12 DP LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE PART 3 LITERATURE – TEXTS AND CONTEXTS
APPROACHES TO LITERATURE In western tradition, our reading and studying of literature originated in the 5th century BC with the Greeks. Since then, the study of literature has undergone great change and our approach to literature, its purposes and effects has expanded to incorporate many philosophical schools of thought. We will look at three approaches to literature: • Reader-response criticism • Formalism • Historical-biographical criticism
Reader-Response Criticism • Up until the 1930’s, it was accepted that all meaning resided within the text itself and the reader was not considered • Reader-Response interpretation of text acknowledges that the reader comes to a text with a context (personal history, culture and surroundings, literary training) that will influence interpretation of the given text • This approach acknowledges that different readers with different contexts and literary training will interpret texts differently. • Using reader-response criticism we understand that texts like The Reader, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and Nineteen Eighty Four would be subject to differing interpretations dependent upon context and literary training
Reader-Response Criticism Three Ideological Frameworks • Literary Training in ideological frameworks include (amongst others) Psychoanalytical literary criticism, Marxist literary criticism and Feminist literary criticism. • Psychoanalytical Literary Criticism is based on the ideas of the great psychologists (eg. Freud). Stories according to this criticism reveal internal conflicts of the author and the characters embody suppressed emotions. The settings in stories are full of symbols, representing hidden fears and anxieties. Storylines reflect internal struggles. • Marxist Literary Criticism is based on the ideologies of Karl Marx who believed that there is a constant struggle between the classes and that the working classes will eventually rise up. The distribution of power, or who has power becomes important in Marxist literary criticism.
Feminist Literary Criticism is a tradition of analysing texts that seeks to address gender inequalities. It considers closely how women are portrayed in literature and stereotypes around the representation of males and females in literature.
Reader-Response Criticisms ofThe Reader and ‘The Merchant…’ CONTEXT LITERARY TRAINING What aspects of your context contribute to your interpretation of The Reader? What aspects of your context contribute to your interpretation of ‘The Merchant of Venice’? Feminist Literary Training (one of many areas of literary training) argues that women in texts are presented alternatively as nurturning mothers /carers, dutiful daughters, sexual/passionate women or mad/bad women. Apply this to Hanna Apply this to Portia
Formalism • Formalists argue that a work of art is complete in itself, without the cultural baggage of the reader or the background of the author. Whilst this approach may be good for exercising literacy and analytical skills, it is not always the best approach for understanding an author’s intention.
Excerpt from The Reader From page 5: The old building was a tall, but with only four floors, a first floor of faceted sandstone blocks, and above it three floors of brickwork with sandstone arches, balconies, and window surrounds. Several steps led up to the first floor and the stairwell; they were wide at the bottom, narrower above, set between walls topped with iron banisters and curving outwards at street level. The front door was flanked by pillars, and from the corners of the architrave one lion looked up Bahnhofstrasse while another looked down. The entrance through which the woman had led me to the tap in the courtyard was at the side.
Reader-Response Criticism Versus Formalism Formalism Reader-Response Criticism If we consider the excerpt from page 5 of the reader using the approach of formalism, we are aware of imagery contributing to the setting of the story. Schlink’s description allows for a clear and detailed picture of the building Hanna lives in. We could, given the description sketch the building’s facade Use your own context, personal history and surroundings to interpret the passage on page 5. Are different readings of this passage available in the class?
Historical-Biographical Criticism • According to this approach we must have an understanding of the historical and biographical background of a text if we are to understand its wider implications and significance. This includes understanding something of the TIME a text belongs to and the ATTITUDES, BELIEFS AND VALUES around the text.
Applying Historical-Biographical Criticism • Use excerpt from page 5 again. What historical information influences our interpretation of this passage? What biographical information about Schlink influences our interpretation? • Discuss how historical-biographical criticism influences our interpretation of ‘The Merchant…’
REFERENCE Philpot, B. (2011). English Language and Literature. Cambridge University Press: UK.