EN 4271 – Research Methodology
Semester I, 2005/06
Instructor: Assoc Prof Robbie Goh (Office: AS5, 6th floor; email email@example.com; phone 68746033; course webpage: http://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/ellgohbh/)
Seminar 1 (8 August) Introduction – course goals, methods, assessment
Seminar 2 (15 August) Stylesheets, Bibliographies, Resources
Seminar 3 (22 August) The Scholarly Report (proposal, article, thesis etc) – aims, goals, structure, style, evidence
Seminar 4 (29 August) History and Historical Studies (Readings: M. Levinson)
Seminar 5 (5 September) Ideology, society, political economy (Readings: T. Eagleton)
Seminar 6 (12 September) Language: narrative structures, typologies, forms (Readings: N. Frye)
[mid-semester break 19-22 September]
Seminar 7 (26 September) Language: style, figure, symbolism (Readings: R. Goh, “Textual Hyde and Seek.”)
Seminar 8 (3 October) Unconscious traces (Readings: H. Bloom)
Seminar 9 (10 October) Othering: gender, class, race, sexuality (Readings: Seidel and Wang)
Seminar 10 (17 October) Journal/Proposal presentations
Seminar 11 (24 October) Journal/Proposal presentations
[Away in India 31 October - 4 November]
Seminar 12 (7 November) Presentations; review
[Reading Week: 11-17 November; Exams begin 18 November]
1. In-class participation (10 percent of final grade)
2. Stylesheet exercise and research journal (15 percent)
3. Proposal (20 percent)
4. Scholarship review/critique exercise (20 percent)
5. Final (open book) examination (35 percent)
Stylesheet exercise: to format a short body of academic text according to prescribed stylesheet. Goal is to raise questions about the consistent and logical presentation of academic text. This assignment will be “bundled” together with the research journal, since they collectively constitute a building exercise for the proposal itself.
Research journal: to maintain a workbook of thinking, methods, themes,
search tools, bibliographical choices, priorities, etc, relating to the
Journal is to be maintained in softcopy form, from the start of the module, and printed out and handed in together with the proposal (no handwritten material will be accepted).
While obviously a certain degree of “tidying up” of the actual messy process of research refinement is expected and indeed required, it is important that the journal be a reflection (however “tidied”) of the choices and logic behind the final proposal. (Think of this in terms of a maths question: the proposal is the answer to the question, but the “working out” of the question is also vitally important, and must be assessed).
Journals will no doubt be individualized to reflect the different personalities and methods of scholars, and there is no rigid set format for this. The important thing is to prove a methodical, logical, diligent research procedure. Decisions and choices are crucial – the final proposal (and the thesis) cannot do and contain everything related to a topic, so the journal should explain and justify what is left out, as well as what is finally chosen. As a guide (but only as a guide – the final arbiter is research logic and diligence), the journal might include the following parts:
- statement/commentary on the selection and refinement of the final topic: how the topic was chosen, what considerations went into this, the refinement of the topic and what was left out, etc.
- scholarly theories, assumptions, approaches: what kinds of ways were finally chosen to deal with this topic, and why? Which thinkers/theorists are shortlisted, and their relative pluses/minuses. What kinds of problems might be anticipated.
- search methods, tools/instruments, terms; and final results (which might take the form of a select bibliography); what gets included, what doesn’t, and why.
Proposal: the critical rehearsal for the thesis itself. (Note that it is expected and probably to your benefit, but not absolutely essential, that you do a proposal/journal etc related to the research topic you are finally likely to undertake for your dissertation. Research Methodology is explicitly intended to help you with research, the chief piece of which is probably your dissertation; however, this module is not intended to force you into an early and irrevocable decision about your dissertation topic). Proposal is to take this general form (justifiable and logical variations are possible):
A dissertation title
A brief declaration of the main claims and thesis statements (perhaps 2 paragraphs)
A general description of the project (methods, theories, assumptions, relationship to existing scholarship, qualifications and delimitations, etc)
A justification of primary/main texts (if necessary)
A breakdown of chapters (each chapter description to include a chapter title, section titles if necessary, and a brief description of the scope and aims of each chapter)
A select bibliography (very likely a refinement of the journal biblio.)
Any other relevant material.
As a guide, the proposal should be between 5-10 pages in length (varying quite a bit, depending on topic and existing scholarship, biblio and resources, etc – as with the journal, the length and structure of the proposal will ultimately be guided most of all by the research logic and diligence due to the chosen topic.). All proposals must be printed – no handwritten materials will be accepted.
The open-book exam will be two hours long, with just one question (chosen from two). You may bring anything whatsoever into the exam hall – by the same token, therefore, you can expect questions which cannot easily be answered with a pre-packaged response taken from notes or a book. The question and the assessment of responses will emphasize individual thought, insight and reflections on matters of research methodologies, assumptions, theories, etc – i.e. the issues raised in the group discussions in the middle part of the module.
The exam questions will thus specify 1 or 2 of the research topic-types discussed in the seminars (in a re-formulated fashion), and ask for a critical assessment of this topic-type. Please note that while many of the concerns dealt with in this module overlap with “critical theories,” RM is not a critical theory course, and thus neither in the seminars nor in the final exam will you be required to give (or rewarded for giving) a comprehensive account of the history/methods/claims of a particular critical theory or theories (e.g. “feminism,” or “psychoanalysis”). Instead, you will be required to show thinking on research issues and assumptions which draw from but also cut across critical theories (e.g. “language in electronic texts”; “comparative cultural/textual analysis in the age of globalization and the internet”).
The aim of the exam is to test your thinking on the research potential,
problems, theoretical affinities and disaffinities, strengths and weaknesses,
of certain research topic-types. You are not expected to show considerable
knowledge of primary or secondary literature in a particular area (i.e.
not required to be an expert or well-versed in, say, “19th C Gothic Literature”
or “Yeats” or such); rather, you will be tested on research intuitions,
sensibilities, logical processing, and the ability to discuss these in
a coherent and useful manner. The “knowledge” required is really
the experience of having thought about textual, theoretical and evidential
matters in relation to different research topics and areas
Seminar Two Handout
EN 4271 Research Methodology
Seminar 2: Stylesheets, Bibliographies, Resources
Some well-known and oft-used (by prestigious schools, journals, academic presses and even non-academic presses):
a. The Chicago Manual of Style (published by the University of Chicago Press). Often referred to as “Chicago”
b. Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers (many sections adapted and abbreviated from Chicago Manual; also published by U. of Chicago Press). Sometimes
c. MLA Stylesheet (published by the Modern Language Association, NY). Referred to as “MLA.”
d. MLA Handbook for Writers (abbreviated and adapted version of MLA Stylesheet, also published by MLA).
Some universities/schools/libraries have brief online notes on the above
manuals: e.g. see the University of Wisconsin Writing Centre’s notes on
(Also has other useful information such as how to arrange notes; difference between footnotes and endnotes; how to cite electronic sources).
I haven’t found an online version of Chicago, but U. of Chicago Press
has a webpage with FAQs on its manual of style, and an e-mail service:
Contrary to popular (and surprisingly persistent) belief, bibliographies are not devices to show off knowledge, impress the reader, pad a book/article, confuse/blind the reader with references. They are a means of locating one’s work within a scholarly community (looking at a biblio. can often indicate the theoretical affiliations and approaches of the book or article); a valuable resource for a subsequent scholar to “catch up” with (hopefully) latest or at least the most important research on a particular topic; and also a way of organizing the bulk of one’s scholarly text in an economical and concise way (so that multiple references to scholarly texts can be made very briefly and yet accurately).
