PDF | On Jan 1, , Dámaso LÓPEZ GARCÍA and others published Literary Theory. An Introduction, de Terry Eagleton. 𝗣𝗗𝗙 | Terry Eagleton, the author of How to Read Literature, is a well-known British literary theorist, critic and public intellectual. He is a professor of English. I hope it will also prove useful to specialists in the field, not least because it argues against what I take to be a current orthodoxy. I do not believe that this.
|Language:||English, Spanish, Japanese|
|ePub File Size:||21.67 MB|
|PDF File Size:||9.10 MB|
|Distribution:||Free* [*Regsitration Required]|
Literary Theory. An Introduction. SECOND EDITION. Terry Eagleton. St Catherine '5 College. Oxford. Blackwell. Publishing. Terry Eagleton "Introduction: What is Literature?" If there is such a thing as literary theory, then it would seem obvious that there is something called literature. Ideologies I. Title ISBN ISBN pbk US Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Eagleton, Terry, - Ideology.
Irony does not go as far down as belief. Unlike the more sentimental brands of postcolonialism. It is now culture. In the routines of everyday speech, our perceptions of and responses to reality become stale, blunted, or, as the Formalists would say, 'automatized'. There were movements like feminism. Humanists have always been sniffy about scientists.
Students once wrote uncritical. It has helped to demolish the puritan dogma that seriousness. Nowadays they write uncritical. The puritan does not see that pleasure and.
Pleasure falls outside the realm of knowledge. On this view. The puritan mistakes pleasure for frivolity because he mistakes seriousness for solemnity.
Like all. Yet pleasure. Finding out how to make life more pleasant is not always pleasant. Both of them equate truth with earnestness. Both of them are usually obsessed with sex. Oldstyle puritanical capitalism forbade us to enjoy ourselves.
In any case. Sigmund Freud held that if it were not for what he called the reality principle. A more canny. In that way we will not only consume more goods. Anyone who fails to wallow orgasmically in sensual delight will be visited late at night by a terrifying thug known as the superego. On the contrary. The traditional English gentleman was so averse to unpleasurable labour that he. So there is nothing inherently subversive about pleasure. But since this ruffian also tortures us for having a good time.
Aristotle believed that being human was something you had to get good at through constant practice. Moral effort was. Hence the patrician slur and drawl. Yet these ideas have thrived among new generations who. Before the advent of the so-called war on terrorism.
Like the discourse of gender and sexuality. The future would simply be the present infinitely repeated — or. Over the dreary decades of posts conservatism. To live in interesting times is not. It is no particular consolation to be able to recall the Holocaust. There is no point in mourning the blissful days when you could have your skull fractured by the police every weekend in Hyde Park.
To recall a worldshaking political history is also. Innocence and amnesia have their advantages. There is a. It is this which has warped so many contemporary cultural ideas out of shape.
It was thrown up by the tidal waves of revolutionary nationalism which swept the globe in the period after the Second World War. Much of the world as we know it. Much of the global community we see around us was formed. Western colonialism. It is just that they were those most. And that usually means the ones which produced the likes of us.
But it is one thing to make a revolution. Russia was a nation poor in the kind of civic institutions which secure the loyalty of citizens to the state. Vladimir Lenin believed that it was the very backwardness of Tsarist Russia which had helped to make the Bolshevik revolution possible.
You could not build socialism in an economic. Its power was centralized rather than diffuse. But this very same poverty and backwardness helped to scupper the revolution once it had been made. Something of the same. The attempt to do so called for the strong-armed measures of Stalinism. In a tragic irony. It marked the end of the era of Third World revolutions. In the s and 60s. By harnessing the demands of an impoverished people to these goals.
Once ensconced there. Unlike the more sentimental brands of postcolonialism. They insisted rather on a class-analysis of colonial and. But many Marxists harboured few illusions about the aspiring middle-class elites who spearheaded these nationalist currents. Others had to acknowledge that they could not go it alone — that political sovereignty had brought with it no authentic economic self-government. As the world capitalist crisis deepened from the early s onwards.
