and theorized.
“Characteristic of such efforts is the way they echo elements of the new materialisms we remarked upon earlier: they insist upon the openness, contingency, unevenness, and complexity of materialization as an ongoing process within which social actors and theorists are irremediably immersed. Thus, these “new” critical materialist situate citizens, ideas, and values (as well as theorists themselves) within the fields of material forces and power relations that reproduce and circumscribe their existence and coexistence. They trace the various logics of, and interrelationships between, broad political and economic structures and critically interrogate the complicated causalities that link them to everyday experiences.” (28-29)
Critical materialists recognize that people and theorists operate within complex, fluctuating procedures and methodologies that are affected by politics, power, and mass (materials). Their job is to analyze the relationships created by such methodologies and materials in order to better understand human existence and “progression.”
What “materials” in Oscar Wao affect things such as politics, economics, science, and technology?
In light of this new materialism, what are the implications of Junot Diaz focusing on a decidedly immaterial concept such as the fuku in his novel?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
18 April 2016
“Are We Post Critical?” Worksheet
In “Are We Post Critical?” Matthew Mullins reviews Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique, highlighting her alternatives to suspicious readings of texts and her idea of critique as “building up” rather than only “tearing down”.
Term 1 significance: Critique
Mullins writes, “Critique assumes that what is taken for granted is necessarily bad and cultivates such an assumption as the default mood of the critic” (ninth paragraph). He emphasizes Felski’s idea that critique is a methodology in itself and therefore becomes the very knowledge its critiquing. He explains the in teaching criticism, professors are essentially asking students to think according to the former’s way, that is, to ask the same types of questions that generate critical thinking and new results. However, Mullins establishes Felski’s argument that critics become trapped in the suspicious cycle of critique, ultimately limiting the field and “running out of steam” as Latour would say.
Term 2 significance: Actor-network theory
According to Latour, all things are actors and/or mediators because the meaning of different social groups is in constant flux. Therefore we can’t use social elements to explain texts and vice versa; this would require defining the social, which is simultaneously in flux and therefore undefinable at any given moment.
Term 3 significance: Digging down
Mullins explains that according to Felski, digging down is one form of critique, and she uses this concept to describe the work of psychoanalytic and other critical frameworks. It implies an inherent suspicion of the text.
The limits of critique are most obvious in the literature classroom, where teachers exhaust themselves in their attempts to help students see that we are not trying to teach them “the answer,” as if there was one. Rather, we are trying to help them see in a certain way, that certain way being, of course, the way we see. It’s not that we want them to come to the same conclusions, but that we want them to learn how to ask the same kinds of questions that we have learned to ask. I’m less concerned (though not unconcerned) with my students’ interpretations of Toni Morrison’s Jazz than I am with their ability to ask the kinds of questions that will produce new insights. They learn to adopt a certain attitude toward the text and the existing criticism of the text, an attitude that primarily values these things for what they don’t say. Students become critics who are looking for a gap to fill, an absence to make present. In this way, critique is a “matter of style, method, and orientation (‘knowing how’ to read a text or pursue a line of reasoning), involving emulation of both tone and technique.”
Students of literature and critique are taught to take on certain frameworks in and modes of approaching texts that will enable them to ask similar kinds of critical questions as asked by professionals in the field. It is because of this that the text becomes aperture to be filled, which involves suspicious reading but also emulation of established methodologies.
What are the implications of the argument that critique upholds tradition even as it seeks to dismantle it, according to Felski and Mullins? Is it possible to get away from “tradition” when it comes to literature, critique, and writing?
Would it be fair to say that these new tools and modes of critique that Latour, Felski, and Mullins are engaging run the risk of becoming just like the traditions and critiques before them? In other words, how is the end goal of these critiques any different than the end goal of established critiques before them?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
17 April 2016
“Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?” Worksheet
In “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?” Bruno Latour argues that critics have become somewhat iconoclastic by engaging matters of fact rather than matters of concern. In other words, he argues that criticism has become outdated because it no longer outputs more ideas, but is rather reduced to an input that is stalling, bound, and bifurcated unevenly.
States of affairs
Matters of fact
Matters of concern
Term 1 significance: Instant revisionism
When an event happens and has barely begun to settle into context before theories spring up theorizing about said event.
Term 2 significance: Fairy position
According to Latour, the fairy position is a common position held by social critics and scientists. Critics of this position aim to show non-critics that the latter project desires onto objects and material things, making them false objects and fetishes essentially. These types of critics tend to link their criticism to antifetishism in this way.
Term 3 significance: Critical barbarity
A process in which critics discredit the objects of people’s behaviors they don’t believe in, but then offer their own believed objects as an alternative.
“What I am going to argue is that the critical mind, if it is to renew itself and be relevant again, is to be found in the cultivation of a stubbornly realist attitude—to speak like William James—but a realism dealing with what I will call matters of concern, not matters of fact. The mistake we made, the mistake I made, was to believe that there was no efficient way to criticize matters of fact except by moving away from them and directing one’s attention toward the conditions that made them possible. But this meant accepting much too uncritically what matters of fact were. This was remaining too faithful to the unfortunate solution inherited from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Critique has not been critical enough in spite of all its sore- scratching. Reality is not defined by matters of fact. Matters of fact are not all that is given in experience. Matters of fact are only very partial and, I would argue, very polemical, very political renderings of matters of concern and only a subset of what could also be called states of affairs. It is this second empiricism, this return to the realist attitude, that I’d like to offer as the next task for the critically minded.” (231-32)
I propose a restoration of the realist frame of mind, in which matters of concern are at the forefront rather than matters of fact. Matters of fact are only disputatious, governmental parts of matters of concern and do not definitively express reality.
What is at stake if literary critics, like Latour suggests, move back towards a realist framework?
What would this sort of move entail? In other words, what are some possible “matters of concern” in the literary field, as opposed to “matters of fact”?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
10 April 2016
Graphs, Maps, Trees Worksheet
In Graphs, Maps, Trees, Franco Moretti takes a “quantitative approach” to literature by tracking the rise and fall of novels in different countries and epistemes, ultimately arguing that they occur in patterns rather than as singular events and should be studied as so (68).
2. Genre/Temporary Structures
5. Abstract models
Term 1 significance: Genre
The temporary structures that occur in the quantitative study of the rise and fall of novels according to popularity and relevance. These structures are only temporary in essence but occur in patterns over time. They are the “morphological embodiment” of cycles (80).
Term 2 significance: Politics
Moretti highlights a direct link between the rise and fall of novels and the political context of the time period in question. However, he is careful to point out that politics can’t be the only stimulus, which leads to further investigation into the apparent patterns of the novel and its influences.
Term 3 significance: Cycle
Cycles are the time frame between events and long durations according to Moretti (76). They encompass both flow and structure, or in Moretti’s words, they “constitute temporary structures within the historical flow” (76). Therefore, they somewhat constitute genres and their cycles. Moretti’s main point is that these cycles can be studied more rather than their original events in order to gain new insight into the novel as a form and pattern.
Variations in a conflict that remains constant: this is what emerges at the level of the cycle—and if the conflict remains constant, then the point is not who prevails in this or that skirmish, but exactly the opposite: no victory is ever definitive, neither men nor women writers ‘occupy’ the British novel once and for all, and the form keeps oscillating back and forth between the two groups. And if this sounds like nothing is happening, no, what is happening is the oscillation, which allows the novel to use a double pool of talents and of forms, thereby boosting its productivity, and giving it an edge over its many competitors. But this process can only be glimpsed at the level of the cycle: individual episodes tend, if anything, to conceal it, and only the abstract pattern brings out the historical trend.
Studying quantitative aspects of literature, specifically their occurrences in cycles, reveals the constancy of fluctuations in arguments such as whether males or females ultimately dominate the writer scene. This swaying of trends is what gives the novel its distinctive qualities as a creative production in the market.
How does literature “rise and fall” for the different generations described in Oscar Wao?
Are there any abstract patterns that bring out historical trends in Diaz’s novel?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
10 April 2016
“Resonance and Wonder” Worksheet
In “Resonance and Wonder,” Stephen Greenblatt fashions a place for new historicism among accepted definitions of historicism and accepted modes of viewing and processing art. He focuses on the concepts of wonder and resonance to explain that new historicism is not dependent on stable, historical contextualizations of texts, but rather on their intersections and implications throughout time and cultures.