Academic Bibliographies sometimes appear as:
a. Works Cited/Cited References: The most common form of bibliography, appearing at the end of scholarly books and articles. It only lists the works actually referred to, however slightly, in the book/article. Does not list related works which may be of interest but which were not referred to.
b. Bibliographical surveys/critical surveys: An attempt at an exhaustive (to-date) list of works on a particular topic, usually either more recent or fairly well-defined (e.g. works on Salman Rushdie or Martin Amis; cyberspace in Asian nations; SEA Anglophone cultural studies). Not usually possible or remunerative for broader and older topics (e.g. “Shakespeare”?). Usually just a list of all works, with full references (including page numbers), perhaps with a short general comment on the state of scholarship in that field. Purpose, apart from facilitating reference to such works, is to give a periodic/timely assessment of scholarship in a particular field. Such a critical survey is usually published as a separate monograph or article in/by itself.
c. Annotated bibliographies: Lengthier versions of ‘b’ above, with comments on each and every scholarly work (main focus and claims, literary works and primary
theorists/theories referred to, length, strengths and weaknesses/omissions). Some of the newer annotated bibliographies are electronic and searchable: e.g. the massive Annotated Bibliography of English Studies (ABES), based at the University of East Anglia and published by Swets. (However, these are usually also accessible only if your library buys the subscription and CDROMs).
For English studies, one of the most important bibliographical references is the MLA International Bibliography (see URL below): a must-consult resource, especially in the early stages of research. Also useful for ordering reprographic copies/inter-library loans, etc.
There are some kind institutions which mount e-archives with full texts
(of literary works; some journal also list full texts of their articles,
usually after a suitable delay
from the time the hardcopy appears). This is usually only helpful for older out-of-print texts – often e-texts don’t have annotations, editorial information, reliable pagination, etc.
(NB – the “definitive edition” is a scholarly bugbear, but also a fact of life and often a lifesaver. A good e.g. is the Princeton UP edition of the Collected Works of S. T. Coleridge – so complete, sound, well-annotated, that it’s virtually impossible to work without it).
Filling in incomplete/erroneous biblio. information – sometimes one encounters a faulty reference in the course of research. Or else one simply needs more information, to work “around” a topic/author. One good way, apart from Silverplatter, is to consult the webversion of a really good academic library. E.g.s are Oxford’s Bodleian, the University of Chicago library, Harvard, etc. (Go to the university home page, and proceed to library). It’s also a good way to “check up on” an article’s cited references, particularly if you don’t know the existing scholarship very well – what major works did the article leave out? Why?
NUS Digital Library (Under “NUS home page”; > “Resources” >”teaching and learning” “NUS Libraries”; > “arts, architecture and humanies”): http://www.lib.nus.edu.sg/ecoll/subah.html
University of Virginia’s archive of e-texts: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/ebooks/ebooklist.html
The Poetry Archives text database: http://www.emule.com/poetry
MLA International Bibliography (Silverplatter): Searchable index of most of the books, articles, chapters etc written in the area of literary studies. Searchable by author (for author-based projects: e.g. “Jacques Derrida”); by topic (most common search form: keywords e.g. “Robert Louis Stevenson, fathers”)
4. Web-based material
Might be possible to talk about “web-based material” in a different way from material (often originally in hard versions, or for intranet uses) also mounted on the net. E.g. search engines like Google (and especially Google Scholar), Lycos, Yahoo, not originally meant as scholarly tools, but their value today cannot be overlooked.
Problems: since they’re not primarily academic resources, there is no
way to limit searches to purely academic ends; searches, if not well defined,
can often bring
prohibitively large results; there’s no assurance of scholarly standards/editing/verification; webpages, unlike hardcopies, can change literally overnight; problems of plagiarism. Books tend to have rigorous academic refereeing, putting the final reader in a more reassured, passive position; internet material usually doesn’t have rigorous academic refereeing, putting much of the onus on the reader to referee/judge quality and reliability.
Benefits: good way to draw information you might not even have been
looking for, by casting the net “wide”; results are instantaneous, unlike
hardcopies which often have delays (borrowed out; not subscribed to, etc);
can be cut-and-pasted to suit publications purposes.
Seminar 3 Handout – The Scholarly Report
There is obviously a range of scholarly report-types: from the 1-page mathematical article whose essence is the formula, to the annotated bibliography whose structure is accretive and itemized, to the statistical sociology paper which presents quantitative data (survey/census results, etc), to the geographical/topographical study which relies on charts/photographs/plans and their analysis, to the historical article which presents hitherto-unseen material (sometimes also the case with editorial studies, e.g. “8 unpublished letters by S. T. Coleridge”), finally to the more familiar literary criticism which harnesses textual and scholarly evidence to offer a reading or response to a primary text or texts.
In the past (say, before 1980), all but the last 1 or 2 types of scholarly report would have been quite alien to literary studies (although there were always exceptions, though few). In today’s multi-disciplinary scholarly climate, this is no longer so certain. Quite easy to think of varieties of language and literary studies which might involve, e.g, types of statistical evidence (reader-responses; phonetics); the sociology of reading and texts (types, dates and numbers of readers and publications); even a mathematics-type formula at the centre of the argument (language functions, e.g systemic-functional linguistics; or Lacan’s famous definitions of “metonymy” and “metaphor” as f(S…S’)S =? S (-) s and f(S…S’)S =? S (+) s respectively.
1. The “so what?” question.
Whatever their functions, evidence adduced, conclusions etc, all scholarly reports aim to contribute to the knowledge of the scholarly community (whether by adding new knowledge, or new claims on existing data/texts, or helpful classifications/compilations/annotations of existing scholarship, etc).
This is what might be called the “so what” test for the scholarly report (coined by my supervisor at Chicago, James Chandler) – all scholarly reports should be able to answer the “so what” question (which can be couched in various ways, but whose basic form is: “granted that your evidence and analyses are correct, so what?” i.e. “What is the scholarly significance of your claim(s)?”).
Factors which tend to diminish the so-what quotient include:
a. Replication of existing scholarly claims (Note: in literary studies, this is often a matter of degree, and subtlety – even good articles sometimes build upon and borrow from existing basic claims, e.g. “Coleridge as political conservative,” or “Milton’s sympathy for sin and Satan in Paradise Lost.” Possible to “add to scholarly knowledge” by building upon and offering more insights and subtle expressions of these very fundamental claims. Graduate theses are not normally expected to be absolutely original, but nor should they merely exactly replicate existing scholarly knowledge/claims).
b. Unclear aims – uncertain argument/direction/assertions, even if particular bits of the study (localized assertions or bits of close reading) are good, can fail to answer the “so what” question.
c. Lack of evidence or weak evidence – a report can have the most stunning and best-articulated claim, which promises to contribute significantly to existing scholarship, but if it is not substantiated by evidence (sections of the text, data, statistics), it will also fail the “so what” test.
d. Poor articulation of claims – claims, especially in humanities subjects (but to a certain extent in all scholarly disciplines), require precise and subtle articulation, failing which not even the strongest evidence or most original research area can salvage the report. (Note: this is significantly different from ‘b’ above: a study can be unclear in its overall aim and claim, even if it articulates individual points very well; similarly although less commonly, a study may express its individual points not so well, but have a very nicely-defined overall claim).
