The Questionable Possibility of Utopia in Nigerian Literature

In 1516, Sir Thomas More created a place quite unlike England called Utopia. This writing oscillates between satirical and darkly comical; therefore, we must recognize that there is in “Utopia’s construction and utilization . . . a tension between reality and fiction” (Yoran 3). In this satire, what is real versus what is fiction becomes blurry. However, the core idea of a utopia itself is problematic, since the very meaning of the word is “no place,” coming from “Greek ou not, no + topos place” (“Utopia, n.”). Even though utopia as a place seems impossible, for hundreds of years people have written about utopia and its horrific, perhaps more realistic, counterpart—dystopia.[1]

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All people continue to desire for utopia because they desire improved changes for their government, their community, and their nation. While there has been research on utopia and African American and Asian American,[2] South African,[3] and East African literature,[4] very little has been written critically concerning the Nigerian utopian dream. Utopian ideology connects with Nigerian writing differently from the Western tradition by addressing political and individual concerns of pre- and post-Independence Nigeria, using mythical and native language, dreaming, and showing how intolerable divisions are destructive. This paper will analyze the following three novels: Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God (pre-Independence, published in 1964), Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests (inbetween pre- and post-Independence, officially published in 1963), and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (post-Independence, published in 1991).

Nigeria has had a long, tumultuous history. Britain conquered and ruled Nigeria for over one hundred years. In 1851, British troops seized Lagos, but Nigeria did not become an official colony until 1861; however, the British were in Nigeria in the early 1800s because they were working to stop the slave trade (Oduwobi “From . . .”). On 1 October 1960, Nigeria gained independence from direct colonial rule, becoming “the biggest free black nation in the world” (Weaver 146). There are many religious and political divisions in Nigeria, and a civil war occurred for thirty months from 1967 to 1970. However, this war did not end all the conflict, since many military juntas or coups continued for several years (“Nigeria”). Despite political conflicts, “the arts in Nigeria underwent a surge in self-confidence. Initially, Nigeria led the way in West and East Africa” (Currey 8). Africa has a rich history of art and literature, and Nigeria has been a big contributor. The Nigerian people continue to celebrate the independence of their country with festivities since that eventful day.[5]

In Nigerian utopian novels, the difference between utopia and utopianism must be distinguished. According to critic Bill Ashcroft, while utopias are impossible, utopianism is “a universal human characteristic” (8). The settings of typical utopian novels (as well as dystopian novels) are often Western settings. For example, Plato’s Republic is in Greece; Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games is set in America; Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is in England and New Mexico; George Orwell’s 1984 is in London. However, a visionary quest for a perfect society has occurred and continues to occur all over the world—not just in Western civilization. Nigerian writers, pre- and post-Independence, reveal their opinions and thoughts concerning a utopian possibility for their town, city, or country. Are Nigerian writers just copying or imitating the Western tradition of utopias to crystalize their own thoughts about a perfect society?

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To better answer this question, we must discuss mimicry. Homi Bhabha defines mimicry as “a complex strategy of reform, regulation, and discipline, which ‘appropriates’ the Other as it visualizes power” (122), suggesting that the colonial power attempts to control the Other through reform or regulation. The question could be posed as to whether the desire for utopia is a reflection of the Africans’ desire to imitate Westerners. Dress, language, education, and even religion are often associated with colonial mimicry, but “the desire for a reformed recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (Bhabba 122). Therefore, if Nigerians imitate the utopian genre, they alter it just enough to make it their own. Additionally, all people dream, which becomes a necessity for survival during times of difficulty, such as juntas or extreme poverty. As Marxist critic Ernst Bloch says, “Daydreams focus that element in thought that constantly projects consciousness forward” (Ashcroft 9), pushing people into the future rather than focusing on fantasy. Therefore, desiring a perfect society is considered the norm in any society; yet Nigerian writers use the idea of dream in their utopias differently. For example, in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, Okri uses magical realism when Azaro “dreams” to escape his present, unfortunate reality. Whether or not Azaro’s dreams are real, we meet talking cats, colorful spirits, enchanted albinos, and paranormal midgets. The book ends with this stunning line: “A dream can be the highest point of a life” (Okri 500). Life is difficult, especially for those who are poor, but dreams enable a young Nigerian boy to survive.

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Dreams for the future are also conveyed through telling stories of the past. Ashcroft argues that African literature differs from other utopian writing for two reasons: first, it “[recovers] a forgotten history” (9) and, second, it “[reimagines] the ‘past in the present’ through the kind of exuberant mythic language deployed by Ben Okri” (10). In The Famished Road, Okri shows the readers how these two reasons are quite interconnected. The narrator, a young boy named Azaro, is an abiku, or spirit child, born into poverty in Nigeria. Constantly, Azaro is being kidnapped by spirits or dying. One night Dad tells Azaro a story, combining family history and folklore, about the King of the Road, who required humans to give him sacrifices of food. The poor were unable to continue offering the sacrifices, and the King would become angry, eating people who traveled. One day the people gathered all the poison they could find and put it in the food offering. The only person to escape was “our great-great-great-grandfather” because “[h]e knew the secret of making himself invisible” (Orki 260). He saw the King of the Road eat himself up, leaving only the stomach behind. When the rain came, the stomach melted, forming the current roads. Dad concludes, “He is still hungry, and he will always be hungry. That is why there are so many accidents in the world” (261). This example combines the present, through the act of storytelling, and the past, by telling a story of an ancestor and explaining why something happens. Near the end of the novel, after Dad almost dies but escapes death, he tells Azaro that Nigeria is an abiku nation that “refuses to stay till we have made propitious sacrifice and displayed our serious intent to bear the weight of a unique destiny” (494). Saying that Nigeria or the road is hungry is a personification, since neither Nigeria nor the road could literally eat people. Rather than being hungry for food, post-Independence Nigeria is hungry for something else—for the people to remember the past in the present state of the nation. Only then can change occur. When political leaders remember that, Nigeria can stop being an abiku nation, as long as wrongs finally become right.

There is another essence of Nigerian utopian dream: “the radically new is always embedded in and transformed by the past” (Ashcroft 9). We see this idea in Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests because the connection between the past and present is real when the Nigerian community celebrates their independence. The characters include the Town Dwellers, who are living, and the Guests of Honour, a dead married couple.

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The Half-Child, who is the baby of the dead mother, is symbolic of the present/past collision. Demoke, a living townsperson, decides to return the Half-Child to the Dead mother; by making this decision, Demoke symbolizes the new, independent nation that is entrenched in and changed by the past, as symbolized by the dead Guests of Honour. When Forrest Head, the magical leader, speaks to his assistant over Demoke’s action, Forrest Head contemplates, “I have tortured awareness of their souls [i.e., the dead], that perhaps, only perhaps, in new beginnings . . . does Demoke know the meaning of his act?” (71). Critic Simon Simonse claims that African authors “turn their backs on the African past and look for alternatives in the African society as they find it” (482). However, readers do not see any “back turning” but rather a literal confrontation with the past colliding with the present. A person, a community, even a country can desire a new beginning, yet society must not forget the old customs and traditions, horrors and pitfalls of the country. Of course, the ending of this play is ambiguous, and the future state of this nation is unclear. The new leaders must remember the injustices that occurred to the poor and those without power or prestige. If the new Nigerian leaders are not transformed by the past or fail to recognize the ways the past affect them, the nation will suffer, and the dream for utopia will quickly turn into a reality of a dystopian society.

Dreaming is not always hoping and imagining; Nigerians actively work for a better future by utilizing and adapting the resources the colonizer offers—education and religion. In their quest for utopia, Nigerian authors write “to engage power and to imagine change” (Ashcroft 13). For sixteenth-century humanists, More included, education was important for both low and high classes alike. For example, all of More’s Utopian people “devote themselves to the freedom and culture of the mind. For in that, they think, is the real happiness of life” (606). In other words, in order to gain happiness and freedom, one must be educated. Therefore, in the Western tradition, gaining knowledge allowed people to achieve power and create change in order to create the perfect society. In contrast, with Nigerian literature, the colonized Nigerians use education to engage with the colonial powers and to anticipate change that could occur in the future—a powerful Nigerian nation with authoritative citizens or even a Nigeria free from colonial rule. According to Dr. Gaurav Desai, mastering the culture of Englishness occurred when African writers began to re-think their relationship with the colonizer. As a result, the colonized wanted more of the assets of colonialism, like education, but not the horrors of colonial appropriation and other atrocities.

In Arrow of God, characters seek to engage with power by mastering the culture of Englishness. Ezeulu, the Chief Priest of Ulu and leader of the community, sends his son, Oduche, to the Christian school to learn the teachings of the white colonizer. Ezeulu confesses that he sent Oduche “to learn the white man’s wisdom” (Achebe 42). Although Ezeulu cannot remove the white presence from Nigeria, he can use his son to fight against colonizer. Then Ezeulu’s decision influences the community to send their children, as well: “many people—some of them very important—began to send their children to school” (215).

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The word send is used, in connection with going to school or communication, twenty-seven times in this novel, suggesting an evolving process—when something is sent, something must be left behind or lost (e.g., you send a letter but never see that piece of paper again). While Ezeulu sends Oduche off, Ezeulu does not physically lose his son, who still lives at home; however, his son tries to kill the sacred python, indicating that Oduche has lost his tradition and religion. Ezeulu has lost his son, spiritually, to the colonizer. With More’s Western Utopia, when the people engage with power and imagine change, nothing important is lost (e.g., they still have their religion, families, and culture), and everything is gained (e.g., their perfected society, great education, no war, and improved work).

In contrast, with pre-Independence writers, engaging with power means that while the older generations may be unable to change, the children and future generations are able to engage with and master the culture of Englishness. Nonetheless, the younger generation changes in this process, becoming Anglicized Nigerians rather than pure Nigerians. With post-Independence writers, the current generation uses their education to bring themselves together. Because Nigeria has over two hundred languages, “British colonialism . . . helped foster a new national, though fractious, identity” (Richards 215). For example, in A Dance of the Forests, some sense of the past is lost: “Proverb to bones and silence” (74) is repeated hauntingly throughout the play by the old man, Agboreko. While proverbs may have lost their truth through the passing of time, all the characters, no matter their background, use the language English; through communication, even if English is the language in common for all the various groups, there is hope for a greater understanding among all the Nigerian people. Nigerians use English to benefit themselves, creating a more unified, although still imperfect, national identity.

