This is a core elective literature class in the McGhee division of New York University
Major Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Writers is an introduction to the work of significant global writers from early Modernism to the twenty-first century in the Anglo-American, European, South American, Islamic, and Asian clusters. Most of these writers have won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, Dublin IMPAC, the Prix Goncourt, or others, and almost all have been censored by someone at some time. These books also represent a wide range of styles including naturalist, realist, fantasy, science-fiction, modernist, minimalist, post-modern, terrorist, and eco-literary, covering a fascinating time period through two World Wars, utopias and dystopias, terrorism, media proliferation, and incredible innovation and destruction because of science, technology and the ravages of nature. Studying global literature allows us to dig deeper beneath the surface of global affairs and to plunge into the heart and soul of courageous, creative writers who dared defy the norm and transgress societal taboos in their pursuit of art and truth. This semester we will explore how great authors treat the themes of love, sex, power, and perversion across cultures with humor and compassion for an in-depth study of characterization and an overview of twentieth century cultural history.
Buy and peruse all books on the reading list--some are very short.
There are no course prerequisites as Major Twentieth Century Writers is open to all majors. However, it helps if you have already completed the basic writing courses and are comfortable with a challenging reading list.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, The Lover by Duras, Lolita by Nabokov, Perfume by Patrick Suskind, The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi, God Dies by the Nile by Nawal el Saadawi, My Name is Red or Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates, One Man's Bible or Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjiang, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, No Exit by Sartre, The Desert by JMG Le Clezio or The Sand Child by Tahar ben Jelloun.
Close Textual Analysis on the weekly book must be submitted to the Drop Box in Resources by Monday 9am.
Midterm is the expanded, enriched, edited version of at least 4CTs and threaded by forum posts.
Final paper is an expanded version of the midterm, with 4 more CTs threaded by forums posts and your evolving thesis.
CTs are due in the Drop Box every Monday before 9 am, including midterms and finals.
January 26: Introductory lecture on cultural history and format for close textual analysis. What is your global perspective? What kind of characters do you want to develop, explore, and perform? Study the syllabus, look over all the books, and decide what path you want to take this semester. Begin reading the first cluster, Feast of the Goat and Lolita.
Feburary 2: Lolita. Does beautiful language mitigate the horror and disgust about the content of pedophilia?
February 9: Love in the Time of Cholera. Is romantic love a contagious disease? What happens to love's delusions and illusions with aging?
Feburary 16: Feast of the Goat. Can a leader be great if his flaws are as formidable as Trujillo's lust, cruelty, and abuse of young girls?
February 23: No Exit. How can a static threesome thwart true love and turn everyone into monsters?
March 2: The Lover. What happens when the victim of racism is the rich guy and the colonialists are impoverished?
March 9: Perfume. A serial killer who steals the scent of his victims is an original premise but how does this novel about eighteenth century Paris written by a contemporary German tell us about twentieth century narcissism?
March 16: MIDTERMS DUE.
March 23: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.
March 30: Soul Mountain or One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjiang.
April 6: Patience Stone. What kind of a relationship can one have with a comatose person? How different is this Afghan woman from other characters?
April 13: God Dies by the Nile. What is different about the way people love and abuse each other in this Egyptian village? How is religion used to achieve sexual goals?
April 20: Museum of Innocence or My Name is Red.
April 27: Sand Child or The Desert
May 4: Black Water. How do recursive narrative, repetition, and third person limited point of view turn the Kennedy horror into a fictional meditation on love and a powerful monster? How does a young girl's Oedipal transfer incriminate her? Or not?
May 11: The Bluest Eye. How do racism and lookism color the lovers and monsters?
May 18: Final Papers due. Revised midterm with four additional CTs and expanded personal essay with more comparison and contrast.
Introductory Lesson and Overview of Course Content by Professor Julia Keefer
The Twentieth Century was a century of tumultuous opposites: self versus state, psychoanalysis versus fascism, positive rationalism versus surrealism and Dadaism, technological advancement versus return-to-nature, science versus art, and love against death.
Lovers and other Monsters explores the underbelly of Power, Politics, and Progress that characterizes the twentieth century through a cross-cultural selection of novels and plays written by winners of the Nobel Prize, the IMPAC, the Pulitzer, and the Goncourt.
FRENCH: No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre 1944
Three damned souls, Garcin, an army deserter, Ines, a cruel lesbian, and Estelle, a baby-killer meet in hell depicted as a Second Empire Drawing Room where sleep, dreams, and change of any kind are denied and these three misfits must torment each other for eternity. This one-act play, written at the end of the occupation in Paris in World War II, is also a dramatic manifesto of Sartre’s existentialist philosophy with maxims like “Man is the sum of his actions, Hell is other people, etc.”
RUSSIAN: Lolita by Nabokov 1955
This exquisitely written novel is in the voice of Humbert Humbert, the pedophile protagonist whose erudite language and meticulous descriptions mask the perversity of his intentions, actions, and thoughts although the precious Lolita also uses the older men for her own designs.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 1970
This was Morrison’s first novel, a raw, beautiful, and bitter book about racism, lookism, and sexual abuse written in her distinctive style which won her the Nobel Prize.
EGYPTIAN: The Death of the Only Man on Earth Beirut 1974 was Nawal el Saadawi’s original God Dies by the Nile and blends a picturesque journey of the Egyptian sun through its diurnal light and darkness as a witness to atrocious deeds committed by the powerful men in the small village of Kafr el Teen.
FRENCH: The Lover by Marguerite Duras 1984
As a seventy year old woman, Duras looked back on an affair she had with a Chinese millionaire when she lived as a teenage girl
COLOMBIAN: Love in the Time of Cholera by GG Marquez 1985
This story takes place between 1880 and 1930 in the Caribbean. Florentino and Fermina fall in love in their youth but fate and finances separate them until old age when they are finally reunited on a cholera ship. Marquez compares the trajectory of romantic love to a disease like cholera and yet at the end of his life, he said there was nothing more important than love.
GERMAN: Perfume by Patrick Suskind 1985
This is an historical thriller that takes place in eighteenth century Paris about an orphan Grenouille who lacked a smell himself but became a parfumer
GLOBAL: Lovers and other Monsters, ed. By M. Kaye 1992 (Doubleday Asimov, Poe, Wharton, Wells, Doyle et al)
AMERICAN: Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates 1992
Kelly Kelleher’s liturgical death is told in a recursive, repetitive third person style with modernist and postmodern techniques as the gas and water from the swamp seep into the inside of the car that her “date” The Senator crashed because of his excessive drinking at the party, a story that satirizes Chappaquiddick where Senator Kennedy may have done the same thing with Mary Jo who also died in the carr.
CHINESE: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie 2000
Beijing censorship meets the need of young boys to explore the world through books as they also fall in love with a little seamstress and want to share with her all their forbidden fruits.
PERUVIAN: Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa 2000
A three-pronged tandem competitive narrative situates the assassination of Trujillo against a framed story where Urania, a New York lawyer, returns to the Dominican Republic to see her aged, demented father who compromised her virginity years ago in order to please Trujillo. Here is a real monster!
AFGHANISTAN: The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi 2008
An unnamed archetypal Afghan woman nurses her comatose wounded warrior husband as shooting and various commotions from the war outside occasionally interrupt her long monologue where she reveals the secrets of her life to her “patience stone” until he explodes.
TURKISH: Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk 2009
Pamuk looks back on young, wealthy Turkish people in the seventies, describing how they lived, and how the protagonist collected all the mundane clothes, jewels, and even cigarette butts of his love Fusun in order to put them in a museum which now exists in Istanbul.
|Introduction to Close Textual Analysis|
Meter in poetry or grammar, sentence length, paragraph progression in prose
Rhythm in stressed and unstressed syllables
Rhyme where applicable
Tone Color including alliteration, assonance, consonance and onomatopoeia
Figures of Speech including metaphors, similes, personification, analogy
|The Music of Words|
Read aloud your triple-spaced passage and note the sentence length, paragraph progression or prosody in poetry. How long or short are the lines, sentences, and paragraphs? What effect does this have? Always relate form to the overall meaning. In translated works, you can still analyze the length of lines, sentences and paragraphs but not the exact meter, rhythm or tone color. These are reserved for works written in English.
Meter is analyzed in terms of metric feet--iamb,u_ trochee,_u anapest, uu_dactyllic, _uu, spondee, __pyrrhic,uu. Most British poetry is written in iambic pentameter. A spondee has a finality about it while a pyrrhic is light, an anapest is a waltz rhythm, and a trochee makes you stop and think backwards.
Rhymes can come at the end of the line and a rhyme scheme can look like this A B A B C D E C D E FF, refering to the end of the line, but rhymes can also be internal. In Part III of my trilogy I have the Electoweak Force narrator talk in rhymes because it mimics the electrons. What do rhymes do to the meaning of the piece?
Words are letters taking up space on a page that when read aloud form a pattern in time. What is the overall affect of this pattern related to the meaning of the book?
Tone color relates to the sound of the words, like movement quality amplifies dance, resonance music, and color painting. Alliteration is the repetition of the first sound like "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." Consonance is the repetition of consonants like "Sister Suzie sells seashells down by the seashore." Assonance is the repetition of vowels like "How now, brown cow." Onomatopoeia occurs when the tone color mimics the sound of the thing described, such as "babbling brook." There are many categories of tone color, but see how the style determines how you feel about the characters and their thoughts and actions and how you experience the setting.
Again tone color is best evaluated in original, not translated works.
|Figures of Speech|
Using selections from All Quiet on the Western Front as examples, please review the following to help you with close textual analysis:
Humor, with metaphor: "My arms have grown wings and I'm almost afraid of going up into the sky, as though I held a couple of captive balloons in my fists."
Personification: "The wind plays with our hair; it plays with our words and thoughts."
"Over us Chance hovers."
Euphemism: "At the same time he ventilates his backside." "All at once he remembers his school days and finishes hastily:'he wants to leave the room sister.'"
