All posts by Radwa

Cultural Capital in the eyes of Lamont and Lareau

In their essay on Cultural Capital, Lamont and Lareau begin by explaining the many different concepts associated by the term “cultural capital.” They propose a new definition, defining it as institutionalized, as in “widely shared, high status cultural signals (attitudes, preference, formal knowledge, behaviors, goods and credentials) used for social and culture exclusion” (156). This definition becomes problematic when discussing American society where there is no single cultural center. One modification they set out to make is in response to the micro-political dimension that they believe should be preserved in the American study of cultural capital. They say that “the relative absence of interest in the micro-political facet of cultural capital in the U.S. literature parallels the traditional resistance of American sociologists to deal with exclusion as a form of power relations; they tend to conceive it as an unintended consequence of action, and to understand power as involving coercion” (161). In this sense, Lamont and Lareau seem to be saying that American literature reinforces the negligence that Americans give to exclusion as a form of power relation. It seems that literature has helped maintain this idea – that power relations is simply not a thing in America.

Course Catalogues over the Years

The most obvious thing I noticed in reading through these catalogues is the direct emphasis of Latin and Greek. These were the primary requirements for anything, as well as Bible recitation in moral philosophy and the evidence of Christianity. Even the free elective choices consisted of only modern language, German, or French. Obviously, the spectrum of classes increased throughout the years. By the 1890-91 catalogues, many of the sciences were added. By 1922-23, European studies and even physical education were added.

 

It was not until the 1950-51 catalogue did the English classes look more like it does now. Classes like Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and literature by century were added. An interesting class I noticed was Voice and Diction, something that seemed to have disappeared from the requirements today. One aspect I noticed, though, was that despite the added classes, there were still no classes of African studies or Women studies offered. It is not until the 1969-70 catalogue do we see these classes appear. The Douglass College catalogue included “the educated woman in literature” and “the Negro expression in literature.” Needless to say, these titles are no longer proper. By the 1971-72 catalogue we now have an entire selection of Black literature offered, both historical and modern. As a current student, there are a lot of classes that caught my eye that I wish were still offered. Even classes like “science and literature” seem interesting, although I did take psychology and literature. Looking through these catalogues offers an interesting perspective on how literature has changed over the years what came to be recognized as important for English education.

A Room of One’s Own

“…publicity in women is detestable. Anonymity runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled still possesses them” (Wolf, 600)

One of the most important dimensions of literary practice in Wolf’s feminist argument is that women were pushed to stay in their place despite any literary talent or interest that they may possess. She begins by comparing Shakespeare to his supposedly gifted sister, who is made to remain home and told to do chores rather than read or study theater. Wolf expresses how men deviated women away from their talents/ interest and instead pushed them to do their chores and get married. The fact that society ridiculed these women with hostility is why many women struggled, more than men, in attempting get their talents recognized. Because of the misogynist society at the time, the literary world is now missing out on the great works of art that we could have had!

Orientalism

“The ensemble of relationships between works, audiences, and some particular aspects of the Orient therefore constitutes an analyzable formation – for example, that of philological studies, of anthologies of extracts from Oriental literature, of travel books, of Oriental fantasies – whose presence in time, in discourse, in institutions (schools, libraries, foreign services) give it strength and authority” (Said, 1811).

Specifically in terms of authority and the power it ensures, Said comments on how different types of texts are interrelated with the different types of institutions. Throughout his introduction, Said analyzes the idea of the West vs East, Occident vs Orient, or the Civilized vs Uncivilized, and how they are framed through different texts using the lens of European superiority. If there is one thing I learned from Edward Said, it is how to be critical of texts – especially those coming from the dominant writers. Said suggests how different types of text frame the ideas of the world in sometimes an inacurrate and distorted way. This is a huge idea that effect the way texts are used and respected today, especially those used in school institutions that can dramatically influence the readers. Said shows perfectly how different types of text can influence the world in a negative way. In his idea of Orientalism, the West has always seen the East to be its inferior, an idea that has preserved all throughout history and up until today, and is primarily maintained through texts. It is common knowledge that all humans have biases derived from their knowledge, and Said shows how these biases are framed by the West in order to maintain their superiority and justify their colonization. As literary readers, it is important to be literary critics as well because texts are what shape our thinking and ideas of the world.

Marxism and Literature

I felt that the connection between the theories of political, economic, and social history and literature was made in both pieces by Karl Marx. In “Consciousness Derived” from The German Ideology, Marx begins by going into production and the labor force and explains the different stages of development in the various forms and hierarchies of ownership. He then uses this to explain that “Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. . . . men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking” (Marx. 409). In this sense, people’s positions and beliefs are created by their material, political, and economic circumstance. In “On Greek Art in Its Time,” Marx and Engels explain that art is the product of that social order of the time, “the product of the latter” (Marx, 411). Perhaps this is the connection between literature and historical context of the time. Although I personally had a hard time understanding Raymond William’s criticism, I found the ending to be rather interesting, where he cultural emergence in relation to both dominant and residential. Williams’ idea of the “structure of feelings” also struck me in its importance to his cultural theory, where he explains how they have changed in the social change to language.

Shklovsky’s “Art as Technique”

In his work, Shklovsky states that, “The language of poetry, is, then, a difficult, roughened, impeded language. In a few special instances the language of poetry approximates the language of prose, but this does not violate the principle of the ‘roughened’ form” (Shlovsky).

I found this work to be most interesting in the way that Shklovsky explains the form that poetry takes. He explains that poetry, like any art, must use techniques to “defamiliarize” the reader in order to allow him to consciously perceive the work. By using “roughened, impeded language,” Shklovsky explains that the poet uses this literary form in order to succeed in prolonging the time it takes to fully perceive it. Shklovsky also notes that  “the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself.” My question to Shklovsky is, can’t a poem still maintain its aesthetic qualities without having to defamiliarize the reader? Can’t a poem still be as strong and admired with a rather simple literary form? Because personally, like many others, I have come across many simple poems with soft language or prose form, that have also prolonged my perception in admiring it.