Text as a Social Force: Cultural Criticism

Thomas Hart Benton, “Hollywood”

Introduction

Text has been a part of human creation for hundreds of years. People have used art and literature to express themselves and the human condition. But the text is also a social force. Cultural criticism has changed the way readers view literature and art. Art is not merely used for entertainment or artistic expression.

Early critics include Hegel, Arnold, and Marx, while later social critics include Marx, Williams, Horkheimer, Adorno, Benjamin, and Foucault. From Hegel to Foucault, art and texts reflect, reify, or alter social structures.

Hegel

Hegel focuses on how an idea finds meaning in relationship to others. Hegel believed “an individuals entity’s meaning rests not in itself but in the relationship of that thing to other things within an all-encompassing, ever changing whole” (Leitch 536). Hegel uses the idea of the dialectic, “which entails the confrontation of any thesis with its opposite (antithesis), and the resultant synthesis of the two through a process of ‘overcoming’” (Leitch 537).

There are two conflicts then a compromise; then there are two more conflicts and another compromise. This process continues onward. His theory stresses movement and change rather than equilibrium and motionlessness. Hegel provides the example of the Master and the Slave, a relationship full of constant tension.

Through the relationship of the lord and the bondsman, there exists two opposite modes of consciousness: “one is the independent consciousness whose essential nature is to be for itself, the other is the dependent consciousness whose essential nature is simply to live or to be for another” (Hegel 544).

Hegel shows that “the reciprocity of dependence” is seen in “characterizing human relationships: ‘They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another’” (Leitch 538). In “Lectures on Fine Art,” Hegel believes that “a work of art is a product of human activity,” a process of “conscious production” that can “be known and expounded, and learnt and pursued by others” (Hegel 547).

Yet “the work of art stands higher than any natural product which has not made this journey through the spirit” (Hegel 549). Being a historicist critic, Hegel considers art occurring in different stages: symbolic, classical, and romantic.

How literature changes consequently changes how we think about things, considering phenomenology or our experience with the world. Art becomes key to understanding wisdom, whether that be scientific, religious, or philosophical wisdom, not in a subservient way but in a way that art shapes culture, and culture shapes those structures.

This concept influences the text. Readers can look at a text and consider how the author resolves conflicts in his characters. It is key to understand that art bypasses how things appear, looking straight at the form of actual things. This process shapes how we perceive the form or do not adhere to actual form. Readers can see this process influence how we consider social structures.

What is government is a complex question; but readers can get various answers of the function or purpose of government through art and literature, which also shapes our interpretation of how our own government is functioning.

Because “[m]eaning and truth are never fixed because they are always in process” (Leitch 537), readers who search for answers in literature and the world around them will never find a fixed truth or specific meaning. Thus new interpretations or readings are considered permissible.

Arnold

On one hand, Arnold emphasizes that we see the object as in itself as it really is; on the other hand, literature, for Arnold, is the highest aspiration of a culture and society. These conflicting points are Hegelian in nature. For Arnold, literature is used to create a moral society.

When he asks for a criticism of life, look for cultural criticism—not just disinterested examination but a cultural criticism that enters in to a critique and evaluates when it is necessary to condemn the inadequate values of a culture. Arnold ends up engaging in political intervention of a literary sort. In fact, literature does present ideals and moral principles for us to consider.

Arnold states in Culture and Anarchy, “[M]any amongst us rely upon our religious organisations to save us. I have called religion a yet more important manifestation of human nature than poetry, because it has worked on a broader scale for perfection, and with greater masses of men. But the idea of beauty and of a human nature perfect on all its sides, which is the dominant idea of poetry, is a true and invaluable idea” (Arnold 720).

Since religion fails, poetry becomes the new religion, shaping social structures. Because poetry becomes the new religion, more focus is placed on thought than on adherence or obedience to rules. In religion, preachers tell you what to think and how to act; in contrast, literature becomes much more interpretive. Yet, at the same time, Arnold really emphasizes the importance of a critic. The critical becomes ultimately higher than the creative.

For example, Arnold writes in The Function of Criticism at the Present Time, “But criticism, real criticism, is essentially the exercise of this very quality. It obeys an instinct prompting it to try to know the best that is known and thought in the world, irrespectively of practice, politics, and everything of the kind; and to value knowledge and thought as they approach this best, without intrusion of any other considerations whatever” (Arnold 702).

So the critic is still important, in Arnold’s perspective. Morality becomes based on this stew of ideas rather than a clear right or wrong. The critic turns to ideas, where the poet emerges from, thus going back to poetry as a new religion to turn to new ideas. Therefore, the poet needs an intellectual and spiritual atmosphere.

Marx

Marx is a social critic, providing ways to perceive the social sphere in which we all live. Marx’s theories are does not provide direct literary interpretation but is used by later critics. Marx introduces concepts such as base and superstructure. Marx becomes Hegel’s most famous disciple, since Marx “adopts both the vision of struggle and the dream of an end to strife” (Leitch 537).

For Hegel, thoughts lead to how you live; however, for Marx, how you live your life leads to your thoughts within society. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx continues the Hegelian dialectic, highlighting “the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production” (Marx 663).

But what distinguishes Marxism from Hegelian philosophy is “that it is not only a political, economic, and social theory but also a form of practice in all these domains” (Habib 36). For example, in “The German Ideology,” Marx writes in contrast to Hegelian philosophy “which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven” (Marx 656). Because, unlike Hegelian beliefs, “we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, though of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh,” Marx sets out “from real active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process” (Marx 656).

Marx tried to find causes and solutions in the structure of society.

  1. His first “objection to capitalism was that one particular class owned the means of economic production” (Habib 36).
  2. His second objection is concerned with this unjust relationship, “the oppression and exploitation of the working classes” (Habib 36).
  3. His third objection is concerned with “the imperialistic nature of the bourgeois enterprise: in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism must spread” (Habib 36).
  4. Finally, Marx is concerned with the idea that “capitalism reduces all human relationships to . . . self-interest, and egotistical calculation” (Habib 36).

Marx set out the explanation of the base and the superstructure. The base (r the forces of productions such as the relations of property and the division of labor) and superstructure, (artistic, religious, and political thinking and culture) is very important.

These two concepts greatly influence later critics. But what importance does Marx have to do with literature? Leitch highlights how a literary reader would ask questions not answered specifically in the text:

What roles do writers, critics, and intellectuals play? Do they illuminate for workers the nature of capitalist exploitation, or do they act at the service of those who already and best understand their true circumstances? Should writers be free to state the social and political facts as they see them, or must the goal of working-class revolution always shape their work—an if so, who sets the limits? (Leitch 649)

To these questions, Marx could reply with the following: “the answers will come only when the contradictions within capitalism produce them” (Leitch 640). Marx truly has changed how we see the world as well as how we interpret art and literature as seen in Marxism.

Benjamin

Benjamin is considered a Marxist critic because of his analysis of the principle of mediation and consciousness. There is a distinction of Marxism versus Marx, the man. Marx is a dialectical materialist, meaning he focuses on history.

The dialectical method occurs when two sides come into confrontation and wrestle with each other, which leads to a new thesis. When a new thesis emerges, another antithesis emerges, too. But Marxists saw the antithesis as consumer culture, and Benjamin believed, “Modern works are reproduced for mass consumption” (Habib 34). In other words, the principle of mediation “establishes relationships between the two levels of Marxist dialectic, between the base and the superstructure, between the relations of production and the work of art” (Richter 1202).

This means the base, or means of production, conditions the superstructure, or art; consequently, art is changing in the current production mode. For Benjamin, there is the possibility of “art for the masses,” the aura, or “spiritual quality, a relic of human attachment to ritual and magic . . . is simultaneously beginning to disappear” (1202–3).

While tradition and aura are smashed under mechanical reproduction, reproducibility is valued instead through exhibition for mass experience. This current production mode changes consciousness or perception of the masses, which result in producing new concepts.

The first concept is the “brush[ing] aside of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius” (1233), which leads to processing data in the Fascist sense. Benjamin views the aestheticization of politics that serves the Fascists negatively.

His second concept focuses on the politicization of art that serves the communists, which marries the capacity of art for analysis and the capacity to meet the broad public in order for the masses to think and do critical analysis of conditions in which they live.

This idea does not fall under a Marxist mode—rather than people rallying together and raising their rakes, people would be expressing themselves. Yet for Benjamin, “Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art” (1244). Additionally, Benjamin considers distraction versus concentration, which reflects on the consciousness of the masses.

Because “the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator,” someone “who concentrates before a work is absorbed by it,” while “the distracted mass absorbs the work of art” (1247). Benjamin claims, “The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one” (1248). Therefore, Benjamin believes consciousness changes because the medium or delivery mechanism changes. This is a Marxist claim: understanding the world is determined by consciousness, which changes through materialism or history.

For example, one consequence of the alienation of labor is the human separation from body; the human then becomes a slave to labor. This reduces man to animal functions, or as Marx explains, “the human becomes the animal” (403). What previously separated the human from the animal was consciousness.

Ultimately, Marx argues, “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (409). Consequently, “the proletarianization of art progressively dehumanizes both participants and spectators” (1203).

Benjamin’s influential ideas shape our view of art—what it means for the masses and what it can mean for us today. We, the viewers of artwork or the readers of a particular text, can determine to be a conscious examiner, not an absent-minded viewer.

Williams

Considering Benjamin’s interpretation of art and the influence of the base and superstructure is helpful in considering Williams’s argument. Williams uses the Marxist theory to see a literary sphere.

Williams sees that culture, like civilization, has a dual sense of achieving and developing. Culture besom a process, or something in flux. Language becomes a tool of productive practices. For Marx, the methods of production focus on gears and factories. But what if language was as productive for as metal or iron or steel? What if language makes things happen?

Language would not work by itself any more than factories work by themselves. Language becomes as much of a tool as a machine is because language does not just mirror reality but becomes a tool for human agency. Williams consider the base, or the means of production and class relationships, as well as the superstructure, or the ideological, including politics, religion, education, and family.

Williams dos not believe that the base and superstructure are homogenous. He sees the mediation between the base and superstructure. The relationship of the base and superstructure is a dynamic one: “We have to revalue ‘superstructure’ towards a related range of cultural practices, and away from a reflected, reproduced or specifically dependent content” as well as “we have to revalue ‘the base’ away from the notion of a fixed economic or technological abstraction, and towards the specific activities of men in real social and economic relationships, contain fundamental contradictions and variations and therefore always in a state of dynamic process” (Williams 1426).

The relationship is more than simple reproduction. This is not just a depersonalized system because we want to include people in this—intension is crucial. How are human decisions influencing the totality. It is not a trapped, soulless system, but rather it is made up of humans.

For Williams, it is as much about the reader as it is about the writer. Conversations written about literature in addition to political interventions are both meant to change the world. The political institution means that you are doing your work to change the world. There is a flux in this influence.

Rules that are so accepted become natural and dominant, even if it is not necessarily how society actually is; this idea introduces hegemony. With hegemony, rules so complete seem inevitable but invisible. Thus, hegemony becomes total. But where is the opposition?

Hegemony is a bunch of ideas. When we think about ideas, we realize that ideas are never wholly dominant, since ideas, like languages, are processes of growth. Throughout various periods, from the Renaissance to the Romantic period, ideas are contested and contrasted.

