Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Art and the Superstructure

            “The production of ideas, concepts, and consciousness is first of all, directly interwoven with the material intercourse of man, the language of real life.”

            This piece of art that I have created represents how meanings styles and forms create the structure of society. In that regard, I chose to represent society as a well from which information is drawn from. Criticism is the rope and pulley from which society physically draws art and literature from the well of social ideology. Although society can exist as a structure on its own, it lacks a purpose without a source from which to draw from. Therefore in essence, the structure would not exist if it weren’t for the source of nutrients buried deep below the ground. 

            I found it very interesting that Eagleton described literacy as the “material intercourse of man.” What is interesting about it is the word intercourse because it alludes to a highly personal and intimate relationship. Basically, art is a reflection of an intimate relationship between the reality of the world around the creator, and his or her own perception of it. I have always felt that art is the beginning to all major advancements in society. Does anyone want to agree or disagree with me?

Social Media and Marxism

Marxist Literary Criticism is not an easy thing to define, where do I start? I suppose I will start with the beginning: Marxist theory began with a man named Karl Marx (go figure!) and a man named Friedrich Engels during the 19th century.  These men were primarily concerned with economics, political, and philosophical issues and worked out explanations of the capitalist theory and mode of production. Marxist Criticism writes from the standpoint of Marx’s philosophical ideas, and from his view of history in which the class struggle is fundamental. Society is broken into two major sections: the superstructure and the base. The superstructure contains an overarching form of social consciousness called ideology, which infiltrates into the base, infecting every mind in society with the ideology of the rich. People are mindless zombies (well, maybe that's a hyperbole) absorbing the information that's floating in and around the material world—"it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness" (Eagleton 2). Art is an interesting piece of the puzzle because it's part of the superstructure, it's a form of ideology, but it taps into every layer of the cake. In Eagleton's words, "to understand literature, then, means understanding the total social process of which it is part". In other words, analyzing artwork means analyzing the world in which it was created. Fascinating! I love charts and I made a chart to help me understand the hierarchy of society:

I made this chart using information from Althusser's article.

While reading the three articles for Critical Theory, my mind kept wandering to social media—what would Marx or Engels say about the accessibility of the world? Is social media degrading our minds into mushier, less aware blobs? Or is it facilitating the discussions we, as people, need to have in order to create social change? I found an article at the Huffington Post that expands on this topic. I, personally, believe social media (twitter, specifically) is an incredible catalyst for discussion and facilitates connections between people who would never join forces if it wasn't for this platform. So, while it might not be the artiest art piece, I decided to upload a postmodern screenshot of my twitter home page as an example of people connecting across the world. I am a feminist and I like to post feminist articles that I find. As a result, another feminist has found and followed me, and she's connected to a whole bunch of other feminists! If it wasn't for twitter, then I wouldn't even know these people exist. Furthermore, there is another site I like called Medium. Anyone can go here and write an article about anything they'd like! All sorts of people write articles: famous screenwriters, scientists, TED Talk speakers, feminists, data analysts, fiction writers, etc. I think Marx and Engels would jump in excitement if they knew about this social platform—it's made by the people and written for the people! Recently, I read an article about the vaccine paranoia and measles outbreak by a person with autism who is upset that people would rather have children die than develop autism (plus, vaccines do not cause autism)—it is great!

In conclusion, Marxism is layered and interesting, interesting because it forces people to evaluate their lives and the role they play in it—even if it's difficult to change. I think the first step towards social change is awareness, awareness about the world and how it works. What do other people think about social media? Is it helpful or detrimental? Is it dangerous to personalize celebrities?

"But they're just normal people! I can be like that! Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. I'll just emulate everything they do." Unfortunately, no.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

In Paulo Friere's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed", he illustrates a method of teaching in which an individual learns to grow from their cumulative experiences. Justin Wyllie's review of this work discusses Friere's background as an educationalist, and how his South American roots influence his views on the oppressed. In the beginning, Wyllie says, "While the revolutionary theory is Marxist the context is unmistakably South American" (Wyllie 1). He discusses Friere's approach and who he aims his attention at. 

