Romanticism & Art History

Romanticism is “a shift in emphasis from reason to feeling, from calculation to intuition, and from objective nature to subjective emotion” (Gardner 784), thus indicating a distinct transition from Neoclassicism. Rousseau’s claim that “‘Man is born free but is everywhere in chains!’—the opening line of his Social Contract (1762)—summarizes a fundamental Romantic premise” (784).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (image from here)

Romanticism reflected an attitude, desiring “freedom of thought, of feeling, of action, of worship, of speech, and of taste” (784). Romanticism encompasses several concepts, including nostalgia, Gothic, and exotic. Edmund Burke’s discussion celebrates not the mechanical laws of nature but the mystical, spiritual ways of the natural world.

The rhetoric of seeing the artist as a misunderstood genius began during this time. Escapists went back to the medieval past, valuing the primitive and attempting to get to a Golden Age. There were various national schools (German, Spanish, French, and English) that depicted this revolutionary era of Romanticism.

SPAIN

Spanish artist Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters comes from a series called Los Caprichos, revealing Goya’s “considerable thought about the Enlightenment and the Neoclassical penchant for rationality order” (786) transitioning into Romantic tendencies. Goya is committed to the Romantic spirit of “the unleashing of imagination, emotions, and even nightmares” (786). This print is an etching and aquatint created in 1789. The bended, sleeping figure is a depiction of Goya, where owls (symbolizing folly) and bats (symbolizing ignorance) flock over him. These creatures are menacing and threatening upon the slumbering dreams of the artist.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (image from here)

But Goya’s paintings often show tension or troubling images the artist struggled with internally. Saturn Devouring One of His Children is a fresco Goya painted onto the walls of his home, which were for the artist’s eyes alone and not for any paying patron, thus revealing the emotional carnage of the artist. Goya was going through a personal crisis and health issues, and he lacked faith in humanity, which is reflected in the brutality of the fresco. The bulging eyes scream out to the viewer of anguish, and the thickness of the paint is like tare coming out, which emphasizes the blackness surrounding the emaciated Saturn that seems to engulf almost everything it touches—a living world of nightmares.

Saturn Devouring One of His Children (image from here)

FRANCE

French artist Ingres’s Grande Odalisque shows a “rather strange mixture of artistic allegiances – the combination of precise classical form and Romantic themes” (783). Ingres follows the tradition of the reclining nude, yet “by converting the figure to an odalisque (woman in a Turkish harem, the artist made a strong concession to the contemporary Romantic taste for the exotic” (783). Critics complained the way Ingres painted the nude body, which seemed to lack tone and had a strange flatness about her. Her foreshortened leg and elongation of the back makes the Turkish concubine appear odd. The peacock feathers, the animal skin, the beautiful clasp, the turban, the hookah pipes all suggest an exotic space, a favorite subject for Romantics.

Grande Odalisque (image from here)

ENGLAND

English artist Constable’s The Hay Wain depicts nostalgia. The Industrial Revolution enabled hoards of people moved to cities, increasing the flux of people in a concentrated area. Constable’s work celebrates works and the disappearing landscape. The cottage is unassuming, needing some repairs, yet it is warm and cozy with curling smoke. This picturesque painting shows English value of land, showing the artist’s desire to keep some spaces sacred and out of the hands of industrialists.

The Hay Wain (image from here)

GERMANY

German artist Friedrich’s Abbey in the Oak Forest, 1810, reveals “The reverential mood of this winter scene with the ruins of a Gothic church and cemetery demands the silence appropriate to sacred places” (794). Friedrich, “a master of the Romantic transcendental landscape” (794), painted during a dark time that the Germans were experience occupation by Napoleon. In this bleak moment of the grave-like, dead of winter, the fog is just about the lift along with the rising of the sun. It is as if the dark hour of winter is over, and the season of spring, the promise of regeneration and hope, is on its way at last.

The use of the Gothic abbey in ruins harkens back to another age and time. The similitude of the natural world and the man-made engagement is suggested in the paralleling tracery of the windows where the stain glass has gone out in conjunction with the similar branches and smaller limbs coming out to create graceful patterns, suggesting a continuum between man and nature. Rather than political, Friedrich’s art is more contemplative, considering the inner world and our subjectivity.

Abbey in the Oak Forrest (image from here)

The Questionable Possibility of Utopia in Nigerian Literature

In 1516, Sir Thomas More created a place quite unlike England called Utopia. This writing oscillates between satirical and darkly comical; therefore, we must recognize that there is in “Utopia’s construction and utilization . . . a tension between reality and fiction” (Yoran 3). In this satire, what is real versus what is fiction becomes blurry. However, the core idea of a utopia itself is problematic, since the very meaning of the word is “no place,” coming from “Greek ou not, no + topos place” (“Utopia, n.”). Even though utopia as a place seems impossible, for hundreds of years people have written about utopia and its horrific, perhaps more realistic, counterpart—dystopia.[1]

image from here

All people continue to desire for utopia because they desire improved changes for their government, their community, and their nation. While there has been research on utopia and African American and Asian American,[2] South African,[3] and East African literature,[4] very little has been written critically concerning the Nigerian utopian dream. Utopian ideology connects with Nigerian writing differently from the Western tradition by addressing political and individual concerns of pre- and post-Independence Nigeria, using mythical and native language, dreaming, and showing how intolerable divisions are destructive. This paper will analyze the following three novels: Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God (pre-Independence, published in 1964), Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests (inbetween pre- and post-Independence, officially published in 1963), and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (post-Independence, published in 1991).