1. New Historicism
4. Textual contextualism
Term 1 significance: New historicism
New historicism is interested in the “complex symbolic and material articulations of the imaginative and ideological structures of society that produced them” (19). In other words, new-historicist critics focus on the context of texts, the eras in which they are born and the circumstances of those eras that influence not only their making, but also their implications, extenuations, how they are received, etc.
Term 2 significance: Resonance
Resonance refers to the ability of an artistic piece to transcend formal boundaries (time, space, context, etc.). In this context, it refers to the context of such a piece, how it carries on across this formal boundaries, and how its effects change over time accordingly.
Term 3 significance: Wonder
Greenblatt defines this term as “the power of the object displayed to stop the view in his tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention” (20). He links this sense to encountering works of art, including literature, and to ensuing implications of resonance that rise from wonder and inspire contextual investigation. Greenblatt argues for the same process in approaching literature and its historical context.
New historicism obviously has distinct affinities with resonance; that is, its concern with literary texts has been to recover as far as possible the historical circumstances of their original production and consumption and to analyze the relationship between these circumstances not as a stable, prefabricated background against which the literary texts can be placed but as a dense network of evolving and often contradictory social forces. The idea is not to find outside the work of art some rock onto which literary interpretation can be securely chained but rather to situate the work in relation to other representational practices operative in the culture at a given moment in both its history and our own.
The object of new-historicist criticism is not to determine a steadfast, historical context of literature, but rather to examine and theorize about the intersection of influences behind a text’s making and its implications across boundaries. That being said, its understandable that the concept of resonance relates to new historicism.
How does Junot Diaz implement wonder and resonance in his text, one that is full of historical allusions and factual events as well as imaginative discrepancies?
Are there any specific artifacts in Oscar Wao that inspire wonder and resonance, and if so, what are some possible implications for readers?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
4 April 2016
“The Beast in the Closet” Worksheet
In “The Beast in the Closet,” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick uses Henry James’s The Beast in the Jungle and J.M. Barrie’s Tommy and Grizel to illustrate her concept of “male homosexual panic.” A “post- Romantic phenomenon” according to Sedgwick, male homosexual panic refers to that which resulted from an indistinguishability between heterosexual and homosexual male relations of the nineteenth century (186). She reiterates how homosexuality has historically been developed against the supposed stable notion of heterosexuality, ultimately affecting those labeled under the latter group particularly.
Term 1 significance: Paranoid Gothic
Sedgwick charges the paranoid Gothic genre with manifesting the male homosexual panic due to its utilization of the public and private spheres in literature. It “signified…the inextricability from that formation of a strangling double bind in male homosocial constitution” (187).
Term 2 significance: The bachelor
Due to nineteenth-century practices of social and literary classification, the character of “the bachelor” appeared and became representation of a certain male experience. Sedgwick maintains that the bachelor is actually a subject of domestication and feminization due to the influence of the paranoid Gothic genre. The bachelor is at once “self-centered and self-marginalizing,” putting him in a “pivotal class position between the respectable bourgeoisie and bohemia” (193). In this way, the bachelor is likened to the homosocial in that both deny the nuclear family paradigm and tend to inhabit in-between spaces which resist normative male expectations.
Term 3 significance: Bohemia
In the literature Sedgwick focuses on, the absence of the nuclear family structure allowed for bohemia to create a “liminal space for vocational sorting and social rising and falling…. it served best the cultural needs, the fantasy needs, and the needs for positive and negative self-definition of an anxious and conflicted bourgeoisie” (193). Coined by Thackeray, bohemia allowed males to negotiate their homosexual panic according to Sedgwick.
“It makes sense, I think, to see the development of this odd character the bachelor, and his dissolutive relation to romantic genre, as, among other things, a move toward the recuperation as character taxonomy of the endemic double bind of male homosexual panic that had been acted out in the paranoid Gothic as plot and structure. This recuperation is perhaps best described as, in several senses, a domestication. Most obviously, in the increasingly stressed nineteenth-century bourgeois dichotomy between domestic female space and extrafamilial, political and economic male space, the bachelor is at least partly feminized by his attention to and interest in domestic concerns.” (189-90)
The concept and character of the bachelor is nature slightly feminine in nature due to Victorian expectations of private,domestic households and public, bread-winner identities. The bachelor is essentially domesticated [or “housebroken” as she later calls it]. This characterization is the recovery of the paranoid Gothic genre and its elements, including classification according to the heterosexual/homosexual binary reflected in male homosexual panic.
Could Yunior be described as a “bachelor” according to Sedgwick’s model?
Could Oscar be described in the bohemian space of creativity and unconventionality through his interest in writing and science fiction? What are the implications of such a space within the novel as a whole?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
4 April 2016
Excerpt from In a Queer Time and Place Worksheet
In the “Queer Temporality and Postmodern Geographies” chapter of In a Queer Time and Place, Judith Halberstam analyzes how alternate temporalities and practices provide space for queer subjects to develop counter-normative existences outside of heteronormative logic. She references critics such as David Harvey, Samuel R. Delany, Anna Tsing and Steve Pile in order to ground critical engagement with normative concepts of time and space in relation to consumerism, gender, sexuality, etc. She ultimately calls for an active understanding of normative forces at work in spaces and time, in order to produce queer temporalities and spaces where new social formations outside of normativity are imaginable.
Term 1 significance: Queer time
Halberstam defines queer time as “those specific models of temporality that emerge within postmodernism once one leaves the temporal frames of bourgeois reproduction and family, longevity, risk-safety, and inheritance” (6). Queer time provides a temporality for those who go against normativity and its constructs in terms of being and functioning in society. This alternate temporality allows queer individuals to practice a life outside the logic of dominant, heteronormative patterns.
Term 2 significance: Queer space
Queer space, as defined by Halberstam, is “the place-making practices within postmodernism in which queer people engage…it also describes the new understandings of space enabled by the production of queer counterpublics” (6). Halberstam illustrates her definition by highlighting the work of Samuel R. Delany in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (13). She also points out how critics have established the historical gendering of space according to social, political, and economic practices of certain epistemes.
Term 3 significance: David Harvey
Halberstam takes issue with Harvey’s deconstruction of the naturalization of temporality, precisely because he doesn’t acknowledge the normativity that undermines his critic. Furthermore, Harvey fails to extend his criticism to the engendering and sexualization of spaces, concepts that have been naturalized according to hegemonic frameworks and ideas such as family time and heterosexuality.
“In order to create and maintain new spaces for interclass contact, Delany asserts that we need to be able, first, to imagine such spaces; we have to find out where they are, and how they can be sustained and supported. Second, we need to theorize the new spaces. It is not enough simply to point to new sites for interclass contact but as Delany had done here, we have to create a complex discourse around them through narrative and the meticulous work of archiving. Third, we have to avoid nostalgia for what was and what has disappeared while creating a new formulation for future spaces and architectures. Finally, Delany urges us to narrate an account of the invisible institutions that prop up counterpublics, but also to tell the story of the new technologies that want to eradicate them through a moral campaign about cleaning up the city.” (14)
According to Delany, we must do four things before queer spaces can be developed. We must first entertain imaginations of these spaces and their details. Then we must generate discussion and dialogue surrounding queer spaces with the use of records and descriptions. Next, nostalgia must be traded for innovation as these spaces are formulated and created. Last, we must simultaneously shed light on these spaces outside of normative logic while also writing about efforts to eliminate these spaces.
How does Junot Diaz generate queer spaces in Oscar Wao, not just in terms of sexuality but also in terms of transnational identity, gender, and class?
How does magical realism inform the concept of queer space and time?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
27 March 2016
In the preface and “Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire” chapter of Gender Trouble, Judith Butler considers the effects of language and other structures of power on the conceptualization of gender, sex, desire, and identity. She problematizes some feminist critique, taking issue with the universality component of exclusionary practices and pointing out that feminists run the same risk of exclusion by unconsciously participating in existing power structures that are (some argue) impossible to escape. She also draws on the work of Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Monique Wittig, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Simone de Beauvoir, and Luce Irigaray to name a few. She is mainly concerned with how efforts of inversion and subjugation operate under normalized models involving power, exclusion, and superiority.
1. Coalitional politics
3. Identity/Metaphysics of substance
Term 1 significance: Genealogy
Genealogy is an investigation into a lineage or development. Butler calls for such an investigation into the political and social development of gender and its meaning(s), restrictions, and functions. She proposes that this may be the only strategy to discover new discourses of subversion and resistance that operate under reigning power systems.