Imagery: "To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often forever." (and personification) "The front is a cage in which we must await fearfully whatever may happen."
Antithesis: "A man dreams of a miracle and wakes up to loaves of bread."
Parallel Construction: "My feet begin to move forward in my boots, I go quicker, I run."
Simile: "He had collapsed like a rotten tree."
Metaphor: "Immediately a second [searchlight] is behind him, a black insect is caught between them and tries to escape--the airman.]
Liturgical prose: "Our being, almost utterly carried away by the fury of the storm, streams back through our hands from thee, and we, thy redeemed ones, bury ourselves in thee, and through the long minutes in a mute agony of hope bite into thee with our lips!"
Apostrophe: "Ah! Mother, Mother! You still think I am a child--why can I not put my head in your lap and weep?"
Allusion: "The guns and the wagons float past the dim background of the moonlit landscape, the riders in the steel helmets resemble knights of a forgotten time; it is strangely beautiful and arresting."
Hyperbole: "They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting things there are anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades."
Rhetorical question: "If one wants to appraise it, it is at once heroic and banal--but who wants to do that?"
Aphorism: "...terror can be endured so long as a man simply ducks--but it kills, if a man thinks about it."
Symbolism: "I pass over the bridge, I look right and left; the water is as full of weeds as ever."
Foreshadowing: "On the landing I stumble over my pack, which lies there already made up because I have to leave early in the morning."
Doggerel: "Give 'em all the same grub and all the same pay."
Short Utterances: "Life is short." (Analyse for rhythm and effect.)
Cause and Effect: "They have taken us farther back than usual to a field depot so that we can be re-organized."
Irony: "...a high double wall of yellow, unpolished, brand-new coffins. They still smell of resin, and piine, and the forest."
Appositive: "Thus momentarily we have the two things a soldier needs for contentment: good food and rest."
Caesura: "It is all a matter of habit--even the front-line."
Onomatopoeia: "The man gurgles."
Alliteration: "The satisfaction of months shines in his dull pig's eyes as he spits out: 'Dirty hound'"
Euphony: "Now red points glow in every face. They comfort me: it looks as though there were little windows in dark village cottages saying that behind them are rooms full of peace."
Cacophony: "The storm lashes us, out of the confusion of grey and yellow the hail of splinters whips forth the child-like cries of the wounded, and in the night shattered life groans painfully into silence."
Slang: "And now get on with it, you old blubber-sticker, and don't you miscount either." "That cooked his goose."
Rhetorical devices also include the syllogisms, logical fallacies etc explained at www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/brain/argue.html.
Critics analyze in reverse of how many writers create, except poets, who often start with language and word games.
Meter in poetry or grammar, sentence length, paragraph progression in prose
Rhythm in stressed and unstressed syllables
Rhyme where applicable
Tone Color including alliteration, assonance, consonance and onomatopoeia
Figures of Speech including metaphors, similes, personification, analogy
|Compare/Contrast Connotative Analysis|
Close Textual Analysis: Black Water, by Joyce Carol Oates and The Patience Stone, by Atiq Rahimi
June 21st, 2012
Paperback edition – page 61
[Senator assumes dominant role by “telling” Kelly to use his first name, rather than “asking”; caesura, “diminutive” first name implies familiarity, closeness, or is it the Senator just being a politician?]
[Fragmented sentence and use of “somehow just yet” relays Kelly’s uncertainty]
[Is alcohol what gets between them by causing the accident?][Descriptive, foreboding imagery of his tongue and her impending death, “choke” first negative word used to describe the Senator in this passsage]
[Fragmented pre-colon sentence, almost poetic long sentence structure follows; careful use of the words “immune,” “powerful” and “adult”; consonance with “manly man” and underlying tone of fear, distrust, awe of men]
[Political title and position also relay power imbalance; consonance with “famous face”; usually someone or something “empowers” a person but he is just “empowered”; improper grammar with split infinitive “to not merely” instead of “not to merely” gives this sentence a political speech-like or liturgical prose-like quality (or it is just a typo!)]
[Continued relaying of power imbalance, poetic rhythmic portion of the sentence; “manipulate” is the second negative word applied to the Senator in this passage despite underlying tone of awe applied to him]
[“Dedication to social reform” and “humanitarian” have positive undertones showing Kelly’s underlying sense of admiration for this older, famous and more powerful man]
[Foreboding sentence, casual discussion-like language transitions from sounding editorial to a discussion inside of Kelly’s own mind centered on making peace with her decision to leave with him]
The Patience Stone
Kindle Edition, page 108 & 109
1. The woman is still sitting in the same place. She stays there a long time, without a glance at the
[-------the “woman” is never named---------] [Sentence structure is simple but emotive------------
2. green curtain. Her eyes fill with tears. Her body huddles up. She wraps her arms around her
[Reference to the green curtain and the husband who lies behind it] [Short utterances, visual imagery of grief, physical hurt, self-protection and self-comfort
3. knees, tucks in her head and wails. A single, heartbreaking wail.
--------------------------------------------] [short utterance, poetic, powerful and animalistic]
4. A breeze flutters, as if in response to her cry, lifting the curtains to let the gray fog flood the room
[Personification, does the breeze, the gray fog represent God?] [consonance]
6. The woman raises her head. Slowly. She does not stand. She still doesn’t raise her eyes to the
[Use of short utterances and sentence fragments to build tension and rhythm, the woman is beginning to reemerge, reborn]
7. green curtain. She doesn’t dare.
[visual imagery, her husband is represented by the green curtain again here] [Short utterance and consonance]
8. She stares down at the crumpled notes scattering in the breeze.
[Is the money she is left in exchange for sex is symbolic of her freedom?]
9. Cold or emotion, tears or terror makes her breath come in gasps. She is shaking.
[Rhythmic sentence structure, confusion of her emotions, use of consonance and cause and effect, return to slightly longer sentence structure; short utterance follows]
10. Eventually she gets to her feet, and rushes into the passage, to the toilet. She washes, and
[Use of euphony; gives the sentence a song-like structure; sentence also has a parallel construction]
11. changes her dress. Reappears. Dressed in green and white. Looking more serene.
[Washing and change of clothes symbolic of a broader change in the woman? Back to short utterance structure, and use of visual imagery, the color green is symbolic of life, nature, rebirth and Islam]
Close Textual Analysis:
Black Water, by Joyce Carol Oates, is a heart-wrenching tale of a young woman named Kelly who drowns in an automobile that is carelessly piloted by a drunken U.S. Senator. Kelly’s story is told in the third person but it features flashes of the memories that swamp her mind as she slowly suffocates inside of a car at the bottom of a black lagoon. Kelly is smart, but she is also young and thus lacks experience. She is attractive, but she is not stunning and thus lacks self-confidence. She is eager and well-intended, but she is also susceptible to outside influences. When she meets the Senator, a man who was the focus of her college thesis, she is awed. When he seeks her attention in return, Kelly’s story unfolds. In the telling of Kelly’s tale, Oates explores the ever-resonant themes of power imbalances, particularly between men and women, and the unfortunate influence of societal pressures.
The passage cited above from Black Water embodies these two themes. The passage begins as Kelly first recalls her initial encounter with the Senator, when he told her to call him by his “first name – his diminutive first name - of course” (line 1). This is the first intimation of intimacy between them, an intimacy that the Senator initiates by requesting that she use his shortened first name. The reader never learns the Senator’s name, however, as Kelly doesn’t feel comfortable addressing him with anything other than his formal title: “but somehow just yet Kelly had not been able to oblige” (line 2). That Kelly cannot “just yet” see him as anything other than a great man with a terribly important title, despite the casual approach he takes with her throughout the story, demonstrates the power imbalance between them. The words “just yet” in this sentence are deliberate on Oates’ part: Kelly desperately holds onto her image of the Senator as a mighty man even while she slowly dies as a result of his actions, but she eventually comes to realize that he has abandoned her to save himself.
The Senator seems to key-in immediately on Kelly’s almost worshipful view of him and he seeks her affections in return. The sexual tension between them is palpable in this passage, as Oates rhythmically writes: “such intimacy, together in the bouncing jolting car” (line 3). And yet there is a clear undertone of disgust that begins to emerge as well in this passage, serving as an ominous and foreboding sign: Kelly recalls the Senator boldly approaching her earlier in the day and stealing a kiss: “beery kisses, that tongue thick enough to choke you” (line 4). That he feels he can approach her and kiss her aggressively so early in their relationship, practically “choking” her in the process, again suggests the presence of a power imbalance. Oates also uses the visual imagery of the Senator’s “thick” tongue as an analogy for his masculinity. It is his masculine desire to sleep with Kelly – driving recklessly in part to accomplish this goal – that leads to Kelly actually “choking” to death. This particular sentence fragment also represents a shift in dramatic structure, as Kelly and the Senator’s flirtatious and exciting initial relationship now has the markings of a more adversarial and ugly one.
The power imbalance between Kelly and the Senator is also present in the descriptions Oates applies to the Senator. These descriptions sound editorial, as if they might appear in newspaper clippings, and they also clearly help to form the images Kelly has of the Senator in her own mind. Oates writes, “here was one of the immune, beside her: he, one of the powerful adults of the world, manly man” (line 5). Oates also writes, “U.S. Senator, a famous face and a tangled history, empowered to not merely endure history but to guide it, control it, manipulate it to his own ends” (lines 6 and 7). In describing the Senator as a “manly man” with a “famous face,” Oates uses powerful consonant word pairings to underscore the elevated view Kelly has of the Senator. Because they are also mingled with a journalistic writing style, there is an implication that the media has influenced Kelly’s lofty view of the man and hence her decision to be with him that evening. In these sentences, Oates details more cracks in the Senator’s persona and Kelly’s view of him when Oates uses words like “tangled,” “control,” and “manipulate.” When Oates describes the Senator as “one of the immune,” she paints a picture of what will come: he will survive, and probably even continue to thrive, while Kelly’s death is nearly a foregone conclusion. This “immune” man sits “beside” Kelly, again delineating their two very different positions, both literally and figuratively.