He outlines the argument by addressing the overarching themes of the four chapters right up front. Chapter one dealing with the revolutionary background, the oppressed in relation to those who oppress, as well as the the pursuit of the oppressed over time. The second chapter highlights the educational approach that many oppressors choose. The third describes Friere's experience with the "educational programs with the rural poor in various South American countries". Lastly, the fourth chapter compares the two theories of 'antidialogical' and 'dialogical'. Antidialogical aims to suppress the anxiety of reality, and dialogical aims to aid in "the discovery of reality through critical thought and free communication" (Wyllie 1).

Wyllie quotes Freire and says "oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed...from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for liberation". Wyllie says that this is a  "pedagogy for the revolution" (Wyllie 1).

Would Friere consider conventional educational methods to be oppressive? How would he begin to educate oppressed people in urban areas to educate them about their own situation while still being sensitive? Clearly poverty influenced Friere in a negative way and helped him to develop this theory, but how would he think differently if he was raised in  a different environment with different living conditions?

Although the famous image of the fist is generally one that represents power to the working class, I thought it would be interesting if I used the image to represent the oppression that the proletariat is subjected to. 

And May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor

I believe most of us are familiar with The Hunger Games, a trilogy by Suzanne Collins. But for those of us who are not, here is a brief overview. The Hunger Games is about a dystopian world set in "Panem". This world consists of 12 districts and the Capitol. The Capitol controls each district, and each of the 12 districts vary in their level of poverty. Perhaps then it comes as no surprise that the Capitol is full of extreme wealth and luxury. Every year, the Capitol select two children from each district to participate in the televised "Hunger Games." The objective of the game? To be the last one, not just standing, but living.

What I find particularly fascinating about this trilogy, besides it's obvious critique on American society/capitalism, is the Marxist lens through which these books can be viewed. Essentially, they are a lesson in Marxism. There is conflict between the classes, the poor(the districts) stay poor, the rich (the Captiol) remain rich by controlling the poor, and this dynamic drives a revolution (led by the trilogies main character, Katniss Everdeen). To be clear, Marxism is critiquing/condemning capitalism. Who knew we were teaching our 13-year-olds the basics of Marxism?

Above: The Captiol; Below: District 12

In "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed", Paulo Freire presents his theory of education in the context of revolution--a Marxist idea. Friere writes:
It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action; nor can it be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection: only then will it be a praxis. 
This quote further explains the theory of Marxism, and helps to contextualize The Hunger Games through a Marxist lens. 

Interested in knowing more about The Hunger Games through the lens of Marxism? Check out this blog post "Panem Brings to Life Marx's Manifesto."

The Opressor and the Opressed

Wyllie's review of Freire's work examines Marxist theories on the class system and education. The main point of this essay is focused around the concept that "Freire's analysis of the social situation is based on the ideas of dialectical materialism; an oppressor class oppresses and an oppressed class is oppressed" (Freire 2). It holds true to the idea of the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer or the idea of wanting to keep those with power in power or those without it, without it. The essay follows the process of the oppressed stating that in the first stage of oppression, instead of shooting for freedom, become oppressors themselves. This essay highlights the Marxist idea that  human destiny can only be realized through class struggle. As we read further we learn that there is a problem with revolutionary Marxism and that is that it attempts to persuade the world into a theoretical framework that it cannot and will not fit into. On the education piece, we are told of 'banking education" and how it only benefits the oppressors. Freire describes this as teachers "depositing" information into students. His concern is that this makes the student passive and they only learn what the teacher wants them too, rather than learning some things on their own and enriching their learning.

For my artwork aspect, I chose to draw a student resembling a bank vault and a teacher depositing Critical Theory ideas into that student. I drew this piece to illustrate Freire's idea that this is how we are taught, the teacher gives us ideas on concepts to which we passively accept. He calls this process "banking education" and so I labeled my drawing that for clarification purposes.

There was a ton of stuff in this essay that I found particularly interesting. To start, the biggest thing I noticed was how many times the word revolution was mentioned. Each time I found the word, I highlighted it so when I was done highlighting, the pages were lit up like Christmas trees. I also took note of this statement, " Freire discusses the attitude of the revolutionary leaders towards education. He lectures them to avoid communicating with the oppressed via communiqués; the revolutionary leaders must dialog with the oppressed otherwise the relationship is one of domination and the revolution is not authentic." (Freire 2). I guess I got a little confused by this last part because revolution usually results as a spurn against dominance, so wouldn't the revolution actually be authentic?