Thus, we see residual and emergent conflicts emerge. People are included in this process of what is fading and what is emerging, thus intention is crucial to how our human decisions influence the totality that is not trapped to a soulless system.

For instance, Williams writes, “Intention, the notion of intention, restores the key question, or rather the key emphasis” because although “it is true than any society is a complex whole of such practices, it is also true that any society has a specific organization, a specific structure, and that the principles of this organization and structure can be seen as directly related to certain social intentions, intentions by which we define the society” (Williams 1427).

This system is made up of people and human choices. Literature includes the notations of people scribbling upon the margins of dominant cultural context. We continue to see this today not just about ideas but also about media and new forms of art.

For example, film is probably still emergent and now dominant while perhaps reading could be considered residual. People are not writing epic poems but create epic films.

Horkheimer and Adorno

Horkheimer and Adorno suggest that society produces literature often upon consumer demand. Critics, including Adorno, Horkheimer, and Benjamin considered Hegel and Marx “in attempting to revive the ‘negative dialectics’ or negative, revolutionary potential of Hegelian Marxist thought” by opposing “the bourgeois positivism which had risen to predominance in reaction against Hegel’s philosophy, and insisted, following Hegel, that consciousness in all of its cultural modes is active in creating the world” (Habib 34).

Literature becomes dictated by the publishing house and editors rather than literature becoming an instrument to express what the muses have inspired the author to transcribe down for others to read. Literature is a way to reveal realities of a society, through the base and superstructures of a society, as seen in the analysis by Williams.

While Hegel suggests conflict and the form of things helps us learn to understand better, Arnold desires literature to raise society. Horkheimer and Adorno would argue hat literature is a product of society, suggesting the proof of societal existence and influence. Humans become consumers rather than readers of literature.

Horkheimer and Adorno argue,

Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure . . ., but by signals. Any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided (Horkheimer and Adorno 1116).

Literature—both high and low literature—is produced and used to pacify the masses. For example, Horkheimer and Adorno write, “[I]f a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely adapted for a film sound track in the same way as a Tolstoy is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1112).

Instead of realizing the terribleness of their situation, they will be too busy reading or watching or being entertained with whatever consumer product is considered the next big thing.

Foucault

Adorno addresses not multiple but manifest reason. He addresses Modern work that is calculating, spreading technological control toe very aspect of our lives. Similarly, Foucault does the same thing by considering the subtle power influence over everything. Reason does not just control but puts the productivity in power.

Foucault suggests the quest for truth is neither completely disinterested nor an isolated discovery. Truth becomes part of a network, suggesting the encouragement of questions to be asked. The Panopticon, or the all-seeing tower, becomes an important metaphor about discipline and punishment of the invisibility of power to its all-seeing power.

This example of the Panopticon “is the disciplinary form at its most extreme, the model in which are concentrated all the coercive technologies of behavior” (Foucault 1490). When speaking of the establishment of power relations, Foucault writes, “The modeling of the body procedures a knowledge of the individual, the apprenticeship of the techniques incudes modes of behavior and the acquisition of skills in extricable linked with the establishment of power relations” (Foucault 1491).

There is a shift in the basis of power from Marx to Foucault. For Marxists, economics is the foundation that is determinant of everything else in culture. For Foucault, economics has no priority; there is no single discourse exists among human. Therefore, we go from a base and superstructure model to discourse as a basis of everything.

Foucault thought about prisons, sexual activity, schools, religion (including the confessional), medicine, and politics, expanding what could be included in discourse. Literature could become another discourse. Literature does not necessarily become a separate aesthetic realm, for Foucault.

For example, in Nancy Armstrong’s lecture here at Brigham Young University about the bio-politics in Jane Eyre, she provided a Focaultian reading by examining ways the forces teach women to be women, such as through church sermons, but discourses (such as literature) assert certain subjectivity to train gender.

Another example could be seen in Wuthering Heights. In this novel, the reader learns about Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s untamed passions in a straight-laced, Victorian world. This strict society contrasts to a book about passions. Paradoxically, the book does not talk about the encouragement of such behavior but talks about of what we think about being repressed, sexually in this instance, in a particular society.

Therefore, with Foucault’s analysis of discourse, the subject of the novel can fit into the discussion of discourse. It is not just an intellectual field of power that shapes subjectivity. Readers see that literature shapes we are; therefore, we see literature not just as artistic expression or entertainment but also as a social or political work.

Conclusion

Cultural criticism is an exciting way to look at literature and art as a social force. Hegel’s concept of the dialectic has influenced criticism. Of course, Marx and Hegel differed: “Marx was a materialist in the sense that he believed, unlike Hegel, that what drives historical change are the material realities of the economic base of society. . . , rather than the ideological superstructure. . . of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and art that is built upon the economic base” (Richter 1199).

However, both Hegel and Marx believed in dialectical oppositions that occur in society. Marxism and Marx’s theory has been a dialectical relationship: “[Marxism] has always striven to modify, extend, and adapt [Marx’s canon] to changing circumstances rather than treating it as definitive and complete” (Habib 37). Therefore, Marxist critics continue this dialecticism.

Other critics, such as Arnold and Williams, could view evolutions that occur—the change of poetry as the new religion for Arnold and the interchanges that occur between the base and superstructure for Williams.

For Benjamin, Adorno, and Horkheimer, they “saw modern mass culture as regimented and reduced to a commercial dimension; and they saw art as embodying a unique, critical distance for this social and political world” (Habib 34). Foucault’s emphasis on the plurality of discourse could lead to the question: what new discourses could the future hold?

Richter argues, “Marxist theory and the application of Marxist theory out literature have taken a dizzying variety of forms, depending, among other things, on how the literary text is positioned relative to material reality and to ideology” (Richter 1199– 1200).

These cultural criticisms and theories have changed the way readers see the world and consider their lives within the societal structures they are born into. One can wonder what new insights and theories will continue to be influenced by these early theorists.

 

~ Works Cited:

Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Arnold, Matthew. The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Lectures on Fine Art.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. “Phenomenology of Spirit.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. “Dialectic of Enlightenment.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Marx, Karl. “The German Ideology.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Williams, Raymond. “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Creative Fiction: “Ekpipto”

He knew that he had fallen. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?[1]

As SMSN[2] waited, chained against the cold stone, he knew that living and pretending as he did among the E.O.[3] had brought about this end. He had been called to save his people, the PRLTRT,[4] from the BRGS.[5] He had fallen in love with a woman, a woman whom he had never met before and would never see again. She was a stranger, but he was a stranger to her country. He was called to search for the books, for the words of Truth. His people would not die in ignorance. The priests would rejoice. SMSN would finally be a hero. But SMSN had failed. He told his secret identity to the woman he loved. She told the E.O. who he was. Now he was to be tortured.

Before he had ever come to this foreign land, he had been warned of what would happen if he would fail. The priests told them that any traitor to the cause of the E.O. would endure intense suffering and extreme torture. He was warned about the process of losing the senses. SMSN now knew what would happen to him in this pit of hell.

And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen.[6]

He had fallen in the land of GZ,[7] the very land he was suppose to destroy. SMSN had failed.

And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.[8]

The fault was all his own. He knew what he had done. It was delicious pain.[9] He could dare to admit his wrongs even here, in the darkest of caves, on the darkest of nights, below the deepest level of hell.[10] He felt like someone or something was watching him.

And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.[11]

This was to be his punishment. His senses that connected him to this world would be taken from him. A creature designed to torture entered the far side of the room. Its neck twitched with excitement. XXX[12] found particular pleasure in the five-senses-removal process. This meticulous process required palpable skills and perceptive style.

First, touch.

Which are after the doctrines and commandments of men, who teach you to touch not, … handle not; all those things which are to perish with the using?[13]

These words seemed to flow through his body seamlessly.

“The priests of YHWH[14] had taught me from childhood,” thought SMSN, “as well as MNH,[15] the male, and MRY,[16] the female, from the time of my birth.”

In an earlier era, MNH and MRY, a heterosexual couple partnered about thirty years before the language revolution,[17] would have been called the father and the mother of SMSN. But in the surge of egalitarianism, all parents, whether heterosexual or homosexual or transsexual, were stripped of any label of father or mother. The names designating roles and responsibilities were ordered to be erased from all records under Appeal 274 of Equality.[18]

Step one was completed. As pain swelled in rushing waves through his body, he dared to look down at his fingertips. The tips of his fingers—all ten—were gone. SMSN clenched his eyes shut, focusing on the words. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.[19]

Second, taste.

SMSN had eaten the forbidden fruit. The snake had been too beautiful, too tempting. The face of SMSN was injected with a numbing solution. He was fully awake and could still feel some pain. However, the cutting of the tongue was significantly less painful than the severing of the fingers below the nail. The numbing solution also disabled his ability to scream. He was silenced completely. He would never again be able to say the name of his lover, DS.[20]

Third, hearing.

If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.[21]

He would never hear the world above. He would never hear the world below. He would never hear the voice of DS again. Alone, he would hear silence. XXX computerized to inject the syringe above and to the side of the cheekbones so no numbing solution would impact the side of the face of SMSN. The ears of SMSN were in full-feeling effect. If SMSN had been able to scream, he would not have been able to hear his own cries.

SMSN focused on the verses that he thought almost mindlessly through the synapsis in his brain. SMSN was to be the chosen one. He was selected to not go to the regular school. MRY had had a vision. She had heard the voice of YHWH. While still a baby, he was smuggled, unbeknown to the E.O. or the system and raised by the priests. Instead of going to L.S.,[22] the priests taught him what other students were not taught. Children in L.S. were shown pictures on a moving screen with images that flashed by. One student was rumored to have asked, “If I don’t remember it happening, then it never happened?” This was the deadliest question. The purpose of the pictures on the screen were to remember what had happened. Most of the images were of footage of before the Crisis, before WWIV. These children were not taught what had happened or why; they were just shown that it had happened. This was real.

After those news programs, students were shown pictures of YHWH and miracles on the ever-glowing, ever-teaching magical screen. They had been saved. They would not be cursed again, like their forefathers had been. They would not be wiped from the face of the earth. The earth had been cleansed by water. The earth had been cleansed by bomb. Now the earth would be cleansed by products. The E.O. were, of course, over the production and selling and selling of the items of pleasure. Large pictures and posters would be spread around the small gathering areas where the people of SMSN would gawk and stare and drool over the newest item of pleasure. The people of SMSN were quite poor but several items of pleasures were especially marketed for them. The richest and the poorest both could enjoy the items of pleasures. Beautiful, smiling women help luscious clothing. Tall, dark men wore bracelets that shined like the sun. Certainly, some of these items of pleasure were not quite at the same quality as these images depicted, but what did it matter. The people of SMSN had been saved on purpose and had every right to enjoy pleasures. No need to think critically. No need to analyze. The E.O. would tell you everything you need to know. They were now the chosen ones.

Of course, SMSN was chosen. But he was also selected. SMSN was taught by the priests the ways of deceit and cunning. He was taught how to fight and how to break, to lie, to cheat, to steal. He grew in strength. Most importantly, the priests of YHWH read SMSN from the S.B.[23] He heard the verses, the words of the YHWH. He was taught by hearing. The priests would force him to memorize, to reiterate, to recite until the words fell from his mouth like mana fell from heaven for the people of MSS.[24] SMSN would not worship the idol; he would rend the earth in half with his might. He would save their people from ignorance.

