Showing 31 - 36 of 36 annotations in the genre "Criticism"

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

For Booth all encounters between a storyteller (author) and listener (reader) are ethical in that they bring together the character (ethos) of each. These good and bad qualities of character describe both the author and the reader who "keeps company" with the author. Narratives, in addition to whatever aesthetic pleasure they may give us, always interpret life; they tell us about our lives and other possible lives. We are changed by our reading; the quality of life in the moment of our listening is not what it would be if we had not listened.

While we may disagree about what is great literature within and between cultures, Booth asks if we can hope to find a criticism that will respect variety and yet offer knowledge about why some fictions are worth more than others. His answer is "yes," and he devotes several hundred pages of careful argument and plentiful examples to support his claim.

Fictions are the most powerful of all the architects of our souls and societies. The ethics of criticism is a universal concern; no one can escape the effect of stories because everyone tells them and listens to them; therefore everyone consciously or not asks and answers these questions: Should I believe this narrator and thus join him? Am I willing to be the kind of person this story-teller is asking me to be? What kind of company am I keeping?

Ethics of narrative is a reflexive study, because it starts with one of its conclusions: that some experiences with narrative are beneficial and some are harmful. The minds we use in judging stories have been in part constituted by the stories we judge; there is no control group of untouched souls who have lived without narrative. We absorb the values of what we read; we have been that kind of person for at least as long as we remain in the presence of the work. The ethics of narrative is reciprocal; it affects teller as well as listener. Ethical debate about narrative values can lead to ultimate questions about the quality of life as it is lived.

Booth says every use of language carries freight of cultural values and norms. Ethical criticism cannot divorce itself from social and political contexts. Therefore, he says we come to our sense of value in narratives by experiencing them in context of others that are like and unlike them. We rely on past experiences to make judgments; validity is checked and corrected in conversation (a process he calls coduction). Coduction incorporates what we have experienced of other poems and poets; it judges by comparison and conversation (like a case-based approach). Whenever a narrative really works for us, we are sure to feel that the author's choices and ours are alike in kind, that he or she is our kind of person, practicing skills, virtues, moral powers that we admire.

In reader-response theory, regardless of what the author has tried to give, we can judge only what we manage to take. The reader-response denial that literary works have any intrinsic power or value comes in 2 forms: (1) all aesthetic values are subjective, belonging to each individual; (2) evaluations are corrected and improved in a given community; the community confers value. (Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? Harvard Univ. Press, 1980) Booth says that the question of whether the value is in the poem or in the reader is radically ambiguous. On the one hand, value is not there actually until it is actualized by the reader; on the other hand, it could not be actualized if it were not there in potential in the poem.

When we read a story we find ourselves in a world different from our own; we are exposed to the "Other" and to other value systems, which we "try on" and evaluate in comparison to the ones we know. We can surrender uncritically to whatever appeals to us, or we can stay aloof so we don't have to really examine these other values, or we can correct and refine our own experience once we have really understood the other value system (coduction).

According to Booth, serious ethical disasters produced by narratives can occur when people sink themselves into an "unrelieved hot bath" of one kind of narrative, such as one of racial superiority. He also notes that writers who come from ideological positions, such as Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, often hold those positions against the mistaken views held by their characters, so if the reader cannot distinguish the author's position from his characters' the reader is likely to misinterpret the message. He comments on that problem in Twain's Huck Finn, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. He refers to Chekhov's story, Home (annotated in this database), and many of Dostoevsky's works.

Booth says that we conduct our lives with and in metaphor, and he warns us not to think we have a literal picture when we're really dealing with metaphor. Some think ordinary language is unfigured and refers literally to a real world behind their language. They don't recognize their own metaphoric world. (See also Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, annotated in this database.)

In a discussion pertinent to medicine as a "battle against disease," Booth points out that the war metaphor implies a world where winning or losing is primary. While that cultural value may dominate western culture, it does not accurately describe the value systems of many people. Even the simplest narratives imply whole worlds according to which the narrative makes sense; all narrative is metaphoric.

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The Body in Pain

Scarry, Elaine

Last Updated: Mar-05-1998
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Scarry argues that pain is the most absolute definer of reality. For the person in pain, there is no reality besides pain; if it hurts, it must be real. This characteristic of pain makes it useful politically. In torture, for example, the reality of the one being tortured is reduced to an awareness of pain, while the torturer’s world remains fully present. This is realized most emphatically when torture is described as information-gathering. The torturer insists on questions that for the tortured are no longer of any concern.

War also makes use of pain. In the dispute that leads to war, one country’s beliefs are pitted against another’s. Both sides’ positions are thus called into question; if there is disagreement about the facts, it becomes apparent that the facts are based in opinion, not reality. The injured bodies of war re-connect the victor’s beliefs with the material world. If the injured body is the ultimate in reality, the injured bodies of war can be used to signify the reality of the victor’s position. Simultaneously, the pain of individuals in war is transferred to inanimate objects or large groups. Thus, one speaks of "Division Six" being wounded or weapons being disabled.

This language also uses the absolute reality of the body in pain to secure the truth of a cultural/political position. Scarry discusses the reality-producing quality of pain in Judeo-Christian scriptures, Marx, and humans’ relationships with inanimate objects.

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Summary:

Fausto-Sterling is a biologist who challenges various experiments meant to prove the biological bases of sexual difference. The first chapter is a brief introduction describing the interdependence of modern social structure and biology. Chapter Two is called "A Question of Genius: Are Men Really Smarter Than Women?" She is partly concerned here with arguments that women are simply less intelligent than men. More interestingly, she takes on scientists who claim that women have a different sort of intelligence than men (more verbal than visual or spatial). Such claims, argues Fausto-Sterling, simply provide a rationale for sexism in education and employment. Fausto-Sterling questions both the techniques used in the experiments meant to prove these differences and the scientists' objectivity.

Chapter Three, "Of Genes and Gender," similarly critiques theories that suggest humans are totally controlled by genetic information. Particularly, she argues that the binary genetic sex model under which biology works is not nearly as obvious or secure as it seems. The author also points out that studies of "sexual development" are almost always about men. This chapter contains discussions of medical views of menstruation and menopause. The author ridicules positions that see menstruation as a disease or sick-time.

Chapter Four moves the discussion to testosterone, arguing against the equation of testosterone with aggressivity and natural superiority. Chapter Six takes on socio-biology.

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Why I Hate Family Values

Pollitt, Katha

Last Updated: Mar-21-1997
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

This essay is found in her collection, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism. In this particular chapter she rips apart the contemporary fetish of family values and the cult of the nuclear family, exposing these arbitrary socio-political constructions for what they are: "just another way to bash women, especially poor women."

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Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Bleier uses the image of a lab coat as a basis to discuss the objective status of science. Is the white lab coat a symbol of purity, of aseptic neutrality, in which the scientist is wrapped? Or does it give the scientist a faceless authority that cannot be challenged? Bleier believes that our conception of science must be changed. It is not enough to simply clear androcentric bias. Scientists must recognize the values and beliefs that inform their work, rather than assuming they work in an apolitical, asocial vacuum. Scientists should commit themselves to human values.

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Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Keller studies the use of gendered metaphors in science and medicine. She argues that, contrary to popular belief, modern medicine does not usually see women as ineffable mysteries. Rather, female bodies are customarily understood as containing dangerous secrets that (masculine) science capably routs, thus suppressing the fount of female power. Modern science exposes feminine mystery; it does not bury it deeper. This "predominant mythology," argues Keller, "shapes the very meaning of science." Science is the lifting of Nature's veil (as pictured on the Nobel Prize), the invasion of female space.

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