Nigeria has had a long, tumultuous history. Britain conquered and ruled Nigeria for over one hundred years. In 1851, British troops seized Lagos, but Nigeria did not become an official colony until 1861; however, the British were in Nigeria in the early 1800s because they were working to stop the slave trade (Oduwobi “From . . .”). On 1 October 1960, Nigeria gained independence from direct colonial rule, becoming “the biggest free black nation in the world” (Weaver 146). There are many religious and political divisions in Nigeria, and a civil war occurred for thirty months from 1967 to 1970. However, this war did not end all the conflict, since many military juntas or coups continued for several years (“Nigeria”). Despite political conflicts, “the arts in Nigeria underwent a surge in self-confidence. Initially, Nigeria led the way in West and East Africa” (Currey 8). Africa has a rich history of art and literature, and Nigeria has been a big contributor. The Nigerian people continue to celebrate the independence of their country with festivities since that eventful day.[5]

In Nigerian utopian novels, the difference between utopia and utopianism must be distinguished. According to critic Bill Ashcroft, while utopias are impossible, utopianism is “a universal human characteristic” (8). The settings of typical utopian novels (as well as dystopian novels) are often Western settings. For example, Plato’s Republic is in Greece; Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games is set in America; Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is in England and New Mexico; George Orwell’s 1984 is in London. However, a visionary quest for a perfect society has occurred and continues to occur all over the world—not just in Western civilization. Nigerian writers, pre- and post-Independence, reveal their opinions and thoughts concerning a utopian possibility for their town, city, or country. Are Nigerian writers just copying or imitating the Western tradition of utopias to crystalize their own thoughts about a perfect society?

image from here

To better answer this question, we must discuss mimicry. Homi Bhabha defines mimicry as “a complex strategy of reform, regulation, and discipline, which ‘appropriates’ the Other as it visualizes power” (122), suggesting that the colonial power attempts to control the Other through reform or regulation. The question could be posed as to whether the desire for utopia is a reflection of the Africans’ desire to imitate Westerners. Dress, language, education, and even religion are often associated with colonial mimicry, but “the desire for a reformed recognizable Other, as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (Bhabba 122). Therefore, if Nigerians imitate the utopian genre, they alter it just enough to make it their own. Additionally, all people dream, which becomes a necessity for survival during times of difficulty, such as juntas or extreme poverty. As Marxist critic Ernst Bloch says, “Daydreams focus that element in thought that constantly projects consciousness forward” (Ashcroft 9), pushing people into the future rather than focusing on fantasy. Therefore, desiring a perfect society is considered the norm in any society; yet Nigerian writers use the idea of dream in their utopias differently. For example, in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, Okri uses magical realism when Azaro “dreams” to escape his present, unfortunate reality. Whether or not Azaro’s dreams are real, we meet talking cats, colorful spirits, enchanted albinos, and paranormal midgets. The book ends with this stunning line: “A dream can be the highest point of a life” (Okri 500). Life is difficult, especially for those who are poor, but dreams enable a young Nigerian boy to survive.

image from here

Dreams for the future are also conveyed through telling stories of the past. Ashcroft argues that African literature differs from other utopian writing for two reasons: first, it “[recovers] a forgotten history” (9) and, second, it “[reimagines] the ‘past in the present’ through the kind of exuberant mythic language deployed by Ben Okri” (10). In The Famished Road, Okri shows the readers how these two reasons are quite interconnected. The narrator, a young boy named Azaro, is an abiku, or spirit child, born into poverty in Nigeria. Constantly, Azaro is being kidnapped by spirits or dying. One night Dad tells Azaro a story, combining family history and folklore, about the King of the Road, who required humans to give him sacrifices of food. The poor were unable to continue offering the sacrifices, and the King would become angry, eating people who traveled. One day the people gathered all the poison they could find and put it in the food offering. The only person to escape was “our great-great-great-grandfather” because “[h]e knew the secret of making himself invisible” (Orki 260). He saw the King of the Road eat himself up, leaving only the stomach behind. When the rain came, the stomach melted, forming the current roads. Dad concludes, “He is still hungry, and he will always be hungry. That is why there are so many accidents in the world” (261). This example combines the present, through the act of storytelling, and the past, by telling a story of an ancestor and explaining why something happens. Near the end of the novel, after Dad almost dies but escapes death, he tells Azaro that Nigeria is an abiku nation that “refuses to stay till we have made propitious sacrifice and displayed our serious intent to bear the weight of a unique destiny” (494). Saying that Nigeria or the road is hungry is a personification, since neither Nigeria nor the road could literally eat people. Rather than being hungry for food, post-Independence Nigeria is hungry for something else—for the people to remember the past in the present state of the nation. Only then can change occur. When political leaders remember that, Nigeria can stop being an abiku nation, as long as wrongs finally become right.