2. Testing scholarly significance
A useful exercise to develop our meta-critical faculty, in order to discern “so what”-type questions, is to play with possible research claims and try to judge their scholarly significance. Although this may seem to be a ludicrous exercise (no-one would dare to offer such weak and fragile research claims, we think!), the act of constructing flawed claims helps to sensitize us to such flaws, and thus helps us avoid such pitfalls in our own work.
a. “The (Singapore) Empire Writes Back: Colonial Influence in Singapore Literature in English. This study is interested in the various ways in which colonial rule and continuing influence has shaped Singapore writing in English. It will be shown that the very use of English itself cannot be discounted as a colonial legacy, which influences the writers’ shaping of reality and society.”
b. “The (Wo)Man’s Story: Sexual Ambiguity, Symbolism and Style in Patrick White’s Voss and The Aunt’s Story. This study focuses on White’s use of sexually ambiguous symbolism, particularly in the novels Voss and The Aunt’s Story. Particular attention will be paid to narrative voice as the performative symbolism (drawing on J. L. Austin’s notions of ‘speech acts’) of a desire which is complicated both by society and by the act of articulation itself”
c. “This thesis reads Singapore’s roads and street systems as a cultural text. In Singapore, prohibitive car prices ensure that car ownership is what Bourdieu would call an elitist ‘cultural capital.’ Electronic road pricing and other means of controlling movement on roads, similarly constitute a kind of authority of roads, ensuring that only certain kinds of movement (particularly with regard to off-peak flows, and outside of the congested central area) take place. Singapore roads thus constitute a corollary to the hierarchical and elitist nature of Singapore housing, with access and priority denied to the masses with lower incomes, educational levels and competence in English.”
d. “Source and Sorcery: New Age Spiritualism in Fantasy Literature. Many contemporary fantasy texts are fascinated with sources of power – ‘saidar and saidin’ in Robert Jordan’s novels, ‘wells’ of power in Elizabeth Willey, faerie ‘nodes’ in Laurell K. Hamilton, Mercedes Lackey and others – which are often represented as ubiquitous and accessible, once their hidden nature is revealed. This resonates with many New Age Spiritual notions of a healing force which surrounds us, and which is available to the initiated. That this is the way in which the magical symbolism of much contemporary fantasy is read, will be shown by using reader-response theories to analyse the responses of a sample group of readers (50 respondents of varying ages, contacted via rolling e-mail surveys) to a group of representative texts. I have chosen 4 popular novels by best-selling fantasy writers, as being texts which the respondents are likely to have read or at least heard of. The results indicate that fantasy literature constitutes a form of alternative belief, a New Age spiritualism that replaces older religions in an age of uncertainty.”
3. Constructing a scholarly report: some diagnostic considerations
a. Abstract: more common in linguistics and social sciences than in literature, although again this expectation changes in our multi-disciplinary climate. (It was often thought that ‘harder’ scholarly disciplines delivered more clear-cut conclusions and goals than did the humanities, and thus that abstracts might not be appropriate for humanities reports – do we agree with this? Other considerations?). Even if an abstract is not ultimately required or chosen, it is often useful to construct a mock abstract in order to test the clarity and focus of our claims and goals. The abstract should make a certain kind of immediate sense, even if only in a ‘benefit of the doubt’ kind of way (until the main body of the report delivers the full argument and evidence). Put another way, if the abstract doesn’t achieve this ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ at the beginning, and instead provokes too many objections as to the claims and goals, this may be a sign that the report itself is problematic.
b. Parts: arranging and structuring the parts of a scholarly
report are crucial, particularly in the lengthy and involved arguments
of humanities scholarship. Absolute size is a consideration: a book
of 140,000 words may have trouble finding a publisher, in part because
of its sheer length (many humanities books are around 80,000 words, as
a very rough guide). Likewise an article of 12,000 words submitted
to a literature journal (many journals stipulate article lengths of 5,000
to 9,000 words as a guide).
It is only logical for chapter lengths to be guided by article length-guidelines – these were established not merely out of editorial megalomania, but with quite careful consideration of the optimum likely length required to develop an involved argument while still retaining the interests and attention of the likely reader. (This is an important consideration – to be considered further under ‘The Implied Scholarly Reader’). For shorter theses (12,000 HTs, and perhaps even 20,000 MAs), the lower word-guideline might be worth adopting – i.e. around 4000 words for a chapter, a bit more or less depending on the nature of the chapter (a conclusion may require far fewer words than substantial chapters) and the nature of the thesis (a typical humanities-style argument probably requiring more substantial chapters and fewer in number, than perhaps a sociolinguistic study with more parts requiring shorter but more numerous chapters).
The scope of each chapter and the relationship between chapters is also important, and cannot be assigned in an arbitrary manner. Chapters finally line up in an implicit order, which may be chronological (early primary works in the earlier chapters, late works in the later chapters), or thematic (micro-structural analysis e.g. of smaller respondent-sets, might come before macro-structural analysis of the overall data; or novels might be discussed comparatively with a view to plot etc in one chapter, then characterization in another, then symbolism/metaphor etc in another). There may be other organizing considerations, but the point is that the scope of each chapter and the relationship between chapters are themselves an element of scholarship – they must contribute to the analysis and the argument, by laying out the primary material and analyses in a coherent and helpful way. Therefore, there is no room for ad hoc or arbitrary arrangements (‘I’ll do x novel in chapter one because that’s the only one I’ve read so far,’ or ‘because that’s my favourite novel’).
Number of chapters : this depends on the size of the report/thesis, and the logical number of parts into which its topic can be divided. The rough guideline of 4,000 – 6,000 words per chapter to a certain extent imposes a physical constraint, so a 12,000 word HT is seldom able to have more than 3 substantial chapters. For longer theses, topical structuring will be a much more important consideration. Again, the key is to have chapters organized in such a way as to contribute to the scholarly study or analysis.
Sections: some studies, especially in ‘harder’ disciplines, often break chapters down into section, sub-sections, even sub-sub-sections. (Note: if you choose to do this, there are stylesheet considerations to consider. Sub-sectional headings and style are quite important in avoiding confusing and signaling the organizational hierarchy. Consult one of the major stylesheet guides for helpful instructions). The main consideration here is manageability of information: if you’re dealing with a topic where it would be helpful to divide the material into more manageable chunks, then sectional divisions may be for you. (E.g. Umberto Eco usually presents his complicated semiotic theories in sections, which not only make the hierarchical arrangement and subordination of parts of his theories clear, but also helps set the boundaries for each particular exploration of ideas. This seems useful for heavy theoretical discussions, or perhaps sociological-type studies which need to establish a governing theory and then must talk about particular ‘local’ aspects, all the while without getting carried away and messy).
An e.g.: writing a book about Modern Critical Theory; with possible chapters on “New Criticism,” “Structuralism,” “Poststructuralism,” “Marxism,” etc. Then each chapter could have sections each dealing with a key thinker within the school (“Barthes,” “Lodge,” “Eco”), or perhaps key tenets or assumptions (“Langue and Parole,” “the author,” “the reader,” etc).
