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March 06, 2012

When Context > Text & Reader: New Historicism (Cultural Materialism) / Cultural Studies


Video URL Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DliHlqUfTYY

Habib, M.A.R. A History of Literary Criticism: From Plato to the Present. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005. ISBN:0-631-23200-1.

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing about Literature with Critical Theory. 5th ed. New York: Pearson, 2008. ISBN: 032144907X.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. ISBN: 1405106964.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. ISBN: 0415974100.

[These are our four primary course texts on theory. The Rivkin and Ryan anthology contains your collection of primary sources about literary theory as written by the pioneers and theorists who helped develop them. Use the articles from the anthology (and any others I publish for you on our course libguides page) as your primary sources for your final mock conference papers].

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For more English-Blog entries on the topic of Critical Theory, please click HERE.

Posted by lhobbs at March 6, 2012 04:06 PM

Readers' Comments:

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ENG 435 Students of 2009,

In this entry, you will be entering:

[1] Your two self-designed reading-response questions (short answer) based on the "overview" summaries of this theory you were assigned from various textbooks. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.

[2] Your two self-designed discussion questions (longer answer) based on the application of specific terminology from this particular theory toward the primary works we have read for this course. Due in the comment box here AND in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com on the day BEFORE the class meeting they are to be used.

[1] your precis of the article assigned to you from the Rivkin and Ryan anthology about this particular theory. Due in the comment box below, in the appropriate folder on turnitin.com, AND as a hardcopy in class according to the deadline listed on our itinerary (see syllabus). Be prepared to discuss your article with the rest of the class.

Good luck,

Dr. Hobbs

1.     Short-Answer: Lois Tyson discusses the differences between the “new historicism” and what can only be called the “old” historicism, or approach to understanding history (282).  Briefly, explain the difference between them below.

 

a.)   Readers using the older, more “traditional” way of thinking about history might ask of an account of the American Revolutionary War written in 1944, what question(s)?

 

 

b.)   Readers using the so-called “New Historicism” might ask of an account of the American Revolutionary War written in 1944, what question(s)?

 

 

2.     True-or-False? + Explanation (Circle One then Explain): a.) New Historians believe that, generally speaking, people have clear access to most historical facts as objective truths and from these a worldview (zeitgeist) can be determined for various “ages” (283).

 

a.)   False. Old Historians believe that.

 

b.)   Because new historians understand that objectivity is unreliable (can be deconstructed) and records of birth dates or the winners of battles do not provide the reader with any real meaning. For them, “there is no such thing as a presentation of facts; there is only interpretation.”

 

3.     Short-Answer: New Historicists have a novel way for evaluating one’s individual identity. For most of them, claim Tyson, “individual identity is not merely a product of society.  Neither is it merely a product of our own individual will and desire” (284).  So, for them, the age-old question “Is human history socially determined [e.g., fate, or “nature”] or are human beings free agents [i.e., capable of free-will]?” cannot be answered. a.) why can this question not be properly answered? and b.) how, might New Historicists suggest, should this issue be addressed instead?

 

a.)   Because this question involves a choice between two entities that are not wholly separate. They are connected!

 

b.)   Individual identity and its cultural milieu inhabit, reflect, and define each other.  The proper question to ask, according to New Historicists, would be “What are the processes by which individual identity and social formations—such as political, educational, legal, and religious institutions and ideologies—create, promote, or change each other?”

 

4.     According to Michel Foucault and the New Historicists he has influenced, “power does not emanate from the top of the political and socioeconomic structure,” i.e. as an arrow beginning in the north and moving southward (284). Instead, power can be depicted as circulating in some other way using a much different model.  a.) Explain the model of how power circulates according to Foucault and b.) identify one of the three modes of exchange he claims is a “never-ending proliferation.”

 

a.)   For Foucault, power circulates in ALL directions, to and from all social levels, at all times through, at least, three different modes of exchange.

 

 

b.)   The exchange of materials goods, people, or ideas. (answer should identify one).

 

 

5.     Fill-in-the-Blank + Explain: “For new historicism,” says Tyson, “even the dictator of a small country doesn’t wield absolute power on his own” (285). “To maintain dominance,” she claims, even a dictator’s “power must circulate in numerous ______________.”  a.) fill-in-the-blank with the correct word [Hint: we have already discussed this word many times in the sense of an “ongoing conversation” and b.) explain how this word, according to Tyson, differs slightly from the word “ideology,” a word that has sometimes been used as an interchangeable synonym.

 

a.)   Discourse.

 

b.)   The word discourse draws attention to the “role of language” as the vehicle of ideology.

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Cecilia B
Dr. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
25th February 2009
1. Why do new historicists believe “reliable interpretations” are “difficult to produce?” (Tyson 283).
- For new historicists, objective analysis of an historical event is impossible because men always place a value on various facts and therefore shape our perspective of history.
2. To what do new historicists refer when mentioning “thick description?” (Tyson 288).
- Thick description focuses on the “personal side of history” (Tyson 288) such as a culture’s rituals, penal codes, art, and birthing practices to uncover their meaning for that culture’s people.

Posted by: Cecilia at February 23, 2009 08:08 PM

Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
Eng-435
25 February 2009
Reading Check – New Historicism and Cultural
Q: What does Tyson say about subjectivity according to New Historicism?
A: Subjectivity is a lifelong process of negotiating our way through society based upon the constraints and freedoms that are offered to us.

Q: What is “thick description”?
A: Thick description is the personal side of history such as rituals, births, penal codes, laws, etc. It brings the private life to the front instead of ignoring it like traditional history does.

Posted by: Sarah T. at February 24, 2009 11:04 PM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
2/24/09

Questions for New Historical and Cultural Criticism

Short Answer:
Q: New historical analysis involves a term called thick description. Give a brief definition of this word.
A: Through close examination of cultural practices, critics can discover the meanings behind traditions and social conventions. Looking at cultural systems like penal codes, copyright laws, and ritual ceremonies, one can find the historical meaning from individuals’ private life.

Discussion:
Q: What is the relationship between literary text and historical situations for new historicism?
A: According to new historical critics, a literary text does not embody he author’s meaning. Instead, literary texts are artifacts that can help one discover meaning behind cultural identity. Thus, the literary text and historical situations are equally important because the text and history are created in the same context. They are equal as you can not have text without history.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at February 24, 2009 11:13 PM

Travis R
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
25 February 2009

New Historicism Quiz Questions

Q: According to a Tyson example, how can discourse help a dictator maintain power over his country? (Tyson 285)
A: Religious discourse can promote the idea of the “divine right” of kings. Discourse of science can champion the reigning elite (survival of the fittest). The discourse of law suggests one is committing treason when they disagree with the king. Etc.

Q: Define the term self-positioning. (Tyson 289)
A: The practitioner must be aware of his/her psychological and ideological positions and how they are relative to the material being studied in order to impart this information to the reader.

Posted by: Travis R at February 25, 2009 12:41 AM

What is meant by "history has a linear casual relationship?"

Why is there an impossibility of objective analysis according to new historicists?

What's a master narrative?

Posted by: Wesley J. at February 25, 2009 09:04 AM

Liz H


Dr. Hobbs


ENG 435


February 24, 2009


Reading and Discussion Questions


Reading


1. According to Lois Tyson, what can historical analysis not do (Tyson 282)?


2. Does historicism focus on facts or interpretation for the basis of its claims (Tyson 285)?


Discussion


I found it interesting that our definitions are nothing but “social constructs, by which ruling powers maintain control” (Tyson 282). Do you agree? What examples are current for us today?

Posted by: Liz H at February 25, 2009 09:18 AM

Ava Littlefield
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
25 February 2009
Reading Check Questions on New Historicism and Cultural Criticism
1.Who is the father of New Historicism?

A.Stephen Greenblatt

2.How does Cultural Criticism differ from New Historicism?

A.Cultural Criticism is concerned with supporting the oppressed from a political perspective, uses Marxist and Feminist theories to perform political analysis, and is more interested in popular culture.

3.Define self-positioning.

A.Self-positioning is when the critic presents the readers with an awareness of what his or her psychological and political ideas are prior to criticizing the work. It is the application of the “human lens.”

Posted by: Ava L. at February 25, 2009 11:35 AM

Travis R
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
2 March 2009

Professing New Historicism: A Definition in Terms

In “Professing the Renaissance: The Poetics and Politics of Culture,” Louis Montrose examines and defines New Historicism and the ideologies that form the lifeblood of the theory. He states that New Historicism examines similarities between the social infrastructure—i.e. history, culture, society, politics, institutions, class, and gender—and language. Language, explains Louis, is limited in power and is a cultural construct similar to the social infrastructure. He goes on to explain that New Historicism, like the subject it studies, is not impervious to subjectivity, and New Historicist’s interpretations are shaped by culture and bias will always be present. Also, a canonical work itself is not the subject of study for the practitioner of this theory. Instead, the time frame and cultural happenings of the period are topics of scrutiny; culture is a text to be interpreted, a collection of stories.

Montrose defines two key terms in his discussion of New Historicism: the Historicity of Texts and the Textuality of History. The Historicity of Texts concerns the written word: all models of writing are influenced by cultural and social stimuli. This not only includes the texts studied (or, rather, events in history) but also the way in which said texts are studied (in other words, the methods used by the practitioner). The Textuality of History, on the other hand, states that (due to subjectivity) there is no access to a full and genuinely authentic past. Because of this, the work historians produce—seeing as they are utilizing unauthentic documentation on which to base their work—is not only to an extent fraudulent by default, but it also perpetuates the problem of un-authenticity for future examiners.

In the end, Montrose states, the best one can do is realize that by the mere practice of analyzing the interplay of culture and history, one is adding to and participating in the very thing he is analyzing.


Work Cited
Montrose, Louis. "Professing the Renaissance: The Poetics and Politics of Culture."
Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.
Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 584 - 591.

