25 January 2016
Response to “Telling and Showing”
In “Telling and Showing,” Wayne Booth defends the use of “telling,” or directly stating certain aspects of the story, in classical writing to convey the same narrative effect as “showing,” or using imagery and description to tangentially explain something. Furthermore, he challenges Jean-Paul Sartre’s idea that narrator intrusions into the story are necessarily improper.
Key terms in this article:
- “Telling” and “Showing”
- Objective vs. Subjective
- Establishing character
1. Show, don’t tell. For those of us who have taken any writing classes at all, we’ve had this model of writing drilled into our brains time and again. The basic idea is for writers to avoid saying things like, “He was sad” when that emotion could be conveyed more poetically through action, such as, “He stumbled to the ground and began to weep hot tears.” All well and good, but Booth very carefully explains to us in this essay why this dualistic model ignores several well-crafted forms of writing. As he demonstrates, there are ways in which “telling” can help to create a greater sense of a character; in essence, it acts as a piece of “showing.” In this way, “telling” can help to quickly establish a character when that establishment is less important than the actual story to be addressed.
3. Part of the failure of the New Critics was that they could not address the relationship between the author and the narrator; due to their fervency in an isolated text, they wanted to avoid the author and instead take the narrator for whatever they actually said or did. Yet Booth notices that an author may create a narrator with whom they do not necessarily agree. This, I think, is part of what he means to address with his discussion on voice. The voice of the narrator (as well as the dialogue of the characters) is not necessarily the voice of the author; it can be an affectation, an unreliable narrator, or some literary trick meant to create a dissonance between the statement and the author’s intent. (For clarity’s sake, I avoid the word “irony” here.) I think this is why he is so quick to denounce Sartre’s contempt of authorial intrusions into the story: after all, these are also affectations, just like anything the other characters have said. As Booth demonstrates, if you must avoid these authorial intrusions, ad absurdum, you must avoid essentially everything in the story that gives it life, energy, and poetry. In other words, you must remove everything that has voice.
4. Characters in stories are not like human beings; they are archetypes, exaggerations, pawns to be used for a specific purpose. In order for the reader to understand what that specific purpose is, the character needs to be established, their primary characteristics prepared so that the rest of the story follows naturally. Now, as Booth argues, one can either show or tell this establishment (as 1). Sometimes, however, this establishment simply isn’t important to the flow and pattern of the story; in these cases, it seems only fair to tell these minor details and return to what is important. His example comes from the “Decameron,” where the noble Federigo is described by the narrator as “gallant,” “full of courtesy,” and “patient.” Rather than waste time trying to prove these points via examples, Boccaccio can simply tell the reader to take it as read and get to what actually matters.
I would love to copy nearly all of the last section, but that would be over-indulgent. Instead, I’ll simply copy the last paragraph:
In short, the author’s judgment is always present, always evident to anyone who knows how to look for it. Whether its particular forms are harmful or serviceable is always a complex question, a question that cannot be settled by any easy reference to abstract rules. As we begin now to deal with this question, we must never forget that thought he author can to some extent choose his disguises, he can never choose to disappear.
In this section, Booth rejects Sartre’s notion that the author tampering with the flow of time or the exposition of narration is a failure of proper writing. As Booth demonstrates, nearly every section of the story, from the narration to the dialogue to the very construction of the story and choice of subject, comes from the author; every word bears their fingerprint. Rather than try to remove those fingerprints, literary critics must accept this inevitability and strive to demonstrate what this effect has on the story itself. For example, we can consider why a scene in The Brothers Karamazov is narrated in the middle of the story, even though it occurs before any other event.
- “Showing” and “Telling” are most commonly referenced in regards to creative writing, be it poetry or novel writing. How do these two writing styles come into play in non-fictional genres, such as academic essays or blog posts? For those of you who are teaching or who want to teach, how can we teach these concepts to our students? And how can we bring across Booth’s appreciation of explanatory “telling” that achieves its results without “showing” clutter?
- “Telling” is clear and concise, but it can make readers feel talked down to, and it may be inappropriate or dry if done to an extensive level. “Showing,” contrariwise, is poetic and stylistic, but if a reader misunderstands the description, it may lead them off on rabbit trails, and it can wax purple and be inappropriate if overdone. Is there a way to break this dichotomy? Booth’s explanation is a start, but are there other methods?