The key problem with sections is that for certain kinds of reports, a more flowing and continuous argument structure is required. Also, mismanaged sections can give wrong signals about subordinate and hierarchical relationships.
4. The Implied Scholarly Reader
This obviously borrows from reader-response and structuralist notions that each text constructs and depends upon certain types of readers, or certain possibilities of reading. A Harlequin romance constructs very different readers and reading positions (young, sentimental, fast linear reading) from a spiritual book (older, troubled, in search of answers, slow and contemplative reading).
Scholarly discourses also rely on cues to construct readers and reading expectations. Some scholarly reports are less successful because of a failure to appropriately construct their readers. I.e. it’s important to get rid of the view that the scholarly report is a rigid, objective, fixed form, a transparent or neutral presentation of information.
The fact is that while scholarly style may not have as many variations as (say) fictional (novel) style, and we tend not to pay attention to the stylistic variations in scholarly style, their violation can often lead to certain problems of reading, which may lead to points of failure in the report.
It’s thus important to write with a certain implied reader in mind – a fellow scholar, not necessarily an expert in the specialized area of the report, but learned and intelligent, an expert in his/her own area and likely to be knowledgeable about a number of other related areas as well, a busy individual with many demands on his/her time and much information to process, serious-minded and not usually appreciative of lapses and transgressions in the professional sphere.
With this implied reader in mind, certain lapses in scholarly writing now become clear. E.g. (stylistically and rhetorically) low register, personalized expressions and digressions, repetitions and overlaps. (Presentationally) messiness, lack of good signaling/signposting. (Content-wise) drawing obvious conclusions from data, patronizing tone/argument, reliance on specialized jargon or concepts.
5. The proposal (see notes on proposal assignment, in seminar
1 handout, for more details).
Proposal is a crucial part of the scholarly process. (A finished publication is often conceived of as having different stages: draft, seminar paper, conference paper, monograph, IRJ article or book. Similarly, a thesis is the final stage of a process involving discussion with supervisor, proposal, interview, seminar, thesis).
The proposal is an early promise establishing certain things: the general research field or domain (e.g. the postmodern novel), the types of evidence to be gathered and used (e.g. works by Fowles and Amis; or surveys of churchgoing Singaporeans between 12-21 years of age), the methodological and theoretical assumptions to be employed (e.g. a Marxist or materialist approach; or xyz computational linguistic programme; or close reading of style), and finally the claims and thesis statements to be made.
The last (claims and thesis statements) is obviously the most difficult to know beforehand, and the most likely to change between the proposal stage and the completion of thesis. Nevertheless, it is important to offer a tentative set of thesis statements, if only to check whether these statements suit the other elements, fulfil the “so what” question, are actually what you have in mind, etc.
Seminar 4: History and Historical Studies
EN 4271 Seminar 4: History and Historical Studies
“History” is a discipline very similar to literary studies, and a consideration
(with its cognates time, past, chronology, change over time, society) which
is inextricably linked in so much of what is done in literary studies.
But it also poses a number of significant problems which we need to think
1. History and historical studies pose certain problems of resources: availability, accuracy, critical editions, access, storage/preservation, etc. Historical studies (like anthropology, like interpretation) necessitates a reconstruction: what problems are involved in reconstructions? (e.g. “Women in Elizabethan England”; or “The Romantic Family-Circle”)
a. Evidence (what is an historical “fact”? What basis – eyewitness author, readers, society, documents); how to integrate/balance evidence and argument; specifically for our discipline, are literary texts considered “historical evidence”?
b. Biases – not necessarily intentional or malicious, but a matter of interests/perceptions/constructions (Back to our problem of literary texts – are they “bad evidence” because they involve authorial perspective/narrative; or are they typical historical evidence, and give us insight into historical texts?).
c. Our present-day reconstruction/interpretation
(We are the ones who, by putting the past to a certain use, put it in a certain order” Levinson p. 20).
2. What are “Old Historicist/naïve historicist” approaches/assumptions,
and how do we know we’re doing it? (attitudes to/notions of “facts,” “objects,”
“reality,” the split between text and subject/topic, language and matter).
Is this tenable?
Notice the similarity of this problem, from a research methodology perspective, to questions of contemporary/sociological evidence: what is “hard” evidence – population census, dates, statistics (perhaps – but how do they “speak” an argument, add knowledge? And, if they speak or add knowledge, how can they remain “hard” or “objective”?)
What does Levinson mean by a “hermeneutic bind” split between “essentialism” (view of text as “already there”) and “relativism/formalism” (reader “makes” the text’s politics), p. 21?
3. Does this dilemma suggest the inevitability of the “textualisation of history” (H. Felperin) – how/when did this happen? Why did recent scholarship resort to this gesture? What are its consequences (space and possibilities? But also poses problems of assessment/dialogue/interest/relevance/value?)
4. Past and present: New Historicism is a condition of present
“…a reading of the past which is not also and integrally a reflected operation on the present betrays its received historicist premises: namely, to reveal the past, the object, either as it is/was in itself, or as it is intended in the sympathetic consciousness of the present” (Levinson, p. 2)
(What does “a reflected operation” mean in the above passage? What does it imply?)
5. Hence the “answer” to the dilemma, if any: neither a
subjectivist nor an objectivist move, but a constant self-consciousness
and reflexivity on our subjective uses of history? “We want to articulate
the literatures of the past in such a way as to accommodate the contingency
of the present – the willfulness of our textual politics – and at the same
time, to configurate that freedom with the particular text that is retextualized”
(Levinson p. 22).
How would this work? What implications for our research projects?
6. What are New Historicism’s characteristic/saving strategies?
(Self-awareness, dialectical, avoids the narrowness of a particular set
How might we characterize such strategies – suspicious? Revisionist? Predictable? (Can we redeem this from predictability, and how? I.e. How to avoid the predictability of political conclusions – by using political methodologies without having political aims/goals? E.g. not the critique of imperial/racist power, but perhaps an analysis of its means; or an identification of textual allegories; or a conclusion about the instabilities of rhetoric and meaning?)
7. Related Theories/Methodologies/Concerns:
a. Obviously, Marxism and other left-leaning theories and positionings (feminism, postcolonial theory, gay/lesbian – note Levinson’s quite heavy use of Marx, to try to resolve the “dilemma of historicism” by dialectical means) – what are the differences (in typical claims, methodologies, texts/areas)?
b. Not only history becomes textualized, but so does politics, society – consequences for research areas in political/social topics? How does this affect our methodology?
8. What is our present scholarly politics? Do we have
one? What is its relationship to a general (“state”) politics – in
Singapore, or in the Anglophone Democratic West?
Can/should we distinguish between overt scholarly politics (eg Marxist, feminist, gay/lesbian, capitalist, evangelical) and covert/institutional scholarly politics (the university, the “think tank,” the “research topic”).
What does our “self-consciousness” about our scholarly politics imply for our research methodologies – what can we do about it? What are its benefits, and weaknesses?