Marxism and Education

Wyllie’s review of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed reflects on the main ideas of Freire’s book regarding Marxism and education. In the three chapters, Wyllie touches on who the oppressed and the oppressors are, the banking concept of education, the practice of those educational systems and the antidialogical and dialogical aspects of the oppressed and education. A theme the article really concentrates on is the idea of education and Marxism. According to Freire, society exercises a “banking method” of education on its students. Meaning that the students are empty vessels ready to be taught by teachers with specific educational agendas. The idea to fix or change this is to equalize the learning process in a way, this “requires that the teacher and student work together to solve problems on an equal footing, or at least without the teacher claiming absolute knowledge and an authority superior to that of a peasant” (5). However, Freire did go on to say that in a way the leaders must “mistrust the ambiguity of oppressed people” and that the organization, or teacher, does require authority. Although authority is required, it does not mean absolute power. Rather, it’s an argument for students to retain their own individual identities while learning within their society.

To represent this, I drew a little piggy bank that represents the student. In this case, society would put whatever they wanted into the bank in order to educate the student, without the student having an active part of their education. So, piggy bank=students Society= kids and quarters. 

Marx Zuckerburg: How the Oppressor Class Teaches Us to Live or Die Trying

Preface: I'm thankful for the freedom to say that Justin Wyllie's review of Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed is awful.

Marxist [literary] theory, at least at the time of writing this although this is certain to be reevaluated by tomorrow morning, is the idea that the societies and people depicted in novels are representations of social classes and together with symbols and themes point to a machine which all members of the society are responsible for keeping active, and thus are all equal. BUT WAIT, let's throw Justin Wyllie's Encyclopedia de la verbose into that definition. Wyllie says that Marxism is basically about "keeping the proletariat submerged in a false consciousness," (7). Wyllie seems bitter about Marx's optimism. I don't think there is a "false consciousness" with Marx, just as I don't think pretending I'm doing well in this class is that unhealthy (it's like carbs in a way).

One thing Wyllie does well in his review is agree with Freire (even though he gives the credit to Eric Fromm...the smug is unreal). "They [the oppressor class] cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have," (4) he quotes. AND THEN he has the nerve to say "we would only partially accept this." Freire is highlighting the "distinction between 'being' and 'having' as two contrasting approaches to the problem of living," (4). The problem of living is the essential idea behind the common struggle Marx points out, though he doesn't necessarily preach to the oppressors to change before they die trying to live. While the oppressor (a.k.a. le bourgeoisie) struggles with what they have (possessions, power, pride over possessing power) the oppressed (a.k.a. le proletariat) struggle with living ("being") under the ruling authority of the oppressor. The conclusion drawn (literally, below) is that the oppressed do not necessarily have to usurp the oppressive, they just have to wait it out until the oppressive "suffocate in their own possessions."

The artistic skills strike again...Okay reviewing I think this looks more like a money suit than a man drowning in his possessions, and when Wyllie says "Conquest operates on a scale from repressive measures to 'the most solicitous (paternalism)'. The conqueror makes of people his possession," (12) it make me think that instead of money it should really be people, specifically the proletariat type. What I wanted to express was the inevitable demise of the bourgeoisie through their own pursuits...but still, I imagine a money-suit isn't very comfortable.

So first question:
Does Justin Wyllie hate innocent college students?

What's with the title? How are the oppressed pedagogical? (If by asking this question I'm exposing myself as a very inattentive reader, I never asked...and I'll deny it to the media).

Dialectical materialism?? Like...the logical argument of owning stuff? (Capitalism?)

And why are Capitalists schizophrenic? "The signal disease of late industrial capitalism is schizophrenia." 

What happened to Wordsworth's "write for the common man"? I'M TALKING TO YOU WYLLIE!

Marxism and Material Possessions

Marxism seems to be all about material possession; the more you own, the better off you are and the less you own, the less important you really are. Social class is a big part of Marxism, and usually the higher class has more material possession than the working class.
" Freire's analysis of the social situation is based on the ideas of dialectical materialism; an
oppressor class oppresses and an oppressed class is oppressed. "

Wiley's theory explores the wall that divides up social classes. He goes into detail about the history of social problems and the revolutionary movements that followed with that.
"However, the moment the new regime hardens into a dominating 'bureaucracy' the humanist dimension of the struggle is lost and it is no longer possible to speak of liberation". He acknowledges that the revolutionary leadership may disregard the peasants and simply tell them about the revolution rather than educate them so that they participate in it as reflecting/acting human beings." 