Posted by: Travis R at March 1, 2009 07:26 PM

WWesley Johnson
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435
1 March 2009
Précis 5: “Shakespeare and the Exorcists”
Stephen Greenblatt’s article “Shakespeare and the Exorcists” attempts to historicize the religious and cultural influence of religion and exorcism in Renaissance England (Greenblatt 592). Specifically, in doing this Greenblatt’s focus is on how these cultural influences manifest in the work of William Shakespeare. With this, Greenblatt focuses on King Lear. The overreaching theme of Stephen Greenblatt’s article is that through King Lear, one can understand the cultural and historical significance of exorcism in Shakespeare’s England.
With such a lofty goal, Greenblatt begins, and much of his article is dedicated to this task, by historicizing religion and exorcisms. He begins by laying out the religious structure that caused a sect of priests to become rebels and perform exorcisms to the chagrin of England. These Catholic priests were breaking a law that barred a Jesuit priest’s presence in England (Greenblatt 592). From the actions of these rebels, a book was produced, A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures. This book, which critiqued exorcisms, was being read by Shakespeare as he worked on King Lear. This connection is significant because it shows that Shakespeare was actually utilizing culturally significant texts as he produced his work.
Although it is too expansive to try and incorporate all of what Greenblatt says, it is important to note that he further emphasizes that his article represents and explores the dialectical battle over social conventions in 17th and 18th century England (Greenblatt 593). As far as the exorcisms were concerned, the Anglican church desired to have these spectacles, which had become somewhat of a public exploitation, brushed aside and covered up. So, the author of A Declaration sought to illustrate that the practice of exorcism was a criminal act characteristic of Jesuits that were already disliked by England. Without connecting too much to Shakespeare, Greenblatt focuses on the historical significance of this.
After historicizing exorcisms, Greenblatt explains that eventually, the idea of an exorcism became somewhat of a stage play. That is, these acts grew to being parodied as tragicomedies. So, as exorcisms become more popular, they reach the point of parody. Shakespeare becomes significant in that his plays, especially King Lear, reflect a dialectical explanation of cultural exchange (Greenblatt 609). With this, Greenblatt is showing that the dramatic death scenes and the need for exorcism in the play, even though it is set before the writing of A Declaration, reflect the cultural discussions occurring as Shakespeare lived.

Work Cited
Greenblatt, Stephen. “Shakespeare and the Exorcists.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 592-620.

Posted by: Wesley J. at March 1, 2009 07:47 PM

Ava Littlefield
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
1 March 2009
The Fiction behind the History of Fiction
In her essay titled “Some Call it Fiction: On the Politics of Domesticity”, Nancy Armstrong claims that the right connections between literature and history were not made when literary histories were first being compiled (Armstrong 567). Armstrong implies that the connections that were originally applied to history and literature remain unchanged, disregarding the calls for a re-evaluation of these connections. Armstrong states that “the assumption that history consists of economic or political events” (Armstrong 567), are the exact reason that women are alienated from receiving any credit toward literary history. Such assumptions discredit the everyday activities that compose life (Armstrong 567). Traditional histories categorize these activities as personal, social, or cultural, all of which are concerned with the domesticity of women. The personal, social, and cultural were classified as “secondary relationships either in economy or to the official state institutions” (Armstrong 567). Women were not typically allowed hold positions in political affairs or state institutions, resulting in the separation of women as personal and men as political. Armstrong argues that “any model that places personal life in a separate sphere and that grants literature a secondary and passive role in political history as unconsciously sexist” (567-68).
Armstrong attempts to reveal that the basis for the construction of state institutions were directly influenced by the ways women organized their homes, and if this is in fact the case, then home life (personal, social, and cultural) should be considered political. Armstrong draws attention to Raymond Williams (popular theorists of fictions relationship to history). Williams believed that historicizing writing meant to credit the sources of writing outside of and prior to writing itself (Armstrong 568). What Williams implies is that the historical events that were recorded in literary fiction, took place in official institutions and state, which prohibited women. Armstrong feels that Williams’ claim aides her argument that women did not receive recognition for their contributions to literary fiction, particularly because “the rise of the novel was directly related to the rise of the new middle classes, which consisted of a great deal of women writers” (Armstrong 568).
To present her claim more clearly, Armstrong draws attention to the emergence of educational institutions. Armstrong claims that the systems that were used to construct educational institutes directly paralleled the systems women used to run their own homes. Armstrong suggests that domestic fiction was responsible for the separation of sexual relations from the political economy (Armstrong 573). This separation resulted in a new form of logic regarding rhetorical fiction which emphasized “common sense, sensibility, and public opinion” (Armstrong 573). This new approach paved the way for “countless micro techniques of socialization, all of which may be lumped under the heading of education” (Armstrong 573). The approach women took towards writing fiction resulted in the production of institutions that were created to “perform operations in much the same way that domestic fiction did upon characters” (Armstrong 573), presented within the works of women.
Armstrong asserts that “no one has attempted to examine the figure that differentiates the sexes as it links them together by sexual desires” (Armstrong 580). What Armstrong implies is that because women were prohibited from partaking in political, official, and state institutions, they were never capable of receiving the much deserved recognition of their contributions to literary fiction. She states “this power of sexuality to appropriate the voice of the victim works as surely as through inversion, of course, as by strict adherence to the internal organization of the model” (Armstrong 573). If no one is willing to question the system, then why bother attempt to expose the flaws that exist. Armstrong recognizes that there have been advancements toward revealing women’s contributions to literary fiction, however, “literary historians continue to remain aloof from but still firmly anchored in a narrow masculinist notion of politics” (Armstrong 580). Nothing will change if this pattern continues to be followed. Armstrong states that fiction must be read as the gender differences that exist, in order to understand the cultural and class differences that continue to be incorporated in the history of fiction (Armstrong 581).

Work Cited
Armstrong, Nancy. “Some Call it Fiction: On the Politics of Domesticity.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell, 1998. 567-80.

Posted by: Ava at March 1, 2009 10:45 PM

Ava Littlefield
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
2 March 2009
Reading Check Questions on Gatsby and Cultural Studies
1.Define the platonic conception.
A.The platonic conception is a conception that is outside of history. It exists in a timeless dimension unaffected by the occurrences of daily life in the material world.
2.Name two of the criteria that are required for an individual to become successful, as defined by the self-made man manual.
A.Stay fit, avoid alcohol, work hard, have a clear purpose, be ready for opportunity, do not procrastinate, and preserve.
3.Explain why individuals from poor families tend to become more successful than those individuals who are born into wealth.
A.Individuals who are born into poverty are accustomed to the harsh conditions of life. They work harder and are more willing to apply themselves.

Posted by: Ava at March 2, 2009 08:14 AM

Cecilia B
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
2nd March 2009
Précis on Raymond Williams’ “The Country and the City”
The changing significance of land in eighteenth-century rural England to the modernized England of the twentieth century is examined in Raymond Williams’ work “The Country and the City” where Williams specifically notes the social relations between landowner, tenant, and laborer and argues the changing attitudes of this system are evident in literature. For example, Williams argues the pre-industrial period regarded land as a symbol of aristocratic power, and the English novels of writers like Richardson and Fielding reflected this value since the problems of “love and marriage” (509), which would increase an aristocracy’s estate, were heavily written upon. However, as Williams point out, laborers and tenants eventually moved to cities becoming part of the industrial working classes, and the land of the aristocracy no longer benefited from inheritance or rent but “agrarian capitalism” (516). This radical exchange, Williams explains, is due to the demand for food in the cities which made estates futile and farming land important. Thus, the literature produced following the modernization of England shifted focus and values. Poetry, Williams states, showed the image of a “happy tenant” giving way to the “consciousness of change and loss” (509); and novels also had a brief period of melancholic nostalgia as Jane Austen’s works exhibited (527). Arising from this period were different observations of morality and social obligations since Austen’s characters thought duty rested in elegance and manner whereas the urban population thought helping the poor and disrupting the old class structure was appropriate. The sentiments of the city bore “the voice of men who have seen their children starving, and now within sight of stately homes” (530). As a result, later literary works had a non-idealized portrayal of humanity.

Work Cited
Williams, Raymond. “The Country and the City.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed.
Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell Pub., 1998. 508-532.

Posted by: Cecilia at March 2, 2009 09:58 AM

Sarah Tatko
Dr. Hobbs
Eng-435
2 March 2009
Precis: “The Practice of Everyday Life”
In 1984 Michel de Certeau wrote The Practice of Everyday Life. This is a book that discusses social and cultural structures and examines the opportunities of life that allow people to make mistakes. These mistakes give people the opportunity to stray from the structure of society. This specific excerpt referred to focuses on how humans can take advantage of these opportunities which provide more freedom in the structured world.
The first key concept explored by Certeau is “consumption” (1248). The concept of consumption is complicated and leads to the idea of “strategy” and “tactic”. Certeau characterizes consumption as being “quasi-invisible” because it is sneaky. It is a form of production that does not show itself to its own products, rather it is determined by the way it is used by those imposed on it (1249). By this Certeau means using the rules and boundaries that are imposed by the product to one’s own accord.
“Strategy” and “tactic” are two more concepts that Certeau takes the time to illuminate. Strategy is built upon consumption because it is based on calculation and manipulation. It is an isolated power relationship that employs will and power. It is formed around the illusion of power. Some examples Certeau provides are a business, an army, or a city. All of these entities are formulated around a strategy with a focus on power (Certeau 1252).
“Tactic” is even sneakier than consumption and strategy because it cannot be planned. Tactics can only be used when an opportunity presents itself. These opportunities occur when there is an absence of power and a weakness has been seen. In Certeau’s words “a tactic is an art of the weak” (1253). Therefore, strategy and tactic are in opposition because one is centered around the possession of power and the other is centered around the absence of power. Tactic is the unplanned opportunities that undermine the overarching structure of society.

Work Cited
Certeau, Michel de. “The Practice of Everyday Life.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 1247-1257.

Posted by: Sarah T. at March 2, 2009 11:42 AM

Liz H


Dr. Hobbs


ENG 435


March 2, 2009


Précis of “Culture, Ideology, and Interpellation” by John Fiske

In John Fiske’s article, “Culture, Ideology, and Interpellation”, Fiske examines the meaning of culture in our society today and how we arrive at such a definition of it anyway. He argues that our societal interpretation of what culture consists of is entirely political. Through a Marxist viewpoint, Fiske analyzes how a society comes to understand its ideologies or the meanings behind what they believe.