The Senator represents both the stereotypical powerful and older man and the stereotypical politician. He is handsome (and of course tall!), but fraying a bit around the edges in his older age. He is confident and accustomed to being the center of attention. In these ways, he is quite the opposite of Kelly, again underscoring their uneven positions. Oates describes the Senator using a journalistic and somewhat poetic style as “…an old-style liberal Democrat out of the 1960’s, a Great Society man with a stubborn and zealous dedication to social reform seemingly not embittered or broken or even greatly surprised at the opposition his humanitarian ideas aroused in the America of the waning years of the twentieth century…” (lines 7, 8, 9 and 10). The Senator, while appearing to be a man who fights for the rights of the underprivileged, is later revealed as a typical hypocritical politician. This is made obvious by his decision to kick Kelly to save himself from the sinking automobile, thinking only of his reputation and making no attempt to save Kelly’s life. Again Oates uses the word “seemingly” deliberately, emphasizing how little we know of the Senator’s underbelly relative to his “humanitarian” public image. Oates also uses the words “stubborn” and “zealous” in a positive sentence, and yet these words still have their negative connotations.
Kelly allows herself to drive with the drunken Senator. Oates notes the “giddy smell of alcohol pungent between them” in the car (lines 3 and 4). Kelly has observed the Senator drinking excessively throughout the day, and even agrees to carry a spare drink for him on their doomed drive. She isn’t a stupid woman. In fact, she is rather smart. Yet she succumbs to his wishes and agrees to leave with him because she knows that this is a man who is accustomed to getting his way, and if she doesn’t oblige, she won’t see him again. This dynamic again emphasizes the power imbalance between them and the Senator’s exploitation of that imbalance. Kelly is also foolishly influenced by her horoscope (of all things!), which said, “Too much caution in revealing your impulses and desires to others! For once demand YOUR wishes and get YOUR own way! Your stars are wildly romantic now, Scorpio, after a period of disappointment – GO FOR IT!” (Page 13). The behavior of Kelly’s friend, who is dating an older male friend of the Senator and has an overt sexual confidence that Kelly envies, also influences her decisions. Kelly succumbs to these outside influences and her unfortunate choice to ignore her own better instincts eventually leads to her death.
The Patience Stone, by Atiq Rahimi, shares much in common with Black Water, although it is set in Afghanistan in the midst of a civil war rather than in peaceful and idyllic Maine at the turn of the 21st century. Like Oates, Rahimi explores the theme of power imbalances between men and women and the weighty influence of social norms, although in this case it is not the media or the behavior of a friend, but rather religion, which serves as the focal point. The Patience Stone is set inside a single room in which the unnamed woman’s husband (who is also nameless) lies dying, having been shot during a silly dispute with another jihadist. This ‘single-space’ approach is similar to Black Water, which takes place inside a single sinking automobile. Both stories also feature female leads whose memories, which span multiple years and settings, form the basis for the storyline.
In the troubling passage above from The Patience Stone, the unnamed female lead has just been raped by a young male soldier, who mistakes her for a prostitute. Rahimi relays the woman’s utter sadness and shame in short, rhythmic, emotive and visually stirring sentences: “her eyes fill with tears. Her body huddles up. She wraps her arms around her knees, tucks in her head and wails. A single, heartbreaking wail” (lines 2 and 3). The visual image Rahimi portrays of the woman in these few words is almost animalistic; this is fitting given how the woman has been treated not only by the young man who has just raped her, but also by her husband and her father, among others (including her mother-in-law). As Rahimi details throughout the novel, these men have used religion as an excuse to treat women as subhuman, as animals.
The reader comes to learn, however, that the female protagonist in The Patience Stone is not the stereotypical oppressed Muslim woman often portrayed in the western world. Such a portrayal would be far too simple. She is, instead, subject to intense oppression, and yet she also manages to secretly wrench control of her own life in several circumstances. When her husband proves to be barren and yet she faces the blame for their childless marriage and risks being cast aside, she finds another man to impregnate her – not once, but twice. When her father sells her sister in exchange for gambling debts brought on by quail fighting, she kills his quail. When her husband takes advantage of her while she is (pretending) to be asleep, and then beats her when he discovers that he is covered in her “impure” blood, the woman later retorts by taking advantage of him while he is unconscious and dying. After she has been raped, the woman turns the horrible event into an opportunity to earn money. She later laughs at the young man who raped her when he returns to see her, belittling him, only to discover that he too has been abused. She actually feels sorry for the young man when he is embarrassed by his weak sexual performance. We learn these secrets, and the complexity of this woman, as she talks to her husband and lives in his presence, while he lays in bed unable to respond and seemingly unconscious. The woman feels a tremendous weight lifted from her shoulders as these secrets unravel. Thus she refers to her husband as her “sang-e saboor,” or the patience stone that absorbs the worries of those who confide in it.
A critical turning point occurs in the above passage: “A breeze flutters, as if in response to her cry, lifting the curtains to let the gray fog flood the room. The woman raises her head. Slowly. She does not stand. She still doesn’t raise her eyes to the green curtain. She doesn’t dare. She stares down at the crumpled notes scattering in the breeze” (lines 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8). In these short utterances, Rahimi appears to use symbolism and personification to invoke the presence of God flooding the room in the form of a “gray fog.” But this isn’t the God the woman has come to know as a cause of her oppression. This is a God who is revealing a new opportunity to the woman, a chance to earn an income and to again wrench back some semblance of control. The woman regains her humanity as she “raises her head. Slowly.” She is still afraid of her husband, who has come to be represented by the “green curtain” behind which she has hidden him. After this juncture, however, the woman “Reappears. Dressed in green and white. Looking more serene” (line 11). Green is commonly used in literature and art to symbolize the earth, and thus life and growth, as well as the colors of Islam and therefore immortality. While the husband is cloaked behind a “green curtain,” the woman has been reborn in this scene, unable to be kept down, and she appears “serene” as a result.
As the woman unburdens herself of her secrets, she hopes that her husband has come to understand her better, the errors of his ways and the great weight of the oppression to which she has been subject under their religious and societal norms. Unbeknownst to the woman, her husband has heard all of her confessions and her actions. He arises, as if from the dead, and proceeds to kill her. Even as her husband murders her, the woman appears to find some serenity in the unburdening of her secrets and her thoughts as her soul, symbolized by the migrating birds on the curtains, flies away.
Dramatic structure is the orchestration of conflict in the story, exaggerated or edited to produce an exciting fight (mental, physical or spiritual) between protagonist(s) and antagonists. In the classical model, this conflict is related to a central dramatic question, objectives, obstacles and plot points characterized by catalyst, commitment, confrontation, chaos/low point, crisis, climax and conclusion. We will also study the Ordinary World/Special World Journey created by Joseph Campbell. Some modernist and postmodernist writers create their own dramatic structure or improvise and ignore it.
Narrative structure is the way the events are sequenced in time and space from the point of view of the narrator in a book and/or camera in a film in such a way that a style is created that expounds the theme, or the way the author feels about the material. In novels and short stories, the narrator or narrators tell the tale in the first or third person, singular and/or plural, and rarely in the second person. In film the narrator can be a real person who occasionally narrates over the action, or simply the POV of the camera.
Timed Paradigm modeled on 120 page or 120 minute script
For each plot point, describe exactly what your two protagonists (is that what you want--two journeys?) are doing, what they want, and what obstacles they face. After each plot point, state and refine your CDQ or Central Dramatic Question. If you have two protagonists, you will need 4 graphs of time and space for each one. Make sure all these plot points are actions that can be filmed. Conversations can ensue, images can be symbolic, but create a clear dramatic event that inspires the CDQ.
Catalyst or Instigating Event or Inciting Incident 5-15 minutes into film depending on genre. A murder mystery might have the catalyst as credits roll. State CDQ.
Commitment or Plot Point One 30 minutes into film. How has the CDQ become more focused?
Confrontation Mid Point 60 minutes into film This must involve a significant fight with the antagonistic forces. How has the CDQ changed?
Chaos Plot Point Two. The Low Point. p.90. Make us think that all is lost. What has happened to the CDQ? Where are protagonist and antagonist? What is the worst thing that could happen?
Crisis around 105 to 110. Tease the audience with a crisis before the climax. Up the stakes and put the audience on the edge of their seats.
Climax around 110-115. What is the most dramatic thing you can think of? Is this a true catharsis?
Conclusion to 120. Did you answer the CDQ, twist it in a new way, or move to another CDQ?
Obviously there are excellent "slice-of-life" screenplays shot by French or independent directors. However, you are not a director so I recommend that your script have a clearer structure and the more complex it is, the harder you must work on its structure--just like the layers of Adobe Photoshop. To be experimental one must be even more organized.
Space Paradigm inspired by Joseph Campbell but using the work of Chris Vogler and Stuart Voytilla to adapt it to the screen
For this paradigm, list the ARCHETYPAL roles of all characters such as the Hero, or Heroine, Shadow, Threshold Guardian, Trickster, Mentor, Allies, Friends etc. This journey can be symbolic and internal but you still visual images to symbolize the deeper layers.
ORDINARY WORLD In your outline under OW, you are actually talking about the Special World. Really set up an ordinary world with which the audience can identify. Imagine its colors and shapes so that you can also imagine how the Special World differs. Think of films like Blue Velvet that moved from the mundane suburbs to a hallucinatory drug world.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD is usually around PP1 about 30 pages. Who are the guardians and how do the Hero and Heroine get through?
TESTS with Allies and Enemies
APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE is usually around mid-point, 60 pages in but not necessarily. You have to follow the space in this paradigm. Where is the scariest place and how does the Hero emerge?
What is the REWARD?
CROSSING THE RETURN THRESHOLD back to the ORDINARY WORLD
ELIXIR What did the hero learn from the journey?
RESURRECTION How has he changed?
(I wrote a script where the heroine returned to an EXTRAORDINARY WORLD but it is simpler to follow the paradigm.)