Term 2 significance: Identity/Metaphysics of substance
Butler asks the compelling question, “To what extent is “identity” a normative ideal rather than a descriptive feature of experience?” (16). She traces the effects of gender on identity politics and discusses the term “metaphysics of substance” (20). Substance can be equated with consciousness, or the act of experiencing and understanding the world and oneself (Eldred). Metaphysics is philosophy involving the concept of being, and gender has political and social implications on this idea of being. Butler utilizes Nietzsche to explain that both being and substance are constructs of language, a system of representation that operates under hierarchical structures and therefore, “[i]n no sense…reveal or represent some true order of things” (20). Therefore, “[t]here is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender: that identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results” (25).
Term 3 significance: Coalitional politics
Butler acknowledges feminists’ use of coalitional politics and admits it can be beneficial, but also points out that coalitions assume unity of a group sharing attribute(s) and risk asserting “an ideal form” for inclusionary strategies (14). Butler problematizes this notion by referring to language and its irregularities, inconsistencies, and limits to understanding. She writes that “[c]oalitional politics requires neither an expanded category of “women” nor an internally multiplicitous self that offers its complexity at once” (16). She ultimately calls for an open coalition that will not be subject to definitional limits.
This antifoundationalist approach to coalitional politics assumes neither that “identity” is a premise nor that the shape or meaning of a coalitional assemblage can be known prior to its achievement. Because the articulation of an identity within available cultural terms instates a definition that forecloses in advance the emergence of new identity concepts in and through politically engaged actions, the foundationalist tactic cannot take the transformation or expansion of existing identity concepts as a normative goal. Moreover, when agreed-upon identities or agreed-upon dialogic structures, through which already established identities are communicated, no longer constitute the theme or subject of politics, then identities can come into being and dissolve depending on the concrete practices that constitute them. Certain political practices institute identities on a contingent basis in order to accomplish whatever aims are in view.
Conceptualization of identity can be established with and through political aims. Identity could be malleable if accepted identities and languages did not form political substance. Foundationalist policies do not allow for malleable identities because they subscribe to an idea of identity restricted by language and other cultural conditions which operate through political frameworks. The opposite policy resists assumption related to the meaning of identity and function of coalitions.
1. How are ideas of gender in Oscar Wao afflicted by political and social schemes that operate under dominant modes and discourses of power?
2. Do any of the characters succeed in subverting or reinforcing these dominant gender systems? Why or why not?
Eldred, Michael. Metaphysics of Feminism: A Critical Note on Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. 2.02. Artefact, Feb. 2001. Web. 28 March 2016.
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
21 March 2016
Excerpt from The World Republic of Letters Worksheet
In the excerpt from The World Republic of Letters, Pascale Casanova traces the evolution of literature through engagement with multiple critics on the economy of literature, its influences, classifications, etc. He argues that all literature is actually part of a composite, a world of literature that should be considered instead of singular pieces irrespective of their whole. He aligns the development of literature and language with the development of nations and their specific, often assumed “universal,” modes of thinking and functioning.
1. Literary capital
2. Literary geopolitics
4. Literary autonomy
5. Ethnocentric blindness
Term 1 significance: Literary capital
Casanova argues that “literary capital is inherently national” (34). He links the evolvement of literature as a source of political and economical significance that discerns a nation’s movements and engagements throughout history. In other words, it is “embodied by all those who transmit it, gain possession of it, transform it, and update it,” essentially those with the power and resources to do so (15).
Term 2 significance: Literary geopolitics
Casanova uses the term “literary geopolitics” to demonstrate how the classification of literature in regards to its contemporaries, adversaries, etc., mirrors how nations define themselves in relation to others (36). Neither concept, literature or nation, can be universal, “the source of its own existence and coherence” (36); it must be taken into consideration as part of the whole it makes up. Literature helps to inform the rivalry that exists between nations and their definitions.
Term 3 significance: Ethnocentric blindness
The phenomenon in which a dominant power, mode, or discourse, occupying the “central” space in which all others are defined against, loses sight of those on the periphery of the power model. Casanova uses this concept to explain how certain nations’ literatures rose to dominance through political and economical resources, ultimately rejecting “a historicized view of literature” that takes into account literatures distant from the center but still valid as part of the whole body of literature (34).
“The link between the state and literature depends on the fact that, through language, the one serves to establish and reinforce the other. Historians have demonstrated a direct connection between the emergence of the first European states and the formation of “common languages” (which then later became “national languages”). Benedict Anderson, for example, sees the expansion of vernaculars, which supplied administrative, diplomatic, and intellectual support for the emerging European states of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, as the central phenomenon underlying the appearance of these states. From the existence of an organic bond, or interdependence, between the appearance of national states, the expansion of vernaculars into common languages, and the corresponding development of new literatures written in these vernaculars, it follows that the accumulation of literary resources is necessarily rooted in the political history of states.” (34-35)
The expansion of literature and its mode of dissemination, language, have been linked to the initial expansion of European states; therefore, one informs the other in many ways, including in the political, social, and economical contexts that are part of the formation of a nation and literature. The development of language facilitated the development of literature, which in turn (or rather simultaneously) facilitated the development of nations, ultimately providing space for literature and its raw materials in history and politics in the making of these and other nations.
1. What the implications of this reading in terms of engaging Oscar Wao and its social, political, and economical contexts?
2. What’re the ways in which it is defined, as a novel or piece of literature, against the “ideal,” canon literature that has dominated literary discourses and frameworks? How does it, as a piece of the literary body, “establish and reinforce” its nation as Casanova claims (34)?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
20 March 2016
“Can the Subaltern Speak?” Worksheet
In the excerpt from “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak uses the examples of sati and suicide, specifically postcolonial effects on the subject of the Other, the marginalized social group, to frame the idea that scholars run the risk of exacerbating the silencing of the “subaltern” while simultaneously working to liberate such subjects.
1. Subaltern/ alterities
3. Epistemic violence
5. Strategic essentialism
Term 1 significance: Subaltern
The subaltern is “a person holding a subordinate position” and “always stands in an ambiguous relation to power—subordinate to it but never fully consenting to its rule, never adopting the dominant point of view or vocabulary as expressive of its own identity” (2194). It is the Other that is marginalized through colonial and postcolonial effects, effectively being silenced by dominant discourses of knowledge, power, politics, and social systems. Their marginality enables them to somewhat exist outside of power structures, which is why critics and scholars are quick to use them as means of transformation and change. However, Spivak is against this romanticization and insists that the subaltern remains silent (the very fact of calling the subject subaltern assigns a determinate role in reflection of the same motives behind colonialism). If the subaltern is outside the system of power, they are technically outside the dominant discourse including language; therefore, even if they were to “speak,” those under the dominant modes of power may not be able to recognize and understand. On the one hand, Spivak uses Bhubaneswari Bhaduri’s suicide to illustrate this point. On the other hand, however, she points out that subalterns must be of lower class (Bhaduri had some privilege as a middle class woman), and becasue of this, she ultimately questions how subalterns can speak if one of the founding aspects of such a classification is to not be able to speak.
Term 2 significance: Consciousness
Spivak criticizes Ranajit Guha’s “dynamic stratification grid” because it conforms to essentialist and elitist terms (2201). That is, it assumes that there is an “ideal” because people are classified according to difference, meaning there has to be a point of reference (the ideal). She extends this critique to Ajit K. Chaudhury, who’s “Marxist view” that “the transformation of consciousness involves the knowledge of social relations” commits the same crime of Guha— it assumes there is an “ideal” consciousness, taking on elitist undertones that mirror those of the colonial effort and history (2202). In trying to access the consciousness of the subaltern and allow them to speak, critics run the risk of operating under dominant modes of discourse that they are presumably trying to fight.
Term 3 significance: Essentialism/Strategic essentialism
Essentialism is “the belief that certain people or entities share some essential, unchanging “nature” that secures their membership in a category” (2194). Strategic essentialism, Spivak’s offering to the feminist debates, emphasizes that sometimes, one must make essentialist assertions to prove a point. She argues that through her suicide, Bhaduri “generalized the sanctioned motive for female suicide by taking immense trouble to displace…its imprisonment within legitimate passion by a single male” (2205). She also problematizes the essentialism that critics practice while trying to define the subaltern and find transgressive ways for it to speak.