Overall, Fiske wants his readers to know that our media, television, etc. work hard to communicate societal standards and various meanings. Fiske notes that our society is made up of various levels of pursuits, ambitions, and economic understandings. Every term used is “indivisibly linked to social structure and can only be explained in terms of that structure and its history” (1268). However, society gives meaning to its culture in an unconscious way. It is not a conscious effort but one that is influenced by its ideology. To bolster his argument, he also cites Structuralism as proof for why societal meaning comes from the unconscious. Quite poignantly, Fiske states, “Societal norms are realized in the day-to-day workings of the ideological state apparatuses” (1270). If societal norms are reinforced in an unconscious, day-to-day process, then it makes sense that television and other media would be perfect avenues for such a process.


Works Cited
Fiske, John. "Culture, Ideology, Interpellation." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds.
Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004

Posted by: Liz H at March 2, 2009 11:51 AM

Jessica P.
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 425
3/2/09

Interpreting Television Culture

In his article, Television Culture, John Fiske explains how to recognize and interpret social codes and ideologies which are embedded in television. According to Fiske, a code acts as a symbol that represents the meanings of different actions and experiences which cultures create. The classification of these codes is based on a dominant ideology that a culture adheres to. In television, these codes are the link between producers, texts, and audiences and also represent the different cultural norms that society creates (1275).

Fiske explains that there are three social codes that are encoded in television—reality, representation, and ideology. Through these codes, viewers are able to interpret an already encoded reality (1276). In examining camera work, editing, music, casting, setting and costume, make-up, action, dialogue, and ideological codes, viewers are able to recognize the encoded ideologies in television and understand any implied meaning.

In a cultural analysis of television, the viewer needs to pay less attention to the obvious text and read between the lines to understand the meanings fully (1282). Background experiences of the reader will contribute to these meanings. Further, Fiske concludes that most television is produced according to the standards of western metaphysics. Often, the white, blonde, beautiful, good people are portrayed as the heroes of the story; whereas, the villains are represented by minorities and lower-working classes. Thus, viewers interpret television based on their personal backgrounds and experiences in addition to social codes (1284).

Works Cited
Fiske, John. “Television Culture”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 1274-1284.

Posted by: Jessica Pall at March 2, 2009 12:16 PM

Kristin Brittain

Dr. Hobbs

ENG 435

3/2/09

“Discipline and Punish”

“Michel Foucault” wrote the essay “Discipline and Punish” to examine the role of the body within societal discipline and punishment. Foucault argues that within the realm of micro-physics the power exercised over the body through punishment or discipline is a strategy and is not conceived as a property. Power is thus exercised and not possessed, and this can be prevalent throughout all depths of society. Foucault argues that panopticism is better when compared to other social disciplinary models used in seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe.
During plague outbreaks in seventeenth century Europe people were condemned to there house and were ordered to appear at their window everyday and someone of authority would take inventory. Everyone was excluded from society, existed in a fixed space, and their slightest movements were supervised. The plague-ridden town is a perfect example of the disciplinary model that was used during the time, which existed in other institutions as well (schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.). Foucault examined the use of panopticism because instead of shutting down society, panoptic’s “has a role of amplification […] it’s aim is to strengthen the social forces” (536). Panoptic is a mechanism that is used to dissociate the individual. The individual is separated from others and observed by an authority figure. “He is to be seen, but not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (554). It operates beyond the control of the king and is exercised subtly within the foundations of society. Panoptics works because it creates a sense of constant visibility in the individual which guarantees the functioning of power.



Work Cited

Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punishment.” Literary Theory: An Anthology 2nd Ed. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1998. 549-566.


Posted by: Kristin B at March 2, 2009 05:17 PM

Ava Littlefield
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
3 March 2009
Dividing the Sexes in Oz
According to Nancy Armstrong in her essay “Some Call it Fiction: On the Politics of Domesticity” many historical and cultural theorists “constructed separate historical narratives for self and society, family and factory, and literature and fiction” (Armstrong 568). The problem that exists, according to Armstrong, is that the separation that takes place “continues to ignore the sexual division that underwrites and naturalizes the differences between culture and politics” (Armstrong 568). Armstrong’s argument could be applied to Victor Flemings’ film production of Frank L. Baum’s book The Wizard of Oz.
Baum’s main character, Dorothy, is presented as a helpless, naïve, young girl. Baum’s representation of Dorothy may be reflective of the way women were perceived during this time. Dorothy becomes upset when she is told she must relinquish custody her dog Toto to the ill-mannered Miss Gulch. Dorothy is never permitted to present her side of the story to the county officials. This prohibition of Dorothy voicing her account of what actually took place is similar to the way that women were not permitted to speak about the way certain events took place.
Another way that Armstrong’s argument can be applied to Oz is the depiction of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Aunt Em is portrayed as an elderly woman who fulfills the role of the domesticated housewife. Aunt Em is also upset with the fact that Dorothy is forced to relinquish custody over Toto to Miss Gulch. Aunt Em tries to reason with Miss Gulch but her attempts are useless. Uncle Henry reiterates to both Dorothy and Aunt Em that Dorothy must abide by the laws. This surrender on Dorothy’s behalf can be paralleled with Armstrong’s argument that because women were prohibited from partaking in state institutions and politics, that had no authority to change such laws. Although Aunt Em and Dorothy felt that the surrender of Toto to Miss Gulch was unjust, they had no choice in the matter. Men and women assumed certain roles within society, “in which the female was certainly subordinate to the male and not upon the equality of the woman in kind” (Armstrong 575).
Armstrong’s argument can be applied to Baum’s representation of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz. The wizard held a position of power in the Land of Oz. He is described as the know all of Oz. He makes the rules and calls the shots. Cultural Criticist may ask why the ruler of Oz must be male. Perhaps it reiterates Armstrong’s argument that women were exempted from any involvement concerning politics and state affairs. The ruler of Oz must be male because he is in a position to make decisions about what takes place in Oz.
Armstrong’s argument that “we must read fiction not as literature but as the history of gender differences and a means by which we have reproduced class and culture specific form of consciousness” (Armstrong 581) can be applied to the representation of Dorothy’s rescuers. Baum opted to represent Dorothy’s rescuers as all male figures. Although each character, the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion, all possess a few flaws, they still manage to aid Dorothy in her pursuit to reach the wizard. Baum’s use of strictly male characters to aid Dorothy may be representative of the ideal that women were incapable of achieving anything, outside of domestic duties, on their own. The heroes in Baum’s book are represented by men, although Dorothy is the one who exposes the wizard as a fake.
If Baum’s book had been written from a female’s perspective, it might have examined Dorothy’s desire to find a happier place. Perhaps she was not content with a life on the farm. Perhaps she had no desire to remain domesticated. Perhaps she was looking for adventure. Perhaps she would have challenged the laws governed by men, which forced her to relinquish custody of Toto. Approaching the text from a cultural criticist approach might expose the many reasons why Baum opted to use male figures as Dorothy’s heroes, or examine why Aunt Em wears an apron. Does the apron signify domesticity? There are many ways that the text might have been written differently if Baum had been a female.

Work Cited
Armstrong, Nancy. “Some Call it Fiction: On the Politics of Domesticity.” 1987. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. New York: Blackwell, 1998. 567-83.
The Wizard of Oz. Dir. Victor Fleming. Perf. Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billy Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charlie Grapewin, Pat Walshe, Clara Blandick, and Terry. MGM, 1939.

Posted by: Ava L at March 3, 2009 09:18 PM

Wesley Johnson
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435
4 March 2009
Baseball and The Great Gatsby
Attempting to historicize F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby might seem from the surface to be a relatively simple task. In fact, much research already exists in the pursuit of understanding the cultural context and significance of the writing of the novel. However, to approach the text contemporarily with new historicism, one needs to look closer into the text. Therefore, if I were to write a new historical article on The Great Gatsby, I would be closely examining the relationship between baseball and the novel.
Baseball is not a subject within the text that is explicit. Rather, it is only mentioned in the passage where Nick Carraway meets Meyer Wolfsheim and learns that Wolfsheim is “the man who fixed the World’s Series…in 1919” (Fitzgerald 73). But, despite the minute size of the passage, it seems that the significance of Nick’s discovery is quite intense. My technique for researching this minute feature will follow the example of Stephen Greenblatt’s “Shakespeare and the Exorcists.” In which Greenblatt researched and paid specific attention to the religious cultural occurrences in Shakespeare’s life. While I have not found an immense amount of research connecting baseball and Gatsby, some scholars postulate the position of sports within Fitzgerald’s other work. “Spectator sports [especially football and baseball] were an essential influence on [Fitzgerald's] representation ... of the American way of life” (McDonald). This attempt at historicizing the context of The Great Gatsby will provide not only a new and more expansive view of the novel, but it should serve to illuminate more clearly the effect of pop culture on art.
A new historical reading of the novel is not simply to better understand the novel. This is simply the surface goal of this kind of research. I feel that the more significant point of new historicism is to understand culture. Whether it be the culture in which the text was produced or connections to contemporary society, examining minute historical factors within a novel and expounding upon them should be poignant. So, in examining baseball in Gatsby and around the writing and publication of the novel, I hope to better understand baseball’s place in American and literary history.


Work Cited
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. New York: Scribner, 2004.
Greenblatt, Stephen. “Shakespeare and the Exorcists.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 592-620.
McDonald, Jarome Lyle. Sports, narrative, and nation in the fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Posted by: Wesley J at March 3, 2009 10:52 PM

-------------------------------------------

Remark from Professor:

Great job, Wesley!

Class, this is exactly what I was looking for with this particular assignment. Wesley has made a "proposal" of sorts for his application paper. His paper shows me that he has a grasp of the New Historicism theory. He has cited, referenced, and quoted from his primary text (Gatsby), his main secondary text (Greenblatt), and a supporting secondary text (McDonald), to show how he would historicize Gatsby in terms of America's favorite pastime, "Baseball," to not only emphasize the context of the novel but to also let the novel's context provide an/the interpretation. Wesley is correct: with new historicism/cultural studies, the theory is not only useful for the discussion of culture in the text, it uses literature "as" a historical/cultural artifact to better understand our common history (the human record). Bravo.

