Category Archives: Regular entry

Cultural Capital of Literature

“The weight of items of legitimate culture can also be analyzed by looking at the importance attached to purchasable signals in contrast to culturally acquired ones….In the U.S., in contrast to France, access to goods…is more important than modalities of consumption…This trait might be becoming more pronounced, as exemplified by the recent rapid diffusion of the expensive yuppy culture, and the simultaneous decline of cultural literacy” (page 163).

Lamont and Lareau are very critical of the ways in which cultural capital as a theory has been distorted by U.S. sociology into a much narrower and exclusive theory that focuses primarily on high culture. In opposition to this phenomena, they offer a modification of this approach that would actually look into all forms of American cultural capital. “Legitimate capital” is of particular interest to Lamont and Lareau, as it seems to have become something focused more on items’ material values than on the value of their consumption and the ways in which we can mobilize them. I feel this idea can be applied to the culture of literature, as we often see literature as simply physical texts that are produced and reproduced in order to be possessed. Extending the ideas of Lamont and Lareau, literature becomes less of a tool that we can put into use and instead is reduced to something we are only interested in creating and obtaining. The status that U.S. society has assigned to literature is largely superficial; we put texts on a pedestal as if some sort of prize to aspire for (and not necessarily to aspire to), but we fail to remove the prize from the pedestal to actually comprehend their internal value. It’s as if literature itself (and thus, literacy and literary circulation) have simply been reduced to status symbol.

Woolf on Freedom in Literature

“Charlotte Bronte, with all her splendid gift for prose, stumble and fell with that clumsy weapon in her hands…Jane Austen looked at it and laughed at it and devised a properly natural shapely sentence proper for her own use and never departed from it. Thus, with less genius for writing than Charlotte Bronte, she got infinitely more said. Indeed since freedom and fullness of expression are the essence of the art, such a lack of tradition, such a scarcity and inadequacy of tools, must have told enormously upon the writing of women” (Woolf, 606).”

Woolf’s argument seems to be that while it is understandable that women like Charlotte Bronte allowed their own oppression to infiltrate their narratives, it also was something that limited a text or novel and impaired the writer’s full potential of genius. This is why Woolf compares Bronte to Jane Austen, who wrote Pride and Prejudice with no hint of or influence from her own feelings of imprisonment or limitation as a woman. Instead, Austen worked within her own frame of reference instead of fighting or questioning it, as Bronte did by expressing her own longing for freedom. To Woof, this ability to craft and build a narrative that is free from limitations is essential to a writer’s “integrity”. However, I’m left to wonder if Austen can really be considered someone who was able to fully express herself when her work simply reflected her own world and world view, which was a limited one. As Woolf concludes, the social status and role of a woman could not avoid have a large impact on her writing, so mustn’t the same be true for Austen despite her “properly natural shapely sentence”?

Foucault and the Power of Texts

“Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere…‘Power,’ insofar as it is permanent, repetitious, inert, and self-reproducing, is simply the overall effect that emerges from all these mobilities…[‘Power’] is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” (Foucault).

Because Michel Foucault sees power as something that is present always and in every realm or interaction, we can extend his theories from “History of Sexuality” to understand not just how power relates to sexuality, but also how power relates to literature and texts. To Foucault, power relations of society dictate our discourse, which then perpetuates power. Extending this theory, the ways in which we comprehend, talk about, or even create literature are dependent upon the ways in which power relations operate both within and outside of the text; the text then serves as another source that mobilizes power because it is an interaction between itself and the reader. Thus, Foucault would consider literature and text to be yet another medium through which power is communicated and exerted, as well as something that comes to be and comes to be understood as a result of the power relations surrounding it. However, this is not a process that breeds and rebreeds the same result time and time again. Foucault purports that power relations are not static, and so the process must also not be static. This is why literature and our understanding of literature have both shifted so frequently and so drastically over time.