There is another essence of Nigerian utopian dream: “the radically new is always embedded in and transformed by the past” (Ashcroft 9). We see this idea in Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests because the connection between the past and present is real when the Nigerian community celebrates their independence. The characters include the Town Dwellers, who are living, and the Guests of Honour, a dead married couple.

image from here

The Half-Child, who is the baby of the dead mother, is symbolic of the present/past collision. Demoke, a living townsperson, decides to return the Half-Child to the Dead mother; by making this decision, Demoke symbolizes the new, independent nation that is entrenched in and changed by the past, as symbolized by the dead Guests of Honour. When Forrest Head, the magical leader, speaks to his assistant over Demoke’s action, Forrest Head contemplates, “I have tortured awareness of their souls [i.e., the dead], that perhaps, only perhaps, in new beginnings . . . does Demoke know the meaning of his act?” (71). Critic Simon Simonse claims that African authors “turn their backs on the African past and look for alternatives in the African society as they find it” (482). However, readers do not see any “back turning” but rather a literal confrontation with the past colliding with the present. A person, a community, even a country can desire a new beginning, yet society must not forget the old customs and traditions, horrors and pitfalls of the country. Of course, the ending of this play is ambiguous, and the future state of this nation is unclear. The new leaders must remember the injustices that occurred to the poor and those without power or prestige. If the new Nigerian leaders are not transformed by the past or fail to recognize the ways the past affect them, the nation will suffer, and the dream for utopia will quickly turn into a reality of a dystopian society.

Dreaming is not always hoping and imagining; Nigerians actively work for a better future by utilizing and adapting the resources the colonizer offers—education and religion. In their quest for utopia, Nigerian authors write “to engage power and to imagine change” (Ashcroft 13). For sixteenth-century humanists, More included, education was important for both low and high classes alike. For example, all of More’s Utopian people “devote themselves to the freedom and culture of the mind. For in that, they think, is the real happiness of life” (606). In other words, in order to gain happiness and freedom, one must be educated. Therefore, in the Western tradition, gaining knowledge allowed people to achieve power and create change in order to create the perfect society. In contrast, with Nigerian literature, the colonized Nigerians use education to engage with the colonial powers and to anticipate change that could occur in the future—a powerful Nigerian nation with authoritative citizens or even a Nigeria free from colonial rule. According to Dr. Gaurav Desai, mastering the culture of Englishness occurred when African writers began to re-think their relationship with the colonizer. As a result, the colonized wanted more of the assets of colonialism, like education, but not the horrors of colonial appropriation and other atrocities.

In Arrow of God, characters seek to engage with power by mastering the culture of Englishness. Ezeulu, the Chief Priest of Ulu and leader of the community, sends his son, Oduche, to the Christian school to learn the teachings of the white colonizer. Ezeulu confesses that he sent Oduche “to learn the white man’s wisdom” (Achebe 42). Although Ezeulu cannot remove the white presence from Nigeria, he can use his son to fight against colonizer. Then Ezeulu’s decision influences the community to send their children, as well: “many people—some of them very important—began to send their children to school” (215).

image from here

The word send is used, in connection with going to school or communication, twenty-seven times in this novel, suggesting an evolving process—when something is sent, something must be left behind or lost (e.g., you send a letter but never see that piece of paper again). While Ezeulu sends Oduche off, Ezeulu does not physically lose his son, who still lives at home; however, his son tries to kill the sacred python, indicating that Oduche has lost his tradition and religion. Ezeulu has lost his son, spiritually, to the colonizer. With More’s Western Utopia, when the people engage with power and imagine change, nothing important is lost (e.g., they still have their religion, families, and culture), and everything is gained (e.g., their perfected society, great education, no war, and improved work).

In contrast, with pre-Independence writers, engaging with power means that while the older generations may be unable to change, the children and future generations are able to engage with and master the culture of Englishness. Nonetheless, the younger generation changes in this process, becoming Anglicized Nigerians rather than pure Nigerians. With post-Independence writers, the current generation uses their education to bring themselves together. Because Nigeria has over two hundred languages, “British colonialism . . . helped foster a new national, though fractious, identity” (Richards 215). For example, in A Dance of the Forests, some sense of the past is lost: “Proverb to bones and silence” (74) is repeated hauntingly throughout the play by the old man, Agboreko. While proverbs may have lost their truth through the passing of time, all the characters, no matter their background, use the language English; through communication, even if English is the language in common for all the various groups, there is hope for a greater understanding among all the Nigerian people. Nigerians use English to benefit themselves, creating a more unified, although still imperfect, national identity.

