Friday, December 12, 2008

Last Remarks on Theory

I’ll be honest; I entered critical theory with a bit of anxiety. After spending my previous semester abroad in a developing country, where my biggest challenges were learning how to herd sheep and communicate with my hands, the thought of having to do any actual “academic” work frightened me. I was thankfully relieved upon entering the critical theory classroom, that there was no rush in mastering theory. I expected that I would not come out of the class with mastering the subject or even having extensive knowledge on it. I knew at times I would struggle, but I knew in the end I would know a great deal more about critical theory. I can say that I definitely reached this expectation. I was pleasantly surprised to see that literary theory related a great deal to my other major, sociology. It was exciting to see parallels between my two majors. After learning about Marx in a sociology classroom, it was interesting to see how his works influenced and developed a literary theory. I felt the same way when learning feminist literary theory.
Overall, I can gladly say that I learned and understood a great deal more than I expected. At first, I questioned how literary theory is relevant to my everyday life, but as the semester progressed I realized that literary theory was more than just relevant to my sociology courses, it is also relevant to everyday experiences. Jon Rosenblatt’s article is an extreme case of literary theory’s applicability, I don’t anticipate that I will ever encounter theory on that level, but I do see how it impacts our society.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Feminist Theory

Feminism for most people is typically associated with political and social roots. This association of feminism with political values is not just present in the US or Western world, but globally. In my own life, I have mainly studied Feminist theory in sociology courses. Beyond the academic scene, feminist ideals and theories are presented via different images in the media and popular publications. In my own experience, I have very little experience, up until this class, with using feminist theory in relation to literature. With the ambivalence surrounding feminism in general, in came as no surprise to me that feminist literary criticism was just as ambivalent.

Feminist literary theory is most simply broken down into two parts. One being the role of the female author in a patriarchal society, the second being the way in which female subjects are portrayed throughout literary history by male authors. With this aspect of the literary theory in mind, it is important to see its relevance in a larger societal aspect. Yes, it is important to analyze a man’s projection of women in his writings as well as the exclusion on women’s works in the canon, but what feminist literary theory provides are more grounds for the overall feminist movement. How a character is portrayed in a novel is a true reflection of the cultural and political society of the time in which it was written in. Also, it is important to see how a female author chooses to vocalize herself in a literary context, what is it about her works that is or is not an asset to the feminist movement?

Beyond how feminist literary criticism affects feminism as a whole, it is important to view feminist literary criticism in connection with other theories. I can directly see how it relates to Marxist criticism as well as Freud. It is also apparent that feminist literary theory is reflective of other theories such as post-structuralism. Mantissa is a good example of not just feminist literary criticism within a novel but also how other theories relate in the text. As new waves of feminism are branching perspectives on the theory, I believe that Marxist literary criticism will be connected more with feminist literary criticism in terms of how women in different social classes are affected in a patriarchal society.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lacan and Fowles

Thanks to Ashley Shelden for that wonderful post. It definitely was very informative! When reading her post, I found many connections between her explanation of Lacan’s ideas and Mantissa. What first stood out to me in Ms.Shelden’s post was her discussion of the “Mirror Stage” and identity according to Lacan. The example of the “mirror stage” that is most often used is the discovery of self as an infant and the realization of who he or she is. What I overlooked when understanding this theory was that at this point, we do realize who we are but we will never be complete, in other words the understanding of our being does not come at this point. In fact, it never does come, as pointed out very well in the post, there is no end of developing, and there is no point that the individual is fully complete. We see this in Mantissa when Miles Green experiences the “mirror stage.” Fowles writes that at this moment Green realizes that he is in fact a (he) self. Despite that Green discovers who he is, he still goes on a process to discover more about himself which is what the readers witnesses throughout the novel. The search for his identity does not have a true ending point because the notion that we achieve identity is an illusion.

With this in mind, I believe that Fowles intentionally ended the first section of Mantissa with a theme that could be referenced to the death drive. The notion that jouissance, a moment of pleasure that puts a hold on ones self making them lose their identity. We see this with Miles Green’s character as he refuses the treatment. There are many different varying reasons as to why he is refusing the treatment. However, there can be a connection drawn between Lacan’s death drive and Green’s fear of the treatment. Does Green fear the treatment because he knows by achieving sexual satisfaction (jouissance) he will lose his sense of self, which he had just come to terms with moments before? The same two individuals that helped Green with the mirror stage could also lead him to the death drive. I question if Fowles wrote the first section of Mantissa with those two theories in mind.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


In the second part of Mantissa, Miles and the muse discuss sexuality and how it has defined and shaped them. It is interesting to look at this from Marxist Criticism. The muse points out the hegemony plays a larger role in society impacting both her and Miles.