  This picture that I drew represents Marxism. I was lucky enough to get some art supplies to make the pictures more vivid and detailed. Since Marxism is all about having material possession and spreading the message that the more you have the better you are and the more important you are. The picture shows two people. The woman on the left is clearly a higher class woman. She is in possession of a really fancy sports car, probably a Ferrari ( its been so long since I've drawn a car that I forgot how to do it and the result looks like a lady bug). She is wearing fine jewelry and carrying a lot of shopping bags, implying that she has a lot of possessions and can easily get what she wants. She also has a dog and is wearing fancy clothes. The bottom line is that she clearly is a member of the upper class and has a lot of possessions which means that she would be considered important from a Marxist perspective. She probably comes from a good family and a good social transformation. The figure on the left is simply a stick figure. I chose to do this because it shows such a blank expression with no material possessions what so ever. This person would probably belong in the lower social class so a Marxist perspective would frown upon this person.

A question that I raised from this article and Marxism in general is " where do we see Marxism in the future? do we see it at all in the future? if so, would that be a bad thing? What can we take from Marxism and how can we use it beneficially?"

We Need To Talk...Marxism

After reading works discussing Marxism by Eagleton, Althusser, and Wyllie, it is clear that Marxism is about abolishing the current ways in which society works in order to create a more equal world. Marx believed that the only way to begin a revolution against the current system of society is to first be consciously aware of the inequities that exist within the system and recognize oppression. In addition to that, there should be an action to change the situation once such oppression has been recognized. This is a theory called "praxis" by Freire, which Wyllie defines as linking "the work of critical reflection on the situation of oppression with action which changes that situation in a concrete, objectively verifiable way" (Wyllie p. 2). One systematic change that is crucial to a Marxist revolution seems to be a change in the way societies communicate. As Wyllie recounts, Freire focused a good deal of his work on the way people communicate. In the current system, those in power do not converse with the classes below them, but instead issue "communiques", or announcements/orders of some sort. Freire recognizes that in order for there to be revolution, there must be true change and leaders must communicate with everyone instead of at them. He believed that "revolutionary leadership must dialogue with the people and avoid the temptation to issue communiques themselves" (Wyllie p. 12). Marxism is based off the ice that the system needs to be changed in order to eliminate any imbalances in power, and one of the most important aspects of such societal change is an alteration in communication.

My artwork depicts this idea of changing the system of communication in order to move towards Marxist revolution. On the left is the current system in which the person (or people) in power at the top of the social pyramid issue commands at all those below them. On the right is a more equal form of communication in which people are conversing with each other, while reflecting on the ideas discussed in order to initiate change.

What other social constructs could be changed with a change in the way we communicate? What would it take to make such a drastic change? Is a true Marxist revolution even possible?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Wylie's essay/ marxism theory