In Nigerian utopian novels, the relation between the individual and the collective can become blurry; utopia is an impossibility, but both the individual and the collective may dream for utopianism and yet carry out that dream in different ways. According to Ashcroft, “while the equality of the individuals in the collective is a fundamental principle of utopian thought, the collective is always inimical to individual fulfillment” (11). In both Western and Nigerian tradition, the quest for utopia endures, while the fear about utopia dissolving into dystopia also continues. While we have acknowledged earlier in the paper that the concept of creating a utopia is seen in Western and Nigerian literature, it differs in that for Western writers, the look is external—the individual forces society to conform to him or her. For example, in Utopia, if a person did not conform to More’s ideal society, that person would become a slave or would be kicked out of the country. In Hunger Games, President Snow, the dictator of the Capitol, coerces the districts (the Subaltern, or lower classes) to conform to his will, which represents as the government and its law, forcing children to kill one another in the. Agency is implausible and threatening—a subject must act in accordance with the individual in charge and any deviance is considered heinous.

image from here

In contrast, Nigerian utopian individuals have the new potential of choice more readily available because of their independent state. Nigerians can look internally to change themselves for the better of society in order to create harmony. In Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests, the ending is ambiguous—the future could become dystopian or utopian; however, when Demoke chooses to recognize the Half-Child, which could symbolize the recognition of horrors from the past and of retribution, there is considerable hope for the future of Nigeria. However, when characters in Nigerian novels do not look internally but remain selfish, utopia turns quickly to dystopia. In The Famished Road, neither the Party of the Poor nor the Party of the Rich are interested in the lower classes because they are too busy seeking power, prominence, and money.[6] Azaro’s Dad “conjured an image of a country in which he was invisible ruler and in which everyone would have the highest education, in which everyone must learn music and mathematics and at least five world languages” (Okri 409). However, since Dad cannot compete with the two parties, he is unable to make his utopia for their Nigerian community to come to pass. One night, Dad explains his hopes for the grand changes in their community, and Azaro explains what he says: “‘We have to clear garbage from our street before we clear it from our minds,’ [Dad] said, echoing something he had hear in one of the books” (Okri 410). Although Dad tries to gather the community and clean up the streets, the people never really come together as Dad had imagined. Perhaps they feel that change is impossible, that hope is not worth having.

The biggest problem with this inability to work together is related to class divisions. Literary theorist Gayatri Spivak questions whether the Subaltern can truly speak and explains that the Subaltern “acted in the interests of the [dominant groups] and not in conformity to interests corresponding truly to their own social being” (27). What is the solution that will enable the Subaltern to speak, to enable a better, if not a utopian, society to exist?

image from here

image from here

Desmond Tutu’s description of Ubuntu proves insightful. With Ubuntu, we “recognize our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up in one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can survive only together, that we can be human only together” (Tutu 24). Therefore, if Nigerians truly followed Ubuntu, a more utopian-like society would exist. Without the government party leaders’ imposition and corruption, the poor would not live in pathetic housing, slowly starving to death, such as in The Famished Road. Although Ezeulu becomes crazy at the end of Arrow of God, Achebe could be suggesting that Ezeulu’s inflexibility as a ruler of his people was an incorrect way to govern. What Nigeria, as well as the rest of the world, really needs are social leaders and government officials who remember the Subaltern, listen to how citizens feel, and then show Ubuntu to all.[7]

In conclusion, hope is a universal aspect of all people and all nations. Nigerians may speak different languages, believe in different religions, or have different dreams, but Nigerian writers show how their people hope for their nation’s improvement. During the twentieth century, science fiction has been the dominant form for writing about utopia; however, Nigerian writers are not merely using mimicry to copy the Western tradition of utopia. Nigerian utopian thinking is distinct from other utopian/dystopian genres because Nigerian writers show readers “their distinct form of cultural and political hope” (Ashcroft 8). Utopia has become more focused on an idea, rather than a specific location: “Utopia is no longer a place but the spirit of hope itself, the essence of desire for a better world” (Ashcroft 8). We cannot know for certain the future of Nigerian utopias, but we recognize that if selfishness, greed, and hate abide in a society, whether it be Western or Nigerian, the future looks dim. However, if kindness, selflessness, and forgiveness abound in a community, then there is a greater possibility for hope for a promising future.


Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Arrow of God. New York: Anchor Books, 1974. Print.

Ashcroft, Bill. “The Ambiguous Necessity of Utopia: Post-Colonial Literatures and the Persistence of Hope.” Social Alternatives 28.3 (2009): 8–14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.

Barrett, Stanley R. “Sex and Conflict in an African Utopia.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 13.1 (1982): 19­­–35. PsycINFO. Web. 28. Mar. 2015.

Bhabha, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man.” Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. Ed. J. Rutherford. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990. 222–37. Print.

Cartwright, Marguerite. “Nigerian Independence.” Negro History Bulletin 24 (1961): 99­–103. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Currey, James. “Literary Publishing after Nigerian Independence: Mbari as Celebration.” Research in African Literatures 44.2 (2013): 8­–16. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Danzieger, K. “Ideology and Utopia in South Africa: A Methodological Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge.” British Journal of Sociology 14.1 (1963): 59–76. Humanities Source. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Desai, Gaurav. English 397R. Brigham Young University. Provo, 20 March 2015.