In Nigerian utopian novels, the relation between the individual and the collective can become blurry; utopia is an impossibility, but both the individual and the collective may dream for utopianism and yet carry out that dream in different ways. According to Ashcroft, “while the equality of the individuals in the collective is a fundamental principle of utopian thought, the collective is always inimical to individual fulfillment” (11). In both Western and Nigerian tradition, the quest for utopia endures, while the fear about utopia dissolving into dystopia also continues. While we have acknowledged earlier in the paper that the concept of creating a utopia is seen in Western and Nigerian literature, it differs in that for Western writers, the look is external—the individual forces society to conform to him or her. For example, in Utopia, if a person did not conform to More’s ideal society, that person would become a slave or would be kicked out of the country. In Hunger Games, President Snow, the dictator of the Capitol, coerces the districts (the Subaltern, or lower classes) to conform to his will, which represents as the government and its law, forcing children to kill one another in the. Agency is implausible and threatening—a subject must act in accordance with the individual in charge and any deviance is considered heinous.

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In contrast, Nigerian utopian individuals have the new potential of choice more readily available because of their independent state. Nigerians can look internally to change themselves for the better of society in order to create harmony. In Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests, the ending is ambiguous—the future could become dystopian or utopian; however, when Demoke chooses to recognize the Half-Child, which could symbolize the recognition of horrors from the past and of retribution, there is considerable hope for the future of Nigeria. However, when characters in Nigerian novels do not look internally but remain selfish, utopia turns quickly to dystopia. In The Famished Road, neither the Party of the Poor nor the Party of the Rich are interested in the lower classes because they are too busy seeking power, prominence, and money.[6] Azaro’s Dad “conjured an image of a country in which he was invisible ruler and in which everyone would have the highest education, in which everyone must learn music and mathematics and at least five world languages” (Okri 409). However, since Dad cannot compete with the two parties, he is unable to make his utopia for their Nigerian community to come to pass. One night, Dad explains his hopes for the grand changes in their community, and Azaro explains what he says: “‘We have to clear garbage from our street before we clear it from our minds,’ [Dad] said, echoing something he had hear in one of the books” (Okri 410). Although Dad tries to gather the community and clean up the streets, the people never really come together as Dad had imagined. Perhaps they feel that change is impossible, that hope is not worth having.

The biggest problem with this inability to work together is related to class divisions. Literary theorist Gayatri Spivak questions whether the Subaltern can truly speak and explains that the Subaltern “acted in the interests of the [dominant groups] and not in conformity to interests corresponding truly to their own social being” (27). What is the solution that will enable the Subaltern to speak, to enable a better, if not a utopian, society to exist?

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Desmond Tutu’s description of Ubuntu proves insightful. With Ubuntu, we “recognize our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up in one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can survive only together, that we can be human only together” (Tutu 24). Therefore, if Nigerians truly followed Ubuntu, a more utopian-like society would exist. Without the government party leaders’ imposition and corruption, the poor would not live in pathetic housing, slowly starving to death, such as in The Famished Road. Although Ezeulu becomes crazy at the end of Arrow of God, Achebe could be suggesting that Ezeulu’s inflexibility as a ruler of his people was an incorrect way to govern. What Nigeria, as well as the rest of the world, really needs are social leaders and government officials who remember the Subaltern, listen to how citizens feel, and then show Ubuntu to all.[7]

In conclusion, hope is a universal aspect of all people and all nations. Nigerians may speak different languages, believe in different religions, or have different dreams, but Nigerian writers show how their people hope for their nation’s improvement. During the twentieth century, science fiction has been the dominant form for writing about utopia; however, Nigerian writers are not merely using mimicry to copy the Western tradition of utopia. Nigerian utopian thinking is distinct from other utopian/dystopian genres because Nigerian writers show readers “their distinct form of cultural and political hope” (Ashcroft 8). Utopia has become more focused on an idea, rather than a specific location: “Utopia is no longer a place but the spirit of hope itself, the essence of desire for a better world” (Ashcroft 8). We cannot know for certain the future of Nigerian utopias, but we recognize that if selfishness, greed, and hate abide in a society, whether it be Western or Nigerian, the future looks dim. However, if kindness, selflessness, and forgiveness abound in a community, then there is a greater possibility for hope for a promising future.


Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Arrow of God. New York: Anchor Books, 1974. Print.

Ashcroft, Bill. “The Ambiguous Necessity of Utopia: Post-Colonial Literatures and the Persistence of Hope.” Social Alternatives 28.3 (2009): 8–14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.

Barrett, Stanley R. “Sex and Conflict in an African Utopia.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 13.1 (1982): 19­­–35. PsycINFO. Web. 28. Mar. 2015.

Bhabha, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man.” Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Ed. J. Rutherford. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990. 222–37. Print.

Cartwright, Marguerite. “Nigerian Independence.” Negro History Bulletin 24 (1961): 99­–103. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Currey, James. “Literary Publishing after Nigerian Independence: Mbari as Celebration.” Research in African Literatures 44.2 (2013): 8­–16. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Danzieger, K. “Ideology and Utopia in South Africa: A Methodological Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge.” British Journal of Sociology 14.1 (1963): 59–76. Humanities Source. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Desai, Gaurav. English 397R. Brigham Young University. Provo, 20 March 2015.

Erritouni, Ali. “Apartheid Inequality and Postapartheid Utopia in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People.” Research in African Literatures 37.4 (2006): 68­–84. Literary Reference Center. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Joo, Hee-Jung. “Speculative nations: Racial utopia and dystopia in twentieth-century African American and Asian American literature.” Dissertation Abstracts International Section A 68. (2008). PsycINFO. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Leman, Peter. “Law and Transnational Utopias in East African Fiction. Interventions: The International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 16.6 (2014): 818­–836. EBSCO. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

More, Thomas. Utopia. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century and the Early Seventeenth Century. 9th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W.Norton, 2012. Print.

“Nigeria.” Nigeria Embassy. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Oduwobi, Tunde. “From Conquest to Independence: The Nigerian Colonial Experience.” Historia

Actual On-Line 25 (2011): 19–29. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Okri, Ben. The Famished Road. London: Doubleday, 1991. Print

Richards, Sandra L. “Nigerian Independence Onstage: Responses from ‘Second Generation’ Playwrights.” Theatre Journal 39 (1987): 215­–227. EBSCO. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Simonse, Simon. “African literature between nostalgia and utopia: African novels since 1953 in the light of the modes-of-production approach.” Research in African Literatures 13 (1972): 451­­–487. Humanities Source. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Soyinka, Wole. A Dance of the Forests. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973. Print.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Eds. Bill Ashcroft, et al. The Post Colonial Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1995. Print.

Stieber, Zachary. “Nigerian Independence Day 2014: Quotes and Sayings for Nigeria Holiday.” Epoch Times 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Tayob, Abdulkader. “Islamic Politics in South Africa between Identity and Utopia.” South African Historical Journal 60.4 (2008): 583–599. Humanities Source. Web. 28. Mar. 2015.

Tutu, Desmond. God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time. London: Doubleday, 2005. Print.

“Utopia, n.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Weaver, Edward Kimmons. “What Nigerian Independence Means.” Phylon 22 (1961): 146–159. EBSCO. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Yoran, Hanan. “More’s ‘Utopia’ and Erasmus’ ‘No-Place.’” English Literary Renaissance 35.1 (2005): 3–30. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.


NOTES

[1] When “dystopian novels” is searched online, there are 3,240 results with amazon.com but only 85 results with the website for Barnes & Noble. In contrast, when “utopian novels” is searched, the numbers drop—1,946 results with amazon.com but only 37 results with Barnes & Noble. Although these specific numbers could fluctuate, the overall trend seems to show a greater preference for dystopian novels in the year 2015.

[2] Hee-Jung Joo’s dissertation analyzed African American and Asian American literature, finding three main trends: (1) The multiracial utopias that express the contested relationship between formal and substantive citizenship throughout the twentieth century; (2) The utopian longings that stress the mid-century conflict between domestic racism and global expansionism; and (3) The contemporary dystopian scenarios that depict a US eventually destroyed by the racial contradictions of late capitalism.

[3] Ali Erritouni explores the South African writer, Nadine Gordimer’s, work: “[Gordimer] trusts that art can be effectively marshaled in the effort to resist the abuses of power” (81). Additionally, K. Danzieger’s article is a sociological study of what is happening in South Africa: “[I]n the case of the ideology of apartheid there arises the spectre of a totally ‘false consciousness’ whose every cognition must necessarily be wrong” (76). Finally, Abdulkader Tayob claims, “Islamic politics in South Africa inscribed an idealistic vision for the future. It promoted a utopian vision that was by definition unattainable” (584).

[4] BYU Professor Peter Leman explores the question “Where is the law in utopia?” in different East African literature in his paper “Law and Transnational Utopias in East African Fiction.

[5] On the one-year anniversary of Nigerian Independence, there were many celebrations and festivities. Although Queen Elizabeth II was not in attendance, she had this message read on her behalf: “I am confident that Nigeria will play a worthy role in the council of Nations and remain true to the high ideals of friendship and cooperation so manifest today, making a positive contribution to the peace and prosperity of mankind . . . .” (Cartwright 101).

[6] Chinua Achebe said, “Nigeria is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be” (Stieber “Nigerian . . .”).

[7] Susan Rice, the US National Security Advisor, said, “Nigeria has played a constructive role in peacekeeping in various parts of West Africa. But unless and until Nigeria itself is democratic and respects human rights, it too may well be a source of much greater instability as political repression limits the ability of the people of Nigeria to achieve their full potential” (Stieber “Nigerian . . .”).

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Evaluating James’s Use of Charm in Daisy Miller

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The word charming is used constantly throughout Henry James’s Daisy Miller. According to literary critic Adrian Poole, the world would be boring and sad without charm because there would be no possibility of romance. Poole is undoubtedly correct when he concludes, “At once magician and realist, James reminds us that charm is one of the world’s great gifts, even if it is the emblem of a complex fate, or even fatality” (132). Therefore, James realistically uses charm in his stories to provide complex representation of characters.


