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EKS

Why is literary analysis important?

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People always ask what the point of learning higher math is if you're never going to use it in "real life". I'm wondering the same thing about literary analysis.

 

What is the purpose of analyzing literature? And what is the purpose of learning to write a literary essay?

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Thank you for asking a question I've been afraid to ask. I have never understood what the point was. I was never any good at it either. To me, it always seemed akin to art appreciation. I mean, who cares what the red handbag represents metaphorically? It's all fiction anyway. For me, literary analysis detracts from my enjoyment of the work (not that I ever cared for dark stories about depressed people who lacked good judgment). I would have gotten a lot more out of my English classes if someone had bothered to teach me how to write instead, though surely that's simply a reflection on my instructors. (ETA, reading this again, I sound a little harsh, but I assure you all I'm merely mocking my own ignorance ;))

 

:lurk5: I'm sure there's a good reason.... :tongue_smilie: :001_smile:

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I'll take a stab at this . . .

 

Literary analysis is not very valuable if it is just a scavenger hunt for literary devices. What makes it helpful is if it is approached as an inquiry into meaning: What was the author trying to communicate and how did he/she do it? So it becomes a useful exercise if you think of it as the identification of a meaningful theme, and then the investigation of the literary tools (diction, imagery, symbolism) that the author used to reveal that theme.

 

Just as in non-fiction we study rhetoric to understand the various ways that writers craft their writing to persuade us, in fiction writers are also trying to impart or reveal something that is important (to them and usually to us). Through literary analysis we look at what it is that they want us to see -- to take away -- and then just how they got us there. :)

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People always ask what the point of learning higher math is if you're never going to use it in "real life". I'm wondering the same thing about literary analysis.

 

What is the purpose of analyzing literature? And what is the purpose of learning to write a literary essay?

 

A quick answer......for me it really helps me appreciate the depth of the story and the message that the author is intending to convey.

 

For example, I read the Chronicles of Narnia with my younger dds this yr. Reading the Last Battle and being familiar with Revelations meant the signs that they were witnessing had more meaning than describing the scene that the characters were witnessing. Understanding the crucifixion means you understand the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe.

 

Just reading the story means, hey, that's a nice storyline. Reading deeper into the meaning of the allusions, setting, even specific word selections can create a whole new level of experience. Sometimes when I fail to connect with a certain book, I later realize it is b/c I didn't understand what it was really trying to say.

 

One book that I want to read but haven't had the time is Til We Have Faces. I know that I would not have understood the full meaning of that book just from reading it. I listened to a Kreeft lecture on it and he laid it out so fascinatingly that now it is on my "want to read" list. His analysis is what really peaked my interest. :D

 

As far as writing literary papers, lit ana is a student's opportunity to develop a unique argument/perspective and prove it through their logical presentation w/ supporting quotes as proof. I think both of those goals alone are valuable skills.

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I'll take a stab at this . . .

 

Literary analysis is not very valuable if it is just a scavenger hunt for literary devices. What makes it helpful is if it is approached as an inquiry into meaning: What was the author trying to communicate and how did he/she do it? So it becomes a useful exercise if you think of it as the identification of a meaningful theme, and then the investigation of the literary tools (diction, imagery, symbolism) that the author used to reveal that theme.

 

Just as in non-fiction we study rhetoric to understand the various ways that writers craft their writing to persuade us, in fiction writers are also trying to impart or reveal something that is important (to them and usually to us). Through literary analysis we look at what it is that they want us to see -- to take away -- and then just how they got us there. :)

:iagree: and I would add that literary analysis helps students to learn to extract the meaning from what they read. As citizens, it's critical to a functioning democracy for citizens to be able to understand what they read and hear on the news and to view it with a critical eye. Think about political speeches -- we need to be able to pick out fallacies in what we hear, and to understand any "hidden messages" that the speaker is trying to communicate so that we can form our own opinions on what is being said. We need to be able to discern whether the politician really has our own best interests in mind. Same thing goes for written materials. Through our homeschooling, I try to expose my dc to writing on both sides of an issue so they can see how knowing the author's biases is so important.

 

Just like Geometry proofs help to teach logical reasoning skills, writing essays helps teach students to express their opinions in a logical way that can be understood by others. Many, many jobs these days require the writing of reports, proposals for work, etc. To do the job well, an adult needs to express his thoughts clearly and specifically in writing. He will probably not be writing literary essays for a living, but chances are that what he learns from that task will be very useful later in life.

 

I definitely have a math/science bent -- always have. But I think some of the things I treasure the most from homeschooling are the wonderful books we've read together and the different life experiences that they give. As my dc have gotten into the high school & college years, I've really seen the work that we've put into literature, history, and writing paying off.

 

I would suggest that if you and your dc are struggling with literary analysis, choose just a few classics to delve into, and then just read a bunch of good books together. Give them a taste of literary analysis and the tools, but don't kill yourselves with it. You don't have to analyze every single book you read in depth.

 

Best wishes,

Brenda

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For me, literary analysis detracts from my enjoyment of the work

As somebody from the field...

 

The *purpose* of literature / literary analysis instruction in an academic setting, even in high school, is NOT to bring about a personal satisfaction and a joy. Not even close. I am seriously annoyed when such things are even suggested by all kinds of "reconstructionists" from the field who would like to seriously alter literature education in schools to bring about joy, democracy, multi-culti appreciation, and a plethora of other - while in and of themselves maybe worthy goals - fundamentally, nonsense, if we talk professionally.

 

Literature is an ART. As such, it involves a certain level of SKILL, and certain principles of that skill (mind you, not that those are measurable by the criteria of hard sciences, but that is exactly another benefit: learning certain subtleties of thought involving principles). That which is fundamental in literature is NOT, for Heaven's sake, guys, it is NOT about WHAT is said as much as it is about HOW it is said. That which fundamentally distinguishes literary texts from non-literary texts is not their CONTENT, but their FORM.

 

The purpose of literature education in high school is exactly the mental switch from CONTENT-oriented reading (who, what, when, where, obvious-why) to FORM-oriented reading (how those are represented, using which techniques and even some amount of speculation behind the "why"s of that). There is also the issue of MEANING, and how specific ideologies are conveyed in texts, but in my opinion that is entirely a university-level thing, and a very mentally dangerous one, because it can easily go out of control into pseudo-analyses and talking nonsense, especially on this level of education. So I say disregard meaning, focus on the FORM - and do so in the context of general culture education, the traditional "landmarks" of the "landscape" typical for your culture and tieing it with other studies. Two birds with one stone.

 

Back to FORM.

What is the purpose of a literary analysis? To think BEYOND the darned CONTENT, avoiding getting into the games of "MEANING", "what the author wanted to say" and BEYOND the bloody positivism of "author's life and times" (which are important for general context, NOT for analysis per se) and reading that into the work.

 

Yes, that approach requires a bit of effort. OF COURSE that it is easier to focus on "personal joy", dry positivism, "what the author wanted to communicate", to beat endlessly anything in which you see a metaphore and interpret the things as you see fit, play with "significance for my life", etc. But that is a totally, completely wrong approach in my (personal and professional) view. Along with "playing sociology and psychology" (i.e. approaching the works studied from fundamentally non-literary (!) disciplines).

 

The purpose of a literary analysis is akin to a "dissection" of a kind. It requires a certain level of abstraction, the ability to see beyond content into its organization, to get certain subtleties of thought and even begin to distinguish the "how"s behind the work and how it is all put together.

 

A bad example of a title for a literary analysis of Don Quijote is "The Psychology of Don Quijote: Mad or Not?". In order to address such a topic from a *literary* standpoint one needs to do a lot of textual work that high schoolers do not do.

 

A good example of a title for a paper on Don Quijote is "The organizational relationship between short stories and a unity of a novel in Don Quijote". Now, THAT is something small, concrete, digestible, doable without being pretentious / silly / dry / personal. And then you talk: on the function of the inserted short stories in DQ, how they relate to the unity of work, on the theory of the genesis of longer prose forms from smaller units, then you bring up A Thousand and One Night and connect it to Decameron, add a bit of the history of novel as a genre, and write a nice lovely essay focusing on the FORM.

 

Now, you may say this is ideology speaking from me :tongue_smilie:, since I obviously favor one particular approach to a literary work. That is true too, but I really find most other things to be either in danger of becoming a gibberish, either personal (thus not in line with the discipline), either fundamentally non-literary (approaching the work based on isolated segments of content and its potential meaning or whatnot, society, sociology, etc., not approaching the work first as a specific intentional use of language, an art which employs language as its expressive medium).

 

Nobody cares about your joy. It is like math: you may enjoy it, you may not, *shrugs*. It is important to approach the discipline on its own terms nonetheless.

The point is not to bring about the love of reading. Your love of reading is your personal thing. And if systematically developed through education as one of its goals, it is done BEFORE high school.

The point is not to personally connect. You may click with a work or you may not, your problem.

 

Literary analysis is a device for saying that which can be said about a text and that which can be addressed in terms of the genesis of literature in general, its independent "history" and its forms, focusing specifically on the work you read. Other things mostly walk out of the discipline, if not done very well, which I have personally not seen on a high school level. I know pretty darn intelligent high schoolers from "academic" homes and nope, they cannot do it. They cannot assess things well while remaining in the discipline if they go with the "meaning", "Hamlet's madness", etc. It takes a higher level of intellect, knowledge, everything, a whole different developmental stage, to even begin to address those without entering the overpopulated sphere of pseudo-intellectualism and fashionable nonsense.

 

Anyhow, yes. It has its purpose. It should not be overdone and beaten to death, but it has its firm place in the high school curriculum to learn one more way of assessing things, handle certain cognitive subtleties, remove from literalism and content while not going to the other extreme ("meanings" etc.), figuring out how to handle "fluid" disciplines without the true-false rigidity that is present in other disciplines while remaining inside that discipline and not venturing into another one, etc. A very difficult task to carry out properly, actually, and it involves a great deal of challenge for many children (like in everything, there are those to whom it comes naturally too).

 

Off my soapbox now :D, but this is my view.

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What is the purpose of analyzing literature? And what is the purpose of learning to write a literary essay?

 

Thank you for asking a question I've been afraid to ask. I have never understood what the point was.

 

 

Wow! I am new to the forum and shocked at some of the scathing comments. First, thanks for asking an honest question. All true thinking begins with asking a question.

 

I am teaching my boys to analyze literature because I want them to learn to analyze everything. This is a first step in what I hope will be a lifelong quest to learn what is true and valuable. I believe (and am tempted to say that I know) that there is absolute truth. Our post-modern society denies that idea. Our kids grow up and are told nothing has meaning, not even words. I’m teaching stuff like geometry and literary analysis now, in order to teach them to think.

 

Learning the essay form is useful so they have an understanding of how to put together a logical response. Many people have important ideas to share, but their rambling methods of sharing their thoughts make finding those ideas too difficult.

 

Your kids are blessed to have moms who are humble enough to ask questions so that you can keep on learning.

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Literature is an ART. As such, it involves a certain level of SKILL, and certain principles of that skill (mind you, not that those are measurable by the criteria of hard sciences, but that is exactly another benefit: learning certain subtleties of thought involving principles). That which is fundamental in literature is NOT, for Heaven's sake, guys, it is NOT about WHAT is said as much as it is about HOW it is said. That which fundamentally distinguishes literary texts from non-literary texts is not their CONTENT, but their FORM.

 

The purpose of literature education in high school is exactly the mental switch from CONTENT-oriented reading (who, what, when, where, obvious-why) to FORM-oriented reading (how those are represented, using which techniques and even some amount of speculation behind the "why"s of that). There is also the issue of MEANING, and how specific ideologies are conveyed in texts, but in my opinion that is entirely a university-level thing, and a very mentally dangerous one, because it can easily go out of control into pseudo-analyses and talking nonsense, especially on this level of education. So I say disregard meaning, focus on the FORM - and do so in the context of general culture education, the traditional "landmarks" of the "landscape" typical for your culture and tieing it with other studies. Two birds with one stone.

 

Back to FORM.

