Tuesday, December 07, 2004

My advise on how to live a well-lived life

As a class, we have spent the semester trying to determine how to interpret the essence of who we are, and also how to interpret the world around us. Yes, this is a huge question to tackle, but we are English majors and it is our job to discuss big questions. The idea of essence wears many faces and is recognizable in every aspect of life. We could even say that without the essence of life, there would be no existence. It is not hard to recognize that all humans’ posses a burning desire to know the answers to these unanswerable questions. The trick lies in examining the various manifestations of life’s essence, and distinguishing between the real, and the mimetic. You might be wondering how this relates to literary criticism—our job as literary critics is to sift through the mimetic representations of essence in order to locate the source of our passions.
The word essence, derived from the word essential, is defined by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in the following terms: “essential—1: of, relating to, or constituting essence: Inherent 2: of the utmost importance: basic, indispensable, necessary.” It is in our nature as human beings to want to understand what drives, motivates, and fuels our desires. The word essence is interesting to me because it is used as an attempt to signify a complex, multi-faceted concept. Microsoft word provides the following synonyms for the word essence—spirit, core, heart, real meaning, soul, quintessence, fundamental nature, and concentrate. I use this example to illustrate that there are many words that can be substituted for word essence, all of which represent the idea that there is something larger and more meaningful than our physical presence on this earth. All of these words acknowledge, in some way, the existence of the unknown. Given the nature of the human-condition, it is inevitable not to search for the answers to these questions in a quest to know and experience the unknown.
Over the course of the semester, we have explored dozens of theoretical attempt to explain, pin-down, explicate, and illuminate through the written word the best way to manifest the essential energy that is life. I see a common message running through the selected material for the course that says by choosing to manifest our hearts real meaning through high passions, we will discover a direct link to the source of energy that has the power to inspire. Passion is the greatest gift given to humankind, capable of getting us close as humanly possible to the core of our energy supply. Supporters of this theory believe that a passion for life is the main tool in discovering beauty in the unknown. Once the main artery is accessed, the essence of life permeates through everything that is produced from this space.
I learned from this class that there are as many ways to express passion as there are ways to interpret the world around us. I also realized that there is no right way, and each interpretation is as good as the next! As long as intentions are grounded in, and committed to living the best possible life through harnessing the most amount of passion humanly possible! There are certain critics whose works stand out to me as having figured out a fundamental way to express passion. These works of inspiration became a direct link for me in accessing a source of power and energy through the author’s personal experience.
The most influential piece I read this semester was by Walter Pater. Dr. Sexson mentioned his name in first week of class in our discussion on the functions of criticism. When I was going back through my notes trying to remember what influenced me from the first part of the class, I ran across a brief quote I had jotted down in class: “Walter Pater’s definition of criticism: giving to your passing moments your best and greatest possible value.” To me, this is a very simple and direct way of saying what I have been attempting to convey for the last two pages! Walter Pater knows what life is about, experiencing divine passion by simply giving life its best possible meaning. I went to the Norton after finding this quote in my notes to re-read what else Walter Pater said in his essay, Studies in the History of the Renaissance. A passage from the final paragraph of the essay struck me as a brilliant interpretation of the most direct way to access a source of inspiration. I will re-produce the passage for you simply because it is worth remembering.
We have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only to be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments sake. (841)

I love this passage because anyone can gain a personal meaning from it that just happens to be exactly what was needed to be heard at the time. It is a piece of inspired writing, imbued with possibility and hope.
Romantic sensibilities, which emphasize the importance of expression, come very close to the same idea that Walter Pater takes up in the passage above. The romantics see poetry as the number one, best way to express passion. Wordsworth called poetry “a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions.” Wordsworth, along with the other romantics, sees poetry as a direct line into the heart of inspiration. Percy Shelley, another romantic poet, addresses the value of searching out the best possible way to spend our passing moments. Shelley agrees with Pater and Wordsworth in that reality is only meaningful when it is viewed through the lens of artistic expression. In Shelly’s, A Defense of Poetry, he says that poetry “awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptable of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world” (700). Similarly, Samuel Taylor Coleridge is interested in discovering how to tap into the essence of existence and live the fullest life possible. Coleridge’s answer to the question all critics are interested in answering is as follows: “The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM” (676).
The benefit of reading various critics is that this experience opens our eyes to many new ways of viewing the world around us. From this, we can identify our own personal interpretation of the world, tailored to fit our own individual representation of passion. We have formed the foundation of our knowledge base from these quintessential theories. Plucking from them what we need, as scholars of the next generation, to express the divine inspiration that will allow us to give to our passing moments, our best and greatest possible value.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Group Presentations, Day #1