The Dual Purpose of Charm

In James’s story, charm serves dual purpose. Charm entices yet lulls one into a false sense of security. Charm may seem positive but is actually negative. Charm requires two individuals because there is the person who is charming and the other person who is to be charmed. Poole briefly admits that when readers study James’s writing, they must “submit to charm and beware” (132). He emphasizes on the negative influence of Daisy’s charm in his essay; yet, by focusing on Daisy Miller rather than on Frederick Winterbourne, Poole is lured into Winterbourne’s web of charm, falling for James’s narrative trap. Daisy is not the charmer. It is Winterbourne who is the scheming charmer who manipulates women.

Henry James (image from here)


Austen Influences James’s Writing

Henry James undoubtedly learned from Jane Austen that words serve multiple purposes, and people use words to their advantage. The word charming “may seem to be what Jane Austen calls a ‘nothing-meaning’ term, like ‘elegantly dressed, and very pleasing’” (Poole 116). For example, in Emma, Austen writes about Harriet absentmindedly using the word charming. This usage contrasts how Austen makes Emma cautious of charm, since “[i]t takes two, after all, to charm and be charmed” (117). Austen uses charm to contrast characterization in Emma, while James uses the word as a diversion in Daisy Miller.

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Winterbourne Charms Daisy

Frederick Winterbourne uses the word charming repeatedly and derogatorily to describe the female protagonist named Daisy Miller. Poole argues, “[E]very time we call someone charming, we are trying to escape from the menace and promise of succumbing to charm, being truly charmed” (118). For Poole, Winterbourne uses the word repeatedly to try to avoid being seduced by Daisy’s charm; however, Winterbourne’s use of charm is a red herring.

Winterbourne constantly points his finger at Daisy by labeling her as charming. Therefore, he accuses Daisy as the seducer and distracts readers from his scheme to actually seduce her. When the readers are first introduced to Winterbourne, he is “looking about him, rather idly, at some of the graceful objects,” meaning women, because “in whatever fashion [Winterbourne] looked at things, they must have seemed to him charming” (James 4). From the very beginning, readers see that Winterbourne is already labeling women, whom he is checking out, as charming. This observation occurs even before Winterbourne meets Daisy. Winterbourne says Daisy is “a flirt—a pretty American flirt” (James 12), yet he repeatedly comments whether or not she blushes. Daisy flirts but is not looking for a sexual rendezvous, whereas Winterbourne is. For example, when Daisy and Winterbourne were going to the Castle of Chillon, he “could have believed he was going to elope with her” (James 26). The trip ends, and Winterbourne is disappointed that nothing sexual happens between the two of them. There is a difference between a charmer and a flirt: Winterbourne is the exploitive charmer, Daisy the innocent flirt.

Winterbourne & Daisy (image from here)


Winterbourne Charms His Aunt

Daisy is not the only character charmed by Winterbourne. The readers see how Winterbourne is socially smooth with his aunt, Mrs. Costello. Poole wonders how well humans are able to distinguish “between innocence and experience” and “between the cat-like social sense of ‘charm’ and the panther-like deep magical one. This is what bewilders Winterbourne about Daisy Miller” (122). The readers should not be bewildered about how Daisy interacts with Winterbourne; however, the reader should be aware about Winterbourne and his interactions with various female characters in the story.

The readers can see how Winterbourne uses charm to manipulate his aunt and to degrade Daisy. For example, Winterbourne and his aunt talk one Sunday afternoon after going to St. Peter’s in Rome. In sharp contrast to the religious setting, the aunt proceeds to gossip uncharitably about Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli, after seeing the pair together earlier that day. Winterbourne does not defend Daisy, the girl he supposedly cares about; instead, Winterbourne contributes to the gossip by asking questions (“Do you call it an intrigue . . . an affair that goes on with such peculiar publicity?” [James 50]). Winterbourne even offers comments (“They are certainly very intimate” [James 50]). Because Winterbourne contributes to the very unchristian-like gossip, this charmer becomes two-faced. One victim of Winterbourne’s façade is Daisy, but the other victim is his aunt. Neither the reader nor the female characters knows whom Winterbourne is being sincere to. In fact, Winterbourne is probably being disingenuous to both women, serving his own purposes whenever the situation is best for him.

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Winterbourne Fails to Charm

Because Winterbourne tries to be charming to his lover and Daisy, Winterbourne’s charm towards both of them comes to a crashing end. When Mrs. Walker and Winterbourne are in the carriage together, Mrs. Walker orders Daisy to get in the carriage; despite what Mrs. Walker says, Daisy does not want to. To please Mrs. Walker, Winterbourne tells Daisy, “I think you should get into the carriage” (42), under the pretense of protecting Daisy’s reputation while also supporting his lover. However, if Winterbourne—rather than Giovanelli—had been walking with Daisy, Winterbourne would walk with her instead of telling her to do the polite thing of obeying Mrs. Walker. Once again, Winterbourne does not stand up for Daisy, revealing to the readers his hypocritical charm. His sole purpose is to appear charming—towards both his lover and the woman he desires. Because this scene ends with Daisy walking away and his lover being upset, we can see that supposed charm does not always succeed.

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Conclusion

James evacuates the word charming. As the readers discover how the word charming becomes hollow through the story, the readers also discover how hollow Winterbourne is, as well. Poole argues, “As James grows older his ‘charmers’, both male and female, become more formidable, harder to read, [and] more adroit at masking their intentions” (125). Even though Daisy Miller is a relatively early writing in James’s career, Poole appears to have missed the point that Winterbourne is quite formidable. Winterbourne, who charms Daisy, his aunt, and his lover, masks his intensions charmingly with these three women. In this story, the readers see Winterbourne’s hollow charm because of his interactions with women. As readers, we must be aware of other Winterbournes—in literature and in life.


Works Cited

  • James, Henry. Daisy Miller: A Study. The Portable Henry James. Ed. John Auchard. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. Print.
  • Poole, Adrian. “Henry James and Charm.” Essays in Criticism 61.2 (2011): 115–136. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.

happiness secret

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“In the story The Little Prince, the fox was wiser than he knew when he said, “Now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, trans. Katherine Woods [1943], 70). The odyssey to happiness lies in the dimension of the heart. Such a journey is made on stepping-stones of selflessness, wisdom, contentment, and faith. The enemies of progress and fulfillment are such things as self-doubt, a poor self-image, self-pity, bitterness, and despair. By substituting simple faith and humility for these enemies, we can move rapidly in our search for happiness.”

~James E. Faust, “Our Search for Happiness”

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E n g l i s h

When I’m not cooking curry or eating desserts, I’m usually traveling. I’ve been all over the United States, from California Adventures to Disney World, from Pike’s Peak to Times Square. Last Fall semester, I explored France, Italy, Scotland, and England, enjoying art, food, music, and cultures different from my own.

While I love doing yoga in ancient ruins and being enraptured by nature, I’ve learned that reading—as cliché as this is going to seem—is another way to go on adventures by exploring how a writer expresses what it means to be human.

 

I first decided to be an English major because I had lofty goals: I wanted to be a writer and to change the world and to make people happy. Although these are still my goals, I’ve realized that there are many ways to learn and to feel that I had never before realized were possible.

Learning how to think and learning new perspectives has enabled me to stretch myself—as a scholar, as a citizen, as a friend, as a daughter, as a child of God. Our universal status of all being children of a loving and an all-powerful God does not mean that our existence here on earth is completely and totally universal.

 

Modernist writers Virginia Woolf and James Joyce show me their world of determining who you are in a broken, changing world.

The experiences of Buchi Emecheta and Ama Ata Aidoo show me their world of being African and the trials they endured.

John D. Fitzgerald, just as much as F. Scott Fitzgerald, shows me a world of what it can mean to be American, of struggling in the American West or with the American dream.

And there’s a beauty in that adventure, that universal search of what it means to be human.

10 Summer Reading Books You Should Add to Your List

BOOKS
Who doesn’t love curling up with a good book to read after a long, hot day? Maybe some of my loves will inspire your summer reading! Here are some of books that came to the top of my head (listed in no particular order of preference).

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I read this my sophomore year of high school and fell in love. SOOOOOO much better than the movie (my apologies to all those hard-core, movie fans).

2. The Great Brain series by John Dennis FitzgeraldRealistic family relationships. Set in Utah. Funny & clever. I also cried sometimes. Read this for nostalgia of childhood summertimes.

 

3. P&PEmmaPersuasion by Jane Austen

I’m not a Jane-ite. But Emma, I think I have decided (at least for right now, at this very moment), is my favorite.

 

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I read this classic my freshman year of high school. I remember being a little creeped out but also endearingly intrigued by all the mystical stuff going on. Also, angsty teenage me connected with Jane.

 

5. The Harry Potter Series by the one and only J.K.

In two words?
My childhood. 🙂 I remember being so excited during the summer for the next book to come out. *sigh*

 

6. Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

When I was living in London, I read this book. Beautifully written and beautiful main character. Must. Read. I *cannot* stress this enough.

 

7. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Yet again, another childhood classic.

 

8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I also read Little Women my sophomore year of high school.
Or, at least, I finished the unabridged version. I remember reading a shortened version when I was in elementary school. When I was in fourth grade, I was Jo for Halloween. I’d like to pretend that I still am.

 

9. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

A-MAZ-ING.
If you would like to read my review, go to https://thebippityboppitybeautifulblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/code-name-verity/

 

10. Agatha Christie novels

I am, by no means, a prolific reader of Agatha. But it’s been fun reading some murder mysteries this summer. I really enjoyed the ABC Murders. How could you not love Poirot (whose name I think I can *finally* pronounce correctly)?
Currently, I am reading Murder at the Vicarage, and it’s so hilarious, sometimes I literally LOL. 🙂


Well, that’s all folks. I hope you enjoyed looking at some of my favorite books! 🙂

Have a beautiful day!!!   ❤

xoxo,

the bbb blogger

The Merchant of Venice (Act I, Scene i)

I started reading the Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare and finally decided that I could capture some of my feelings better in my own drawings. Here goes nothin’!

antonio, opening

The play opens with this great line with Antonio. Poor guy. Sounds like he’s been having it rough lately. Probably any reader who has come across this opening has related with the pitiable character, Antonio. Being down in the dumps is no fun at all.