The book appeared at the turning-point of the fortunes of the. Theorists who were either too young or too obtuse to recall that nationalism had been in its time an astonishingly effective anti-colonial force could find in it nothing but a benighted chauvinism or ethnic.
Given the partial failure of national revolution in the socalled Third World. In doing so. But in rejecting the idea of nationhood. If those nation-states had partly failed. It is true that the revolutionary nationalists had in a sense looked beyond class themselves. The middle classes had rather more to gain from national independence than hard-. By rallying the national people. If the idea of the nation was a displacement of class conflict.
If it fostered some dangerous illusions. It was. In one sense. The nation had become the major form which the class struggle against this antagonist had assumed. The Communist Manifesto observes that the class struggle first of all takes a national form.
And it had a powerful argument in its. Some of the new theory. In its Eurocentric way. But because this class conflict had been framed in national terms. It was a battle between Western capital and the sweated labourers of the world. This is one sense in which.
This meant among other things that. Much post-colonial theory shifted the focus from class and nation to ethnicity. In some ways. But it also helped to depoliticize the question of post-colonialism. Since ethnicity is largely a cultural affair. It seemed. So in a different way did the militant actions of the Western labour movements.
In travelling abroad. Third World revolutions had testified in their own way to the power of collective action. In a world. British government. Much recent cultural theory. From its viewpoint. For some postmodern thought. And this. It is what stands askew to society as a whole — the marginal. There can be little value in mainstream social life. In retrieving what orthodox culture has pushed to the margins. Margins can be unspeakably painful places to be. It is no longer quite so easy to claim that there is nothing to ethnic art but pounding on oil drums or knocking a couple of bones together.
Feminism has not only transformed the cultural landscape but. Majority social life on this view is a matter of norms and conventions. What is under assault here is the normative. As the poet William Blake writes.
Norms are oppressive because they mould uniquely different individuals to the same shape. It will. For them. Sanguine libertarians like Oscar Wilde dream of a future society in which everyone will be free to be their incomparable selves. In this. By contrast. Language levels things down. It is normative all the way down. They would like a world made entirely out of differences. Thinkers like Foucault and Derrida chafe against these equivalences. But this is simply the price one would have to pay for not being constrained by the behaviour.
It is true that nobody in a world of pure differences would be able to say anything intelligible — that there could be no poetry. It is conventional that child. It is a mistake. It is normative in our kind of society that people do not throw themselves with a hoarse cry on total strangers and amputate their legs.
In fact it is a crass Romantic delusion. Only an intellectual who has overdosed on abstraction could be dim enough to imagine that whatever bends a norm is.
Anyone who feels oppressed by all this must be seriously oversensitive. Those who believe that normativity is always negative are also likely to hold that authority is always suspect. It was majorities. Some fascist groups. It is not the most popular of beliefs among the disfigured victims of Basque separatism. The postmodern prejudice against norms. It is also remarkably dim-witted.
But it does not only spring from having precious few examples. Those who oppose norms. It is one result of the apparent disintegration of old-fashioned bourgeois society into a host of sub-cultures.
It also reflects a real social change. One of the historic developments of our age has been the decline of the traditional middle class.
As Perry Anderson has argued. Anderson writes with colourful contempt. In this social order. Their top-hatted. It is utterly promiscuous. The norm now is money. It is. It seems. We have shifted from a national culture with a single set of rules to a motley. But it is true. The old regime was never as unified as that. There are still some powerful collective norms at work in it.
The current of cultural experiment we know as modernism was fortunate in this respect. Picasso and Bertolt Brecht still had a classical bourgeoisie to be rude about. It is just that it seems not to have noticed the fact. But its offspring. It spends much of its time assailing absolute truth.
It calls into question the autonomy of the individual. Postmodernism seems at times to behave as though the classical bourgeoisie is alive and well. This is not to say that these beliefs do not still have.
Since all of these values belong to a bourgeois world on the wane. It is people in the humanities who still naively. But nobody on Wall Street and few in Fleet Street believe in absolute truth and unimpeachable foundations. In places like Ulster and Utah. A lot of scientists are fairly sceptical about science. Humanists have always been sniffy about scientists. Few of the people who believe in absolute moral values in theory do so in practice. It is just that they used to despise them for snobbish reasons.