Erritouni, Ali. “Apartheid Inequality and Postapartheid Utopia in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People.” Research in African Literatures 37.4 (2006): 68­–84. Literary Reference Center. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Joo, Hee-Jung. “Speculative nations: Racial utopia and dystopia in twentieth-century African American and Asian American literature.” Dissertation Abstracts International Section A 68. (2008). PsycINFO. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Leman, Peter. “Law and Transnational Utopias in East African Fiction. Interventions: The International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 16.6 (2014): 818­–836. EBSCO. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

More, Thomas. Utopia. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century and the Early Seventeenth Century. 9th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W.Norton, 2012. Print.

“Nigeria.” Nigeria Embassy. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Oduwobi, Tunde. “From Conquest to Independence: The Nigerian Colonial Experience.” Historia

Actual On-Line 25 (2011): 19–29. EBSCO. Web. 2 Apr. 2015.

Okri, Ben. The Famished Road. London: Doubleday, 1991. Print

Richards, Sandra L. “Nigerian Independence Onstage: Responses from ‘Second Generation’ Playwrights.” Theatre Journal 39 (1987): 215­–227. EBSCO. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Simonse, Simon. “African literature between nostalgia and utopia: African novels since 1953 in the light of the modes-of-production approach.” Research in African Literatures 13 (1972): 451­­–487. Humanities Source. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Soyinka, Wole. A Dance of the Forests. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973. Print.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Eds. Bill Ashcroft, et al. The Post Colonial Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1995. Print.

Stieber, Zachary. “Nigerian Independence Day 2014: Quotes and Sayings for Nigeria Holiday.” Epoch Times 30 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Tayob, Abdulkader. “Islamic Politics in South Africa between Identity and Utopia.” South African Historical Journal 60.4 (2008): 583–599. Humanities Source. Web. 28. Mar. 2015.

Tutu, Desmond. God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time. London: Doubleday, 2005. Print.

“Utopia, n.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Weaver, Edward Kimmons. “What Nigerian Independence Means.” Phylon 22 (1961): 146–159. EBSCO. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.

Yoran, Hanan. “More’s ‘Utopia’ and Erasmus’ ‘No-Place.’” English Literary Renaissance 35.1 (2005): 3–30. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Feb. 2015.


NOTES

[1] When “dystopian novels” is searched online, there are 3,240 results with amazon.com but only 85 results with the website for Barnes & Noble. In contrast, when “utopian novels” is searched, the numbers drop—1,946 results with amazon.com but only 37 results with Barnes & Noble. Although these specific numbers could fluctuate, the overall trend seems to show a greater preference for dystopian novels in the year 2015.

[2] Hee-Jung Joo’s dissertation analyzed African American and Asian American literature, finding three main trends: (1) The multiracial utopias that express the contested relationship between formal and substantive citizenship throughout the twentieth century; (2) The utopian longings that stress the mid-century conflict between domestic racism and global expansionism; and (3) The contemporary dystopian scenarios that depict a US eventually destroyed by the racial contradictions of late capitalism.

[3] Ali Erritouni explores the South African writer, Nadine Gordimer’s, work: “[Gordimer] trusts that art can be effectively marshaled in the effort to resist the abuses of power” (81). Additionally, K. Danzieger’s article is a sociological study of what is happening in South Africa: “[I]n the case of the ideology of apartheid there arises the spectre of a totally ‘false consciousness’ whose every cognition must necessarily be wrong” (76). Finally, Abdulkader Tayob claims, “Islamic politics in South Africa inscribed an idealistic vision for the future. It promoted a utopian vision that was by definition unattainable” (584).

[4] BYU Professor Peter Leman explores the question “Where is the law in utopia?” in different East African literature in his paper “Law and Transnational Utopias in East African Fiction.

[5] On the one-year anniversary of Nigerian Independence, there were many celebrations and festivities. Although Queen Elizabeth II was not in attendance, she had this message read on her behalf: “I am confident that Nigeria will play a worthy role in the council of Nations and remain true to the high ideals of friendship and cooperation so manifest today, making a positive contribution to the peace and prosperity of mankind . . . .” (Cartwright 101).

[6] Chinua Achebe said, “Nigeria is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be” (Stieber “Nigerian . . .”).

[7] Susan Rice, the US National Security Advisor, said, “Nigeria has played a constructive role in peacekeeping in various parts of West Africa. But unless and until Nigeria itself is democratic and respects human rights, it too may well be a source of much greater instability as political repression limits the ability of the people of Nigeria to achieve their full potential” (Stieber “Nigerian . . .”).

Evaluating James’s Use of Charm in Daisy Miller

image from here

The word charming is used constantly throughout Henry James’s Daisy Miller. According to literary critic Adrian Poole, the world would be boring and sad without charm because there would be no possibility of romance. Poole is undoubtedly correct when he concludes, “At once magician and realist, James reminds us that charm is one of the world’s great gifts, even if it is the emblem of a complex fate, or even fatality” (132). Therefore, James realistically uses charm in his stories to provide complex representation of characters.