I,i, part 1

Then Antonio’s friends, Salarino and Solanio, talk with him. But their advice doesn’t seem to be all that helpful. They seem to be pretty interchangeable characters.

I,i, a

I,i, part 2

Then more of Antonio’s “friends” show up—Bassanio and Gratiano.

I,i, enter grtiano and bassino

 

 

I,i, enter grtiano and bassino ii

After the first two guys peace out, Gratiano gives a really long lecture to Antonio about how he needs to take life less seriously.

I,i, gratiano solo lecture

After Gratiano heads off for dinner and says he’ll FINISH his lecture later, Bassanio starts complaining to Antonio (poor guy . . . seriously, he can’t get a break).

I,i, Briassiano solo lecture

 

Bassanio wants Antonio to bail him out AGAIN! He has a problem with money. Clearly.

 

I,i, Briassiano solo lecture


Summary of what I’ve noticed so far:

Yay

Antonio’s opening line. Classic.

Nay

Lame friends. Antonio, get better friends. Sounds like these guys you keep hanging out with are total drips. Maybe that’s the real reason you are feeling so moapy.

Gray

I’m really curious about this lady named Portia, but I don’t know if Bassanio really deserves this woman if she is as great as Bassanio makes her out to be. I really don’t know if Bassanio will get the girl in the end. Also, I don’t know if this play  is supposed to be a comedy or a tragedy.

Also, I don’t know how I feel about the characters so far.

Antonio: Main Character?

Salarino: Poser Friend #1

Salanio: Poser Friend #2

Gratiano: Fool / Likes to Give Lectures Guy / Poser Friend #3

Bassanio: Debtor / Trying to Get Some {$$$ & lady loving from someone called Portia} / Poser friend #4

 

Code Name Verity

The Beginning

My dear friend found a book called Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. When I asked her to describe it, she explained that doing so would be a bit difficult. A whole lot happens, including codes, spies, intrigue, friendship, strong female characters, and so on. The setting is World War II. I’m a little obsessed with 1940s and learning about what happened in history then. In my head, a little noise went DING! DING! DING! YOU HAVE A WINNER. I was sold.

What’s It About?

“When ‘Verity’ is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They’ll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that reveals just how far true friends will go to save each other. The bondage of war will never be as strong as the bonds forged by the unforgettable friendship in this extraordinary tale of fortitude in the face of the ultimate evil” (http://www.elizabethwein.com/code-name-verity).

Awards

  • UK Literary Association Award Winner
  • Edgar Award Winner
  • Printz Honor Book
  • Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the Scottish Children’s Book Award
  • Catalyst Book Award Winner (East Lanarkshire County Council, Scotland)

Favorite Quotes

There are some pretty amazing quotes in the book. I couldn’t pick just one. These gems listed below include what I found when I googled for quotes from Code Name Verity:

My favoritestiest quote of all

This astonishing tale of friendship and truth will take wing and soar into your heart. ~quoted by Laurie Halse Anderson, New York Times best-selling author

Yay

I don’t even know where to start. There are so many great things about this book, and I don’t want to give away too much. The writing is great. As shown from the quotes above, she has some stellar lines. The author’s allusions and references from history and literature are fun, too (Shakespeare, Peter Pan, French literature, German literature, etc.). Characterization is top notch and would past the Bechdel Test (for more information, see http://www.feministfrequency.com/2009/12/the-bechdel-test-for-women-in-movies/). Let’s just say . . . So. Much. Sass.  🙂 The two main characters have a great relationship that will melt your heart. And I don’t want to give anything else away other than that. You’ll just have to read it to find out. Sometimes it’s hard to find interesting female characters in YA. TANGENT: This book really shouldn’t be labeled as YA because it’s great for adults and older teens, and there are also mature themes (e.g., concentration camps, torture, some language, etc.).

Nay

YOU WILL CRY. Or maybe not . . . if you are a soulless, pathetic, heartless little creature from the black lagoon. And the whole “crying” part doesn’t even have to be a “nay.” But you will have feelings (unless you are  . . . well, what I mentioned above.) But don’t NOT read it if you think that it’s like a super duper depressing book. There is so much humor and witty dialogue. So think of it more as a combination of laughter and tears. Bring some tissues, yet be prepared to stifle your laughter if you happen to be at work, and you need to be quiet, and you read something funny and have to bite your tongue off. Speaking of work, I am allowed to read or to work on projects when I have downtime. My book, which was borrowed from the library, has the cover of two female hands bond together with rope/twine/cords (?). Some of my coworkers asked if I were reading a BDSM novel, and I quickly responded that I was not. So I feel like the cover of this book does not represent the book very accurately. Of course, this cover art has absolutely nothing to do with the content and quality of the writing (and the author probably had no real say in the cover anyways). I guess there are other covers (as shown above in the first picture of all the different books covers).

A few of the topics/ideas covered in Code Name Verity. Originally from bibliophilemystery.blogspot.com

Gray

Also, several of the characters have “real names” and then “code names” or several different code names. It’s not impossible to remember, but it’s important to keep in mind who is who and who is doing what when. Maybe it’s just me; it’s probably just me. But I don’t know a whole lot about planes or types of planes or military jargon. Sometimes I would wonder what they were talking about. So . . . I made list of some of the planes listed and military references made throughout the book. 🙂 Enjoy. It’s pretty cool.

RAF Special Duties Cap Badge

 

Citroen Rosalie

The Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber used by RAF Coastal Command.

Two Spitfire FVB in flight

This is the Do-217 aircraft manufactured by Dornier for the German Luftwaffe in WWII.

RAF Lysander WWII

De Havilland DH-80A Puss Moth aircraft

Conclusion

Basically, read this book. It will change your life. I hope you have a beautiful day. xoxo, the bbb blogger

Text as a Social Force: Cultural Criticism

Thomas Hart Benton, “Hollywood”

Introduction

Text has been a part of human creation for hundreds of years. People have used art and literature to express themselves and the human condition. But the text is also a social force. Cultural criticism has changed the way readers view literature and art. Art is not merely used for entertainment or artistic expression.

Early critics include Hegel, Arnold, and Marx, while later social critics include Marx, Williams, Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, and Foucault. From Hegel to Foucault, art and texts reflect, reify, or alter social structures.

Hegel

Hegel focuses on how an idea finds meaning in relationship to others. Hegel believed “an individuals entity’s meaning rests not in itself but in the relationship of that thing to other things within an all-encompassing, ever changing whole” (Leitch 536). Hegel uses the idea of the dialectic, “which entails the confrontation of any thesis with its opposite (antithesis), and the resultant synthesis of the two through a process of ‘overcoming’” (Leitch 537).

There are two conflicts then a compromise; then there are two more conflicts and another compromise. This process continues onward. His theory stresses movement and change rather than equilibrium and motionlessness. Hegel provides the example of the Master and the Slave, a relationship full of constant tension.

Through the relationship of the lord and the bondsman, there exists two opposite modes of consciousness: “one is the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be for another” (Hegel 544).

Hegel shows that “the reciprocity of dependence” is seen in “characterizing human relationships: ‘They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another’” (Leitch 538). In “Lectures on Fine Art,” Hegel believes that “a work of art is a product of human activity,” a process of “conscious production” that can “be known and expounded, and learnt and pursued by others” (Hegel 547).

Yet “the work of art stands higher than any natural product which has not made this journey through the spirit” (Hegel 549). Being a historicist critic, Hegel considers art occurring in different stages: symbolic, classical, and romantic.

How literature changes consequently changes how we think about things, considering phenomenology or our experience with the world. Art becomes key to understanding wisdom, whether that be scientific, religious, or philosophical wisdom, not in a subservient way but in a way that art shapes culture, and culture shapes those structures.

This concept influences the text. Readers can look at a text and consider how the author resolves conflicts in his characters. It is key to understand that art bypasses how things appear, looking straight at the form of actual things. This process shapes how we perceive the form or do not adhere to actual form. Readers can see this process influence how we consider social structures.

What is government is a complex question; but readers can get various answers of the function or purpose of government through art and literature, which also shapes our interpretation of how our own government is functioning.

Because “[m]eaning and truth are never fixed because they are always in process” (Leitch 537), readers who search for answers in literature and the world around them will never find a fixed truth or specific meaning. Thus new interpretations or readings are considered permissible.

Arnold

On one hand, Arnold emphasizes that we see the object as in itself as it really is; on the other hand, literature, for Arnold, is the highest aspiration of a culture and society. These conflicting points are Hegelian in nature. For Arnold, literature is used to create a moral society.

When he asks for a criticism of life, look for cultural criticism—not just disinterested examination but a cultural criticism that enters in to a critique and evaluates when it is necessary to condemn the inadequate values of a culture. Arnold ends up engaging in political intervention of a literary sort. In fact, literature does present ideals and moral principles for us to consider.

Arnold states in Culture and Anarchy, “[M]any amongst us rely upon our religious organisations to save us. I have called religion a yet more important manifestation of human nature than poetry, because it has worked on a broader scale for perfection, and with greater masses of men. But the idea of beauty and of a human nature perfect on all its sides, which is the dominant idea of poetry, is a true and invaluable idea” (Arnold 720).

Since religion fails, poetry becomes the new religion, shaping social structures. Because poetry becomes the new religion, more focus is placed on thought than on adherence or obedience to rules. In religion, preachers tell you what to think and how to act; in contrast, literature becomes much more interpretive. Yet, at the same time, Arnold really emphasizes the importance of a critic. The critical becomes ultimately higher than the creative.

For example, Arnold writes in The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, “But criticism, real criticism, is essentially the exercise of this very quality. It obeys an instinct prompting it to try to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespectively of practice, politics, and everything of the kind; and to value knowledge and thought as they approach this best, without intrusion of any other considerations whatever” (Arnold 702).