Seminar 5: Ideology, Society, Political Economy
1. “Ideology” – together with “history,” one of the main foundations of Marxist scholarship and criticism. “Ideology” as a term started out in the late 18th C to mean “the science of ideas,” but was appropriated by Marx to refer specifically to “bourgeois ideology” as a set of internalized, unconscious, and pervasive values and assumptions. Bourgeois Ideology is produced by bourgeois material production (i.e. capitalism) in order to justify and sustain that production. (e.g. as the doctrine of “survival of the fittest” is both produced by, and sustains, capitalist competition). Thus a circular, self-sustaining, fundamental system.
2. Applied in a (more or less) dogmatic Marxist research
method, “ideology” was used to show the ways in which various cultural
documents contained (in covert, coded ways) bourgeois values and assumptions.
(Consider the usefulness of such a research methodology: would it be more useful with regard to certain texts than others? Which ones (which media/genres? Of which periods?)? What are the weaknesses of such a method – especially in respect of its claims and conclusions?)
Another way to consider this question might be to compare a Marxist approach (say, to 19th C English texts) with research projects using sociological or historical methods. There are clearly some overlaps (concern with material facts of society, with the social data which contextualizes and influences cultural production and reception), but clearly some significant differences too (Marxist pre-selection of data – would, say, a topic on the rituals of gentlemen’s clubs be of interest?)
3. More recently, orthodox Marxist readings of bourgeois texts, have given way to more complex and mixed theoretical/methodological approaches (drawing from psychoanalysis, formalism, deconstruction). Also, the impact of postmodern “sociologists” like Foucault, Virilio, LeFebvre – more concerned with the influence of modern phenomena like science, technology, telecommunications, the city, than with the Marx-dominated phenomenon of factories and capitalist production.
4. Thus if we retain a concept of “ideology” in research, it is difficult to do so with the orthodox Marxist definitions and biases. Yet “society” is far too broad a category as it stands, to provide research directions (or is it? Would a catalogue or expose or archival of, say, popular Hokkien swear words, be a worthy and justifiable research project? How about the lives and habits of book collectors? What would be needed to refine these areas into research topics?).
5. A similar problem arises with “political economy” or
“classical economics” – in Marx’s day, this would be identical with capitalism:
i.e. the doctrine most closely associated with Adam Smith (and less clearly,
with David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and others) which (whatever the many
individual differences) is generally concerned with theories of maximizing
existing forms of wealth (land, rent, the factory and the division of labour,
mercantile trade), and the government’s role in all this (i.e. laissez
faire). In Marxist criticism, political economy and laissez faire
featured largely as villains which influenced the structures of meanings
of works of art – so, e.g., studies and readings of the Poor Laws and other
treatments of the working class in Dickens and other 19th C art; or Eagleton’s
famous reading of Wuthering Heights as a coded allegory of different kinds
of property owners (Myths of Power).
Possible now to look at relationships between economics and literature other than the sinister influence attributed to (classical) political economy. The sociology and history of reading has always been concerned with the business of publishing and reading – circulation numbers, costs of books, readerships, etc (e.g. Lee Erickson’s study of Romantic publishing). Also, possible to study in a non-Marxist way the representations of consumption, commodities etc in literature and art (Rachel Bowlby’s Shopping with Freud, eg.).
6. So, from older and more (theoretically- and methodologically-) specific meanings, “ideology” and “political economy” have now taken on more general meanings, concerned with the operation of certain social codes and structures (no longer specifically bourgeois ones) on cultural texts. How do these research projects avoid the problem of all-encompassing vagueness and directionlessness that the general category of “society” threatens with? Clearly certain directions and assumptions are still being made with “ideological” studies and readings, even if these are no longer orthodox Marxist ones (although Marxist approaches, now leavened with other theories, are still popular). The more common ones seem to be:
a. Ideology as an unconscious code; this unconscious code
may take several orientations/parameters, although in a sense the very
fact of its being unconscious is itself the main claim – i.e. a kind of
“bad faith” of society. The research/reading then aims at uncovering
the kind unconscious code, of re-reading the cultural text to identify
the unconscious code beneath it.
This notion of a social unconscious is clearly quite a flexible and heterogeneous notion: it could be a political/social unconscious (patriarchy, racism, governance), an economic unconscious (the discourse of the commodity, especially applied to human terms, of capitalism), etc.
b. Institutional ideology – associated with the work of Michel Foucault, although overlaps with work by Deleuze and Guattari and others. A concern with the necessarily regulatory framework/discourses/practices of institutions such as the asylum, the hospital, the army, the school, etc. Interested in “clashes” within these institutional codes, and/or how these codes discipline and constrain the freedom of the individual.
c. Christian ideology – somewhat related to (b), but arising out of its own long tradition of scholarship (Max Weber, Tawney, etc). The concern with the relationship between capitalist society and protestant Christianity, and the ways in which the two feed off and reinforce each other. (Would it be possible to construct a research project on other religious ideologies? What would be involved?)
d. Imperial/colonial ideology – clearly, this is more often
the domain of colonial discourse analysis, and Marxist-inspired terminology
is less often applied here (why is that? Is that an accident of scholarly
history? Or a perception that anti-colonial thought must somehow
be derived from non-Western, “local” sources? Is it the danger of
trapping anti-colonial theory in the Marxist-inspired categories of master
and slave, owner and worker, merely?). But in many ways the analysis
of colonial structures resembles aspects of (a) above – e.g. colonial phallocentrism,
colonial racism, etc. Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus explicitly
connects psychoanalytic thought, colonial discourse analysis, and a rather
Marxian account of imperialism as a capitalist system.
What would be the abiding problems of such an approach? What about the disturbing notion that there is no “post” in post-colonial (legacies such as English, etc), and therefore to use Marxist notions of ideology is tantamount to saying that we’re still in an ideological trap?
e. National ideologies? This follows from key work by Benedict Anderson, Tom Nairn and others, who talk about the work of constructing the nation as an “imagined community” – a work which then has similarities to the ways in which a particular group or class uses cultural documents to create an ubiquitous, pervasive common set of values (an “ideology”?). What are the problems with this – can we speak of multiple national ideologies, as many as there are nations? Are there any similarities at all? What’s the point of such analyses – what’s ‘behind’ (as it were) the constructed nation?
f. “Dominant ideology” – a term which is sometimes used in research projects which aren’t interested in analyzing the ideological construct per se, but instead use it as an implied opposition to the alternative group/thought they are actually studying (e.g. “How gay discourse is implicitly structured by the dominant value system”). Not a very satisfying notion, but nevertheless quite often used to refer in general to the assumptions of a particular group in power. More useful if it is a pragmatic and contingent definition (i.e. the dominant group which happens to be in power here and now), less useful if used in a more sweeping way (i.e. “dominance” as a general concept in capitalist, democratic, heterosexual societies).
7. Finally, Critical Ideologies? “Criticism is not
an innocent discipline, and never has been” (p. 17). Eagleton’s article
shows us the history and evolution of critical thought, and asks us to
consider the ideological bases of criticism itself – variously, in the
courtly values of the Renaissance, the bourgeois “self” from Wordsworth
to Yeats, the notion of a “common” literary culture.
What aspects of academic scholarship and criticism might themselves come under analysis as ideological reflexes? The examination system? The notion of (various) “gatekeepers” (readers, examiners, editorial panels)? The scholarly “association” (“Miltonians of the World”?)
What is involved or required in making such analyses? (Some notion of an ‘other’ order, or the possibility of freedom from order? Some notion of individual struggle? A dialectical sense of things?)
