Monday, February 2, 2009

Rollercoaster Rules Regarding Literature

In Eagleton’s account of the history of the ideas and criticisms of literature, he makes clear the fluctuation of the definition of literature. The definition in recent history morphs to fit each period’s fixation. In the time of Wilde flamboyancy, literature is assessed in a more subjective manner, focusing on the implications brought in by the reader and the context of the poetry. It was the answer to the “spiritual hungering” ignited by World War I. However, when academia became more scientific and institutionalized, so did the literary criticism. This account of English literature further perpetuates what he introduces in the first chapter, that literature is functional rather than ontological. In the eye of the beholder.

Artists often, not always, respond to the demand of their public, and produce works that appeal to the time. They are not removed from society, and can be affected by culture obsessions as much as Joe Blow. I wasn’t in class to experience the Madonna song in full, but I do know Madonna as a product of the 80’s. She has been able to adapt for almost thirty years to cultural shifts. Although the song lacks the verbosity and subject matter usually associated with “good” literature, it is inescapably a reflection of the current state American culture. In this way, is it literature? This song came out last year. Our culture is obsessed with making fame accessible. The television spews reality TV. Everyone wants their fifteen minutes. This song pulls Madonna down from her Kingdom of Pop and humanizes her; she gets her heart broken, too. It is almost hubris to hear Madonna jealous. I’m not sure I would spend more than I just did considering the social implications of her music, but it does contribute to our debate on literature.

On an absent note, is there any music or articles not on the syllabus that I need to read? Tweet me!

1 comment:

  1. I think it is easy to get lost in the idea of what literature is. I don't think it is a solid idea (like the making of candy canes, par example). Each person has their own idea of what literature is to them.

    But I think deciphering what literature "is" to us is hard in the 21st century. If you think about, most literary theory (the beginning) was thought up by white men. Most authors included in the literary canon were white men (and then the presence of white woman [which is a topic w/in itself]). And now the literary canon is making room for mutli-cultural, ethnically diverse writers and theorists. Everything is drawing inspiration from something outside of its own cultural background- whether it be Madonna or Maya Angelou.

    I feel like "classic" literature is easily definable because it has already been defined for us. There is a fairly clear pattern between them all. But today, where everything borrows from something else, maybe we have to look at literature in a different way. We can try to cubby-hole modern literature, but what survives the next turn of the century will be what is added to the literary canon.

    Also- it's easy for us to be overly analytical of the work being produced in our time. The literary canon is comprised of pieces that are "timeless." I think it's hard for us to discern what is (and isn't) timeless about modern works, because we are living that time-and our time is passing and moving and morphing- and we can't quite see what will be the "timeless" idea that strings modern works together. [I feel like that was just one big ramble- but I guess just think of it as: Moby Dick- when it was written how was it received? Was it looked upon the same way it is now?]