The Dual Purpose of Charm

In James’s story, charm serves dual purpose. Charm entices yet lulls one into a false sense of security. Charm may seem positive but is actually negative. Charm requires two individuals because there is the person who is charming and the other person who is to be charmed. Poole briefly admits that when readers study James’s writing, they must “submit to charm and beware” (132). He emphasizes on the negative influence of Daisy’s charm in his essay; yet, by focusing on Daisy Miller rather than on Frederick Winterbourne, Poole is lured into Winterbourne’s web of charm, falling for James’s narrative trap. Daisy is not the charmer. It is Winterbourne who is the scheming charmer who manipulates women.

Henry James (image from here)


Austen Influences James’s Writing

Henry James undoubtedly learned from Jane Austen that words serve multiple purposes, and people use words to their advantage. The word charming “may seem to be what Jane Austen calls a ‘nothing-meaning’ term, like ‘elegantly dressed, and very pleasing’” (Poole 116). For example, in Emma, Austen writes about Harriet absentmindedly using the word charming. This usage contrasts how Austen makes Emma cautious of charm, since “[i]t takes two, after all, to charm and be charmed” (117). Austen uses charm to contrast characterization in Emma, while James uses the word as a diversion in Daisy Miller.

Jane Austen (image from here)


Winterbourne Charms Daisy

Frederick Winterbourne uses the word charming repeatedly and derogatorily to describe the female protagonist named Daisy Miller. Poole argues, “[E]very time we call someone charming, we are trying to escape from the menace and promise of succumbing to charm, being truly charmed” (118). For Poole, Winterbourne uses the word repeatedly to try to avoid being seduced by Daisy’s charm; however, Winterbourne’s use of charm is a red herring.

Winterbourne constantly points his finger at Daisy by labeling her as charming. Therefore, he accuses Daisy as the seducer and distracts readers from his scheme to actually seduce her. When the readers are first introduced to Winterbourne, he is “looking about him, rather idly, at some of the graceful objects,” meaning women, because “in whatever fashion [Winterbourne] looked at things, they must have seemed to him charming” (James 4). From the very beginning, readers see that Winterbourne is already labeling women, whom he is checking out, as charming. This observation occurs even before Winterbourne meets Daisy. Winterbourne says Daisy is “a flirt—a pretty American flirt” (James 12), yet he repeatedly comments whether or not she blushes. Daisy flirts but is not looking for a sexual rendezvous, whereas Winterbourne is. For example, when Daisy and Winterbourne were going to the Castle of Chillon, he “could have believed he was going to elope with her” (James 26). The trip ends, and Winterbourne is disappointed that nothing sexual happens between the two of them. There is a difference between a charmer and a flirt: Winterbourne is the exploitive charmer, Daisy the innocent flirt.

Winterbourne & Daisy (image from here)


Winterbourne Charms His Aunt

Daisy is not the only character charmed by Winterbourne. The readers see how Winterbourne is socially smooth with his aunt, Mrs. Costello. Poole wonders how well humans are able to distinguish “between innocence and experience” and “between the cat-like social sense of ‘charm’ and the panther-like deep magical one. This is what bewilders Winterbourne about Daisy Miller” (122). The readers should not be bewildered about how Daisy interacts with Winterbourne; however, the reader should be aware about Winterbourne and his interactions with various female characters in the story.

The readers can see how Winterbourne uses charm to manipulate his aunt and to degrade Daisy. For example, Winterbourne and his aunt talk one Sunday afternoon after going to St. Peter’s in Rome. In sharp contrast to the religious setting, the aunt proceeds to gossip uncharitably about Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli, after seeing the pair together earlier that day. Winterbourne does not defend Daisy, the girl he supposedly cares about; instead, Winterbourne contributes to the gossip by asking questions (“Do you call it an intrigue . . . an affair that goes on with such peculiar publicity?” [James 50]). Winterbourne even offers comments (“They are certainly very intimate” [James 50]). Because Winterbourne contributes to the very unchristian-like gossip, this charmer becomes two-faced. One victim of Winterbourne’s façade is Daisy, but the other victim is his aunt. Neither the reader nor the female characters knows whom Winterbourne is being sincere to. In fact, Winterbourne is probably being disingenuous to both women, serving his own purposes whenever the situation is best for him.

image from here


Winterbourne Fails to Charm

Because Winterbourne tries to be charming to his lover and Daisy, Winterbourne’s charm towards both of them comes to a crashing end. When Mrs. Walker and Winterbourne are in the carriage together, Mrs. Walker orders Daisy to get in the carriage; despite what Mrs. Walker says, Daisy does not want to. To please Mrs. Walker, Winterbourne tells Daisy, “I think you should get into the carriage” (42), under the pretense of protecting Daisy’s reputation while also supporting his lover. However, if Winterbourne—rather than Giovanelli—had been walking with Daisy, Winterbourne would walk with her instead of telling her to do the polite thing of obeying Mrs. Walker. Once again, Winterbourne does not stand up for Daisy, revealing to the readers his hypocritical charm. His sole purpose is to appear charming—towards both his lover and the woman he desires. Because this scene ends with Daisy walking away and his lover being upset, we can see that supposed charm does not always succeed.