Pedagogy of the oppressed

Wylie's essay on Freire's text heavily examines the inequity and social disruption between classes. The marxist scholar analyzed the turbulent relationship between oppressor and oppressed andproliteriet versus bourgeois. The conflict at hand revolves around keeping the common man submerged in ideology, smothering him from breathing the air of reason "And the more the opressors control the oppressed, the more they change them into apparently "inanimate" things." although a call for revolutionizing our predisposed way of thinking is imperative in altering a skewed society, Wylie skepticism of an organization in action derives from the inner oppressor within the oppressed and self induced imprisonment "A person who does not think (and think critically) about social and political reality but simply accepts it is thereby participating in the world in a way which has been organized for him by others". Dormant minds are susceptible to emphasized jargon, so information tailored by a dominant socioeconomic class structure zombify those tethered to the system to taste the nector of an artificially sweetened cup of liberation "individuals will stubbornly remain individuals however much you designate this as their having imbibed too much oppressor consciousness." These generic notions tie together to Wylie's more pungent assessment of marxist theory entailed in education. In other words, the great struggle between banking education and problem-posing education is heavily stressed.
Between the two, banking education is seen as a structured norm in the western world. Under this operation, the classroom is a totalitarian wasteland. The student is seen as an object or empty vessel that serves to sponge up narration and content that is out of touch with reality and disconnected from serious issues. A lapse between education and information is demonstrated. Knowledge is objectified to the point where repetition and reiteration serve as a intellectual currency, giving this supposed knowledge power "The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his existence." While problem posing education focuses on the mutual growth of subjects who work towards a common goal in the name of worldly stimulation and enlightenment, the teacher is the proprietor of an indoctrinated rabble, fillings faceless heads with shallow dispositions to keep the intact gears turning.Acknowledging the student as a contributing member of society than a number is at the root of problem posing education "The teacher is not an absolute authority on the subject and the students are able to make a valid contribution. As such the humanity of the students is valued; in that their truth as inquiring beings is engaged not stifled."
I'll cite my sources like a regular source citer, and say that the well drawn hand is a product of my esteemed colleague Ben LePage. Everything  that's not that is my work that demonstrates face value marxist theory in comparison to the realms of education. On our left, the proletariat scamper around, frantically selling their built up labor to capital. From a higher elevation, faceless bourgeois dump a round of chump change on the people who control the means of holding up the staggering weight of the oppressors. the picture to the right is more relevant to the banking education versus problem posing education. A stifling hand beckons for the undying attention of mere proponents to a alleged greater good. Through the door, ordinary people are wired up to "think for themselves". This sugar coated expression really aims to devalue critical thinking and to inflame an orchestrator agenda conducted by elitists "The oppressive order is a "free society", all persons are free to work where they wish, that if they don't like their boss they can leave him and look for another job, the myth that the street vendor is as much an entrepreneur as the owner of a large factory; education is the path for inclusion for all- when in fact it is shaped like a pyramid and only a small fraction actually get to the top and so on." 

Marxism: To Preach Community with the Authority of a Priest

Marxism seeks to expose an unjust conflict between the rich and the poor. Within this conflict the rich have the upper-hand, which although explicitly material and economic, also expands in a powerful superstructure composed of ideas and beliefs along with a multitude of institutions which carry out and perpetuate the dominant ideology so as legitimize the rich’s power over (and oppression of) the poor. It is because of this powerful superstructure that individuals are so often subject to what Marxists call “false consciousness,” which prevents them from seeing their own subjectivity to systematic oppression. Louis Althusser suggests in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” that education is the most powerful modern ideological state apparatus (ISA). In other words, education is the most powerful of many institutions which further the dominant ideology of the ruling class. For this reason it makes sense (as discussed by Justin Wyllie in his review of Feire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) for Freire to apply Marxist theory to the classroom, critiquing the current western pedagogy which treats students “as empty vessels into which knowledge can be deposited” (6). Feire calls instead for authentic dialog between students and teachers who both understand themselves to be valuable and not fully knowing. This mirrors his understanding that revolution can happen only when individuals are in equal (or near equal) communication with one another so as to authentically realize their own oppression. To be “told” of their oppression would only re-inforce their positions as passive subjects, which is the opposite of what Marxism strives towards.

My artwork exposes the dominant hand of the ruling class and its looming superstructure which all individuals are subject to, especially emphasizing the educational ISA. Although promised freedom by authoritative figures like teachers from childhood, Marxism believes all individuals to ultimately be bound by oppressive “nooses” which prevent genuine communication between individuals as well as any significant movement between the classes within capitalists systems. Because these nooses are not easily escapable (especially without having learned the skill of critical inquiry), individuals likely will internalize their oppression and seek out an “other” which they can exercise authority over, as illustrated here by the low position of the figure with a leg cut off.

Justin Wyllie notes a significant flaw in Feire’s work: “This isn’t really a dialog since there can only be one end and any other conclusion is already explained away as the oppressed housing the oppressor within themselves. A real dialog does not have a prescribed outcome” (12). I want to take this a step further and suggest that the Marxist call for connectedness is not explicit enough. While the goal of Marxism is communist revolution, the process of getting there fails to be adequately communal. Rather than focusing so much on confirming its own beliefs and actualizing its own call for revolution, Marxist theory must become more self-aware and realize its failure to truly practice that which it ultimately strives for: authentic communal dialog. If Marxists are “right,” collective consciousness can only occur when individuals are taught to harvest a deep sense of connectedness and empathy, and it is only then that productive revolution will ensue.

