Thinking About Texts: An Introduction to English Studies 9781350394551, 9780230516489

This successful introductory textbook simultaneously develops advanced skills in reading texts and the ability to think

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Thinking About Texts: An Introduction to English Studies
 9781350394551, 9780230516489

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128 THINKING ABOUT TEXTS 쏆 Read the following three extracts. What part does the author appear to play in each of these texts?

A.

Fielding, Tom Jones BOOK I CONTAINING AS MUCH OF THE BIRTH OF THE FOUNDLING AS IS NECESSARY OR PROPER TO ACQUAINT THE READER WITH IN THE BEGINNING OF THIS HISTORY Chapter I The Introduction to the Work, or Bill of Fare to the Feast

An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money. In the former case, it is well-known, that the entertainer provides what fare he pleases; and tho’ this should be very indifferent, and utterly disagreeable to the taste of his company, they must not find any fault; nay, on the contrary, good breeding forces them outwardly to approve and to commend whatever is set before them. Now the contrary happens to the master of an ordinary. Men who pay for what they eat, will insist on gratifying their palates, however nice and even whimsical these may prove; and if every thing is not agreeable to their taste, will challenge a right to censure, to abuse, and to d––n their dinner without controul. To prevent therefore giving offence to their customers by any such disappointment, it hath been usual, with the honest and well-meaning host, to provide a bill of fare, which all persons may peruse at their first entrance into the house; and, having thence acquainted themselves with the entertainment which they may expect, may either stay and regale with what is provided for them, or may depart to some other ordinary better accommodated to their taste. As we do not disdain to borrow wit or wisdom from any man who is capable of lending us either, we have condescended to take a hint from those honest victuallers, and shall prefix not only a general bill of fare to our whole entertainment, but shall likewise give the reader particular bills to every course which is to be served up in this and the ensuing volumes. The provision then which we have here made is not other than HUMAN NATURE. Nor do I fear that my sensible reader, though most luxurious in his taste, will start, cavil, or be offended because I have named but one article ... Nor can the learned reader be ignorant, that in Human Nature, tho’ here collected under one general name is such prodigious variety, that a cook will have sooner gone through all the several species of animal and vegetable food in the world, than an author will be able to exhaust so extensive a subject. From Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (1749), Book I, ch. 1. Extract from Penguin edn (1981), pp. 51–3.

TEXTS, AUTHORS, CRITICS, CREATIVE WRITING 129

B.

Austen, Persuasion Chapter 1

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kelynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs, changed naturally into pity and contempt, as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century – and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed – this was the page at which the favourite volume always opened. … Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation. He had been remarkably handsome in his youth; and, at fifty-four, was still a very fine man. Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did; nor could the valet of any new made lord be more delighted with the place he held in society. He considered the blessing of beauty as inferior only to the blessing of a baronetcy; and the Sir Walter Elliot, who united these gifts, was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion. From Jane Austen, Persuasion (1818), ch. 1. Extract from Penguin edn (1984), pp. 35–6.

C.

Richardson, Pamela Letter I

Dear Father and Mother, I have great trouble, and some comfort, to acquaint you with. The trouble is that my good lady died of the illness I mentioned to you, and left us all much grieved for the loss of her: she was a dear good lady, and kind to all us her servants. Much I feared, that as I was taken by her ladyship to wait upon her person, I should be quite destitute again, and forced to return to you and my poor mother, who have enough to do to maintain yourselves; and, as my lady’s goodness had put me to write and to cast accounts, and made me a little expert at my needle, and otherwise qualified above my degree, it was not every family that could have found a place that your poor Pamela was fit for: but God, whose graciousness to us we have so often experienced, put it into my good lady’s heart, just an hour before she expired, to recommend to my young master all her servants one by one; and when it came to my turn to be recommended (for I was sobbing and crying at her pillow), she could only say – ‘My dear son!’ and so broke off a little; and then recovering, ‘Remember my poor Pamela.’ – And these were some of her last words. O how my eyes run! Don’t wonder to see the paper so blotted. From Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740), Letter 1. Extract from Penguin (1985), pp. 43–4.

