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Facts and Transformations

Notes Towards Day 11 of Emerging Genres

Literary Facts and Transformations
(Tynyanov, Propp & Bakhtin)

(Hannah up next!)

I. relevance of various story forms and genres to the current campaign? reality, the more consequential ur-text for the Clinton 2008 campaign may be another Hollywood classic, the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy “Pat and Mike” of 1952. In that movie, the proto-feminist Hepburn plays a professional athlete who loses a tennis or golf championship every time her self-regarding fiancé turns up in the crowd, pulling her focus and undermining her confidence with his grandstanding presence (Frank Rich, "The Audacity of Hopelessness")

II. Evolution of Novel, Highlighted by Death of Alain Robbe-Grillet?

The novel, Mr. Robbe-Grillet contended, was a 19th-century form, epitomized by the rich, naturalistic worlds of Balzac and Flaubert. The 20th century, though, was characterized by fragmentation and existential doubt, and the novel reached “a degree of stagnation,” he argued in his essay “A Fresh Start for Fiction.” He called for a radical departure: anti-realist, anti-naturalist, anti-descriptive, apolitical. “In this future universe of the novel, gestures and objects will be ‘there’ before being ‘something,’ ” he wrote. “They will still be there afterwards, hard, unalterable, eternally present, mocking their own meaning"....Mr. Robbe-Grillet believed that writing should reveal the archaeology of its own construction, should depict a mind unfolding its thoughts over time...“He put the reader in a position where he had to be the central part of the novel.”

The literary theorist Roland Barthes was an early champion. “Robbe-Grillet is important because he has attacked the last bastion of the traditional art of writing: the organization of literary space,” Mr. Barthes wrote. The novelist was trying to destroy “the adjective itself,” he added. “The realm of qualification, for him, can be only spatial or situational.”

III. speaking of (far less radical!) forms of transformation...
reporting in from first paper writing&posting?

Christina's summary:
We naturally want the narrative-foundational story, but by leaving this out until now, Dalke has denied us that and hopefully opened our eyes to the peculiarities of the non-narrative foundational story...A Darwinian sense of genre theory posits that genre is not static in time, but that it changes constantly....Maybe all of those anthologies are narrative foundational stories.

Alex: Christina ...said, "In this course, we are trying to have more of an emerging story just like Duff is trying to do in Modern Genre Theory." I guess it just made me think about what we really are doing in this course...not one of my other eight courses has ever come close to being taught in this way.

In all honesty, I don't really know how I feel about that...I am terrified to post anything I write online. I also love the idea of composing a class with improvisation rather than the foundations academia seems to mandate we follow. I guess I'm just really happy to be a part of something new.

IV. speaking of which....
begin reading Uncle Tom's Cabin for Thursday--first 1/4
(assume will not finish before Spring Break....)
btw: The Scarlet Letter after, or something you HAVEN'T read??
note: next week is #7--> don't leave for break w/out @ least 4 forum postings...

V. today we have four pieces of genre theory to put into play w/ each other




Yury Tynyanov's 1924 "The Literary Fact" (Claire, Megan, Marina, Alex)
Vladimir Propp's 1928 "Fairy Tale Transformations" (Louisa, Al, Hannah, Ingrid)
Mikhail Bakhtin's 1941/1975 "Epic and Novel" (all)
Bakhtin's 1952/1979 "The Problem of Speech Genres" (Christina, Jessy, Ellen)

all examples of Russian formalist criticism
all clear exemplars of my modus operandi: never secondary, always/only primary&tertiary texts!

VI. get into your reading groups, figure out how you are going to teach us your text
  • what is the argument?
  • how is it constructed (argued)?
  • of what use-value is it? (think about how it
    • connects w/ illuminates Moby-Dick,
    • expands/illustrates Duff's introduction
    • intersects with the earlier genre theory we read,
      • Freadman's "Anyone for Tennis?"
        --using a text is understanding its genre and the way it plays it
        (tactics, strategies, ceremonial place)
        --learning to write is learning to ensure a useful uptake
        I.E.: to write is to try and get a reaction!
      • the chapters from Rosmarin's The Power of Genre
        the inevitability--and great usefulness--of our making classification mistakes,
        as we move from the particular to the general (and back again)
        the critic seeks the most suggestive “misfit,” the most expedient “error”

        has not only the power to correct previous readings but also
        the power to inspire the future readings that constitute its own correction

        the good literary text is well made and makes well:
        power to make the reader better than he was

VII. (non-formalist) overview of formalist criticism
--broadly: approaches to interpreting or evaluating literary works that focus on features of the text itself (especially properties of its language referred to as its "literariness") rather than on the contexts of its creation (biographical, historical or intellectual) or the contexts of its reception

--the dominant mode of academic literary study in the US at least from the end of the Second World War through the 1970s, especially as embodied in René Wellek and Austin Warren's Theory of Literature (1948, 1955, 1962) and in New Criticism (which advocated close reading of texts themselves, and rejected criticism based on extra-textual sources, especially biography).