And though some genetically upbeat Americans may still have faith in progress. But it is not only the traditional middle class which has faded from view. And since the working class stood for political solidarity.
Postmodernism does not believe in individualism. It is also the traditional working class. It is true that capitalism quite often creates divisions and exclusions for its.
The problem with this as a radical case is that there is not much in it with which Prince Charles would disagree. And these exclusions can be profoundly hurtful for a great many people.
Whole masses of men and women have suffered the misery and indignity of second-class citizenship. It is admirably. Either that. In principle. Most of the time. In the generously humanistic spirit of the ancient poet. It is prepared to rub shoulders with any old victim. It is capitalism which is disinterested. In its hunt for profit. When it comes to consumers who. It has the scorn for hierarchies of a truculent adolescent.
It thrives on bursting bounds and slaying sacred cows. Its desire is unslakeable and its space infinite. Its law is. Who gets to decide who gets included? Who — the Groucho Marx. In its sublime ambition and extravagant transgressions. There are other. For a socialist. If marginality is as fertile.
Whole nations are thrust to the periphery. In this world. Entire classes of people are deemed to be dysfunctional. Communities are uprooted and forced into migration. As far as the transnational corporations go. And on a global. It is they whose labour keeps the system up and running. The low-paid are not central.
The destitute are obviously marginal. Who or what is key to the system is debatable. As long as we think of margins as minorities. And in that it is like any class-society which has ever existed. Most cultural thinking these days comes from the United States. But because Americans are not much used to thinking in international terms.
Other is. The felicitous unearthing of a Manx greatgrandmother or serendipitous. If you were white and Western. It is just any group who will show you up in your dismal normativity.
A murky subcurrent of masochism runs beneath this exoticizing. With an arrogance thinly masked as humility. Some of the people. There is just Them and Us. There can be no falling back on ideas of collectivity which belong to a world unravelling before our eyes.
We need to imagine new. Human history is now for the most part both post-collectivist and post-individualist.
Some of those forms will have something of the intimacy of tribal or community relations. There is no single ideal size of society to belong to. The ideal size of community. If men and women need freedom and mobility. The postmodern cult of the migrant. There is nothing retrograde about roots. The problem at the moment is that the rich have mobility while the poor have locality. It is a hangover from the modernist cult of the exile.
Or rather. It is not hard to imagine affluent communities of the future protected by watchtowers.
The rich are global and the poor are local — though just as poverty is a global fact. In the meantime. If they insist. Even the most rarefied theories have a root in historical reality. It is generally agreed that the founding father of hermeneutics was the German philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher was concerned about how we could understand the beliefs of this people even though they seemed desperately alien to us.
Cultural theory must be able to give some account of. In the forms most familiar to us. Strictly speaking. It is in this astonishingly abundant period that most of the thinkers listed at the opening of the previous chapter produced their path-. The new cultural ideas had their roots deep in the age of civil rights and student insurgency. What is the significance of these dates? It is that cultural theory broke out in the only period since the Second World War in which the political far left rose briefly to prominence.
It was an era in which the consumer society was launched with a flourish.
The whole sensibility of society had undergone one of its periodic transformations. If there was widespread disaffection. There was a general excited sense that the present was the place to be. And if it was. We had shifted from the earnest. This was an unusual development. Culture and capitalism are hardly as familiar a duo as Corneille and Racine or Laurel and Hardy.
Above all. It was about the cultivation of human powers as ends in themselves rather. The concept of culture grew up as a critique of middle-class society. Culture was about values rather than prices. It was the rickety shelter where the values and energies which industrial capitalism had no use for could take refuge. It was the place where the erotic and symbolic.
Such powers formed a harmonious totality: From its patrician height. By the s and 70s. Signs and spectacles were spreading throughout social life. Culture in the sense of value. We seemed to have achieved affluence without fulfilment. There were anxieties in Europe about cultural Americanization. The idea of cultural revolution migrated. It was also the life-blood of newly articulate working-class artists and critics.