How is scholarship to free itself from such ideological problems?
Seminar 6 – Language: Narrative Structures, Typologies, Forms
1. The inter-penetration of some of the crucial research terms/issues we’ve been raising: all moments/societies are “historical” (if “history” means the political contextualization of the moment and its cultural artifacts); all societal constructs may be said to have their “ideologies” (despite the problems of the Marxist “hermeneutics of suspicion,” following Foucault and others we still insist on forms of contesting analysis of institutional and other ideologies).
Now we can add the understanding that all culture is language, too. Not only is language the medium through which all culture is expressed (are there any exceptions? Visual/plastic arts? Traffic systems? Fashion?); cognitive linguists would argue that language expresses and corresponds to essential structures of the brain and thought as well – i.e. we “can’t help” expressing things in certain ways, language is not “free” and “creative,” but an expression of thought (e.g. George Lakoff’s famous work on “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things,” “Up is good,” etc).
Then structuralists theorists like Jonathan Culler, Umberto Eco, David Lodge, building on the work of structuralist anthropologists like Levi-Strauss, extend the linguistic analysis to non-verbal “signs” in society – the science of “semiotics,” which sees all aspects of society as readable, composed of “codes,” with “grammatical” structures, etc. (So, e.g, Lodge’s analysis of the narrative structures of popular culture texts like James Bond novels/films; or Roland Barthes’ analysis of Japanese streets, theatre, culture; or Eco’s semiotic theory of street and public signs.)
2. Some basic assumptions underlying structuralist-inspired
readings of society:
a. Following Saussure, the notion that signification is arbitrary and conventional – the analytical process thus to “decode” the conventional logic behind arbitrary signs (e.g. why are Bond villains vaguely Eastern? Are all pop culture villains vaguely Eastern in the same way?)
b. Signification consists of two main parts, “signifier” and “signified” – there is an inherently “forensic” or “archaeological” or “anthropological” work of trying to uncover the hidden “signified” behind manifest/public “signifiers” (gender/sexuality signs a good e.g. – what is the signified, the mental referent or idea, standing behind gender signs like Beer advertisements, car advertisements, references to homosexuality or celibacy, etc)
c. Just as language is an interlocking system of small (phonemes, words) and large signs (sentences, discourses), so too are social signs. Thus possible to link research topics from micro (Fleming; Tolkein) to increasingly macro-texts and signifieds (thriller; fantasy… popular culture… gender thinking, commodity/consumer thinking… etc).
3. Some research questions/concerns arising from this
a. If everything signifies, what has significance? If everything is language, what aspects of language should be given research priorities, and towards what goals? (The old chestnut – is the phone book a cultural sign? Of what?)
b. What are the larger/underlying research goals and claims of such research? Is it possible to define such goals from “within” structuralist frameworks, or is it necessary to “import” non-structuralist theories/assumptions in order to define such ultimate “signifieds” (gender, sexuality, cognitive psychology, economics and commodity theory, etc)? If the latter, are we strictly speaking in “language” still, or have we stepped “outside” language?
c. What kinds of value judgments are possible within structuralist-related research projects? (Ideological analysis is the logical contrast, as being perhaps the most value-concerned and focused)
d. Therefore, what are the research and analytical methods of structuralist approaches? How to prioritise and organize data and evidence? How to analyse it?
4. Typologies, archetypes: a somewhat different approach
to the notion of governing language structures, derived from other strands
of scholarship than structuralist anthropology and linguistics (mainly
from the study of religion, mythology, and other “great narratives” in
Western society). (Has some relationship with the “Formalism” of
Russian scholars like Greimas and Propp, which was based on folklore and
fairytales). Reinforced by Jungian studies of “collective unconscious”
symbols and types.
Instead of the linguistics model of a structural “code” (“sign) referring to some social “signified,” archetypal and typological approaches begin from a more specific “signified” – a set of collective, common, (sometimes) cross-societal meanings which form the basis of and manifest themselves in a range of cultural texts.
So, for someone like Frye, the archetypal meanings which return again and again in individual texts (his concern was mainly with literary texts), come from the Bible, and from the experience of the seasonal cycle and related natural phenomena.
Jung was concerned with tropes from what he called the “collective unconscious” which united different civilizations and cultures. The “wicked stepmother” (male mater); shadow-selves; fathers; hats/heads, etc.
5. Note similarities as well as crucial differences
between typological approaches to narrative, and ideological approaches.
Both might be interested in, say, Biblical types or narratives in modern
advertising – the typological approach would be to look for a hidden or
“displaced” version of the mythos in the modern texts, while the ideological
approach might focus on the way both those sets of texts reflect and reveal
ideological assumptions inherent in Christianity, which in turn say something
about the practice and social role of the institution.
Note again the similarities and crucial differences between archetypal and structuralist approaches. Both see language and narrative as crucial to (constitutive of?) society, the building blocks of society as it were. But archetypal approaches tend to start from a definite signified, whose relevance to society is clear; structuralist approaches are more concerned with signifier-signified relationships, with codes and structures.
6. Broadening archetypalism: neither Frye’s archetypalism nor Jung’s unconscious symbolism might be our cup of tea exactly. (What are their limitations in terms of research methodology and theory? The mythos – what qualifies as an archetype, as opposed to merely another displaced expression of the archetype? The analytical method – how does archetypalism analyse texts, are they merely seen in terms of their essential similarities to each other? What elements are emphasized – plot, symbol, character? What elements are relatively neglected? Research aims/claims – is the main/only research claim, the fact that all literary texts can be seen as displaced versions of a mythic primal text (if this is a crude simplification, what more subtle claims might be made, or not?).
Would it be possible to take typological and archetypal approaches further
away from their roots in the work of Frye, Campbell, Jung et al?
a. What would be the “mythoi” that would be interesting and useful research topics? The body? Sexuality? Fathers/Mothers etc.? Heroes? What qualifies as a good mythos, and what doesn’t?
b. What analytical methods could we use, and how do we avoid the potential weakness of reductive comparisons?
c. Can we strengthen the research claims/aims of typological approaches by adding other theoretical and methodological elements, so that we don’t merely have to rely on the (self-evident?) centrality and antiquity of the primal text/myth? What other elements could be usefully added without contradictory impulses or distortions?
Seminar 7 – Language: Style, Figure, Symbolism
From “larger” language structures (archetype, genre, codes and structures of plot, character, moral message) to “smaller” ones (metaphor, voice, symbol, image, figure, description) – in terms of research methodology and scholarly practice, a seemingly necessary and practical distinction. (Does Frye, e.g, pay much attention to smaller figures within a single text? Are larger structural approaches obliged to make multi-text comparisons, in order to convince? Can we make e.g. generic readings of a single text – if so, can we do so in terms of only one genre? How much of this is sheer practical necessity, how much is hide-bound scholarly convention (a “theory”), and how much due to basic laws of evidence and its use?
Yet on the other hand, impossible completely to divorce larger and smaller language structures? Frye talks about individual symbols all the time, and do the Jungian critics (hell, mother, dragon). The hero has particular characteristics, and in turn fits into a larger language structure of the quest, plot, (on which judgements of archetypes and genres are based).