Yet SMSN was not entirely trusted by the priests because SMSN was not taught how to read. Reading was considered too powerful; reading caused men to think and to reason. Reading, or words specifically, were dangerous. Reading is what had caused the Crisis. It had ended millions of lives. Had not the priests taught SMSN that even MSS could not read the ten commandments as they were written, but rather YHWH had told Moses what to say to the people?

But SMSN yearned to know the real spelling of his name. The one thing children were taught was how to spell their names. Documents, of course, still had to be signed. A few other words could be picked out, but mainly children who grew up to become adults only knew their own name and maybe the name of their partner. He believed learning his real name, his real spelling would be the source of his real identity. Those words that spelt his name would be his Ideal, his Form, his Self. In other words, those words would spell out his true identity. Not the false name he created for himself. Not the name he still called himself, SMSN. But his real, true identity would finally become a reality.

Fourth, smell.

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?[25]

SMSN knew he was no longer whole. He felt like someone or something was watching him.

He had given himself to DS, worshiped her, kissed her feet, and fallen on his knees for her. He had sacrificed, given everything for her. But why? She had lied to him, telling him that she knew what it was like to be an outsider, to be an outcast, to want something more out of life. Together, they would escape this world. Together, they would run away from it all. Together, they would transcend this world by running away to the North Kingdom, an empty land where vagabonds and cannibals were rumored to roam and hunt for human flesh. After their plans they made, SMSN knew he had passed the turning point. There was no going back. He had known that he would tell her everything in the fragrant swallows of the evening’s dimming dawn of darkness. He could never go back now. But he did not know it would end with this.

XXX knew its purpose. Its job was to complete the task. Losing one’s sense of smell was a process. It was the longest step. It was the fourth most painful sort of torture known to humans. It was a simple process: simply wave a precise mixture of the bottles labeled L2, O, L2. XXX was efficient. It did its job. It was calculated to give Subject 24718-JKB a shot of adrenaline at precisely 10.4 seconds after the solution was completely smelled. Subjects were never supposed to go unconscious. Subjects must be awake for the entire process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process. Each step was a process.

XXX began, slowly, to shut down. XXX was created to shut down after step four.

SMSN jerked back into consciousness. He was awake but barely. His eyes streamed with tears that he could not brush away. His eyes were the only thing he had left. He could see that XXX was no longer moving. Somehow XXX had shut down, apparently automatically. There was no binary switch for on or off from what SMSN could see with his two eyes.

SMSN sat there for a few moments in the dark. He felt like someone or something was watching him. He was confused. His precious eyes were left for last, but who—or what—would complete the deed? SMSN began to shake harder than ever before. Not knowing what would happen next terrified him the most. He muttered under his breath these words to try to calm his shaking hands and shrinking spirits:

Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.[26]

Almost two hundred years after the bomb, the era of schwas and diphthongs was over. The masses were reduced down to mere signs. A child was assigned one or more consonants to be known by. This revealed the worth of the child. A one-consonant child was worth less than a two-consonant child, etc. Not even YHWH used vowels–only an elect few knew that the BRGS[27] could buy vowels. SMSN, a child worth four consonants, was one of the elect. The rulers of the E.O., could afford vowels.

A man in black descended the stairs. He blended into his surroundings so at first SMSN did not see him. Then another and another and another descended, like demons returning to the thick darkness of a cave. They preferred the blackness where they sought their Truth.

One man with particularly long, black gloves drew a curtain. SMSN had not noticed it before. His eyes strained, but he could not tell if the shadows were talking. They moved and moved slowly, but he could not tell whether their lips moved as well. Hearing nothing and seeing these silhouettes before him were chilling. The dark curtain was drawn and behind it was a simple stage.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.[28]

SMSN had sinned. He knew it. He wanted to confess to these black shadows all he had done, but he could no longer speak. He then realized that these shadows that were humans had come to finish his last act of torture. It would be not merely a physical ending but a psychological ending, he could tell.

The play began. It was a puppet show. Invisible beings moved the strings. A lonely puppet stood in the center of the stage.

Someone had disappeared. The lonely puppet was warned but defied the warning. The villain, an elongated masked puppet, was searching for something, gained information from a letter, and attempted to trick his victim via another letter. However, the lonely puppet intercepted the letter. This letter was worn and torn, scrolling down and around the lonely puppet’s body like a serpent entangling its victim and preparing to attack. Rather than forwarding the letter, the lonely puppet destroyed the letter. He tore the letter, piece by piece. Next, he tossed the fragments of the letter into a burning fire pit that sending shadows to darken the face of SMSN.

After the destruction was complete, the lonely puppet departed into a wilderness on a mission to escape from bondage of society and ensure his freedom. In this wilderness of endless sand, the lonely puppet grew weary, losing strength every haggard step he took. But the lonely puppet stumbled upon a pouch that was full of effervescent water in the middle of this desert. Suddenly, the masked puppet arrived on the scene, having found the lonely puppet. The two puppets dueled. It was impossible to tell from one moment to the next who would win. The lonely puppet stabbed the masked puppet with his paper sword, and when the masked puppet died, the desert vanished.

It had all been an illusion. The masked puppet, a sorcerer and magician, shimmered into a thousand pieces, scattering among the wind. The lonely puppet wandered off, searching for his home, a place he had not returned to for a very long time. He left the wilderness and was back in the city. Chased by little puppet dogs, the lonely puppet arrived at his home safely. But he sat on a chair, alone in his room. No other puppet entered the scene. No solution was offered, no exposure was made, no transfiguration occurred. Neither a wedding nor punishment happened. The lonely puppet just sat alone in the room, unremembered, unwanted, unrecognized in his isolation.

When SMSN had been escorted down the steps into the room of torture, he had seen lines scribbled on the wall. The E.O. were educated men and women. Sometimes lines were seen covered on walls, although these held no meaning for him. The guard recited the first line, and these words now echoed in the mind of SMSN:

In recognizing Oedipus or Medea in ourselves, we recognize that what can happen to that sort of person can happen to us as well, because we have just come to recognize that we ourselves that sort of person—that we are, to that extent, Oedipus or Medea ourselves.[29]

Who was this Oedipus? This Medea? He yearned to scream it out loud. Yet no one could answer his question now. Right before the guard and SMSN entered the room of torture, the guard had recited another quote:

Incidents of drama itself . . . . teaches the audience something important about life and fate, even if, as I believe, it is not clear whether we can say in general terms what this lesson is or, indeed, whether there is a single lesson that tragedy teaches beyond expanding our sense of factors that can affect the shape of our life. Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude.[30]

The thoughts of SMSN trailed now as he watched the lonely puppet on the stage. SMSN had not and did not understand these words. He wondered if the play was supposed to mean something to him. He did not know whether the drama was meant to influence his emotions in some way or if it was some strange set of motions to create confusion for himself. Or, he wondered, if the play was in some way an original creation set out for its own purpose of merely existing just as he was created for the mere usage of being in existence. Could the plot merely be attempting to internalize resolution of its tragic nature rather than considering his response as the sole audience member? Did the invisible puppet master not care that he was present—he still existed?

After that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light.[31]

The play was coming near the close; SMSN could sense it. He would lose his sight as soon as the curtain was lowered on the stage. The madness would finally finish.

The lonely puppet climbed a fabricated staircase, winding up and up and up. He reached a tall building with many windows that glowed of deceitful warmness, ricocheting more shadows in all directions. After the lonely puppet climbed the stars, he reached the top of the building. He stood, arms stretched out to the heavens. The stars–tiny, flickering lights surrounded in the darkness–blinked on and off, on and off.

And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.[32]

With his arms still outstretched, the lonely puppet took a step off the building and fell. The curtain closed. SMSN shook with a terrible force.

The E.O. had an approved list of teaching material, otherwise coded as DAGON,[33] mainly of old television programs or news reports, or so the rumor had been spread when SMSN was still in L.S. The S.B. was one on the approved list. It was used to calm the people. He had been on an errand of truth, a quest for the ideal, but it soon became a search for the true name of SMSN. He yearned to know his true identity. How was his name suppose to be? What would it look like? What would it feel, look like written out? SMSN’s original quest was to search for the books that were not on that list made by the E.O. To find out the names, the real names, of titles that had been considered improper. The purpose of him entering GZ was to save his people. The source of truth, the source of reality was to be found in the list of books that were forbidden.

The center of the city in GZ was a giant orb on top of a high building, stretching into the sky. This orb sent silent vibrations through the city. At high-speed velocities, these vibrations could detect the code in the hair and sometimes even the clothing of the PRLTRT versus BRGS. SMSN did not completely comprehend how this machine worked, but its power rested purely on the exterior, detecting any unwarranted visitors to the city of the elect.

The priests had developed a way to rewire the code encrypted into the hair of SMSN. It was done through high-tech software that the priests had stolen and had been working on for years before SMSN was born. The orb would be unable to detect the false code signaling the identity of SMSN. SMSN was to become part of the BRGS. The only thing that would give away his identity would be a reversal of the code in his hair. The priests had given SMSN fresh clothes, which were also stolen from BRGS.

But SMSN became sidetracked from his quest. While hiding among the E.O. in GZ, SMSN had taken upon him the name of ISH,[34] but when SMSN met DS, she made him feel emotions he had not dreamt were possible of in the land of his people, where women were nothing compared to the greatness of DS. She had told him that she would tell him his true name if he would but reveal his consonants. But their love had been a false one. When he had told her all, she had betrayed him while he still slept in her arms. She was to reveal his secrecy, and in the dead of night, men, spying in their secret eyes hidden about the room, hanging from ceilings and tucked under tiles,[35] had come while he was still asleep, injecting him with a solution so he would remain asleep and innocuous. His false DS,[36] his idol, had betrayed him. He had sold his mess of pottage; she had cut his hair.

She took his hair to the E.O., who would soon discover the secret of the priests’ endeavors to hide the identity of SMSN. Probably not very long after the punishment of SMSN would be completed, the priests would be punished, as well. They had been warned. They had been found wanting. They would receive their just rewards. The wicked would not prevail. E.O. would rule without conflict. They would continue to sell their gizmos and gadgets, their toys and their entertainments for the pleasure of the PRLTRT. One day, no one else would resist. The minds of the PRLTRT would be too absorbed by the toys of the E.O. No long would the people of SMSN question the control of the E.O. The PRLTRT would become slaves to their passions rather than defenders of their rights.

Fifth, sight.

SMSN shuddered, violently and forcefully, in the fiercest, sharpest of pain. He never learnt if he had dreamt in the depths of his unconsciousness after losing his sense of smell or had actually seen the haunting vision in reality. He was left in darkness, never to see his Form written in letters and consonants.

All that remained were mere mirrored memories upon the glassy smear of his mind.

 

~ Footnotes:

[1] Genesis 4:6

[2] Pronounced Samson, according to the section of pronunciation guide in E.O.’s New Order: An Abbreviated Dictionary of Shortened Language. After the bomb destroyed approximately 79.4% of the earth’s population, the E.O. (Elite Order), or previous rulers that survived and about .2% of the remaining population, gathered together to establish a united language and simply terms to communicate completely, concisely, compliantly, and clearly. Only 1.93% could read this new, condensed dictionary.