What is the purpose of a literary analysis? To think BEYOND the darned CONTENT, avoiding getting into the games of "MEANING", "what the author wanted to say" and BEYOND the bloody positivism of "author's life and times" (which are important for general context, NOT for analysis per se) and reading that into the work.

 

Yes, that approach requires a bit of effort. OF COURSE that it is easier to focus on "personal joy", dry positivism, "what the author wanted to communicate", to beat endlessly anything in which you see a metaphore and interpret the things as you see fit, play with "significance for my life", etc. But that is a totally, completely wrong approach in my (personal and professional) view. Along with "playing sociology and psychology" (i.e. approaching the works studied from fundamentally non-literary (!) disciplines).

 

The purpose of a literary analysis is akin to a "dissection" of a kind. It requires a certain level of abstraction, the ability to see beyond content into its organization, to get certain subtleties of thought and even begin to distinguish the "how"s behind the work and how it is all put together.

 

A bad example of a title for a literary analysis of Don Quijote is "The Psychology of Don Quijote: Mad or Not?". In order to address such a topic from a *literary* standpoint one needs to do a lot of textual work that high schoolers do not do.

 

A good example of a title for a paper on Don Quijote is "The organizational relationship between short stories and a unity of a novel in Don Quijote". Now, THAT is something small, concrete, digestible, doable without being pretentious / silly / dry / personal. And then you talk: on the function of the inserted short stories in DQ, how they relate to the unity of work, on the theory of the genesis of longer prose forms from smaller units, then you bring up A Thousand and One Night and connect it to Decameron, add a bit of the history of novel as a genre, and write a nice lovely essay focusing on the FORM.

Whew! Well then, I learned something important today: I was never taught literary analysis (this is not exactly a surprise, considering the quality of the various English instructors I had, including the guy who purported to teach AP English). However, I might have enjoyed the type of analysis you describe - it sounds a lot more logical and concrete, something I could wrap my mind around. What a miracle that I ended up in law school, but what a shame my high school "education" was.

 

 Thanks for taking the time and effort to share your view. I really appreciate it!! It's kind of a relief, actually :).

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Whew! Well then, I learned something important today: I was never taught literary analysis (this is not exactly a surprise, considering the quality of the various English instructors I had, including the guy who purported to teach AP English). However, I might have enjoyed the type of analysis you describe - it sounds a lot more logical and concrete, something I could wrap my mind around. What a miracle that I ended up in law school, but what a shame my high school "education" was.

 

yikes - off to pick up some of the kids - I'll have to think some more on this... Thanks for taking the time and effort to share your view. I really appreciate it!! It's kind of a relief, actually :).

I believe that most people were not taught to write such analyses. Even my own lycee education was somewhat lacking at that aspect and happened to end up in positivism more than needed (and I will not deny that for some works you need some of the context-based reading - e.g. Dante can hardly be read outside of the context of its genesis - but those are minimal interventions in the big picture of things, and should not be the primary, emphasized point).

 

The moment you mentioned metaphores, I knew we were on the same page regarding our dislike of that approach :D, unfortunately, it does seem to be the approach that is generally pushed in most schools in Anglo-American world (and it is getting slowly to Europe too). A lot of kids, particularly brighter ones who often figure out that something is "odd" there, grow to detest any kind of intellectual dealing with literature, deciding it is all about a personal gain and emotional reaction... an approach I can understand, if one reads for pleasure. But in an academic context, where a certain amount of "intellectualization" of those things is needed and putting things in the context and the historical development of art, it is a mistake that they insist on it, IMO, because they only push kids away from it, and never consider them "capable", I suppose, of that. The second problem is that the current generation of educators, and maybe even the one before, has suffered greatly in their own academic formation and often lacks skills to approach literary analysis - and of course, one can hardly teach what one does not know. So they go on and on with dumbing down literature in schools.

 

I believe a lot of kids with analytic minds would enjoy such an analysis and studying literary works from that standpoint. It requires a different type of orientation in a discipline, a lot less "rigid" discipline and a sense of fluidity, yet with some subtle inner rules. It should be done somewhat similar the way Art History is studied in schools when an emphasis on technique is added, the development of technique throughout history, etc. Art education - from painting to music to, yes, literature - used to be a lot more "technic" in the past, emphasizing skill and form and the study of the chronological development of possible forms, rather than philosophizing - from the perspective of other disciplines! - on the content, as it happens today. The word art itself comes from the word which originally stood for craft, for skill, that is its lowest common denominator. The whole of crisis of 20th century has much to do with the shift from skill-based thinking to "meaning"-based thinking. It has its effects in teaching too, as all is basically submitted to the dictature of relativism. But if I get there, I will end up in another soapbox, so I will keep my mouth shut. :D

 

I do not wonder at all why many people pose this question, why is it important, etc. - I would pose it too. I am just sad with the situation in education in the past two generations. I have my little theories and speculations on how and why things went wrong, but that would require a book LOL.

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I think what very little literary analysis I was taught, I was taught by my mother as she read out loud to us and pointed out what she admired about how the books were constructed or worded.

 

I did that automatically for my children when I was reading a picture book to them. I pointed out something about the illustrations, something like how this book used dull colours on the page or how this book only showed the grownups' legs with the rest of their body off the page or how this story wouldn't work if you didn't have the illustrations because they told the other half of the story but that story had pictures that said the same thing as the words. We discussed why the author or illustrator had chosen to do it that way. My children usually had good guesses, sometimes better than mine. One day, as I was doing that, I realized that literary analysis was the same thing but with the words. After that, I tried to point out things about the choices that the author made when he or she was writing. By then, we were doing Writing Strands, which I know many people here dislike but which I found worked to show my children about these choices (despite its examples being so badly written that even my children noticed). At that point, I still didn't have a label for those choices. I just had figured out that we could discuss choices about words just like about pictures. As my children got older, I decided that we weren't going to do literary analysis - my children weren't going to be writers and I refused to have anything to do with teaching symbolism. My literal-minded boys weren't going to cooperate and I hated it and couldn't teach it. I didn't even understand why anybody would possibly want to write papers about literature. Somebody here on the boards answered that question by telling me that it was people who were interested in literature having a conversation with each other, a very slow, asychronous conversation via published papers in professional journals. That made sense, but I didn't see why my children needed to be able to do it. Then we got to high school and began great books. Much better to read The Odyssey and Beowulf which I knew my boys would like than things like A Separate Peace, which went completely over my head, or Steinbeck, which depressed me no end, or horrors of things like The Pit and the Pendulum. I gave my son How to Read Literature Like an English Prof (or whatever it was called) in case he was interested, and we got TWEM and answered the questions. By the time we finished answering the questions for a work, we had a much better appreciation for what the author was trying to achieve and how he chose to do it. I still don't call what we do literary analysis and nobody can write well enough really to write a literary analysis paper, including myself, but I am beginning to have a glimmer that what I thought was literary analysis and refused to have anything to do with might not be the only kind of literary analysis out there, and that at least one kind, Ester Maria's kind, is something that my boys and I, even literal and engineering-minded as we are, actually are able to appreciate.

 

-nan

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. I gave my son How to Read Literature Like an English Prof (or whatever it was called) in case he was interested, and we got TWEM and answered the questions. By the time we finished answering the questions for a work, we had a much better appreciation for what the author was trying to achieve and how he chose to do it. I still don't call what we do literary analysis and nobody can write well enough really to write a literary analysis paper, including myself, but I am beginning to have a glimmer that what I thought was literary analysis and refused to have anything to do with might not be the only kind of literary analysis out there, and that at least one kind, Ester Maria's kind, is something that my boys and I, even literal and engineering-minded as we are, actually are able to appreciate and respect.

 

-nan

 

Yes, that is what we did too. I don't know if it could be called literary analysis, but we did try and understand what the author was trying to say and how he was saying it.

 

I want to go to Ester Maria's house and have her teach me! I love what Ester Maria has to say about true literary analysis.

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I have some books on the Bible as literature. I think they help me understand the Bible better. I have some books on teaching the literary elements to older students using picture books, that are meant to help students learn to write better.

 

PS English classes are centered on reading fiction. So the English teacher automatically uses what is being studied as a writing prompt. I'm not a big fan of literature analysis essays. Yes, an occasional literature or art or music analysis essay is good, but I tend to spread writing assignments out over all the subjects instead focusing on literature analysis.

 

I'm a big believer in not "chasing the wind" when it comes to education. Solomon says there is no end to the writing of books and study. I think a lot of literature analysis can turn into "chasing the wind" :-0

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Analyzing literature and writing a literary analysis essay are two different skills. I think the first is an important skill, as it gives insight into the art and into human nature.

 

But the second? I'm not so sure that's as important. I think it's become a large part of the English curriculum just because teachers are looking for ways to teach kids to write, and writing about what you've just read might seem to be the easiest way to find a topic. But a lot of kids don't see the point of writing such essays because they can't come up with anything new to say about the piece of literature. If they can't come up with anything original, then they know they're just parroting back what they were told, and a lot of kids balk at that. Or, if they do come up with something original, they're afraid the teacher won't appreciate it because it's not one of the "accepted" interpretations. Or it may only be a small idea that doesn't support a full blown five paragraph essay, which makes the whole endeavor very painful (write the original idea and have an essay that will get a bad grade because it's too short? Or parrot an idea the teacher fed you and get the full five paragraphs?)

 

So I think that while literary analysis is a fine thing to cover, I've never really obsessed about the literary analysis essay. We've done a few, when the kids came up with enough to write about, but we haven't done nearly as many as they probably "ought" to have done.

 

BTW -- in my daughter's college composition class, the professor told them he would accept almost any format EXCEPT the five paragraph essay. It was kind of nice to hear this sort of validation. I've always thought the classic five paragraph form was a bit clunky and didn't adapt to what was being said. It's also really hard to write one that isn't just flat out boring -- and repetitive. He was trying to get them to find their own voice, and to write in a way that was best for their ideas, rather than to cram it all into the standard form they'd been taught in high school.

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The moment you mentioned metaphores, I knew we were on the same page regarding our dislike of that approach :D,

 

What? !! Oh Ester Maria, you have just made my day!

 

I have always been a reader and was told in high school that I ought to take the literature class. Fortunately for me, I realised that class was not about reading, but writing. And I knew that Rosies don't like to write essays about how the wind moving through the trees meant the heroine had a restless spirit. :ack2:

 

How about that. I could have been Englishy after all. :001_huh:

 

So I should keep plugging away with WEM then?

 

Rosie

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As someone else in the field...

 

Literary analysis in the most narrow sense is a subset of the larger field of rhetoric. You can confine it to the structural analysis of a special "literary" group of texts -- particularly short stories, poetry, longer fiction, drama -- and think of it as how language works in these particular texts, how the texts are structured.

 

Or you can open it up, as "revisionists" do, to other kinds of texts or even other forms of media; to historical context; to issues of gender, class, and race; to the history of canon formation; to the history of print culture and the publishing industry; to continuations or spin-offs of the original; to letters between the author and readers of the time; to a wide variety of other approaches and contexts. None of these approaches mean that formal analysis is necessarily tossed by the wayside, that all revisionist analysis necessarily becomes personal or misguided or takes isolated bits of text and warps them to fit political agendas. In fact, the best of these practices use formal analysis to understand how meaning is produced through language in specific historical and political contexts. They can combine literary history with the analysis of literary forms, style, and structure.

 

Literary analysis of the narrower, formalist kind, dealing exclusively with conventional literary categories, can be very intellectually satisfying for those of us who are that way inclined. I learned to love poetic analysis, for instance, and now it seems to me a geeky kind of fascination, along the lines of a logician's playing with a Rubik's cube. Poetry is a compressed puzzle; you take it apart and see what all the (formal) bits are and how they go together, then you put it back together for an intellectual buzz as the pieces almost audibly click. You see how the poetic elements construct and carry the meaning -- how the poetry works to make its meaning through formal aspects like tone, the choice of speaker, stanza form, inverted phrasing, enjambment, imagery, etc. It can be spectacularly satisfying to see how novels and drama work in much the same fashion, like the "Aha!" moments in science or math.