1. Questions of theoretical borrowings, methodologies of
evidence, focus, goals etc: are these a matter purely of individual choice/freedom,
or are there parameters and constraints?
a. Which genre – lyric poetry begs micro-linguistic focus, novels or epics beg macro-structural one? (Test this – e.g. a thesis studying “Refrains and Choruses in Lyric Poetry”; an author-based study where lyric poetry is an important part, but only one part, of his/her oeuvre (e.g. Coleridge); a single-novel or single-epic study (Ulysses; Paradise Lost).
b. Certain (theoretical) assumptions about literature beg certain kinds of linguist evidence and emphases? Do theories which see literature as part of a larger social context (Marxist, ideological, intertextual, gendered approaches) tend to rely on large linguistic structures for evidence? Can there be exceptions to this rule (e.g. a psychoanalytic reading of a single author’s works, as part of a reading of a political unconscious?). Are there theories of literature which confine themselves to small tropes – stylistics? Psychological/psychoanalytic readings? “Great Tradition” readings of individual authorial styles?
c. Length of dissertation: can short dissertations prohibit larger structural analyses, and thus effectively beg a focus on micro-linguistic units?
2. The ‘vulnerability’ of micro-linguistic analyses – leading
up to what? (Is some larger entity – the author’s genius/style; gender
in society; language codes; power, ideology – indispensable? Why
is this – why the scholarly ‘preference’ for larger structural claims (conventions
or expectations of the coherence of scholarship? ‘So what’ questions?
‘Big is good’?).
Not necessarily a recourse to large extra-linguistic causes/referents (gender, ideology, capitalism) – but even an intra-linguistic referent seems to be required; e.g. an analysis of onomatopoeia and coined words to show the “peculiarity” of language, its self-referential playful possibilities (Derek Attridge); or a study of idiosyncratic invented language used to show the “violence” of language, its inherently disruptive and pathological quality (Jean-Jacques Lecercle).
So the distinction between larger-smaller linguistic elements should give way to questions of the methodological and evidentiary balance between micro- and macro-linguistic elements, which in turn should be determined by the goals, claims, and limitations of a particular thesis.
3. Style, individualism and the cult of the author
Style – defined by M. H. Abrams (Glossary of Lit. Terms) as “the manner of linguistic expression in prose or verse,” hence “the style of a particular work or writers,” “characteristic modes….”
Is a reading of literary style predisposed to highlight the individual, idiosyncratic qualities of a work or author? (If not, how do we avoid, or at least qualify/balance this?) If so, what are the research challenges or problems associated with this assumption of “particular” or “characteristic” qualities? (Does it require biographical study? What about authorial comments about own work – and how do we avoid “intentional fallacies”? What about value judgements, whether positive or negative – i.e. “criticism” in the practical/narrower sense of the word – can we avoid this, and if not, what justifies this in a scholarly (as opposed to commercial) context?)
Diction, phrasing, coined terms/words, frequency of certain words, rhyme, scansion – are these the literary equivalent of the author’s signature? (Barthes, Derrida, death and name of author).
4. Figure: often used loosely, to mean a) figurative language
devices, chief of which is often metaphor (but also simile, metonymy, synecdoche,
imagery, and other uses of language to depict one thing in terms of another
or several others); or b) an individual literary entity (character, event,
object) as physical/visual but also signifying (the figure of the Ancient
Mariner; figures of death); or c) figuration as a general aspect and activity
of language (figuring Dorian Gray).
As a), figural analysis has often been dominated by the philosophy of language – i.e. metaphor studies, questions of being, identity and difference (Paul Ricoeur, Karsten Harries and others), and also psychoanalytic approaches. Sometimes also incorporated into ekphrastic studies, if we may so term that branch of literary scholarship concerned with verbal-visual relations and problems (W. J. T. Mitchell etc).
As c), it often (though not always) leads to self-reflexive, deconstructive-inclined readings – the painting in the novel, the story about story-telling.
b) is the way it is often and most flexibly used in micro-linguistic literary studies. (Does Goh do this? What are the problems and limitations of his attempt?)
5. Symbol: often included under 4b above, where it means
something like image (i.e. the sign quality of the symbol – the cross,
chiasmus, interlocking, etc). But symbol differs from other visual
signs in that it has “widely shared associations between an object or even
or action and a particular concept” (Abrams) – sometimes just conventional
wisdom (peacock symbol of pride), but often scholarship relates symbolism
to larger human systems like religion, myth, folktales – so assoc. with
psychological and anthrop. studies.
Seminar 8 – Unconscious Traces
“Unconscious” is birthed in 1900, with the publication of Freud’s The
Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung) – popularized the notion, not
only of a hidden recess deep within one, but one that was in effect inaccessible
to the self, split off from a conscious social persona (Ego) whose essential
function was to repress and deny the Id. Emergence only in fragments
(jokes, cathexes, dreams, art) which might have coherence only to the analyst.
Perhaps because of its claims to being a science of the mind, psychoanalysis has a potentially broader application than literary studies alone – all cultural production (as expressions of individual unconsciousnesses), gender/sexuality studies (because of Freud’s fascination with desire and sexuality, prob. because of repressive/prudish nature of 19th C society), a political unconscious (then linked to Marxist notions of self-concealing ideology), intertextuality/archetypalism (as literary/artistic unconscious), etc.
1. The unconscious and/vs the hidden
Positing an “unconscious” latent in art resonates with a fundamental axiom about art and interpretation – the notion of multisemanticity, thus the active quest for deeper meanings (tied to classical philosophical notions of a difficult truth (Platonic), Christian exegesis and the struggle to comprehend infinite meaning (God) from within finite language/mind (Man), the classical rhetorical notion of the “sublime” (Longinus) as a special excellence in style that has a profound effect/meaning beyond simple paraphrase, hermeneutic traditions of a ‘secret’ authorial meaning encoded within language.
What are the research implications of the relationship between the unconscious and the ‘hidden’? Is psychoanalytic scholarship a branch of hermeneutics, or are there fruitful overlaps between the two? If they are significantly different, what research value is added by using notions of the unconscious as opposed to notions of hidden meaning?
2. Unconscious tropes – most frequently
a. Eros – desire unconstrained by conventional morality or values. Thus, a reading of desires considered illicit or taboo by society
b. Thanatos – death-instinct, weariness of striving/being. Likewise, a reading of implicit death-focussed narratives/actions
c. repression – the denial of id, and (signs of) the tension this causes. So, a reading focused on gestures of denial and containment, but signs too of their futility?
d. projection and introjection – transferring taboo qualities (desire, resentment) onto another person/entity, and absorbing approved qualities (e.g. of the Superego) into oneself. So, reading strategies concerned with the ways in which significance is vested in and carried by some ‘other’
e. condensation and displacement – the (linguistic/semantic/semiotic) strategies through which unconscious meanings get expressed in consciousness. Often associated with metaphor (collapsing multiple meanings into an overdetermined sign) and metonymy (deferring or transferring significance to another sign in a chain). A ‘microlinguistic’ research method, more appropriate to poetry?
f. abjection – like projection, transferring negative qualities onto an ‘other,’ but also associated with the repudiation and torment of that other. Often linked to ‘mother,’ and thus gender studies.
g. Oedipus conflicts, figured in resentment of/struggle against symbolic fathers (church, police, institutions)
3. Reading the unconscious
What problems, if any, are posed by scholarly methodology of psychoanalytic criticism – i.e. the clash between inaccessibility and interpretation; the limitations, if any, of ‘reading into’ a text (reading whom? The author – but also the reader/critic? In any case, what happens to readers – i.e. the phenomenology of reading, critical judgement (for all but the analyst), conventions and structures of meaning/reading?)