Once you have the two paradigms for one or several protagonists you and your readers (producers and agents) have a clearer idea of dramatic structure. Then you can decide what sequencing techniques to use such a flashback recursive, tandem-competitive, split screen etc based on Aronson's book. The movie Pulp Fiction has a very simply story with a 3-day timeline, a fairly simple dramatic structure, but a complex sequencing inspired by the rewind, fast forward of the VCR age. Now we can be even more complex but if your dramatic structure isn't clear then you come off as disorganized when you do innovative sequencing.
Sequencing is akin to ordering the different courses of a meal you have already cooked with dramatic structure. Do you want the French cuisine with small bits at a time in a predictable order, a Jewish wedding buffet, an Asian sushi style presentation or what? Then eating the meal is what your characters do with scene study based on the exact LANGUAGE you have.
|Campbell Monomyth: Paradigm of Space|
|Timed Plot Points: A Paradigm of Time|
|Dramatic Structure and Cooking|
In Western drama the most important thing is a hero who badly wants something
he can't get; in world mythology, it is the call to adventure to undertake a
journey, implying that there are archetypal forces even stronger than the hero's
objective. The first is a paradigm of time, heightened by compressing events in
space into a limited time span; while the second is a paradigm of space that
takes the hero away from the Ordinary World to transform enough in the Special
World so he can bring back an elixir to community. Return, resurrection, rescue,
archetypes, threshold struggle are some of the terms pitted against plot points,
throughlines, premises, reversals, crisis/climax/denouement. While high concept
screenplays involve the community and transformative dramas develop character
transformation, in the Campbell paradigm, the hero's transformation is a
resurrection that brings the community full circle. Campbell's work is motivated
by his spiritual search and his recording of stories that transcend the hero's objective to connect to a more universal truth. Many Western stories stay with
the self, its foibles, flaws, frustrations, and final triumph in getting what it
Dramatic structure, how the conflict unfolds, is not the same as narrative
structure, the sequence of events in time and space colored by the POV of the
narrator. Dramatic structure is the conflict between protagonist and antagonists
as they fight for their through-lines in response to the Central Dramatic
Question, a visual paradigm similar to falling off a cliff from catalyst to
commitment to confrontation to cataclysm to chaos, crisis, climax and
conclusion, timed by plot points. Emotion is consummated in a catharsis.
Good drama gives the audience a taste of death. Even comedy has a taste of
some kind of death. Death helps the audience appreciate life more and fear their
own demise less. To keep the story going for 2 hours, make sure you tease the
audience with appearances of death and take them on a treacherous roller coaster
Make sure you relate each character to the Campbell archetypes. While the hero undergoes a momentous transformation as a result of this journey, the other characters serve as archetypes to further this journey, and must fulfill roles such as MENTOR(wise old person offering gifts, motivation, inspiration, guidance, training), THRESHOLD GUARDIAN (obstacle at the gateway to the new world), HERALD (issues challenges and announces the coming of
significant change), SHAPESHIFTER (the protean force that creates surprise,
suspense, obstacles and keeps the audience and the hero guessing, the animus/a
of the hero), SHADOW (the dark side of self but also the villain), TRICKSTER
(challenges authority through laughter, helps hero and audience see the truth by
laughing at it), and of course the hero's HIGHER SELF, in true 12 step fashion.
These types can change masks the way the shapeshifter does, but on the deepest
level, and Hollywood is trying to get "deeper" in the twenty first century, they
represent parts of the buried psyche of the hero. Hence any journey is
ultimately a journey inward as the villains are projections from the hero's id.
The HERO must elicit empathy/sympathy in the audience so they are willing to
immerse themselves in his journey; he must have human flaws, needs, desires and
capacity for growth-- rather, an almost inhuman capacity for growth because it
has to happen in less than 2 hours. He should be fully active, decisive, capable
of SACRIFICE for his ideals. In this way he shows us how to deal with death,
whether it is literal death or death of a loved one, an idea, a part of oneself.
A hero can journey from the ordinary to the special world and back or from the
wilderness to civilisation and back or anywhere and back as long as something is
learned. This means that Hollywood may be ready to start accepting tragedy as a
genre (especially after 9/11) as long as the hero learns something and the
community is restored and made whole in some way.
Notice how phallic this entire journey is, particularly with the approach to
the inmost cave, passing through the "belly of the whale," as Campbell would
say. If women were truly free to create their journey, how would it differ?
(Dancing with Wolves?) Maybe the climax is not going into the secret cave but
rather dancing with a wolf and beating him. Maybe it is similar to what I felt
when I was wriestling men and had to win every time as part of the choreography.
Maybe it is moving into a larger space where the light is brighter and the
mountains are higher.
In the pits of the cave, in the muddy, murky miasma of anima, the hero faces
an elusive, ephemeral death. But in the open the heroine battles the strong,
powerful male villain by dancing with him.
At the end of the male journey, there is an apotheosis, a step up from
enthusiasm where the hero becomes god by letting go of his ego. Men like to go
on adventures and come back to the hearth. Women might stay at the hearth but
for those who go on adventures, what are their journeys like? Are there two
kinds of women?
Stuart Voytilla in Myth and the Movies analyzes films in terms of
Vogler's and Campbell's structures and divides genre differently from Dancyger,
in this order: Action Adventure, Western, Horror with Silence of the Lambs here,
Thriller, War, Drama, Romance, Romantic Comedy, Comedy, Sci Fi/Fantasy. What roles do your characters play in terms of genre?
As I have said many times, drama is related to sex, defecation, injestion,
digestion, birth, death, foreplay, orgasms, fight-- hormones and physical
states. The Campbell Vogler journey is phallic-- a trip to the cave and back.
Women might go to waterfalls to be showered with the sperm of life. They run
with wolves, embrace their anima, or fight animals.
A thriller must be an intriguing puzzle, something to keep the audience
mentally alert, and on the edge of their seats. It would be hard for me to write
a good thriller-- it is logical/math, clean, mean, tightly structured, highly
Hollywood is slowly beginning to embrace the tragedy and now America is
ready, after 9/11. The hero of INSOMNIA dies and the female prodigy takes over.
America has also made satire popular since the war on Iraq.
Shakespeare's tragedies are not completely tragic because they overthrow a
monarch and expose his faults, something many people would want to do,
consciously or unconsciously. We don't have monarchs. WAG THE DOG made fun of
the president but we don't venerate the leader the way other cultures did. Our
leader is our court jester in that movie. The American story is the little guy
makes good-- the Rocky myth-- and that is also an immigrant's story, but now
America is ready for other myths and Hollywood is greedy to maintain its
hegemony on the global storytelling market.
By comparing characters to food, we determine how they were found, gathered,
or killed from the story, how they will be cooked or prepared in the dramatic
structure, how they will be sequenced in time and space or displayed on the
dinner table, how they will be eaten, digested, eliminated, and metabolized by
the audience or reader. So characters as food relate directly to story
structure, genre, and audience. But there are other ways of comparing them.
Objects, Musical Instruments, Animals: Act, Hear and Feel
Food analogies aren't the only ways to create, develop, and orchestrate your
characters. By comparing them to household appliances, you get a clear idea of
how they act in a situation. A scissor personality is different from a vacuum
cleaner,a broom, a washing machine, or a toilet bowl cleaner. Once you see how your characters
clean up you may be better able to predict their actions in a scene.
Not everyone speaks the same way.
Resonance, pitch, timbre, phrasing and vocabulary distinguish each character so a useful exercise is to assign a musical instrument to each character's voice. A melodious harp plays differently
on our ears and psyches than a relentless drum, a schreechy violin, an ethereal
flute, a banging piano, a twanging guitar, or a new age synthesizer.
Every time you create dialogue, hear the sounds of these distinct instruments
and let your characters respond accordingly.
In drama, we want our characters to feel instinctively and act with power.
Therefore, if you assign an animal to each character, you will know how they fight, eat, have sex, and escape. A snake curls up lasciviously on the rock in the sun but will stand up, hiss, and
bite if attacked; a mosquito is almost invisible until it delivers its itchy bite; a fish swims fluidly, seeking food everywhere, even on the end of a lethal hook; the gentle, slow-moving
elephant can crush life with a single ponderous step; the gazelle is beautifulto look at, but if you approach, it will run away with lightning speed. The wormy caterpillar metamorphoses
into a beautiful butterfly.The lizard blends into its environment.Your pet cat can be dressed up for Halloween. Before you write a scene, assemble your characters, know what food, object,
instrument, and animal they are, understand the plot objectives of the scene,
but let the characters surprise, based on their essences. Serials, soaps and sitcoms have the same characters returning every day, changing superficially and reacting in somewhat predictable patterns.
Archetypes are classic character types such as the Shadow, the Hero, the
Shapeshifter, the Mentor, whose essence is related to the role they play in the
Stereotypes are contemporary character types flattened and exaggerated to fit
a socially identifiable role. They work best in satire, slapstick, or to provide
comic relief in tragedy. If the hero of your transformational drama is a
stereotype, you are in trouble.
Height, width and volume? This is a crazy
nomenclature but what it means is that characters have dimensions and depth;
they break stereotypes, they often act unpredictably, they have many sides to
their personality, they have secrets that they hide or lie about, and they
change as the story unfolds. A main character may have a kaleidoscopic
personality, sounding like a violin in one scene, or a harp in the next, acting
like scissors with a girlfriend, but a vacuum cleaner with his professor.
In drama, the character is only as good as
its relationship to others and to the plot. Food can't be digested without water
within and without, therefore, you must examine your characters for their
strengths, weaknesses, needs, desires, and objectives that will force them to
fit themselves into others like a jigsaw puzzle. As a liquid, water is different
from wine or coffee.