So the critic is still important, in Arnold’s perspective. Morality becomes based on this stew of ideas rather than a clear right or wrong. The critic turns to ideas, where the poet emerges from, thus going back to poetry as a new religion to turn to new ideas. Therefore, the poet needs an intellectual and spiritual atmosphere.

Marx

Marx is a social critic, providing ways to perceive the social sphere in which we all live. Marx’s theories are does not provide direct literary interpretation but is used by later critics. Marx introduces concepts such as base and superstructure. Marx becomes Hegel’s most famous disciple, since Marx “adopts both the vision of struggle and the dream of an end to strife” (Leitch 537).

For Hegel, thoughts lead to how you live; however, for Marx, how you live your life leads to your thoughts within society. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx continues the Hegelian dialectic, highlighting “the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production” (Marx 663).

But what distinguishes Marxism from Hegelian philosophy is “that it is not only a political, economic, and social theory but also a form of practice in all these domains” (Habib 36). For example, in “The German Ideology,” Marx writes in contrast to Hegelian philosophy “which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven” (Marx 656). Because, unlike Hegelian beliefs, “we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, though of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh,” Marx sets out “from real active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process” (Marx 656).

Marx tried to find causes and solutions in the structure of society.

  1. His first “objection to capitalism was that one particular class owned the means of economic production” (Habib 36).
  2. His second objection is concerned with this unjust relationship, “the oppression and exploitation of the working classes” (Habib 36).
  3. His third objection is concerned with “the imperialistic nature of the bourgeois enterprise: in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism must spread” (Habib 36).
  4. Finally, Marx is concerned with the idea that “capitalism reduces all human relationships to . . . self-interest, and egotistical calculation” (Habib 36).

Marx set out the explanation of the base and the superstructure. The base (r the forces of productions such as the relations of property and the division of labor) and superstructure, (artistic, religious, and political thinking and culture) is very important.

These two concepts greatly influence later critics. But what importance does Marx have to do with literature? Leitch highlights how a literary reader would ask questions not answered specifically in the text:

What roles do writers, critics, and intellectuals play? Do they illuminate for workers the nature of capitalist exploitation, or do they act at the service of those who already and best understand their true circumstances? Should writers be free to state the social and political facts as they see them, or must the goal of working-class revolution always shape their work—an if so, who sets the limits? (Leitch 649)

To these questions, Marx could reply with the following: “the answers will come only when the contradictions within capitalism produce them” (Leitch 640). Marx truly has changed how we see the world as well as how we interpret art and literature as seen in Marxism.

Benjamin

Benjamin is considered a Marxist critic because of his analysis of the principle of mediation and consciousness. There is a distinction of Marxism versus Marx, the man. Marx is a dialectical materialist, meaning he focuses on history.

The dialectical method occurs when two sides come into confrontation and wrestle with each other, which leads to a new thesis. When a new thesis emerges, another antithesis emerges, too. But Marxists saw the antithesis as consumer culture, and Benjamin believed, “Modern works are reproduced for mass consumption” (Habib 34). In other words, the principle of mediation “establishes relationships between the two levels of Marxist dialectic, between the base and the superstructure, between the relations of production and the work of art” (Richter 1202).

This means the base, or means of production, conditions the superstructure, or art; consequently, art is changing in the current production mode. For Benjamin, there is the possibility of “art for the masses,” the aura, or “spiritual quality, a relic of human attachment to ritual and magic . . . is simultaneously beginning to disappear” (1202–3).

While tradition and aura are smashed under mechanical reproduction, reproducibility is valued instead through exhibition for mass experience. This current production mode changes consciousness or perception of the masses, which result in producing new concepts.

The first concept is the “brush[ing] aside of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius” (1233), which leads to processing data in the Fascist sense. Benjamin views the aestheticization of politics that serves the Fascists negatively.

His second concept focuses on the politicization of art that serves the communists, which marries the capacity of art for analysis and the capacity to meet the broad public in order for the masses to think and do critical analysis of conditions in which they live.

This idea does not fall under a Marxist mode—rather than people rallying together and raising their rakes, people would be expressing themselves. Yet for Benjamin, “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (1244). Additionally, Benjamin considers distraction versus concentration, which reflects on the consciousness of the masses.

Because “the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator,” someone “who concentrates before a work is absorbed by it,” while “the distracted mass absorbs the work of art” (1247). Benjamin claims, “The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one” (1248). Therefore, Benjamin believes consciousness changes because the medium or delivery mechanism changes. This is a Marxist claim: understanding the world is determined by consciousness, which changes through materialism or history.

For example, one consequence of the alienation of labor is the human separation from body; the human then becomes a slave to labor. This reduces man to animal functions, or as Marx explains, “the human becomes the animal” (403). What previously separated the human from the animal was consciousness.

Ultimately, Marx argues, “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (409). Consequently, “the proletarianization of art progressively dehumanizes both participants and spectators” (1203).

Benjamin’s influential ideas shape our view of art—what it means for the masses and what it can mean for us today. We, the viewers of artwork or the readers of a particular text, can determine to be a conscious examiner, not an absent-minded viewer.

Williams

Considering Benjamin’s interpretation of art and the influence of the base and superstructure is helpful in considering Williams’s argument. Williams uses the Marxist theory to see a literary sphere.

Williams sees that culture, like civilization, has a dual sense of achieving and developing. Culture besom a process, or something in flux. Language becomes a tool of productive practices. For Marx, the methods of production focus on gears and factories. But what if language was as productive for as metal or iron or steel? What if language makes things happen?

Language would not work by itself any more than factories work by themselves. Language becomes as much of a tool as a machine is because language does not just mirror reality but becomes a tool for human agency. Williams consider the base, or the means of production and class relationships, as well as the superstructure, or the ideological, including politics, religion, education, and family.

Williams dos not believe that the base and superstructure are homogenous. He sees the mediation between the base and superstructure. The relationship of the base and superstructure is a dynamic one: “We have to revalue ‘superstructure’ towards a related range of cultural practices, and away from a reflected, reproduced or specifically dependent content” as well as “we have to revalue ‘the base’ away from the notion of a fixed economic or technological abstraction, and towards the specific activities of men in real social and economic relationships, contain fundamental contradictions and variations and therefore always in a state of dynamic process” (Williams 1426).

The relationship is more than simple reproduction. This is not just a depersonalized system because we want to include people in this—intension is crucial. How are human decisions influencing the totality. It is not a trapped, soulless system, but rather it is made up of humans.

For Williams, it is as much about the reader as it is about the writer. Conversations written about literature in addition to political interventions are both meant to change the world. The political institution means that you are doing your work to change the world. There is a flux in this influence.

Rules that are so accepted become natural and dominant, even if it is not necessarily how society actually is; this idea introduces hegemony. With hegemony, rules so complete seem inevitable but invisible. Thus, hegemony becomes total. But where is the opposition?

Hegemony is a bunch of ideas. When we think about ideas, we realize that ideas are never wholly dominant, since ideas, like languages, are processes of growth. Throughout various periods, from the Renaissance to the Romantic period, ideas are contested and contrasted.

Thus, we see residual and emergent conflicts emerge. People are included in this process of what is fading and what is emerging, thus intention is crucial to how our human decisions influence the totality that is not trapped to a soulless system.

For instance, Williams writes, “Intention, the notion of intention, restores the key question, or rather the key emphasis” because although “it is true than any society is a complex whole of such practices, it is also true that any society has a specific organization, a specific structure, and that the principles of this organization and structure can be seen as directly related to certain social intentions, intentions by which we define the society” (Williams 1427).

This system is made up of people and human choices. Literature includes the notations of people scribbling upon the margins of dominant cultural context. We continue to see this today not just about ideas but also about media and new forms of art.

For example, film is probably still emergent and now dominant while perhaps reading could be considered residual. People are not writing epic poems but create epic films.

Horkheimer and Adorno

Horkheimer and Adorno suggest that society produces literature often upon consumer demand. Critics, including Adorno, Horkheimer, and Benjamin considered Hegel and Marx “in attempting to revive the ‘negative dialectics’ or negative, revolutionary potential of Hegelian Marxist thought” by opposing “the bourgeois positivism which had risen to predominance in reaction against Hegel’s philosophy, and insisted, following Hegel, that consciousness in all of its cultural modes is active in creating the world” (Habib 34).

Literature becomes dictated by the publishing house and editors rather than literature becoming an instrument to express what the muses have inspired the author to transcribe down for others to read. Literature is a way to reveal realities of a society, through the base and superstructures of a society, as seen in the analysis by Williams.

While Hegel suggests conflict and the form of things helps us learn to understand better, Arnold desires literature to raise society. Horkheimer and Adorno would argue hat literature is a product of society, suggesting the proof of societal existence and influence. Humans become consumers rather than readers of literature.

Horkheimer and Adorno argue,

Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure . . ., but by signals. Any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided (Horkheimer and Adorno 1116).

Literature—both high and low literature—is produced and used to pacify the masses. For example, Horkheimer and Adorno write, “[I]f a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely adapted for a film sound track in the same way as a Tolstoy is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1112).

Instead of realizing the terribleness of their situation, they will be too busy reading or watching or being entertained with whatever consumer product is considered the next big thing.

Foucault

Adorno addresses not multiple but manifest reason. He addresses Modern work that is calculating, spreading technological control toe very aspect of our lives. Similarly, Foucault does the same thing by considering the subtle power influence over everything. Reason does not just control but puts the productivity in power.

Foucault suggests the quest for truth is neither completely disinterested nor an isolated discovery. Truth becomes part of a network, suggesting the encouragement of questions to be asked. The Panopticon, or the all-seeing tower, becomes an important metaphor about discipline and punishment of the invisibility of power to its all-seeing power.

This example of the Panopticon “is the disciplinary form at its most extreme, the model in which are concentrated all the coercive technologies of behavior” (Foucault 1490). When speaking of the establishment of power relations, Foucault writes, “The modeling of the body procedures a knowledge of the individual, the apprenticeship of the techniques incudes modes of behavior and the acquisition of skills in extricable linked with the establishment of power relations” (Foucault 1491).

There is a shift in the basis of power from Marx to Foucault. For Marxists, economics is the foundation that is determinant of everything else in culture. For Foucault, economics has no priority; there is no single discourse exists among human. Therefore, we go from a base and superstructure model to discourse as a basis of everything.