[3]Acronym, using only vowels, Elite Order

[4] Acronym, using only vowels, Proletariat

[5] Acronym, using only vowels, Bourgeoisie

[6] Isaiah 21:9

[7] Pronounced Gaza, a land currently covering the Midwest of the United States of America.

[8] Revelation 14:8

[9] SMSN could possibly be referring to Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. A man, who falls in love with a prostitute, rejects the reality of her occupation present before him to focus on the qualities that he loves. This eventually brings about their separation, which enhances the tragedy that will undeniably happen at the end of the opera with the prostitute’s death.

[10] Possibly in reference to Dante’s Inferno

[11]Deuteronomy 4:28

[12] Pronounced, Extermination Version 30. This is in reference to its model number.

[13] Colossians 2:21–22.

[14] “The tetragrammaton (from Greek τετραγράμματον, meaning “four letters”) is the Hebrew theonym יהוה, commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH. It is one of the names of the God of Israel used in the Hebrew Bible.”

[15] Pronounced Manoah

[16] Pronounced Mary. Records show that there was a high spike in partners selecting this name for their child around this time. Mary was approximately 15 when she gave birth to her first son, Samson.

[17] After the Bomb: A new order of time was established.

[18] The Appeals of Equality came into effect shortly approximately seventy-eight years before the bomb occurred.

[19] Genesis 2:17

[20] Pronounced Dios. Believed by some to be the word for gods in the forgotten romantic language, Spanish. This became a popular first name among the selection of daughters by the E.O., who were not commanded to multiple and replenish the earth.

[21] Mark 4:23

[22] Acronym using consonants, Learning Suite. Education did not have the status of using vowels in its abbreviation. L.S. years would be the years generally associated with elementary school in the late twentieth to early twenty-first century. Therefore, this would be about kindergarten through fifth- or sixth-grade. However, in the years following the bomb, the E.O. declared that children would go to school from age 4–5 until puberty, for “the multiplying and replenishing of the earth” as taught in the S.B. (see footnote 21). Children were then assigned partners, based on preferred sexual orientation; therefore, children had the option of selecting a homosexual or heterosexual relationship under Appeal 274 of Equality, but homosexual partners were given children from other parents who had died or were considered unfit. Suite is in reference to the fact that children were sent away from school, such as with boarding schools in the United Kingdom and other European countries.

[23] Acronym using consonants, Select Bible. Even high literature did not have the status of using vowels in abbreviation. Around 9 A.B., the E.O. created a committee called the R.S. This committee did not have the status of using vowels.

[24] Pronounced Moses

[25] 1 Corinthians 12:17

[26]2 Corinthians 8:21

[27] Pronounced Bourgeoisie, an antiquated French term that persisted approximately 112 years after the bomb. Some believe that this is equated with the prevalent survival rate of the French, who had retreated into Switzerland before the explosion. Some critics would argue the French contributed heavily to the E.O.’s New Order: An Abbreviated Dictionary of Shortened Language, while others would say that their prevalence is quite less obvious.

[28] Romans 5:12

[29] Believed to have been written by Alexander Nehamas.

[30] Ibid

[31] Mark 13:23

[32] Mark 13:24

[33] Judges 16:23 “Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice”

[34] Pronounced Isaiah. Believed by some to be a prophet in ancient times.

[35] Perhaps this is in reference to hidden cameras or a sort of unknown code conveying images from area 1 to area 2 in order for information to be revealed about something occurring in area 1.

[36] Upon further research in recent years, Dios is believed to have been an agent for the E.O. Some critics, however, argue about her role. Some wonder whether she could have been a double agent. Others argue about what role could she have played.

 

~ Some Explanation:

Ekpipto, as used here in the title, in Greek means the following: “to fall, to perish, to fall powerless, to fall … of the divine promise of salvation.” This short story is about the fall of a man, ultimately in the quest for Truth. This dystopian/philosophical/1982/The Tree of Life/the gloss of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”/biblical/YA novel-esque (Unwind specifically) short story is weird and … well, just straight-up weird.

But it incorporates ideas of Saussure (the idea of signs, the use of language/names, and the importance that has in this society), Baudrillard (the use of television for education and the hyperreality; whether SMSN dreamed or if it was reality), Plato (the cave/shadows/forms, searching for the truth/ideal, and the idea of preferring spoken above written language), and even Aristotle (the idea of the form of drama in addition to criticism by Nehamas).

There is also irony in the sense of the futurist critic, writing biasedly throughout in the margins, looking back at a earlier point in the future (from our perspective as the reader), as if it is a piece of art to critique; perhaps this is in reference to Wilde and the idea of a critic being more important than the art itself and the emphasis on creating, in fact constantly creating to find the new, rather than the actually reaching the certain point of the said-end creation.

Additionally, Nietzsche could perhaps be seen in this short story; the quote “God is dead” could have popped up in the dialogue at any point, and the idea of society constructing truths, which are actually lies, in order to create structure is prevalent throughout the story.

Of course, the Platonic forms is invariably important for consideration, but this piece becomes even more interesting when Foucaultian concepts of power play and a new type of Panopticon comes into the picture. The proletariat and bourgeoisie of Marx are presented in the different levels of this future society.

Additionally, this story presents the fact that consumerism that is still prevalent and the culture industry is still going strong—even in the future (poor Adorno and Horkheimer would be rolling in their graves). Perhaps the desire to obtain poetry becomes a type of religious quest for SMSN—hence, harkening to the theory of Arnold.

Creative Fiction: “Travel Machine”

Salvador Dali, “Anthropomorphic Chest of Drawers,” 1936

 Time travel—it is impossible, no?

Studying, studying, studying; researching, researching, researching. No use, you would think, after years of, well, working, searching, finding what I could in what was left of the university libraries, in my spare time, of course.

No one goes to college anymore. How could this be? How had this happened? The locks are not that hard to break. So that is why, why in fact, the reason why I broke the law, I broke into the libraries, whenever I could and whenever I was guaranteed not to get caught, although, really, it’s not too difficult to be caught, since, well, remember the laws that were made years—oh how many years has it been?—but that really doesn’t matter, the year I was turning fifteen.

That’s what it was. Yes, the year I changed was the year the war happened and when the peace treaty was made between the Germanic States of Europe, the Portuguese States of Europe, and the British States of Europe, that was when the universities were locked up. Education was exterminated because no one, God knows only why, needed to know how to read. Immediate, mindless work was much more effective for the masses. Was it not? But I broke the law—the cause is justifiable, no?

My name is. . . I don’t remember now. I found my name, written out, in the records, hidden deep within the labyrinth of the library. My parents. My sister. My brother. Their names, there they were, written on the white page like seals pressed into the edges of time. I wanted, you know, to check, of course, to see if I was real. Real, we were all real, in the pages of books.

Why, books, have you been cast aside? Burned by so many after the war? Broken apart by those who searched for ways to keep their broken, shriveling bodies warm.

The cause—the cause to go to the past. To return to the golden era. The turn of the twentieth century, the age when almost anything was possible, where rights were expanded, and people began to fight for what they really believed in.

Not like this current cesspool of flashing, broken images streaked across the burning, midnight skies and dawning evening dusks.

I would write. I would write the greatest of things. I would save my people through thoughts and ideas and words, and they would learn, yes they would, they would learn the importance of words and literature. They could be saved.

The masses, the groaning masses, could find salvation.

It was during these midnight break-ins that I’d make my greatest break-throughs. Languages, I know four (German, English, French, Russian). Sciences, from Einstein to Newton to Bohr. For fun, I’d study Plato, Aristotle, Kant . . . But the one section I always returned to for hours and hours was the area that had books about time travel.

My favorite author, an Englishman, was inspired. The Muses spoke to him. Science spoke to him. Angels spoke to him. Something or whatever spoke to him, or maybe it was just his own genius altogether, but his writings lifted my mind to higher realms of inspiration and glory. Oh, how I miss those silent nights with the books that were left and the haunted memories of past students roaming through the aisles.

It was on one of these nights, so long ago, that I made a decision. The pages of a particular book, bended and faded, torn and worn, felt so crisp and thin in my hand. I turned the pages so many times, reading each line with a furious hunger. Why not, I asked myself, do what this very character did? He went to the future; I can return to the past.

For ages, I longed to write my own book. My book would be spread underground and read by thousands. Eventually, my visions, my theories would change the world and infiltrate to the top. People would be forced to hear what I believed. People would be forced to see the world in a new light. People would be forced to read.

Works of great literature should be whole. Like scientist’s theories were complete and exact, so would my greatest contribution to the written word be. My ideas would flow like great rivers I had never seen or the fresh ocean water I had heard about only in these dusty books I stole, or barrowed, of course, barrowed, you know, for reading purposes. My writing would be an organic unity of wholeness. How could it not?

But I lacked any original ideas, or so I thought. Even my idea to create a time machine was based on an idea that had been going on forever. This time, rather than going to the future, I would return to the past.

By going to the past, I would ask the writer of this book, my favorite author, for inspiration. How did he create his ideas? How did the Muses speak to him? How did his mind work? We would have an actual conversation, face-to-face. He would like me. I would like him. We would become friends. I would no longer be alone in the labyrinth of books. Then I would write my book, return to my time in the future, and change the world.

I took a risk—I took my precious book from the library to my home. It wasn’t really stealing, no; it was not to be missed among the other rows of books that were left.

I read the book over and over again. Some pages tore just from their delicate states. Additional trips, during riskier times of day, mid-morning and late afternoon (midnight was the best time to go), were made. No one ever broke into the library—no one but me. But, of course, I wasn’t breaking in. I was just exploring the world of knowledge the world did not see.

During these extra hours, I read even more than I had before, trying to create a way, through the piles of theories I read, to fulfill my desire to return to my idealized precursor. Years passed by. One day, while sketching on some torn sheets of paper, I found my eureka. For months I built my time machine, using old desks and old electricity wires and metal from around the library. It took diligence. Once it was created, I knew, I knew it would work.

But it needed to be tested, you know, like scientists test hypothesizes with little mice or birds with grey feathers, so I set the dial back to one day, at university library. I saw blurred visions zoom past my eyes, and when it stopped, I was, as the clock indicated, exactly one day previous to the day I finished the time machine. In my excitement, my fixation, I choose to go back in time to meet my favorite author where he lived and wrote. I set the dial for 1895, pulled the lever three notches down, and zoomed faster and faster into the past.

The dial began to spin, turning, turning, turning backwards. Over what felt like a few seconds to me, I began to see the dial spin close to the 1900s. The blurry images surrounding my machine began to slow, and the dial eventually came to a stop. Right as the dial was about to click, I noticed an image, which seemed to be glaring at me from the end of a long corridor. The machine stopped, and soon I realized we were not in some hallway.

Rather, it was dark, and it was night. It must have been a forgotten alleyway. I checked the time and place to make sure and then unlocked my door. Stepping out of the time machine, I noticed that it was exceedingly dark. There were no flashing lights, no glaring screens, no block long advertisements. Vibrant darkness in all its glory screamed to my soul at what I had done.

As I stood by my time machine, I did not realize at first what was happening. I was quite dizzy and felt a bit sick. My ears were ringing like haunted bells churning in a dark nightmare. Resting my hand and left side upon the nearest wall, I swallowed gasps of cold air. My eyes clamped shut, I tried to adjust myself. Slowly, the dizziness went away, and I realized how cold it was out. I had no jacket, no money, nothing on my person.

