Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Anatomy of Criticism presents; not only a mythological representation of criticism; but a treatise on general criticism.

Anatomy of Criticism helps us get deep into the innermost meanings resident in literary texts and it is a new kind of structuralism that makes literary texts myths and then helps us link events to various theories and find meaning in the text. Before we discuss these connects, links and myths, let’s see what it structuralism and how Frye’s anatomy of criticism and its theories feel fit in it.

Generally speaking, a structuralist reads to identify and understand fundamental structures and patterns in absolutely anything by seeing a text (object, event, document, action, etc.) as part of an even larger system. Of course, a literary structuralist focuses on "literary" structures (and a structuralist would help define and categorize the "literary" by studying the deep structure in texts we label "literary"). As with formalism, structuralism is pseudo-scientific because a structuralist supposedly only maps what is there. He does not evaluate; he
only charts, compares, and identifies patterns among structures. A grammarian is a perfect example of a structuralist because he doesn't care about the content of the sentences he maps. He cares about how certain words function within a sentence. A structuralist does the exact same thing; he wants to map the "grammar" of the text he studies, thereby being able to learn about the larger system, patterns, or principles that enable us to create sentences in the first place. But why even do this? Structuralists still have enough humanist residue on them to study for the sake of knowledge, and there is a pleasure
when we understand the "fundamental" structure of anything and make connections between texts. Many structuralists also believe that the patterns and structures we identify in texts are structures that govern human experience and human consciousness. Thus, learning about literary texts helps us learn
about ourselves. Finally, understanding the fundamental principle or structure of a group of texts helps us to generate texts of that kind or even generate texts that parody or even disrupt the pattern. For example, once I understand the fundamental structure of a "mystery novel" I can then spin out more mysteries, parody the genre, or write an "anti-mystery."
Structuralist theory not only reveals that "literature" is a human construct (not an inherent or essential category), but that everything we perceive is a "text" in that everything that has meaning is part of a sign system or "language." If something is "meaningless," then that means that we have yet to integrate or incorporate the text within a system. For example, the Columbine massacre in Denver is "meaningless" until someone can persuade others that the deaths are really the result of too many guns, bad parenting, media violence, inadequate security, facsist ideology, American culture, God's plan, or apocalyptic fears, etc. Notice that each potential answer is really an attempt to take a chaotic, random event and give it meaning by assigning it value within a system or context.
Structuralists are willing to read any kind of text, object, image, or action, for all of these items are "texts" and are part of sign systems. From a literary text, velvet painting, car design, or mass murder, to a celebrity's face, an ancient
culture, or a Madonna video, all are part of larger sign systems. In fact, this ability to move from one system to another is what makes structuralism so useful. One can choose to focus on "literary" systems or link "literary" systems to other systems (economic, philosophical, biological, scientific), but that move
takes us toward cultural studies.
The most basic question is, "What is the deep structure of the text and how does this structure help us understand other items of its kind?" Or, "What is the underlying principle or structure that governs texts of this kind?" Notice that both of these questions ask you to map the fundamental structure of a text and link it to other texts, not at the level of content, but at the level of deep structure. Structuralist interpretation depends heavily on your ability to make connections, and this ability will improve as you read, study, and observe. One could argue that education is the process of learning to make connections.
There are several ways to link texts: You could be a  literary critic and link your text with other "literary" texts (with texts within the same collection, by the same author, by the author's contemporaries, within the same genre, within the same time period). Even if you are focusing on a so- called non-literary text like an advertisement, you can link it to the "literary" tradition (i.e. both texts employ the same narrative strategy or pattern of images), or you may want to link your text to whatever "genre" it belongs to (i.e. ads with other ads; novels with other novels; confessional poetry with other confessional poetry). Again, the point of analyzing a text is to shed light
on the larger system. So if your text is a short story, then say something about the nature of all short stories. If your text is a poem by Blake, say something about a group of Blake's poems.
As a myth critic that we develop after reading Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, and we think that myths are arguably "literary" texts and link our text with some myth, ancient or contemporary. That is, you can link a text to the myth of Apollo or to some specific American myth (i.e. the Western cowboy as a symbol of freedom, etc.). There is more involved in myth criticism but myth critics are, at the core, structuralists. (And structuralism helped me make that conclusion
because I look at what literary critics do and what myth critics do and lo and behold, they share the same fundamental structure!) Thanks to his
Anatomy of Criticism, Northrup Frye is the most famous literary myth critic. Although a kind of psychologist, Carl Jung also provides a useful framework to discuss myth in literary texts. All three of these guys provide frameworks or maps of basic story structures that we can use to make sense of other texts.
In sum, what you are doing is connecting one deep structure or fundamental pattern with another. Structuralists are similar to New Critics in that New Critics also locate patterns, map structure, identify tensions, etc. but New Critics don't go beyond the text they study. The system they study is the text before them, nothing more. Their text is a discreet object, living an orphaned life. For the structuralists, however, the text belongs always and inevitably to a family. The text is always part of larger systems, and one can't begin to study it
without studying the larger systems. In fact, a poem can't even be a poem unless we acknowledge that it's part of a larger system and shares fundamental traits, attributes, and structures with other texts that we call poems whose fundamental traits, attributes and structures differ from those texts we call fiction or plays or advertisements.

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