Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Looking Further

Over this series of posts, we have explored the evolution of reading experiences from one of text or reader only, to one that attempts to work out the relationship between word and mind.  We identified the strengths and weaknesses of three theories, and have seen that each has limitations.  Now it is your turn to further explore the complexities of reading literature.

Beardsley, Monroe C., and W.K. Wimsatt. "The Intentional Fallacy." The
    Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry
(1954): 3-18. Print.

Iser, Wolfgang. "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach." New
    Literary History
3. (1972): 279. Print.

Stockwell, Peter. Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. London: Routledge,
    2002. Print.

Zunshine, Lisa. "Theory of Mind and Experimental Representations of
    Fictional Consciousness." Narrative 11.3 (2003): 270-91. Print.

While furthering your knowledge, try to answer these questions:  How might we redefine reading to further push the relationship between creator and creation?  Is there a possibility of developing a theory that does not have downfalls?  What is the next step in literary theory?

For additional information on New Criticism, explore the writings of Allan Tate, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, William Empson, and F.R. Leavis. William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley. 

For additional information on Reader Response, explore the writings of Stanley Fish, David Bleich, and Wolfgang Iser.

For additional information on Cognitive Poetics, explore the writings of  Reuven Tsur, Ronald Langacker, Mark Turner and Peter Stockwell.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cognitive Poetics: Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Bridges the text together with the reader (explains both how text works to manipulate reader's experience and how individual experience manipulates meaning)
  •  Allows close reading to place limitations on interpretations without endangering experience
  • Works to explain how text "comes to life"
  • Relies both on reader's schema and author's skill

  • Difficult to track or explain (the observer's paradox-- by bringing to awareness you may be altering the natural process)
  • Largely ignores historical/biographical context
  • Reading others' minds may be problematic  (as Lisa Zunshine writes, "Literary critics, in particular, know that the process of attributing thoughts, beliefs, and desires to other people may lead to mis-interpreting those thoughts, beliefs, and desires. Thus, they would rightly resist any notion that we could effortlessly—that is, correctly and unambiguously, nearly tele-pathically--figure out what the person whose behavior we are trying to explain is thinking (274). 

Cognitive Poetics: An Analysis

I already experience an observer's paradox because I am the one attempting to analyze my own reading, but through my introspection I noticed that Dickens' descriptions lead me towards the meaning I gain from the text, but my own experiences fill in the gaps (Reader Response). 

Mr. Crackit and Sikes begin to gain personhood (Crackit through physical descriptions and both through their believable actions) which enhances my negative feelings towards the two. Dickens' slight rhyme at the introduction of Mr. Crackit forms my early opinion of the character's unseriousness.  The character begins to gain personhood as my my understanding of Mr. Crackit expands and I begin to have a sense of his elevated sense of status despite his appearance and actions.  I sympathize with Barney more than Oliver because Barney has gained a greater impersonation than Oliver through the description of his misfortunes in speech tendencies, day job, and the abuses he faces at the hands of Mr. Crackit. 

In this passage, no character attains portability, but I am able mind-model.  I am able to sympathize with Barney due to this mind-modeling and I am able to feel the anxiety and perturbation of Sikes. 

Dickens draws me into a sense of immersion and absorption by limiting the details he provides me (the reader) and allowing me to fill in the outline provided with my own schema.  I bring in my schema of dark mysterious buildings and create an image of something familiar, the Harry Potter Shrieking Shack. 

I use Dickens' descriptions as well as my knowledge of literary tropes and am able to assume Mr. Crackit's nature as a devilish character (red hair signifies connection to devil and also he has a violent streak).  The texture of the writing allows me to build tonal and emotional aspects to my understanding.  I see and sense the darkness and align this with an evil plot and negative experience.  I am noticing the hesitation of the narrator's voice to provide information and bridging that metaphorically with the anxiety and dubiousness of the situation.  In short, I am reading minds as well as text. 

I am using theory of mind to fill in the missing gaps, similar to how Lisa Zunshine expresses in her essay "Theory of Mind and Experimental Representations of Fictional Consciousness."  She questions how one can know the meaning of "trembling" (whether out of surprise or out of illness) and why or why not an author would choose to directly impress the meaning.  Zunshine explains that the reasoning and meaning making moves beyond just a collective past history as readers. 