“This gesture of transformation marks the fact that knowledge of the other subject is theoretically impossible. Empirical work in the discipline constantly performs this transformation tacitly. It is a transformation from a first-second person performance to the constatation in the third person. It is, in other words, at once a gesture of control and an acknowledgement of limits. Freud provides a homology for such positional hazards.” (2204)
Sigmund Freud exemplifies the risk that theorists run; that is, the risk that in engaging the subaltern as a subject, the theorist implies that the subject can be known and classified according to the dominant mode of discourse as practiced by the theorist. This dominant mode assumes that the theorist can apply his own knowledge (formed in a specific structure) to the subject and transform assumptions into scientific fact.
1. As Western critics of Oscar Wao, how can we be aware of dominant discourses that could factor into an effort to identify and analyze the subaltern character(s) in the novel?
2. Can we ascertain any type of solution to Spivak’s problematization of the scholar’s engagement with the subaltern? Do you agree or disagree with her sentiments?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
13 March 2016
“Introduction” Excerpt from Orientalism Worksheet
In the introduction of Orientalism, Edward W. Said works to define Orientalism in its various meanings as contingent upon notions of and by the Occident (opposite the Orient). He discusses the political significance of humanist studies such as Orientalism and suggests that studying the development of the Orient and Orientalism as a subject and discourse can shed light on hegemony and the interrelations of philosophy, society, politics, culture, etc.
Term 1 significance: Orientalism
According to Said, Orientalism entails many different definitions and meanings that are interrelated; however, it is most accepted or conceived of in the context of academia. He defines it in three ways:
- “a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience” (1).
- “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and … ‘the Occident’” (2).
- “the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient” (3).
Said highlights these different definitions in order to reiterate his point that Orientalism as a discourse is a way of discussing and developing identity in contrast to that of the Orient, essentially producing and reinforcing the discourse through definition in opposition of the Other.
Term 2 significance: Hegemony
Said credits hegemony, more specifically “the result of cultural hegemony at work,” for facilitating the longevity of Orientalism because it created a discourse of cultural superiority and authority that has lasted generations (7). A hegemonic discourse requires that the subordinate subject be complicit within the system as well, but Said points out the dangers of “distortion and inaccuracy” in such lines of thinking as well (8).
Term 3 significance: Authority
Hegemonic discourse implies a notion of authority given to the favored culture. Said wishes to analyze how authors and scholars apply authority (whether consciously or unconsciously) while engaging with the Orient subject. Said’s whole point is that it is impossible to divorce scholars’ cultural experience from their professional work– therefore it is imperative to study authority and how it is used in Orient-focused texts, specifically using what Said calls “strategic location” and “strategic formation” (20). Said is mainly concerned with “analysis … of the text’s surface, its exteriority to what it describes,” in essence its distance from authority and reigning discourses that distort the realistic image of the Orient even as the subject itself only exists because of Orientalism (20).
“Another reason for insisting upon exteriority is that I believe it needs to be made clear about cultural discourse and exchange within a culture that what is commonly circulated by it is not ‘truth’ but representations. It hardly needs to be demonstrated again that language itself is a highly organized and encoded system, which employs many devices to express, indicate, exchange messages and information, represent and so forth. In any instance of at least written language, there is no such thing as a delivered presence but a re-presence, or a representation. The value, efficacy, strength, apparent veracity of a written statement about the Orient therefore relies very little, and cannot instrumentally depend, on the Orient as such. On the contrary, the written statement is a presence to the reader by virtue of its having excluded, displaced, made supererogatory any such real thing as ‘the Orient.’ Thus all of Orientalism stands forth and away from the Orient: that Orientalism makes sense at all depends more on the West than on the Orient, and this sense is directly indebted to various Western techniques of representation that make the Orient visible, clear, ‘there’ in discourse about it. And these representations rely upon institutions, traditions, conventions, agreed-upon codes of understand for their effects, not upon a distant and amorphous Orient.” (21-22)
The portrayal of the Orient is not based on the actual Orient itself, but rather on the image produced, accepted, and promoted by discourse favored by the West (Orientalism). This representational methodology is reflected in other structures such as language, in which the concept is not represented in actuality but rather based on other conceptions that have been accepted and furthered by the system. Therefore, Orientalism doesn’t accurately represent the Orient in its reality, but rather on the “realities” of the West.
- In many of the South Asian novels I’ve encountered thus far (mostly written by women in English), the authors depict complex, interpersonal relationships between family and community members. Much of the discussion revolving around this subject is how Western views of family and identity filter reactions and interactions with these texts and subjects. How does Junot Díaz approach this subject in Oscar Wao? How does he attempt, if at all, to subvert accepted, Western notions of family and responsibility while working in the context of a Western country? How is this in favor of or against what Said is calling for in terms of Orientalism and Orientalist texts?
- In what ways does Oscar Wao exhibit and/or interact with the conflation (or lack thereof) of politics and humanist concerns?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
7 March 2016
“How to Tame a Wild Tongue” Worksheet
In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Gloria Anzaldúa addresses the division of self that occurs when postcolonial languages are attacked and criticized for not meeting the accepted status quo of language according to current society and culture. She explains how languages, especially those of different influences, are integral components of history and identity formation. She ultimately argues that in the face of prejudices, Spanish and Mexican dialects will remain because they are natural formations of merging cultures, histories, experiences, etc.
1. Dual identity
2. Borderland conflict
3. Chicano Spanish
4. Secret language
5. Illegitimate language/illegitimacy
Term 1 significance: Dual identity
Anzaldúa highlights the economic pressures and suffering that Chicano and other people of different race and language face for refusing to acculturate in regards to language. These pressures ultimately cause a sense of dual identity, a “psychological conflict” within the self that is difficult to resolve due to binaries, specifically between national and racial identity (2954). But she also points out that the Chicano language, and other dialects, are products of natural cultural malleability and fusion, as a result of colonialism and other factors.
Term 2 significance: Borderland conflict
Anzaldúa writes about her own internalization of the borderland conflict, resulting from competing coercion regarding language and culture in multicultural communities and nations. This internalization often results in a diminishing sense of self in which the self is deemed as “nothing” (2954).
Term 3 significance: Chicano Spanish
Anzaldúa argues that “Chicano Spanish is a border tongue which developed naturally” and “sprang out of the Chicanos’ need to identify [them]selves as a distinct people” (2948). She highlights the various historical influences on the language and how those influences shaped the language into what it is today– or in other words, how it became a border tongue and the implications of such a language, including its characterization as an “illegitimate, bastard language” (2950).
Chicana feminists often skirt around each other with suspicion and hesitation. For the longest time I couldn’t figure it out. Then it dawned on me. To be close to another Chicana is like looking into the mirror. We are afraid of what we’ll see there. Pena. Shame. Low estimation of the self. In childhood we are told that our language is wrong. Repeated attacks on our native tongues diminish our sense of self. The attacks continue throughout our lives.
Because of continual persecution based on language, Chicana feminists are skeptical about each other and subsequently themselves. If they relate to each other, they see what they don’t want to see, the common denominator among them: the diminished, unstable definition of self.
1. How do Beli and Lola internalize shame according to their gender and racial identities?
2. How does the “secret language” that Anzaldúa defends relate to and differ from Hélène Cixous’ l’écriture feminine and its purpose?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
5 March 2016
Playing in the Dark Excerpt Worksheet
In the preface and the “Black Matters” chapter of Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison recognizes the struggle within language to escape cultural aspects such as racism. She is primarily concerned with the concept of whiteness and the repercussions of its construction while simultaneously arguing for an extension of American literature studies and criticism that includes such considerations. She argues that analyzing literary blackness and whiteness can ultimately provide a deeper, more realistic reading of American literature and history.
1. American Africanism
3. National Literature
4. Literary imagination
5. Cultural hegemony
Term 1 significance: American Africanism
A term coined by Morrison, it refers to her “investigation into the ways in which a nonwhite, Africanlike … presence or persona was constructed in the United States, and the imaginative uses this fabricated presence served” (6). Through American Africanism, she analyzes the construction and notions of African being, literary blackness, and the lack of scholarship on its counterpart– literary whiteness.
Term 2 significance: National Literature
Morrison points out that Africans and African Americans have been a part of American history for over 400 years and therefore should have influence over the definition of what it means to be “American.” Therefore, she problematizes the fact that not only have African Americans been historically left out of literary canons, but also the fact that criticism is still lacking today in terms of studies of racial discourse. She writes, “National Literatures…. seem to end up describing and inscribing what is really on the national mind. For the most part, the literature of the United States has taken as its concern the architecture of a new white man” (14-15).