I wanted to comment on the first round of group presentations, first by congratulating everyone on successfully instructing and entertaining the class! Secondly, I was impresses by the amount of references to class discussions, concepts and ideas the groups were able to include into the presentation. I am personally relieved that my group was first to go and I have to compliment my fellow group members for a minute: I think we did a nice job of setting an example of how to combine a relevant topics while still being funny! I mean who could pull of Linda better than Andrea, and Zach as a Frenchman was just over the top! Well done guys!! We chose the topic of the canon because as we realized, it is not an issue that only concerns Dr. Sexson's literary criticism class but also many of the great thinkers have brought up this topic as well. Since our last and final chore for this semester will be to address the MSU top 100 bookmark, our presentation provided just one representation of how the literary canon is viewed by a diverse group of critics.

I thought the second group's presentation was clever and they put a nice spin on the two fallacies given to us by Wimsatt. I also like how each of the 'actors' made references to many of the critic we have in our class this semester. I think one of the most interesting topics in lit crit is the issue of interpretation. Who's meaning is the most important and relevant? The author, director, actors, audience? It is a big question! Nice job with this one guys.

Group three gets two thumbs up in the entertain department. You guys really know how to keep an audience hooked, I liked all the scene changes. Very creative in combining a Christmas story and the ghosts of critics past, nice pun! I also how you chose to review Sexon's piece on the Matrix, clever! I liked how Brian summed up what the critic was saying to him at the end of each of their visits. It helped the audience reaffirm how things were being connected. Y'all rock!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Beginning to ponder the final paper topic, "Literary Criticism and the Well-Lived Life

Now that we are on to final home stretch of fall semester we tend to wrap things up, bring everything full circle and hopefully sit back and look at what we have learned over the last three months. Our teacher has asked us to perform this in the form of a final paper. Dr. Sexson has given us the broad topic of "Literary Criticism and the Well Lived Life." He is obviously asking us to reflect back on our personal experience from this semester and come to some kind of conclusion about what we learned. What I enjoy about this type of assignment is the freedom for individual expression to come out. Everyone in the class is bound to gain something different and unique. We covered a lot of critics this semester and explored a number of theories and ways of thinking about the world. Each and every one of us will have their own conception of how the two terms lit. crit, and the well-lived life are related. My favorite part about the end of the semester is that we have added to our layers of understanding, learning other ways to perceive reality. By expanding out perceptions we are able to come to every experience with an enlarged acceptance of our world and the other human beings in it. To me, the well-lived life is shaping into something that resembles walter Paters definition of criticism, giving to each passing moment our best and greatest possible value

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Lets stop this abortion talk!

What does our personal beliefs on the highly charged topic of abortion have to do with literary criticism? Is it human nature to push and prod human beings until the buttons that spark conflict are found? Zach,I think you found your niche. You have successfully pushed some buttons in the class and sparks are flying! Don't get me wrong, I think it is great that people are speaking their minds on e-journals, and by all means, be passionate about what you believe in! I do feel this topic is un-necessarily drawing us of topic from our discussions and course content. There is a limit to the level of usefulness of this type of discourse. Zach I have a suspicion from the responses you have received on this issue that you will not change the minds of your fellow classmates on this topic. Your argument is presented well. You are articulate and it is clear that you have carefully arranged your case in a way that appears to be seamless, in order to avoid a hole or weak spot. I really appreciate hearing your opinion on the matter, but man I feel like you are beating a dead horse with your lengthy defenses of your stance. You are making these bold statements with the intention of inviting people like myself to try and find a hole in your argument just so you can rip the opposition apart. Think about it, we will never be able to convince you that abortion should be legal right, well likewise for us, no matter how you choose to argue your points, it is unlikely that you will change anybodies strong, emotionally charged feelings on abortion. I am merely suggesting that you take a less defensive tone in your response to this ongoing discussion. Now that we know where you stand, try accepting other people's opinions without tearing them apart. Treat topics like these as ongoing forums for expression in which people are free to believe what they want. In this context I would like to say that a woman should have to right to choose to have an abortion. To say that there is never an instance in which an abortion should be an option is to simplify life into two categories of black and white. Besides, if we cant trust a woman with a choice, how can we trust her with a child? And better yet, why dont we move on folks. Lets pick up a discusion on the well lived life and LITERARY CRITICISM.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The last round of critics