How might this affect thesis statements and research goals – i.e. what kind of a ‘reading’ can be offered, how articulated, and how demonstrated (i.e. what does the unconscious do to notions of ‘evidence’?)
4. Types/media of the unconscious
Is this scholarly and research methodology more usefully applied to certain kinds of texts – symbolic (overdetermined/suggestive), condensed, dream-like, cathectic/metaphorical? So lyric poetry; stream-of-consciousness novel; surreal/symbolist painting?
How about thematic concerns – predisposed to texts suggestive of repression, erotica, Oedipal struggle/rebellion, deep feelings, etc.
What other texts/themes/types might it be less remuneratively applied to? Political discourses? Social realism? Religious narratives? Architecture? Even if unconscious elements can be read in all of these, would psychoanalytic approaches have some opportunity cost relative to other emphases/methods (e.g. Marxist/materialist?)
5. Capitalism and schizophrenia
Worth mentioning, not only the fruitful collaborations that have arisen from Marxism and Psychoanalytic tropes (Jameson’s Political Unconscious), but also the work of Deleuze and Guattari, who are not interested in static tropes of the unconscious (they call their work “Anti-Oedipus”), but really in drives, channels and blockages of feelings, values, attitudes – they see capitalism as a social pathology (“ideology” is unconscious, but also repression, blockage, displacement etc), as well as a machinery for diverting anxieties and emotions.
Logical theoretical affiliation, given the “suspicious” hermeneutics of both Marxism and Psychoanalytic crit. – but still an extension-by-analogy, of a psych. model of the individual organic entity, to a social “machine,” an institution which is more than the sum of its human parts?
6. What’s ‘wrong’ with psychoanalysis?
Is a psychoanalytic research project committed to identifying the text/culture as pathological? What costs might there be in this, for research/critical purposes?
Important to realize that Freudian psychoanalysis is not the only possible psychological approach to lit./culture/arts – can we do this without the foregrounding of sexuality and pathology which are the (oft-criticised) hallmarks of psychoanalysis?
Seminar 9 – Othering: Gender, Class, Race, Sexuality
Awareness of “other” is awareness of self/subject, in the (dominant)
place of the self. Study of other not possible until a culture of
self-consciousness arises (Francoise Meltzer’s reading of the Unconscious
traces this to Hegel’s master-slave dialectic; Critical Terms for Literary
Study, ed. Lentricchia and McLaughlin). So, German philosophy in
early part of 19th C? – increasing awareness of the ‘tricks’ that the conscious
mind plays with itself – subreptions, hypostases, will-to-knowledge etc.
Arises in an age of social dislocation and disorientation, awareness of the schisms in society – on lines of class, economics, gender, race, politics, values, etc.
Other thus implies self to which the other is other – thus, a theory of dominance and its (various) constructions.
1. A number of theoretical confluences:
- Marxism (ideology, infrastructure)
- Psychoanalysis (Ego, repression, condensation/displacement)
- Feminism (phallocentrism in language, media, arts, culture)
- Colonial Discourse/Culture studies (white colonial discourses/assumptions)
- Institution/technology studies (power, technologies and structures as normalizing)
- Gay/lesbian studies (not merely sexual orientation, but its impact on knowledge, perception, values, narrative, notions of society/law/order etc)
- Poststructuralism (logocentrism and metaphysics as dominant orders; authorial intention or textual purpose/linearity as ‘normative’ reading, against which ‘other’ readings must be posited).
2. Strategies of reading “the other” (obviously these all
overlap with each other):
a. Most obviously, reading texts in order to centralize (or at least to call attention to) the marginal figures/meanings – Bertha Mason’s story in Jane Eyre; Fagin in Oliver Twist, etc. (What is required – extrapolation? Is this legitimate? If not extrapolation, then what – calling attention to a story that is not written, without actually writing it? For what purpose – how does this change our reading of the ‘dominant’ narrative?).
How far are we prepared to take this – Gollum’s story in LOTR? The unnamed guitarist’s story in the latest ‘NSync album? (What kind of factors – contextual, generic, socio-economic-political – do we expect to be in play, before we are prepared to deploy an other-centred reading?)
That might be called the ‘other in the text’ – we aren’t necessarily prepared to identify with the other, or to change the essential hierarchies/orderings of the text? What is accomplished (i.e. what is our scholarly/critical goal)?
b. ‘Othering the text’ – a more radical engagement, in which
the scholar/critic does do a certain extent identify with the marginal
position – which is not necessarily a figure in the text, but is a condition/context/perspective
in reading the text.
Much feminist criticism of this order – engages with the perspectives/technologies/frames of phallocentric texts (camera angles, narrative lines, editing, lighting, positioning/mise en scene, language, values, etc). Is this a political activism – a demand for change in media/culture? Is this only possible for contemporary texts – i.e. not possible as a critical goal for literary/art tradition?
c. Revisionist history/new historicism – rewriting history
from the point of view of the other (more common in new area studies?
E.g. a history of religion in Asia which is not written from white missionary
What’s the difference between this, and critical readings of historical literary/artistic texts? Does this suggest the different empowerment of writing vs. reading, of different scholarly disciplines, of types of publishing? Or is it a matter of setting different scholarly aims/goals, and using corresponding types of evidence, implying a corresponding readership?
d. Implying the other (via a dismantling of the self/subject)
– not centred on an other-figure in the text; nor necessarily a commitment
to a politics/perspective of the other (eg women/gays/Asians), nor a commitment
to writing a concrete history with new evidence.
More of a philosophical/moral project (inspired by continental philosophy – dialectical thinking, the critique of the subject) applied to discourses and texts.
e.g. studies of nationalisms? (What’s the ‘other’ of nations-states – fragmented linguistic/cultural communities? Is there any serious commitment to this? If not, then what is the scholarly goal of such critiques of the dominant?)
Or perhaps Marxist studies in the age of global capitalism (as distinct from Marxism in the mid-19th C)? What is the value (or goal, or scholarly aim) of a Marxist reading of MNC advertising or discourses – what is the ‘other’ of this (pre-global, pre-capital economies and cultures?).
3. The Postmodern problem – if narratives centralize otherness (e.g. Julian Barnes’s History of the World – a story told by insects), then what role is left for criticism? Can the (formerly) ‘dominant’ become the (new) ‘other’? What are the critical/scholarly problems/limitations of this?
4. Seidel and Wang: why does this article isolate “cyberculture”
as the domain of a racialized, marginalizing ideology? (fad, latest
thing? Or the appropriate narrative/thematic form for the study of
“fused conflicts inherent in the cyber-personality,” p. 19?) What
does the article seek to accomplish – that “we are all heterogeneous selves”
(p. 24)? What about the critical strategies employed – how does the
article read otherness in these texts?
What does this do to ‘otherness’ – does this suggest that (perhaps in an ideal world – but isn’t humanities scholarship fundamentally concerned with ideal values) the end/goal of other-studies/criticism is the end/eradication of otherness? Is this the ‘bad faith’ of such scholarship?