Then I heard a few gasps, a moaning, a blood-curling sigh come from my machine. Great goodness, where was it coming from? It was actually from underneath my machine, I thought. I feared going close, but then, quickly, I came to a realization that there was some teenager somehow under my machine.

But no—he was not merely under the machine. He was crushed. I found, on the other side of the machine, the kid’s face, his eyes glassy, his tongue flopping out to one side. I stepped back in full horror at the realization of what I had done.

In going back in time, I had killed this poor boy. I had assumed that going back in time was fine, but I had not considered time and space. This person was exactly at the wrong place at the wrong time. I had not killed him on purpose. It was an accident, an accident, I swear. But he was surely dead.

His hand was outstretched to one side, and the finger seemed to point out towards the right of the machine. I walked around the machine more and found a bundle of documents tied up with string. This poor kid, his last attempts were to hold these papers one last time, but, alas, they were too far out of reach.

I picked up the bundle of papers. My hands shook, and as I tried to steady them, I noticed something on the top corner. A name so familiar, a name that had haunted me in my waking thoughts: H. G. Wells. The title read in curvy letters The Time Machine.

No, I screamed in my mind. This cannot be. In going back in time, I had inadvertently killed the very author I had so desperately want to see. But I gave another glance at the blank face under the machine. Wells was supposed be twenty-nine years of age when he had written the book, the same age that I was. Yet this boy looked like he was not even in his twenties. He was younger. Had Wells actually written this story when he was still in his youth, only to publish it years later? My mind swirled in confusion.

A sudden thought came to my mind. What if I could go further back in time, just a few minutes more, and warn this poor boy not to go down this alley, to avoid any sounds, to never venture down this path. I ran immediately with the papers in hand to my machine. I closed the door and twisted the dial a bit and then twisted the nob down. But the machine did nothing. It did not move or spin or zoom or anything.

Panic thumped loud in my ears, and my hands shook even harder than before. My machine! Broken! But how? It must have been my horrific landing when I hit the boy, my author, my inspiration.

I was officially stuck in the past. I had no resources. I had no friends. I had no home. I had no life. I opened the door to my machine. My bag held some of my prized possessions from the old university library: some philosophy and all the writings of Wells and some paper. Although I had planned to talk about Wells’s books in full, vibrant detail, I had indeed killed my precursor. I took this manuscript, blood-splattered and torn, in my hands.I found some smelling old rags in the gutter. I had no clue how long it had been there. Because I was quite literate and could write, I was able to find some work quickly. There was only one thing I could do.

Though my name had been Harold Gross, I became Herbert George Wells, shortening it to H. G. Wells.

Shortly thereafter, because I was low on cash, I sold Wells’s story to a publisher. Every night I scrub, and I scrub, and I scrub. The blood—it won’t come off my hands, I tell you! It’s always there. My hands are died permanent red, and when the water rushes down the drain, it’s stained pink, of course, but the blood never leaves my hands. I had killed my precursor—I had become my precursor.


~ Some Explanation:

Bloom’s theory centers on the anxiety of influence from precursors. So that got me thinking—what if a person became so obsessed over creating an original work of art that that person would do something crazy? I love how Bloom argues about “a greater awareness of the artist’s fight against art, and of the relation of this struggle to the artist’s antithetical battle against nature” (1653). Bloom’s believed, “To search for where you already are is the most benighted of quests, and the most fated” (Leitch 1656); time travel—the first thing that popped into my head.

My character, a man from the unknown, inexact place in the future, obsesses over original creation. Art in this futuristic setting has become broken images that do not reflect the natural world or truth or anything real. Art becomes flashing images for commercial purposes only. Very few people read, because, really, what’s the point? Commercialization is much more effective in conveying to the viewer what is desirable and necessary to purchase.

The man obsesses over a return to the processes of the mind (Kant-esque) and organic works of unity (Coleridge-esque) that will uplift society (Shelley-esque), instead of blitz of false advertising and its sole purpose of people to purchase the latest gadget. This creative piece is written in the first person point of view to emphasize the focus on mind (Kant-esque . . . again).

My character is undoubtedly bright as well as creative, to a certain extent, but he fails in his journey to go back to his favorite author to gain inspiration. I hoped to bring about the feeling of the romantic but hazy genius through the narrative. He becomes stuck in the past (literally and, perhaps, figuratively by breaking with reality in a mental collapse), as if his sole identity revolves around a man who never really existed yet at the same time exists because of himself.

However, this character is ultimately unable to help the future or society, in all actuality. He never returns, stuck in the past, stuck in his mind, stuck by past influences. The cruel twists of fate, the realities of broken pride are, indeed, bitter when he falls so far as to take the identity of his favorite author instead of his own. It really does not matter whether or not he went insane or really ever went into the past.

Personally, I believe that the man was actually caught in the future by security guards protecting the university, which is why he always is on the defense. Did he go back in time? Was he just tortured? Did he kill a man? Or could he really not kill or overcome his precursor?

Despite all these questions that cannot be answered exactly, he ultimately experiences the pangs of fallen idealism. I would argue that the man could not overcome his precursor in the fight that Bloom suggests.

The Author

Expressive Theory

Expressive theory, which exploded from the 1700s into the 1800s, “stressed the relationship between the work of the art and the artist, particularly the special faculties of mind and soul that the artist brings to the act of creation” (Richter 2). Perhaps social change impacted the shift from rhetorical criticism to expressive criticism. The explosion of the printing press and the reading of the masses contributed to this shift to expressive theory. Less-educated people who now had access to literature unknown to this class before made the matter of taste of the upmost importance to theorists.

As a result, theorists considered the importance of taste; while theorists “examined the inner experience of readers, [theorists] found that the faculties behind good taste, the capacities that made ideal readers—delicate imagination, good sense, wide experience—were the same as those that made the best poets” (Richter 7). The creative faculties, therefore, of the poet could be studied, understood, and theorized about in expressive theories. Kant, Coleridge, and Shelley all fall under the label of poet-centered theory, while both modern theorists, Bloom and Foucault, put the author in question. Yet all these theorists consider, whether implicitly or explicitly, the importance of the author, thus defining the author in various ways and changing our idea of literature in the process.

Kant, Coleridge, and Shelley all focus on the cult of the artist. There was a big shift from the “out there” (the world) to the “in here” (the mind). When talking about poetry, there was less worry about how accurately art represents the world and more focus on how a particular poem reveals the way the mind perceives beauty and the way that imagination inspires genius. Kant emphasizes the work itself—that beauty is a unique kind of judgment, which does not necessarily serve the ends of truth or goodness. Beauty, for Kant, is a value, and work has value, whether or not for a moral purpose or a truthful purpose. Beauty itself is good enough. Kant focuses on what goes on in the mind of the writer. Kant takes an epistemic turn by moving into the mind to understand literature; for example, Kant argues, “Genius is the inborn predisposition of the mind . . . through which nature gives the rule to art” (Leitch 445).

Kant

Kant believes the poet is important because the poet creates beauty.For Kant, “the genius (the creative artist) highlights freedom above all else,” and “[t]he genius has a natural gift, a talent, which enables the production of exemplary and original beautiful works in the absence of any preexisting formula or rule for that production” (Leitch 410). Kant focuses on a theory of knowledge by trying to understand the sources and limits of human knowledge. Kant is not content that knowledge is completely subjective, believing that we humans are wired for thinking (i.e., cause and effect, similarities and differences, etc.).

In the Critique of Judgment, Kant analyzes three categories (truth, goodness, and beauty), but Kant does not focus on the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty but rather our mind’s way of apprehending truth, how the mind perceives morals, and how the mind perceives beauty. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant believes that aesthetics, judgment, and poetry turn out to be really the keystone of our knowledge. Judgment, which includes our imagination and aesthetic sense, is the mediator between pure reason and practical reason, that is it mediates between knowledge and action by being both reason and sensory.

Aesthetics bring the will and truth together—but in a practical way. Kant’s point is that poetry fills in the gap or mediates between truth and goodness. Kant goes beyond art and literature into bigger questions, arguing that all things being equal, acting is the law for everyone

If we believe in absolute truth, then we are Kantians. But what is absolute truth? An absolute truth is true whether or not we agree, and it is true independent of anything we do, think, or say. Kant raises the questions of beauty. Are there universal judgments or relative judgments of beauty? Something beautiful may feel like a subjective universal. Beauty is complicated because it is partly in the mind and partly in the things themselves. The judgment of taste or beauty is not logical but aesthetic.

The judgment of beauty occurs in the mind, yet it feels universal. Beauty serves a purposive purposelessness—something seems like it has a purpose but does not think that it serves no purpose at all other than to be beautiful. Kant’s thoughts lead to the aesthetics movement or the art for art’s sake era of writers like Oscar Wilde. Kant’s thoughts also lead to the idea that art is its own reward, or you do not need to pay for art; this leads to artists, the creative geniuses, who starve in attics—alienated, unappreciated, and alone. While Kant believes “[t]he experience of beauty tells us that the mind and world fit,” yet Kant also argues that “[t]he sublime, in contrast, shows us a misfit between mind and world” (Letich 409).

When we sense the sublime, our imagination strives to progress, and our imagination tries to grasp infinity, but our reason tries to embrace and enclose in a system that we can control. The sublime is infinity versus totality. Yet we cannot comprehend the vastness of its space. Despite this inadequacy within us, we still have the concept of infinity even if there is no experience with infinity. The sublime happens in our head—mind, soul, spirit. The sublime is an effect of our thinking and perception, not an attribute of the world out there. Even the ability to think proves that the mind has a power surpassing any standard sense. As Kant says, “Thus sublimity is not contained in anything in nature, but only in our mind” (Leitch 440). As a result, the sublime is the clearest evidence that Kant is moving into the mind (of the author as genius).

Perhaps Kant’s real purpose of art or literature is for pleasure. Language and form contribute to the reader’s pleasure of something. Maybe when reading a play, the reader will stop to consider a particular passage that seems to freeze in its tracks; this passage may not forward the plot, but the reader doesn’t care because of the beauty that pleases. It may be out of context but the reader pays attention and listens. These passages can be so great but have nothing to do with the play; therefore, the passages of beauty have no purpose (nothing political, dogmatic, plot-wise, etc.) other than to be pleasing. Some people argue that a poet is just trying to make money, but passages like these, full of beauty, suggest that writing is a good thing that brings about goodness, truth, and beauty.

Coleridge

Coleridge focuses on the creation of something beautiful out there, emphasizing the active mind of the artist, like Kant. Coleridge believes in primary imagination, secondary imagination, and fancy. While primary imagination is the mind’s ability to perceive, secondary imagination coexists with the will or what we draw on to create memories from our reality (the creative/artistic). In other words, the poet’s own mind is primary imagination, while the poetic genius is the secondary imagination.

Therefore, we go into the mind not just the form on the page. Imagination effects literature. Past literature, following strict rules like iambic pentameter and heroic couplets, could be following primary imagination, while the Romantic poets followed perhaps more of a secondary imagination, following what his or her mind tells him or her to do (or following the will of what the poet’s genius or the poet’s mind tells him or her to do).