 

Even though I have a PhD in literature, however, I would never claim that literary analysis in the most narrow sense, dealing only with "literary" texts, is something all kids must necessarily know how to do, much less to spend years practicing. (Pause for shock and horror.) As Anna Quindlen argues eloquently in her essays on reading, people come to literary texts for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with meaning -- whether that meaning is a platform for escape, for seeking solace, for widening one's world, for finding kindred spirits, for enjoying eloquent language. For some of these readers, learning the fine points of literary analysis will greatly enhance their pleasure and understanding. For others, it will not; that is not what they are looking for. Even some high school students might be better served by a history of philosophical thought, by putting a particular poem or novel in the context of a history of ideas. They might be better served by a discussion of character, by the fascinating questions of a character's sanity, or discontent, or ethical choices. Again, this does not mean that they should eschew issues of form and content; the meaning of a literary text is constructed and conveyed through its formal characteristics. But neither should they have to be restricted to only those formal characteristics.

 

Rhetorical analysis has been largely limited to literary analysis and to literary texts within the framework of schools and curricula -- for a number of reasons, including the fact that writing by and large has been delegated to the realm of "English," and English teachers usually become English teachers because they love novels, poetry, and memoirs (to judge from what crops up most often in curricula). I think it needs to be opened up again to a much wider range of texts and contexts. I'd argue for a larger understanding of a rhetorical approach to all kinds of text, from opinion pieces to blogs to articles in science magazines, from political speeches to advertising to how movies are put together, from novels and poems to persuasive articles and journalism.

 

Kids DO need to know how language can be used and abused; how it can manipulate, cover over, expose, reveal; why some people are offended by specific words (think of the recent edition of Huckleberry Finn which replaced the "n" word with "slave"). They need to understand that playing around with how a sentence is constructed can change its emotional impact on readers, that people can be convinced of an argument's truth simply because of how it is worded or ordered, and a host of other things. They need to understand these things because they will live in a world in which fiction and non-fiction writers, advertisers, zealots, journalists, politicians, and a host of others bombard them with words aimed at seducing their opinions, their money, their votes, their allegiance... or with tactics that depend on their ignorance.

 

Literary fanatics (and I include myself here; it's not derogatory) may prefer one kind of analysis or approach over the others, naturally. But to claim that the way one individual prefers is The Great Right Way and that every other approach is misguided or downright wrong strikes me as the same as claiming one individual has exclusive access to historical truth, and that every historian who disagrees with him or her is politically motivated or intellectually dishonest (or just inferior). It also grossly lumps together and mischaracterizes what revisionist literary analysts and historians actually do.

 

So -- traditional, formalist literary analysis can be a lot of intellectual fun and a tremendous intellectual discipline; but so can other approaches. Literary analysis can help kids understand how texts are put together; but it needn't be confined to "literary" genres to have that effect. Literary analysis can be confined to the structural and linguistic aspects of a text; or it can be used to explore how meaning is created, clarified, obscured, or otherwise manipulated through structure and style. It can be used as a kind of microscope to look into the literary world, or as a telescope to look out into the wider textual world. All these things are useful, all can be challenging and satisfying.

 

The question the OP asked is a great one, and I've tried to give one answer that distinguishes between "literary" vs. "rhetorical" analysis and that refers to different bodies of texts. I make no claims that one is truer, higher, more sophisticated, or somehow better than another -- my post on the high school writing thread deals specifically with conventional formalist literary analysis of a poem. I do think that people interested in education should be exposed to both, think about both, and come to their own conclusions about what approach, or what mix of approaches, will best serve the interests and needs of the kids they teach.

 

Edited to add: I toss this out there for the purposes of opening up discussion for anyone interested. I am not going to be responding or further engaging. If you have a question, you can PM me.

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A few thoughts related to Karen's reply.

along the lines of a logician's playing with a Rubik's cube.

This analogy cracked me up :), but yes, it is in a way similar to that and it serves beautifully those of us who are, like Nan said, more "engineer-minded".

As Anna Quindlen argues eloquently in her essays on reading, people come to literary texts for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with meaning -- whether that meaning is a platform for escape, for seeking solace, for widening one's world, for finding kindred spirits, for enjoying eloquent language. For some of these readers, learning the fine points of literary analysis will greatly enhance their pleasure and understanding. For others, it will not; that is not what they are looking for. Even some high school students might be better served by a history of philosophical thought, by putting a particular poem or novel in the context of a history of ideas. They might be better served by a discussion of character, by the fascinating questions of a character's sanity, or discontent, or ethical choices. Again, this does not mean that they should eschew issues of form and content; the meaning of a literary text is constructed and conveyed through its formal characteristics. But neither should they have to be restricted to only those formal characteristics.

I agree that various people come to texts for various different reasons, might profit from various ways of reading those texts and might naturally be inclined to focus on different aspects.

 

But then - and here Karen and I most likely differ - I go back to the context of dealing with those texts (which is general education, language-and-literature classes) and conclude that, in spite of those things, there still is an approach to be preferred: the one which emphasizes formal qualities of the work in question, interwoven with a bit of historical context.

 

This is not necessarily to rule out other possible approaches... but, maybe, not in language-and-literature classes. The same literary work may be used multiple times for multiple goals in mind - I can use Crime and Punishment for a literature class, a psychology class, a sociology or politics class, and each of those times my reading will be different. My preference is a result of the context in which reading takes place: I do not believe the focus on "psychology" or "sociology" (I should also note that I do not use those as derogatory terms, but simply referring to the sphere of a whole different discipline) should occur in language-and-literature lessons, even if preceded by the formalist considerations. A focus on Raskolnikov as a character, as a complex psychology, the study of the development of his guilt and "illness", etc., is something I would really do, with passion, but if I were to read Crime and Punishment in the context of a class belonging to a different discipline, i.e. psychology.

 

Likewise, many works can be used to start excellent philosophical discussions - C&P too... but, once more, in my view, that is "walking out of discipline" as I firmly believe that high school language and literature classes should remain language and literature classes, i.e. focus on what is philological (when applicable) and what is literary about the works studied, rather than what is philosophical about them. I learned this distinction the trial-and-error way myself, being a type of person naturally prone to toying with ideas - and what happened was that I was returned a paper (on, coincidentally, a piece of Russian literature :)) for having written a *philosophy* paper, rather than a *literary* analysis. For having "misplaced" the focus onto something which is under the scrutiny of a different discipline... And I grew to agree with it. Thus my insistence on a particular approach in high school language-and-literature classes.

They need to understand that playing around with how a sentence is constructed can change its emotional impact on readers, that people can be convinced of an argument's truth simply because of how it is worded or ordered, and a host of other things. They need to understand these things because they will live in a world in which fiction and non-fiction writers, advertisers, zealots, journalists, politicians, and a host of others bombard them with words aimed at seducing their opinions, their money, their votes, their allegiance... or with tactics that depend on their ignorance.

These things are related to language and in my view are valid concerns in language classes, though many people (I among them) tend to group formal and informal logic with philosophy (usually as a "prelude") and address these issues within those disciplines. Personally I opt for grammar / linguistics and some stylistic concerns in language classes, while addressing all sorts of skillful manipulation of language for rhetorical purposes (including formal and informal logic fallacies) as a part of "pre-philosophy", so to speak - and then continue on that thread of thought with philosophy.

But to claim that the way one individual prefers is The Great Right Way and that every other approach is misguided or downright wrong strikes me as the same as claiming one individual has exclusive access to historical truth, and that every historian who disagrees with him or her is politically motivated or intellectually dishonest (or just inferior). It also grossly lumps together and mischaracterizes what revisionist literary analysts and historians actually do.

I see some of these issues differently too. Many people, I among them, happen not to have a "relative" view of certain things... the idea that there are many possible valid approaches to something (within the same discipline) is also only an idea, and such it is not more and not less ideology-based than my "rigidity" in this camp that there is, in fact, a right way of doing things within the discipline. Both are fundamentally ideological stances and, in reality, there is little difference between them. :)

 

I also do not find that people who disagree with me necessarily do so because of an agenda, inferior scholarship, intellectual dishonesty... many of them are convinced that what they are doing is a valid option. But note that I still have a right to restrict my view of things and my view of validity of approaches to a more narrow definition, just like Karen has a right to broaden it, as much as it will look like "walking out of discipline" to me.

 

I am not even sure I agree with Karen's examples of history revisionism, for example. A better example, in my view, would be not disgareeing with a particular *view* in history, but with a particular *method* of attaining those views in the first place. Here we have a disagreement not regarding what is a "correct" interpretation of C&P, but regarding on the basis of what, exactly, do we conduct any kind of interpretation in the first place. Here Karen seems to take a multiplicity of possible options, while I define it in a rather narrow sense.

I do think that people interested in education should be exposed to both, think about both, and come to their own conclusions about what approach, or what mix of approaches, will best serve the interests and needs of the kids they teach.

Finally, I agree with Karen too here - that books should be read in many ways, and that many ways of thinking about them and their various elements should be fostered throughout education. I just disagree they should be read in all those ways in a language-and-literature context where I put high school English, as I find some of those ways to be fundamentally belonging to other disciplines... and, consequently, if tackled outside of the broad context of those disciplines, that they too often end up in what I described earlier using rather strong words such as pretention, pseudo-philosophy/psychology/etc. (being outside of the broad context of the discipline), or just plain personal reflections which, in my view, can be wonderful and conductive to amazing personally valuable insights, but simply do not belong into a classroom. Or a homeschool classroom, in our case. I do, and unabashedly so, consider it a "wrong" approach in that context. :)

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As someone else in the field...

 

Literary analysis in the most narrow sense is a subset of the larger field of rhetoric. You can confine it to the structural analysis of a special "literary" group of texts -- particularly short stories, poetry, longer fiction, drama -- and think of it as how language works in these particular texts, how the texts are structured.

 

Or you can open it up, as "revisionists" do, to other kinds of texts or even other forms of media; to historical context; to issues of gender, class, and race; to the history of canon formation; to the history of print culture and the publishing industry; to continuations or spin-offs of the original; to letters between the author and readers of the time; to a wide variety of other approaches and contexts. None of these approaches mean that formal analysis is necessarily tossed by the wayside, that all revisionist analysis necessarily becomes personal or misguided or takes isolated bits of text and warps them to fit political agendas. In fact, the best of these practices use formal analysis to understand how meaning is produced through language in specific historical and political contexts. They can combine literary history with the analysis of literary forms, style, and structure.

 

I am so glad you brought the conversation back toward a broader look at how to use literary analysis in a homeschool setting. I plan to print out your professional :) ideas to give me more ways to approach literature.

 

I just disagree they should be read in all those ways in a language-and-literature context where I put high school English, as I find some of those ways to be fundamentally belonging to other disciplines... and, consequently, if tackled outside of the broad context of those disciplines, that they too often end up in what I described earlier using rather strong words such as pretention, pseudo-philosophy/psychology/etc. (being outside of the broad context of the discipline), or just plain personal reflections which, in my view, can be wonderful and conductive to amazing personally valuable insights, but simply do not belong into a classroom. Or a homeschool classroom, in our case. I do, and unabashedly so, consider it a "wrong" approach in that context. :)

 

I'm glad some folks are inspired by your ideas, and that you've provided just the thing for them to relate to literature study again. However, I would hate for others to be intimidated into forcing their children through dry-as-dust terms and essays that, as one of the first posters pointed out, might only be useful to the small group of folks who end up in literary analysis as a career. And as Karen Anne mentioned, even those students might not limited their lit study to such a narrow focus.

 

When evaluating whether my students "must" do a certain body of work during high school (whether math/science or literature/arts), I like to look at the greats in that field and ask myself, did they become great because they were forced to follow one tiny, narrow, scholarly, and unimaginative path? Or did they develop passions in their youth by following their own ideas and enthusiasms? I can't think of any great master of the English language who followed such a precise course as you have outlined.

