Sunday, May 29, 2011

It's appropriate that this is being written in a coffeehouse

Welcome to the party.  My apologies to anyone that is upset about the lack of beard in the title; I thought "Informalism" was a bit more appropriate.  Simple yet elegant, in that its meaning can shift about and still be applicable to what I want to do with this blog.  The initial inspiration for starting this project was for me to have a space in which to practice analysis (as I know it as a college graduate with a B.A. in English Studies), and I think the best way to build up those skills is to do it in a relatively informal manner - also, I dislike Formalism, but that's something I'll likely get into some other time.  Furthermore, this blog affords me the opportunity to inform people as to how critical analysis apply to the world around them.  See?  I feel like it's a fitting title.

Yes, I know I'm an awful nerd.  I wear it proudly.  Moving on.

Time to lay down some of the ground rules for this blog.  First and foremost, while I will occasionally don an academic tone, I will largely be keeping things around here - wait for it - informal.  By this I mean that I will regularly insert humor and casual language into whatever I choose to write.  Fair warning: I occasionally work blue, and will do so when I damn well please.  You're welcome to do the same in your comments, should you choose to leave any.  This blog will also be informal in that it will not simply focus on "literature" as one might expect from an English student.  This might raise the question, "Well then what the hell are you going to be talking about and why should I care?"

To answer this, I'll have to get a bit academic.

You'll notice on this page's header that I use the phrase "textual/cultural critique" as opposed to "literary critique."  As you may suspect, there is a reason for this.  While I will certainly be delving into what some may call "literature," I will be discussing a much wider range of subject matter, encompassing film, music, cultural phenomena, television, video games, art, theater, and books.  The whole of these things, and anything I may have missed, fall under the heading of "text."  You see, we in the world of English Studies prefer to use the term "text" as opposed to "literature" because it more accurately describes the breadth of material that we cover, and it lends our endeavors a bit more credence and applicability in the world outside of our nerdy little bubble (thank you Dr. Mike Sell for the rationale; "nerdy little bubble" was mine, though).  So while most of what I'll be discussing on here is going to come somewhere from the world of textual critical theory, there will be tinges of psychology, sociology, politics, economics, and whatever else could be appropriate for my subject matter at any given time.

And I just went and opened another academic can of worms by invoking the word "theory" in the above paragraph.  This is one of the points in English Studies that is disputed, and in some instances used to single English Studies out as a bunch of nonsense. Essays have been written with the expressed purpose of discrediting theory.  In her essay "The Race for Theory," Barbara Christian asserted that critical theories are "prescriptivist" and often "elitist and traditionalist," even if they are trying to represent some disenfranchised entity.  Authors Knapp and Michaels go on to claim theory is generally flawed because it is fundamentalist and those involved in it are incapable of stepping outside of their own ideology, language, culture, and so on and so forth, in their essay "Against Theory."

I disagree with everything I just summarized.  In the case of Christian's argument, the idea of theory and criticism as "elitist and traditionalist" is derailed when you take into account an idea put forth by T. S. Eliot.  Eliot said that as new works (texts) are released, the "tradition" makes room to accommodate them.  I feel this means that any ideas and texts out there, regardless of what theories may apply to it and what canon it may or may not fit into, are worthwhile subject matter for enjoyment and critical thought.  Theory does not marginalize nontraditional viewpoints and texts, but gives them an opportunity for recognition.  In the case of Knapp and Michaels' argument, I feel theories are being viewed as rigid ideological structures that cannot be altered or toyed with.  This is contrary to the evolution of the various theories as we know them.  Russian Formalists and Liberal Humanists were both considered Formalists for different reasons and each had different aims, and the theories that proceeded them - literary Marxism, Feminism, Modernism, Post-Modernism, New Historical, Psychoanalytic, etc. - took their methods as a basis and built on it in some fashion.  I feel that the ideas of each style of critical theory is a tool at our disposal to help broaden our view of texts and the world around us.  Furthermore, to say that a theorist cannot step outside of himself or herself is asinine; if that were true, then what would be the point of a white theorist to analyze a black text? A heterosexual critic a homosexual text? A male critic a female text?  In this sense, Knapp and Michaels' claim is limiting and kind of insulting.

Also, in the same way that atheism is a sort of religious belief, their anti-theory approach is an exercise in theory.

So there you have it.  Throughout the lifespan of this blog, which I hope to be long, I will be analyzing a wide variety materials in a wide variety of ways, and I will try to make it entertaining and educational for those of you interested enough to dive in.  I don't have any sort of set schedule for how I'm going to do things, but I hope to post at least one new update a week.  To start things off, I will likely be looking at the first book of Stephen King's The Dark Tower and the music of Set Your Goals.  If you have any suggestions for things for me to look, leave 'em in the comments.  'Til next time.