Term 3 significance: Cultural hegemony
Morrison is interested in what fuels cultural hegemony, “what makes intellectual domination possible” (8). She extends the problem of cultural hegemony into literary criticism and argues that writers are the best hope for redeeming the field by considering societal and cultural constructions that underlie literary imagination and subsequent products of writing.
What Africanism became for, and how it functioned in, the literary imagination is of paramount interest because it may be possible to discover, through a close look at literary “blackness,” the nature–even the cause–of literary “whiteness.” What is it for? What parts do the invention and development of whiteness play in the construction of what is loosely described as “American”? If such an inquire ever comes to maturity, it may provide access to a deeper reading of American literature–a reading not completely available now, not least, I suspect, because of the studied indifference of most literary criticism to these matters.
The lack of interest in American literary criticism in regards to how whiteness was originally constructed and developed has most likely prevented more inquires into and deeper understanding of the subject matter. Studying the roles, functions, and implications of literary “blackness” can possibly open up new comprehension of literary “whiteness” and how it functions in the definition of “American.”
1. In Oscar Wao, how does Beli navigate implications of racism while growing up in Baní? How do literary “blackness” and “whiteness” function in the novel as a whole?
2. While keeping in mind Morrison’s argument that racial discourse underlies language, how does Junot Díaz utilize different languages and literary techniques that implement issues of race in the plot of Oscar Wao?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
22 February 2016
“Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Cultural Politics” Worksheet
In “Work, Immigration, Gender: New Subjects of Cultural Politics,” Lisa Lowe utilizes literary and testimonial narrative forms in order to demonstrate the contradictions between the proliferation of the capitalist system and the exploitation of racialized, gendered, classified social groups, specifically that of Asian immigrant and Asian “American” women. This exploitation tends to solicit singular, dialectical views of identity based on categories such as race, gender, and class; however, Lowe argues for cultural forms through which the oppressed can assert themselves as whole political subjects who are subjected to multiple cultural and social frameworks, including the implications of material subjectivity.
1. Dialectic of differentiation
2. Global racialized feminization
3. Transnational Capitalism
4. Cultural narratives/forms
5. Abstract subject/identity
Term 1 significance: Cultural narratives/forms
Lowe argues that cultural narratives, whether they be testimonial or fictional, work to define the racialized, gendered capitalist subject and to provide a space for such subjects to redefine their political and social identities and histories. This ultimately subverts the processes that define subjects based on their abstract identity as provided by the capitalist system and its exploitations. In this way, Lowe shows how the novel and testimonial narrative move beyond aesthetic capabilities.
Term 2 significance: Transnationalism
Lowe demonstrates how transnational capitalism, in regards to defining such groups as Asian immigrant women workers, is inherently contradictory:
“the very processes that produce a racialized feminized proletariat both displace traditional and national patriarchies and their defining regulations of gender, space, and work, and racialize the women in relation to other racialized groups. These displacements produce new possibilities precisely because they have led to a breakdown and a reformulation of the categories of nation, race, class, and gender, and in doing so have prompted a reconceptualization of the oppositional narratives of nationalism, Marxism, and feminism.” (37)
In other words, transnational capitalism has actually provided the grounds and space for marginalized groups such as Asian immigrant women workers to redefine what has been defined for them– their identity.
Term 3 significance: Dialectic of differentiation
The cultural narrative forms of the oppressed provide a dialectic of differentiation in order to determine the complex identities of individuals, which have been limited based on their gender, race, class, etc. and how these characteristics fit within the dominant system of categorization.
“Throughout lived social relations, it is apparent that labor is gendered, sexuality is racialized, and race is class-associated. A multiplicity of social contradictions with different origins converge at different sites within any social formation– the family, education, religion, communications media, sites of capitalist production– and each is uneven and incommensurable, with certain contradictions taking priority over others in response to the material conditions of a given historical moment. Singular narratives of consciousness aim at developing a subject position from which totalization becomes possible, whereas the cultural productions of racialized women seek to articulate multiple, nonequivalent, but linked determinations without assuming their containment within the horizon of an absolute totality and its presumption of a singular subject.”
Cultural narrative forms establish the effects of various social factors on collective identities rather than operating in the realm of the absolute and singular. Epistemes determine the incongruities that appear from different social aspects of life, with some incongruities receiving more attention than others. Experience has made it obvious that factors such as class, gender, and race are interrelated in social structures and systems.
1. What are some contradictions that the Cabral family faces within their negotiation of the Dominican and American spheres in Oscar Wao?
2. Does Oscar Wao provide a space for the Cabral family to negotiate new political identities? Why or why not?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
21 February 2016
“Myth and Reality” Worksheet
In “Myth and Reality” from The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir takes issue with “the myth of woman,” what she defines as the archetype that has been created by society according to the male/female binary in which male is privileged and active in creating societal stipulations. She writes about women’s difficulty as they attempt to negotiate their own sense of being and their prescribed roles.
1. Myth of woman
2. Absolute truth
3. The Feminine Mystery
5. False Objectivity
Term 1 significance: Myth of woman
Beauvoir explains how the myth of woman as created by patriarchal society and conditioned according to episteme is falsely based upon the male/female binary. She highlights how, historically, women have been defined based on this myth, which “is one of those snares of false objectivity in which the man who depends on ready-made valuations rushes headlong” (1413). She ultimately calls for myths to be discarded and for woman to be treated as “a full human being” (1414).
Term 2 significance: Absolute truth
The masculine in patriarchal society assumes absolute truth in their perspective and construction of society. Assuming absolute truth is, in Beauvoir’s words, a “childish mentality,” in which “relations are easily congealed in classes, functions in types,” and “relations … are fixed in things” (1407). She notes that this gender framework has existed throughout history, meant to provide one umbrella term for all women, and a phenomenon in which women must change to fit the myth and not vice versa.
Term 3 significance: The Feminine Mystery
The Feminine Mystery is essentially imperative to the myth of woman. It is a classification used to defend men against their inability to understand women’s physiological plights (childbirth, menstruation, etc.). Beauvoir goes on to point out that mystery exists on both sides of gender’s binary spectrum; however, “the categories in which men think of the world are established from their point of view, as absolute” (1410). She aligns the mystery classification with issues of gender, race, and nationality.
“Furthermore, like all the oppressed, woman deliberately dissembles her objective actuality; the slave, the servant, the indigent, all who depend upon the caprices of a master, have learned to turn toward him a changeless smile or an enigmatic impassivity; their real sentiments, their actual behavior, are carefully hidden. And moreover woman is taught from adolescence to lie to men, to scheme, to be wily; she is cautious, hypocritical, play-acting.”
Society teaches women from an early age that they should act coy and mysterious towards men, never revealing their true selves but acting according to standards set by those in power. In doing so, women become passive and set in the roles essentially set for them, similar to that of slave and other mentalities implicated in oppression.
1. How is Beauvoir’s feminist analysis of the historical, patriarchal classification of women linked to other frameworks we’ve studied so far, such as Derrida’s system of deferred meaning and Marxist concepts?
2. How are the female characters in Oscar Wao, such as Beli and Lola, subjected to notions such as the myth of woman and the Feminine Mystery? Are they complicit within the patriarchal system? If so, how?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
15 February 2015
“Categories for a Materialist Criticism” Worksheet
In “Categories for a Materialist Criticism,” Terry Eagleton maps out six different components of a Marxist approach to literature. Eagleton explains how each component functions according to the other components and how they apply to literature, ultimately arguing that “All literary production … belongs to that ideological apparatus which can be provisionally termed ‘the culture’” (56).
1. Authorial Ideology (AuI)
2. Educational apparatus
3. Literary Mode of Production (LMP)
4. General Ideology (GI)
Term 1 significance: Educational apparatus
Eagleton argues that “the ideological function of literature” is evident in the educational apparatuses of developed societies (56). Furthermore, he writes that the ideological function of literature “is determined in general by the internal structures of the educational apparatus, which are themselves determined in the last instance by the GMP” (57). Educational apparatuses showcase what is determined as literary when it comes to literature, as determined by the specific society during a specific span of time. Literature is a tool that is used to implement ideologies into individuals of society, and the educational apparatus is the vehicle for such implementation.