 

Even in my oldest son's engineering school, it was looked upon unfavorably when students had spent their entire lives on academics and books, as followers in a narrow scope of thinking. Also in his actual employment as an engineer, communication and flexibility and new ideas are very important for promotion. I think English class is where students have an opportunity to practice that kind of communication. And literature gives students something to communicate about, as well as a common cultural experience to use in communicating ideas. Fostering that type of experience and shared understanding, getting students to think deeper than just noticing surface events, is the main point of "literary analysis and essays" in my homeschool. And no amount of strict instruction is going to result in my particular children improving their communication skills and literary base by writing an essay entitled, "The organizational relationship between short stories and a unity of a novel in Don Quijote"

 

If a student is fortunate, I think a teacher will introduce formal components in any course, but will allow the student to develop their thoughts and ideas further than a straightjacket of formal study. Sure, a student ideally will study the basics until they are mastered. But alongside of that, their interests can be nurtured through encouragement to observe, to notice, to look more deeply.

 

Nobody cares about your joy. It is like math: you may enjoy it, you may not, *shrugs*. It is important to approach the discipline on its own terms nonetheless.

 

I beg to differ. My oldest might be your type of student, since he is an academic rule-follower, and finds a certain amount of satisfaction in that. But my youngest is better served by approaching math from many angles. He did a rigorous basic facts study, to be sure. But alongside of that, he was exploring math in its natural setting, such as store owners giving discounts (Singapore math), math tricks and definitions (Math U See), and math challenges that were way beyond his level (math team and math competition). If I had restricted him to only doing the basics until they were mastered, and had shrugged when he said he hated math, then where would he be now? Hating math, no doubt at all in my mind. And yes, his older, rule-following brother is quite successful in math. But my youngest can run circles around him in some areas, such as solving complex multi-step problems in his head.

 

For the OP or anyone who felt chastised by the strong criticisms earlier in the thread, I hope folks are encouraged to give their kids diverse ways to grow in their "English" studies. Literature analysis in the strictest sense, including all those terms that do bore me as well (metaphors, symbolism), are simply tools or basic skills. To me, a true "English" course uses many tools to give students a way to accurately communicate. But to accomplish this goal, they must also jump in and explore ideas and attempt communicating them -- long before they are good at it.

 

Julie

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The purpose of a literary analysis is akin to a "dissection" of a kind.

I think the comparison of literary analysis to “dissection†is an interesting one. To me, it suggests a view of literature not as a living, growing, centuries-long conversation between writers and readers, but as a collection of preserved specimens, with literary analysis functioning as a sort of lab report, which is either done correctly or it isn’t. Did the student make the correct incisions? Are the parts properly labeled?

 

IMHO, to say that the study of literature within an English class must be limited to formal, technical analysis and must at all costs avoid discussions of meaning or personal engagement with the work, misses the point of art. To me, art is a conversation between the artist and the reader or viewer; artists make art as a way of transferring their thoughts and feelings and beliefs to others. I don’t imagine many authors sit down to write thinking “I don’t care if anyone enjoys or understands or is moved my novel/poem/play/short story — as long as a handful of grad students do a thorough structural analysis someday, I’ll know all my effort was worth while.†I think that getting students to really engage with the work — not just scalpel it into little technical pieces — is entirely in keeping with the artist/writer's intention in creating the work.

 

Nobody cares about your joy.

Oh, but some of us do care. For some people, personal response, historical background, cultural context, contemporary relevance, etc., are all legitimate components of a HS Literature class, along with the study of structure and technique. All of these things can contribute to a deeper appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of literature — and, yes, that is my goal.

 

I also don’t understand the idea that academic “subjects†must be rigorously divided into separate disciplines and only approached from within the box of that particular discipline — no crossover allowed. Most of the really interesting courses I had in college and grad school were interdisciplinary courses or seminars, and I always appreciated the new insights and ideas that can be gleaned from approaching a topic from new perspectives. I think interdisciplinary studies can provide a cross-pollination of ideas that keeps disciplines from becoming stagnant and fossilized.

 

Jackie

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Analysis is important in all its aspects. A habit of analysis - whether it's a critical reading of original documents in history, an investigation of the assumptions underlying an experiment, or an appreciation of sound in Keats - is a large part of later school education.

 

Laura

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Even in my oldest son's engineering school, it was looked upon unfavorably when students had spent their entire lives on academics and books, as followers in a narrow scope of thinking. Also in his actual employment as an engineer, communication and flexibility and new ideas are very important for promotion. I think English class is where students have an opportunity to practice that kind of communication. And literature gives students something to communicate about, as well as a common cultural experience to use in communicating ideas. Fostering that type of experience and shared understanding, getting students to think deeper than just noticing surface events, is the main point of "literary analysis and essays" in my homeschool.

I generally do not find the two - "dry books" and creativity - to be mutually exclusive; every time when we get to these discussions it seems like such a false dichotomy to me. I simply believe that there is a time and a place for everything, and that "a classroom" (in the narrow sense - the time and the place where you do the formal aspect of your schooling) is not for some of those. I view classroom as a time and a place for some of that "rigidity" in terms of getting to know the discipline "on its terms", in its development... I do not think that formalism in a classroom does not allow for any of the other things we talked about (personal connection, approaches from other disciplines, etc.) - on the contrary... I often find that one can viscerally enjoy art even more after an experience of a formal analysis and a historical approach to it (any art, I apply this also to music, visual arts, etc.), just like I do not believe that a person's capacity to simply enjoy nature will be handicapped by a formal science course of studies. In fact, I am often surprised why literature, of all things, seems to be that one which is exluded from such an approach. I doubt anyone would argue against a "formalist" music or art education, focusing on technique and its historical development, or a "formalist" approach to science and the emphasis of a certain method, but literature seems to be that area which everyone wishes to "beseige", by introducing approaches which fundamentally stem from other disciplines or just by going "personal" with it. Literature education, from what I gather, used to be a lot more "technical" in the previous centuries as well.

If I had restricted him to only doing the basics until they were mastered, and had shrugged when he said he hated math, then where would he be now?

I still do not understand, Julie, why would you view it as a restriction.

I do not forbid my daughters to do whatever they wish with literature (or math, or any other field) in their free time. I do not even, as some might think, imply that other approaches are "lesser" and not do be done ever. The only thing I require, when we sit down "formally" to "do school", is that a certain approach be favored. Outside of the school "boundaries" (invisible ones in our case), they are not "restricted" (even within school boundaries they would not be restricted if they could successfully elaborate on why their particular approach is literary, or is scientific, even if not my first idea on how to do something). I do not assume fragility, that they would grow to hate Italian / math / you name it, if the approach favored in the formal study of the discipline is not their preferred approach. At this age, I assume they will have maturity needed to mentally separate the two, not to equal "school" with the totality of one's learning. And then, I am always willing to sit down with a child who is interested in more than they are required, in different than they are required, to work with them, discuss with them or oversee their progress... only not when we "do school". Like I said, a time and a place for everything, and this is what worked for me as a child, and what works beautifully for my children now.

 

Some of you might be shocked upon learning what things I did discuss with them... some of those things might not be my approaches at all. Some of them might well outside of my comfort zone and that made it interesting conversations. From some characters' psychology, to divine/human laws in Antigone, to "sociology" in My Name is Asher Lev, even to subversive Renaissance once ;), and I suppose that many of that is yet to come. But again, that is not "school" in our house, those are rabbit traits that "do not count" in the formal sense (of course they "count" educationally, for one's personal culture and broadening of their horizons, but not as formal school), those are not literary points of view. We may tie them to some other study area, if applicable, or we may not and simply consider it an elegant way to beguile some time.

misses the point of art.

I am not sure... Firstly, it is very problematic to talk of "points" of art in the first place (not that you are doing so, mind you, you are stating a purely personal view - I am talking generally now). I am not even sure I would agree with a view which primarily emphasizes communication... I view art as a skill, as a craft, if you wish (think of history of arts and how the status of the artist changed), and an art education as something which is, in its nature, rather "technical". But if something is "technical", it does not necessarily foster a black-and-white way of thinking, it is "technical" in a different sense of the word, technical in a sense that there are some underlying formal principles and a type of talking about that, which might even allow for a great flexibility within that. For example, that paper on DQ could be written in a plethora of ways, all of which are formalist and satisfy my criteria, but which accentuate such different things or make such different parallels. It is not a correct-and-wrong type of thinking, but more a type of thinking that if something can be said about art "scientifically", from the point of view of theory, it focuses on certain aspects of the work. There is still a variety, we have only narrowed down what we talk about.

I don’t imagine many authors sit down to write thinking “I don’t care if anyone enjoys or understands or is moved my novel/poem/play/short story — as long as a handful of grad students do a thorough structural analysis someday, I’ll know all my effort was worth while.†I think that getting students to really engage with the work — not just scalpel it into little technical pieces — is entirely in keeping with the artist/writer's intention in creating the work.

I see this differently. I see being moved as a personal reaction, not a subject of an analysis. The same way I may faint in front of some of Caravaggio's paintings as a purely visceral reaction and the same way I may enjoy nature on a field trip, "communicating" with the landscape, flowers, resting my eyes on the lake, and just living the moment.

 

But if I am to talk formally about art, or scientifically about nature, I need to change the focus. I need to get back to myself, first, switch off some of the feeling, and turn on my ratio - then I can only begin an analysis of a kind. All of theory, in any camp, is essentially "inserting" ratio there where ratio originally was not the primary mode of communication, be it science (think of how science emerges from philosophy, which is already a different way of communication with the world and explanation of it than a myth) or art. I believe that too much emphasis is put, in the school system, on personal connections, not because I find those inherently less valuable, but because I find them not belonging to that milieu. A time and a place for everything... and school is a time and a place for certain things; within it, different subjects are a time and a place to deal with diverse (or same!) things from different angles. None of which is a purely personal communication where engagement is primary. I do not speak against that engagement, but against an emphasis on that engagement in a formal academic setting.

For some people, personal response, historical background, cultural context, contemporary relevance, etc., are all legitimate components of a HS Literature class, along with the study of structure and technique.

But, barring personal response, all of those are components of literature classes. :confused: If we talk more broadly (but still within literature classes), not specifically about how a literary analysis is to be approached, all of those aspects are touched upon - historical background, especially if one ties literature with history and opts for a chronological approach; cultural context, consequently, as you studied some of that culture too; contemporary relevance is always tangentally discussed as the question arises why are those works read in the first place, how did our national tradition make them a commonplace in education and art in the first place, etc. Those might not be a primary focus of a literature education, the focus will still be on what is literary about those works (rather than on what is historical / sociological / etc. about those works), but they are touched upon for the sake of a broader educational context within which literature education takes place.

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I also don’t understand the idea that academic “subjects†must be rigorously divided into separate disciplines and only approached from within the box of that particular discipline — no crossover allowed. Most of the really interesting courses I had in college and grad school were interdisciplinary courses or seminars, and I always appreciated the new insights and ideas that can be gleaned from approaching a topic from new perspectives.

And that is fine, too - but if formally it is acknowledged. If we do not call it "native language and literature" classes, but if we accentuate that we are talking about an interdisciplinary course, with a probably different title, a seminar which is "out of box". And, like you point out, those are exactly university type of things more than something in a high school. I find it important to learn disciplines separately before one mixes and matches and "finds oneself". To break off in finding your voice, you need to have something to break off from. First one learns the "grammar" and the "logic" of each discipline, then proceeds onto learning the 'inner' "rhetoric", learning to communicate about it while staying within it, and then one, as a part of one's higher academic formation, studying what they are interested in, mixes and matches and dialogues with one's previous education and 'destroys' it to build on it and handle the pieces differently, finds what they wish to do about it. University, in my opinion, is exactly a time and a place for that :), but in order for that to be truly successful, I find there must be a pre-established basis.

 

That basis is hard to systematically make up for later... When the only thing one has to break off in the first places are bits and pieces without a structure, if one wishes to build a structure, it must be very, very difficult. On the other hand, a structure if flexible, adaptable, it does not require a building-anew of everything, making an order inside a "chaos".