8 February 2016
Derrida Response Page
In “The Animal That I Am (More to Follow),” Derrida explores the relationship between humans and animals, particularly in the context of shame, consciousness, and domestication. Throughout, he compares this relationship to various textual references, such as Alice in Wonderland and the Garden of Eden.
- suis (The French word meaning both “I am” and “I follow”)
- près, après, and auprès
- Calling and Names
1. This is obviously an important theme, considering it is part of the title of the paper. It’s a bit of a tricky relationship, but as far as I can tell, it’s attempting to demonstrate that our existence is not an enclosed thing in itself; it’s the continuation of patterns and lessons we’ve picked up over our lives. This imagery disembodies us, forces us to race behind the world that is already happening. In one section, Derrida says, “I am like a child ready for the apocalypse, I suis the apocalypse itself.” We see here what I’ve described: a child is their parent, or they follow their parent’s example. Derrida is either saying that having prepared for the apocalypse, he now embodies it, or that he follows behind the apocalypse (though that word “behind” itself can be twisted around into “near” and “next-to” based on number 3. [Derrida is confusing.]).
2. Nudity plays into his discussion of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve had no shame or idea of nudity until they ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Derrida, though, takes it farther in that the idea of “nudity” simply doesn’t apply to beings with no sense of “nudity” or “non-nudity;” it doesn’t make any sense, anymore than differentiating between “sound” and “quiet” makes any sense to someone who is deaf. In this same way, animals aren’t naked because they have no idea of nakedness or clothedness. They don’t have shame like we do, so being seen by one naked doesn’t mean anything untoward like it would if the animal were a human. This idea, that words defining concepts cease to make sense outside of understanding, I think is critical to différance and deconstruction.
4. As I discussed in 2, there’s a certain idea here for Derrida that seeing without understanding isn’t really “seeing” as we call it. A cat seeing a person nude doesn’t “see” nudity; they see the human’s lack of clothing, but they don’t see the shame and impropriety bound into the word “nudity.” You could even go further and say that the animal doesn’t “see” since it doesn’t have the same sense of consciousness as humans do. It lacks the self-recognition and metacognition humans have, or at least we have no way of knowing if it does or not. (Derrida talks briefly about this as well when he wonders if the cat says anything meaningful in its purrs and mews. Sadly, at present we don’t have the ability to parse cat speech, nor can we speak cat in return.) On the other hand, Derrida also argues that the reason why he does feel shame in front of this unashamed cat is because he casts his own intelligence, his own consciousness and shame, onto it.
Ashamed of what and before whom? Ashamed of being as naked as an animal. It is generally thought, although none of the philosophers I am about to examine actually mention it, that the property unique to animals and what in the final analysis distinguishes them from man, is their being naked without knowing it. Not being naked therefore, not having knowledge of their nudity, in short without consciousness of good and evil.
From that point on, naked without knowing it, animals would not, in truth, be naked.
In this passage, Derrida attempts to undo the conceit that humans feel shame about nakedness because then they have fallen to the state of animals. Clearly, he notes, this makes no sense, because if animals are always naked, they have no concept of clothed or naked, and therefore are not “naked” in the same manner as we think of for humans.
- I feel like there’s more going on in the back half of the speech, but I can’t put my finger on it. I understand the idea that he’s severing the divide between “animal” and “human,” which further expands out to other dichotomies (in particular the Nazi/Jew dichotomy so close to his identity), but again, there must be something else going on, right?
- Another central point here is that certain concepts only have meaning because we ourselves give it meaning, such as “nudity.” I’m thinking about other similar things which only exist because we say that they do. For example, the ending of Oscar Wao makes us think about the word “love,” don’t you think? What is the animal nature of Oscar’s courting, what is the human aspect, and where do the lines blur?
15 February 2016
Marxism Response Worksheet
In “Marxism and Literature,” Raymond Williams explains the fundamental Marxist concepts of Base vs. Superstructure, Determination, and Productive Forces. Determination complicates Base and Superstructure by asking who gets to decide the positions in an economic relationship, while Productive Forces complicates Determination by setting up the modes which the determined positions argue over.