Term 2 significance: Authorial Ideology (AuI)
In considering AuI, Eagleton writes that it “is always GI as lived, worked and represented from a particular overdetermined standpoint within it,” that standpoint being that of the author (59). He also emphasizes the authorial ideology of the text is not necessarily the same as the general ideology of the text; authorial ideology indicates biographical factors that go into the fashioning of text, but that don’t necessarily determine it. Indeed, the question is not about “ ‘centring’ the literary text on the individual subject who produces it,” but rather it’s about “specifying the ideological determinations of the text” (59, 60).
Term 3 significance: Literary Mode of Production (LMP)
LMP is a multi-structural substructure of GMP. In capitalist society, the significance of the LMP lies in its purpose to further the GMP. The main question of a Marxist approach to literature, in terms of LMP, is “how the text comes to be what it is because of the specific determinations of its mode of production” (48).
The interdeterminations of the linguistic and the political, and their effect on the constitution of an LMP and the character of its products, are thus of central significance to a materialist criticism. No more graphic example of this conjecture in English literary history can be found than in John Milton’s decision to write Paradise Lost in his native tongue. Milton’s decision was a radically political act – an assertion of bourgeois Protestant nationalism over classical and aristocratic culture, or rather an assertive appropriation of those classical modes for historically progressive ends. The very forms and textures of his poem are a product of this linguistic, political and religious conjunctive within ideology. All literary production, in fact, belongs to that ideological apparatus which can be provisionally termed the ‘cultural’. What is in question is not simple the process of production and consumption of literary texts, but the function of such production within the cultural ideological apparatus.” (56)
In taking on materialist criticism in regards to literature, the question becomes about the purpose of literary production enclosed within a specific culture and its ideologies. The construction of literature depends upon its culture’s principles. John Milton’s Paradise Lost is a great example of how literature can be mixed with or affected by political modes and means (and vice versa), a primary concern of Marxist materialist criticism.
1. What effects of capitalism can we see in our institution of higher learning? How does Marxist literary criticism enlighten these observations?
2. What authorial ideologies are apparent in Oscar Wao, and how do they help determine the ideological determinations of the text itself?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
15 February 2015
Marxism and Literature Worksheet
In Marxism and Literature, Raymond Williams problematizes the notions of “base” and “superstructure” as they have been considered static and invariable in meaning and function. He also considers the Marxist ideas of “determination,” “productive forces,” and “mediation,” emphasizing that analyzation in isolated modes essentially complicates the ideology and stunts social growth- concepts must be studied as variable, with inherent processes and relationships that change and exhibit limits simultaneously.
1. Abstract determinism / “economism”
4. Productive force
Term 1 significance: Productive force
Williams discusses how the definition of productive force can be broadened to “all and any of the means of the production and reproduction of real life” (91). The nature of the productive force depends on the mode in which it is being applied. Again, Williams’ emphasis here is that to extenuate analysis only to the realm of capitalist society, in this case specifically in terms of productive forces, is to limit consideration of various forces, modes, and connections that are present in society and its underlying structures.
Term 2 significance: Abstract determinism/ “economism”
Williams responds to criticism of Marxism involving the concept of determinism by explaining that abstract determinism demonstrates how actual determinism functions, not solely through limit-setting but also through pressures exerted by individual will. In this way, he illuminates the complicated, pull-and-push connection between limits and pressures, the bulk of which makes up the concept of determinism and that which fights against isolated modes of thinking in abstract determinism.
Term 3 significance: Base
Some contemporary Marxists have considered superstructure as an autonomous, variable category from that of base. However, Williams argues, “ ‘The base’ is a mode of production at a particular stage of its development,” equally variable and dynamic (81). The point is essentially that it is difficult to think of these terms as static in meaning- both are independently and interdependently variable, leading to the point that the processes and relationships between each should take precedence over the categorization and subsequent limited examination of these concepts.
“Abstract determinism, that is to say, has to be seen as in one sense determined. It is a form of response and interpretation that is conditioned by its experience of real historical limits. The decisive difference between ‘determinate’ natural laws and ‘determinate’ social processes was overlooked– in part by a confusion of language, in part from specific historical experience. The description of both kinds of knowledge as ‘scientific’ compounded the confusion. But is it then possible to return to a sense of ‘determination’ as the experience of ‘objective limits’? As a negative sense this is undoubtedly important, and Marx used it repeatedly. New social relations, and the new kinds of activity that are possible through them, maybe be imagined but cannot be achieved unless the determining limits of a particular mode of production are surpassed in practice, by the actual social change. This was the history, for example, of the Romantic impulse to human liberation, in its actual interaction with a dominant capitalism.
As evidenced by the interplay between capitalism and Romanticism, it is impossible to develop new societal associations and subsequent concepts without transcending boundaries that influence fabrication systems. Marx often considered the idea of objective limits involved in determination in the negative aspect, in opposition to the ignorance of defining determinate in terms of “social processes” or “natural laws.” A person who reacts and thinks in terms of his/her understanding of the limits of the determined structures of the time is experiencing abstract determinism.
1. How do Williams’ arguments regarding Marxist’s concepts of base and structure, reflection and mediation relate to other theory concepts we’ve studied so far, such as Foucault’s epistemes or Derrida’s discussion of binaries?
2. What could we define as the “base” and “superstructure” underlying Oscar Wao? How do these concepts vary, or in other words, what complicates them and their relationship throughout the novel?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
7 February 2016
“The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” Worksheet
In “The Animal That Therefore I am,” Jacques Derrida considers how we use language in order to define things such as animals in opposition to the definition of humans (human/animal binary). He uses the concept of nudity in order to demonstrate how man has assumed superiority in the human/animal binary by defining others according to a language system that man has developed, a system that is limitless and yet is limited by such binaries.
Term 1 significance: Limitrophy
Derrida defines limitrophy as his subject in his second hypothesis as part of an attempt to disarm the authority men have given themselves in naming and characterizing living creatures “animals.” He points out that speech about the speech used to define the animal is based on the limitations of human speech– in this case the defining of the animal as opposed to the human other– because we can never be objective outside of our human experience, which can only be described and defined by language, a flawed system that is defined by limits.
Term 2 significance: Autobiography
Derrida uses the term autobiography in order to explain how humans have exhibited superiority over animals by creating a language and signifier that defines them according to our created system. He writes, “Nothing risks becoming more poisonous than an autobiography, poisonous for itself in the first place, auto-infectious for the presumed signatory who is so auto-affected” (415). Considering oneself using language denotes a subjective lens within binaries of deferential meaning.
Term 3 significance: Passivity
Asking a question such as “Can animals suffer?” places a sense of passivity on the subject by using a word pertaining to being able to do something (exerting one’s agency) but not allowing for a response in the language system used. This is an instance in which language breaks down- the question is self-contradicting in that it implies there’s a possibility that it’s impossible for animals to feel, essentially negating the question as formed by our language system.
“Animal is a word that men have given themselves the right to give. These humans are found giving it to themselves, this word, but as if they had received it as an inheritance. They have given themselves the word in order to corral a large number of living beings within a single concept: “the Animal,” they say. And they have given themselves this word, at the same time according themselves, reserving for them, for humans, the right to the word, the name, the verb, the attribute, to a language of words, in short to the very thing that the others in question would be deprived of, those that are corralled within the grand territory of the beasts: the Animal. All the philosophers we will investigate (from Aristotle to Lacan, and including Descartes, Kant, Heidegger, and Lévinas), all of them say the same thing: the animal is without language. Or more precisely unable to respond, to respond with a response that could be precisely and rigorously distinguished from a reaction, the animal is without the right and power to “respond” and hence without many other things that would be the property of man.”
The animal is passive in that it is unable to respond to humans using their created language, a creation that gives them authority over the animal according to humans. Most influential philosophers throughout time have agreed that animals do not have language in the sense that humans do. This authority that humans give themselves through language deprives others, those defined by humans according to their own language, of having their own authority in language.
1. What kind of binaries are present in Oscar Wao, and to what effect does Junot Díaz employ them?
2. Are there instances in the novel when language breaks down and contradicts itself? What other aspects of Derrida’s theory can we identify in the text?
Lecture given by Dr. Wesley Cecil of Peninsula College
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
7 February 2016
“Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” Worksheet
In “Structure, Sign, and Play,” Jacques Derrida thoroughly examines the work of Claude Levi-Strauss on structuralism and discusses what he calls the “rupture” in these studies– that is, the move from defining systems such as that of linguistics according to a stable center of meaning and reference, to a decentered system in which the center is a function of infinite play that can never exist outside of the structure.