Foucault, Michel. “The History of Sexuality,” The Critical Tradition. 3rd ed. Richter, H. David. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2007. Print.


akroeps on Lukács/Joyce

I appreciate that Lukács points out the importance of Joyce’s style at the start of his essay. He notes that [Joyce’s] ‘stream-of-consciousness technique is no mere stylistic device; it is itself the formative principle governing the narrative pattern and the presentation of character’ (1218).

Many people reading Joyce may argue that his stream-of-consciousness writing is annoying and hard to follow, and therefore a distraction to the story Joyce is telling rather than a helpful device. Lukács points out, though, that this device is just as important to the story as the plot-line itself. I agree with this sentiment, especially since there are numerous times in which it does not feel as though a plot exists, so navigating the story deep inside a narrator’s head is very important when it comes to understanding the reason behind the telling of the story in the first place.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. Edited by Jeri Johnson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Lukacs, Georg. ‘The Ideology of Modernism,’ The Critical Tradition. 3rd ed. Richter, H. David. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2007. 1218. Print.

[posted for akroeps by AG since she’s having trouble logging in]

Marx and the Consumption of Literature

Within his two texts, Karl Marx discusses the interrelation between that of man and his political and economic environment. Within this premise, the notion of man’s relationship to art and literature is also brought to light. Marx transcribes the idea that individuals cannot ‘create’ outside of which they already know. Man is bound to the concepts already presented within the society. Marx states, “The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behavior” (Marx 409). The idea of true independence from a society does not truly exist because man cannot create beyond that of what already exists. Perhaps it is possible to say that true originality in literature can never occur because the societal forces have shaped the way that literature and art is intended. Material interaction is just that, material. Within the consumption of material surroundings, art itself becomes a material that can be utilized for an economic purpose.

Marxism and Literature

In On Greek Art in its Time (from A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy), Karl Marx examines the ways in which ideological forms (such as art and literature) arise out of a particular social landscape, are shaped by social history, and then are discarded once new progressions and productions can take their place. Marx argues that highly developed art and literature often come about in societies that may not be highly developed technologically or socially. He cites Greek mythology as an example of this, but poses the question of how these well-respected traditions and stories can still exist alongside the progressions of modern society. He asks, “Is the view of nature and of social relations which shaped Greek imagination and Greek art still possible in the age of automatic machinery, and railways, and locomotives, and electric telegraphs? Where does Vulcan come in as against Roberts & Co.; Jupiter, as against the lightning rod; and Hermes, as against the Credit Mobiler?” (Marx, 411). Ultimately, he comes to the conclusion that mythology exists as a pinnacle of art and literature that — though it may lose its relevance — can never again be duplicated or attained in modern society. However, he maintains: “A man can not become a child again unless he becomes childish. But does he not enjoy the artless ways of the child and must he not strive to reproduce its truth on a higher plane?” (Marx, 411). In saying this, Marx declares that we can still attempt to hold our modern literature and art to the standards of “childish” Greece while utilizing the progresses of our “adult” society to strengthen our efforts. To Marx, ultimately literature (and the role of literature) is shaped and bound by the society in which it arises, but can remain a timeless ideal for all literature going forward.

Very Similar Unique Ideas

I will be honest and say that most of this reading went completely over my head. Maybe I was just tired and therefore incapable of comprehending what it was that I was reading, or maybe I could be wide awake and still not understand what was going on. In any case, I think that at one point Adorno was saying that the universality of poetry comes from writing about something that has not already been written.

This relates to Shelley in that Shelley believed the very inception of poetry in one’s mind was where the real poetry was. So Adorno (from my understanding) believes that poetry’s universality comes from something written for the first time, so it therefore applies to everyone since there is nothing out there like that particular poem yet; and Shelley believes poetry is the initial original thought, and once it’s written it is less poetic. They both seem to think that as long as the poem is truly original and unique, then it is true poetry. (But I could be totally wrong.)