- Base and Superstructure
- Productive Forces
- Williams discusses the two different definitions inherent to “determination.” On the one hand, you have “determined,” meaning that which is fixed, found to be always true, such as “determined laws.” In some views the laws of economics are already “determined.” On the other hand, you have “determining,” meaning selecting, deciding, making choices. In this case, some person or groups of people have the power to determine what economic laws are true and which ones are not. The art of Marxist thought, then, is winnowing out the two, determining ( 😉 ) which laws we experience are which, whether law or creation of humanity.
- Productive forces are, as I understand them, the things that make other things. I think the idea here is that we usually envision “labor” as a productive force; however, this dehumanizes the workers who perform that labor. It is the workers who are the productive force, and labor is, in fact, something that they produce. I… think? It ties into 4 a bit in that workers are capable of producing everything they need for themselves, were it not for the superstructure controlling them.
- I felt this was worth putting on here, as it’s brought up fairly regularly in this discussion. Marxism is built off of Hegel’s dialectic theory, which states that every idea (a thesis) has its opposite (an antithesis), and true perfection lies in the two coming to blows and ultimately creating a new, greater concept between the two (synthesis). Marx believed that the modern capitalist society was a dialectic between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and that only by creating a revolution and challenging this binary would the Communist synthesis appear. We also see it here in the dichotomy between base and superstructure, between determined and determining, and between production and product. (Or between production and producer, if you prefer.)
Here society is the objectified general process, and the only alternative forces are “individual wills”. But this is a bourgeois version of society… Society, whether generalized as such or as “capitalist society” or as “the social and cultural forms of the capitalist mode of production”, is seen as the primarily negative force which follows from any understanding of determination as only the setting of limits. But “society”, or “the historical event”, can never in such ways be categorically abstracted from “individuals” or “individual wills”. Such a separation leads straight to an alienated, objectivist “society”, working “unconsciously”, and to comprehension of individuals as “pre-social” or even anti-social.
The bourgeois, the oppressors, want to be able to duck behind the smokescreen of “This is just the way the world works.” However, this is only an attempt to avoid blame, push the problem away from fightable humans to unfightable “society.” The truth is, society is made up of individuals, and those individuals perform and adjudicate its laws. They are the ones to blame, not a miasmic “society.”
- How, then, does actual change take place? How can the power of determination be moved from one hand to another? If the Chinese and Russian experiments failed, what can we do?
- To be added in the future.
22 February 2016
Feminist Theory Journal
In the reading from “The Second Sex,” Simone de Beauvoir discusses the imposition of female “myths” upon women as a whole. In particular, these myths can become oxymoronic in nature, in which one myth completely invalidates another.
- Correlative pairs
1. There’s a key difference here, I think, between women being “mysterious” and women being “other.” Othering them would be bad enough, as it would ignore the vast similarities between male and female in favor of the differences. But mythologizing them or claiming them “mysterious” changes them from confusing to impossible to understand. (From Aphrodite to Cthulhu, if I may.) There’s an old saying: “Men are from Mars; women are from Venus,” or the more popular conceptualization, “it’s like they’re an entirely different species.” It allows men the leeway to avoid thinking, seeing from another perspective. It takes 51% of mankind and places them within a separate magisterium, utterly untouchable. How ridiculous!
3. Women are shoehorned into a variety of roles, be it the virgin, the mother, the object of affection, or what have you. Yet fulfilling these roles that society demands only heaps an alternate negative stereotype on them: the virgin becomes the ice queen; the mother becomes the nagging shrew; the object of affection becomes the whore; and so on. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The “solution,” such that it is, is the modern turn of phrase, “a lady on the streets, a freak between the sheets;” in other words, hiding any semblance of sexuality out in public, yet somehow being perfectly sexual in private. Excepting the fact the men are allowed to be sexually expressive in public, I don’t see how this sort of arrangement couldn’t cause cognitive dissonance to either the woman or her significant other.
5. Going along with 1 and 3, the mirage is the idea that men project a certain standard onto women (be that madonna or whore), then feel betrayed when the woman of their interest doesn’t match that perfect archetypal model. Shock of shocks!–she’s a human, with human strengths and flaws. de Beauvoir argues that men should instead treat women as equals, giving them agency and influence to do with as they wish. When this happens, the romance is more believable, as both sides seem to be in cooperation, rather than one defining the other. Women don’t need to be mysterious to be interesting people/characters.