It was now on the side of dissent. It was a quarrel between those who wanted to turn knowledge into military and technological hardware. Gramsci and Godard. The universities which had been the very home of traditional culture. Middle-class society had been reckless enough to set up institutions in which young. Nor was it confined to the campus. In France and Italy. In our own time. It may make you less than sanguine about entrusting the governance of.
There is always a risk that education may put you at odds with the tasteless. You may develop grave doubts about those who have the nerve to speak of defending civilization and would not recognize an obelisk or an oboe concerto if it were to slap them in the face. These are the men and. Some of the political struggles of this period were reasonably successful. The student movement of the late s did not prevent higher education from becoming locked ever deeper into structures of military violence and industrial exploitation.
The humanities had lost their innocence: If they wanted to stay in business. It is this critical. There is thus always. It is a symptom of the fact that we can no longer take those practices for granted. Theory of this kind comes about when we are forced into a new selfconsciousness about what we are doing.
If colonial powers were cast out. For all the climate of post-war affluence. By the s. But they responded at best churlishly and at worst repressively to the stirring of the new social forces. Something of the same can be said for the various campaigns for civil rights. In Northern Ireland. In playing its part in ending the war in south-east Asia. Elsewhere in the world. Western peace movement helped to halt Lyndon Johnson in his bellicose tracks. Everywhere one looked. As far as culture goes.
Elitism was now a thought-crime only slightly less grievous than anti-Semitism. Yet this politically rebellious populism also paved the way for the rampantly consumerist culture of the s and 90s. What had for a moment shaken middle-class complacency was soon to be co-opted by it. When do we want it? What was happening in the s was that the disciplines of production were being challenged by the culture of.
While students were. And this was bad news for the system only in a limited sense. There was no simple rise and fall of radical ideas. European Communist parties made some inroads. If there were fresh demands for liberation.
It was the soullessness of an affluent society. If it challenged the prevailing social order. Poststructuralism and postmodernism were to prove.
Latin American guerrilla movements were rolled back.
Both postmodernists and neoliberals are suspicious of public norms. It is just that neo-liberals admit that they reject all this in the name. The neo-liberals. The early s — the very highpoint of radical dissent — also saw the first glimmerings of the postmodern culture. Radical postmodernists. The halcyon days of cultural theory lasted until about — several years after the oil crisis which heralded a global recession. Workingclass militancy.
Theory overshot reality. Trade unions were shackled and unemployment deliberately created. As often happens. Cultural theory was cut loose from its moment of origin. The emancipation which had failed in the streets and factories could be acted out instead in erotic intensities or the floating signifier.
Like war. Discourse and desire came to stand in for the. Godard and Guevara that had failed. At the same time. The record was mixed in another sense too.
New theories of discourse. Cultural theory was there to remind the traditional left of what it had flouted: Or like the medieval Irish monk who wrote a dictionary but unaccountably omitted the letter S.
It was rather like an account of human anatomy which left out the lungs and stomach. One needed to be pretty myopic to overlook as much as this. In fact. Wilhelm Reich. Georg Lukacs. Antonio Gramsci. Walter Benjamin. It had had a great deal to say of art and culture.
Ernst Bloch. Theodor Adorno. Fredric Jameson: Lucien Goldmann. Jean-Paul Sartre. Herbert Marcuse. There is arguably no richer heritage of such thought in the twentieth. It was from this heritage that modern-day cultural studies took its cue. Caught between capitalism and Stalinism. In the same act. Politically marooned. The uprising which was to topple the Russian Tsar and install a. But it had by no means ignored these topics. Marxism had certainly sidelined gender and sexuality.
Marxism had been largely silent on the environment. Once in power. There were. Marxism had not exactly overlooked the unconscious. Yet there were important exceptions to this simple-mindedness. The charge that Marxism has had nothing to say about.
One of the finest books ever written on the body. It was through the influence of phenomenology that some Marxist thinkers came to engage with questions of lived experience and everyday life. The Phenomenology of Perception.
As Robert J. Young has written: Marxist ideas became vital to anti-colonial. Latin America and elsewhere. Tolstoy and other such sources. Marxism was the primary inspiration behind anti-colonial campaigns. Many of the great anti-colonial theorists and political leaders of the twentieth century were educated in the West.