--substantially displaced by various approaches (often with political aims or assumptions) that were suspicious of the idea that a literary work could be separated from its origins or uses....used by opponents to indicate either aridity or ideological deviance.

--recent trends in academic literary criticism (this course?!) suggest that
formalism may be making a comeback

VIII. Russian formalists
(St. Petersburg Society for the Study of Poetic Language & Moscow Linguistic Circle):

  • form is what makes something art
  • "a science of literature that would be both independent and factual"= poetics.
  • linguistics foundational
  • autonomous from external conditions/distinct from ordinary uses of language/
    not (entirely) communicative
  • has own history of innovation in formal structures, not determined by external, material history
  • What a work of literature says cannot be separated from how the literary work says it...
    form and structure...are part of the content
  • two of their most well-known concepts:
    • defamiliarization (how art works:
      by presenting the world in a strange and new way that allows us to see things differently)
    • syuzhet/fabula distinction: separates out the sequence of events the work relates (the story) from the sequence in which those events are presented in the work (the plot)

This emphasis on form, seemingly at the expense of thematic content, was not well-received after the Russian Revolution of 1917...Leon Trotsky's Literature and Revolution (1924):..."the methods of formal analysis... neglect the social world with which the human beings who write and read literature are bound up...the artist who creates this form, and the spectator who is enjoying it, are not empty machines...They are living people, with a crystallized psychology representing a certain unity, even if not entirely harmonious. This psychology is the result of social conditions"... The Formalists were thus accused of being politically reactionary... leaders of the movement suffered political persecution beginning in the 1920s, when Stalin came to power.

IX. Reading Notes
Tynyanov: focus on literary change
--the fundamental laws of literary succession

In theory of literature definitions are…only an after-effect…constantly being altered by the evolving literary fact…perhaps it s not worth bothering with precise definition of all the terms…and elevating them to the rank of scientific (30)
definition….the critics…perceived this as an exception to the system, a mistake, and again this was a dislocation of the system….Not regular evolution, but a leap; not development, but a dislocation. The genre became unrecognizable, and yet sufficient was preserved in it…And this sufficiency lay not in the ‘fundamental’ or the ‘important’ distinctive features of the genre, but in the secondary ones…taken for granted….the concept of size is primarily an energy concept (31)
the qualities of literature which seemed to be fundamental and primary are endlessly changing…the constant factor is...that literature is a dynamic speech construction (36)
The uniqueness of the literary work lies in the way the constructive factor is applied to the material…the constructive principle is...always changing…the whole essence of a ‘new form” lies in the new principle of construction, in the new use made of the relationship between the constructive factor and the subservient factors—the material….the novelty of their relationship…is consciousness of evolution (37).
Evolutionary supplanting is preceded by a complex process…an opposing constructive principle…takes shape from ‘chance’ results and ‘chance’ exceptions and errors. (38)
..every blemish, every ‘mistake’, every ‘misdemeanour’ in normative poetics is, potentially, a new constructive principle (39).
…a literary fact…emerges out of everyday life and then sinks into it again (42).
Once a constructive principle is applied to any one field it strives to enlarge itself and to spread over as wide an area as possible. We might call this the ‘imperialism’ of the constructive principle…. A constructive principle strives to exceed its normal bounds….it eventually strives to break through the boundary of what is specifically literary...and finally falls upon everyday life (43).
Endlessly diversified..the inevitable moment of historical generalization, when it is reduced to the simple and uncomplicated…literature is a ceaselessly evolving order (46).

Propp: uses invariance to analyze structural similarities in fairy tales
breaking down a large number of Russian folk tales into their
smallest narrative units to arrive at a typology of narrative structures
(not about meaning or elements that differentiate one tale from another,
but to unearth the elemental building blocks)

Both the naturalist and the folklorist deal with species and varieties…Both fields allow two possible points of view: either…the internal similarity…does not …or does indeed result from a known genetic tie…Fairy tales can be compared from the standpoint of their composition or structure (51).

