All posts by KFer

Two distinctions in “value” in Coleman’s article

Coleman’s article introducing the prize highlights a few different aspects of “value” in literature. First, the author is introduced as having value – one of the aims of the prize is cited to be “to encourage and reward authors”. Placing value on the author obviously has its socio-literary problems, thinking back to Barthes and Foucault, and the goal to “reward” authors places the author on an even higher pedestal in regarding the individual “creator” as the chief producer of cultural work. Coleman then goes on to criticize the award’s scope – in limiting the the awardable work to novels, he says, you continue to limit prize-branded literary work to the type of work that already monopolizes prizes. Here we see another dimension of literary “value”, as Coleman clearly contends that awards are an evident mark of the novel’s domination over cultural rewards. This demonstrates not only the cultural pedestal that the novel is on, like the author, but also returns to the question of what literature is. Coleman cites “laundry lists and football coupons” as fitting under the definition of literary work, which demonstrates the continuing tension of defining literature. The importance  of “value”, however, separates such types of literature from the novel.

In thinking about the illusio, all of these distinctions in “value” hinge upon Huggan’s summation of “value” as a construct. Literary work has no intrinsic value – a work’s distinction (and in this case, prize-branding) as valuable rests upon the cultural schema of what is valuable. The two distinctions in literary value Coleman’s article outlines demonstrates the cultural relativity of value – in valuing the author we emphasize the individual creator (and often, their identity) in the process of production, and in valuing the novel over other forms, we value one structure of writing over many others.

Guillory has no side

I found it almost impossible to determine which side of the culture war of the canon Guillory is positioned dominantly on. He seems to instead review the contentions of both sides of this debate and, in a nutshell, demonstrate the short-sightedness of both.  A main kernel of Guillory’s argument is that syllabi in schools should not be selected based on the author’s social identification (obviously interesting in conversation with Barthes and Foucault) but based on what are “important and significant cultural works” (52). In the nearly impossible task of determining which side Guillory determines as less short-sighted (and maybe then providing a black and white answer for a really grey argument), this contention might lead us to a conclusion that Guillory is primarily arguing against those who place works in a canon based on author identification – those who have expanded the canon beyond its historical boundaries of white male authorship.

A conclusion that places Guillory on the conservative side of this debate, however, ignores the dual nature of his apprehensions regarding the culture war in curricula. So while it may be possible to argue that Guillory argues more strongly against the expansion of the canon based on author identification, it’s problematic to place him on one side of a line. If anything, he is more strongly objecting to one side of the line than the other, but he isn’t aligning with either.

The gendered economics of literature

“…it is unthinkable that any woman in Shakespeare’s day should have had Shakespeare’s genius. For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people. …Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working classes” (600)

“One could not but play for a moment with the thought of what might have happened if Charlotte Bronte had possessed say three hundred a year — but thefoolish woman sold the copyright of of her novels outright for fifteen hundred pounds” (603)

In the “Shakespere’s Sister” and “Austen-Bronte-Eliot” passage of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a trope that particularly stood out to me was Woolf’s depiction of economic discrepancies of gender. More specifically, women are more or less members of a lower strata. Cultural ideas of women may be the source of this economic distinction, but it is important to note culture’s inseparable connection to labor and economy. The relationship between cultural product (literature) and economy that Woolf depicts is particularly intriguing in identifying the relationship between two concepts we sometimes distinguish from one another, and further, Woolf adds the dimension of gender as an economic variable. (Sociologist Vivianna Zelizer offers three different possibilities for this relationship between culture and economy, all of which can be picked out of Woolf’s writing.)

A little more concerning the first excerpt from “Shakespeare’s Sister” – I think this idea of the economically disenfranchised being incapable of “genius” might be problematic. Of course, it depends on the definition of “genius”. This is part of the eternal nature vs. nurture dichotomy. Here, Woolf seems to take an almost solely “nurture” approach, which is certainly supported by the value of an individual’s cognition being determined by social structure, especially in terms of cultural production (“genius” being defined as far as literature goes seems hugely subject to the social, especially in terms of education). Nonetheless, the idea of “genius” may not be totally nailed down by socio-cultural values.