~Dr. Hobbs

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at March 4, 2009 08:31 AM

Question 1:
Rather than trying to determine what “really” happened, new historicists are interested in exploring how different versions of a history are motivated and constructed. True or false?
Answer: True
(Lynn 146)
Question 2:
According to Lynn and Howard, there are three assumptions for historical background. Explain one of the three.
Answer: (a) that history is knowable
(b) that literature mirrors or reflects historical reality
(c) that historians and critics see the facts of history objectively
(Lynn 155)

Posted by: Tiffany Carpenter at March 8, 2012 10:52 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
9 March 2012

New Historicism Quiz Questions

Q: According to Michel Foucault, power circulates in all directions at all times. The driving force behind this circulation of power is a never-ending proliferation of exchange. Define one of the three examples of exchange as described by Foucault (Tyson 284).

A:
1: Exchange of material goods (buying, selling, bartering, gambling, taxation, charity, theft, etc.)
2: Exchange of people (marriage, adoption, kidnapping, slavery).
3: Exchange of ideas through discourse.


Q: According to New Historicism, history is neither linear nor progressive. In other words, history does not move from cause to effect in a sequential manner, and humanity is not steadily improving over time (Tyson 290).
True
False

A: True

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at March 9, 2012 08:41 AM

-------------------------------------

Students,

Here are your self-designed questions, rephrased as they appear on the reading check with the answers. Please strive for this format for your future self-designed reading check questions.

Dr. Hobbs


1. According to Stephen Lynn’s understanding, there are three assumptions that old historicists make about “historical background.” Identify/explain one of the three assumptions.

Answer: EITHER (a) that history is knowable, (b) that literature mirrors or reflects historical reality, OR (c) that historians and critics see the facts of history objectively (Lynn 155).

2. Short-Answer: Lois Tyson discusses the differences between the “new historicism” and what can only be called the “old” historicism, or approach to understanding history. Briefly, explain the difference between them below.

a.) OLD HISTORICISM: Readers using the older, more “traditional” way of thinking about history might ask of an account of the American Revolutionary War written in 1944, what question(s)? (Tyson 282).
Who led the battles? What government won the wars? Who were the leading players? How did they get to their position? THEY WANT TO KNOW WHAT “REALLY” HAPPENED—AN ABSOLUTIST/UNDENIABLE/OBJECTIVE TRUTH ABOUT THE PERIOD’S ZEITGEIST.

b.) NEW HISTORICISM: Readers using the so-called “New Historicism” might ask of an account of the American Revolutionary War written in 1944, what question(s)? (Tyson 282).
Who made the meals? What kind of meals were they? OBJECTIVE HISTORY IS IMPOSSIBLE/UNRELIABLE AND WEIGHTED. ONLY INTERPRETATIONS ARE POSSIBLE. SUBJECTIVE TRUTH(S) ARE THEIR GOAL. WHAT IS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY?
3. True-or-False? (Circle One): According to Stephen Lynn, rather than trying to determine what “really” happened, new historicists are instead interested in exploring how different versions of a history are motivated and constructed.

Answer: True (Lynn 146)

4. (a.) True-or-False? + Explanation (Circle One then Explain): b.) According to Lois Tyson, New Historians believe that, generally speaking, people have clear access to most historical facts as objective truths and from these a worldview (zeitgeist) can be determined for various “ages.”

a.) False. Old Historians believe that (Tyson 283).

b.) Because new historians understand that objectivity is unreliable (can be deconstructed) and records of birth dates or the winners of battles do not provide the reader with any real meaning. For them, “there is no such thing as a presentation of facts; there is only interpretation” (Tyson 283).

5. Short-Answer: New Historicists have a novel way for evaluating one’s individual identity. For most of them, claim Lois Tyson, “individual identity is not merely a product of society. Neither is it merely a product of our own individual will and desire.” So, for them, the age-old question “Is human history socially determined [e.g., fate, or “nature”] or are human beings free agents [i.e., capable of free-will]?” cannot be answered. a.) why can this question not be properly answered? and b.) how, might New Historicists suggest, should this issue be addressed instead?

a.) Because this question involves a choice between two entities that are not wholly separate. They are connected! (Tyson 284).

b.) Individual identity and its cultural milieu inhabit, reflect, and define each other. The proper question to ask, according to New Historicists, would be “What are the processes by which individual identity and social formations—such as political, educational, legal, and religious institutions and ideologies—create, promote, or change each other?” (Tyson 284).

6. Short-Answer: According to Lois Tyson’s understanding of Michel Foucault, power circulates in all directions at all times. The driving force behind this circulation of power is a never-ending proliferation of exchange. Define one of the three examples of exchange as described by Foucault.

ANSWER: EITHER 1: Exchange of material goods (buying, selling, bartering, gambling, taxation, charity, theft, etc.), 2: Exchange of people (marriage, adoption, kidnapping, slavery), OR 3: Exchange of ideas through discourse (Tyson 284).

7. Fill-in-the-Blank + Explain: “For new historicism,” says Lois Tyson, “even the dictator of a small country doesn’t wield absolute power on his own.” “To maintain dominance,” she claims, even a dictator’s “power must circulate in numerous ______________.” a.) fill-in-the-blank with the correct word [Hint: we have already discussed this word many times in the sense of an “ongoing conversation” and b.) explain how this word, according to Tyson, differs slightly from the word “ideology,” a word that has sometimes been used as an interchangeable synonym.

a.) Discourse (Tyson 285).

b.) The word discourse draws attention to the “role of language” as the vehicle of ideology (Tyson 285).

8. True-or-False? (Circle One): According to Lois Tyson’s explanation of New Historicism, history is neither linear nor progressive. In other words, history does not move from cause to effect in a sequential manner, and humanity is not steadily improving over time.

ANSWER: True (Tyson 290).

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at March 18, 2012 01:41 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
19 March 2012

New Historicism Précis: “Discipline and Punish”

In his work “Discipline and Punish,” Michel Foucault utilizes John Bentham’s Panopticon as a model/metaphor to illustrate power structures. According to Foucault, power is not something that is possessed but, rather, exercised. Power is not privileged to the dominant class; instead, the dominant class remains in power due to the outcome of “strategic positions” that are held in place by the dominating class.

Before delving into the implications of Panopticism, Foucault stresses the import of the plague and its ability to impress a state of nature upon its victims. A state of nature allows rights and laws to function on a purely theoretical basis, and it is from this basis that one may find the ideal scenario in which to exercise disciplinary power. From here, Foucault focuses his attention to the central theme of his essay, the Panopticon.

The architecture of the Panopticon is characterized by a peripheral building that is circular in construction, and at its center is located a tower. The side of the periphery building that faces the tower is open in the way most disciplinary cells are transparent; thus, a guard placed in the tower is afforded a complete, 360O view of the peripheral building, and as a result he can view each cell and each prisoner. A prisoner, on the other hand, cannot see into the tower, which is constructed in such a way as to disguise the presence of a watchman. Ultimately, there is no way for a prisoner to know whether he is being watched, and thus there is the potential that he is perpetually being watched. Additionally, the prisoner cannot see his fellow inmates; therefore, the prisoner is seen but has no capacity to see. The prisoner is strictly an “object of information” instead of a “subject in communication.” For Foucault, the most crucial effect produced by the Panopticon is the consistent, automatic “functioning” of power. Because the inmate is thrust into a state of conscious and permanent visibility, this effect is assured. Due to this power structure, the inmates become the impetus of power and perpetuate its existence. Foucault argues that all hierarchical structures (military, schools, hospitals, factories, etc.) have developed in such a way as to resemble the Panopticon in application. It is interesting to note that the Panopticon functions as an impetus for amplification. In other words, the objective of this system of power is to increase efficiency in production, economics, education, and morality, and it does this by arranging the power dynamic.

Work Cited
Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish.” 1975. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 549-66. Print.

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at March 19, 2012 08:58 AM

Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
19 March 2012
Précis 5: “Some Call it Fiction” by Nancy Armstrong
In her article on “Some Call it Fiction: On the Politics of Domesticity,” Nancy Armstrong discusses the importance of considering the political and the personal in relationship to events in history and literature as they relate to traditional representations, conventions, and stereotypes. One of the biggest issues that she attempts to bring to light is the idea that although theorists have frequently addressed economic and political situations in society and culture, they often “ignore the sexual division of labor that underwrites and naturalizes the difference between culture and politics” (568). She examines domestic fiction and the relationship between socioeconomic considerations and official institutions naming the works of Ian Watt and Raymond Williams as examples of those institutions being examined with historical context with an emphasis placed on male dominance and power. She argues that many critics and theorists forget the fact that women were emerging as writers in the eighteenth century and that, as a result, our political history is extremely limited and restricted to a specific set of lenses. She defines her idea of domestic fiction as “gender-inflected writing.” For example, she points out that authors such as Jane Austen highlight this role of women because of how significant it was that they address a world through writing in which the “domain of the personal” had been ruled “by men and their politics” (569). She goes on to further explain the differences in examining Foucault’s terms of “discourse, power, sexuality, [and] discipline” and argues that the power of this system is dependent upon forms of consciousness, unconscious desire, and subjectivity (570). Armstrong shows her hesitation with a reliance on the ideas of Foucault because of his lack of focus on gender in politics and she aims to bring the role of women’s intellectual labor to the forefront. Later in her article, she points out her main purpose to focus on women as being empowered middle-class women and that conventional histories that leave out the role and intellectual labor of these women are unacceptable. She explains that she suggests “that modern institutional cultures depend upon the separation of the political from the personal and that they produce and maintain this separation on the basis of gender” (573). She goes on to highlight the importance of varying sexual roles and gender roles in a household, marriage, and even society as a whole and how men and women have been often defined specifically by gender. She finalizes her arguments by providing an example through Bronte’s Shirley and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and how those works highlight female education, literacy, and intellect in comparison to that of men. She closes by exclaiming that she is attempting to “represent the discourse of sexuality as deeply implicated in the shape of the novel” and that in the end, although it might seem a simple feminist critic, she is only trying to highlight the importance of examining fiction not only as literature in the text itself, but though various perspectives that include the broad range of considering gender differences throughout history, as well as cultural and class perspectives in relationship to those gender roles in society.