 

I am a heretic in many aspects, as much as some of you will find it hard to believe. For one, I greatly prefer analytical philosophy to the continental tradition, yet I was educated within the latter. (I am also not a 100% formalist when it comes my own (not as-a-teacher) approach to literature.) But to make those switches was easy: I had the historical context down, the "logic" of the discipline down, it was only the matter of "upgrading" of a kind. Likewise, when one learns literature in a historical context with a formalist bent, switching to gender and class readings is merely an issue of a switch of perspective - the context is there. It gets broadened, of course, but one has the initial tools to start with. But if one has seminar-style classes in high school and wishes to build a coherent structure later, I am not sure how smoothly that goes. What I do know is that I have met a lot of people who regret not having had that "compartmentalized", "rigid" education within each discipline as children, while surprisingly little people who regret having had that. Sure, one breaks off and disagrees with some of that tradition, but I still find an inherent value in teaching that tradition in such a structured way.

 

And on a slightly personal P.S...

I cannot help it, Jackie and Julie :) - I do have very definite views of how things should be done. I rely on the ability of readers to understand that I obviously come from one specific tradition, with a set of specific biases, from a specific 'ideology' behind education (and, consequently, literary education - which I view that must be fundamentally "technical" and chronological with a national focus in a broader context, amongst some other things), which does not happen to correspond to that which seems to be the mainstream in the Anglo-American world, and that I obviously, after the initial youth crises, adhered to what might be viewed as somewhere on the "right wing" of classical education / this particular educational model / education in general rather than its "left wing". I cannot emphasize those each and every time I write, I have to assume that people will be able to emotionally disassociate, not feeling "attacked" when I write about how I believe literary analysis (or anything, for that matter) should be done and then be able to filter through things in accordance with their own views and goals... like you are doing now. I will still consider that a fundamentally non-literary approach and thus that there is a different time and/or a different 'place' for it, but while disagreeing with you "professionally", I can "personally" be happy that you obviously find something else which works you. And I can totally separate those two in my mind :), still not consider what you do formally 'valid' from my point of view (in this particular context, high school language and literature classes), but be content that you are happy with it. So, peace. :)

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... every time when we get to these discussions it seems like such a false dichotomy to me. I simply believe that there is a time and a place for everything, and that "a classroom" (in the narrow sense - the time and the place where you do the formal aspect of your schooling) is not for some of those.

 

...The only thing I require, when we sit down "formally" to "do school", is that a certain approach be favored. ... I am always willing to sit down with a child who is interested in more than they are required, in different than they are required, to work with them, discuss with them or oversee their progress... only not when we "do school".

 

...that is not "school" in our house, those are rabbit traits that "do not count" in the formal sense

For some of us, though, this is a false dichotomy — that only the most formal, technical aspects of education, divorced from personal engagement and joy, count as "school." Many people (especially homeschoolers) simply don't compartmentalize learning that way.

 

And that is fine, too - but if formally it is acknowledged. If we do not call it "native language and literature" classes, but if we accentuate that we are talking about an interdisciplinary course, with a probably different title, a seminar which is "out of box". And, like you point out, those are exactly university type of things more than something in a high school.

I think the fact that most US students have to wait until college to take these sorts of courses is primarily the result of a public education system that is obsessed with standardized lists of testable factoids and oblivious to the importance of connections and context. Many private prep schools do offer interdisciplinary courses at the HS level; the Theory of Knowledge course that is part of the IB program is a good example, combining philosophy/epistemology with art, literature, history, science, and social science.

 

...But if one has seminar-style classes in high school and wishes to build a coherent structure later, I am not sure how smoothly that goes. What I do know is that I have met a lot of people who regret not having had that "compartmentalized", "rigid" education within each discipline as children, while surprisingly little people who regret having had that.

Interesting — I've had the opposite experience. I've found that people who had a rigid, compartmentalized education sometimes had difficulty getting out of those boxes in interdisciplinary seminars. And for people who naturally make connections and look at things from a variety of disciplines and approaches, a rigid, compartmentalized education can feel stifling.

 

And on a slightly personal P.S...

I cannot help it, Jackie and Julie :) - I do have very definite views of how things should be done. I rely on the ability of readers to understand that I obviously come from one specific tradition, with a set of specific biases, from a specific 'ideology' behind education (and, consequently, literary education - which I view that must be fundamentally "technical" and chronological ... I cannot emphasize those each and every time I write, I have to assume that people will be able to emotionally disassociate, not feeling "attacked" when I write...

I'm sure many people here do understand that you come from a very specific tradition, and that your views represent that tradition, but some may not (there are a lot of newbies here, both to WTM in general and to the HS board). I think it can have a chilling effect when someone posts quite forcefully that literary analysis, or schooling in general, must be done a certain way and must include certain topics/works/approaches and must exclude certain other topics/works/approaches, and that the alternatives are simply "nonsense," "pretentious," "pseudo-intellectual," etc. Someone who doesn't have a background in that area may not realize that there are other — equally "professional" — opinions and approaches.

 

Obviously there's a fundamental irreconcilability between the belief that different approaches work for different families and there is no one "right" way to educate our children (what you would call "relativism"), and the belief that one family's approach to education is inherently and objectively the "best," most "correct" approach. But I agree that this is a difference of opinion and isn't personal. :)

 

Jackie

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For some of us, though, this is a false dichotomy — that only the most formal, technical aspects of education, divorced from personal engagement and joy, count as "school."

Perhaps it is simply an issue of labels? I call "school" only the formal part of one's education, while "education" as a totality of learning is a different concept for me, not confined to any particular educational model, institution or "institution" of homeschooling. With homeschoolers the two will often intersect in time - it is not that I tell my children that I am willing to talk to them about some things only in the evenings, but not in the mornings - but I still mentally separate them when I talk about them. Maybe we should keep this in mind, in fact I believe I already told you on some occasions that if we were to actually compare what our discussions with our DC look like, we might be surprised how similar they are in their structure, we just talk from different angles when we talk about it here.

I think the fact that most US students have to wait until college to take these sorts of courses is primarily the result of a public education system that is obsessed with standardized lists of testable factoids and oblivious to the importance of connections and context. Many private prep schools do offer interdisciplinary courses at the HS level

The standardized-testing-oriented culture of the US is something I have a hard time trying to wrap my mind about myself, actually... In Italy it is a fairly new thing, even standardized exit exams for high schools on the national level are a fairly new thing. But even if I see a correlation between a general shrink of an educational system and the craze of teaching to the test, I do not find that seminars on a high school level are necessarily a good thing as a "substitute" for the core compartmentalized subject - additions, maybe.

 

You know, this is funny because I actually intend to use English for that type of classes (I intend to basically allow DDs to create their own English programs for high school, whether by a thematic focus or chronologically, or a mix, as they wish), but I am only willing to do it because it is an "addition", not a "substitute" - I still insist on a different approach for Italian (even if I disliked it, I could not to anything differently as it is required). I already do it somewhat with Judaics, another "addition" area, which in itself is a mix of philosophy and theology, sociology and anthropology, literature and legalism, and a foreign language. I find these two areas (and maybe, to a point, classical studies) to be the areas in which we practice non-strictly-linear, interdisciplinary thinking, even if I sneak in some structure too into classics and Judaics.

 

I just doubt I would ever dare to base my education on that type of classes. Maybe I just have too rigid thinking patterns, or I am just too old fashioned, or too conditioned, or just such a "psychology" myself that I "click" with such a system (which is a bit ironic, as I am not such an "orderly" person as I am "orderly", linear and formal, in studies... but not a formalist at all when it comes to precise paper lengths, perfect punctuality, routines, or daily things like that). I do understand, at least theoretically, that other people might have equally strong preferences towards other approaches, other types of organizing one's education, and might really be better served by something else, etc., but something in me still resists it very strongly. I can explain, sometimes, relatively coherently what is it, but there is definitely a purely visceral reaction too, not only what I think is possibly problematic in that approach. :) But if it works for you, honestly, great for you.

And for people who naturally make connections and look at things from a variety of disciplines and approaches, a rigid, compartmentalized education can feel stifling.

Education or schooling? :)

If education, the totality of one's learning experience, then I can understand that choking feeling; but if schooling, I am not sure. It is simply the matter of satisfying the formal "box" those hours a day (I always considered it like a work: you are trapped there for X hours and you can dawdle and be miserable, or you can set your mind to profitting from the situation the best way you can and even learn how to succeed inside such a system), but the rest of the day is yours and you can use it to pursue your more specific, out-of-box interests.

 

I find it important to be able to do both the interdisciplinary work and to be able to narrow down your focus in accordance with one particular starting point, method, discipline. I hope to raise children who are capable of both, but is it not that in order to go interdisciplinary in the first place, first you must have got down the "grammar" and the "logic" of those disciplines? I sometimes just genuinely find that high school might be a better time for that, than for trying to do that which will naturally occur later, with greater maturity and knowledge. I am not even sure how can we combine, for example, literature with sociology and psychology without having studied sociology and psychology on their own terms as disciplines before... thus my, perhaps too flippant :), wordings of "pseudo-ism"s. How can I possibly venture to go there if my children are "illiterate" in those disciplines? It is an amazing possible approach that could work well with many works (however, I would still not call it language-and-literature if that were the primary starting point in analyses), but to do it well, is it not just too... ambitious... for high school, without previous studies of those disciplines?

I'm sure many people here do understand that you come from a very specific tradition, and that your views represent that tradition, but some may not (there are a lot of newbies here, both to WTM in general and to the HS board). I think it can have a chilling effect when someone posts quite forcefully that literary analysis, or schooling in general, must be done a certain way and must include certain topics/works/approaches and must exclude certain other topics/works/approaches, and that the alternatives are simply "nonsense," "pretentious," "pseudo-intellectual," etc. Someone who doesn't have a background in that area may not realize that there are other — equally "professional" — opinions and approaches.

I was actually fairly pleased with my recent progress regarding that LOL. I still sound more fervent than I actually am - Mediterranean temperament transfers to writing too - but I am really working on more fortunate wordings and on being less flippant, writing less in a talk-over-a-coffe style and more in a word-this-as-though-you-were-publishing-it style. :)

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People always ask what the point of learning higher math is if you're never going to use it in "real life". I'm wondering the same thing about literary analysis.

 

What is the purpose of analyzing literature? And what is the purpose of learning to write a literary essay?

 

My simple answers. First question: to learn to use or to use mental tools to further dig into a book - to me, it's like the difference between digging a hole with your hands, or digging a hole with a shovel or a backhoe. Second question: to learn how to formulate your opinion on a piece of writing, after having dug into it.

 

I think that sometimes this can be a boring exercise to go through, but it doesn't have to be done so often or so deeply to where you hate analyzing literature. I also think that after analyzing becomes a mental habit, one of the benefits of being able to analyze is pleasure. Mental protection is another benefit.

 

I agree with Ester Maria, that it's like developing art skills (or music skills or math skills or grammar skills or foreign language skills or cooking skills or gardening skills or first aid skills, etc.). The development of the skills can lead to more complex thinking ability, and they can be used to your benefit.

 

I call "school" only the formal part of one's education, while "education" as a totality of learning is a different concept for me, not confined to any particular educational model, institution or "institution" of homeschooling.

 

I was able to understand this from your posts.

 

I also really appreciated everything you wrote in this thread. What I'm hearing from you is that your "schooling" is dedicated to learning certain analytical skills. They then spill over into the "educational" part of your life. (yes, I also understood that these two actually are not rigidly separated, except in your mind) And they also form the basis of further and further educational study.

 

I was actually fairly pleased with my recent progress regarding that LOL. I still sound more fervent than I actually am - Mediterranean temperament transfers to writing too - but I am really working on more fortunate wordings and on being less flippant, writing less in a talk-over-a-coffe style and more in a word-this-as-though-you-were-publishing-it style. :)

 

I think you do very well (and you go to great lengths) with explaining yourself here on the forums, Ester Maria. I'm also thinking that if a poster is not familiar with your posting style, they could just have a look through your posting history to get a better sense of who you are. Sometimes it helps, esp. when past posts are read in context (gee, sorta like literary analysis!). :D

 

Anyway, your posts here about literary analysis were very helpful to me.