In those rare instances in which she holds the position of economic and social privilege, the mystery is reversed, showing that it does not pertain to one sex rather than the other, but to the situation. For a great many women the roads to transcendence are blocked: because they do nothing, they fail to make themselves anything. They wonder indefinitely what they could have become, which sets them to asking about what they are. It is a vain question. If man fails to discover that secret essence of femininity, it is simply because it does not exist. Kept on the fringe of the world, woman cannot be objectively defined through this world. and her mystery conceals nothing but emptiness.
Previously, de Beauvoir has discussed how men are actors in romantic relationships, while women are acted upon. Because of this arrangement, men act upon women, seeing her as mysterious. Here, she argues that when the situation is reversed and the woman acts upon the man, the woman will find the man mysterious. Thus, the idea that femininity is some secret mystery is unfounded; rather, it is the situation in which women may not define themselves that binds them to mystery.
- How does the idea of “woman as myth” tie into the idea in the book of “woman as part of nature?” Does returning to nature necessitate returning to a feminine nature, and would that repair the damage “woman as myth” has caused?
- How can male writers learn to capture womanhood, and vice versa? Personally, I think there’s more to it than just “write a male character, then switch the chromosomes,” but does that commit me to essentialism?
28 March 2016
In the reading from “Gender Trouble,” Judith Butler discusses the construction and performance of the female gender, as well as the complications that arrive upon attempting to discuss said gender. She notes how language, the actions of men and women, and acts of sexuality all challenge the traditional dichotomy of men as masculine and feminine, and even if those words have any meaning at all.
- Masculinity as general
- Lesbian as gender
1. In traditional language, “sex” and “gender” are interchangeable. Butler, however, pulls these two apart and shows the complications and differences between the two. Sex, here, is the biological state which one embodies, while gender is the necessary performance by which a person of a given sex must act. However, I also think Butler equivocates a bit between this (what society expects of women) and the actual performances which women themselves achieve. (This ties into 4 as well.) In any case, this distinction is a useful one, as once the two are separate, we can begin to see just how arbitrary the gender roles actually are.
2. Identity politics have always been an important part of feminism. Identities are the groups or categories which one claims to be a member of. Butler in particular discusses the identity as “woman” and how this proves too much. Simply put, there are so many different ways in which one can be a woman that the term has little to no meaning. Just as in 1, to claim the identity of “woman,” one must straddle the line between essentialism (whereby there are traits which only and all women experience) and independence (whereby women are free to choose their own characteristics).
4. I have to pretty strenuously disagree with Butler on this one. She argues that masculinity isn’t a “gender” as such because anything which is not masculine is therefore feminine; womanhood is sort of a “black hole” catch-all that takes everything unmanly. I may just be blind as a man, but I believe that certain traits are neither male-coded nor female-coded, but rather neutral. As an off-the-top-of-my-head example, liking certain types of food isn’t particularly gender-coded. Meat is male-coded, and salad is female-coded, sure, but outside of that, the rest is generic. On the flip side of this concept, certain traits are coded both male and female, depending on context; for example, cooking/culinary arts.
Gender is a complexity whose totality is permanently deferred, never fully what it is at any given juncture in time. An open coalition, then, will affirm identities that are alternately instituted and relinquished according to the purposes at hand; it will be an open assemblage that permits of multiple convergences and divergences without obedience to a normative telos of definitional closure.
This paragraph concludes Butler’s discussion on the false unity of the term “woman.” Society must accept the multiple variations that exist within this term and recognize that they’re not all trying to be the same thing or work in the same direction.
- Would you say that the gender roles of different cultures should be considered different “genders?” Does it make any sense to cluster these together? Are there places where the gender roles of men and the gender roles of women are so similar that they should be pushed together into one?
- Spanish is a much more “gendered” language than English. (I suppose this isn’t a question, but it is an interesting jumping-off point of discussion into the Sapir-Whorf-ean effects of language on genderization.)
25 January 2016
Response to “Resonance and Wonder”
In “Resonance and Wonder,” Stephen Greenblatt codifies a two-part structure of evaluating historical and artistic pieces.