Theory of mind explains the ability to "mind read" (or as Stockwell explains it, mind-model) by placing constraints on the context of a situation or description, allowing "us to connect Peter Walsh’s trembling to his emotional state (in the absence of any additional information that could account for his body language in a different way), thus usefully constraining our interpretive domain and enabling us to start considering endlessly nuanced choices within that domain" (275). 

Through mind modeling, the characters' portability and impersonation, and my own absorption into the text, I begin to make meaning and actively participate in the relationship between reader and word.

Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction

Cognitive Poetics:

While New Criticism largely ignores the individual reading experience and Reader Response attempts to explain the importance of the meaning making process, Cognitive Poetics works to bridge the two theories together in a study of how the conventions used by the author of a text and the experience of that text work together to provide a "reading experience."  

Iser claimed that "the convergence of text and reader brings the literary work into existence, and this convergence can never be precisely pinpointed, but must always remain virtual, as it is not to be identified either with the reality of the text or with the individual disposition of the reader" (50).  Cognitive Poetics is an attempt to pinpoint this reader-text convergence and explain how one reads.

Peter Stockwell, one of the leading minds in Cognitive Poetics, draws the connections between the modern and the Classic stating, "Cognitive poetics is still relatively new [...], though it makes clear reconnections back to much older forms of analysis such as classical rhetoric.  The phrase 'cognitive rhetoric' was briefly used recently, and in fact the discipline combines the classical scholarly trivium of rhetoric, grammar and logic" (8).

Stockwell describes the theory as being "all about reading literature.  That sentence looks simple to the point of seeming trivial.  It could even be seen simply as a close repetition, since cognition is to do with the mental processes involved in reading, and poetics concerns the craft of literature.  But in fact such a plain statement is really where we need to start.  In order to understand exactly what [cognitive poetics] is about, we will first need to be clear what we mean by 'reading' and what we mean by 'literature' (1).  He then explains that a text is a literary artifact and reading is a natural object.

Throughout his book, Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, Stockwell defines the nature of the theory.  In the simplest terms, reading a text is no different from how one maneuvers about a room or interacts with a human being. 

In a short term course, Stockwell explains that "There is no 'special module' in the brain that does literature, just as there is no special module that does language: our language capacity is built on our embodied capacities and perceptions.  Language is an extension of our bodied experience." He puts forth the main concepts of impersonation, portability, mind-modelling, and immersion and absorption as definitive in the text-reader relationship.

Impersonation is the process in which a person gains personhood (whether a fictional character or not, the feelings are the same and only on a higher, ethical level is there any difference between the two).

Portability is the process in which a fictional mind is elevated up and out of its textual life.

Mind-modelling is the ability to assume theory of mind in other persons (fictional or otherwise).

Immersion and absorption is attained when the reader has committed a part of their own identity or consciousness to the text.

These four concepts establish a conversation between the written word and the mind and serve to create the active experience described in Reader Response.

Reader Response: Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Ability to observe/analyze how different readers interact with text
  • Focuses on individual experience, providing an openness to interpretation
  • Examines how meaning is made from written text
  • Allows for rich, personal connections with text
  • No emphasis on actual text (largely ignores close reading skills)
  • Too open and broad (running wild with interpretations is possible)
  • Not a thorough understanding of the meaning making process
  • Largely ignores historical/biographical contexs

Reader Response: An Analysis

Reader Response Stickers - $1 at TpT

My schema: nineteenth century familiarity, previous Dickens readings, literature studies experience, familiarity with Victorian customs, close reading experience

My knowledge gaps: a glim, laudanum,Saffron Hill

What I pictured while reading: dirty, slightly hunched and worried looking men acting and appearing suspicious, a menacing long hallway with spiderwebs and barely lit with a single candle held by Sikes, a derelict log cabin like the Shrieking Shack or something out of Skyrim with broken wooden shards strewn about, a clownish Mr. Crackit and sniffling and slightly beaten Barney

My feelings towards characters: I dislike Sikes and Mr. Crackit as both show violent tendencies and act in less than desirous ways.  Mr. Crackit is more odious to me due to the description provided, with him elevating himself and acting in a pompous manner despite his dirtiness and abrasiveness.  I feel bad for Barney as he is sleeping and due to his station he is woken with violence in order to perform his duties, I am indifferent/slightly sympathetic towards Oliver because not much description of him is given in this passage, but Sikes seems to be mistreating him as well.