130 THINKING ABOUT TEXTS

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¶DQFLOODU\ DFWLYLW\·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ÀF WH[WVDQGWRGHYHORSIXUWKHUXQGHUVWDQGLQJRIZKDWPDNHVLQWHUSUHWDWLRQSRVVLEOH +DYLQJHVWDEOLVKHGVRPHVHQVHRIZKDWFULWLFVFDQGRLQWKHUHODWLYHO\OLWHUDO VHQVH ZKDWDFWVFDQWKH\SHUIRUPRQWH[WV²RURQWKHFRGHVXQGHUO\LQJWH[WV  ZHFDQPRYHRQWRDVN¶:KDWGR&ULWLFVGR"·LQDVOLJKWO\GLIIHUHQWVHQVHZKDW GRFULWLFVDFKLHYHZKDWLVWKHLUIXQFWLRQ" 쏆 Read the following three passages about criticism: What are their visions of the function of the critic?

Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism You then whose judgement the right course would steer, Know well each ancient’s proper character; His fable, subject, scope in every page; Religion, country, genius of his age: Without all these at once before your eyes, Cavil you may, but never criticise. Be Homer’s works your study and delight, Read them by day, and meditate by night; Thence form your judgement, thence your maxims bring, And trace the Muses upwards to their spring. … Some beauties yet no precepts can declare, For there’s a happiness as well as care.

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Music resembles poetry, in each Are nameless graces which no methods teach, And which a master hand alone can reach. If, where the rules not far enough extend (Since rules were made but to promote their end) Some lucky license answers to the full The intent proposed, that license is a rule. … Great wits sometimes may gloriously offend, And rise to faults true critics dare not mend; But though the antients thus their rules invade (As kings dispense with rules themselves have made) Moderns, beware! or if you must offend Against the precept, ne’er transgress its end; Let it be seldom, and compelled by need; And have at least their precedent to plead. The critic else proceeds without remorse, Seizes your fame, and puts his laws in force. From Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, Part I (1709, 1711), ll. 119–27, 141–50, 159–68.

T. S. Eliot, ‘The Necessity of Criticism’ The important moment for the appearance of criticism seems to be the time when poetry ceases to be the expression of the mind of a whole people. The drama of Dryden, which furnishes the chief occasion for his critical writing, is formed by Dryden’s perception that the possibilities of writing in the mode of Shakespeare were exhausted ... But Dryden was not writing plays for the whole people; he was writing in a form which had not grown out of popular tradition or popular requirements, a form the acceptance of which had therefore to come by diffusion through a small society ... But the part of society to which Dryden’s work, and that of the Restoration comedians, could immediately appeal constituted something like an intellectual aristocracy; when the poet finds himself in an age in which there is no intellectual aristocracy, when power is in the hands of a class so democratised that whilst still a class it represents itself to be the whole nation; when the only alternatives seem to be to talk to a coterie or to soliloquise, the difficulties of the poet and the necessity of criticism become greater ... From T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kesmode (1975), p. 79.

Terry Eagleton, ‘The Function of Criticism’ Perhaps I could best describe the impulse behind this book by imagining the moment in which a critic, sitting down to begin a study of some theme or author, is suddenly arrested by a set of disturbing questions. What is the point of such a

174 THINKING ABOUT TEXTS study? Who is it intended to reach, influence, impress? What functions are ascribed to such a critical act by society as a whole? A critic may write with assurance as long as the critical institution itself is thought to be unproblematical. Once that institution is thrown into radical question, then one would expect individual acts of criticism to become troubled and self-doubting. The fact that such acts continue today, apparently in all their traditional confidence, is doubtless a sign that the crisis of the critical institution has either not been deeply enough registered, or is being actively evaded. The argument of this book is that criticism today lacks all substantive social function. It is either part of the public relations branch of the literary industry, or a matter wholly internal to the academies. That this has not always been the case, and that it need not even today be the case, I try to show by a drastically selective history of the institution of criticism in England since the early eighteenth century ... I examine this history as a way of raising the question of what substantive social functions criticism might once again fulfil in our own time, beyond its crucial role of maintaining from within the academies a critique of ruling-class culture. From Terry Eagleton, Preface to The Function of Criticism – from ‘The Spectator’ to Poststructuralism (London, 1984), pp. 8–9.

