Author: ananda (166.127.1.---)
Date: 04-15-05 12:47
Posted by: Lee (IP Logged)
Date: April 14, 2005 06:15AM
Thanks very much for posting professor Swilley’s kind reply to my note to you. I would be grateful if you would forward this response to him.
[We should notice that in the study of mathematics and the sciences, "where the students are" is defined by their rational/intellectual preparation to learn what we now offer. We do not ask them how they feel about the bi-nomial theorem or Bernouli's Principle, or wherein or how these ideas are reflected in their experience. The examination of literature is similarly a rational/intellectual one; it defines exactly *what* a work says and precises *how* it says it. Of course, there is a legitimate and profitable examination of a work that does begin with "how does this make you feel", but this investigation of *effect* must be pursued carefully and thoroughly to uncover the "music" of emotions created in the audience by the sequence of events and ideas in the work. (I dare say this is seldom if ever done). ]
I think this is precisely right. I used to get annoyed at students who didn’t want to study a work because they didn’t “feel” it or find it relevant to their life situation. That, in my view, is not the point of literary criticism or analysis, although I have no objection to reading for pure pleasure when I can find a work that gives me that — which, I am afraid, rarely happens. I certainly don’t object to feelings about literature, either; of course one “feels” literature, or there wouldn’t be any point in reading or writing it. But the “feeling” itself is not the subject of literary analysis: the work is. That means examining how the author shapes or deploys his materials to achieve the affect. It also means locating those places where something appears to have gone wrong or been miscalculated. I Have discussed this in connection with Olson’s exposition of “Aristitotelian” criticism.
[Here is the locus of my continuing fuss: HOW are these several views, especially historical and formal, to be merged - if they are to be merged at all. If we begin by noting that all knowledge of whatever kind concerning a subject is good and enlightening of the subject, yet we must consider HOW these views are to be unified, if they are to be. When we look at the character of Lady Brett in TSAR, and then see that that character is modelled on Lady Duff-Twysden - whose life we then examine - we cannot alter the presentation of Brett in the novel with such historical information (unless we are prepared to give a similarly historical note to every item in the work, thus altering its entire vocabulary); but it is proper and profitable to observe, at the end of our reading, "This is how Hemingway represented Lady D-T in the character of Brett." We cannot appreciate the art of Beethoven's Ninth in its construction by observing that Beethoven was deaf when he created it; our realization of his deafness is a *qualitative* qualification of the *whole* work, touching all of its parts equally. We cannot bring an historical estimate of Julius Caesar to the character in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." but by noting, at the end of the whole play, "This (the character as presented in the play, who for our purposes in appreciating the work by as well be called Jim-Bob or X) is how Shakespeare presents the otherwise historical Julius Caesar.
[These *HOW's" of our investigations must be established and respected.]
As I said, I remain in many ways a comparativist, and and don’t want to discard any critical method that may yield something useful. The question you raise seems to be “useful for what” and I agree with that. Not all critical methods are useful for the same purpose. Knowing that character X was modeled on Y is entirely different from seeing how character X functions in the work. For this purpose, the fact that X was modeled on Y is simply irrelevant. And, of course, Beethoven’s deafness does not affect our understanding of the structure of the 9th Symphony any more than the fact that Schumann could not play his own piano music affects my appreciation of their structure. But I must add that in Beethoven’s vocal music there is a possibility that his deafness had a direct affect on sound, as the tessitura in unusually high, with the result that the chorale is more often than not badly sung. It has been conjectured (Tovey, I believe) that this was the result of Beethoven’s having to answer in his head the question of what the human voice could do. I’m not sure where this gets us; the music can be be fully understood without knowledge of the deafness, but it may explain what are real problems with the vocal writing. Yet these are problems that any competent musicologist could identify without that knowledge, so perhaps the biographical information here, too, is of no real use on the musical level. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.
[Let me pause here and point out that Aristotle began with an investigation of the plays that were generally considered excellent; he then asked what the essential *effect* of such plays was: such plays produced pity and fear in an audience. And what, exactly, produces that effect? The presentation of a tragic hero who, etc. And now he continues to examine this *formal cause* and its particulars. ]
Yes, Olson’s method was not entirely Aristotle’s, as he was well aware. I found this by R.S. Crane, which suggests that Aristotle offered, for him, a useful, but incomplete, way of beginning to think about works of literature: "He grasped the distinctive nature of poetic works as synola, or concrete artistic wholes, and made available, though only in outline sketch, hypotheses and analytical devices for defining literally and inductively, and with a maximum degree of differentiation, the multiple causes operative in the construction of poetic wholes of various kinds and the criteria of excellence appropriate to each" (italics mine). That’s why much of the theoretical and practical criticism of the Chicago school consists in fleshing out Aristotle. Their choice, was, I think, "pragmatic" and may, as Crane also said “not, indeed, except in a general way, be Aristotle at all!" (An aside: I cannot tell you how much I dislike that exclamation point, for reasons I more than suspect you will understand.)
[Exactly my point. Unless historical and biographical information is applied to the whole character or the whole event, and unless the application is solely for the purpose of noting simply that art has presented history just so, those two dimensions are
Yes, this is the pont I was making above. Many critical methods and disciplines exist, but for different (and sometimes at cross-) purposes.
[Well, Olson was harsh; he should have noted to the student that art and ideas are sexless; they deal with the human condition shared by straights, gays, men, women, ancient Egyptians and Hottentotts, etc. ]
Yes, Olson was harsh. He was also, for me at least, a great and compelling teacher, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to study with him.
Thanks for your interesting and thought-provoking notes. I don’t get much opportunity to discuss literature or literary criticism these days, but I’m still enthusiastic.