Work Cited
Armstrong, Nancy. “Some Call it Fiction: On the Politics of Domesticity.” 1990. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 567-83. Print.

Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at March 19, 2012 02:11 PM

Diego Pestana
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
March 19, 2012
“Witness Against the Beast” Precis
In his article, “Witness Against the Beast,” E.P. Thompson examines the context surrounding William Blake's poem entitled “London” in order to illustrate the cultural and contextual influence prevalent in the work through Blake's word choice. Thompson begins by stating that Blake's poem does not require an “interpreter” as the work is entirely self sufficient. Along these lines, Thompson writes that Blake, through his poetry, is able to produce “an image of the state of English society and as an image of the human condition” (533). Thompson still goes on to examine Blake's word choice as he believes that a closer examination can lead to a greater understanding and appreciation for whatever message Blake attempts to convey. One word that Thompson examines particularly closely is “charter'd,” which is used in the beginning of the poem where Blake writes:
“I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow” (533).
Thompson notes that in Blake's original first draft, “charter'd” did not appear but “dirty.” Thompson also notes that, in the poem, both “charter'd” and “cheating” are associated with the Thames and what Blake writes is the “hireling.” After noting these associations, Thompson then claims that Blake is making a political allusion between a corrupt political system and its “hirelings.” By doing so, Thompson writes that Blake “introduces the paradox which was continually to be in the mouths of radicals . . . in the next fifty years: the slavery of the English poor” (534).
Thompson then goes on to illustrate more associations that existed during Blake's time with “charter'd.” Another example Thompson lists is when Blake himself references charters as “'sources of endless contentions in the places where they exist, and they lessen the common rights of national society'” (536). Thus by illustrating how conscious Blake was of his word choice and the associations he made with them in his environment, Thompson is able to substantiate his stance that cultural materialism is key to understanding the meaning of a literary work.

Work Cited
Thompson, E.P. “Witness Against the Beast.” 1993. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden : Blackwell, 2004. 533-48. Print.

Posted by: Diego Pestana at March 19, 2012 02:17 PM

Brooke King
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
12 March 2012
Shakespeare and the Exorcists
In Stephen Greenblatt’s Shakespeare and the Exorcists, he focuses on new historicists approach to Shakespeare by looking at his play King Lear and its relationship to Samuel Harsnett’s book on exorcisms titled A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures. Greenblatt relates the history of both literary texts and compares both of them in order to understand the historical background for the material used in Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Greenblatt argues that there is a possibility that Harsnett could have borrowed from Shakespeare or vice versa. By doing this, he further incites that by studying both literary texts that he can unearth the redefined central values of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century society. Greenblatt goes into specific details as to how each piece demonstrates the transformation of society. He sites that Harsnett does this by attempting to establish and support the Church of England by wiping out the competition or religious authorities through denouncing texts like his book Declaration. By declaring that exorcisms were “moving testimonials to the power of the true faith,” (594), Greenblatt argues that Harsnett was able to distort this view as the work of the devil, implying that exorcisms were the birthing of the devil’s spawn, calling his rival religion chief plotters in the devils bidding. Greenblatt then goes into gross detail about Harsnett’s historical proof against exorcisms. However, Greenblatt counters a lot of his evidence to point out the sharp contrasting societal changes due to pragmatic views held by Harsnett. Greenblatt sites that these are the real testimonies of the time and that Harsnett’s views are of the winning side of the religious wars in the early seventeenth century in England by demonstrating the strategy that Harsnett used through exorcism denouncement to profess that the opposite religions had a discourse with fighting evil. By relating Harsnett’s fight against other religions to the way religion is portrayed in the theater, Greenblatt transitions his essay towards Shakespeare and what Shakespeare brought to the theater stage.
While Greenblatt sites many of Shakespeare’s commonly known plays as examples of the use of “illusion and spurious possession”, he sites that King Lear is the culprit of pagan madness that dismantles the characters. This is what connects Harsnett and Shakespeare together. Greenblatt asserts that Edgar’s possession, while fiction is part of the illusion that theater is suppose to give off, the illusion of fiction, something that Harsnett says false religions like the Jesuits give off. Greenblatt demonstrates that Shakespeare used some of the same verb use as Harsnett to equate the two works together. For example, Shakespeare uses the word “corky” to reference old Gloucester. However, Greenblatt asserts that Harsnett’s uses it as a comedic bullying, whereas Shakespeare uses it to brutalize the scene with horror as Gloucester is bound “fast by his corky arms” (3.7.29) and then tortured. While Greenblatt goes into further detail as to how each work mimics each other, he subsides by stating that while Harsnett’s book serves to denounce exorcisms and their use to eradicate evil, Shakespeare’s play seems to serve to embrace the cruelty of suffering and torture.
Greenblatt states that Shakespeare further the societal construct of judicial power of torture and expulsion of evil through the display of power in society. While Harsnett’s book served to free society from the false belief of evil through the reaffirming of the church in society. He concludes by saying that society embraces the alternative because it is claimed to be the solution to the problems that plague society and by doing so the alternative takes the place of the central system of values, but at the same times seems to unsettle all the official lines of society, not just religion and state.

Work Cited
Greenblatt, Stephen. “Shakespeare and the Exorcists.” 1988. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 2nd ed. Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 2004. 592-620. Print.

Posted by: Brooke King at March 20, 2012 04:02 PM

Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
26 March 2012
Examining the rise of Sexuality and Gender Differences in
Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being
In her article on the “Politics of Domesticity,” Nancy Armstrong considers the role of female intellectual labor and the importance of how gender in relationship to domestic fiction is often overlooked. She argues that most theorists and critics of New Historicism tend to leave out the role of women and instead focus solely on economic and social histories in relationship to men and politics, leaving a large portion of innovative thought out of the equation, thought that comes from the inclusion of women and their domain of the personal and emergence of sexuality.
One of the works that we have considered throughout the semester, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is a great example of how this type of gender focused critiques can be applied.
For example, the questions of the Soviet idea of morality might be examined in relationship to personal desires and sexuality in respect to the characters of the work such as Tomas, who is frequently finding new women to seduce and have affairs with, even in the midst of his marriage to Tereza, not to mention the consideration of the political changes of the time.
That approach might even be taken to another level in the consideration of how Sabina and Tereza view promiscuity in their society; Sabina has no problem sleeping around and finds sexual submission almost as a sense of freedom while Tereza has a predisposition to dislike the body, her body and the bodies of others, and feels almost ashamed and dirty as a result of sexual acts. For her, sexual desire is limited and almost harmful; the fact that her husband has affairs with other women and her “fling” with the man from the bar nearly destroys her internally because of her guilt and inability to cope with her own sexuality and the emergence of sexuality throughout the society around her with the people that she is constantly interacting with. She tries to avoid the focus of the sexual, and ultimately suffers because of it because of how prevalent that emergence and focus, and even violence, of sexuality is around her, namely in her husband and his long-term mistress, Sabina.
Another way to consider the arguments of Nancy Armstrong on the importance of viewing the female perspective in relationship to the personal and the political might be looking at Sabina’s sexuality; how she handles relationships with others, her view of her own sexual identity and promiscuity, her view and understanding of the sexuality that is represented in those around her. Even more important of an examination might be an in-depth look at Sabina’s perspective and fascination with the bowler hat and how it pertains to her in this way that she views it as this symbol of eroticism, sexual exploration and freedom, and even rebellion or betrayal. She uses this bowler hat as a way to leave behind her past and the conventions that might be seen in society; as a way to play up her sexual interactions with Tomas and allows him to overtake her in a sexual way, and even as a sense of almost having a separate identity when she wears the bowler hat to have sex with Tomas and Franz, leaving her inhibitions, emotions, and past behind her.
In these few examples, it becomes easy to see how Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being would be a great work to examine in the approach of women’s sexuality, their emergence as intellectuals, having independent views of sexuality, society, and even politics.
Work Cited
Armstrong, Nancy. “Some Call it Fiction: On the Politics of Domesticity.” 1990. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 567-83. Print.
Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. Print.

Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at March 24, 2012 04:54 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
26 March 2012

Observing Power Structures in The Unbearable Lightness of Being

In this brief application, the subjects of analysis include the character Tomas—plucked directly from the pages of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being—and an implication, though decidedly truncated for the immediate use, of the structure of power as defined by Foucault in his work “Discipline in Punish.” More precisely, the object of analysis will derive from the aftermath of the panoptic form of power as it unapologetically institutes a scenario where a prisoner is an “object of information” instead of a “subject of communication.”

In dissecting and analyzing Tomas’ drive for erotic encounters with numerous women, the narrator in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being describes this philandering proclivity as a desire to discover the “unimaginable” that is unique to each individual woman: “What is unique about the “I” hides itself exactly in what is unimaginable about a person” (Kundera 199). The narrator continues by stating that “[t]he individual “I” is what differs from the common stock, that is, what cannot be guessed at or calculated, what must be unveiled, uncovered, conquered” (Kundera 199). The word conquered in the previous example holds great significance, for it couples nicely with Tomas’ pursuit—which is simultaneously complex and power driven—and can be viewed through a Foucauldian lens.

Tomas’ search for the “I” within different women is meticulous by nature. Indeed, Tomas’ profession as a surgeon—a profession that provides practitioners with a power over the human form—can be viewed as a direct extension of this nature. He is used to dissecting and analyzing in search of something of import within the human form.

In his addressing the effects of the Panopticon, Foucault indicates that a prisoner of such a penitentiary would be unable to see his fellow inmates nor would he be able to see the watchmen in the central tower. Power, then, is impressed upon this prisoner in such a way that “[h]e is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault 554). For this reading, it is the above organization of power that Tomas illustrates. Tomas’ pursuit to conquer and analyze—once again harkening back to his profession as a surgeon—compels him to view the women with whom he beds as “objects of information.” Though conceptually significant, his constant search for the “I” influences how he views women and thus how the structure of power is present in his sexual encounters.