Gandhi drew on Ruskin. Marxist states have been nonEuropean. Fanon and James Connolly. It is arguable that cultural politics themselves. These are the kind of theorists who would point out that.
Condorcet certainly held such views. It is just that the same theorists. These humane views were not at all unrelated to his unprepossessing philosophy. Enlightenment is. It is true.
It is an account. Some of those who upbraid Marxism with not saying enough are also allergic to grand narratives which try to.
It is not a deficiency of Marxism that it has nothing very interesting to say about whether physical exercise or wiring your jaws together is the best way of dieting. Nor is it a defect of feminism that it has so far remained silent about the Bermuda Triangle. A lot of the cultural theory which emerged in the s and 70s can be seen as a critique of classical Marxism.
On the whole. There was also a heated. From Kenya to Malaysia. Louis Althusser was. As an historical outlook. Roland Barthes was a man of the left who found Marxism lamentably lacking when it. Julia Kristeva worked on language.
Yet both thinkers had close affinities at this point to Marxist politics. The most. The litany can be. This was rather like finding an alternative to heroin in crack cocaine. New connections were forged between Paris and the paddyfields. Many others found an alternative in Trotskyism. Whether this is true or not. Jacques Derrida claims nowadays that he has always understood his own theory of deconstruction as a kind of radicalized Marxism.
Michel Foucault. Marxism provided Foucault with a silent interlocutor in several of his most renowned works. The French sociologist Henri Lefebvre found classical Marxism bereft of a notion of everyday life.
There were times when it was well-nigh impossible to tell whether the finest cultural thinker of post-. But this was more a strength of his work than a fatal ambiguity. Raymond Williams. The same goes for much of the so-called New Left.
The new cultural thinkers were fellow-travellers — but fellow-travellers of Marxism rather than of Soviet Communism. In France. It began as an attempt to find a way around Marxism without quite leaving it behind. But it seems fair to say that much of the new cultural theory was born out of an extraordinarily creative dialogue with Marxism. It ended by doing exactly that. Not all of the new cultural thinkers had this fraught relationship with Marxist ideas. Sartre once famously observed that Marxism represented a kind of ultimate horizon for the twentieth century.
Thinkers like Foucault and Kristeva. To this extent. Marxism retained its centrality. They were. If the new cultural thinkers could be sharply critical of it. It was the thing to bounce off against. Nobody was quarrelling with Taoism or Duns Scotus. To do so. Kennedy was a Berliner. Communists in the sense that John F.
But had this not been precisely part of the trouble? Was this not one reason why Marxism. It was rather like the old argument about whether Freudianism was a science. Was it not presumptuous to suppose that there was a strict definition of the theory. Both sides of the quarrel seemed to take for granted exactly what science.
Of course there has to be something specific to a particular body of ideas. But what if psychoanalysis forced us to overhaul our idea of what counted as science in the first place? What mattered. You could not be a Marxist and clamour for a return to slavery. It is true that there are some Anglican clerics who seem to reject God.
Feminism is a fairly loose collection of beliefs. But the alternative to dogmatism is not the assumption that anything goes. They just believe that everybody should be nice to each other. In some quarters. Marxism had become just such a species of dogmatism. The answer of some of the cultural pioneers was a guarded yes. The question was whether you could loosen the theory up without it falling apart.
In the name of Marxism. Just as the radical cultural populism of the s was to pave the way. Before long. Post-structuralist pluralism now seemed best exemplified not by the Chinese. Julia Kristeva and the Tel Quel group turned to religious mysticism and a celebration of the American way of life.
It started out by deepening Marxism. If Louis Althusser rewrote Marxism from the. Roland Barthes shifted from politics to pleasure. Michel Foucault renounced all aspirations to a new social order. JeanFrancois Lyotard turned his attention to intergalactic travel and supported the right-wing Giscard in the French presidential elections.
So the crisis of Marxism did not begin with the crumbling of the Berlin wall. Not only that. It could be felt at the very heart of the political radicalism of the late 60s and early 70s. As far as classical. It was not a question of the left first flourishing and then declining.