Since both their ideas seem so similar to each other…would their ideas count as poetry? Or would only whoever wrote their idea of poetry down first be considered the poet?


Adorno, Theodor W. “On Lyric Poetry and Society.” Notes to Literature. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. 46. Print.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “A Defence of Poetry” The Critical Tradition. Ed. David Richter. New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2007. 358. Print.

Adorno, Shelley, and Universality

Both Adorno and Shelley play with the concept of there being a universality in poetry where a poet is able to represent these sort of opposing forces without explicitly defending one force or the other. However in Adorno’s case, he argues that it is possible for lyric poetry to be more compelling for one side even when its inverse is being spoken for or supported. He uses examples from Baudelaire’s works, such as a poem about a servant woman, to show how works of literature can speak more profoundly or truer to its unintended audience than to the actual subject of the work. To reiterate this, Adorno writes that “when individual expression. . . seems shaken to its very core in the crisis of the individual, the collective undercurrent in the lyric surfaces in the most diverse places” (46). While it may appear that a poet is emphasizing one particular part of life, he is actually  inviting the reader to absorb his words more deeply to see that he is trying to communicate a larger social statement. It isn’t what’s in the lyric poems, it’s what has been purposefully left out. In Shelley’s explanation, “[poet’s] exertions are of the highest value so long as they confine their administration of the concerns of the inferior powers of our nature within the limits due to the superior ones” (358). Due to the restrictions of the “superior” forces at work, a great poet structures his writing so that the “inferior concerns” are implicitly addressed. Although it may not be obviously stated or although it may seem as though he is appealing only to the superior, the poet has the unique ability to subscribe to both.




Adorno, Theodor W. “On Lyric Poetry and Society.” Notes to Literature. Ed. Rolf Tiedemann. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. 46. Print.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “A Defence of Poetry” The Critical Tradition. Ed. David Richter. New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2007. 358. Print.

Brooks and Formalism

“If we heard that Mr. Guest testified that he put his heart and soul into his poems, we would not be very much impressed, though I should see no reason to doubt such a statement from Mr. Guest. It would simply be critically irrelevant…[T]he reduction of a work of literature to its causes does not constitute literary criticism; nor does an estimate of its effects,” (Brooks).

This passage from Cleanth Brooks’ My Credo indicates that Brooks has a very specific definition of what form is and what formalist criticism should (or, rather, shouldn’t) entail. While he previously mentioned his belief that form and content must be inseparable when we critique literature, he is sure to note that the writer’s intentions and motivations are not included in either of the aforementioned pair of elements. Likewise, Brooks maintains that the meanings we interpret from a work and the influence or force we perceive it to have are not welcome in a true formal criticism. To ascribe to Brooks’ definition of formalism, one must analyze the work itself as a standalone piece and ignore the external forces that critics are so tempted to draw on in their criticisms. Brooks explains that so often in these criticisms we confuse the psychology and biography of a piece of literature with its form and thus distract ourselves from gaining a true understanding of the work itself. While he concedes that these explorations are compelling, ultimately his belief is that good formalist critique means that critics must analyze a piece of literature with their blinders on.

Brooks, Cleanth. “My Credo.” Kenyon Review 13, no. 1 (Winter 1951): 72–81. <>.

Adorno & Brooks

Adorno discusses the individualism of poetry, especially lyric poetry and how its effect is changed with its context to the reader. He says, “The lyric work hopes to attain universality through unrestrained individuation” (38). Adorno’s stance on the individual reading a poem is what makes it universal. This relates perfectly back to Brooks who discusses the truth of a work not by the reader’s response, but by its intent. (I can’t find the quote, I wanted)  He says that there is an ideal reader whose reading matters to a poem, but the individuals’ experiences or emotional responses to work aren’t what effects it. Adorno although agrees that the universal element of a poem is necessary to its importance, he makes the point to say that the universality of a poem is  altered by a social aspect. Adorno says that the way society conceives a work can manifest its meaning and transcend it.