The multifaceted nature by which Tomas engages his lovers should be stressed here, for his intentions do not lie completely in mere physical pleasures. The intentions behind his clandestine encounters might indeed be considered benign if not at least intriguing. However, when judging the worth of an end goal, the steps taken to obtain that goal should also fall under scrutiny. Tomas’ goal might hold value, but the question remains as to whether his actions are of commensurate worth.

Works Cited
Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish.” 1975. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 549-66. Print.
Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Trans. Michael Henry Heim. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1984. Print.

Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at March 26, 2012 12:27 PM

Emmanuel Cruz
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
March 26, 2011
Reality
Louis Montrose sees a connection between deconstruction and New Historicism. This connection directly applies to Beowulf. The story of Beowulf seems to be an original tale when it is looked superficially. However, when the story is deconstructed applying New Historicism, readers can see a link between Christianity (Jesus de Nazareth) and Beowulf, hero of Geats. Beowulf embodies many of the characteristics that defined Jesus de Nazareth. For instance, they both are trying to protect their kingdoms—Beowulf wants to keep Geats safe while Jesus de Nazareth wants to save humanity. The connection between these two stories, of course, is not entirely obvious because both heroes fight against a slightly different cause. Both Beowulf and Jesus de Nazareth gain popularity among people. Their popularity is not entirely beneficial, which is represented by the Roman Empire and by the monsters Beowulf courageously fights. When both stories are deconstructed further, one can see a vital connection between these two important characters. They both embrace death alone because they have been abandoned by the people they are fighting for. Thus, their causes become stronger because they are willing to put down their lives for others. The connection between these two stories goes beyond entertainment. Beowulf is a story that directly influences the idea of religion among readers. After reading Beowulf, readers may see Jesus de Nazareth as a symbol of humanity—not as a symbol of religion. Therefore, Beowulf depicts the impact of history among humanity.

Works Cited
Montrose, Louis “Professing the Renaissance.” Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 40-9. Print.

Posted by: Emmanuel Cruz at March 26, 2012 01:26 PM

Douglas Phillips
Burgsbee Hobbs
ENG 435
26 March 2012
New Historicism and Kundera
In writing a New Historical paper based on Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, it seems only natural to study not only Milan Kundera’s personal life, but also the history of the post-WWII world and the infamous Cold War between America and Russia. Also of importance to the study of Kundera’s work in a historical context would be a working knowledge of Czech culture before and after the Russian occupation. One good source for information surrounding this would be newspaper clippings from the time period—preferably ones from Czechoslovakian printers. Another article that could be used to study Kundera himself would be Aviezer Tucker’s article, “Czech History Wars,” which discusses an allegation made about Kundera, wherein he was accused of being an informant for the Russians. Guntar Bischoff’s paper on the U.S.’s response to Russian aggression in Czechoslovakia is another ideal item for studying the time period, and Paul Zinner’s article, “Marxism in Action the Seizure of Power in Czechoslovakia” is ideal for studying the political structure of the nation. If possible, it would be beneficial to see Russian and American newsreels of the takeover of the country of Czechoslovakia in order to compare and contrast the opposing viewpoints relayed in each country’s media. A works cited list from this paper would include the following:
Bischof, Gunter. "United States Responses To The Soviet Suppression Of Rebellions In The German Democratic Republic, Hungary, And Czechoslovakia." Diplomacy & Statecraft 22.1 (2011): 61-80. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.
Tucker, Aviezer. "Czech History Wars." History Today 59.3 (2009): 43-45. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.
Zinner, Paul E. "MARXISM IN ACTION The Seizure Of Power In Czechoslovakia." Foreign Affairs 28.4 (1950): 644-658. History Reference Center. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.
Of course, the preceding works cited is hardly comprehensive, as it does not include the aforementioned news clippings and newsreels to help establish what Kundera’s contemporary society would have thought about the Russian aggression. To flesh out the report, it would be necessary to link Kundera’s work and personal life to the events going on in the world around him. Using these resources and goals, it should be a simple matter to demonstrate the influences of world events upon Kundera’s writing.

Posted by: Douglas Phillips at March 26, 2012 01:36 PM

Diego Pestana
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435 – Literary Criticism
March 26, 2012
Understanding Nineteen Eighty-Four by Understanding 1949: New Historicism and George Orwell
In his essay entitle “Witness Against the Beast,” E.P. Thompson analyzes the historical context and influence surrounding William Blake's poem “London.” Through an analysis of Blake's wording in the final draft of the poem, compared to earlier drafts, Thompson is able to decipher possible messages that Blake may have intended in his writing of the poem. Thompson does a meticulous job in understanding word choices on Blake's part in certain passages of the poem. And it is from these word choices that Thompson is able to analyze their larger meaning in the context of the environment that surrounded Blake during his writing of “London.” A similar task can be undertaken when it comes to George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the same way that Thompson analyzes political, social, and economic factors that were in place during Blake's writing of his poem, an analysis of the historical context surrounding Orwell's writing of his novel can assist in developing a greater understanding on Orwell's purpose and meaning in writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was finally published in 1949 after a couple of years of writing.
In his book, Thompson specifically points out Blake's intentional choice in including the word “charter'd” in the beginning of the poem. Thompson then writes about the connotations that surrounded “charter'd” at the time of Blake's writing. According to Thompson, “'Charter'd' arose in Blake's mind in association with 'cheating' and with the 'little blasts of fear' of the 'hireling'” (534). Thus, by Blake's intentional word choice of “charter'd,” Thompson is able to demonstrate that “London” is meant to be read as more than a one-dimensional poem. Thompson continues, throughout the piece, to analyze context surrounding the word “charter'd” including even other circumstances in which Blake makes economic statements that are related to ideas con-notated with the word “charter'd.” So, in a similar fashion in which Thompson uses contextual information to support his idea that “London” is a device in which Blake makes commentary on the economic and social conditions in England at the time, it is possible to examine wording and other devices employed in Nineteen Eighty-Four to discover what Orwell meant to accomplish in publishing the novel.
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of the greatest examples of dystopia in literary history. The novel surrounds a man named Winston Smith and his experiences that he has living in Airstrip One, a totalitarian region in which the moves and actions of all its citizens are meticulously monitored to ensure that the government maintains total control over its subjects. The novel chronicles Smith's struggle to comply with the demands of the society that engulfs him while pursing an emotional relationship with a woman named Julia – a relationship that would endanger both Smith and Julia if the authorities were ever to learn of it. By understanding the context surrounding Orwell's construction of the novel's plot will assist in understanding any possible meaning the novel may have.
The novel, published after two years of work, was released just a few years after World War II. A major characteristic of World War II was the totalitarian nature of the government of Nazi Germany. Against the backdrop of one history's most notorious authoritarian regimes, Orwell, an Englishman himself, could be understood to have been commentating on the nature of intrusive, dictatorial government he would have witnessed during his life in Nazi Germany. And because he was English, and England was one of the primary opponents of Nazi Germany in World War II, it is even more understandable that Orwell would seek to commentate on the government against which his country went to war against. In order to properly apply New Historicism to Nineteen Eighty-Four, a recognition and analysis of these historical factors is required.
In order to write a proper New Historicist analysis of Nineteen Eighty-Four, a couple of devices would have to be employed. Orwell's novel is known for the vocabulary used by the novel's dystopian government. Words like “doublethink” and “Big Brother” have become commonplace in today's vernacular. Therefore, in order to apply New Historicism properly, an analysis of these words that Orwell came up with would be necessary to understand any message that Orwell attempts to convey through his portrayal of government in the novel. Another analysis that would assist in providing a well-rounded New Historicist application to the novel would be an analysis of Orwell's love story between Smith and Julia, which is paramount in the novel. By understanding the nature of Smith and Julia's emotional relationship, and why Orwell portrays it as “forbidden” by the government, a deeper understanding of how Orwell employs the theme of love can be understood. And this understanding, in turn, will add to a greater New Historicist understand of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Works Cited
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty Four. 1949. New York: The New American Library, 1961. Print
Thompson, E.P. “Witness Against the Beast.” 1993. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden : Blackwell, 2004. 533-48. Print.

Posted by: Diego Pestana at March 26, 2012 02:03 PM

Brooke King
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435
26 March 2012
What Happened to All the Gentlemen?
While reading Greenblatt’s “Shakespeare and the Exorcists,” I found that the essay brought up how certain term usage within Shakespeare’s play King Lear that was used by Harsnett in his book, A Declaration of Egregious Popish Imposters. At the time of reading the essay by Greenblatt, I was reading Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations. A certain term kept popping up in the context of the novel that kept bothering me, the word “gentleman.” I also noticed that within Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which came before Dickens’ Great Expectations, that her definition of “gentlemen” was different from Dickens’ definition. I want explore the use of the 18th century and Victorian Era word “gentlemen” and see how it shifted from the original use of the word, and how Austen and Dickens used the term “gentlemen” within their novel to reflect the society in which they lived.
Within the novel itself, there are three different kinds of gentlemen. There is the original meaning of the word gentlemen, a character named Jaggers. He is by all standards of the original definition the only true gentlemen within the novel, even though he is at times deplorable. There is also another type of gentlemen, the man in want/search of the title, Pip. Pip spends a great deal of the novel trying to gain the status of a gentlemen, but finds that neither money nor connection can afford you the title of a gentlemen, it must come from the heart. Then, there is the third type of gentlemen within the novel, Wimmeck. Wimmeck is Jaggers’ assistant and for lack of a better word, he is a fop. He is the gentlemen’s wannabe, though try as he might, he succeeds more than Pip because Wimmeck has learned what it truly means to be a gentlemen.
The one thing that I would have to research would be how and why the shift in the term gentlemen occurred. Presumably, I would have to turn to other examples within novels in order to demonstrate the shift within literature, how it influenced society, and vice versa. I was thinking about using Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice because it too shows the difference between a real gentlemen and those trying to be a gentlemen. Darcy and Mr. Bingley would serve as the true gentlemen of the 18th century within the novel. Wickham would serve as the Pip of the novel, one who is in search of the title for most of the novel and Mr. Collins would serve as the Wimmeck of the novel. Mr. Collins is content within his realm of gentlemen status, but is still in the middle, both wanting and deploring the status of a gentlemen.
Both novels are distinctly different in their definition of a gentleman and come from different eras. It would be easy to show the distinction between the types of gentlemen and the class distinction between the acceptable gentlemen and the unacceptable gentlemen. I think that there is definitely a class distinct in both novels that makes the word gentlemen different and I would try to show that the difference in the word shifted because the class structure shifted in the 18th century. When the Victorian Era hit, the class structure was rattled with upward mobility, distorting and manipulating the word gentlemen to mean something entirely different from what it meant in the early 18th century. I also would like to break down the word and the root and see how in both novel the word is used differently to describe the social class for which the word is attributed.
In short, I want to do a new historicist evaluation of the word gentlemen in both Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations. I want to try to derive how the word gentlemen changed within the social and economic realms of both novels and how the term reflected the era in which it was used.