On the other hand, fancy is basically a combination of preexisting things fused together; you do not animate them or bring them to life but reorganize them in space and time. Consequently, fancy is not as creative as imagination: “Coleridge’s theory of the primary and secondary imagination honors the creative capacity of persons while remaining steadfast to the primacy of God; even more, Coleridge implies that each re-creative act that a poet performs is an act of worship” (Leitch 582).

How we perceive the world makes realities, even if it is plural realities. As we become aware of multiple perceptions and possibilities, we choose the life we live in. We choose a world of eternal possibilities, and other realities can always impinge the integrated whole, big picture. Someone can change his or her view, switching to remake reality. Imagination also becomes a choice. And the author has a super imagination connected with genius. When defining the author, Coleridge asks, “What is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other” (Leitch 590).

The author has a super imagination, and when connected with literature, the author’s imagination enhances the literature, making it more pleasurable for the reader. Coleridge questions the coherence or unity of the text; therefore, the organic whole becomes the basis of good literature for Coleridge. A reader can analyze a play if it is anachronistic. The play may seem like a mess, but the reader can look for underlying unity. Through incongruity, the text makes itself aware and becomes an organic work of art. The reader has to work to pull the context of the play together through analysis and synthesis, intellectually separating the distinguishable parts but then restoring the parts to unity.

The first purpose of poetry is the beauty and pleasure we get from it and then connect it with the whole and its parts. As the reader reconciles apparent opposites or paradoxes, there becomes an active cooperation between the text and the reader, suggesting that the text is something organic and alive.

Shelley

Shelley, like Coleridge, also emphasizes the nature of art, or the imagination, while looking at the principles of the mind. While Kant focuses on the mind and how poetry is the go-between of goodness and pleasure, and Coleridge discusses how poetry is in the mind of the author in regards to imagination, Shelley believes that the poet is the unacknowledged legislator to the world (of morals and of mankind) (Leitch 613).

Because the poet is inspired, poetry has the power to inspire others and improve the world. The poet can become like a poet-prophet. Shelley is outraged that poets starve in attics unappreciated. For Shelley, “[p]oetry acts in another diviner manner” through the mind’s “a thousand unapprehend combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” (596). Language is not just cognitive; language communicates entire ranges of what it means to be human, including emotions and our highest ideas, our morality, and our spirituality.

Poetry gives delight and is an instrument of moral improvement; thus, poetry becomes more efficacious than moral philosophy. Poetry is the driving force of culture and the history of human experience and thought. Through the creation of poetry, “a poet participates in the divine nature” (600), since “[p]oetry is indeed something divine” (609). Poetry has divine sources with divine effects, but the poets are inspired: it is not just poetry, but it is the poets themselves who are inspired and then translate benefits for all. For Shelley, “[p]oetry is the record of the best and happiest moment of the happiest and best minds” (610) of the poet, since “[a] Poet, as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure, virtue, and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the best, the wisest, and the most illustrious of men” (611).

Poets enhance beauty, reconcile contradictions, and recreate the world. By shifting to the poet, Shelley emphasized the ultimate conditions of poetry that exist in the mind and in the imagination, which is more than just the ability to clone images of realities and is more than reason (imagination is cognitive and emotional, moral and religious, and richer, therefore, than mere reason alone). This all comes down to the poet. Kant shifted into the mind, Coleridge shifted into the mind through analyzing imagination, and Shelley shifted into the mind through analyzing morals.

Foucault & Bloom

Foucault and Bloom are both interested in the history of the poet. Bloom believes the poet struggles with his or her precursors, thus experiencing an anxiety of influence, yet Bloom even admits that his precursors are Nietzsche and Freud. As Bloom explains, “[p]oetic history . . . is held to be indistinguishable from poetic influence, since strong poets make that history by misreading one another, so as to clear imaginative spaces for themselves” (Leitch 1651).

This perspective of the author is useful for the way we read literature—that is to read every text as a response to all the previous literature or to see how many traces of earlier literature that are there so that you can see a struggle between the text and a previous text for precedence. The reader can then work out the strategy of the battle, explaining how this text changed from the earlier text.

In contrast, Foucault focuses on how discourse changes and evolves while defining the author-function. For Barthes, the birth of the reader comes from the death of the author, making it possible for different readers and a multiplicity of readings; yet, for Foucault, the author-function provides an array of possibilities constrained by the author, reduced down to singularity, suggesting an ideological construct, not a natural construct. Foucault summarizes the functions of the author as the following:

[T]he author-function is [first] tied to the legal and institutional systems that circumscribe, determine, and articulate the realm of discourses; [second,] it does not operate in a uniform manner in all discourses, at all times, and in any given culture; [third,] it is not defined by the spontaneous attribution of a text to its creator, but through a series of precise and complex procedures; [finally,] it does not refer . . . to an actual individual insofar as it simultaneously gives rise to a variety of egos and to a series of subjective positions that individuals of any class may come to occupy. (Leitch 1485)

This author-function occurs within the discursive system, thus revealing mechanics of discourse in the absence of the author. It is not an individual over a text or group of texts but rather a function that the author serves to established systems: “The concept author . . . is an organizing device, permitting us to group certain texts together” (Leitch 1470).

Foucault “questions and examines the concept of authorship and, in insights that were taken up by the New Historicism, argued that analysis of literary texts could not be restricted to these texts themselves or to their author’s psychology and background; rather, the larger contexts and cultural conventions in which texts were produced needed to be considered” (Habib 151). This influences how we look at literature. When we read, we look for boundaries or how power of reading reflects what this discourse controls or tries to transgress.

The reader is not interested in the author or who he or she is. Rather, the reader is interested in how things articulate within the discursive system (i.e., is the text resisting the system, or is the text following established norms?). As a result, reading becomes more practical by how you group texts; it is no longer the genius of the author. The author has multiple functions, thus expanding the reader experience through various discourses into something more accessible, global, or multicultural.

The reader analyzes the text in different ways by seeing literature in a network, being influenced in a thousand different directions. Literature is immersed, not transcendent. As a result, the idea of the author is diminished if the reader reduces the author to a series of cultural influences.

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, for Bloom and Foucault, there is less emphasis on the enlightened, genius poet, which contrasts greatly to Kant, Coleridge, and Shelly. There is less emphasis on genius and more emphasis on influence for Bloom and Foucault; poetry, therefore, could be seen as more accessible and more able to influence culture, in some ways, than what the Romantics suggested of an exceedingly brilliant poet speaking down to mere mortals.

Our understanding of what the author is changes what literature should do. Early theorists perhaps would argue that the author-genius is inspired and consequently bestows morals (like with Shelley) and absolute truth (like with Kant) through poetry and literature.

For the modern theorists, by struggling with wanting to be different or how the author is influenced, this makes literature become less influenced and less on a pedestal, and success of literature is not based then on whether the poet can change the world. The early theorists all talked about how the poet influences through the poet’s genius, while the later theorists focused on how the poet is influenced. Although the earlier theorists emphasized that the reader should be inspired (maybe through the sublime or beauty) as well as brought up higher (Shelley), the later theorists would focus more on the individualistic nature of the modern experience.

Works Cited

  • Bloom, Harold. “The Anxiety of Influence.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Biographia Literaria. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of the Power of Judgment. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
  • Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.
  • Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.
  • Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry, or Remarks Suggested by an Essay Entitled “The Four Ages of Poetry”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

To Instruct and Delight the Reader or To Expand Radically the Reader’s Role

To Instruct and Delight the Reader or To Expand Radically the Reader’s Role

The nature of rhetorical criticism, as Sonja K. Foss explains, occurs in our day-to-day lives. Because “[h]ow we perceive, what we know, what we experience, and how we act are the results of the symbols we create and the symbols we encounter in the world,” consequently, “we engage in a process of thinking about symbols, discovering how they work, and trying to figure out why they affect us” (Foss 3). As a result, “[w]e choose to communicate particular ways based on what we have discovered” (3). In addition to observing symbols in daily life, we, as readers, also decide how literature influences us or how we interpret literature. Rhetorical criticism studies how the audience is impacted by literature, whether the purpose of literature is to instruct, delight, inform, persuade, and so on.

The reader’s role is redefined from Horace to Iser in two major categories. First, classical or traditional theorists suggest that literature’s goal is to entertain or instruct the reader. Second, modern theorists suggest a more radical and active role of the reader in addition to expanding upon traditional theories in conjunction with other modern theories. Consequently, when the role of the reader changes across time for various theorists, the function of literature is redefined, which will be shown throughout this essay in response to various theorists. Literature evolves in several steps progressing from deciding what is to be “good” literature and what is thought to be morally uplifting to expanding the possibilities of reading.

HORACE & LONGINUS

Horace and Longinus emphasized the importance of instructing and delighting the reader. Horace claimed that “[p]oets aim either to do good or to give pleasure” (Leitch 130), and poets who are able to do this are “knowledgeable in the craft of poetry and observant of the principles of decorum,” which is “the discernment and use of appropriateness, propriety, proportion, and unity in the arts” (120). However, the reader does pass judgment if they boo the performances off stage. Horace knows the importance of whether or not a “work [is] approved by the fried-peas-and-nuts public” (128). Therefore, “[t]he pleasure of poetry for readers and theater audiences should be joined to practical and moral instructions embodied in the work, though Horace seems more preoccupied with delight and careful craft than with moral uplift” (121).

Longinus also focuses on how “sublimity uplifts the spirit of the reader, . . . arousing noble thoughts, and suggesting more than words can convey” (133). Longinus differs from Horace, who “coolly stresses rhetorical strategies rather than the erratic genius of authors” (134). Yet Longinus follows the tradition of Aristotle because although “Longinus considers the emotional psychology of the author as well as that of the audience” (135), both Longinus and Aristotle “take note of the formal techniques and psychological effects of literature” (134). Longinus places emphasis on the reader by dissecting how sublimity affects the audience. This is seen in Book 7, or the tests of the sublime, because Longinus suggests these tests on the craft of the text to determine whether or not it is able affect the audience.

SIDNEY & JOHNSON

Both Sidney and Johnson find instructing and delighting the reader important but focus on the instruction of morals. Sidney argues that poesy has “this end: to teach and delight” (Leitch 258), almost mimicking Horace word for word. Sidney copies Horace when he says that art should educate and entertain, but Sidney emphasizes that art should teach morality. The power of poetry rests in the fact that it is appealing to readers; the more entertaining the reading, the more likely readers are likely to listen to the morals. As Sidney explains, “Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow in effect into another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature” (257).

Poetry can make people better because the work of the poet “seem to have some divine force in it” (256), and the poet “showeth so much as in poetry, when, with the force of a divine breath, he bringeth things forth surpassing her doings” (258). Sidney makes the poet almost quasi-divine, since the poet becomes a creator with a god-like imagination. Poetry also has great political import. Sidney’s audience is courtly, focusing on the humanist potential of educating potential rulers for leadership.

Approximately two hundred years later, Dr. Samual Johnson, who “was an intense, discerning reader” (363), would argue about the importance of poetry conveying intense morality. Johnson considered “[p]oetry . . . the highest learning” (371) and thought poetry should “teach us what we may hope, and what we can perform” and emphasized the necessity of showing vice to “always disgust” (370). Johnson believed in absolute virtue or vice; because “the power of example is so great, as to take possession of the memory by a kind of violence, and produce effects almost without the intervention of the will, care ought to be taken that, when the choice is unrestrained, the best examples only should be exhibited” (369).

