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Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory EN3000 – Fall/Winter 2011/2012 – Nemanja Protic Lecture 2 – Sept 15 Last Week… - What does it mean to be modern and how is modernity organized in terms of theories (concepts) and practices (ways of living)? - What does it mean to be postmodern and how is postmodernity organized in those same terms? - Are we, today, modern? Are we postmodern? Or is there a third option? - More specifically, how are categories and concepts such as truth, history, subjectivity, and ideology utilised in a construction of praxis in the modern and postmodern periods? Praxis (as per Calvin O. Schrag) “Praxis… [is located] between the theoretical and the practical as they are generally understood, and particularly as they are understood in modern philosophy. Praxis as the manner in which we are engaged in the world and with others has its own insight or understanding prior to any explicit formulation of that understanding… Of course, it must be understood that praxis, as I understand it, is always entwined with communication.” The Modern Era - Rebellion against traditional forms of authority such as the Church and the Monarchy, and an attempt to establish the autonomy of the individual’s capability to reason. - Rise of democratic political forms, based on the autonomy of the individual. - This democracy is often described as ‘liberal’ – concerned with rights of individuals – and as closely related to capitalist economic forms and commerce epitomised by the Industrial Revolution and the rise of machine production. - Modern thought, furthermore, builds on this faith in reason and human autonomy, and leads to a proliferation of subjectivist and individualistic ways of conceptualising the world. Modernity: Liberalism vs. Democracy - Modernity is a concept that embodies cultural aspects of the modern era such as the rebellion against traditional authority and faith in reason and autonomy of the individual; these are concretely expressed in liberal-democratic political forms. - The conflict at the heart of the dominant Western political form, liberal democracy: o Liberalism vs. Democracy, or o Autonomy vs. Rule of the majority - Fareed Zakaria’s ‘The Rise of the Illiberal Democracy’: ‘Constitutional Liberalism is about the limitation of power, democracy about its accumulation and use.’ Modernity vs. Modernization - Modernization is the process of technological development based on forms of capitalist production and on the system of free markets concretely expressed by various technological advances, urbanisation and labour relations. - The conflict at the heart of the Modern Era: o Modernity vs. Modernization o Belief in equality vs. unequal distribution of wealth. - Methodologically speaking, how are theories and concepts developed by various thinkers throughout the modern period related dialogically? - Methodological corollary: We must avoid the tendency to see development as progress – as linear teleological movement form a lower to a higher stage. Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) - Born in Orel, Russia in 1895. - Died in Moscow, USSR in 1975. - Critic of Russian Formalists. - Associated, in his private life, with the Russia Orthodox Church. Exiled to Siberia (sentence commuted to internal exile in Kazakhstan) in 1929. - ‘Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics’ (1929). - ‘Rabelais and His World’ (1940, 1965). - Key features of his work are interdisciplinary and a dedication to man as a concrete historical subject: ‘It is only on a concrete historical subject that a theoretical problem can be solved.’ Bakhtin on Russian Formalism (via Todorov) “The main reproach he directs against them…has two parts: the Formalists are wrong to isolate the study of literature from that of art in general, in other words, from aesthetics, and, ultimately, from philosophy; their positivistic refusal to examine their own foundations does not make them immune to aesthetics or philosophy; it merely leaves them in the shadows. Bakhtin will take it upon himself therefore to formulate their implicit ideology, which he identifies as ‘aesthetics of the materials.’ For the Formalists, it is the materials (in literature: language) that wholly determine artistic forms. Such an approach… necessarily leads to the valorization of empty and dead forms, to the separation of form and content.’ (37) Russian Formalism (The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms) “A school of literary theory and analysis that emerged in Russia around 1915, devoting itself to the study of literariness, i.e. the sum of ‘devices’ that distinguish literary language from ordinary language. In reaction against the vagueness of previous literary theories, it attempted a scientific description of literature (especially poetry) as a special use of language with observable features. This meant deliberately disregarding the contents of literary works… Along with ‘literariness’, the most important concept of the school was that of defamiliarization: instead of seeing literature as a ‘reflection’ of the world, Victor Shklovsky and his Formalist followers saw it as a linguistic dislocation, or a ‘making strange’… Rediscovered in the West in the 1960s, the work of the Russian Formalists has had an important influence on structuralist theories of literature, and on some of the more recent varieties of Marxist literary criticism.” Bakhtin’s Criticism of Russian Formalists - Objective empiricism – reducing the text to its materiality. - Subjective empiricism – dissolving the text into the psychic state felt by those who produce or perceive the text. - Bakhtin: “The scholar latches on these two aspects, afraid of going beyond them in any way, habitually convinced that only metaphysical or mystical substances are to be found beyond. But such attempts to treat purely empirically the aesthetic object have always failed and… are methodologically altogether illegitimate… There is no reason to be afraid of the fact that the aesthetic object cannot be found in either psychical phenomena or in the material work; in no manner does it then become a mystical or metaphysical substance. The… world of action, of ethical existence is in the same situation. Where is the State? In the psyche? In physico-mathematical space? On the paper of constitutional documents? Where is the law? Nonetheless, we have a relationship to the State and to law, which we fully assume; more even: these values gives meaning and order to empirical material as well as to our psyche, by allowing us to overcome its pure subjectivity.” Why Bakhtin? And Why Now (Then)? - Late 1960s USSR: De-Stalinization o Stalin dies on March 5, 1953. o The Soviet leadership denounces Stalin’s use of terror and eases repressive controls over party and society. o Nikita Khrushchev initiates ‘The Thaw’ – “A complex shift in political, cultural and economic life in the Soviet Union. That included some openness and contact with other nations and new social and economic policies with more emphasis on commodity goods, allowing living standards to rise dramatically while maintaining high levels of economic growth. Censorship was relaxed as well.” (Wikipedia). o The trends of this period lead directly to Mikhail Gorbachev’s political and social reforms of the USSR called perestroika and glasnost, which initiate further restructuring of the political and economic systems and which free public access to information after decades of heavy government censorship. The Text and the Social “The [written] work cannot be understood outside the entity in ‘literature’. But this latter entity, taken as a whole, as well as its elements… cannot be understood outside the entity ‘ideological life.’ This entity in turn cannot be studied… outside the unitary socio-economic laws.” – Bakhtin Dialogic (The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms) “Characteri
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