Posted by: brooke king at April 13, 2012 05:37 PM

Brooke King
Dr. Hobbs
ENG 435

q:what other critical theories,according to Rivkin and Ryan, are also connected to historical analysis like New Historicism?
A: feminism, gender studies, post-colonial and ethnic studies all look at analyzing history in order to find meaning in a piece of literature. (Rivkin and Ryan 506)

q:According to Stephen Lynn, what are new historians interested in?
a:how historical knowledge is produced, the effects of power and ideology, and whether these appear in literature in the normal sense or in other texts.(Lynn 158)

Posted by: brooke king at April 13, 2012 05:52 PM

Travis N. Rathbone
Dr. B. Lee Hobbs
ENG 435
16 April 2012

Who Watches the Watchmen?: Foucauldian Power Dynamics in
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Considered by many to be Milan Kundera’s most important work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, written by the Czech-born intellectual and published in French in 1984, offers its readers a story that is rife with a distinct symbolism that characterizes the novel’s theoretical framework. Intertwining moral conundrum, character tension, and philosophical underpinning, this conceptual tour de force is masterfully executed from the onset of the narration to the comparatively sleepy, if not emotionally tender, concluding lines. The density of the conceptual presence is so trenchant to the story one need only open to a random page to be confronted with a topography that requires very little excavation in order to unearth something of substantial value. Of the theoretical concepts that saturate the novel, power dynamics is a multifarious theme that can be seen influencing the actions and development of each primary character, not the least of whom is Tomas. When analyzing the particular brand of power dynamics made famous by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, some interesting implications come to light. For instance, Tomas’ preferred application of power is Panoptic in nature—a form of authority that is contingent upon a perceiver and a perceived. By parsing the use of the Panoptic power structure present in the novel and by focusing on the notions that power is visible yet unverifiable, subjects are observed and analyzed, and rigorous classification begets standardization, some intriguing insights are uncovered; whereas it might at first appear that Tomas is one of the most powerful characters in the novel, by application of the Panoptic power structure, it can be seen that his power does not stem from an innate ability he alone champions but, rather, is produced from the social and political interactions in which he engages.

Michel Foucault’s seminal work Discipline and Punish, published in 1975, gave birth to ideas that proved to be influential in a few unexpected ways. Though of interest to historians and social commentators, Foucault’s publication also found itself being used—with vigorous interest and great success—by Literary Theorists housed in English departments across the globe. Indeed, Academe enthusiastically embraced Foucault’s theoretical musings and the longevity of his ideas speaks to the truth that is inherently trenchant within them. Though the main focus of Discipline and Punish is a tracing of the penal system through time and the influence and present day application of power structures, Foucault’s emphasis on and use of John Bentham’s Panopticon as a metaphor for modern power dynamics is a major point of import for most scholars of this work. To understand this power dynamic, one must first understand the tangible structure upon which the conceptual structure is built.

The architecture of the Panopticon, proposed as the ideal penal institution, is characterized by two structures that work in unison to create a single building. At the periphery of the building is a structure that is circular in construction, and at the core of this structure is a tower from which a panoramic view of the periphery structure is afforded. The center facing side of the periphery building faces the tower and is open so as to provide a watchman in the central tower complete access to the containment cells located in the periphery building. A watchman placed in the central tower structure can see every prisoner held in the containment cells located within the periphery building; in this way, a sense of complete transparency is created in relation to the inmates. However, this transparency is not shared by the inmates in relation to the watchman. Due to the nature of the construction, a prisoner cannot see the watchman within the central tower structure. Ultimately, a prisoner will have no way of knowing whether he is being watched; therefore, there remains the possibility that he is always being watched. Contained within this relationship—that of the observer to the observed—is Foucault’s notion of power: “The prisoner experiences a feeling of constant surveillance. And this is the very basis of Panoptic power. Panoptic power is the effect achieved through the realization that one is subjected to the gaze” (Crossley 403). Contained within this dynamic is one of the characteristics of the Panoptic power structure: power is visible yet unverifiable, for there is no way for a prisoner to know whether a watchman is truly observing.

Foucault takes this model of the Panopticon and applies it to social structures of power in order to flesh out and conceptualize modern power dynamics. It is important to note that Foucault does not believe that power is something a person possesses but rather something a person can utilize through social interactions. Power is an ever evolving entity that ebbs and flows through, and is contained within, relationships:
In short this power is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the “privilege,” acquired or preserved, of the dominant class, but the overall effect of its strategic positions — an effect that is manifested and sometimes extended by the position of those who are dominated. Furthermore, this power is not exercised simply as an obligation or a prohibition on those who “do not have it”; it invests them, is transmitted by them and through them; it exerts pressure upon them, just as they themselves, in their struggle against it, resist the grip it has on them. (Foucault 550)

Now that the Panoptic power dynamic has been aptly dissected, an analysis and subsequent application of this structure can be seen in relation to Tomas and his seemingly inherent authority. From the beginning of the novel, Tomas’ serial philandering is abruptly apparent; however, the extent to which he engages in such an activity is grossly illustrated in the section entitled “Lightness and Weight.”

The power dynamic in which Tomas is engaged can be clearly seen within the social interactions that transpire at his place of employment and in the personal relationships he chooses to pursue. Tomas’ decision to become a physician, and even more precisely a surgeon, is a testament to his struggle to become an observer and not to fall prey to being observed. As the narrator in The Unbearable Lightness of Being explains, “Perhaps his deep-seated mistrust of people [. . .] had played its part in his choice of profession, a profession that excluded him from public display” (Kundera 183). As illustrated herein, Tomas’ drive to explore rather than be explored can be seen clearly; even his choice of specialization within the medical field attends to his strive to conquer others by utilizing an observational technique. The narrator continues, “[a] doctor (unlike a politician or an actor) is judged only by his patients and immediate colleagues, that is, behind closed doors, man to man. Confronted by the looks of those who judge him, he can respond at once with his own look, to explain or defend himself” (Kundera 183). Here, Tomas’ discomfort for being ‘judged by the looks of others’ attends to his desire to be a watcher instead of a subject of observation. Though this might not be the primary reason Tomas chose to practice medicine as a profession, it is quite telling concerning his appointed place within the power dynamic.


Concordant to the set of underpinnings underlying his choice of profession, Tomas’ drive for erotic liaisons with a myriad of women—exceeding some 200 in number—is a proclivity that holds substantial symbolic import for the story, and it is a character trait that aids in his acquisition and subsequent utilization of power. The narrator of the story extrapolates upon what Tomas seeks from his constant philandering—a pursuit that transcends mere physical pleasure and aids him in achieving the status of watchman in relation to his many mistresses’ places as “prisoners” in the Panoptic structure. Tomas’ desire for women is consequently a desire to discover the uniqueness that resides within each. His pursuit is to find the one miniscule element that is different from all the rest. “What is unique about the ‘I’ hides itself exactly in what is unimaginable about a person. . . . The individual ‘I’ is what differs from the common stock, that is, what cannot be guessed at or calculated, what must be unveiled, uncovered, conquered” (Kundera 199). This drive to conquer and analyze the individual uniqueness within each woman is once again a testament to Tomas’ desire to be the observer as opposed to the observed. Tomas’ quest for the “I” within each woman is meticulous at its very nature. Indeed, Tomas’ profession as a surgeon—a profession that provides practitioners with a power over the human form—is a similar expression of this nature. At the heart of Tomas’ drive is the need to dissect and analyze in search of something of importance within the human form.

Tomas’ womanizing vice is rooted in a longing for discovery, but the intent behind these discoveries is not as benign in nature as it might at first appear. By uncovering what makes each woman unique, Tomas is rendering each woman a subject of observation. “Tomas was obsessed by the desire to discover and appropriate that one-millionth part. . . . he longed to take possession of something deep inside of them. . . . So it was a desire not for pleasure [. . .] but for possession of the world [. . .] that sent him in pursuit of women” (Kundera 200). By leaving no rock unturned, in a metaphorical sense, Tomas resides in a power dynamic in which he possesses the power.

It is important to note that Tomas’ place in the power structure is not merely constructed by his short-lived, disposable flings with the women he considers less consequential. This power dynamic can also be witnessed within the relationship he shares with his most significant mistress, Sabina. During one clandestine encounter between the two, Sabina stops in front of a mirror amidst the process of disrobing. Sabina and Tomas observe her reflected figure. She is donned in nothing but undergarments and a bowler hat, and even though Sabina’s gestures suggests a playful countenance, brewing beneath the surface is something less jovial: “The fact that Tomas stood beside her fully dressed meant that the essence of what they both saw was far from good clean fun [. . .] it was humiliation” (Kundera 87). However, this defining moment in power relations does not end with the realization of humiliation but, rather, submittal to the structure. “But instead of spurning it, she proudly, provocatively played it for all it was worth, as if submitting of her own will to public rape; and suddenly, unable to wait any longer, she pulled Tomas down on the floor” (Kundera 87). For Sabina, the recognition of this power dynamic produced a surge of excitement. In this way, Tomas was the watcher and Sabina the watched. Tomas was observing Sabina from a relatively safe, fully clothed, location, and it was Sabina who was bearing herself to the world; it was Sabina whose relation to Tomas was translucent; it was Sabina who was a prisoner and forced to relinquish strategic positioning within the power dynamic.

