Sunday, September 19, 2010

Criticism and Common Sense by Catheribe Belsey - Introduction

Having quoted an extract from Changing Places, Belsey gives us a summarised view of teacher student discussion. I don’t find myself disagreed. But when she names this type of sharing a common sense view of literature, I don’t find myself agreeing to Belsey.

To accept the teacher-student sharing, or finding common points in their understanding, as a common sense view of literature, would simply mean that the function of common sense – of course with other defined or undefined functions – is to provide a kind of general or overall type of understanding which is indeed not the case. Instead, Belsey should have termed her meanings as common view of literature.
The words ‘obvious’ and ‘natural’, written in single inverted commas, indicate the function of a common sense view of literature. In this way of viewing texts the obvious and natural understanding of literature is considered the most important.
Some times the lies are so unobjectionable that they seem truths. The above view about the untenability of authorship is one of such lies. It seems acceptable because it is new. Otherwise the authorship of an author is still unchallenged.
Creations need force. They have never been automatic – I mean independent or self-dependent – in nature. What we need to point out is – not in any case the importance or role of a writer – but the function of a writer in the process of creation. We can say that a text may carry meanings beyond writer’s perceptions. But we cannot say that the role of writer is finished as soon as the text of certain meaning (in my opinion, whatever we write and read, whatever we express and understand, are meanings) is finished. The opinion of writer about his text remains still dominant. What others can say may well be called quite irrelevant to the text.
What Barthes says may prove true in its context. But it shall not be truth in real, it shall merely be an illusion of truth. If the surrounding or the mind of writer is meaningless once the text is created, why the texts written in different periods become incomprehensible in others, why the feelings in reading a text written two hundred years ago are different from the feelings we find in reading a text written in our own age?
In fact what is I want to point out is quite abstract in apprehension. The knowledge and pleasure we get out a reading are not based on the written signs of certain meanings. Rather they are based on the growth or level of mind this knowledge and pleasure took place from. The knowledge and pleasure are in fact the names of certain growths. We can simply call these growths the intellectual and emotional growths. When we try to understand a text we in fact try to communicate with the mind of that text’s writer. The arrangement of written signs in certain meaning is nothing in itself. That is why the different writers are different in readings.
If there is no author, and if the process of creation is automatic, why all the creations are not new in content, why all the writers are not equal and same in mind? The difference in texts and authors proves that the text is still dependent on author, and that it remains dependent on its author even after centuries of its author’s death. As the mind is impossible without environment, the under-standing of mind is impossible without the understanding of environment.
What I feel in this case is quite different from what most of the critics feel with respect to the text and its ultimate meanings. In my opinion the job of a critic is to feel the unsaid in the text, and present it to the readers in a non-creative way. To present this unsaid, however, he should rely upon the related sources, the writer has left in other writings.
Sometimes the creation takes place in parts. To understand a written text we should place it with the other texts written by the same writer and the other writers at the same time. What modern critics say about the authority of text and death of author is but a kind of fallacy. It seems quite impracticable. This rereading of text is a kind of writing another text – or simply rewriting.
As a whole the idea is no doubt a great success in critical practice. We can feel that criticism is also a kind of creative form. The critics are not parasites but creative writers. But the problem is we cannot accept Barthes concept in the evaluation of a poem or fiction. We can give him some concession if he is applied to some philosophical, political or scientific texts.
In these lines the empiricism and eclecticism are rather confused with each other. The most common definition of empiricism is the philosophical belief that all knowledge is derived from the experience of the senses. In other words the application of observation and experiment, rather than theory, in determining something is called empiricism.
The eclecticism, however, seems quite different a discipline. Mostly the way of choosing what is best or preferred from a variety of sources or styles is called eclecticism. In other words we can say that an eclectic view is made up of elements taken from various sources.
What Belsey wants to say in the above lines is the function of common sense with respect to the language we speak. In other words we can say that she wants to discuss the role of language in the formation of a common sense.
Belsey means to say that the opacity and tyranny of lucidity create an impression that takes the reader away from the objective reality. What is said is said in such an exaggerated way that the reader remains unaware of contextual truth.
Pluralism, in simple words, is a quality of text withholding more than one meaning. The co-existing of different meanings in a single term or word may also be called pluralism. 
In the above lines Belsey has pointed out the commonest way of writing about literature. However, Belsey’s disliking or not-preferring-this-way-of-criticising-a-literary-text is not very difficult to detect.
This is very much an impressive way of writing. Critical works are mostly dull and drab. This way of writing a critical book makes its readers involved, and keeps them in a kind of suspension. It may self-evidently be called an impressive style.
Here in the above lines we can see a glimpse of Belsey’s pluralistic approach. This is indeed a specific characteristic of her work. What Belsey means by pluralism, seems quite explicit in itself.
The comments, Belsey has so far given on New Criticism, do not prove if she is approving it or not. Her comments are based on her personal understanding, and we cannot say that the theory and practice of New Criticism was really of the aim what Belsey has introduced us with.

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