Term 1 significance: Bricolage
Derrida argues that Lévi-Strauss’s concept of bricolage can be applied to the criticism of language as applied through the lens of a lack of center, or a “decentering” (280). Derrida demonstrates how the bricolage discourse can be applied to criticism in language. Essentially, the member of a society exhibiting bricolage functions under and utilizes the structure already set, specifically language; however, as soon as the discourse changes under the utilization of the tools already set in place in the system, the system breaks down and criticizes itself.
Term 2 significance: Center
The center is essentially, according to Derrida, not a center but actually a function “in which an infinite number of sign-substitutions [come] into play” (280). It can not be present outside of the system but functions to provide an infinite play of meaning within the system.
Term 3 significance: Play
In removing the center of the linguistic system, Derrida illustrates how play becomes “a field of infinite substitutions only because it is finite” (289). The concept of play shows how language is paradoxical in that it is bound by its infiniteness, its constant deferment and lack of center.
“The other choice (which I believe corresponds more closely to Lévi-Strauss’s manner), in order to avoid the possibly sterilizing effects of the first one, consists in conserving all these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools which can still be used. No longer is any truth value attributed to them: there is a readiness to abandon them, if necessary, should other instruments appear more useful. In the meantime, their relative efficacy is exploited, and they are employed to destroy the old machinery to which they belong and of which they themselves are pieces. This is how the language of the social sciences criticizes itself.”
Language provides commentary on itself when its boundaries are used to deconstruct its structure in which these boundaries are initially included. The truth of the system isn’t attributed to its boundaries, while the system is essentially conserved through its foundational conceptions, but these conceptions are subject to change as its effectiveness is exploited.
1. How does this idea of language, as a structure, being a paradox in and of itself apply to the concept of historiography? How does language limit authentic writing of history?
2. Is there a way in which Oscar, or any other character operates under the concept of a bricoleur?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
1 February 2016
“Panopticism” Worksheet on Foucault
Summary Sentence or Two:
In “Panopticism,” Michel Foucault links the constitution of discipline to the plague and processes of power, but also to the binary of normal/abnormal and the implications that go in hand with determining and defining such binary concepts. He explains how the concept of discipline has informed notions of power in classification and characterization of society.
Term 1 significance: Discipline/Panopticon
In centering his discussion of discipline and power around Bentham’s Panopticon, Foucault highlights the implications of the concept of discipline on society. He argues that there are two conceptions of discipline: the discipline-blockade and the discipline-mechanism, both functioning to better society in positive and negative ways (209). He also alludes to the context of military discipline, establishing its function as a method for increasing individuals’ capabilities and services to society in general (210-211). However, Foucault ultimately typifies discipline as power, comprised of systems, strategies, and tactics with a certain end in mind, that being to obtain and maintain power. Disciplines effectively mimic the Panopticon; “they effect a suspension of the law that is never total, but is never annulled either,” much like the vision of the watcher in the Panopticon (223).
Term 2 significance: Power
As we read from Birns, Foucault is concerned with concepts of power and classification in society; who determines definitions of binaries? How do these definitions allude to systems of power, or in other words, who is in power in order to define such things? What does this say about certain epistemes? Examining the Panopticon and its implications of discipline allow Foucault to determine the effects of power on society, and subsequently individuals, over time. Those who are in power are able to classify the rest of society, enabling binaries and extenuating power legacies, extenuations that can be observed throughout the history of civilization, including that of the plague. The Panopticon is successful, Foucault says, because “it automatizes and disindividualizes power,” much like the binaries and classifications determined by those in power do (202).
Term 3 significance: Dualism
Foucault discusses how historically, those in power “use procedures of individualization to mark exclusion” (199). However, he also points that the double modality of such a functioning of power, “that of binary division and branding” (199). This is a type of classification that works according to concepts of inclusion and exclusion; those pertaining to the advantageous side of the binary are included, while the others are not. Again, this reminds of Foucault’s concern over who is doing the classifying and what the implications are of such classification according to specific epistemes. This dualism is created and then extenuated by those in power and, consequently, society as they buy into the dualistic classification.
“On the whole, therefore, one can speak of the formation of a disciplinary society in this movement that stretches from the enclosed disciplines, a sort of social ‘quarantine’, to an indefinitely generalizable mechanism of ‘panopticism’. Not because the disciplinary modality of power has replaced all the others; but because it has infiltrated the others, sometimes undermining them, but serving as an intermediary between them, linking them together, extending them and above all making it possible to bring the effects of power to the most minute and distant elements. It assures an infinitesimal distribution of the power relations.” (216).
A punitive, ordered population guarantees dissemination of power. Power’s inherent process of discipline subverts, classifies, and compares, similar to that of the Panopticon and its techniques.
1. How can Foucault’s discussion of power and discipline be related to the socio-political environment of the Dominican Republic that Oscar, his mom, and other characters are subjected to? How are they victims to a type of Panopticon society?
2. Is Oscar successful in subverting binaries and classifications as constructed by those in power? Why or why not?
http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.libraries.wright.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=2318fe78-ad9d-40d5-a61c-cab55ee7492a%40sessionmgr4001&hid=4206 – This article examines another author’s use of the Panopticon and its implications in a narrative about femininity, power, society, constructions, and characterizations.
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
1 February 2016
“What is an Author?” Worksheet on Foucault
Summary Sentence or Two:
In “What is an Author?” Michel Foucault examines the function of the author in different discourses and contexts; he analyzes what it means to call something a “work,” the implications of an author’s name attached to texts, and he cross-examines the author function in scientific discourse as opposed to that of the literary realm, simultaneously noticing effects of and differences according to cultures. He ultimately argues that discourses and works should be examined “according to their modes of existence” rather than be constrained in definition due to an author’s presence (220).
4. Author function
Term 1 significance: Author function
According to Foucault, the author function can be defined as “characteristic of the mode of existence, circulation, and functioning of certain discourses within a society” (211). In other words, the author function not only determines a work’s place within its cultural setting– it is also a manifestation of the culture’s dominant debates and discussions. While the author function can certainly constrain a work and its interpretation, it can also allow for a plurality of selves inherent in the author, a multiplicity of voices if you will. Foucault summarizes these points in the four characteristic traits of the author function (216).
Term 2 significance: Authenticity
Foucault explains how, historically, the author of a text was defined or examined in order to determine his or her authenticity and in turn, the authenticity of the text itself. In attempting to define “work” (writings by authors, different types of texts essentially), Foucault flushes out the possible definitions of authentic “work” and goes on to draw connections between a work’s named author and the classification of the work according to said author. He points out how “literary discourses came to be accepted only when endowed with the author function” (213). In other words, discourses, works and modes of writing, were accepted as authentic according to their author. Foucault discusses this subject in order to come to the point that if writing was not constrained to the terms of its author, we would no longer ask questions pertaining to authenticity– rather, our questions would open up to wider matters, such as the system of classification existing behind the culture in which the literature in question is a result of.
Term 3 significance: Discourse
Historically, discourse was an action, and a risky one at that, instead of a creation. Foucault discusses how the author function is indicative of dominant discourses of the time, society, and culture in which the text appeared and therefore, these discourses “must be received in a certain mode and … must receive a certain status” (211). However, he also points out that not all discourses were and are ascribed to the author (212); discourse was initially up for grabs in terms of ownership, and came to be determined by authors in light of scientific work that needed to be validated, leading to the author function/authenticity binary. Foucault concludes that his own discourse in “What is an Author” can be “an introduction to the historical analysis of discourse,” in which discourse is allowed to stand on its own, contemplated in terms of its own existence rather than dependent on the author and authenticator (220).
“These differences may result from the fact that an author’s name is not simply an element in a discourse (capable of being either subject or object, of being replaced by a pronoun, and the like); it performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory function. Such a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others. In addition, it establishes a relationship among texts. Hermes Trismegistus did not exist, nor did Hippocrates–in the sense that Balzac existed– but the fact that several texts have been placed under the same name indicates that there has been established among them a relationship of homogeneity, filiation, authentication of some texts by the use of others, reciprocal explication, or concomitant utilization. The author’s name serves to characterize a certain mode of being of discourse: the fact that the discourse has an author’s name, that one can say “this was written by so-and-so” or “so-and-so is its author,” shows that this discourse is not ordinary everyday speech that merely comes and goes, not something that is immediately consumable. On the contrary, it is a speech that must be received in a certain mode and that, in a given culture, must receive a certain status.” (210-11)
Discourse that is characterized by an author’s name is experienced and subsequently distinguished in a particular manner according to the culture and time in which it is produced and received. Naming a text’s author allows for an association between it and other texts, whether in terms of differentiation, definition, authentification, or comparison. The designation of a text’s author functions to classify that text in a variety of terms.