Things I wonder:  I wonder why Sikes has journeyed to this residence and what the relationships are between the men.  I wonder about Oliver and why he seems so distanced from the rest of the men.  I wonder why the author chose to keep Mr. Crackit unnamed for so long.

Things I predict: I predict that some sort of deal is going to be made or a plot is going to be hatched amongst these men because the setting and descriptions allude to a negative and secretive reason for meeting.

Reader Response: An Introduction

Reader Response Theory:

Reader response theory became prominent in the 1960's after the publication of Louise Rosenblatt's book, Literature as Exploration, which was a reaction to the rigid, close reading techniques put forth by formalist theories of the New Critics.  Rather than focusing on the importance of print text, Reader Response instead emphasizes the active role of the reader.

Wolfgang Iser, one of the prominent Reader Response critics, argues that "the work is more than the text, for the text only takes on life when it is realized" (50).  He explains that the reader must read, or experience, the text in order for meaning to be made, and each reader's experience is unique due to differing schema, or backgrounds.

Like Aristotle maps out plot to help define tragedy, Iser details the reading process in order to show the importance of reader experience in meaning making. He identifies the main components of Reader Response as anticipation and retrospection, the unfolding of the text as a living event, the impression of lifelikeness, identification, and the removal of the boundary between the written and the world.

Iser analogizes the reading process, stating, "in the same way, two people gazing at the night sky may both be looking at the same collection of stars, but one will see the image of a plough, and the other will make out a dipper.  The "stars" in a literary text are fixed; the lines that join them are variable" (57).  Iser further explains the concept, arguing that though the author may exert an influence on the reader's imagination, the imagination itself fills in outlines provided by the text in an effort to order the information into a consistent pattern and create a reality from words.  The reader animates situations in their mind, creating an active experience of balancing inductions and deductions that "can only come into being through the process of reading"  and leads to the formulation of "something that is unformulated in the text" (61-62).

New Critics: Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Develops literary language skills (working with metaphor, irony...)
  • Approaches text scientifically
  • Fairly direct and therefore easy to teach

  • Incomplete (ignores the reader's individual experience, ignores contexts and outside influences)
  • Difficult to apply to a whole text (imagine doing a close reading of the lengthy Bleak House)
  • Works well for poetry, but not for prose

New Critics: Analysis

‘Hallo!’ cried a loud, hoarse voice, as soon as they set foot in the passage. using vernacular, seems to recognize because they call out as soon as "they" are seen, "they" refers to more than one person, so at least three people are present

‘Don’t make such a row,’ said Sikes, bolting the door. not meant to be noticed (expressed in Sikes' disapproval of the loudness and in the hurry to close/lock the door) ‘Show a glim, Toby.’ either the voice or someone within the room is Toby, it is dark (asking to show a candle/light)

‘Aha! my pal!’ cried the same voice. friendly ("pal") ‘A glim, Barney, a glim! there is a person named Barney who is doing the voice's bidding Show the gentleman in, Barney; wake up first, if convenient.’  , the unnamed is lighter (rhymes, joking speech) and implied to be higher up ("gentleman"), now known to be at least four people (unnamed, Barney, Toby, Sikes), possibly night (Barney sleeping)

The speaker appeared to throw a boot-jack, or some such article, at the person he addressed, to rouse him from his slumbers: for the noise of a wooden body, falling violently, was heard; and then an indistinct muttering, as of a man between sleep and awake.  narrator not all seeing (or at least all telling) shown in "appeared" and inability/denial to state exactly what was tossed, speaker may be more joking but is also violent (throwing heavy object at sleeping person), Barney was in deep sleep ("wooden body" falls violently)

‘Do you hear?’ cried the same voice. ‘There’s Bill Sikes in the passage with nobody to do the civil to him; and you sleeping there, as if you took laudanum with your meals, and nothing stronger. Bill Sikes known to all parties (implied by the familiarity expressed by unnamed to those inside the room), sleep not naturally acquired (implied by laudanum reference) Are you any fresher now, or do you want the iron candlestick to wake you thoroughly?’  unnamed voice threatening additional violence (physical abuse comes naturally it seems)