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I apologize if I've got this all wrong. I only had time to skim Ester's post, but skimming it made me realize something about why I dislike the other sorts of literary analysis, other than the technical bits of construction. I don't want to discuss formally, or write about formally, my reading. Or my art, for that matter. Or any reading. Or any art. I think it is fun to discuss it informally, and my family does this all the time, but we are just engineering-minded enough to know that much of what we are discussing won't have a future end point at which we will all know the answer and things will stay proved one way or another. (Well, as much as one can really know anything. My family tends to think of knowing as closer and closer approximations of reality. But you know what I mean...) That makes us unwilling to discuss them formally. We'd rather discuss them informally. But I can also see why this very thing would make other people enjoy the other sorts of literary analysis.

 

-Nan

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Greetings from Antifederalist Alex. That's Alex as in Alexander. (I am ksva's 26yos.)

 

My mom elicited my input on this topic. I don't intend to engage in the debate much, but since I am an aspiring writer who spends hours thinking about and researching good books and why they are good, I've decided to post a reply.

I have not read the posts completely; however, I have heard this discussion before and am going to guess where it's going. At risk of being redundant and possibly making a fool out of myself, I'm going to post and THEN finish reading because I am eager to join the discussion.

 

To begin with, literature is literature. That's it. It's very simple. Don't confuse yourself. When you analyze literature, stick to literature. It's not philosophy, it's not poetry, it's not ethics, it's not religion, it's not politics, it's not even really a genre. It might have elements of all of those in it, but when someone writes a novel, be it Homer or Mark Twain, he's composing a work that I ALWAYS consider as a work in and of itself.

 

What has happened in recent times is that "intellectuals" have taken principles from unrelated fields and applied them to literature. Three major movements have found their way into literary analysis: Freudian psychoanalysis, Einsteinian Relativism, and Darwinian evolution. The first two of these are the most prominent.

 

Psychoanalysis is the worst, as far as I'm concerned. It compels you to think of everything BUT the book. I don't care whether Hamlet was mad; if he was, good for him. I just want to know whether Shakespeare wrote a good play USING Hamlet, mad or not. But when psychoanalysis enters into the discussion, Hamlet is no longer about Hamlet. It's about Shakespeare, it's about his madness, its about the metaphorical meaning of the fly that Hamlet flicked off his nose while he was plotting his uncle's doom. You wind up discussing the fly! Certainly there is a place for analyzing a character, but when that becomes the purpose of your literary analysis you will inevitably degenerate into the "personal connection" aspect that so many of you find odious. Why? Because naturally you have to pick the thing that you make the connection with in order to develop it later, so you enter the story looking for those things. That's how you get there. You become your character's shrink. You put Hamlet on the couch and say, "And how does that make you feel?" You might even wind up putting the fly on the couch.

 

Why did people ever apply psychoanalysis to begin with? Because they have huge egos. Authors like Shakespeare have been over-analyzed. When a man graduates from Harvard with a degree in literature HE feels that HE must do something that will make HIM noteworthy in the field of literature, something that must be NEW. But there are very few new ways to approach something so over-analyzed. Thus, it must be something so outrageous he's sure nobody has ever thought of it before. Psychoanalysis is your answer. The critic wants people to take note of HIM, not(Shakespeare). He's the story; Shakespeare's the footnote.

 

As teachers, you should also be very careful about exposing your children to this lunacy of applying Freudian psychoanalysis to literature. I once heard one of these bored egomaniacs argue that Bottom turning into a donkey in Shakespeare's Midsummer was a reference to bestiality. Yeah. Sure.

 

I have dealt with only one problem, as this is the most important problem, the one that has spawned most of the confusion. If anyone is interested, I will explain what I, a humble amateur, believe genuine literary criticism consists of. And don't fool yourself; there are principles. To say there aren't is to apply the Einsteinian relativism to a field of education where it doesn't belong. As long as the word "story" is in the dictionary, you can define and correctly analyze it.

 

I'll be back later, once I've finished perusing the posts. Please bear with me.

 

Alex

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My mom is KSVA

 

Well, this'll be interesting! I love your Mom's posts!

 

I wanna hear what you think genuine literary criticism consists of.

 

Your username cracks me up!

 

Welcome!

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I don't want to discuss formally, or write about formally, my reading. Or my art, for that matter. Or any reading. Or any art.

The question which arises is on the basis of what would you discuss it.

If you focus about what is not literary about a work (but on what is sociology / psychology / personal reflections brought by the questions the work posed in your mind, etc.), in the strictest formalist sense you are not doing a literary analysis. Maybe you are doing a kind of analysis, but quite often (at this level of education) that cannot be said to be a literary analysis. Like I said previously, in order to approach those from a fundamentally literary standpoint, you would generally need a much higher level of professional education in this camp than high school - otherwise those experiments turn into something else.

 

The most coherent high school writings I see are fundamentally formalist, not overly ambitious, not getting personal, not interdisciplinary (in order to make a good interdisciplinary paper in the first place, you would need to have the basics of each of those disciplines down, and most children did not previously study psychology / sociology / specifically gender studies / etc.), not playing "what the author wanted to say" game (speaking about the structure that is there, rather than getting into merely personal speculations behind author's intentions). The other kind of papers which are usually successful are those with a historical - positivist bent, but even with those there happen to be common problems more than not (from too much "reading into" to totally "missing the discipline" again, and so forth).

 

Now you might say, as Julie, that the point of high school education is to learn how to do things, rather than insist on an approach that is "proven" to be the most successful and which some people consider to be "the" approach anyway, and to allow kids to be unsuccessful too, if need be. I am still not convinced that literature education should be a platform for that exercise: as far as I am concerned, each of the areas studied in high school education has its definite goals which should be met, a part of which is concrete knowledge (which depends on the program, of course, and there we differ), but a part of which is also learning to think from a standpoint of certain formal principles when it comes to art. And there are those. I usually think that, unless you have a highly motivated and highly competent student who can actually function on a real university level already in high school without that turning into "nonsense", it is much better to stick to that alone in this particular subject. And then, if you study sociology / psychology / whatnot, use those subjects as platforms for an attempt of a different kind of analysis rather than "beseiging" general high school literature education.

 

I mean yes, you can read Oedipus Rex the way Girard reads it: from a perspective that is fundamentally anthropological (the issues of sacrifice and "scapegoats" in primitive societies and how they come about). But is that a literary analysis? Is that something to be applied in literature classes, or in anthropology classes? Anthropology, as a different discipline, can still profit greatly from reading literary texts... but they need to be read differently then. Just like a different type of a reading is needed in literature classes, which focus on what is primarily literary about a work (this is actually quite a poor example as in ancient drama there is a whole other element that should be considered, next to which the text itself is a "libretto" of a kind, but I cannot get into all of that here). Mind you, I still introduce my children to that way of thinking, but I tie it more closely to other things, i.e. to history / classics, where I can then go slightly "interdisciplinary" without requesting an actual formal background in the discipline.

But I can also see why this very thing would make other people enjoy the other sorts of literary analysis.

Yes, and here we come again to my primary point: I do not think the point of a high school education is to specifically bring about joy in any particular activity. If something cannot be handled with a reasonable success at a particular level of education, why force it? One can enjoy things in one's free time and then sit down to satisfy the formal criteria of the subjects studied.

 

Maybe Karen and Jackie really have children who are capable of a work on the university level with experimentation in theoretical approaches. I usually consider mine "gifted" (as much as I loathe the label), yet my 14 year old could barely coherently articulate what subversion is (past the "nonsense" level where she is basically parroting back what she heard somewhere... not sure she actually understands the concept), let alone work on a level of such a textual criticism where that is specifically looked for. I cannot fathom doing Renaissance from that angle with her, even if I wanted, at least at this point, with that not being somewhat grotesque. Casual remarks are fine, but actually doing it? Not so sure... First of all, she does not even have a full peridiozation in her mind, let alone a theory periodization, to know where from those particular readings stem. If I were to make a course with the purpose of familiarization with the development of the 20th century theory, with key readings read through particular lenses of a particular theory, then I would request papers from a particular non-formal-aspects bent, to know how to do it. But again... that is a totally university-level thing in my view. I am not sure how well it can be done in high school without becoming a "nonsense" (mind you, I consider many of those approaches a nonsense even if done in academia LOL, but I will spare you the rant of what I perceive as a pathetic state of humanities worldwide today, and why I believe it is essentially related to the rejection of classical education, the adoption of modern pedagogy and all those "creative" approaches to education, etc.)... it is so easy to slip into "nonsense" in high school. I am not sure it should be encouraged in any way, that we should systematically encourage kids to do big talks and writings about things they know close to nothing about (i.e. walking into unknown disciplines, toying with approaches they cannot carry out properly, etc.), to bite off more than they can successfully chew, that we should feed that sense of false security. It is hard to apply those approaches while remaining literary, and if one remains literary, it usually comes down to a combination with the "dreaded" formalism anyway.

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Not to play devil's advocate as we seem to be essentially on the same page, but there are some minor problems with your post, Alex, that I thought would be useful for you to point out to. I hope you don't mind. :)

To begin with, literature is literature. That's it. It's very simple.

Eh, but it's not very simple. ;)

 

Early literature is often on the "crossroads" of several things... of mythology, national tradition and oral poetry patterns, and drama (which as such rose out of religious ritual). It is actually quite theoretically problematic to talk about some of those while assuming a "matrix" of a typical authorship and a typical work: Homeric epics do not really lend themselves so nicely to a typical formalist analysis, nor does theatre. Homer is basically oral poetry (there is more than enough textual evidence not to consider it a work with a true "authorship" in the classical sense), and equally a sociological phenomenon as a literary one. Theatre, maybe, establishes the firm text, but while doing so, the text is only a part of the "entirety" - the phenomenon of ancient theatre is something we cannot even fully grasp due to the lack of any material evidence other than the physical structures of theatres, the text, Aristotle and a lot of guesswork. While it is a gross oversimplification to say so, the text of a Greek drama is really only a "libretto". Focusing exclusively on a literary level here offers a distroted perspective.

 

From Rome onward (Greece already, but not in its entirety), barring theatre, we can definitely establish a typical formalist analysis, but there are still marginal forms of literature... something which has literary characteristics, but is an essay... and so forth. Then you also get works which are hard (impossible?) to read without the context of their genesis (Dante), as well as phenomena such as Orwell's Animal Farm, which "must" be read in a certain "key", a sort of a story which you "unlock" knowing the "key" (unlike typical allegory: with allegory, you have the abstract in the concrete, with Orwell, you have other concrete in the concrete he writes, and it is hard to access it without knowing the context). So, there are works for which a certain combination of approaches would be needed more than exclusively formalism to get the best out of them.

What has happened in recent times is that "intellectuals" have taken principles from unrelated fields and applied them to literature.

This is only partially correct... what has happened has been more along the lines of "unification" (a very problematic word choice, though) of humanities, the overall interdisciplinary trend; nowdays it is spoken a lot of something called Theory, with a capital T, which is not strictly limited to any particular field but which is starting to become a "surogat" for previous compartmentalized approaches to each discipline. Mind you, there has always been a certain amount of "cooperation" with other fields, but now what you have is a real "mixing", all under some general postmodern principles.

To say there aren't is to apply the Einsteinian relativism to a field of education where it doesn't belong. As long as the word "story" is in the dictionary, you can define and correctly analyze it.

Relativism applied to humanities is the new mainstream, the new underlying dogma. You may often question anything OTHER than the idea that "it is all equally worthy but different", "to each their own", etc. If you even suggest that you honestly do not believe that there are multiple possible valid approaches to a topic in a discipline, you risk your reputation, you risk being called "backward", "rigid" (as if rigidity of thought patterns and clear thought was a necessarily bad thing... too much fluidity of thought is often much more mentally dangerous IME), and a plethora of other compliments. Not being a "relativist" in that sense is nearly a thought crime in many institutions, there is a tangible "dictatorship" of a particular kind of "professional" political correctness; it is a complex phenomenon, however, it would be hard to do it justice in the format of the forum, so just throwing it out there for you to consider.