Foucault thought about prisons, sexual activity, schools, religion (including the confessional), medicine, and politics, expanding what could be included in discourse. Literature could become another discourse. Literature does not necessarily become a separate aesthetic realm, for Foucault.

For example, in Nancy Armstrong’s lecture here at Brigham Young University about the bio-politics in Jane Eyre, she provided a Focaultian reading by examining ways the forces teach women to be women, such as through church sermons, but discourses (such as literature) assert certain subjectivity to train gender.

Another example could be seen in Wuthering Heights. In this novel, the reader learns about Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s untamed passions in a straight-laced, Victorian world. This strict society contrasts to a book about passions. Paradoxically, the book does not talk about the encouragement of such behavior but talks about of what we think about being repressed, sexually in this instance, in a particular society.

Therefore, with Foucault’s analysis of discourse, the subject of the novel can fit into the discussion of discourse. It is not just an intellectual field of power that shapes subjectivity. Readers see that literature shapes we are; therefore, we see literature not just as artistic expression or entertainment but also as a social or political work.

Conclusion

Cultural criticism is an exciting way to look at literature and art as a social force. Hegel’s concept of the dialectic has influenced criticism. Of course, Marx and Hegel differed: “Marx was a materialist in the sense that he believed, unlike Hegel, that what drives historical change are the material realities of the economic base of society. . . , rather than the ideological superstructure. . . of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and art that is built upon the economic base” (Richter 1199).

However, both Hegel and Marx believed in dialectical oppositions that occur in society. Marxism and Marx’s theory has been a dialectical relationship: “[Marxism] has always striven to modify, extend, and adapt [Marx’s canon] to changing circumstances rather than treating it as definitive and complete” (Habib 37). Therefore, Marxist critics continue this dialecticism.

Other critics, such as Arnold and Williams, could view evolutions that occur—the change of poetry as the new religion for Arnold and the interchanges that occur between the base and superstructure for Williams.

For Benjamin, Adorno, and Horkheimer, they “saw modern mass culture as regimented and reduced to a commercial dimension; and they saw art as embodying a unique, critical distance for this social and political world” (Habib 34). Foucault’s emphasis on the plurality of discourse could lead to the question: what new discourses could the future hold?

Richter argues, “Marxist theory and the application of Marxist theory out literature have taken a dizzying variety of forms, depending, among other things, on how the literary text is positioned relative to material reality and to ideology” (Richter 1199– 1200).

These cultural criticisms and theories have changed the way readers see the world and consider their lives within the societal structures they are born into. One can wonder what new insights and theories will continue to be influenced by these early theorists.

 

~ Works Cited:

Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Arnold, Matthew. The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Lectures on Fine Art.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Phenomenology of Spirit.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. “Dialectic of Enlightenment.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Williams, Raymond. “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

The Author

Expressive Theory

Expressive theory, which exploded from the 1700s into the 1800s, “stressed the relationship between the work of the art and the artist, particularly the special faculties of mind and soul that the artist brings to the act of creation” (Richter 2). Perhaps social change impacted the shift from rhetorical criticism to expressive criticism. The explosion of the printing press and the reading of the masses contributed to this shift to expressive theory. Less-educated people who now had access to literature unknown to this class before made the matter of taste of the upmost importance to theorists.

As a result, theorists considered the importance of taste; while theorists “examined the inner experience of readers, [theorists] found that the faculties behind good taste, the capacities that made ideal readers—delicate imagination, good sense, wide experience—were the same as those that made the best poets” (Richter 7). The creative faculties, therefore, of the poet could be studied, understood, and theorized about in expressive theories. Kant, Coleridge, and Shelley all fall under the label of poet-centered theory, while both modern theorists, Bloom and Foucault, put the author in question. Yet all these theorists consider, whether implicitly or explicitly, the importance of the author, thus defining the author in various ways and changing our idea of literature in the process.

Kant, Coleridge, and Shelley all focus on the cult of the artist. There was a big shift from the “out there” (the world) to the “in here” (the mind). When talking about poetry, there was less worry about how accurately art represents the world and more focus on how a particular poem reveals the way the mind perceives beauty and the way that imagination inspires genius. Kant emphasizes the work itself—that beauty is a unique kind of judgment, which does not necessarily serve the ends of truth or goodness. Beauty, for Kant, is a value, and work has value, whether or not for a moral purpose or a truthful purpose. Beauty itself is good enough. Kant focuses on what goes on in the mind of the writer. Kant takes an epistemic turn by moving into the mind to understand literature; for example, Kant argues, “Genius is the inborn predisposition of the mind . . . through which nature gives the rule to art” (Leitch 445).

Kant

Kant believes the poet is important because the poet creates beauty.For Kant, “the genius (the creative artist) highlights freedom above all else,” and “[t]he genius has a natural gift, a talent, which enables the production of exemplary and original beautiful works in the absence of any preexisting formula or rule for that production” (Leitch 410). Kant focuses on a theory of knowledge by trying to understand the sources and limits of human knowledge. Kant is not content that knowledge is completely subjective, believing that we humans are wired for thinking (i.e., cause and effect, similarities and differences, etc.).

In the Critique of Judgment, Kant analyzes three categories (truth, goodness, and beauty), but Kant does not focus on the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty but rather our mind’s way of apprehending truth, how the mind perceives morals, and how the mind perceives beauty. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant believes that aesthetics, judgment, and poetry turn out to be really the keystone of our knowledge. Judgment, which includes our imagination and aesthetic sense, is the mediator between pure reason and practical reason, that is it mediates between knowledge and action by being both reason and sensory.

Aesthetics bring the will and truth together—but in a practical way. Kant’s point is that poetry fills in the gap or mediates between truth and goodness. Kant goes beyond art and literature into bigger questions, arguing that all things being equal, acting is the law for everyone

If we believe in absolute truth, then we are Kantians. But what is absolute truth? An absolute truth is true whether or not we agree, and it is true independent of anything we do, think, or say. Kant raises the questions of beauty. Are there universal judgments or relative judgments of beauty? Something beautiful may feel like a subjective universal. Beauty is complicated because it is partly in the mind and partly in the things themselves. The judgment of taste or beauty is not logical but aesthetic.

The judgment of beauty occurs in the mind, yet it feels universal. Beauty serves a purposive purposelessness—something seems like it has a purpose but does not think that it serves no purpose at all other than to be beautiful. Kant’s thoughts lead to the aesthetics movement or the art for art’s sake era of writers like Oscar Wilde. Kant’s thoughts also lead to the idea that art is its own reward, or you do not need to pay for art; this leads to artists, the creative geniuses, who starve in attics—alienated, unappreciated, and alone. While Kant believes “[t]he experience of beauty tells us that the mind and world fit,” yet Kant also argues that “[t]he sublime, in contrast, shows us a misfit between mind and world” (Letich 409).

When we sense the sublime, our imagination strives to progress, and our imagination tries to grasp infinity, but our reason tries to embrace and enclose in a system that we can control. The sublime is infinity versus totality. Yet we cannot comprehend the vastness of its space. Despite this inadequacy within us, we still have the concept of infinity even if there is no experience with infinity. The sublime happens in our head—mind, soul, spirit. The sublime is an effect of our thinking and perception, not an attribute of the world out there. Even the ability to think proves that the mind has a power surpassing any standard sense. As Kant says, “Thus sublimity is not contained in anything in nature, but only in our mind” (Leitch 440). As a result, the sublime is the clearest evidence that Kant is moving into the mind (of the author as genius).

Perhaps Kant’s real purpose of art or literature is for pleasure. Language and form contribute to the reader’s pleasure of something. Maybe when reading a play, the reader will stop to consider a particular passage that seems to freeze in its tracks; this passage may not forward the plot, but the reader doesn’t care because of the beauty that pleases. It may be out of context but the reader pays attention and listens. These passages can be so great but have nothing to do with the play; therefore, the passages of beauty have no purpose (nothing political, dogmatic, plot-wise, etc.) other than to be pleasing. Some people argue that a poet is just trying to make money, but passages like these, full of beauty, suggest that writing is a good thing that brings about goodness, truth, and beauty.

Coleridge

Coleridge focuses on the creation of something beautiful out there, emphasizing the active mind of the artist, like Kant. Coleridge believes in primary imagination, secondary imagination, and fancy. While primary imagination is the mind’s ability to perceive, secondary imagination coexists with the will or what we draw on to create memories from our reality (the creative/artistic). In other words, the poet’s own mind is primary imagination, while the poetic genius is the secondary imagination.

Therefore, we go into the mind not just the form on the page. Imagination effects literature. Past literature, following strict rules like iambic pentameter and heroic couplets, could be following primary imagination, while the Romantic poets followed perhaps more of a secondary imagination, following what his or her mind tells him or her to do (or following the will of what the poet’s genius or the poet’s mind tells him or her to do).

On the other hand, fancy is basically a combination of preexisting things fused together; you do not animate them or bring them to life but reorganize them in space and time. Consequently, fancy is not as creative as imagination: “Coleridge’s theory of the primary and secondary imagination honors the creative capacity of persons while remaining steadfast to the primacy of God; even more, Coleridge implies that each re-creative act that a poet performs is an act of worship” (Leitch 582).

How we perceive the world makes realities, even if it is plural realities. As we become aware of multiple perceptions and possibilities, we choose the life we live in. We choose a world of eternal possibilities, and other realities can always impinge the integrated whole, big picture. Someone can change his or her view, switching to remake reality. Imagination also becomes a choice. And the author has a super imagination connected with genius. When defining the author, Coleridge asks, “What is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other” (Leitch 590).

The author has a super imagination, and when connected with literature, the author’s imagination enhances the literature, making it more pleasurable for the reader. Coleridge questions the coherence or unity of the text; therefore, the organic whole becomes the basis of good literature for Coleridge. A reader can analyze a play if it is anachronistic. The play may seem like a mess, but the reader can look for underlying unity. Through incongruity, the text makes itself aware and becomes an organic work of art. The reader has to work to pull the context of the play together through analysis and synthesis, intellectually separating the distinguishable parts but then restoring the parts to unity.