Judith Butler (Debbie)
*re-defining feminism and gender
*breaking down binaries of feminine and masculine
*gender is more than a social construction, it is also a costume we wear, a performance we put on
*we shouldn't pigeon-hole people into gender and sexual identities

Cleanth Brooks (Merl)
*wrote "The Well Wrought Urn"
*if poetry is worth teaching at all, teach it as poetry and look at the text itself rather than the outside influences on the text
*New-Critic, concerned with the text itself

Stanley Fish (Brian)
*Reader-response critic
*opposite from Brooks
*poetry is what we make of it, what we read into the text
*how do we recognize a poem when we see one

Steven Greenblatt (Susan)
*wrote "Learning to Curse"
*New-Historicism (prefers the title of theory, poetics of culture
*literary version of cultural anthropology
*text is history, history is textual

John Dryden (Daniel)
*poet, dramatist, translator, critic
*paved the way for Ben Johnson who compared Dryden's work to the glory of the Roman empire

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Summary of my presentation as Homi

Homi K. Bhabha (still alive) originally from Bombay India:
I have a strong background in theory, I am very well read and educated with a dual doctorate in English Literature and philosophy. Sometimes my use of language is criticized for being indecipherable and illusive in my book "Location of Culture." I am a major player in the area of post-colonial theory and am heavily influenced by deconstructionist theory.

Key points

*My main interest is the study of a hybridity within a culture. I see hybridity emerging from resistance of the dominant culture, creating a third space.
*The term hybridity is interchangeable with the term liminalty.
*My goal in exploring this school of thought is to locate a space of empowerment and resistance for the "other" and explore how to articulate liminality.
*The national narrative created by Western modernity has created a fixed-horizontal nation-space that does not take into account the cultures and identities formed on the faultlines of a liminal, hybrid culture. This has to change!

On the canon

*It is the critic who determines the canon
*The critic is inevitably within the Eurocentic archives of an imperialistic west
*The otherness looses its power to signify, to negate, and to initiate its historic desire to establish its own institutional and oppositional discourse.
*There is a lot at stake to name critical theory Western and model if after the traditional eurocentric model.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

key concept from our critics continued

Nietzsche (Jamie)
*truth does not exist in reality or literature/truth is dependent on language and concepts of society
*Sprachkrise-German for inadequacy of language
*truth as a mobile army of metaphors

Terry Eagleton (Nikole)
*marxist critic
*concerned with literature as class oriented, as an outgrowth of nationalism, and used to reinforce the dominant social order

Horace (J.R.)
*concerned with the craft of poetry, must be practiced in order to be mastered
*the purpose of poetry is to instruct and entertain
*decorum- the unity of the piece is the most important thing

Simone DeBeauvoir (Jennifer)
*feminist critic, wrote the book "Second Sex"
*women are defined by men, women reflect men
*wants to change the way society views women, "one is not born but becomes a women."

*formalist, new-critic/concerned with finding the meaning in the organic structure of text
*autotellic-text is independent of all outside sources, meaning of text has nothing to do with the readers response
*intentional fallacy-true meaning of text is not what the author intended the meaning to be when he/she wrote the text

Gilbert-Gubar (Yoshie)
*feminist critic, wrote "The Mad Women in the Attic."
*concerned with anxiety of authorship in male author, always in competition with precursor
*literature is patriarchal, male author is afraid to create anything feminine in a text

Henry Lewis Gates (Opai)
*concerned with future of black race
*goal to preserve and resurrect black texts
*"race is a text."

Foucault (Andrea)
*concerned with discourse, writing about writing
*believes the author is dead, social constructions allow authors to have one style only
*the author is no longer the center of the universe

Walter Benjamin
*The aura of art is not timeless, it changes with modernity
*film is the only art form that changes with time, it moves with modernity, painting looses quality
*society views art and culture differently with the production of technology

Thomas Love Peacock (Ed)
*reading modern poetry is useless and a waste of time
*poetry used to be good in its golden age, language was perfected and everything has been said
*modernity has experienced a digression because we are still reading poetry when science has taken over

Fredrick Schleiremacher (Lindsey)
*theory of hermenutics- understanding a text through systematic procedure
*to understand one part of the context of a text, the reader must understand the whole
*allegory and symbolism lead to a misunderstanding of the text

Hugh of St. Victor
*reading is the most important part of criticism
*a close reading of the text reveals wisdom, wisdom is what we strive for
*we all have a hiding place in our hearts where we store wisdom from a text, the more wisdom we receive, the more radiant we become