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176 THINKING ABOUT TEXTS 7KHVH SDVVDJHV FRYHU D UDQJH RI SRVVLEOH DQVZHUV WR WKH TXHVWLRQ ¶:KDW GR FULWLFV GR"· ,Q WKHVH H[DPSOHV FULWLFV FDQ MXGJH DQG GLVFULPLQDWH WKH\ FDQ GLVVHPLQDWHNQRZOHGJHWKH\FDQEHIRVVLOVZLWKQRIXQFWLRQWKH\FDQEHDYLWDO SRLQWRIUHÁ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¶ZKDWLVWKHSRLQWRIVXFKDVWXG\"· 7KLVVHFWLRQVWDUWHGZLWKWKHDVVXPSWLRQWKDWWKHPRVWOLNHO\UHDGHURIWKLV ERRNZDVDOUHDG\OLNHO\WREHDFULWLF²WREHOLYLQJRXWVRPHRIWKHSUREOHPVUDLVHG WKURXJK WKHLU RZQ H[SHULHQFH :KDW ZH KDYH QRW VR IDU FRQVLGHUHG LV ZKHWKHU FULWLFLVPLVLQIDFWQHFHVVDU\DWDOO(OLRWVXJJHVWVWKDWWKHUHZDVOLWWOHQHHGIRUFULWL FLVPEHIRUH'U\GHQ(DJOHWRQVXJJHVWVWKDWFXUUHQWFULWLFLVPGRHVQRWVXFFHHGLQ IXOÀOOLQJDQHHG7KHVHFWLRQZLOOHQGZLWKDWH[WZKLFKDUJXHVDJDLQVWLQWHUSUHWD WLYHFULWLFLVPDQGZLWKDFKDQFHWRWHVWDJDLQVWWKLV\RXURZQVHQVHRIZKDWFULWL FLVPLVIRURIZKDW\RXGRRUFRXOGGRZKHQ\RXDFWDVDFULWLF$VXVXDO,ZLOO OHDYH\RXDWWKLVVWDJHWRZRUNWKURXJK\RXUDQVZHUV\RXUVHOYHV 쏆 Read the following passages taken from Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, and then consider what your responses to the following questions are. 쏆 How much sympathy do you feel for her argument? 쏆 If you feel that criticism is useful, how would you justify it as an activity? 쏆 What kind of critic are you? What do you try to achieve through criticism?

Susan Sontag, ‘Against Interpretation’ III The old style of interpretation [e.g. allegorical interpretation of biblical narratives] was insistent but respectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one. The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates destroys; it digs ‘behind’ the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one. The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to ... aggressive and impious theories of interpretation ... To understand is to interpret. And to interpret is to restate the phenomenon, in effect to find an equivalent for it. Thus interpretation is not ... an absolute value, a gesture of mind situated in some timeless realm of capabilities. Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness. In some cultural contexts,

TEXTS, AUTHORS, CRITICS, CREATIVE WRITING 177

interpretation is a liberating act. It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling.

IV Today is such a time ... Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art poisons our sensibilities. In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world – in order to set up a shallow world of ‘meanings’ ... The world, our world, is depleted, impoverished enough. Away with all duplicates of it, until we again experience more immediately what we have. …

VIII What kind of criticism, of commentary on the arts, is desirable today? ... What would criticism look like that would serve the work of art, not usurp its place? ... Valuable would be acts of criticism which would supply a really accurate sharp, loving description of the appearance of a work of art ...

IX Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art – and in criticism – today. Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing itself, of things being what they are ... What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more ... The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.

X In place of a hermeneutics [a systematic mode of discovering meaning] we need an erotics of art. From Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1965), pp. 3–14; these extracts are from the essay’s sections III, IV, VIII, IX, X, pp. 6, 7, 13–14.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby And then came that disconcerting ride. We hadn’t reached West Egg village before Gatsby began leaving his elegant sentences unfinished ... ‘Look here, old sport,’ he broke out surprisingly, ‘what’s your opinion of me, anyhow?’ A little overwhelmed, I began the generalised evasions which that question deserves. ‘Well, I’m going to tell you something about my life,’ he interrupted. ‘I don’t want you to get a wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear ... I’ll tell you God’s truth.’ His right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by. ‘I am the son of some wealthy people in the Middle West – all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford, because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition.’ He looked at me sideways – and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. He hurried the phrase ‘educated at Oxford’, or swallowed it, or choked on it as though it had bothered him before. And with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces, and I wondered if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him after all. ‘What part of the Middle West?’ I enquired casually. ‘San Francisco.’ ‘I see.’