Interpreting and Changing the World as We Know It

There is this idea within Marxism that 'activism' is is purely action without reflection, which then lends to the idea that reflection without action is 'subjectivism'. Marx, it seems actually loathes this because he apparently "scientifically destroyed" the entire theory. In the Marxism pyramid, essentially the oppressor is at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the oppressed which oppresses another below them. It is evident that realizing that you are part of this pyramid is the only way for one to overcome being a part of it. Freire believes that it involves retreating from the world to understand this entire theory. "The revolution then is primary; philosophy is allowed only if the thinker is 'bathed' in reality, this bathing presumably connecting him to the revolution and history. Heidegger, in an interview for television quoted from Marx, in a Theses on Feurbach saying
that "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." Freire also notes that in order for an individual to speak out against the societal/political norms set in place for them, they must acknowledge what those norms are, otherwise they are exuding the message that they are content with living in a world organized for them, which should never be the case.

The piece of artwork that I created is meant to illustrate the theory that in order to change the way we live in our world/see it, we must first acknowledge what the world itself currently is. I'm borrowing of course, Columbus' theory that the world was flat in 1492, but bear with me while I explain why my drawing is significant (other than of course, I think I did a wonderful job of drawing geographically correct continents.) Illustrations of the world as we know it show the earth with blue water and green to indicate land (I didn't have a green pen so white will do here.) This is the reality of what our world is. However, we are free to recreate what we see and think with that acknowledgement in mind. It is not "wrong" theoretically to envision a world that is shaped like a square, with pink water and blue land as long as we know the reality of the world we do, indeed live in.

My questions revolve around education: how can we teach Marxism in the classroom without radically violating our students' systems of beliefs? Many of us will be teaching at the high school or middle school level and our students will be impacted greatly by what we teach and how we teach it. How can we illustrate Marxism in a way that they understand and can embrace as a theory? 

My Review of Wyllie's Review of Freire's Actual Work

Wyllie's review of Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, covers the main points chapter by chapter of Freire's marxist theories of society and the educational system. Freire focuses on dialectical materialism as the main solution to the educational system. He calls his theory of the ideal classroom Problem-Posing education, which in its simplest form is the idea that they teacher and the student should have a dialogue about the content of the class. He links this back to marxism, stating that the upperclass should start to dialogue with the lower class members of society. "The distinction is that dominant elites do not communicate with the people, do not dialog with them, but rather issue communiqués". The problem with focusing solely on dialectical materialism is that this theory ultimately ends in revolution, and class revolutions generally end with a new set of rulers taking place rather than shifting to equality of power.

 So, obviously I drew a pyramid made out of circles. The idea is that the blue circles represent the lower class, the red circles are the middle class, and the purple circle is the 1%, the man, the rich. In education, the blue would represent the students in a classroom, the red would represent the teachers, and the purple circle would represent the administration, the rich tax payers, the politicians, etc. There is a lot that goes into the curriculum of students and it has little to do with the opinion of those who are being forced to learn the material. Unfortunately, if one blue circle falls out of the pyramid, they could all go down like jenga. If the purple circle were to fall off the pyramid, not much would happen. I would have liked to show this in a video, but I don't have a bunch of balls lying around in my apartment. That being said, I hope the visual is enough to understand where I am getting at on this one. The students are the base of our educational system, and they should be treated as such.

Some questions
How do you feel about the idea of 'praxis'?
Do you think the opinion of the student matters?
Who do you believe is the base of education?
[insert some controversial questions here]

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reader-Response Theory

In opposition to the New Critics, Reader-Response Theory is a form of literary criticism that focuses on the audience in correlation to the creation of meaning in the text. Although Louise Rosenblatt developed this theory, Stanley Fish is also a scholar and critic that explored this thesis.

Rosenblatt makes a reference to plays to demonstrate the reading process. She writes "Without rejecting the idea that plays are usually written to be ultimately acted, I still insist that before they are acted they must be read—first by the author evoking his intended work and, second, by the director and the actors, who before they interpret must go through the process..." (Rosenblatt 13). I think that this quote is particularly interesting because she is speaking about a work of art that is quite possibly even more subjective that written work. She also says that the creator should be reading over what they have written, which is contradictory to what I gathered from the rest of her writing.

Of course we know that not everyone is going to read a text the same way because of their own preconceived notions and idiosyncrasies, but does it matter how the author intended the message to be received? While there may be no wrong perception, should we be taking the artist into account?

