Tag Archives: literature

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”?

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!


“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.

Discursive resistance

Foucault denies the existence of two opposed discourses, one of power and one of resistance, in his book “The History of Sexuality.” Instead, he explains that discourse and silence can serve as both instruments of and hindrances to power. He gives the example of pre-19th century reticence in Western texts on male homosexuality, and how that made sodomy an “utterly confused category,” generally allowed to exist and occasionally severly punished (1632). Foucault further posits that the “the appearance in 19th century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species” of homosexuality “made possible … social controls” of this behavior (1632). He says, curiously, that “homosexuality began to speak on its own behalf… in the same vocabulary,” and it is not clear in which genre this begins to happen or who exactly was speaking on behalf of homosexuality (1632). Literature would provide (and has provided) fertile grounds for this reappropriation of medical terms originally created to explain homosexuality as a perversion. Many strategies could converge to support this resistance through literary depictions of force-relations, for example novels that depict violence and dysfunctionality in patriarchal heterosexuality, as well as homosexuality being shown as a means of liberation.

Langston Hughes uses words created to enable social control in discourses of resistance in his poetry, as in the use of the word “Negro” in his poem “Ballad of the Landlard.” The poem illustrates how the word is obfuscates a reality of oppression in institutional settings, like the printed word of newspapers.

Literature can create ironic reproductions of discourses of power that “undermine” and “expose” those discourses, in order to render the power “fragile” and make it possible to “thwart” it (1632).

future text/love prints

In the latter half of “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” Marx poses quirky, future oriented questions. One of these is “Is the view of nature and social relations which shaped Greek imagination and Greek [art] possible in the age of automatic machinery, and railways, and locomotives, and electric telegraphs? . . . What becomes of the Goddess Fame side by side with Printing House Square?” (Marx 411). What comes to mind is the reality of how fast everything in our culture, community, and processes are advancing, especially in the methods of communication and expression, which ultimately alter the different ways artists now express their art. We live in a digital age where almost everything can be found online. The world’s leading magazines and newspapers post their content online and through social media accounts. The written word is not as valued as it once was. Makers of literature are looking at all the new ways to publish their work and struggling to find a place where they can be recognized; more writers than ever have turned to blogging to project their voice in this eruption of technology. Even tweets, with the restriction of 140 characters per tweet, can be argued as an evolving form of literature with the popular emergence of “two-three sentence stories.”

“The difficulty is not in grasping the idea that Greek art and epos are bound up with certain forms of social development. It lies in understanding why they still constitute with us a source of aesthetic enjoyment and in certain respects prevail as the standard and model beyond attainment” (411). Though we have largely participated in social media interaction and reading online media, there remains a deep admiration for the printed word. Physical books are still read,  libraries are still frequented, and writers still want to be published in print. The “aesthetic enjoyment” of literature is not only constituted by every  natural, enjoyable, and relevant facet of literature, but reading a novel with a physical form is slowly becoming a novelty. Soon enough, physical prints will become the previous “standard and model beyond attainment.”

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.

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.

The Infinite Poet

“A Poet, as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure, virtue and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the best, the wisest, and the most illustrious of men. As to his glory, let Time be challenged to declare whether the fame of any other institutor of human life be comparable to that of a poet” (361).

Poets are the most inspiring and memorable people to exist. The most iconic paintings will always be remembered through our eyes as they are forever referenced. Likewise, poetry is forever recited and while there are those who do not care enough to offer an opinion on a painting, the words of a poem affect us more still. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what does it mean when a poem leaves us speechless? As long as we record and remember history, poetry will live forever– additionally insured by the upsurge of social media. At a certain level, no other art form has changed the course of history the way poetry has. The fiercest, most heartbroken and angry change makers singe us with their words. I think of the Civil Rights poets and storytellers such as Langston Hughes, WEB Dubois, Maya Angelou, the Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish, Martin Niemoller’s Holocaust poem “First they came . . . ,” Carolyn Forche,  and beyond these names are the other legendary Frost, Dickinson, Wilde, Yeats, Cummings, Whitman, Ginsberg, so on and so forth.

So a painter helped usher in a new era of painting styles and was lambasted and ridiculed and died poor, only to be remembered and heralded after her death. Or remember the black musicians who were the first ever to headline a show or perform with an all white band for an all white crowd, but soak into the lives of the poets who wrote honestly and realize the impacts they made.


Shelley, Percy B. “A Defence of Poetry.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 361. Print.

Art and Life Draw Inspiration from Each Other

” All that I desire to point out is the general principle that Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life, and I feel sure that if you think seriously about it you will find that it is true. Life holds the mirror up to Art, and either reproduces some strange type imagined by painter or sculptor, or realizes in fact what has been dreamed in fiction. Scientifically speaking, the basis of life—the energy of life, as Aristotle would call it—is simply the desire for expression and Art is always presenting various forms through which this expression can be attained. Life seizes on them and uses them, even if they be to her own hurt.”

The Decay of Lying, Oscar Wilde

There are many instances in modern times where one can argue that Life imitates Art. For example, the responsibility of fashion designers as well as fashion magazines is to create new clothing trends and to provide consumers with visual experiences of these trends (via runway shows or spreads in magazines). It is then the consumers’ job to take those pieces of art that the designers and editors created and compiled and to implement them into their own lives. However, it has to be noted that art does not just emerge from nothingness. Artists, whether they be poets or painters or musicians, draw inspiration from life and their own personal experiences. They also create their art with their consumers in mind. They often think about what will appeal to the masses and how they can do it in a way so that they won’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. I think the issue of delegating whether or not one form imitates the other is too complex to elect one being superior of the other. Instead, there are various circumstances in which either one can be argued for.




Wilde, Oscar. “The Decay of lying.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. By David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 491. Print.


The Art of Lying

“But in modern days while the fashion of writing poetry has become far too common, and should, if possible, be discouraged, the fashion of lying has almost fallen into disrepute” (Wilde 9).

Lying has always been presumed as a negative thing. You’re taught at a young age that lying is wrong. Then we are also taught to have and share our opinions, which are not always accurate to say the least, but wouldn’t be labeled as lies. As stated above, poetry is held in high esteem, yet lying isn’t. To be technical one could say any fiction is lying, although each bit of fiction comes from some part of the truth. So if one thought this way, anything not entirely true or accurate is a lie. Therefore poetry would be considered lying. But perhaps this quote could sway the negative connotation lying has. Yes maybe poetry & art & fiction are lies, but who says thats a bad thing? Especially when the Art of Lying sounds so intriguing.

Wilde, Oscar, and Percival Pollard. Intentions: The Decay of Lying, Pen, Pencil and Poison, the Critic as Artist, the Truth of Masks. New York: Brentano’s, 1905. Web