Fairy tales exhibit 31 functions….about 150 elements or constituents…subject of comparison (52).
The study of basic forms necessitates a comparison of the fairy tale with various religions (5).
Conversely, the study of derived forms in the fairy tale shows how it is liked with reality (57).
Criteria for distinguishing the basic form of a fairy tale element from a derived form:
1 A fantastical older than its rational treatment….
2. Heroic treatment is older than humorous treatment…
3. A form used logically is older than a form used nonsensically….
4. An international form is older than national form (58)….
….a widespread form predates an isolated form….
Possible changes in basic forms:
1.Reduction (59).
3.Contamination (60)
5-6.Intensification and attenuation
Substitutions and assimilations:
7.Internally motivated substitutions (61)
8.Externally motivated substitutions
9.Cohfessional substitutions
10.Substitution by superstition
11.Archaic substitutions
12.Literary substitutions (63)
14.Substitutions of unknown origin
15.Internally motivated assimilations
17.Confessional assimilations
18.Assimilation via superstition
19-20.Literary and archaic assimilations

Bakhtin: methodology for study of the novel [PERFECT FOR MOBY-DICK!]
  • demonstrates the novel’s distinct nature by contrasting it with the epic
  • well suited to the post-industrial civilization because it flourishes on diversity
    (that the epic attempts to eliminate from the world)
  • unique in that it is able to embrace, ingest, and devour other genres
Peculiar difficulties…continues to develop…as yet uncompleted (69)
…younger than writing and the book…not only alive, but still young (70).
Parodic stylizations of canonized genres and styles occupy an essential place in the novel ….But…the novel does not permit any of these various individual manifestations of itself to stabilize…ability of the novel to criticize itself….the salient features of this novelization of other genres…They become more free and flexible, their language renews itself by incorporating extraliterary heteroglossia...they become dialogized, permeated with laughter…and…the novel inserts into their other genres an indeterminacy, a certain semantic openendedness, a living contact with…the openended present…The novel has become the leading hero in the drama of literary development…because it best of all reflects the (72).
tendencies of a new world still in the making...anticipates the future development of literature as a whole…. (73)
…statements that accompanied the emergence of a new novel typein the eighteenth century (74)
…constitute a criticism (from the novel’s point of view)…of the relationship other genres bear to reality: their stilted herozing, their narrow and unlifelike poeticalness, their monotony and abstractness, the prepackaged and unchanging nature of their heroes…a rigorous critique of the literariness and poeticalness inherent in other genres…fated to revise the fundamental concepts…novel as a genre-in the-making, one in the vanguard of all modern literary development (75)
three basic characteristics…
1) its stylistic three-dimensionality..multi-languaged consciousness..
2) the radical change it effects in the temporal coordinates of the literary image;
3)… the zone of maximal contact with..contemporary reality in all its openendness…The new cultural and creative consciousness lives in an actively polyglot world (76)
..this is the novel’s native element (77).
…all high genres of the classical era…are structured in the zone of the distanced image...outside any possible contact with the present in all its openendedness….contemporaneity…cannot become an object of representation.the idealization of the past…has something of an official iar…the novel, however, is associated with the eternally living element of unofficial language and unofficial thought (79).
It is in this orientation toward completeness that the classicism of all non-novel genres is expressed…’life without beginning or end”—was a subjet of the common people’s creative culture of laughter…the authentic folkloric roots of the novel…parody and travesty of all lofty models embodied in national myth…The ‘absolute past” brought low (80).

Bakhtin: critique of Saussurean distinction between langue and parole
  • deals with the difference between Saussurean linguistics and
    language as a living dialogue (translinguistics)
  • distinguishes between literary and everyday language
  • genres exist not merely in language, but rather in communication
  • rhetoric and literature draw on genres that exist outside
  • primary genres legislate words, phrases, and expressions acceptable in everyday life
  • secondary genres are characterized by various types of text such as legal, scientific, etc.
Literary forms as secondary/complex speech genres (85)
Language nothing other than generic styles for certain spheres of human activity (87)
In each epoch certain speech genres set the tone for the development of literary language (88)
The speaker’s speech will is manifested primarily in the choice of a particular speech genre…We speak only in definite speech genres…all our utterances have definite and relatively stable typical forms of construction of the whole (89)
…we speak in diverse genres without suspecting that they exist…hearing others’ speech, we guess its genre…from the very beginning we have a sense of the speech whole….Speech genres are very diverse (90).
Many people who have an excellent command of a language…feel quite helpless...because they do not have a practical command of the generic forms used in the given spheres…entirely a matter of the inability ot command a repertoire of genres of social conversation (91).
..the single utterance, with all its individuality and creativity, can in no way be regarded as a completely free combination of forms of language (92)
The vast majority of literary genres are secondary, complex genres composed of various transformed primary genres…play out various forms of primary speech communication….addressivity…constitutive, definitive features of various speech genres (94).