A poet’s job became essentially to select truths most beneficial to society: “The chief advantage which these fictions have over real life is, that heir authors are at liberty . . . to select objects, and to cull the mass of mankind” (369). While Sidney’s audience was courtly, Johnson’s audience was the youth (“That the highest degree of reverence should be paid to the youth, and that nothing indecent should be suffered to approach their eyes or ears” [368]). The printing press enabled the mass production of literature. Johnson believed in educating the masses through literature or poetry, while Sidney’s audience was that of a tiny percentile of educated males in court. Therefore, Sidney aimed at moralizing the (already) elite.

BARTHES

In “Death of the Author,” modern critic Barthes displaces the notion of the author and emphasizes the birth of the reader; this perspective, in turn, contributes to critiquing liberal humanism and impacts literary studies by challenging universal truth and what it means to be human. Barthes embodies “a transition from structuralism to poststructuralist perspective” through offering a “more relativistic assessments of texts and their role in culture” (Habib 72). By focusing on language, meaning of the text is established by the reader through looking at relations because meaning belongs only in the realm of the reader. But meaning is constantly evaporating because a person cannot fix meaning.

As Barthes explains, “To give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text” (Richter 877). Yet the death of the author is also the death of the critic, which implicates literary criticism. A critic deciphers the text, its words and meanings, but “[i]n the multiplicity of writing, everything is to be disentangled” (Richter 877) because the reader is disentangling the culture and language. The difference is that the critic is decrypting to find meaning, while Barthes’s reader experiences the joy of multiplicity by creating meaning as opposed to decrypting authorial meaning.

There are implications for Barthes’s reader, since there is no fixed subject, because if you as a reader arrive at meaning, then you have misunderstood the text. Barthes explains, “[A] text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (Richter 876). There is no there there because there is no fixed meaning in the text.

As a result, Barthes’s post-structuralist critique has impacted literary studies of reading literature. Readers are entitled to have their opinions. Because there are a greater variety of opinions, there are two possible results. First, readers could be more tolerant or accepting of different interpretations. However, the second result comes from human nature interacting in society. As people develop more opinions, these opinions will become more separate, and greater diversity will occur. Factions will result, and readers will become more defensive of their interpretations. The risk will be more fighting instead of greater tolerance of different interpretations.

Another post-structuralist influence on literary studies could fall under reading the Bible as literature in university settings. Because there will be a million different readings, there will be a million different meanings, which will then open up the reader to believing whatever. When readers read the Bible as literature, people are more likely to believe in no absolute eternal truth. Readers will read the Bible and then reinterpret its teachings. Both of these examples counter against the liberal humanist tradition of universal truth. The death of the author also impacts the anthology because it blows up the studies of literature. No female, gay, African American, or Asian literatures were included in the anthology, but now they are included. These new inclusions of diverse writings challenge liberal humanism by showing that there is not only one way to be human.

ISER & HUSSERL

Iser offers a distinct way of understanding readers and their relationships to a work of art by drawing on a phenomenological engagement with the text; Iser operates within a Husserlian framework when considering dynamic relations, while also moving beyond that framework in the search for truth. Although it is difficult to define, phenomenology is the process of analysis that makes dynamic relations of an object of study. Husserl, who reacted against Neo-Kantians, maps out the relationship of world, body, and mind.

Iser’s reader response theory does follow “the phenomenological approaches to literature, which focuses on literature as it is experienced by the thinking subject, the ‘I’ in the center of our conscious world” (Richter 972). Iser’s duality, however, centers in a text between two poles: “the artistic refers to the text created by the author, and the esthetic to the realization accompanied by the reader” (1002). It is through the “convergence of text and reader” that “brings the literary work into existence … not to be identified either with the reality of the text or with the individual disposition of the reader” (1002).

Both Husserl and Iser view the process of relation as dynamic. For Husserl, pure consciousness is looking at the actual set of relations of phenomena between the consciousness of the subject and the object. As a result, pure phenomenology becomes a dynamic relation, which is the object of analysis. Phenomenological reduction involves stripping down all cultural baggage—the body—and material reality—the world. The mind then becomes limitless by getting away from the tyranny of the particular, which enables pure consciousness to occur and humans to control the construction of the world subjectively. Iser believes that reading is dynamic (Habib 155). Iser quotes Husserl’s idea of “pretentions, which construct and collect the seed of what is to come, as such, and bring it to fruition” because “the literary text needs the reader’s imagination,” and in a text, “individual sentences work together” and “form an expectation” (Richter 1004) for the reader.

However, for Husserl, refuting the Kantian particular categories and following the processes of pure reflection will reveal the universal, or in other words, truth—but only within the individual’s mind. In contrast, Iser moves beyond the Husserlian framework because he argues that truth will actually change because we, the readers, are constantly changing. Readers find “‘interpretation[s]’ threatened . . . by the presence of other possibilities of ‘interpretation’” because readers “become more directly aware of them” through “shifting of perspective that makes [readers] feel that a novel is much more ‘true-to-life’” (Richter 1010). Therefore, Iser argues that readers will find different truths depending on the associations of where the reader converges with the text. As a result, the function of literature changes from being dogmatically moral (think Johnson) to being more open in its various purposes for informing the readers on the variety of truths that can be gleaned from its pages.

ISER & FISH

Iser and Fish also contrast each other when speaking of the reader. Iser claims that through the reader’s imagination, each time a reader approaches a text, there is the possibility to discover new things with new perspectives from each reader. Iser insists readers want to know the consciousness of what to discuss. The relationship between the reader and the text is a dynamic process because “[a]s the reader passes through the various perspectives offered by the text, and relates the different views and patterns to one another, he sets the work in motion, and so sets himself in motion, too” (Leitch 1524).

As readers change their perspective, they connect the texts and fill in the gaps because “the situations and convention regulate the manner in which the gaps are filled, but the gaps in turn arise out of the inexperience ability, and consequently, function as a basic inducement to communication” (Leitch 1526). Some critics, such as Fish, find Iser’s work vague and believe that there would be an infinite amount of interpretations of the text; however, this is not true, and “[m]eaning is constantly revised in a process that Iser compares to the feedback loop” (1522) or the hermeneutic circle. For Iser, the work of art is not just art; the work of art is also something that we, the readers, will experience and tell each other about.

In contrast, Fish claims that the text, which really does not matter, disappears in the larger cultural context in relation to the community experience. For example, Fish says, “An author hazards his projection, not because of something ‘in’ the marks, but because of something he assumes to be in his reader” (Leitch 1992). Consequently, “The very existence of the ‘marks is a function of an interpretive community, for they will be recognized . . . only by its members,” while people not in that particular interpretive community will use different strategies “and will therefore be making different marks” (1992). The work disappears (“I have made the text disappear, but unfortunately the problems do not disappear with it” [1992]) in the context of community. Objective and subjective become meaningless. As a result, reader experience is all that remains, suggesting the text disappears in the context of experience.

Both Iser and Fish have made significant contributions to theory and to the study of literature because perhaps “prominent modes of criticism in the past could ignore the role of the reader since they tacitly assumed that there was one kind of reader (i.e., white, male, and the recipient of a privileged education” (1523). Iser’s and Fish’s work has undoubtedly influenced the ability to allow a variety of reading perspectives from readers, female and minority groups, that have not had a voice before.

CONCLUSION

Rhetorical criticism occurs in the area between the audience and the text. In the “Introduction” of David H. Richter’s The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, Richter shows that while “[a] mimetic critic . . . might enjoin an aspiring poet to observe human nature well, the more accurately to imitate human actions in his poetry,” “[a] rhetorical critic might advise the poet in the very same words, but in order to prompt the poet to discover what pleases the various classes and age groups that comprise his audience” (3). Ultimately, rhetorical criticism, which was prominent from the classic era of Rome, Medieval times, the Enlightenment era, and modern times, aims at looking at the ways a text instructs, delights, and moves an audience. Unmistakably, rhetorical criticism is a timeless issue that is revisited over and over again.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Fish, Stanley E. “Interpreting the Variorum.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration & Practice. Waveland & Press, Inc.: Long Grove, 2009. Amazon.com. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

Habib, M. A. R. Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History. Victoria: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.

Horace. “Ars Poetica.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Iser, Wolfgang. “Interaction between Text and Reader.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Print.

Iser, Wolfgang. “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Johnson, Samuel. The Rambler, No. 4. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Johnson, Samuel. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Longinus. On Sublimity. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.

Sidney, Sir Philip. Defense of Poetry. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/student-teacher/

Mimetic Criticism; or, Plato’s Influence Upon Theorists Then and Now

Mimetic Criticism; or, Plato’s Influence Upon Theorists Then and Now

From Plato to modern critics and theorists, the nature of literary mimesis varies, and modernity inevitably problematize mimesis; however, Plato becomes the inevitable commonality between the theorists from the ancient to the modern (Aristotle, Plotinus, Nietzsche, Wilde, Saussure, and Baudrillard). These theorists explicitly or implicitly enter into a dialogue with Plato, thus responding to or reacting against Plato’s position concerning art’s purpose and its representation. Of course, there are various schools of thought and organization. While Plato focuses on the objective purpose of art and questions its value, Aristotle focuses on the process of art and its seemingly natural place in life and the world.

Modern theorists problematize the method, working not in an integrative way but rather a dispersive way. Nietzsche and Wilde both suggest the expansive realm of lies, while Saussure suggests the arbitrariness of language. Finally, Baudrillard calls into question reality itself–reality and virtual reality become indistinguishable for us in the realm of hyperreality. Baudrillard, in a sense, swings full circle. Baudrillard, a Platonist who furiously waves his fists and claims that there is no way out of the cave, reveals his foundation in the scholastic tradition going all the back to Plato. Additionally, it is imperative to keep in mind how these theories concerning mimesis can shape our view of the purpose of literature and art and its interpretation.

PLATO

In the Ion, Plato questions whether the rhapsode, a person who recites and discusses poetry, knows a skill or knowledge. In his dialectical method, Plato questions whether a poet who speaks about music knows more than the actual musician. Plato argues that those who study art have no knowledge, and the poet has no art, no knowledge but is merely inspired or possessed, acquiring a special kind of madness. Poetry is not knowledge because poetry is merely a copy of a copy. First removal: there is somewhere above humans in the heavens the realm of Ideas. Second removal: then there is the world or the Phenomenal. Finally, then there is art. Consequently, these removals result in “leading away from the truth rather than toward it,” which is why Plato has “a distrust of mimesis representation or imitation” because “all art–including poetry–is a mimesis of nature, a copy of objects in the physical world” (Leitch 41), as symbolized in Book 7 in The Allegory of the Cave.

Plato is esoteric in his theory on Forms. The Allegory of the Cave is an allegory of our perception of reality. Those who watched the images of images had a difficult time experience a paradigm shift, and when they returned back to the cave, they had a difficult time explaining their experience. Obtaining ideal forms are beyond us because we live in a world of fallen shadows. Everything people see is an illusion of their perceptions. Nietzsche comes along and claims a more scientific way to describe the same way. My view of the Cadbury hot chocolate on my desk is actually a light image on the retina and a nerve impulses optic nerve connecting back to the brain. This is the first metaphor. Then comes the concept or an image in the head. Nietzsche assigns this second occurrence as the second metaphor. Nietzsche turns Aristotle and Plato against themselves because these forms/essences that language names are not forms/essences but rather metaphors, not a thing itself but rather creations of our own intellect, which associate by convention with our sensory experiences. Therefore, perceptions become layers upon layers of metaphor.