“ Miles, I’d like to say one thing, while we are being more open with each other. I feel I was rather unnecessarily emotional and outspoken a few minutes ago. I do have some sympathy with your problems. Especially as I realize I constitute one of them. I know the overwhelming stress the prevailing capitalist hegemony puts on sexuality. How difficult it is to escape.” (103)

Fowles has the Muse use the word “escape,” in terms of breaking beyond roles imposed by society. The way in which this is articulated is interesting because the reader is called attention to more than the hegemonic control being imposed on the lesser in society but also on the ruling sex. Often times there is so much focus on the way hegemony impacts those that it works against, we forget that it also impacts those it works for in a negative way. Miles discusses prior to this quote that as a male he has a role in society to fulfill just as a woman does. The Muse does carry on throughout the second part of the book about how there is a natural female way that has been imposed upon her; a role that she feels is humiliating and one that she will not break free of. Miles does not deny that this is happening to her but points out that there are roles imposed on both of them in society whether they agree with them or not.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Finding Versailles

First off, a big thanks to Ken Rufo for shedding some light on Beaudrillard and his theories.

Beaudrillard's use of the hyperreal can be visibly seen and experienced by many of us in society today. His description of the hyperreal as relating experience through simulation. Simulation refers to reality as being inaccessible as there is no reference point as to where reality is. Thus the hyperreal is when we try to access the real through simulated experience. I think we can see this in many ways. I find it is most relatable to traveling and understanding other cultures.

For example, last May I was travelling in France with some friends. The top thing on my list as well as my friend Stephanie's was to visit Versailles. (For those of you who aren't oppsessed with Marie Antoinette like I am, that was her primary residence prior to being sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution.) Anyways Stephanie and I arrived at Versailles and I noticed something wasn't settling with her. "Guys... I know this is supposed to be Versailles, but it is not Versailles." She then went on a long detailed description of what the palace should like. To make a long story short we were at Versailles, we were actually just on the other side(which is never captured visually)..... what is the point of this story? Well, what Stephanie and I were experiencing was the hyperreal at its finest. We know Versailles through images, history books, and even movies like the most recent, Marie Antoinette. We, but especially Steph, had a preconceived notion as what Versailles was and what it should look like. Prior to coming to Versailles, we already experienced Versailles and thought we knew the reality of the palace. Simulation of places is often what people experience in terms of areas they are not familiar with. Most of us have simulated experiences of areas that we have never been to, the alps, the taj mahal, the pyrimads, etc. Thus, as I learned when you go to the source to experience it, you may find yourself very surprised. Beaudrillard has a very interesting point with the hyperreal and how it has impacted society, escpecially in understanding areas that we are unfamiliar with.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."- Barthes

In Roland Barthes' Death of the Author, Barthes notes that when the author dies there is no longer holds on the text for meaning. The text becomes free and thus more meaning can be developed. I would like to explore the idea of the destination of the text. " A text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination."- Barthes 189. Barthes is addressing that true meaning of a text lies within the reader. The questions consequently follow are: What is a text? What is a reader? As for the text we view it as a scriptor or words which can only be understood by the use of other words. As for the reader, the "I" notion follows this and thus the text is given an innumerable amount of meaning pertaining back to the reader. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? For the main reason that it opens up meaning, I consider it good. The reader is allowed to explores meanings pertinant to them without having to retrace back to a particular source. By allowing the reader to relate in his or her own way to the text, multiple meanings are produced.
On a different note, it is interesting to notice authorship in blogs.

I stumbled across a blog on how pseudonymity is used and how in the blog world it gives access to those who seek deviant behavior, to partake in such. Kathryn Cramer (I assume this is her real name since she's blogged numerous times against anonymous and pseudonymity in blogs) points out the deviant behavior as the aggressive commenter. She states that no one truly desires to be anonymous when writing in blogs because us bloggers always are writing to express ourselves and our thoughts. Thus we are putting out in the public something about us that matters. She stresses that many people "reject," post negative comments on blogs because they themselves feel rejected. I personally disagree with this. What about a blogger that is discusses the campaign and posts false info about a candidate? Another blogger may comment to clarify to other bloggers. Many people, especially since it ties with politics may see this as an attack, when really it is just a manner of expression and freedom of speech. I am aware that there are some "snerts" (as she referred to nasty commenters) that attack the same blogger over and over again, but I think to say that the rejection of something shows rejection within that blogger is completly absurd.
In another one of Ms.Cramer's post she discusses how happy she was that, makes people publish their real names when they comment on a product. They trademarked the Real Name feature. I thought this was very interesting in the sense now that with technology everything we write will follow us and be automatically connected to the person. I'm glad that I can still use a pseudonym on blogs, while I grapple with theory.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Qui où Quoi ?

The questions of who or what are at the foundation of philosophy. Derrida brings up the question in regards to love. Are we in love with someone or something about someone? This question calls for deconstruction. We call upon ourselves to look into the unconscious and conscious of our relationship. But even then someone is always relative to that something. Therefore, can we completely separate the two in regards to love and say we have the choice of one or the other? With the next section delving into psycho-analytic theory, more answers to this question of love will hopefully arise.
Another aspect that Derrida brings up about love is that it is narcissistic. I normally would have never thought of love in this manner because normally most see that with love comes some form of giving. After seeing the documentary, I can now see why love is narcissistic. Recognizing the needs of others in a relationship is valid, but recognizing ours first is often times more important to us. The other’s duty is to assist in filling the void of the needs of the self. I don’t think many people are naturally pure narcissists when it comes to love but I can see where love and narcissism are intertwined.