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‘My family all died and I came into a good deal of money.’ His voice was solemn, as if the memory of that sudden extinction of a clan still haunted him. For a moment I suspected that he was pulling my leg, but a glance at him convinced me otherwise. ‘After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe – Paris, Venice, Rome – collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago.’ With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter. The very phrases were worn so threadbare that they evoked no image except that of a turbaned ‘character’ leaking sawdust at every pore as he pursued a tiger though the Bois de Boulogne. ‘Then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief, and I tried very hard to die, but I seemed to bear an enchanted life. I accepted a commission as first lieutenant when it began. In the Argonne Forest I took the remains of my machine-gun battalion so far forward that there was a half-mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn’t advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty men with Lewis guns, and when the infantry came at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major, and every Allied government gave me a decoration – even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!’ ... My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines. He reached in his pocket, and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm. ‘That’s the one from Montenegro.’ To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look. ‘Orderi di Danilo,’ ran the circular legend, ‘Montenegro, Nicholas Rex.’ ‘Turn it.’ ‘Major Jay Gatsby,’ I read, ‘For Valour Extraordinary.’ ‘Here’s another thing I always carry. A souvenir of Oxford days. It was taken in Trinity Quad – the man on my left is now the Earl of Doncaster.’ It was a photograph of half a dozen young men in blazers loafing in an archway through which were visible a host of spires. There was Gatsby, looking a little, not much, younger – with a cricket bat in his hand. Then it was all true. I saw the skins of tigers flaming in his palace on the Grand Canal; I saw him opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson lighted depths, the gnawings of his broken heart. From F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1926). Extract from the Penguin edn (1982), pp. 70–3.

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320 THINKING ABOUT TEXTS 쏆 Read the following passage from a psychology book about developments in approaching identity in that subject: How relevant to literary study are the concerns it summarises?

Edward E. Sampson, ‘Foundations for a Textual Analysis of Selfhood’ Whatever else it may do, psychology’s task is to study the individual and to develop the laws of his or her functioning. Psychology has implicitly assumed that this object of its enquiry is a natural entity with attributes that psychology can empirically study. My aim in this chapter is the critical analysis of that very familiar and taken-for-granted object of enquiry, the individual person that is psychology’s subject. In this, I am carrying forward some of my previous work (e.g. Sampson, 1977), in which I described the special quality of the American ideal ... as a self-contained individualism. This refers to the firmly bounded, highly individuated conception of personhood, most aptly described by Geertz (1973, 1979) in the following passage: ■ The Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgement and action, organised into a distinctive whole and set contrastively against other such wholes and against a social and natural background is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures. (Geertz, 1979, p. 229) ■ At least six discernible challenges to this commonly assumed subject of psychological inquiry have appeared. (1) Cross-cultural investigation has suggested the peculiarity of the current North American view and has uncovered several significant, less individuated, alternatives ... (2) Feminist reconceptualisations of the patriarchal version of social, historical and psychological life have introduced some strikingly different views of personhood ... (3) Social constructionism has amplified the earlier ideas of Mead (1934), arguing that selves, persons, psychological traits and so forth, including the very idea of individual psychological traits, are social and historical constructions, not naturally occurring objects. Constructionism casts grave doubts about the inevitability of the currently dominant Western version ... (4) Systems theory has presented an epistemological position in which ontological primacy is granted to relations rather than to individual entities ... (5) Critical theory, originating in the Frankfurt School tradition, has located the current North American conception in the heartland of advanced capitalist ideology. These theorists ... also force us to consider the possibility that psychology’s subject is a character designed primarily to serve ideological purposes ... (6) Deconstructionism, a relatively recent perspective developed within post-structuralist literary criticism and linguistic analysis, has challenged all notions that involve the primacy of the subject (or author) ...

IDENTITIES 321

The resistance of North American psychology to modify its assumptions in the light of these devastating challenges is truly amazing. ... From Texts of Identity, eds. John Shotter and Kenneth J. Gergen (1989), pp. 1–3.

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