1. In what ways has our discussion of Oscar Wao been limited or constrained due to Díaz’s presence as an author? What dominant modes of discourse are inherent in this presence?
2. How can we approach the text of Oscar Wao in its “mode of existence” in our current culture and society? How does Díaz, as an author, convey this mode and current issues pertaining to the cultures presented in the narrative?
https://www.academia.edu/1993276/Author_and_Text_Reading_Michel_Foucaults_What_is_an_Author – This The Criterion article provides a simple and coherent summary of Foucault’s four characteristics of the author function, as well as other scholarly viewpoints of the author debate.
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
25 January 2016
Summary Sentence or Two:
In “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances,” Roman Jakobson discusses the difference between Similarity and Contiguity aphasic disorders and how they relate to the use of metaphor and metonymy in poetry and prose. Jakobson observes that studies into the metaphor have taken precedence over that of metonymy, and he links this lack to the contiguity disorder because aphasics of this nature think in terms of similarity rather than context.
Term 1 significance: Contiguity
The OED defines contiguity as “close proximity, without actual contact,” but also as the “proximity of impressions or ideas in place or time, as a principle of association.” Jakobson explains that patients with an aphasic contiguity disorder do not understand context in terms of using words and their grammatical functions to create sentences. In this way, their communication involves metaphor rather than metonymy; they can understand similarities, but they can’t understand how or why individual words are utilized in sentences for specific, grammatical reasons, and therefore they can not produce sentences nor can they understand metonymy. This term is significant because Jakobson relates it to the development of discourse, prose, and poetry. He reiterates that normally, the processes of similarity and contiguity work together in order to produce communication. However, he concludes that things such as culture, “personality, and verbal style” can affect the processes, ultimately privileging one over the other (Jakobson 129).
Term 2 significance: Metonymy
Jakobson relates metonymy to the aphasic similarity disorder, in which a patient understands syntactical context but can not actively and independently select a signifier without said context. In metonymy, a word is used to describe a thing, but the word is not an actual part of the thing (an example is using the word “legs” to describe a body– this is not metonymy but actually synecdoche); rather, the word is closely linked to the thing being described (using a team’s name to describe them as a whole). Jakobson argues that metonymy is fundamental to Realism: “Following the path of contiguous relationships, the Realist author metonymically digresses from the plot to the atmosphere and from the characters to the setting in space and time,” effectively utilizing metonymy in order to enhance narration (130).
Term 3 significance: Bipolar/Dichotomy
Jakobson relates language to aphasia by comparing their bipolar structures, in this case metaphor and metonymy to similarity and contiguity; the effect is the conclusion that one pole is inevitably privileged over the other, eliminating the dichotomy in favor of a singular view, a situation that ironically occurs in these types of aphasias– one mode of communication is incapacitated in favor of another for whatever biological reason.
“The bipolar structure of language (or other semiotic systems) and, in aphasia, the fixation on one of these poles to the exclusion of the other require systemic comparative study. The retention of either of these alternatives in the two types of aphasia must be confronted with the predominance of the same pole in certain styles, personal habits, current fashions, etc. A careful analysis and comparison of these phenomena with whole syndrome of the corresponding type of aphasia is an imperative task for joint research by experts in psychopathology, psychology, linguistics, poetics, and semiotics, the general science of signs. The dichotomy discussed here appears to be of primal significance and consequence for all verbal behavior and for human behavior in general.” (131)
Human conduct, specifically involving language, is significantly influenced by the bipolarity of systems such as those of the semiotic nature. Collaborative research involving different departments dedicated to the study of signifiers is imperative in order to evaluate the effects of things such as culture, personality, etc. on the privileging of one pole over the other. Relational studies between occurrences in aphasia and the dichotomy of language are necessary.
Question 1: Are there instances of metaphor and metonymy in Oscar Wao? Is one technique privileged over the other?
Question 2: What might influence an author to privilege metaphor over metonymy in a narrative, or vice versa? How do the effects of these techniques differ, or in other words, what do they do for the narrative, author, reader, etc.?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
25 January 2016
Summary Sentence or Two:
In “Telling and Showing,” Booth explains the shift between former methods of direct narration in literature, the “telling,” or in Booth’s words “artificial authority,” (4) and the modern approach of effacing authorial presence in favor of “showing.” Drawing from multiple classic examples of literature, Booth concludes that an author’s voice is perpetually present throughout a narrative regardless of technique concerning telling and showing, a fact simply supported just by the author’s decision to write a specific story.
- Jean-Paul Sartre
- Point of view
Term 1 significance: Jean-Paul Sartre
|Booth references French philosopher Sartre in order to demonstrate the existence of an “author’s manipulating presence” and purpose that can be deduced through elements such as point of view, plot, dialogue, etc. (Booth 19). Considering this existential theorist helps Booth to reveal his point (that being that it is impossible not to detect an author’s influence on the story) by highlighting Sartre’s objection to authorial presence and subsequently determining the fallibility of such an objection.|
Term 2 significance: Narrator
|The term “narrator” occurs multiple times throughout the essay as Booth considers the authority of the narrator position in “telling” the reader the story and therefore guiding them in how to feel and think about characters, plot, etc. Booth contemplates how an author can manipulate a story’s narrator into “telling” and/or “showing” readers certain details, ultimately yielding the desired effect of storytelling; this contemplation reveals the inadequacy of reducing narration to the telling/showing dichotomy, as the two are shown to go hand in hand through examples taken from the Decameron (Booth 9-16).|
Term 3 significance: Modern
|Booth is quick to make a distinction between past techniques of direct, authoritative narration and modern methods that attempt to indirectly “show” the reader the important details of a narrative. However, he ultimately argues that both approaches are still present in fiction today, and that sometimes one technique can be in the service of the other in positive, artistic ways.|
Passage Paraphrase: “For that matter, we must object to the reliable statements of any dramatized character, not just the author in his own voice, because the act of narration as performed by even the most highly dramatized narrator is itself the author’s presentation of a prolonged “inside view” of a character. When Fiammetta says ‘the love she bore the boy carried the day,’ she is giving us a reliable inside view of Monna, and she is also giving a view of her own evaluation of events. Both are reminders of the author’s controlling hand.”
In narratives such as those in the Decameron, the author’s influence and presence are evoked through the choice and manipulation of narrator, in this case that of Fiammetta. Lines such as “the love she bore the boy carried the day” indicate interior perspectives on characters and narrator alike. An author can exert these perspectives through narration and dramatization of characters, perspectives that readers must resist if they are to attempt to completely separate the author from the fiction.
Question 1: What are some instances in Oscar Wao that call to mind Díaz’s authorial presence? What effect does this have on our interpretations as readers? What is the significance of the changes in point of view on the narrative as a whole?
Question 2: In thinking about Booth’s commentary on the give and take between telling and showing in fiction, why would Díaz choose Yunior as a primary narrator? Is he a trustworthy narrator? Does he effectively tell and show the story of the Cabrals?
Dr. Andrew Strombeck
11 January 2016
Transnationalism: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
I read “Dictating Desire, Dictating Diaspora: Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as Foundational Romance” by Elena Machado Sáez. Other key words of the article search included authenticity, diaspora, historiography, and historical narrative. In the article, Sáez states “Oscar Wao is a transnational text that blurs the opposition between diaspora and nation” (526, my emphasis added). I already knew that transnational meant across nations literally, but I wasn’t quite so aware of its presence as a literary study. I’ve found out that transnationalism is a literary study concerned with notions of nation, language, and culture across borders, the exchange of cultural information and beliefs essentially. Other familiar critics such as Julia Kristeva have written on transnationalism and the complicated concepts behind the idea of a nation. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, transnationalism was one of the most popular conversations at the 2011 MLA convention. However, as the study of humanities decline, some scholars are also concerned about the theory’s legitimacy and its effectiveness in changing the way nations and language are considered; they want to see its differences from comparative studies.