Transformation is how characters are transformed by the dramatic structure of the work, the way meat is cooked in the oven. The protagonist is usually the character who is cooked
In real life we may have many objectives or
goals, some which may never be fulfilled. Sometimes we get so disappointed we
stop fighting and just roll with the punches or submit to the blowing wind with
faith or que sera sera. Therefore it may seem unnatural to sustain a
protagonist's or antagonist's single objective relentlessly through an entire
story. In real life many believe more in destiny, luck chance or God than in the
power of individual will. We can be responsible for the small things, the daily
tasks, but at any moment we can get sick, or be subject to an earthquake,
hurricane, fire or whatever. These deus ex machina events don't always create
the best drama. In real life there are very few devils or angels. Most people
are a mixture of the two, capable of evil and good, and the most self-righteous
people can usually do the most harm.
Some people do evil because their brains are so brilliant they explode and go
haywire; others because they dissociate and can't imagine, killing as if a game
from a distance enjoying the power and control like Richard III; some people
like the sexuality of killing and become addicted to that; some people are
fascinated with death and want to martyr themselves. Some people are sorry for
what they did, some don't feel what they did was wrong, and some are happy to be
branded evil. Satan was discharged from heaven when he disobeyed. He was one of
the angels, as righteous as any.
Throughline: Macbeth wants so badly to be king he is willing to murder to get
it. Jan wants so badly to be with Jalal she is willing to pursue him to outer
space. Jalal wants so badly to be with Jan that he compromises his jihadhi plot.
The problem with writing is that we can subconsciously put ourselves in the
protagonist's position and create a wish fulfillment scenario that would make us
reluctant to make things hard for our characters, to maim or kill them, to grind
them against each other. We live in an ideal world that needs conflict so what
to do? I could do the elevator irritation exercise. Take each character and lock
them in an elevator with another for an indefinite period of time. Then make
hellish triangles of lethal combos. Screenwriting is the tip of the iceberg, but
good readers know whether or not there is an iceberg or just a floating piece of
Story isn't the same as structure.
To milk a scene or live in the moment is so different from planning a structure. You must let the moment take you where you don't want to go. You can
always revise a structure. The unfolding of a drama is a striptease: if you just
pull all your clothes off at once, you eliminate suspense, mystery, and the
ability to tease the audience, to prolong their final satisfaction. Narrative,
story and structure are different things.
As with research papers, writers are not able to ask enough irritating
questions early in the process regarding motivations, objectives, interactions,
conflicts, results. Writing is problem solving but one must challenge oneself
with tough problems in the beginning. We like to be optimistic, superficial,
cheerful, avoid conflict in favor of peace in many of our daily interactions,
but to create drama we have to twist every situation the way Socrates would to
see if it is the best. If the story is personal, we may want to have the
antagonist or the chief ally become the protagonist so that we don't just
project our victimization.
How they Change
Body language and mannerisms
How they talk-sound of their voice
Biology, aches and pains
Musical instrument/Animal/Household appliance
Biography-where lived, degrees, jobs
Exact behavior at work or school
Dreams and Nightmares
Life attitude: Incurable romantic
How they lie
What they want from the other characters
Whom do they love the most, hate the most?
What could make them cry?
What is the worst thing they could do?
What is their fantasy of home?
Bedroom: what it looks like and how they sleep
Dining/living room what it looks like and what and when they eat
How do they do housework or not?
How do they walk, use gravity-lightly, heavily, sideways, gingerly,
Exercise outdoors-what do they do in the Gunks?
How do they take care of their homes?
What kind of car do they drive, or not?
How would their obituary read?
On the shades of hot to cool, what color are they?
What kind of politics do they subscribe to?
Why? And does this change?
How do they groom themselves and what would they like to look like?
Sense of humor
Onion for Character Development
1) Resume, quantitative facts of age, statistics
3) Chief motivation
5) Secrets, guilt and shame
6) Unconscious, layers of disgust
7) Seismic eruption-what does it take? What is the worst thing the person can
8) Difficult choices and decisions
9) Transformation through action, religion, beliefs
10) Back to chief objective
11) Changed personality
12) Changed resume
13) Role in plot and story
Character transformation is different in different cultures. Americans want
their characters to get better, not older and weaker as they do in real life.
They have a puritan need to learn something from the story to make their own
lives better-- how to give up an addiction, fight an external or internal enemy
and win, get a better job, resolve their relationship problems. But in real life
the law of entropy usually has people getting older, fatter, weaker, losing
their minds and their bank accounts, their dignity and their hopes. In Cairo
Trilogy characters peak with their marriages and births or even martyrdoms but
very few people have the pollyanna triumphs of American cinema.
Americans like realism but not depressing naturalism. They like to leave the
cinema or put the book down with renewed energy and hope to conquer their own
troubles. They also like to be entertained and while they expect these moral
lessons embedded in their stories they don't want to work too hard to learn
things. They read or watch primarily for the twists and turns of the story, the
amusing or heart-wrenching actions of the characters, the sex and violence that
keeps things moving. I read novels from other cultures and historical periods to
learn about them but these are rarely popular.
The Cairo Trilogy is depressing to Americans but hopeful to Arabs because it
reaffirms the repetitious cycle of family life and the omnipotent unity of
Allah. Individuals don't need the triumphs necessary in Western literature.
Different cultures require different levels of conflict, honesty, politeness
and vulgarity. Americans may be disgusted by the two-faced behavior of Ahmad in
Cairo Trilogy, the stern patriarch who rules his family like a tyrant and the
drunk philanderer who is the life of the party. However Arabs may be disgusted
by the outspoken, in-your-face Americans who tell it like it is spitting out
Protein-the main meat, amino acids, making muscle-is muscle
the objective or throughline?
Protagonists are the protein--they build muscle, repair tissue, require lots
of water to digest, and have the most long lasting effects on the audience's
metabolism.Proteins can be meat, fish,nuts, legumes, or dairy
If your main character is modeled on milk,how would that differ from a steak protagonist?
Junk food is the antagonist because it slowly poisons us.
THE GAP:You can fix a lot of writing that has a bad overall
structure by working on the gap between expectations and result, where the
characters harbor conflicting objectives, needs from the people in the scene so
they don't talk at each other, secrets that must cover up with lies in order to
flatter, persuade and cajole. Then there is the relative knowledge of the
audience so that mystery, suspense and surprise are created through the gap.
Interaction and Dialogue
While the following may be okay in some instances, they cannot substitute for
drama: 1) Sounding off: So much of our daily interaction is lyrical or bitching
about life, our problems, worrying about what we should or shouldn't do,
reliving guilt from the past with another person in such a way that we are not
always conscious of what we want from that person, if anything. This can waste
time in a novel or screenplay although it can reveal character if used as
motivations for objectives and actions. Memoirs are full of these lyrical
laments. It's fine in poetry when cased in beautiful language but it can get
really tedious if allowed to stalemate a story. 2) Exposition: explaining what
already happened either with a character or the narrator. Some of this is
necessary but it can't take over the scene. 3)Utilitarian intercourse: which
means the mundanity of daily interaction--greeting, shopping, going to the bank,
driving the car, taking the subway. My students tend to have entire scenes just
going to a bar or waking up in the morning. It's okay to start in these
locations with these interactions but the characters must get into a dramatic
situation and the narrator or camera must develop a real story. 4) Gratuitous
violence: another easy way out is to have someone shot without a sufficiently
dramatic situation or to have warlike actions without the emotional conflict,
unless a satire is being developed. To milk the present drama must be created:
two or more characters want conflicting things from each other, related to their
throughlines. In real life we often avoid these situations or get out of them
when they occur, as they are uncomfortable.
Everyone can't be a star, nor have the same will, energy, voice,
body, and commitment. If you only eat protein, you will get kidney disease; if
you only eat sugar, diabetes. Audiences require nutritional balance--all kinds
of interesting characters, but a hierarchy where the protagonist and the chief
antagonist take up most of the story. You don't have to cook fruits and
vegetables as long as meat. Bread bakes for a long time, but at a relatively low
|Theme and Sequencing|
RECURSIVE: The present is relatively static and the past is used to solve a
problem in the present, even if that is to recapture lost time as in Proust, or
to stop the plague in Ancient Greece in Oedipus Rex. While the climax of the
play occurs when Oedipus plucks out his eyes, the present action up until then
has been mainly conversation about dramatic events in the past. When the past is
plucked, it is not replayed in a realistic, linear fashion, but filtered through
the lens of the present. At the end the digs into the past cause the present to
change somewhat. This is often told in first person or through the eyes of a
main character. Flashback films and written memoirs, static plays like Oedipus
are its forms. How do these forms differ and how do they translate into each
other? Recursive is the basis of psychoanalysis where patient and psychiatrist
sit in a static present using events in the past to trigger feelings to be
catharsized and analyzed in order to solve problems for better action in the
future. Oedipus Rex only won second prize in the playwriting competition in
Ancient Greece, so some feel this kind of storytelling isn't dramatic enough.
This is the basis of reflection, of the thinking we do in memoirs or at the end
of the day. But it doesn't work well with multiple narrators or a huge
sociological vision or a lot of action. It is for sensory recall, problem
Thwarted dream, case history, life changing event. Ivan Ilyich. Rewind.
TANDEM COMPETITIVE: Stories can be in tandem without competing-sharing the
same space or the same time or the same characters with some different factor.
In my novel, similar characters appear in different space. It seems as if they
are in the same time because they occupy the same novel, but one is in the
active, impressionistic, dreamlike present and one the past imperfect, one in
the eternal present of dreams and one in a specific period in society and
history. They compete when they rival each other for truth from the Reader's
POV. There must be a reason why stories are told in tandem. In real life, two
versions of the same story are constantly competing in our minds, a phenomenon
which reaches its extreme state in bipolar illness where the same state of
events can be interpreted as depressing or uplifting, depending on the mood, or
actions are constructed to reap those same results, depending on the mood. In
other words, something exists before the story because the story is simply how
specific people engage in certain events in a specific time and place.
Therefore, their objectives, moods, abilities and proclivities as well as socialconditions are set before the story occurs. Hence different moods and objectives
can actually create somewhat different stories. We sometimes see scenes on split
screen or split stage or alternating chapters of narrators in a novel. This
narrative style is particularly disturbing as we don't know what kind of truth
to accept and our mood is constantly jarred by the constant switches. Yet this
is exactly what happens in psychosis.