Key terms in this article:
- Historicism/New Historicism
- Destructive collection
1. In physics, “resonance” is a phenomenon whereby an object vibrating at a certain frequency will cause a similar object to vibrate at the same frequency. Here, this is meant as an analogy to the historical relationship between similar pieces of art. The evaluation of one piece is dependent upon its similarity to another, highly-valued piece. “Wonder,” by contrast, is the evaluation of the object by its own merit. Greenblatt’s example of these two is a huge Mayan pyramid (resonant with other pyramids in other cultures) versus a complex Coca Cola stand (a wondrous construction all its own).
3. I don’t believe the actual term “presentism” was used in the paper, but Greenblatt does discuss the concept. Essentially, presentism is the use of modern belief structures to evaluate the past. To some, this is unfair, as the value systems at that time were completely different; what was “good” back then is not what is “good” now. New historicism, however, rejects this. Rather, they aim to recognize the relationship between the two time periods.
5. Greenblatt notes the irony inherent to museums collecting pieces of culture from around the world and putting them under tasteful lighting. Part of the value of those pieces of culture was their connection to their surroundings; moving them elsewhere destroys those connections.
It is Kafka who would be most likely to grasp imaginatively the State Jewish Muse- um’s ultimate source of resonance: the fact that most of the objects are located in the museum-were displaced, preserved, and transformed categorically into works of art- because the Nazis stored the articles they confiscated in the Prague synagogues that they chose to preserve for this very purpose.
This passage reinforces the concept I discussed in section 5. The pieces of art which managed to survive the Holocaust were the ones which the Nazis chose precisely to be art. They survived, not through their merit or their value to the Jewish people, but through the arbitrary choice of outsiders to and oppressors of their culture.
- How do we teach people about foreign cultures if they can’t go to that country and bringing the country to them displaces the artifacts?
- What is our goal in learning history, and how does (new) historicism help us achieve that?
18 April 2016
In “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” Bruno Latour pursues an alternate mindset that critique can use to be more constructive, rather than the more destructive analysis common at his time. In particular, he suggests a shift from analyzing simple concepts (matters of fact) to complex, personal things (matters of concern).
- “The Critical Trick”
2. Latour’s primary worry with criticism is that it is inherently destructive. Part of this, as I understand this, is that criticism is pessimistic (though I would assume Latour is better than that mistake), but it is also that theory inherently restricts the possibilities of reading a story. Theory has tried since its inception to say, “This is the, and the only, way to understand this story.” The entire point of this essay is to posit a new way to use criticism that won’t destroy possibilities, but instead add to the value and understanding of the story. I’m not… totally clear how he intends to do that, but it has something to do with asking questions instead of answering them… I think.
3. The difference between “objects” and “things” is, near as I can tell, the value which things have. For example, an apple in general doesn’t have any value, so it’s just an object. But a Granny Smith has value (it’s an apple that’s sour, it has a history, it’s unusual for apples), so that makes it a thing… I think? He also plays with the way in which “thing” means “a gathering,” meaning… things have value through group agreement? It’s not terribly clear, for being the central point of his essay.
5. “The critical trick” he sets up in this essay is essentially a double bind. When someone argues that their agency is bound to an object (such as an idol), critics jump to say that the idol has no power and it’s humans that have true agency. But when people then believe that they have their own agency, the critic then jumps again to say that humans are actually bound to complex mechanisms, such as affect, bias, and deception.
Do you see now why it feels so good to be a critical mind? Why critique this most ambiguous pharmakon, has become such a potent euphoric drug? You are always right! When naive believers are clinging forcefully to their objects, claiming that they are made to do things because of their gods, their poetry, their cherished objects, you can turn all of those attachments into so many fetishes and humiliate all the believers by showing that it is nothing but their own projection, that you, yes you alone, can see. But as soon as naive believers are thus inflated by some belief in their own importance, in their own projective capacity, you strike them by a second uppercut and humiliate them again, this time by showing that, whatever they think, their behavior is entirely determined by the action of powerful causalities coming from objective reality they don’t see, but that you, yes you, the never sleeping critic, alone can see.
This passage explains the “critical trick” I discussed before. The critic gets a rush of power from being able to criticizing others with this double bind. The wily critic can either break the reverent by challenge their objects or break the self-empowered by reinstating their gods. It’s a perfect loop, as the essay shows.
- How do we avoid this critical trick? Do we actually do the critical trick, or have we students made it past this?
- How can we add value in our essays, rather than be destructive?