The role of discourse; Foucault

“To return sex and the discourses of truth that have taken charge of it, the question that we must address, then, is not: Given a specific state of structure, how and why is it that power needs to establish a knowledge of sex? […] It is rather: In a specific type of discourse on sex, in a specific form of extortion of truth, appearing historically and in specific places (around the child’s body, apropos of women’s sex, in connection with the practices restricting births, and so on), what were the most immediate, the most local power relations at work? How did they make possible these kinds of discourses, and conversely, how were these discourses used to support power relations?” (1630)

Here Foucault states that discourse has “taken charge” of sex, or more specifically, knowledge and norms of sex, therefore demonstrating the role of texts in presenting collective standards for cognition and behavior. Further, Foucault portrays how power dynamics are embedded into discourse, as power relations allow certain types of discourse and in turn, the discourse reaffirms the status of power relations. Discourse, of course, is a very general term that can encompass any type of communication, but in inserting the example of texts into Foucault’s observations, one can see the role of written discourse in presenting and perpetuating societal ideas. The presence of power dynamics in discourse seems particularly prevalent in written format – perhaps especially in the economics of power in publishing. Foucault also connects “truth” to discourse, which of course in relation to power dynamics is socially relative. This is another important assertion, as commonplace conceptions of truth, derived from discourse (written or otherwise), are dependent on the power relations that enable and disable types of discourse. Foucault later discusses further the historical evolution of power dynamics, which therefore leads to manipulations in discourse and collective notions of “truth”. In a nutshell, Foucault demonstrates the interplay of time, power, and language in constructing an everyday reality that shapes the individual’s cognition and behavior. Language, or more largely, discourse, is thus shown as a key player in shaping and informing an individual’s concept of everyday life. Deviation then, implies not only movement from accepted ideas, but also from discourse. In thinking specifically about written discourse, this relationship seems somehow more covert, compared to verbal/everyday discourse that seems to have a more obvious effect on individual cognition and behavior.

Material, language, and the production of ideas

The anthology’s introduction to Marx helps clarify Marx’s relationship to literature in discussing how according to Marx “individuals can only think thoughts that are thinkable in their society. …On the other hand, in artistic matters at least, individuals can continue to think thoughts that their society no longer considers thinkable” (399). This contextualization helps focus Marx’s statements about the production of ideas. Marx posits that “the nature of individuals… depends on the material conditions determining their production” (406). In contemplating the role of literature in a society, we can interpret that literature is a type of expression of nature, that is thus dependent on material conditions. Thus, literature (and any type of artistic expression) is dependent on questions of material. This asserts again that both the ideas of individuals as well as their expression are both the output of surrounding, collectively-shared input, and therefore an individual can only produce what can be produced given material circumstances.

Further, the dimension of the individual being able to retain ideas that are no longer supported by surroundings seems to be expressed in Marx’s contention that “men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking (409). While the degree of independence of man in the ability to deviate from the presented material world is not clear (at least to me), it seems that Marx is expressing that individuals hold a certain power over their ideas and the expression of these ideas.


Brooks on Form & “Truth”

“A literary work is a document and as a document can be analysed in terms of the forces that have produced it, or it may be manipulated as force in its own right. …But the reduction of a work of literature to is causes does not constitute literary criticism; nor does it estimate its effects. Good literature is more than effective rhetoric applied to true ideas…” (Brooks 78).

Brooks is largely concerned with literature’s presentation of ideas, emphasizing that the truth of an idea does not equate with the value of literature, nor does effective presentation of an idea constitute good literature. In other words, Brooks asserts that literary value, in the eyes of the critic, cannot be boiled down to the nature of ideas or the manner in which an idea is expressed. Thus, Brooks’ position regarding form seems to be that it is neither the deciding factor of a work’s value nor an ignorable trait of the work in assessing its value. Brooks’ discussion of form raises again the issue of truth in literature (which relates interestingly to Wilde) – Brooks’ definition of true is somewhat ambiguous, but his assertion that “good literature is more than effective rhetoric applied to true ideas” raises questions about the value and presence of “truth” in a literary work. Brooks’ again asserts that truth alone cannot create a valuable work, but how does truth influence value in relation to form? Further, to what extent are “true” ideas present in what we define as “fiction”? Brooks’ discussion of Faulkner and Hemingway clearly demonstrate fiction’s high position on the literary hierarchy of value, so in what way does fiction present “truth” as part of its value?


“The pencil and the picture”

“Man in society, with all his passions and his pleasures, next becomes the object of the passions and pleasures of man; an additional class of emotions produces an augmented treasure of expression; and language, gesture, and the imitative arts, become at once the representation and the medium, the pencil and the picture… men, even in the infancy of society, observe a certain order in their words and actions, distinct from that of the objects and the impressions represented by them, all expression being subject to the laws of that from which it proceeds.” (PDF page 35).


Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defense of Poetry. Edited by Albert S. Cook. Boston: Ginn, 1891. Internet Archive. 1–46 (PDF pages 33–78).