In the carriage (image from here)


Conclusion

James evacuates the word charming. As the readers discover how the word charming becomes hollow through the story, the readers also discover how hollow Winterbourne is, as well. Poole argues, “As James grows older his ‘charmers’, both male and female, become more formidable, harder to read, [and] more adroit at masking their intentions” (125). Even though Daisy Miller is a relatively early writing in James’s career, Poole appears to have missed the point that Winterbourne is quite formidable. Winterbourne, who charms Daisy, his aunt, and his lover, masks his intensions charmingly with these three women. In this story, the readers see Winterbourne’s hollow charm because of his interactions with women. As readers, we must be aware of other Winterbournes—in literature and in life.


Works Cited

  • James, Henry. Daisy Miller: A Study. The Portable Henry James. Ed. John Auchard. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. Print.
  • Poole, Adrian. “Henry James and Charm.” Essays in Criticism 61.2 (2011): 115–136. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.

happiness secret

image from here

“In the story The Little Prince, the fox was wiser than he knew when he said, “Now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, trans. Katherine Woods [1943], 70). The odyssey to happiness lies in the dimension of the heart. Such a journey is made on stepping-stones of selflessness, wisdom, contentment, and faith. The enemies of progress and fulfillment are such things as self-doubt, a poor self-image, self-pity, bitterness, and despair. By substituting simple faith and humility for these enemies, we can move rapidly in our search for happiness.”

~James E. Faust, “Our Search for Happiness”

read here

V i c t o r i e s

I feel like this has become my life motto. Or it should be. Or I should be better at making it my life motto.

Plus . . . BALLOONS!

What a sweet, sweet surprise. ❤

What small victories are you celebrating today? Please comment below. 😀

Hope you are having a beautiful day.

xoxo,

the bbb blogger

E n g l i s h

When I’m not cooking curry or eating desserts, I’m usually traveling. I’ve been all over the United States, from California Adventures to Disney World, from Pike’s Peak to Times Square. Last Fall semester, I explored France, Italy, Scotland, and England, enjoying art, food, music, and cultures different from my own.

While I love doing yoga in ancient ruins and being enraptured by nature, I’ve learned that reading—as cliché as this is going to seem—is another way to go on adventures by exploring how a writer expresses what it means to be human.

 

I first decided to be an English major because I had lofty goals: I wanted to be a writer and to change the world and to make people happy. Although these are still my goals, I’ve realized that there are many ways to learn and to feel that I had never before realized were possible.

Learning how to think and learning new perspectives has enabled me to stretch myself—as a scholar, as a citizen, as a friend, as a daughter, as a child of God. Our universal status of all being children of a loving and an all-powerful God does not mean that our existence here on earth is completely and totally universal.

 

Modernist writers Virginia Woolf and James Joyce show me their world of determining who you are in a broken, changing world.

The experiences of Buchi Emecheta and Ama Ata Aidoo show me their world of being African and the trials they endured.

John D. Fitzgerald, just as much as F. Scott Fitzgerald, shows me a world of what it can mean to be American, of struggling in the American West or with the American dream.

And there’s a beauty in that adventure, that universal search of what it means to be human.

Global Beauty Standards?

Original, unaltered photograph of artist.

Esther Honig, a freelance journalist based out of Kansas City, sent an unaltered photograph of herself to more than 40 Photoshop aficionados around the world. “Make me beautiful,” she said, hoping to bring to light how standards of beauty differ across various cultures.

The project, titled Before & After, originally came to Honig while she was working as a social media manager for a small startup. Her boss introduced her to Fiverr, an international freelancing website where anyone can hire freelancers from around the globe to complete almost any task imaginable. While browsing the site, Honig realized the prevalence of those offering Photoshop skills. “It immediately occurred to me that in this pool of workers, each individual likely had an aesthetic preference particular to their own culture,” Honig told BuzzFeed. Thus, the idea for Before & After was born.

Working with freelancers in over 25 countries, Honig expected that the images would differ from country to country, but was herself caught off guard by just how drastically some of the images were altered. “Seeing some jobs for the first time made me shriek… Other times images, like the one from Morocco, took my breath away because they were far more insightful than I could have expected,” Honig said.

To be sure, the images Honig has collected so far are interesting as individual images, a unique portrait of the standards of beauty in each country. However, when taken in totality, the project becomes much more striking, an interesting launching point into a global conversation about unattainable beauty standards around the world. “What I’ve learned from the project is this: Photoshop [may] allow us to achieve our unobtainable standards of beauty, but when we compare those standards on a global scale, achieving the ideal remains all the more illusive.”

Below are the photographs that Honig has collected thus far. Note: Some countries have multiple images from different artists. Honig continues her project on her website.