The first purpose of poetry is the beauty and pleasure we get from it and then connect it with the whole and its parts. As the reader reconciles apparent opposites or paradoxes, there becomes an active cooperation between the text and the reader, suggesting that the text is something organic and alive.

Shelley

Shelley, like Coleridge, also emphasizes the nature of art, or the imagination, while looking at the principles of the mind. While Kant focuses on the mind and how poetry is the go-between of goodness and pleasure, and Coleridge discusses how poetry is in the mind of the author in regards to imagination, Shelley believes that the poet is the unacknowledged legislator to the world (of morals and of mankind) (Leitch 613).

Because the poet is inspired, poetry has the power to inspire others and improve the world. The poet can become like a poet-prophet. Shelley is outraged that poets starve in attics unappreciated. For Shelley, “[p]oetry acts in another diviner manner” through the mind’s “a thousand unapprehend combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” (596). Language is not just cognitive; language communicates entire ranges of what it means to be human, including emotions and our highest ideas, our morality, and our spirituality.

Poetry gives delight and is an instrument of moral improvement; thus, poetry becomes more efficacious than moral philosophy. Poetry is the driving force of culture and the history of human experience and thought. Through the creation of poetry, “a poet participates in the divine nature” (600), since “[p]oetry is indeed something divine” (609). Poetry has divine sources with divine effects, but the poets are inspired: it is not just poetry, but it is the poets themselves who are inspired and then translate benefits for all. For Shelley, “[p]oetry is the record of the best and happiest moment of the happiest and best minds” (610) of the poet, since “[a] Poet, as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure, virtue, and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the best, the wisest, and the most illustrious of men” (611).

Poets enhance beauty, reconcile contradictions, and recreate the world. By shifting to the poet, Shelley emphasized the ultimate conditions of poetry that exist in the mind and in the imagination, which is more than just the ability to clone images of realities and is more than reason (imagination is cognitive and emotional, moral and religious, and richer, therefore, than mere reason alone). This all comes down to the poet. Kant shifted into the mind, Coleridge shifted into the mind through analyzing imagination, and Shelley shifted into the mind through analyzing morals.

Foucault & Bloom

Foucault and Bloom are both interested in the history of the poet. Bloom believes the poet struggles with his or her precursors, thus experiencing an anxiety of influence, yet Bloom even admits that his precursors are Nietzsche and Freud. As Bloom explains, “[p]oetic history . . . is held to be indistinguishable from poetic influence, since strong poets make that history by misreading one another, so as to clear imaginative spaces for themselves” (Leitch 1651).

This perspective of the author is useful for the way we read literature—that is to read every text as a response to all the previous literature or to see how many traces of earlier literature that are there so that you can see a struggle between the text and a previous text for precedence. The reader can then work out the strategy of the battle, explaining how this text changed from the earlier text.

In contrast, Foucault focuses on how discourse changes and evolves while defining the author-function. For Barthes, the birth of the reader comes from the death of the author, making it possible for different readers and a multiplicity of readings; yet, for Foucault, the author-function provides an array of possibilities constrained by the author, reduced down to singularity, suggesting an ideological construct, not a natural construct. Foucault summarizes the functions of the author as the following:

[T]he author-function is [first] tied to the legal and institutional systems that circumscribe, determine, and articulate the realm of discourses; [second,] it does not operate in a uniform manner in all discourses, at all times, and in any given culture; [third,] it is not defined by the spontaneous attribution of a text to its creator, but through a series of precise and complex procedures; [finally,] it does not refer . . . to an actual individual insofar as it simultaneously gives rise to a variety of egos and to a series of subjective positions that individuals of any class may come to occupy. (Leitch 1485)

This author-function occurs within the discursive system, thus revealing mechanics of discourse in the absence of the author. It is not an individual over a text or group of texts but rather a function that the author serves to established systems: “The concept author . . . is an organizing device, permitting us to group certain texts together” (Leitch 1470).

Foucault “questions and examines the concept of authorship and, in insights that were taken up by the New Historicism, argued that analysis of literary texts could not be restricted to these texts themselves or to their author’s psychology and background; rather, the larger contexts and cultural conventions in which texts were produced needed to be considered” (Habib 151). This influences how we look at literature. When we read, we look for boundaries or how power of reading reflects what this discourse controls or tries to transgress.

The reader is not interested in the author or who he or she is. Rather, the reader is interested in how things articulate within the discursive system (i.e., is the text resisting the system, or is the text following established norms?). As a result, reading becomes more practical by how you group texts; it is no longer the genius of the author. The author has multiple functions, thus expanding the reader experience through various discourses into something more accessible, global, or multicultural.

The reader analyzes the text in different ways by seeing literature in a network, being influenced in a thousand different directions. Literature is immersed, not transcendent. As a result, the idea of the author is diminished if the reader reduces the author to a series of cultural influences.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, for Bloom and Foucault, there is less emphasis on the enlightened, genius poet, which contrasts greatly to Kant, Coleridge, and Shelly. There is less emphasis on genius and more emphasis on influence for Bloom and Foucault; poetry, therefore, could be seen as more accessible and more able to influence culture, in some ways, than what the Romantics suggested of an exceedingly brilliant poet speaking down to mere mortals.

Our understanding of what the author is changes what literature should do. Early theorists perhaps would argue that the author-genius is inspired and consequently bestows morals (like with Shelley) and absolute truth (like with Kant) through poetry and literature.

For the modern theorists, by struggling with wanting to be different or how the author is influenced, this makes literature become less influenced and less on a pedestal, and success of literature is not based then on whether the poet can change the world. The early theorists all talked about how the poet influences through the poet’s genius, while the later theorists focused on how the poet is influenced. Although the earlier theorists emphasized that the reader should be inspired (maybe through the sublime or beauty) as well as brought up higher (Shelley), the later theorists would focus more on the individualistic nature of the modern experience.

Works Cited

  • Bloom, Harold. “The Anxiety of Influence.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Biographia Literaria. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of the Power of Judgment. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.
  • Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry, or Remarks Suggested by an Essay Entitled “The Four Ages of Poetry”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Mimetic Criticism; or, Plato’s Influence Upon Theorists Then and Now

Mimetic Criticism; or, Plato’s Influence Upon Theorists Then and Now

From Plato to modern critics and theorists, the nature of literary mimesis varies, and modernity inevitably problematize mimesis; however, Plato becomes the inevitable commonality between the theorists from the ancient to the modern (Aristotle, Plotinus, Nietzsche, Wilde, Saussure, and Baudrillard). These theorists explicitly or implicitly enter into a dialogue with Plato, thus responding to or reacting against Plato’s position concerning art’s purpose and its representation. Of course, there are various schools of thought and organization. While Plato focuses on the objective purpose of art and questions its value, Aristotle focuses on the process of art and its seemingly natural place in life and the world.

Modern theorists problematize the method, working not in an integrative way but rather a dispersive way. Nietzsche and Wilde both suggest the expansive realm of lies, while Saussure suggests the arbitrariness of language. Finally, Baudrillard calls into question reality itself–reality and virtual reality become indistinguishable for us in the realm of hyperreality. Baudrillard, in a sense, swings full circle. Baudrillard, a Platonist who furiously waves his fists and claims that there is no way out of the cave, reveals his foundation in the scholastic tradition going all the back to Plato. Additionally, it is imperative to keep in mind how these theories concerning mimesis can shape our view of the purpose of literature and art and its interpretation.

PLATO

In the Ion, Plato questions whether the rhapsode, a person who recites and discusses poetry, knows a skill or knowledge. In his dialectical method, Plato questions whether a poet who speaks about music knows more than the actual musician. Plato argues that those who study art have no knowledge, and the poet has no art, no knowledge but is merely inspired or possessed, acquiring a special kind of madness. Poetry is not knowledge because poetry is merely a copy of a copy. First removal: there is somewhere above humans in the heavens the realm of Ideas. Second removal: then there is the world or the Phenomenal. Finally, then there is art. Consequently, these removals result in “leading away from the truth rather than toward it,” which is why Plato has “a distrust of mimesis representation or imitation” because “all art–including poetry–is a mimesis of nature, a copy of objects in the physical world” (Leitch 41), as symbolized in Book 7 in The Allegory of the Cave.

Plato is esoteric in his theory on Forms. The Allegory of the Cave is an allegory of our perception of reality. Those who watched the images of images had a difficult time experience a paradigm shift, and when they returned back to the cave, they had a difficult time explaining their experience. Obtaining ideal forms are beyond us because we live in a world of fallen shadows. Everything people see is an illusion of their perceptions. Nietzsche comes along and claims a more scientific way to describe the same way. My view of the Cadbury hot chocolate on my desk is actually a light image on the retina and a nerve impulses optic nerve connecting back to the brain. This is the first metaphor. Then comes the concept or an image in the head. Nietzsche assigns this second occurrence as the second metaphor. Nietzsche turns Aristotle and Plato against themselves because these forms/essences that language names are not forms/essences but rather metaphors, not a thing itself but rather creations of our own intellect, which associate by convention with our sensory experiences. Therefore, perceptions become layers upon layers of metaphor.

PLATO V. NIETZCHE

While Plato believes that reality is not in the realm of phenomena, Nietzsche would claim that truth never really represents reality because the true metaphor for reality is what we come to accept. In fact, “because Nietzsche . . . robs this vision of its transcendental object, the Platonic Idea, it is bereft of any object whatever,” and as a result, “It is representative of the dominant poetic perception in nineteenth-century literature: ‘absolute’ or ‘pure’ poetry” (Heller 163). Truth equals illusion, for Nietzsche. Additionally, when defining truth, Nietzsche uses literary terms to define this abstract term: “A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations which have been subjected to poetic and rhetorical intensification, translation, and decoration” (Leitch 768). Since truth is not reality, then literature, therefore, can never reach the ultimate truth because literature becomes yet another layer of lies—which humans also choose to accept—to look at the world. This idea mirrors Plato’s idea of separated realms. The separations for Nietzsche include reality, then the metaphor for reality, and then literature as another separation from truth.