The above examples are but a few illustrations of Panoptic power dynamics at work in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. A more exhaustive approach to this topic would not stop at an analysis of Tomas’ position within the power dynamic and how it is nurtured through his social and political relations but would also focus on other significant characters within the text. Another avenue of approach—if one were to remain withing the confines of an analysis of Tomas—would be to include his relationship with his wife, Terezza, and how the power dynamic is structured in his primary relationship. Ultimately, in a metaphoric Panoptic structure, if Tomas’ mistresses are the prisoners who are subjected to observation and Tomas is the watchman, the questions remains: who watches the watchman?

Works Cited
Crossley, Nick.”The Politics of the Gaze: Between Foucault and Merleau-Ponty.” Human Studies 16.4 (1993): 399 – 419. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. This article provides an apt breakdown of Foucauldian Panoptic power dynamics. Though the information pertaining to “the gaze” and Merleau-Ponty is interesting, the main point of substance for this current usage is the added commentary on Panopticism.
Foucault, Michel. “Discipline and Punish.” 1975. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 549-66. Print. The main focus of Discipline and Punish is the tracing of the penal system through time and the influence and present day application of power structures. The information presented on the Panopticon is used in a theoretical sense to analyze power structures within The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Trans. Michael Henry Heim. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1984. Print. This novel is a philosophical inquiry into the themes of love, loss, lust and moral conundrum. The main characters grapple with their own moral standing and attempt to navigate a world that is at times simultaneously incredibly light and overbearingly heavy. This novel provides the backdrop to which the Panoptic power dynamic is applied.


Posted by: Travis N. Rathbone at April 16, 2012 02:04 PM

Tiffany Anne Carpenter
Dr. Hobbs
Eng 435- Literary Criticism
16 April 2012
Mock Conference Panel: “Re/Deconstructing the Sexual Politics of Milan Kundera”
Personal and Political Sexuality in Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being
In her article on the “Politics of Domesticity,” Nancy Armstrong considers the role of female intellectual labor and the importance of how gender in relationship to domestic fiction is often overlooked. She argues that most theorists and critics of New Historicism tend to leave out the role of women and instead focus solely on economic and social histories in relationship to men and politics, leaving a large portion of innovative thought out of the equation, thought that comes from the inclusion of women and their domain of the personal and emergence of sexuality.
She defines her idea of domestic fiction as “gender-inflected writing” and points out that in examining Foucault’s terms of “discourse, power, sexuality, [and] discipline” there are flaws because of the power of this system being dependent upon forms of consciousness, unconscious desire, and subjectivity (570). Armstrong shows her hesitation with the ideas of Foucault because of his lack of focus on gender in politics and she aims to bring the role of women’s intellectual labor to the forefront. She suggests “that modern institutional cultures depend upon the separation of the political from the personal and that they produce and maintain this separation on the basis of gender” and goes on to highlight the importance of varying sexual roles and gender roles in a household, marriage, and even society as a whole and how men and women have been often defined specifically by gender (573). She closes by exclaiming that she is attempting to “represent the discourse of sexuality as deeply implicated in the shape of the novel” and that in the end, although it might seem a simple feminist critic, she is only trying to highlight the importance of examining fiction not only as literature in the text itself, but though various perspectives that include the broad range of considering gender differences throughout history, as well as cultural and class perspectives in relationship to those gender roles in society.
One of the works that we have considered throughout the semester, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera is a great example of how this type of gender focused critique can be applied.
For example, the questions of the Soviet idea of morality might be examined in relationship to personal desires and sexuality in respect to the characters of the work. Tomas, for example, is frequently finding new women to seduce and have affairs with, even in the midst of his marriage to Tereza because his views of love, lust, and sexual desire are separate from one another and his lifestyle and philosophy leaves him emotionally detached from the world around him. There is this exchange between people and their views of power; where control is established can often be related back to control in sexuality. Tereza wants power in a different way than Sabina in that respect; she wants control by desiring Tomas to be with her and her alone. She is this image of innocence and almost purity for Tomas, something that he can claim as his in one way and then continue to sleep around with other women to ensure his happiness in all realms of his personality and desire. Tereza wants control of her relationship with him and control of her body, wanting to limit the sexuality that she is trying to suppress because of her society and her psychological struggles with the image of her body. Sabina on the other hand, is submissive in how she reacts to the men around her in some ways by letting them take advantage of her body and use her sexually. However, she is controlling at the same time because she is strong and sexually independent, having sexual relationships with whomever she wants, whenever she wants and not thinking much of it. She acts on instincts and desires and can control her emotions enough to have sexual power within these relationships; it is almost as if she thrives on how inconsequential sex is to her and how she can dismiss her interactions as merely a game. This is an interesting philosophy for a woman be portrayed as embodying, especially for the time Kundera is writing. Like Armstrong mentions, the stereotypes and standards that society placed upon women would shun the lifestyle that Sabina is trying to lead through her sexual aggressiveness.
That approach might even be taken to another level in the consideration of how Sabina and Tereza view promiscuity in their society; Sabina has no problem sleeping around and finds sexual submission almost as a sense of freedom while Tereza has a predisposition to dislike the body, her body and the bodies of others, and feels almost ashamed and dirty as a result of sexual acts. For her, sexual desire is limited and almost harmful; the fact that her husband has affairs with other women and her “fling” with the man from the bar nearly destroys her internally because of her guilt and inability to cope with her own sexuality and the emergence of sexuality throughout the society around her with the people that she is constantly interacting with. She tries to avoid the focus of the sexual, and she ultimately suffers because of it because of how prevalent that emergence and focus, and even violence, of sexuality is around her, namely in her husband and his long-term mistress, Sabina.
It is also important to consider the female perspective in this continued relationship of power to the personal and the political by looking at the role of Sabina’s sexuality; how she handles relationships with others, her view of her own sexual identity and promiscuity, her view and understanding of the sexuality that is represented in those around her. A more in-depth examination might even look at Sabina’s perspective and fascination with the bowler hat and how it pertains to her in this way that she views it as this symbol of eroticism, sexual exploration and freedom, and even rebellion or betrayal. She uses this bowler hat as a way to leave behind her past and the conventions that might be seen in society; as a way to play up her sexual interactions with Tomas and allows him to overtake her in a sexual way, and even as a sense of almost having a separate identity when she wears the bowler hat to have sex with Tomas and Franz, leaving her inhibitions, emotions, and past behind her.
Another perspective that plays into the examination of the power struggle that comes from the role of sexuality in Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being might be that of Jacques Lacan when he writes about how our unconscious desires are not based on our background or our instincts, and that they are very elementary in nature, depending on the role of the signifier in the things we see around us. Without going into depth on Lacan’s interpretations of the signifier and signified formula, it is interesting to note the importance of language and desire that the characters have throughout the work.
For Tomas, Tereza, and Sabina, sexuality is most obviously the overarching issue that plays into the way that they live their lives and interact with the people around them. While Tomas and Sabina are more aggressive in following through with their desires, Tereza is much more restrained and tends to deny herself whatever unconscious desires she might have stirring. Because she has such a horrible past that has given her negative feelings and traumatic experiences in relationship to the image of body and to her sexuality, Tereza struggles to continue suppressing her sexuality and desires because she is unable to break through those barriers and cannot move past her internal conflicts. Tomas and Sabina, however, are much more overt when it comes to their desires and they act upon them with little to no thought or consideration for the consequences. They have a much easier time acting spontaneously on their instincts and personal desires without having the internal struggles of what happens next, who they might be affecting in the process, etc. Instead, they are much more likely to behave based solely on their personal desires and wants and do things as they see fit in the moment. They might suffer or struggle with those decisions later, but living in the moment is much more their style, especially when it comes to their sexuality. In this way, Kundera uses these characteristics and extensive, graphic language to describe these scenes and the development of these characters to establish them and showcase the way that they operate in their environment and the way that they operate based off of their unconscious--which they essentially turn conscious because they are aware of them--desires, highlighting the importance of that language as Lacan points out.
Throughout The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera weighs in on the question of sexuality in terms of how it emerges for his characters personally and how it emerges and is influenced politically. They struggle with internal conflicts, their unconscious desires, and individual motivations with how they react with others, how they form relationships, and how they use their sexuality. In addition, they struggle with the suppression of the Soviet society that traps them into behaving in certain ways because of societal and political restrictions. Some characters are stronger than others with their use of sexuality and use it as a way to escape the political unrest that they feel trapped in and others nearly crumble with it and limit their sexuality even more. For Tomas and Sabina, their emotional detachment allows them to take their personal sexuality and make it political by giving them the upper hand in the power struggle. Tereza, on the other hand, suppresses her sexuality and is submissive to society around her, forcing her to face her internal struggles in a stronger light because of her inability to detach herself from what’s happening around her and her inability to find her own identity.
Annotated Bibliography
Armstrong, Nancy. “Some Call it Fiction: On the Politics of Domesticity.” 1990. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 567-83. Print.
In her article on the “Politics of Domesticity,” Nancy Armstrong considers the role of female intellectual labor and the importance of how gender in relationship to domestic fiction is often overlooked. Her arguments provide a foundation for my research on the role of gender in Kundera’s portrayal of female sexuality.
Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. Print.
Milan Kundera’s work on the Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel that considers the role of lightness and weight in the philosophical world and applies it to the characters of Tomas, Tereza, and Sabina. He explores the meaning of life, theories of Nietzsche, the role of fate, political commentary, and even the emergence of sexuality in the Soviet realm.
Lacan, Jacques. “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud.” 1957. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd Ed. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 447-61. Print.
Lacan’s article is an interesting source for my consideration on how the use of language and the role of unconscious desire plays out in the work of Milan Kundera because Lacan examines the role of psychoanalytic theory in terms of the use of language and reason through the formula of the signifier and the signified and what that means for human nature.

Posted by: tiffany.carpenter at April 23, 2012 07:55 AM

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