Argentina

Argentina

Esther Honig

Australia

Australia

Esther Honig

Bangladesh

Esther Honig

Chile

Chile

Esther Honig

Germany

Germany

Esther Honig

Greece

Greece

Esther Honig

India

Esther Honig

Indonesia

Indonesia

Esther Honig

Israel

Israel

Esther Honig

Italy

Italy

Esther Honig

Kenya

Kenya

Esther Honig

Morocco

Morocco

Esther Honig

Pakistan

Pakistan

Esther Honig

Philippines

Esther Honig

Romania

Romania

Esther Honig

Serbia

Serbia

Esther Honig

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Esther Honig

U.K.

U.K.

Esther Honig

Ukraine

Ukraine

Esther Honig

USA

Esther Honig

Vietnam

Vietnam

Esther Honig

Venezuela

Venezuela

 

Code Name Verity

The Beginning

My dear friend found a book called Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. When I asked her to describe it, she explained that doing so would be a bit difficult. A whole lot happens, including codes, spies, intrigue, friendship, strong female characters, and so on. The setting is World War II. I’m a little obsessed with 1940s and learning about what happened in history then. In my head, a little noise went DING! DING! DING! YOU HAVE A WINNER. I was sold.

What’s It About?

“When ‘Verity’ is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.  They’ll get the truth out of her.  But it won’t be what they expect. As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from a merciless and ruthless enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that reveals just how far true friends will go to save each other. The bondage of war will never be as strong as the bonds forged by the unforgettable friendship in this extraordinary tale of fortitude in the face of the ultimate evil” (http://www.elizabethwein.com/code-name-verity).

Awards

  • UK Literary Association Award Winner
  • Edgar Award Winner
  • Printz Honor Book
  • Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the 2013 CILIP Carnegie Award
  • Golden Kite Award Honor Book
  • Shortlisted for the Scottish Children’s Book Award
  • Catalyst Book Award Winner (East Lanarkshire County Council, Scotland)

Favorite Quotes

There are some pretty amazing quotes in the book. I couldn’t pick just one. These gems listed below include what I found when I googled for quotes from Code Name Verity:

My favoritestiest quote of all

This astonishing tale of friendship and truth will take wing and soar into your heart. ~quoted by Laurie Halse Anderson, New York Times best-selling author

Yay

I don’t even know where to start. There are so many great things about this book, and I don’t want to give away too much. The writing is great. As shown from the quotes above, she has some stellar lines. The author’s allusions and references from history and literature are fun, too (Shakespeare, Peter Pan, French literature, German literature, etc.). Characterization is top notch and would past the Bechdel Test (for more information, see http://www.feministfrequency.com/2009/12/the-bechdel-test-for-women-in-movies/). Let’s just say . . . So. Much. Sass.  🙂 The two main characters have a great relationship that will melt your heart. And I don’t want to give anything else away other than that. You’ll just have to read it to find out. Sometimes it’s hard to find interesting female characters in YA. TANGENT: This book really shouldn’t be labeled as YA because it’s great for adults and older teens, and there are also mature themes (e.g., concentration camps, torture, some language, etc.).

Nay

YOU WILL CRY. Or maybe not . . . if you are a soulless, pathetic, heartless little creature from the black lagoon. And the whole “crying” part doesn’t even have to be a “nay.” But you will have feelings (unless you are  . . . well, what I mentioned above.) But don’t NOT read it if you think that it’s like a super duper depressing book. There is so much humor and witty dialogue. So think of it more as a combination of laughter and tears. Bring some tissues, yet be prepared to stifle your laughter if you happen to be at work, and you need to be quiet, and you read something funny and have to bite your tongue off. Speaking of work, I am allowed to read or to work on projects when I have downtime. My book, which was borrowed from the library, has the cover of two female hands bond together with rope/twine/cords (?). Some of my coworkers asked if I were reading a BDSM novel, and I quickly responded that I was not. So I feel like the cover of this book does not represent the book very accurately. Of course, this cover art has absolutely nothing to do with the content and quality of the writing (and the author probably had no real say in the cover anyways). I guess there are other covers (as shown above in the first picture of all the different books covers).

A few of the topics/ideas covered in Code Name Verity. Originally from bibliophilemystery.blogspot.com

Gray

Also, several of the characters have “real names” and then “code names” or several different code names. It’s not impossible to remember, but it’s important to keep in mind who is who and who is doing what when. Maybe it’s just me; it’s probably just me. But I don’t know a whole lot about planes or types of planes or military jargon. Sometimes I would wonder what they were talking about. So . . . I made list of some of the planes listed and military references made throughout the book. 🙂 Enjoy. It’s pretty cool.

RAF Special Duties Cap Badge

 

Citroen Rosalie

The Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber used by RAF Coastal Command.

Two Spitfire FVB in flight

This is the Do-217 aircraft manufactured by Dornier for the German Luftwaffe in WWII.

RAF Lysander WWII

De Havilland DH-80A Puss Moth aircraft

Conclusion

Basically, read this book. It will change your life. I hope you have a beautiful day. xoxo, the bbb blogger

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.