Considering the fact that this theory discredits the idea of the author pertaining to the text or creating its meaning whatsoever, I thought it would be interesting to elaborate and expand on the poem that I used for my Affective Fallacy post, and make it more about the author and the creation process. I wrote a poem about being an artist, more specifically an author, from the point of view of a writer, and I was sure to highlight what the process involves both intellectually and emotionally.

One who creates
something out
of nothing has to
be able to be a minimalist
when they begin and
slowly graduate through levels
of creation.
They need to be able to have
one thing, break it
down to its most
simple form and
see what it truly is,
and then use it to make
something new from it;
hence the cycle of destruction.

The process of creation
and destruction is very
similar to the levels of connection
and progression between you, the author
the words, the reader, and
the meaning that is created.

You see something beautiful
that perplexes you;
you want to know more about
it so you
take it apart, analyze it.
You learn from it,
and use your new
knowledge to
construct something of
your own.

You can be mad
and sane at the same
time when you have one
thought in mind
but elaboration just cannot
be helped.
The mirage of madness,
to an artist or an
seems close to sanity.

Reader Response Theory

The Reader Response Theory is all about the reader's reaction to a text, rather than the text alone. The text is nothing without the readers' reaction. It would be like watching a studio show without an applause from the audience or laughter or anything. The audience reaction is indeed important but it is not everything. Everyone has different viewpoints but when it comes to the actual meaning of a text, there are limitations. Fish mentioned how the meaning of a text can be interpreted by its context and circumstance, so there is a specific meaning to a text and although there can be multiple meanings, there is a limit. As an English major, you would think that this would be a bad thing, well it is definitely not. If a text had an unlimited meaning to it, anyone could just make up some meaning to it and there would be no point in looking at it and people would just bull sh*t it like crazy. This is why limits are a good thing because they have boundaries and set specific rules and have specific meanings.
This isn't my most prized art piece and I wish I could have come up with something more creative but this drawing shows a bunch of people reading  having various reactions like they would if they were participating in an audience. Since its the reader "response" theory, they are responding to the reading with their own thoughts.
Questions for the reader response theory would be:
How far does the reader response actually go?
At what point are the limitations?
Say the readers go crazy over a text, what then?

A World of Possibility!

The reader-response theory is based on the transactional relationship between a reader and the text and the text and a reader. All the components of the reading process work together—the reader, time, place, and text—creating a unique and specific poem. The text begins as a set of signifiers that prompts a reader to draw from his personal experiences. The reader then sorts through these experiences and chooses the referent that is most relevant to the context of the text. As the reader moves through the text, his mind interrelates all the words, shuttling back and forth between various emotions, images, attitudes, and ideas. Meaning emerges as the signifiers and referents combine and add-up as the text moves forward, weaving the reader’s stream of life into the literary process; the words transform from marks on a page to structured responses, full of meaning: a poem emerges. 

There is no essential connection between a word (signifier), the specific thing it is referring to (referent), and what the word means in a given symbol system (signified) because different languages have different names and meanings for the same thing. In other words, language is arbitrary. Language is a social system of meaning, and reading is how a social system of signifiers works; it is the production of relations among signifiers. Words only have meaning in specific contexts; they don’t “mean” something mystically or naturally. Or, as Louise Rosenblatt puts it in The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work, “any reading act is the result of a complex social nexus. Language is a socially generated and socially generative phenomenon” (20).

I made a chart to help me understand how signifiers, referents, and the signified all relate to each other. Language is arbitrary because the word “star” in English is replaced by the word “estrella” in Spanish, but both refer to the same referent.

              As for my artistic endeavors, I drew a picture! It’s a scene depicting the ocean. I drew the surface of the ocean in black and white because I want it to represent the text in a reading process. If readers only engage with a text at face value then they are depriving themselves of a rich and complicated reading experience. If, however, readers decide to engage with a text then they move deeper into meaning, which makes the reading process more colorful and alive!

               I like the reader-response theory because it’s interactive, like the world we live in. I think one of the most exciting things about living is change—it’s always happening! I understand Wimsatt and Beardsley and I think objectivity is important in certain circumstances, but for the most part, I prefer to engage with life, participating in a constant give-and-take. In chapter three of Rosenblatt’s article, she talks about efferent reading compared to aesthetic reading. Is efferent reading in the same realm as New Criticism?