 

(Do not even get me started about extreme "educational" relativism that we can sometimes witness and a real decadence in education nowadays. In my more paranoid moments I begin to wonder whether there is a conscious agenda behind that particular one, or it is just a collective madness of an overall decadent civilization.)

 

But anyhow, yes, tell us about your ideas regarding literary analysis.

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A bad example of a title for a literary analysis of Don Quijote is "The Psychology of Don Quijote: Mad or Not?". In order to address such a topic from a *literary* standpoint one needs to do a lot of textual work that high schoolers do not do.

 

A good example of a title for a paper on Don Quijote is "The organizational relationship between short stories and a unity of a novel in Don Quijote". Now, THAT is something small, concrete, digestible, doable without being pretentious / silly / dry / personal. And then you talk: on the function of the inserted short stories in DQ, how they relate to the unity of work, on the theory of the genesis of longer prose forms from smaller units, then you bring up A Thousand and One Night and connect it to Decameron, add a bit of the history of novel as a genre, and write a nice lovely essay focusing on the FORM.

 

:bigear: So.... I just finished reading Jane Eyre. Let me try ;) to apply your above examples to this novel, because I learn best from application:

 

  • A bad example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "Locked in the Red Room: Re-Entering and Being Reborn Through the Womb" -- how's that for metaphorical? :tongue_smilie:
  • Another bad example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "A Vindication of the Rights of Women in Patriarchal Social Structures" -- does it make you choke, just to read that? :D
  • Another bad example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "Charlotte and Emily Bronte: A Comparison of Their Imaginative Worlds" -- but I'm not exactly sure why I think this is a bad title.... Is the approach invariably bad (for the purpose of literary analysis), or would it be acceptable if handled well? Hmmm...
  • A good example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "Story Teller's Shift: Split Dialogue as Narrational Device in Jane Eyre" -- (or something like that).
  • Another good example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "Mature Reflections: The Influence of Present Perspective on Jane Eyre's Narrative of the Past" (or something like that). This theme would examine several instances when the narrator's remembrances (and evaluations) of the past surface in the retelling of the story. In other words, how does the author repeatedly remind the reader that she, the narrator, is now (at the telling of the tale) older, perhaps wiser, and not simply telling us about her life -- but also reflecting and commenting on it?

Did I come anywhere near a good title? Were my bad titles truly bad? :lol:

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  • A bad example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "Locked in the Red Room: Re-Entering and Being Reborn Through the Womb" -- how's that for metaphorical? :tongue_smilie:

*chokes with laughter and almost spills tea over a keyboard*

 

  • Another bad example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "A Vindication of the Rights of Women in Patriarchal Social Structures" -- does it make you choke, just to read that? :D

Correct. That would be a sociology / interdisciplinary gender studies / whatever paper, not a literary analysis.

 

  • Another bad example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "Charlotte and Emily Bronte: A Comparison of Their Imaginative Worlds" -- but I'm not exactly sure why I think this is a bad title.... Is the approach invariably bad (for the purpose of literary analysis), or would it be acceptable if handled well? Hmmm...

It is bad because it (i) is overly ambitious in its scope (simply TOO BIG, you would need to read the entire opus of one and that one novel of the other one, to start with), i.e. it needs to be narrowed down and (ii) uses a very commonplace term "imaginative world" which lacks a real tangible "meaning". How are you going to pinpoint what "imaginative world" is, for example? You can compare the two if you focus on a specific tangible aspect.

 

  • A good example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "Story Teller's Shift: Split Dialogue as Narrational Device in Jane Eyre" -- (or something like that).

It has a potential, yes.

 

  • Another good example of a title for a paper on Jane Eyre is "Mature Reflections: The Influence of Present Perspective on Jane Eyre's Narrative of the Past" (or something like that). This theme would examine several instances when the narrator's remembrances (and evaluations) of the past surface in the retelling of the story. In other words, how does the author repeatedly remind the reader that she, the narrator, is now (at the telling of the tale) older, perhaps wiser, and not simply telling us about her life -- but also reflecting and commenting on it?

 

I can imagine this done fairly well, too, if there is substantial textual evidence to actually claim anything about it (Jane Eyre is not quite a fresh reading for me).

 

Brava, I like your examples. :)

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I still do not understand, Julie, why would you view it as a restriction.

I do not forbid my daughters to do whatever they wish with literature (or math, or any other field) in their free time. I do not even, as some might think, imply that other approaches are "lesser" and not do be done ever. The only thing I require, when we sit down "formally" to "do school", is that a certain approach be favored. Outside of the school "boundaries" (invisible ones in our case), they are not "restricted" (even within school boundaries they would not be restricted if they could successfully elaborate on why their particular approach is literary, or is scientific, even if not my first idea on how to do something). I do not assume fragility, that they would grow to hate Italian / math / you name it, if the approach favored in the formal study of the discipline is not their preferred approach.

 

Ester Marie,

I think that's probably the essence of where you and I differ. I look at "homeschool" as my home and where I excite my children about learning and where I deepen their understandings.

 

And, in my home: Throwing my kids a crumb by saying they can write an essay on the topic they are interested in during their free time instead? Not gonna happen here. Join a math team in their free time? Might sound nice but never will happen. There are only so many hours in a day, and so many days from age 0 to 18.

 

After school hours, my kids are off and running. They might be mildly interested in discussing a piece of literature, but more pressing things come up and it gets set aside, never to be visited again -- instead, conversation gets eaten up by friends and responsibilities and maybe politics & economics that they are excited to bring up.

 

So for literature, I only have my kids during school hours (and assigned homework), and I'm gonna dialogue with them by allowing them to attempt to verbalize their own thoughts during English essays. I do realize their are benefits to intellectual discipline, but exploring ideas is a way to get there, too. I guess teaching communication is way too important to me to become a simple exercise in strict adherence. Instead, my child might write about comparing the values demonstrated by two different authors, or the theme of retribution he sees in a particular piece -- and as long as he communicates clearly and supports his thoughts with facts and examples, it is a great learning opportunity *in my homeschool.* I do not want to wait until he can "carry it out properly." I want to wrestle with these things during the precious years that I have him here, because there is too little time to wait.

 

We definitely might touch on organizational methods, and we definitely do not delve into psychobabble. But I feel pretty sure at this point that he won't write about "The organizational relationship between short stories and a unity of a novel in Don Quijote" until he gets to college, if that is required for some reason in his field of study. It would be interestingto spend 4 years on that kind of formality in high school, but I wouldn't have time to get to the real meaty stuff.

 

Perhaps it comes down to the reasons different folks homeschool. I love that your methods resound with several people. I hope you keep posting. I don't think I've *ever* said that I didn't respect that.

 

However, I wish you would stop stating state flat-out that the methods of the dozen folks on this thread that don't match yours are the "wrong" methods. You get plenty of opportunity to state your case. Not allowing any variation from the path sounds like public school autocratic ruling to me, and that's what I left behind. Here's an example: When my middle child began 4th grade in a new school, I went to talk to the principal about the extreme change in teaching methods between schools. I started, "For example, my dd has never had a spelling test..." The principal cut me off with a diatribe about how horrible it was that folks did not value spelling any more. I tried and tried to get her to understand that my dd was an excellent speller because of the way she had been taught spelling, and that a percentage of the incoming students had been taught spelling in that way, but in the end the principal said, "We have our methods and we are not interested in anyone else's methods." That's the kind of narrow, unbudging educational view I have experienced in the past and I am glad to leave behind.

 

I'm old enough to have seen quite a few teaching methods come and go, and I've raised different enough kids by now to know that one size does not fit all, doesn't always produce the results you dreamed it would, and in many cases won't be the type of thing that is looked back on as contributing to an excellent education.

 

I hope that helps you understand what you said you didn't understand.

Julie

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It is very difficult to sit and watch one’s ideas and approach mischaracterized by those who do not entirely understand or practice it professionally. But although I did not, and do not, want to become embroiled in this thread, I do feel when anything outside of the most narrow definition of technical literary analysis is referred to with phrases like “nonsense,†“not valid,†or are lumped in with “bloody positivism,†or is judged impossible or impracticable, that my professional judgment is, if only by association, being undermined in unfair and untruthful ways.

 

When alternate ways of approaching and writing about literature are mocked and mischaracterized as they have been on this thread, it becomes difficult to respond without becoming defensive and sarcastic, or doing what some posts do – making fun of the more extreme examples of different types of literary studies. I could do the same and point at excruciatingly narrow traditional formalist studies which focus on whether a comma or a colon was intended in one particular sentence, or whether one footnote is misplaced, as caricatures of technical analysis. But I don’t.

 

Instead, I take the formalist techniques at their best and merely believe that for some – please note the word -- students, an exclusively – please note the word – formalist analysis of literature through all high school might not be the most profitable approach: either intellectually, and for those of us who care, in terms of kids’ engagement and enjoyment of literature as well. I originally posted to open up the conversation; I was not addressing or attempting to convince those who feel completely and entirely satisfied with the singular, exclusive importance of technical literary analysis, but rather speaking to those homeschoolers who might be struggling with that approach, whose children might find it uncongenial or unsatisfying, who might be looking for other angles from which to approach writing about literature but feel uncertain as to the validity or “correctness†or even usefulness of those other approaches.

 

Those playing the game of critique and making fun might extend this same generosity of spirit to a large and varied body of material with which they are not entirely acquainted, and also along the way, to my professional judgment, which is based on credentials including a double BA in history and literature as well as PhD in British literature, with two years of graduate level study in the teaching of writing, plus a California teaching credential in English – plus more than ten years of teaching experience in brick and mortar high schools, two university systems, two and a half years of teaching in a homeschool co-op, and eleven years of homeschooling; plus publication in peer-reviewed journals of precisely the kind of writing which incorporates but is not confined to technical analysis. You might also re-read my original post and note that I did not espouse analysis that dispensed entirely with the kinds of techniques which address a text’s properties of structure, form, language use, syntax, or any other literary strategies. I said that not every high schooler need necessarily learn how to write, and continually practice, an exclusive, restrictive, and prescriptive program of this type of analysis. You might also read my post on the high school writing board, in which I offer specific suggestions for helping a high schooler approach the task of a formal reading of a poem, since in this case that was the task the writer had taken on. Nowhere do I object to the practice of a narrowly defined literary analysis, or disagree with its usefulness, or declare my utter separation from its study, or argue for “personal appreciation†papers – although given a particular kid and a particular situation, that might work very well indeed. I merely attempt to sketch out for those who do not know the field the greater variety of angles from which homeschoolers (or others) might choose to approach and write about a particular text, angles which are perfectly academically valid, which I practice professionally and which I use with my daughter.

 

Continued in next post.

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Since it might be difficult to imagine what this might look like for a high schooler, consider the issue of Hamlet’s sanity or insanity, which has been mocked in a couple of posts as outside the bounds of the literary and invariably leading to amateur psychologizing or other “nonsense.†What if a student were to approach this issue through an analysis of one or more of the following: the play’s structural use of a play-within-a play; of constant references to looking and playing; repeated references to cloaks, mantles, and changes of clothing or disguise; boundaries and thresholds; or the different uses of types of language in the play; or even the differing versions in which the play exists, and how the use of one or other with its particular cuts or additions can throw the issue of sanity one way or the other in its on-stage portrayal? Or a kid who is historically inclined could read other Renaissance texts, literary or not, dealing with contemporary views of madness, and compare them to how Shakespeare tackles the issue. Someone like my dd, who is fascinated with the production of plays, might watch the four-hour documentary on rehearsals of Hamlet with, respectively, Kenneth Branaugh and Patrick Stewart, then investigate the differences in acting technique – and yes, my dd has studied acting technique although she is of course not a professional – with a focus on the varying emphases the actors give to some of the most famous soliloquies.

 

All of these different aspects of the text would involve very traditional formalist analysis; none would necessarily require college-level knowledge of another “outside†discipline. Equally, none would mean that the student would necessarily be making amateur pronouncements on whether Hamlet was “really†mad or “what Shakespeare meant.â€

 

But what they do have in common is that a student would not be forced to leave aside what might, for him or her, be the most compelling aspects of the play: Hamlet’s character, the issue of insanity, the unsettling and unanswered ambiguities of these topics.