The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia occurred at the same moment as the celebrated student uprising of When Lyotard rejected what he called grand narratives. If carnival was in the air. Marxism went. But many felt that it had also been discredited by changes in capitalism itself. Marxism had been badly tarnished in the West by the monstrosities of Stalinism. It seemed illadapted to a new kind of capitalist system which revolved on consumption rather than production. Many of the problems which preoccupied militant students and radical theorists in the West were ones bred by progress.
The post-war economic boom may have been on its last legs by the late s. They were problems. The sense of a world which was claustrophobically coded. There were anxieties about packaged learning. The s were stifling as well as swinging. Some years later. Utopian desire. They were not matters which Marxism had traditionally had much to say about.
These were all questions of culture. Culture was also a way for the civilized. And this is one reason why the dialogue with Marxism was pitched largely on that terrain. Because subjects like literature and art history have no obvious material pay-.
Students of culture quite often tend to be politically radical. Nor was it surprising that it was cultural theory. Sheer pointlessness is a deeply subversive affair. The idea of doing something purely for the delight of it has always rattled the grey-bearded guardians of the state. They also raise questions of the quality of life in a world where experience itself seems brittle and degraded.
They deal with works whose depth and. How in such conditions can you produce worthwhile art in the first place? Would you not need to change society in order to flourish as an artist? For all these reasons. Students of chemical. Art encourages you to fantasize and desire.
They are also trained to imagine alternatives to the actual. Some of the very qualities which attract cultural specialists to the political left are also the ones which make them hard to organize. They are the jokers in the political pack. You would not put Arthur Rimbaud on the sanitation committee. In Britain.
In the s and 70s. One has only to think of the great names of twentieth-century English. To be inside and outside a position at the same time — to occupy a territory while loitering sceptically on the boundary — is often where the most intensely creative ideas stem from. It is a resourceful place to be. Some hailed from Algeria.
As the s wore on. Not many of them were French in origin. The passage towards the depoliticized 80s and 90s had been opened. The post-war. For now industrial production really did seem on the way out. As a result of this slackening in profits. They were less protected than before. National capitalisms were now struggling to stay on their feet in an increasingly global world. It was language 'made strange'; and because of this estrangement, the everyday world was also suddenly made unfamiliar.
In the routines of everyday speech, our perceptions of and responses to reality become stale, blunted, or, as the Formalists would say, 'automatized'. Literature, by forcing us into a dramatic awareness of language, refreshes these habitual responses and renders objects more 'perceptible'. By having to grapple with language in a more strenuous, self-conscious way than usual, the world which that language contains is vividly renewed.
The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins might provide a particularly graphic example of this. Most of the time we breathe in air without being conscious of it: But if the air is suddenly thickened or infected we are forced toattend to our breathing with new vigilance, and the effect of this may be a heightened experience of ourbodily life, we read a scribbled note from a friend without paying much attention to its narrativestructure; but if a story breaks off and begins again, switches constantly from one narrative level toanother and delays its climax to keep us in suspense, we become freshly conscious of how it isconstructed at the same time as our engagement with it may be intensified.
The story, as the Formalistswould argue, uses impeding' or 'retarding' devices to hold our attention; and in literary language, thesedevices are laid bare'. It was this which moved Viktor Shlovsky to remark mischievously of LaurenceSterne's Tristram Shandy, a novel which impedes its own story-line so much that it hardly gets off heground, that it was 'the most typical novel in world literature'.
The Formalists, then, saw literary language as a set of deviations from a norm, a kind of linguistic violence: But to spot a deviation implies being able to identify the norm from which it swerves.
Though 'ordinary language' is a concept beloved of some Oxford philosophers, the ordinary language of Oxford philosophers has little in common with the ordinary language of Glaswegian dockers.
The languageboth social groups use to write love letters usually differs from the way they talk to the local vicar. Theidea that there s a single 'normal' language, a common currency shared equally y all members of society,is an illusion. Any actual language consists of a highly complex range of discourses, differentiatedaccording to class, region, gender, status and so on, which can by no means be neatly unified into asingle, homogeneous linguistic community.