Yet Plato would argue that we humans are trapped in our perception. Plato claims that poetry is also two times removed, and language is representative and is two times removed, as well; therefore, poetical limitations ruin human understanding, unless humans know the true nature of things. Art becomes a dysfunctional family: the mother, matter or being; the father, knowledge; and the child, the effect on the soul.

PLOTINUS

Of course, Plotinus both draws from but diverts from Plato. Platonius’s On the Intellectual Beauty explains, “[O]ne who has attained to the vision of the Intellectual Beauty and the grasped the beauty of the Authentic Intellect will be able also to come to understand the Father and the Transcendent of that divine Being” (Richter 111). Richter explains, “For Plotinus as for Plato, the artist imitates but does not necessarily copy the things of this world. The artist may represent his grasp of an Idea with the medium of his art” (109).

Therefore, Plotinus claims that art draws directly from the of the Muses or the divine. Art tells people how to know god. Art skips the middle part, or the world, and is able to intuit truth to human relationships. He claims that art is a privilege step, suggesting a Neo-platonic idea.

SAUSSURE

In contrast, Saussure highlights the ambiguity of language. Saussure claims that “The sign . . . designate[s] the whole and . . . replace[s] concept and sound-image respectively by signified . . . and signifier” (Leitch 853). The signified is not reality but rather a concept in our heads constructed by language. This concept could be reflective of the Platonic ideas of an imitation of imitation. Before language, there were no clear thoughts because words dictate our thoughts. Thought cannot really exist without words, since there would be no way to organize thoughts without words.

This interconnectedness of words and thought could be reflected in literature. We have stories in our head and understand in a certain way, which is reflected in our ability to identify beginning, middle, and end. The narrative structure is based on the words in literature. While Nietzsche suggests that society creates constructs of truth that they accept (those truths are actually all lies), for Saussure, no thought would suggest no reality. Without thoughts, a writer could not create or form thoughts into action, and there would be no reality for art to ever exist. But for structuralists, such as Levi-Strauss, everything is a language organized, like Saussure suggests, in binary codes and value; however, this would be in opposition to Plato, since there would be no universal value because everything would be relative to local systems.

WILDE

Wilde’s conclusion ultimately ends with “the argument that there are many kinds of lie—white lies, black lies, lies told to save face or to gain advantage—but that the highest for is for its own sake,” and “the highest form of lying was art” (Kibred 287). For Wilde, the reality of stories are the structures already had; art creates that structure, creation uses that structure again. Ultimately, “[i]n an age when Marxians preached that ownership of the means of production was the key to progress, Wilde correctly sensed that ownership and understanding of the means of expression would be the question of real consequence in the century to come” (Kibred 292), which has proved to be true. Wilde’s claim that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” suggests that art, or words, impact life, or the structure.

Therefore, Wilde would claim that there is no way to imitate reality because, in fact, our truth is imitation of literature we create, while Nietzsche could claim that literature is several times removed, and there is no way to imitate reality, since it is all socially-accepted-constructed lies. Although Nietzsche would claim that false truths shape literature (which is in itself a false truth, thus entangling the lies even further), Wilde would argue that literature is false truths that shape our reality, which is apparent even in Wilde’s own writings, because even within Wilde’s own writing, he contradicts himself. The underlying irony is that Wilde, who is an artist himself, claims that “All art is quite useless” (790). Wilde’s entanglement of lies upon further lies makes it nigh impossible to ever reach the Plato’s Ideal of Forms. Yet Wilde’s character Gilbert argues the following:

[C]reative art is that it is just a little less vulgar than reality, and so the critic, with his fine sense of distinction and sure instinct of delicate refinement, will prefer to look into the silver mirror or through the woven veil, and will turn his eyes away from the chaos and clamour of actual existence, though the mirror be tarnished and the veil be torn. His sole aim is to chronicles his own impressions. It is for him that pictures are painted, books written, marble hewn into form. (Leitch 800)

Basically, for Wilde, there is reality, and then there is art, which is not quite as awful as reality, and; finally, then there is the criticism. Once again, we experience a two-times-removed experience, paralleling Plato’s original critique of poetry. Here, Wilde sets the highest form of criticism upon the pedestal: “[Wilde] did not again use the form Plato had found a necessity of the expression of his sense of how the human mind seeks enlightenment–what is called Plato’s ‘theory of ideas.’ Wilde expressed great faith in the indispensable function of form in the creative process: as language was the parent of thought, form was the parent of artist creation” (Buckler 279).

Nonetheless, both Wilde and Plato suggest an unrealizable Ideal: “But the inherent weakness of Gilbert’s position is that he tries to make a practical matter of an unrealizable idea. No example of his ‘most perfect form’ of criticism actually exists. He conceptualizes it admirably, but he never exhibits it. Like Plato’s Ideal Forms, it is an imaginative idea realizable only in his imagination” (Buckler 285).

PLATO V. ARISTOTLE

Yet Plato, who believed philosophy and poetry was at war, was ultimately a dogmatist, believing in one truth. Aristotle, perhaps the first pluralist, established a problematic theory of truth. Consequently, Plato focuses on the practical when speaking of art questioning the purpose of art: ideally, if art is to be used at all, art ought to be in the doing with the goal of educating the children who will later become rulers of the ideal republic. However, poets lie, therefore, they must be banished from the society because the better the poetry, “the more they are to be kept form the ears of children and men who are to be autonomous and to be more afraid of losing this freedom than of death” (Leitch 53). Plato’s conflict emerges from his problem with mimesis again: first, “At the simplest level of [mimesis], Plato raises the questions about literature’s content,” which fails to live up to the high expectations of Socrates’s examples; second, “mimesis presents us with an inferior copy of a copy, poetry—performed rather than read in Plato’s—takes its listeners away from rather than toward the idea Forms” (Leitch 43).

In contrast, Aristotle focuses on the productive disciplines of poetics, aesthetics, or manufacturing, for the purpose of the study of making, with the end goal of beauty. In other words, for Aristotle, humans look in to see or intuit the form or essence, while for Plato, we look in, then up because form is not just a concept, but concept is a reality that exists in a realm of forms.

Plato argues that art is inadequate representation, yet Aristotle presents a different argument. Nehamas argues, “The problem, then, whether or not Aristotle has met Plato’s criticism successfully has not yet, to my knowledge, received a satisfactory answer. The issue of the nature, the status, and the ethical character of … fiction remains disturbingly unresolved. Plato’s questions, like most of the other questions he asked, are still our own” (281-2). Plato argues that a poet is not a maker but a copier–not of reality but of another copy. Aristotle also says that art is imitation, or imitation of human action or attitudes. Plato’s dialogue suggests that with the nature of imitation, poetry, thus, becomes inferior knowledge; however, Aristotle seems to feel that imitation is great.

Aristotle argues that tragedy is imitation of action, complete with certain magnitude. The audience watches, and the catharsis effects the purgation of emotions. Because of this imitation action, it actually has a power to make the audience feel things, even though the audience is not performing the action themselves. This can be a real experience even if it is vicarious. Consequently, the poet does not merely copy reality but copies human action, although that may not be ideal human action. The emphasis becomes imitation as crafting not on the copy. The poet becomes a copier, and when artfully done, a craftsman. In the end, Plato (in the search for reality in the essence) attempts to locate the essence outside, Aristotle argues that reality is in the form/idea/essence of the thing—in the objects of the world—so we look inside.

BAUDRILLARD

The postmodernist Jean Baudrillard brings the argument full circle in his belief of the hyperreal, which is “more real than any reality could be, and thus suck the life out of actual events” (Richter 1926). Modern societies are organized around production as well as “simulacrum, a word that denotes representation but also carries the sense of a counterfeit, sham, or fake” because “Simulacra seem to have referents (real phenomena they refer to), but they are merely pretend representations that mark the absence, not the existence of the objects they purport to represent” (Leitch 1554). However, “[humans] are so precoded, so filled from the very start with the images of what we desire, that we process our relation to the world completely through those images” (1554), as evident in the Iconoclasts, who were not “able to believe that images only occulted or masked the Platonic Idea of God” and realized that art were “not images, such as the original model would have made them, but actually perfect simulacra” (1559). In a very Neitzschean way, Baudrillard states, “One can live with the idea of a distorted truth” (1559). Yet for the Iconoclasts, the icon was substituted “for the pure and intelligible Idea of God” (1559).

Similarly, Disneyland is “a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation” (1564), becoming “an elaborately artificial land created precisely to convince us that our ‘real’ lives are real” (1555). Yet one could wonder where to find what is real. One can only find reality on the very fringes of hyperreality. This is why the parking lot at Disneyland becomes so important. For Baudrillard, when people leave Disneyland and arrive at the parking lot, they realize their collective illusion. Their reality is that they are utterly alone, abandoned, and isolated from each other. The nostalgia for reality is evident. The Platonic idea becomes better, still holding out reality for us, although we still live in realm of images. Baudrillard even lists “the successive phases of the image: (1) the reflection of a basic reality; (2) it masks and perverts a basic reality; (3) it masks the absence of a basic reality, and; (4) it bears no reality to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum” (1560).

CONCLUSION

The postmodernists, such as Baudrillard, dissolved the basis of what was considered to be literary versus non-literary. Everything and anything becomes literary—just as Disneyland becomes fair game for analysis in Baudrillard’s argument. Baudrillard’s perception of humanity leaves little room for hope of escaping the hyperreal; however, Dr. David H. Richter of the University of Chicago asks how “Baudrillard is about his own implicit position outside the world of make-believe he describes” because “If Baudrillard had gotten outside, and seen through . . ., then isn’t it a nightmare from which we can all wake up?” (Richter 1927). Perhaps we, the readers, could wake up from the nightmare of hyperrealities or mimesis.



Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Buckler, William E. “Building a Bulwark Against Despair ‘The Critic as Artist’.” English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920 32.3 (1989): 278–89. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.

Heller, Erich. The Importance of Nietzsche: Ten Essays. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988. Print.

Kilbred, Declan. “Oscar Wilde; the resurgence of lying.” The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Ed. Peter Raby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Nehamas, Alexander. “Pity and Fear in the Rhetoric and the Poetics.” Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Eds. David J. Furley and Alexander Nehamas. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, Print.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.