LINEAR: Linear is the most common kind of storytelling in which a beginning,
middle and end follows similar linearity in time and space. However, in dreams,
linear storytelling does not necessarily have a cause-effect as is commonly
understood. In Hollywood screenplays, script doctors are brought in to make sure
there is a causal relationship to the scenes. Usually linear storytelling is
told by one narrator, whether first, third or the camera, but in pass the ball
linear narrative, multiple narrators carry the same story in sequence, the way
storytellers passed tales through the desert from oasis to oasis through
different caravans. They tried hard to be true to the story, but each
storyteller obviously colored the tale based on his perceptions and values. In
my second novel I chose 18 nonhuman narrators or human extensions, as McLuhan
would say, to carry the story. This is a technique still used today by writers
like Naguib Mahfouz, Yusuf al Qa'id in War in the Land of Egypt and Orhan Pamuk
in My Name is Red. You can have multiple narrators without a linear story as in
Akhenaten and some of Faulkner's work, but pass the ball linear is like the game
broken telephone where narrators try to pace their addition to the story
embedded in sequence within its entire history. This gives tremendous importance
to the story but protects it from the fallacies of omniscient narrators like
those of Tolstoi. Pass the ball linear doesn't lend itself that well to film
although it is possible it could be done-something as disciplined as War in the
Land of Egypt might work well. My second novel would be hard to film and keep
all those narrators. Some things are too difficult to visualize in this
narrative. Films and plays take place in a linear fashion but they can refer to
events that occur out of sequence in time.
CONGLOMERATE:It seems that in conglomerate narrative, there must be an active
throughline in the present that covers winter to winter -one year which is the
surface of the rock. Then the layers are the back stories. How does this differ
from recursive narrative? Recursive features the past to solve a problem in the
present like Oedipus Rex; while conglomerate has a hard active linear present
that covers layers of secrets, lies, and history in the past. Conglomerate is
neither tandem nor competitive, nor does it deal with the future. The past is
not imperfect past but singular events that influence the present. Is
conglomerate the right word? The idea is that there is a superficial story with
deeper stories underneath, some of which may be too disgusting, disappointing,
depressing or disarming for the Reader or Viewer to stomach. For example, soap
operas skim the surface of narrative, idealizing characters and romanticizing
situations by avoiding depressing details. How many people lie dying with
perfect hair and make-up? In a hypertext story there can be the top layer of
narrative for everyone, then layers underneath which symbolize gossip,
pettiness, uncomfortable facts, and finally those things that are usually
censored. This would be one way to deal with Internet censorship. This is
different from the usual hypertext story of branching narratives where different
future outcomes are envisioned.
Parallel structures likeThe Hours are not sub-plots. The danger
here is to be choppy if the sequencing isn't right and there aren't enough
similarities or differences between the stories. It is like comparison and contrast in literary criticism. Choppy, flowing, choppy, flowing. But if the
narrators argue, if the stories bleed into each other for a reason, it gives the whole story more depth. The Matrix has a number of parallel structures.Instead of repetition, it might be good to spiral the action so that when
characters revisit the scene they attack the problem in a different way. Sometimes the event is seen in flashback.
The Unraveling-mystery structure is used with whodunits. The skill involves
laying clues throughout the film and then learning the truth in the third act.
In Memento the whole film is a flashback so that it is a reverse structure. The trick is to keep the audience asking a central dramatic question. There must always be a puzzle for the audience to solve. In a circular structure there must
still be linear parts. Pulp fiction has a looping structure of beginning-end-middle and more. Non-linear stories require more structure than usual so that don't break up, dissolve or fly into different directions. Good drama combusts time. Even with different time periods like The Hours,it is possible to carry objects like the flowers and book from one setting to the next. It mustn't feel like a string of stories pieced together from disparate places, similar to a bad research paper without a central thesis.
A good sequencing technique is to imply an action in a that is carried out or
frustrated or somehow commented upon in b. Or cut from an object in one to a
similar one in the other. Or the setup of a joke is one scene and the punchline in the next. Just as dance routines can be choppy if the movements aren't connected,
scenes can be choppy if they have no relationship to each other.
Levels of Truth
How is your creation related to the real world? A documentary records the real world as is without any attempt to make up a story. Naturalism creates fiction or film that resembles reality, even if it is ugly or aesthetically displeasing.
Realism manipulates reality artistically but extracts some truth from it, as in Greek and Shakespearean tragedy. Fantasy adds an element or elements of setting, being or behavior that could not occur in real life, although the basic world may be realistic.
Science Fictionconstructs an entire imaginary world, although characters or forces may resembler real life. Surrealism superimposes extraordinary over ordinary reality, often producing incongruous, wild and wonderful images.
Impressionism gives us fragments of reality to fill in with our imagination, similar to what happens when we recall our dreams. It is the writer's job to believe in the world she creates and describe it so that the reader or audience experiences a suspension of disbelief
that allows them to treat this world as even more important to them than the real world, while engaged in reading the book or viewing the film.
You have one large, unwieldy document with a patchwork of close textual analyses and forum entries throughout the semester. How can you organize it into a thoughtful inquiry paper that links your thesis to the readings this semester? This lesson will help you identify, define, and refine claims of value, link the claims to your close textual analyses, and draw up an outline.
|Linking and Synthesis|
Close Textual Analysis:
Wild Ginger, Anchee Min
1. I remembered a story from One-Eye Grandpa. He said he’d once had a hard time explaining to a
2. group of village children what a book was. They had never seen one. He was a veteran at that
3. time and was passing through town. I was sure Evergreen and I would have made a difference.
4. What a pity.
While this passage is short and lacks the color and imagery that lends itself so well to close textual analysis, I am drawn to it because it is at once both a frank and honest statement, coupled with the childlike hopes and dreams of a romantic.This passage takes place as Maple spends her eighteenth birthday in jail, serving time for a crime she has not only not committed, but for which she was accused in an act of revenge and betrayal by her best friend, Wild Ginger. She is torn between her lasting feelings for her friend, the impending loss of her lover, and the dreams she once held for her future.
While it is at this juncture in the story that Maple acknowledges the love triangle that had formed between Wild Ginger, Evergreen and herself, I found myself focusing on the brief reference to One-Eyed Grandpa’s experience with the village children who could not imagine what a book was because they had never seen one. While Mao denounced intellectualism and hijacked the educational system in China for his own political aims, it is doubtful that the education of the village children had been curtailed, as they likely had never had access to books, classrooms, or teachers.
In my forum, Knowledge is Power, I have asserted that knowledge and power are derived from a multitude of sources and are used for as many purposes. As other forums have explored, the experience of human life in harsh circumstances is the catalyst for many defining actions, decisions, philosophical and political leanings, as well as the ultimate formation of one’s truest self. For many, life in harsh circumstances gives birth to an intractable sense of dignity and/or spirituality that also serves to enable one to endure and persevere. Under those conditions, the knowledge gained is not gleaned from didactic sources, great works of literature, or another’s expertise. It flows from within, from each person’s experience of the world and the moment they are living. As we examined the sources of knowledge and power, and more importantly, how it was wielded, there emerged vast array of examples from across the literary clusters.
Danielle Chauncey observed that “In Ulysses, James Joyce confronts religion head on and early through a conversation between Haines and Stephen: ‘Either you believe or you don't, isn't it? Personally I couldn't stomach that idea of a personal God. You don't stand for that, I suppose?’
To which Stephen responds: ‘You behold in me a horrible example of free thought.’ Considering the book itself is a reflection on Odysseus in the Odyssey who encountered immortal God after immortal God, Stephen seems to believe in the authority of God, whereas Haines is self-reliant. Haines is what many people are today, not atheist or a pagan, but floating between two movements. One that wants to leave the church behind, and one that can't.”
Eric Ayers shared his impression of “…The Bluest Eye, [wherein] the narrator's big sister was the source of her knowledge. The source of our knowledge must be chosen carefully. One has to have a variety of sources to get the best perspective on any given idea. America is the greatest country in the world. I say that because this is all I know, but I've never lived in Denmark or Singapore. My source of knowledge is the small part of the world that I've seen so far. This is not a very educated perspective.”
Ryan Hinricher noted that “In Ayn Rand's Anthem, we see the character Equality 7-2521 discover electricity. His attempt to deliver this to the Council of Scholars is struck down as evil. ‘And if this great thing shall lighten the toil of men,’ said Similarity 5-0306, ‘then it is a great evil, for men have no cause to exist save in toiling for other men.’ Then collective 0-0009 rose and pointed at our box. ‘This thing,’ they said, ‘must be destroyed.’ ... later in the text, after changing his name from Equality 7-2521 to Promethus, he declares, ‘I have learned the power of the sky was known to men long ago; they called it Electricity. It was the power that moved their greatest inventions. It lit this house with light that came from those globes of glass on the walls. I have found the engine which produced this light. I shall learn how to repair it and how to make it work again. I shall learn how to use the wires which carry this power. Then I shall build a barrier of wires around my home, and across the paths which lead to my home; a barrier light as a cobweb, more impassable than a wall of granite...(Loc 849).’ His attempt to deliver the invention as a gift was only seen as a threat by the oppressive Council. He felt it worthy to retreat with it to the forest and make his own way. Still his plan was to use it for defensive means only.”Julia Keefer opined “Ironically, the most powerful character in God Dies by the Nile is Zakeya, an illiterate peasant with no formal knowledge, who ends up having the power and the hoe to kill the Mayor. In Ulysses, all Stephen's bookish knowledge seems to get him tangled up in all kinds of internal conflicts and dilemmas, almost like Othello, another character of extreme knowledge and intelligence.
In Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Red Azalea, knowledge is forbidden. To survive you must hide or burn it. This is the case in One Man's Bible where Gao Xi Jiang burned all his books before the Red Guard entered his house. In Soul Mountain the protagonist finds knowledge buried in the earth, deep inside the mountains of China, deep inside the many pronouns that make up himself. In Night and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, characters survive by concentrating on the details of the present moment. Too much knowledge of their fate might render them impotent, and dead. But this doesn't mean knowledge isn't good. The AUTHORS of these books had extreme knowledge but maybe it was so painful to them that they empowered characters who lacked some of their intelligence. Saadawi does that all the time.” Keefer followed up with a challenge: “What is your definition of knowledge? Does it include all cognitive domains and sensory experience? Then Zakeya has more knowledge than previously thought.”Indeed, I have always applied the broadest definition to the concept of knowledge, recognizing that people both possess innate understanding of certain things (e.g., intuition, emotional intelligence, etc.) and acquire new knowledge through every experience. How individuals incorporate and apply that knowledge over the course of their lives varies greatly, as does the power each person derives from what they know. Such is the case for Maple, as her education has been limited by the precepts of Mao and her knowledge is continually challenged and censored until she is nearly unable to discern her own experience. In the end, she is able to reflect on all that she has seen, heard and felt throughout her tumultuous teenage years and decide for herself her truth."
Perfume is an historical literary thriller because the narrator is inside the criminal protagonist's head, shares his pathology with the reader, and there is no mystery to solve just a linear plot that unfolds with suspense. As a screenwriter, Suskind is an organized, talented dramatist and this novel is meticulously researched and carefully structured according to classical dramatic paradigms. But the idea is novel and the character unique is literature. It also tells us a lot about the Enlightenment and eighteenth century France.
When the old God goes, they pray to flies and bottletops.
Hell is other people.
Writing and reading...require being alert and ready for unaccountable beauty, for the intricateness or simple elegance of the writer's imagination, for the world that imagination evokes. Both require being mindful of the places where imagination sabotages itself, locks its own gates, pollutes its vision. Writing and reading mean being aware of the writer's notions of risk and safety, the serene achievement of, or sweaty fight for, meaning and response-ability.
Whatever may be their use in civilised societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action.
Poets are men who refuse to utilize language.
Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but it is noble to live life, and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case.
"Success prompts to exertion; and habit facilitates success." That is a man's sentence;...it was a sentence that was unsuited for a woman's use....Moreover a book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or domes. And this shape too has been made by men out of their own needs for their own uses. There is no reason to think that the form of the epic or the poetic play suits a woman any more than the sentence suits her. The novel alone was young enough to be soft in her hands-- another reason, perhaps, why she wrote novels.
The "engaged" writer knows that words are actions.
Writers are among the most sensitive, the most intellectually anarchic, most representative, most probing of artists. The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power. The languages they use and the social and historical context in which these languages signify are indirect and direct revelations of that power and its limitations.
Why write? Each one has his reasons: for one, art is a flight; for another, a means of conquering.
One of the chief motives of artistic creation is certainly the need of feeling that we are essential in relation to the world.
All our literature and art are for the masses of the people, and in the first place for the workers, peasants and soldiers; they are created for the workers, peasants and soldiers and are for their use.
...a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilised and uses all its faculties.
Like a domestic animal, time doesn't move without human beings' strict supervision.
When the words form under his pen, the author doubtless sees them, but he does not see them as the reader does, since he knows them before writing them down. The function of his gaze is not to reveal, by stroking them, the sleeping words which are waiting to be read, but to control the sketching of the signs.
What does death matter? Communism is the truth. Because they appear almost always in conjunction with representations of black or Africanist people who are dead, impotent, or under complete control, these images of blinding whiteness seem to function as both antidote for and meditation on the shadow that is companion to this whiteness-- a dark and abiding presence that moves the hearts and texts of American literature with fear and longing.
Imagine a world in which there is no time. Only images.
Race has become metaphorical-- a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biological "race" ever was.
It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilised. ...Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the act of creation can be accomplished.
Reading seems, in fact, to be the synthesis of perception and creation.
In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time. The first is as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The second squirms and wriggles like a bluefish at bay. The first is unyielding, predetermined. The second makes up its mind as it goes along.... Where the two times meet, desperation. Where the two times go their separate ways, contentment. ... Each time is true but the truths are not the same.
In order to know himself, each person carries his own Book of Life, which is filled with the history of his life. ...With time, each person's Book of Life thickens until it cannot be read in its entirety....Some have stopped reading altogether. ... Such people walk with the limber stride of their youth. Such people have learned how to live in a world without memory.
I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship. You do not know what it is to speak with one voice. And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brotheres. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter's dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master.
Structuralism is appealing to some critics because it adds a certain objectivity, a SCIENTIFIC objectivity, to the realm of literary studies (which have often been criticized as purely subjective/impressionistic). This scientific objectivity is achieved by subordinating "parole" to "langue;" actual usage is abandoned in favor of studying the structure of a system in the abstract. Thus structuralist readings ignore the specificity of actual texts and treat them as if they were like the patterns produced by iron filings moved by magnetic force--the result of some impersonal force or power, not the result of human effort.
In structuralism, the individuality of the text disappears in favor of looking at patterns, systems, and structures. Some structuralists (and a related school of critics, called the Russian Formalists) propose that ALL narratives can be charted as variations on certain basic universal narrative patterns.
In this way of looking at narratives, the author is canceled out, since the text is a function of a system, not of an individual. The Romantic humanist model holds that the author is the origin of the text, its creator, and hence is the starting point or progenitor of the text. Structuralism argues that any piece of writing, or any signifying system, has no origin, and that authors merely inhabit pre-existing structures (langue) that enable them to make any particular sentence (or story)--any parole. Hence the idea that "language speaks us," rather than that we speak language. We don't originate language; we inhabit a structure that enables us to speak; what we (mis)perceive as our originality is simply our recombination of some of the elements in the pre-existing system. Hence every text, and every sentence we speak or write, is made up of the "already written."
By focusing on the system itself, in a synchronic analysis, structuralists cancel out history. Most insist, as Levi-Strauss does, that structures are universal, therefore timeless. Structuralists can't account for change or development; they are uninterested, for example, in how literary forms may have changed over time. They are not interested in a text's production or reception/consumption, but only in the structures that shape it.
In erasing the author, the individual text, the reader, and history, structuralism represented a major challenge to what we now call the "liberal humanist" tradition in literary criticism.
The HUMANIST model presupposed:
The STRUCTURALIST model arguesThis is also where deconstruction starts to come in. The leading figure in deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, looks at philosophy (Western metaphysics) to see that any system necessarily posits a CENTER, a point from which everything comes, and to which everything refers or returns. Sometimes it's God, sometimes it's the human self, the mind, sometimes it's the unconscious, depending on what philosophical system (or set of beliefs) one is talking about.
There are two key points to the idea of deconstruction. First is that we're still going to look at systems or structures, rather than at individual concrete practices, and that all systems or structures have a CENTER, the point of origin, the thing that created the system in the first place. Second is that all systems or structures are created of binary pairs or oppositions, of two terms placed in some sort of relation to each.
Derrida says that such systems are always built of the basic units structuralism analyzes--the binary opposition or pair--and that within these systems one part of that binary pair is always more important than the other, that one term is "marked" as positive and the other as negative. Hence in the binary pair good/evil, good is what Western philosophy values, and evil is subordinated to good. Derrida argues that all binary pairs work this way--light/dark, masculine/feminine, right/left; in Western culture, the first term is always valued over the second.
In his most famous work, Of Grammatology, Derrida looks particularly at the opposition speech/writing, saying that speech is always seen as more important than writing. This may not be as self-evident as the example of good/evil, but it's true in terms of linguistic theories, where speech is posited as the first or primary form of language, and writing is just the transcription of speech. Derrida says speech gets privileged because speech is associated with presence--for there to be spoken language, somebody has to be there to be speaking.
No, he doesn't take into account tape recordings and things like that. Remember, a lot of what these guys are talking about has roots in philosophic and linguistic traditions that predate modern technology--so that Derrida is responding to an opposition (speech/writing) that Plato set up, long before there were tape recorders. Just like poor old Levi-Strauss talks about how, in order to map all the dimensions of a myth, he'd have to have "punch cards and an IBM machine," when all he'd need now is a home computer. Anyway, the idea is that the spoken word guarantees the existence of somebody doing the speaking--thus it reinforces all those great humanist ideas, like that there's a real self that is the origin of what's being said. Derrida calls this idea of the self that has to be there to speak part of the metaphysics of PRESENCE; the idea of being, or presence, is central to all systems of Western philosophy, from Plato through Descartes (up to Derrida himself). Presence is part of a binary opposition presence/absence, in which presence is always favored over absence. Speech gets associated with presence, and both are favored over writing and absence; this privileging of speech and presence is what Derrida calls LOGOCENTRISM. You might think here about the Biblical phrase "Let there be light" as an example. The statement insures that there is a God (the thing doing the speaking), and that God is present (because speech=presence); the present God is the origin of all things (because God creates the world by speaking), and what God creates is binary oppositions (starting with light/dark). You might also think about other binary oppositions or pairs, including being/nothingness, reason/madness, word/silence, culture/nature, mind/body. Each term has meaning only in reference to the other (light is what is not dark, and vice-versa), just as, in Saussure's view, signifiers only have meaning--or negative value--in relation to other signifiers. These binary pairs are the "structures," or fundamental opposing ideas, that Derrida is concerned with in Western philosophy.