One person's norm may be another's deviation: Even the most 'prosaic' text of thefifteenth century may sound 'poetic' to us today because of its archaism. If we were to stumble across anisolated scrap of writing from some long-vanished civilization, we could not tell whether it was 'poetry' ornot merely by inspecting it, since we might have no access to that society's 'ordinary' discourses; and evenif further research were to reveal that it was 'deviatory', this would still not prove that it was poetry asnot all linguistic deviations are poetic.
Slang, for example. We would not be able to tell just by looking atit that it was not a piece of 'realist' literature, without much more information about the way it actuallyfunctioned as a piece of writing within the society in question.
It is not that the Russian Formalists did not realize all this. They recognized that norms anddeviations shifted around from one social or historical context to another -that 'poetry. The fact that a piece of language was'estranging' did not guarantee that it was always and everywhere so: If everyone used phrases like 'unravished bride of quietness' in ordinary pub conversation, thiskind of language might cease to be poetic.
For the Formalists, in other words, 'literariness' was a function of the differential relations between one sort of discourse and another; it was not an eternally givenproperty. They were not out to define 'literature', but 'literariness' -special uses of language, which couldbe found in 'literary' texts but also in many places outside them.
There is no 'literary' device -metonymy, synecdoche, litotes, chiasmusand so on -which is not quite intensively used in daily discourse. Nevertheless, the Formalists still presumed that 'making strange' was the essence of the literary.
It was just that they relativized this use of language, saw it as a matter of contrast between one type of speech and another. But what if I were to hear someone at the next pub table remark 'This is awfullysquiggly handwriting! As a matter of fact, it is 'literary'language because it comes from Knut Hamsun's novel Hunger. But how do I know that it is literary? Itdoesn't, after all, focus any particular attention on itself as a verbal performance. One answer to thequestion of how I know that this is literary is that it comes from Knit Hamsun's novel Hunger.
It is part of atext which I read as 'fictional', which announces itself as a 'novel', which may be put on universityliterature syllabuses and so on. The context tells me that it is literary; but the language itself has noinherent proper- ties or qualities which might distinguish it from other kinds of discourse, and someonemight well say this in a pub without being admired for their literary dexterity.
To think of literature as theFormalists do is really to think of all literature as poetry. Significantly, when the Formalists came toconsider prose writing, they often simply extended to it the kinds of technique they had used withpoetry.
But literature is usually judged o contain much besides poetry -to include, for example, realist ornaturalistic writing which is not linguistically self-conscious or self-exhibiting in any striking way. Peoplesometimes call writing 'fine' precisely because it doesn't draw undue attention to itself: And what about jokes, football chants and slogans, newspaperheadlines, advertisements, which are often verbally flamboyant but not generally classified as literature?
Another problem with the 'estrangement' case is that there is no kind of writing which cannot,given sufficient ingenuity, be read as estranging. Consider a prosaic, quite unambiguous statement likethe one sometimes seen in the London underground system: Many apparently straightforward notices contain such ambiguities: But evenleaving such troubling ambiguities aside, it is surely obvious that the underground notice could be read asliterature.
One could let oneself be arrested by the abrupt, minatory staccato of the first ponderousmonosyllables; find one's mind drifting, by the time it had reached the rich allusiveness of 'carried', tosuggestive resonances of helping lame dogs through life; and perhaps even detect in the very lilt andinflection of the word 'escalator' a miming of the rolling, up-and-down motion of the thing itself.
This maywell be a fruitless sort of pursuit, but it is NOT significantly more fruitless than claiming to hear the cutand thrust of the rapiers in some poetic description of a duel, and at least has the advantage of suggesting that 'literature' may be at least as much a question of what people do to writing as of whatwriting does to them. But even if someone were to read the notice in this way, it would still be a matter of reading itas poetry, which is only part of what is usually included in literature.
Let us therefore consider anotherway of 'misreading' the sign which might move us a little beyond this. Imagine a late- night drunk doubledover the escalator handrail who reads the notice with laborious attentiveness for several minutes andthen mutters to himself 'How rude! What the drunk is doing, infact, is taking the sign as some statement of general, even cosmic significance.
This would certainly seem to be one operation involved in what people call literature.