A pair of slipshod feet shuffled, hastily, across the bare floor of the room, as this interrogatory was put; and there issued, from a door on the right hand; first, a feeble candle: and next, the form of the same individual who has been heretofore described as labouring under the infirmity of speaking through his nose, and officiating as waiter at the public-house on Saffron Hill. room is not well furnished (bare floor), person not well accustomed to interruptions (slipshod feet shuffling, hastily implies rushed/not well acquainted with visitors), interrogatory connotes negative interaction, cautious (first the candle, then the face), speaking through nose implies a sinus problem or linguistic tendency, occupation is waiter (labouring suggests lower income)

‘Bister Sikes!’ exclaimed Barney, with real or counterfeit joy; ‘cub id, sir; cub id.’  real or counterfeit joy implies a mask is on, interactions not to be read at face value

‘Here! you get on first,’ said Sikes, putting Oliver in front of him. ‘Quicker! or I shall tread upon your heels.’ Sikes also prone to violence (threatens to tread on heels), in a rush to get inside (quicker!)

Muttering a curse upon his tardiness, Sikes pushed Oliver before him; and they entered a low dark room with a smoky fire, two or three broken chairs, a table, and a very old couch: on which, with his legs much higher than his head, a man was reposing at full length, smoking a long clay pipe. late in coming (tardiness) and irritated about that fact (muttering a curse), rushed (pushed) and eager to begin (implied by first two segments of sentence), mysterious and foreboding ambiance (dark, smoky, broken furniture), not a well off place (able to catalog all contents of room in just one line), man is relaxed (smoking pipe and reclining in deep position)  He was dressed in a smartly-cut snuff-coloured coat, with large brass buttons; an orange neckerchief; a coarse, staring, shawl-pattern waistcoat; and drab breeches. Mr. Crackit (for he it was) had no very great quantity of hair, either upon his head or face; but what he had, was of a reddish dye, and tortured into long corkscrew curls, through which he occasionally thrust some very dirty fingers, ornamented with large common rings.  man (named Mr. Crackit) is better off and not fitting room ("smartly-cut" bright neckerchief and patterned waistcoat) but also not well to do ("drab breeches" and "common rings")  He was a trifle above the middle size, and apparently rather weak in the legs; but this circumstance by no means detracted from his own admiration of his top-boots, which he contemplated, in their elevated situation, with lively satisfaction.  Mr. Crackit is strange mix of old and young (little hair on head or face, curls, dyed hair (red implies devilish), plumping out, weak legs), Mr. Crackit thinks of himself as a higher class than he is (elevated situation, admiration of boots)

New Critics: An Introduction

New Criticism:

New Criticism, popular in the 1940's and 1950's, was created in response to the focus on biographical and historical readings and instead brought the emphasis to the printed text.  Monroe C. Beardsley, one of the important voices of New Criticism, writes, "the claim of the author's "intention" upon the critic's judgment has been challenged in a number of recent discussions [...].  We argued that the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art" (3).  Beardsley then expresses a series of propositions in regard to reading a text without the outside influences.

New Criticism examines the written words on the page and considers the work autonomous and closed rather than relying on additional or outside information to form an understanding.  Similar to Aristotle's precise categorization of plot to read tragedy, New Critics use literary devices such as metaphor and irony to perform "close readings" of texts.

Beardsley writes, "there is a difference between internal and external evidence for the meaning of a poem. [...]what is (1) internal is also public: it is discovered through the semantics and syntax of a poem, through our habitual knowledge of the language, through grammars, dictionaries, and all the literature which is the source of dictionaries, in general through all that makes a language and culture" (10).  He then argues that the external is private and includes all that is "not a part of the work as a linguistic fact" (10).  By placing such emphasis on what resides within and excluding that which remains outside, New Criticism is viewed as being an objective approach to literature.

An Overview

Over the next several posts, an exploration of reading will occur.  We will first investigate the text, then examine the audience, and finish with an attempt to bridge together writing and reading. 

I. New Critics
II. Reader Response
III. Cognitive Poetics

For each theory, a brief introduction that includes the major points and key texts will be provided.  After an understanding of the theory in question is reached, an abbreviated analysis of an excerpt from Oliver Twist (Chapter 22: The Burglary - http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/50/oliver-twist/953/chapter-22-the-burglary/) will be done in order to practice using the theoretical lens.  The strengths and weaknesses be addressed following the exercise in order to determine the relevancy and importance of the given theory.