Because of the favoring of presence over absence, speech is favored over writing (and, as we'll see with Freud, masculine is favored over feminine because the penis is defined as a presence, whereas the female genitals are defined as absence). It's because of this favoring of presence over absence that every system posits a CENTER, a place from which the whole system comes, and which guarantees its meaning--this center guarantees being as presence. Think of your entire self as a kind of system--everything you do, think, feel, etc. is part of that system. At the core or center of your mental and physical life is a notion of SELF, of an "I", of an identity that is stable and unified and coherent, the part of you that knows who you mean when you say "I". This core self or "I" is thus the CENTER of the "system", the "langue" of your being, and every other part of you (each individual act) is part of the "parole". The "I" is the origin of all you say and do, and it guarantees the idea of your presence, your being. Western thought has a whole bunch of terms that serve as centers to systems --being, essence, substance, truth, form, consciousness, man, god, etc. What Derrida tells us is that each of these terms designating the center of a system serves two purposes: it's the thing that created the system, that originated it and guarantees that all the parts of the system interrelate, and it's also something beyond the system, not governed by the rules of the system. It is crucially important to note that LANGUAGE, as a system or structure, DOES NOT HAVE A CENTER. There is no central term or idea that creates language and that holds it all together. This is an extremely important idea, for Derrida and for poststructuralism. Without a center to hold the elements of the system in place, there is no absolute or definitive "truth" or "meaning." Language is always shifting and moving, not fixed by a center-- hence meaning is ALWAYS ambiguous, multiple, and provisional. We will be talking about this idea throughout the rest of the semester. Derrida looks at how a binary opposition--the fundamental unit of the structures or systems we've been looking at, and of the philosophical systems he refers to--functions within a system. He points out that a binary opposition is algebraic (a=~b, a equals not-b), and that two terms can't exist without reference to the other--light (as presence) is defined as the absence of darkness, goodness the absence of evil, etc. He doesn't seek to reverse the hierarchies implied in binary pairs--to make evil favored over good, unconscious over consciousness, feminine over masculine. Rather, deconstruction wants to erase the boundaries (the slash) between oppositions, hence to show that the values and order implied by the opposition are also not rigid. Here's the basic method of deconstruction: find a binary opposition. Show how each term, rather than being polar opposite of its paired term, is actually part of it. Then the structure or opposition which kept them apart collapses, as we see with the terms nature and culture in Derrida's essay. Ultimately, you can't tell which is which, and the idea of binary opposites loses meaning, or is put into "play" (more on this in the next lecture). This method is called "Deconstruction" because it is a combination of construction/destruction--the idea is that you don't simply construct new system of binaries, with the previously subordinated term on top, nor do you destroy the old system--rather, you deconstruct the old system by showing how its basic units of structuration (binary pairs and the rules for their combination) contradict their own logic.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) was primarily a theorist and historian (less the evil pinko commie demon that McCarthyism fretted about). After examining social organization in a scientific way (thereby creating a methodology for social science: political science), he perceived human history to have consisted of a series of struggles between classes--between the oppressed and the oppressing. Whereas Freud saw "sexual energy" to be the motivating factor behind human endeavor and Nabokov seemed to feel artistic impulse was the real factor, Marx thought that "historical materialism" was the ultimate driving force, a notion involving the distribution of resources, gain, production, and such matters.
The supposedly "natural" political evolution involved (and would in the future involve) "feudalism" leading to "bourgeois capitalism" leading to "socialism" and finally to "utopian communism." In bourgeois capitalism, the privileged bourgeoisie rely on the proletariat--the labor force responsible for survival. Marx theorized that when profits are not reinvested in the workers but in creating more factories, the workers will grow poorer and poorer until no short-term patching is possible or successful. At a crisis point, revolt will lead to a restructuring of the system.
For a political system to be considered communist, the underclasses must own the means of production--not the government nor the police force. Therefore, aside from certain first-century Christian communities and other temporary communes, communism has not yet really existed. (The Soviet Union was actually state-run capitalism.)
Marx is known also for saying that "Religion is the opiate of the people," so he was somewhat aware of the problem that Lenin later dwelt on. Lenin was convinced that workers remain largely unaware of their own oppression since they are convinced by the state to be selfless. One might point to many "opiates of the people" under most political systems--diversions that prevent real consideration of trying to change unjust economic conditions.
According to Marxists, and to other scholars in fact, literature reflects those social institutions out of which it emerges and is itself a social institution with a particular ideological function. Literature reflects class struggle and materialism: think how often the quest for wealth traditionally defines characters. So Marxists generally view literature "not as works created in accordance with timeless artistic criteria, but as 'products' of the economic and ideological determinants specific to that era" (Abrams 149). Literature reflects an author's own class or analysis of class relations, however piercing or shallow that analysis may be.
The Marxist critic simply is a careful reader or viewer who keeps in mind issues of power and money, and any of the following kinds of questions:
William Rueckert may have been the first person to use the term ecocriticism (Barry 240). In 1978, Rueckert published an essay titled Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism. His intent was to focus on “the application of ecology and ecological concepts to the study of literature.” (Reprinted in The Ecocritism Reader on p. 107)
Ecologically minded individuals and scholars have been publishing progressive works of ecotheory and criticism since the explosion of environmentalism in the late 1960s and 1970s. However, because there was no organized movement to study the ecological/environmental side of literature, these important works were scattered and categorized under a litany of different subject headings: pastoralism, human ecology, regionalism, American Studies etc. British Marxist critic Raymond Williams, for example, wrote a seminal critique of pastoral literature in 1973, The Country and the City, which spawned two decades of leftist suspicion of the ideological evasions of the genre and its habit of making the work of rural labour disappear even though Williams himself observed that the losses lamented in pastoral might be genuine ones, and went on to profess a decidedly green socialism.
Another early ecocritical text, Joseph Meeker's The Comedy of Survival (1974), proposed a version of an argument that was later to dominate ecocriticism and environmental philosophy; that environmental crisis is caused primarily by a cultural tradition in the West of separation of culture from nature, and elevation of the former to moral predominance. Such 'anthropocentrism' is identified in the tragic conception of a hero whose moral struggles are more important than mere biological survival, whereas the science of animal ethology, Meeker asserts, shows that a "comic mode" of muddling through and "making love not war" has superior ecological value. In the later, "second wave" ecocriticism, Meeker's adoption of an ecophilosophical position with apparent scientific sanction as a measure of literary value tended to prevail over Williams's ideological and historical critique of the shifts in a literary genre's representation of nature.
As Glotfelty noted in The Ecocriticism Reader, “One indication of the disunity of the early efforts is that these critics rarely cited one another’s work; they didn’t know that it existed…Each was a single voice howling in the wilderness.” Nevertheless, ecocriticism—unlike feminist and Marxist criticisms—failed to crystallize into a coherent movement in the late 1970s, and indeed only did so in the USA in the 1990s.
In the mid 1980s, scholars began to work collectively to establish ecocritism as a genre, primarily through the work of the Western Literature Association in which the revaluation of nature writing as a non-fictional literary genre could function. In 1990, at the University of Nevada in Reno, Glotfelty became the first person to hold an academic position as a professor of Literature and the Environment, and UNR has retained the position it established at that time as the intellectual home of ecocriticism even as ASLE has burgeoned into an organization with thousands of members in the US alone. From the late 1990s, new branches of ASLE and affiliated organizations were started in the UK, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ), India (OSLE-India}, Taiwan, Canada and Europe.
In comparison with other 'political' forms of criticism, there has been relatively little dispute about the moral and philosophical aims of ecocriticism, although its scope has broadened rapidly from nature writing, Romantic poetry canonical literature to take in film, TV, theatre, animal stories, architectures, scientific narratives and an extraordinary range of literary texts. At the same time, ecocriticism has borrowed methodologies and theoretically-informed approaches liberally from other fields of literary, social and scientific study.
Glotfelty's working definition in The Ecocriticism Reader is that "ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment" (xviii), and one of the implicit goals of the approach is to recoup professional dignity for what Glotfelty calls the "undervalued genre of nature writing" (xxxi). Lawrence Buell defines “‘ecocriticism’ . . . as [a] study of the relationship between literature and the environment conducted in a spirit of commitment to environmentalist praxis” (430, n.20).
Simon Estok noted in 2001 that “ecocriticism has distinguished itself, debates notwithstanding, firstly by the ethical stand it takes, its commitment to the natural world as an important thing rather than simply as an object of thematic study, and, secondly, by its commitment to making connections” (“A Report Card on Ecocriticism” 220).
More recently, in an article that extends ecocriticism to Shakespearean studies, Estok argues that ecocriticism is more than “simply the study of Nature or natural things in literature; rather, it is any theory that is committed to effecting change by analyzing the function–thematic, artistic, social, historical, ideological, theoretical, or otherwise–of the natural environment, or aspects of it, represented in documents (literary or other) that contribute to material practices in material worlds” (“Shakespeare and Ecocriticism” 16-17). This echoes the functional approach of the cultural ecology branch of ecocriticism, which analyzes the analogies between ecosystems and imaginative texts and posits that such texts potentially have an ecological (regenerative, revitalizing) function in the cultural system (Zapf, "Literary Ecology").
As Michael P. Cohen has observed, “if you want to be an ecocritic, be prepared to explain what you do and be criticized, if not satirized.” Certainly, Cohen adds his voice to such critique, noting that one of the problems of ecocriticism has been what he calls its “praise-song school” of criticism. All ecocritics share an environmentalist motivation of some sort, but whereas the majority are 'nature endorsing' (as Kate Soper puts it in "What is Nature?" (1998)), some are 'nature sceptical'. In part this entails a shared sense of the ways in which 'nature' has been used to legitimise gender, sexual and racial norms (so homosexuality has been seen as 'unnatural', for example), but it also involves scepticism about the uses to which 'ecological' language is put in ecocriticism; it can also involve a critique of the ways cultural norms of nature and the environment contribute to environmental degradation. Greg Garrard has dubbed 'pastoral ecology' the notion that nature undisturbed is balanced and harmonious ("Ecocriticism" 56-58), while Dana Phillips has criticised the literary quality and scientific accuracy of nature writing in "The Truth of Ecology". Similarly, there has been a call to recognize the place of the Environmental Justice movement in redefining ecocritical discourse (see Buell, "Toxic Discourse").
Samuel Barclay Beckett (13 April 1906 – 22 December 1989) was an Irish writer, dramatist, and poet, writing in English and French. Beckett's work offers a bleak outlook on human culture and both formally and philosophically became increasingly minimalist in his later career.
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