PLATO V. NIETZCHE

While Plato believes that reality is not in the realm of phenomena, Nietzsche would claim that truth never really represents reality because the true metaphor for reality is what we come to accept. In fact, “because Nietzsche . . . robs this vision of its transcendental object, the Platonic Idea, it is bereft of any object whatever,” and as a result, “It is representative of the dominant poetic perception in nineteenth-century literature: ‘absolute’ or ‘pure’ poetry” (Heller 163). Truth equals illusion, for Nietzsche. Additionally, when defining truth, Nietzsche uses literary terms to define this abstract term: “A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations which have been subjected to poetic and rhetorical intensification, translation, and decoration” (Leitch 768). Since truth is not reality, then literature, therefore, can never reach the ultimate truth because literature becomes yet another layer of lies—which humans also choose to accept—to look at the world. This idea mirrors Plato’s idea of separated realms. The separations for Nietzsche include reality, then the metaphor for reality, and then literature as another separation from truth.

Yet Plato would argue that we humans are trapped in our perception. Plato claims that poetry is also two times removed, and language is representative and is two times removed, as well; therefore, poetical limitations ruin human understanding, unless humans know the true nature of things. Art becomes a dysfunctional family: the mother, matter or being; the father, knowledge; and the child, the effect on the soul.

PLOTINUS

Of course, Plotinus both draws from but diverts from Plato. Platonius’s On the Intellectual Beauty explains, “[O]ne who has attained to the vision of the Intellectual Beauty and the grasped the beauty of the Authentic Intellect will be able also to come to understand the Father and the Transcendent of that divine Being” (Richter 111). Richter explains, “For Plotinus as for Plato, the artist imitates but does not necessarily copy the things of this world. The artist may represent his grasp of an Idea with the medium of his art” (109).

Therefore, Plotinus claims that art draws directly from the of the Muses or the divine. Art tells people how to know god. Art skips the middle part, or the world, and is able to intuit truth to human relationships. He claims that art is a privilege step, suggesting a Neo-platonic idea.

SAUSSURE

In contrast, Saussure highlights the ambiguity of language. Saussure claims that “The sign . . . designate[s] the whole and . . . replace[s] concept and sound-image respectively by signified . . . and signifier” (Leitch 853). The signified is not reality but rather a concept in our heads constructed by language. This concept could be reflective of the Platonic ideas of an imitation of imitation. Before language, there were no clear thoughts because words dictate our thoughts. Thought cannot really exist without words, since there would be no way to organize thoughts without words.

This interconnectedness of words and thought could be reflected in literature. We have stories in our head and understand in a certain way, which is reflected in our ability to identify beginning, middle, and end. The narrative structure is based on the words in literature. While Nietzsche suggests that society creates constructs of truth that they accept (those truths are actually all lies), for Saussure, no thought would suggest no reality. Without thoughts, a writer could not create or form thoughts into action, and there would be no reality for art to ever exist. But for structuralists, such as Levi-Strauss, everything is a language organized, like Saussure suggests, in binary codes and value; however, this would be in opposition to Plato, since there would be no universal value because everything would be relative to local systems.

WILDE

Wilde’s conclusion ultimately ends with “the argument that there are many kinds of lie—white lies, black lies, lies told to save face or to gain advantage—but that the highest for is for its own sake,” and “the highest form of lying was art” (Kibred 287). For Wilde, the reality of stories are the structures already had; art creates that structure, creation uses that structure again. Ultimately, “[i]n an age when Marxians preached that ownership of the means of production was the key to progress, Wilde correctly sensed that ownership and understanding of the means of expression would be the question of real consequence in the century to come” (Kibred 292), which has proved to be true. Wilde’s claim that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” suggests that art, or words, impact life, or the structure.

Therefore, Wilde would claim that there is no way to imitate reality because, in fact, our truth is imitation of literature we create, while Nietzsche could claim that literature is several times removed, and there is no way to imitate reality, since it is all socially-accepted-constructed lies. Although Nietzsche would claim that false truths shape literature (which is in itself a false truth, thus entangling the lies even further), Wilde would argue that literature is false truths that shape our reality, which is apparent even in Wilde’s own writings, because even within Wilde’s own writing, he contradicts himself. The underlying irony is that Wilde, who is an artist himself, claims that “All art is quite useless” (790). Wilde’s entanglement of lies upon further lies makes it nigh impossible to ever reach the Plato’s Ideal of Forms. Yet Wilde’s character Gilbert argues the following:

[C]reative art is that it is just a little less vulgar than reality, and so the critic, with his fine sense of distinction and sure instinct of delicate refinement, will prefer to look into the silver mirror or through the woven veil, and will turn his eyes away from the chaos and clamour of actual existence, though the mirror be tarnished and the veil be torn. His sole aim is to chronicles his own impressions. It is for him that pictures are painted, books written, marble hewn into form. (Leitch 800)

Basically, for Wilde, there is reality, and then there is art, which is not quite as awful as reality, and; finally, then there is the criticism. Once again, we experience a two-times-removed experience, paralleling Plato’s original critique of poetry. Here, Wilde sets the highest form of criticism upon the pedestal: “[Wilde] did not again use the form Plato had found a necessity of the expression of his sense of how the human mind seeks enlightenment–what is called Plato’s ‘theory of ideas.’ Wilde expressed great faith in the indispensable function of form in the creative process: as language was the parent of thought, form was the parent of artist creation” (Buckler 279).

Nonetheless, both Wilde and Plato suggest an unrealizable Ideal: “But the inherent weakness of Gilbert’s position is that he tries to make a practical matter of an unrealizable idea. No example of his ‘most perfect form’ of criticism actually exists. He conceptualizes it admirably, but he never exhibits it. Like Plato’s Ideal Forms, it is an imaginative idea realizable only in his imagination” (Buckler 285).

PLATO V. ARISTOTLE

Yet Plato, who believed philosophy and poetry was at war, was ultimately a dogmatist, believing in one truth. Aristotle, perhaps the first pluralist, established a problematic theory of truth. Consequently, Plato focuses on the practical when speaking of art questioning the purpose of art: ideally, if art is to be used at all, art ought to be in the doing with the goal of educating the children who will later become rulers of the ideal republic. However, poets lie, therefore, they must be banished from the society because the better the poetry, “the more they are to be kept form the ears of children and men who are to be autonomous and to be more afraid of losing this freedom than of death” (Leitch 53). Plato’s conflict emerges from his problem with mimesis again: first, “At the simplest level of [mimesis], Plato raises the questions about literature’s content,” which fails to live up to the high expectations of Socrates’s examples; second, “mimesis presents us with an inferior copy of a copy, poetry—performed rather than read in Plato’s—takes its listeners away from rather than toward the idea Forms” (Leitch 43).

In contrast, Aristotle focuses on the productive disciplines of poetics, aesthetics, or manufacturing, for the purpose of the study of making, with the end goal of beauty. In other words, for Aristotle, humans look in to see or intuit the form or essence, while for Plato, we look in, then up because form is not just a concept, but concept is a reality that exists in a realm of forms.

Plato argues that art is inadequate representation, yet Aristotle presents a different argument. Nehamas argues, “The problem, then, whether or not Aristotle has met Plato’s criticism successfully has not yet, to my knowledge, received a satisfactory answer. The issue of the nature, the status, and the ethical character of … fiction remains disturbingly unresolved. Plato’s questions, like most of the other questions he asked, are still our own” (281-2). Plato argues that a poet is not a maker but a copier–not of reality but of another copy. Aristotle also says that art is imitation, or imitation of human action or attitudes. Plato’s dialogue suggests that with the nature of imitation, poetry, thus, becomes inferior knowledge; however, Aristotle seems to feel that imitation is great.

Aristotle argues that tragedy is imitation of action, complete with certain magnitude. The audience watches, and the catharsis effects the purgation of emotions. Because of this imitation action, it actually has a power to make the audience feel things, even though the audience is not performing the action themselves. This can be a real experience even if it is vicarious. Consequently, the poet does not merely copy reality but copies human action, although that may not be ideal human action. The emphasis becomes imitation as crafting not on the copy. The poet becomes a copier, and when artfully done, a craftsman. In the end, Plato (in the search for reality in the essence) attempts to locate the essence outside, Aristotle argues that reality is in the form/idea/essence of the thing—in the objects of the world—so we look inside.

BAUDRILLARD

The postmodernist Jean Baudrillard brings the argument full circle in his belief of the hyperreal, which is “more real than any reality could be, and thus suck the life out of actual events” (Richter 1926). Modern societies are organized around production as well as “simulacrum, a word that denotes representation but also carries the sense of a counterfeit, sham, or fake” because “Simulacra seem to have referents (real phenomena they refer to), but they are merely pretend representations that mark the absence, not the existence of the objects they purport to represent” (Leitch 1554). However, “[humans] are so precoded, so filled from the very start with the images of what we desire, that we process our relation to the world completely through those images” (1554), as evident in the Iconoclasts, who were not “able to believe that images only occulted or masked the Platonic Idea of God” and realized that art were “not images, such as the original model would have made them, but actually perfect simulacra” (1559). In a very Neitzschean way, Baudrillard states, “One can live with the idea of a distorted truth” (1559). Yet for the Iconoclasts, the icon was substituted “for the pure and intelligible Idea of God” (1559).

Similarly, Disneyland is “a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation” (1564), becoming “an elaborately artificial land created precisely to convince us that our ‘real’ lives are real” (1555). Yet one could wonder where to find what is real. One can only find reality on the very fringes of hyperreality. This is why the parking lot at Disneyland becomes so important. For Baudrillard, when people leave Disneyland and arrive at the parking lot, they realize their collective illusion. Their reality is that they are utterly alone, abandoned, and isolated from each other. The nostalgia for reality is evident. The Platonic idea becomes better, still holding out reality for us, although we still live in realm of images. Baudrillard even lists “the successive phases of the image: (1) the reflection of a basic reality; (2) it masks and perverts a basic reality; (3) it masks the absence of a basic reality, and; (4) it bears no reality to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum” (1560).

CONCLUSION

The postmodernists, such as Baudrillard, dissolved the basis of what was considered to be literary versus non-literary. Everything and anything becomes literary—just as Disneyland becomes fair game for analysis in Baudrillard’s argument. Baudrillard’s perception of humanity leaves little room for hope of escaping the hyperreal; however, Dr. David H. Richter of the University of Chicago asks how “Baudrillard is about his own implicit position outside the world of make-believe he describes” because “If Baudrillard had gotten outside, and seen through . . ., then isn’t it a nightmare from which we can all wake up?” (Richter 1927). Perhaps we, the readers, could wake up from the nightmare of hyperrealities or mimesis.



Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Buckler, William E. “Building a Bulwark Against Despair ‘The Critic as Artist’.” English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920 32.3 (1989): 278–89. EBSCO Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.

Heller, Erich. The Importance of Nietzsche: Ten Essays. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988. Print.

Kilbred, Declan. “Oscar Wilde; the resurgence of lying.” The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Ed. Peter Raby. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.

Nehamas, Alexander. “Pity and Fear in the Rhetoric and the Poetics.” Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Eds. David J. Furley and Alexander Nehamas. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, Print.

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.