 

Another kid might be more interested in a topic such as the beginning of the Shakespeare tourist industry in the 1700s, sparked when David Garrick hosted a festival in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Such a student might research and write a paper detailing the beginning of the marketing of Shakespearean relics; this is an utterly fascinating piece of literary history. Yes, such a paper would be outside the bounds of technical literary analysis, if such boundaries are a matter of concern to you. But it would be fully inside the bounds of literary history, just as valid in terms of research, analytical thought, and communicating in writing as a conventional analysis paper might be. It is possible to quibble over the question of to which specific field such a paper would “belong.†However, it is sufficient here to note that precisely such papers (of course at a higher level than what a high schooler would produce) are consistently published in literary journals.

 

My daughter was recently caught up in a story about the 18th-century “Shakespeare forger,†a teenager named William Ireland. We bought a book by Doug Stewart chronicling the production and eventual unmasking of the forgeries, the most striking of which was a full-length history play that was performed for one night only on the London stage. My dd became interested in whether it would have actually been difficult to know that this was not a play by Shakespeare. Her ensuing research covered such things as computer bases that document how often Shakespeare uses particular words and phrases, and how these are used as part of the process of authentication when a previously unknown poem or play arises; contemporary handwriting styles and manuscripts bearing Shakespeare’s handwriting (not many!); what uses of language we can consider as specifically and identifiably Shakespearean; how the forger got old paper and how he made the ink he used appear to be in line with that used nearly two hundred years previously (along with a side track into a great book on the theft of old maps and manuscript pages from British libraries and collections); what techniques scientists use today to test and authenticate old manuscripts; and even how easily people can be fooled when they are ready and willing to see what they want to see, along with several classic psychology experiments dealing with this idea.

 

Continued...

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You can make up caricatured alternative paper topics, as did the poster who thought up clearly overexaggerated and politically correct ideas for a putative paper on Jane Eyre, and pretend that those constitute the “bad†and that naturally any topic that focuses on how the text is formally put together is necessarily “good.†Or you can think seriously and fairly about what a different kind of analysis might look like. What does it take, in a Victorian novel, for a man and woman of unequal status to be considered equal enough for marriage? How does Bronte’s answer differ from, for instance, Austen’s, in Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park? How is Austen defining and using literary comedy in the shape her ending takes? Is Bronte’s novel a rejection of even the possibility of such an ending?

 

These are ideas that will take considerable thought, some close reading of the novels, plus research if the student is interested, as an eleventh- or twelfth-grader might well be. If the question is framed to focus on the novels themselves, no one need fear disciplinary miscegenation; there would be no need to discuss the question from the angle of non-fiction or more straightforward history.

 

If writing about literature can be enlarged past purely formal questions, a student might also read Elizabeth Gaskell’s contemporary biography of Charlotte Bronte, and/or Charlotte Bronte’s troubled discussion of her sister’s book Wuthering Heights. How does each attempt to ameliorate perceptions that the Brontes had violated the realm of the feminine? Or: how do contemporary reviews of the Bronte novels change once their true, female identities are revealed? How do reviewers and critics talk about the books when they are assumed to have been written by a man vs. when they are revealed to be the work of a woman writer? What assumptions about gendered writing can be uncovered and pinpointed through an examination of these “before and after†reviews?

 

Again, if the texts in question remain the focus of inquiry, this type of analysis need not require college-level backgrounds in a slew of different disciplinary studies. It can certainly draw on other fields if the student has the interest and the background; but it need not do so.

 

My daughter did not write a paper on her study of Shakespearean forgery, but if she had, her original question might very well have led her to a discussion of the style and language that scholars have labeled as pretty identifiable Shakespearean: a fairly conventional formalistic study, in other words. Or, she might have gone in another direction entirely, taking up any one of the aspects of the case I mentioned she had investigated. I do not require her to practice one type of literary analysis at the cost of the exclusion of other avenues which in my professional judgment are entirely valid within the field of literary studies and which in my parental judgment are best suited to my daughter’s interests and abilities.

 

I offer this as evidence – for those homeschooling parents whose children are struggling with purely technical analysis and who worry that they MUST approach writing assignments in literature from this direction alone, NOT to try to convince others who are entirely happy with doing just that -- that the field of literary studies is wider than homeschoolers without expertise in this area might suspect, in ways that are respected, practiced, published, and honored by many people working professionally in the field.

 

Of course every single homeschooler is privileged to choose from these whatever techniques or angles best suit them and their own kids. Of course it is everyone’s right to present an argument or an opinion detailing the benefits he or she feels this approach offers.

 

But it is not appropriate to mischaracterize, and then repeatedly condemn as “not valid,†someone else’s informed, professional, and parental choices, no matter how strongly you feel wedded to your own corner of the field and your own definition of literary analysis. It is not appropriate to imply (yes, it is implied although nowhere explicitly charged in several posts) that any person who espouses alternative approaches must be deluding herself about the abilities of her child, or that said child must be producing drivel. It is particularly not appropriate to mischaracterize, exaggerate, and mock extreme examples of other types of research with the implication that these examples are the only possibly alternatives, or to imply that another’s choice of approach cannot possibly work simply because you cannot imagine how it might be done.

 

Anyone who feels that there is an argument going on in this two threads with two completely separate “sides†that never intersect, and that one needs to “choose sides†or agree with one person at the expense of another, is not reading closely. I freely admit the value and interest, for some people, of technical analysis. I teach it to my daughter, and most of our discussions incorporate these techniques. But her writing assignments for literature “class,†if you categorize it as that in your household, need not be confined to a narrowly technical version of literary analysis at the expense of other types of writing to be considered perfectly legitimately literary and academic and to which a child might be passionately drawn. Nor should anyone feel afraid to pursue alternative types of writing assignments if, for their particular child, traditional, technical-only literary analysis is not productive, engaging, or approachable.

 

For those of you who might be worried about college and freshman writing classes and the whole issue of whether your child might need to know how to write a conventional literary analysis to pass English 101, I can offer this observation from my years of teaching freshman writing: academia is beginning to realize that literary analysis-types of assignments have long assumed an oversized place in writing courses. Although it is perfectly possible to choose a college which requires freshmen to write precisely this type of paper if that is what you like or philosophically agree with, it is also possible to find a great number of colleges, including the University of California, which structure their writing programs quite differently. They may introduce freshmen to the written conventions of different academic disciplines; literary studies may or may not be part of that. They may focus on persuasive essays in which analyzing literature has no part (but which may still incorporate rhetorical analysis of non-fiction or non-literary texts, which is why I mentioned rhetorical analysis in a larger sense in my original post). Our local branch of the UC system has six or seven different smaller colleges within its overarching governance; each has designed a completely different writing program. If you’ve got an aspiring engineer on your hands, you can easily find colleges in which your child will not have to sweat through a technical literary analysis in which he or she has no interest or finds baffling or incredibly difficult (as many Aspies do, for instance). If you have a child who excels in or loves literary analysis, you can find that too. Both will be completely acceptable for academic purposes; one or the other may best serve your individual child in preparing for the future.

 

And now let the games continue for those of you who have fun while misrepresenting, mocking, or condemning as impossible or impracticable the practices or judgment of those who think other than you do; “taking sides†or agreeing with one person at the expense of another where no such sides were ever intended, by me at least. I would be entirely happy to further explain my approach and offer suggestions to anyone who is truly interested or in need of something different for a particular child (PM me or use my private e-mail, which some of you have; I’m done here). I am not planning on trying to justify myself, correct gross distortions which are employed to misrepresent or to undermine serious literary fields of study, or otherwise become embroiled in anything other than an open and fair-minded discussion of the OP’s question about whether specifically technical literary analysis is absolutely necessary for all kids, under all circumstances.

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What has happened in recent times is that "intellectuals" have taken principles from unrelated fields and applied them to literature. Three major movements have found their way into literary analysis: Freudian psychoanalysis, Einsteinian Relativism, and Darwinian evolution.

Thank you for that brief summary of Paul Johnson's Modern Times ;)

 

If this is a topic that truly interests you, however, I'd like to suggest some further reading, because you are incorrectly conflating Einstein's theory of relativity with philosophical relativism — which predates Einstein by about 2500 years. To understand the more immediate roots of relativism in European thought, start with Kant (or, if you're really ambitious, Hume) and read forward.

 

To begin with, literature is literature. That's it. It's very simple.

I'm afraid that art, like history, is rarely "very simple."

 

And this is a good example of why I believe in interdisciplinary studies. In order to truly understand history, one must understand the ideas that drive people, and these ideas are expressed in religion, philosophy, art, literature and other forms of writing, etc. And in order to understand where these ideas come from and how they shift and change and develop over time, one must understand the cultural, political, historical, economic, and social context in which the artists, writers, and philosophers lived.

 

In other words, each academic "discipline" aims to study one aspect of what is actually a much larger system of actions and ideas. To me, restricting the tools students are permitted to use in studying these components to only those tools devised within the very narrow confines of a single discipline is like putting intellectual blinders on — at best this results in an incomplete view, and at worst it produces something akin to the blind men and the elephant.

 

The analogy of literary analysis to dissection is again apt, because (to me) restricting literary analysis to a dissection of form and structure does not provide a complete understanding of a literary work any more than dissecting a frog provides a complete understanding of frogs — for that you need to study them in the context of their environment.

 

It seems like some people are trying to reframe the arguments that KarenAnne and Julie and I are making, as if we're just ignorant "relativists" who don't understand "proper" literary analysis. I don't dismiss or denigrate the usefulness of formal analysis — I certainly did plenty of it in college — but I consider it only one, very narrow component of a much larger approach to understanding art and literature.

 

And, ironically, I think that overemphasis on remaining strictly within the bounds of a single discipline, rather than looking at the larger context, can result in errors such as blaming Modernist and Post-Modernist "relativism" on Einstein while ignoring it's explicit roots in 18th century German philosophy.

 

Jackie

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Anyone who feels that there is an argument going on in this two threads with two completely separate “sides†that never intersect, and that one needs to “choose sides†or agree with one person at the expense of another, is not reading closely.

At this point I suspect that the only people still reading this thread may be those of us posting in it. :tongue_smilie:

 

On the off chance that anyone else is still reading it, I certainly hope they recognize that those of us who are talking about including or allowing other approaches to literary analysis are not excluding formal analysis. Like you, I consider it to be one of several tools for understanding literature — just not the only "correct" or acceptable one.

 

For those of you who might be worried about college and freshman writing classes and the whole issue of whether your child might need to know how to write a conventional literary analysis to pass English 101, I can offer this observation from my years of teaching freshman writing: ...it is also possible to find a great number of colleges, including the University of California, which structure their writing programs quite differently. They may introduce freshmen to the written conventions of different academic disciplines; literary studies may or may not be part of that. They may focus on persuasive essays in which analyzing literature has no part (but which may still incorporate rhetorical analysis of non-fiction or non-literary texts, which is why I mentioned rhetorical analysis in a larger sense in my original post).

Yes, this has been my experience as well. When I was in college (small selective LAC) and grad school (UC), the sort of formal/technical/structural analysis described by Ester Maria was just one of many formats taught, and many different approaches and formats were accepted for essays and term papers in literature and art history classes. Certainly none of my literature or art history professors shared the view that formal/technical analysis was the only acceptable approach.

 

While I firmly believe that teaching critical thinking and analytical skills is the single most important thing we can do to prepare our kids for college — and, more importantly, life — I think those skills can be taught in many different ways in a variety of disciplines.

 

Jackie

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I'm still reading GRIN. Or at least, trying to.

My family divides what they do "for school" from what they do "for fun". I wish we didn't. I wish it all spilling into one another. Unfortunately, it was the only way I could make it work for my family, who all would rather work on their own projects in an informal way. In other words, they would rather mess about continuing only until their curiosity is satisfied, not necessarily planning it out beforehand, not recording the process, and not preparing the results so they are presentable. Now that I think about it, the opposite of that is a pretty good definition of what we consider school (in high school), if you add in usually having to take notes on any reading and doing problem sets in math. Literature has been a bit different. We talk about the things that you and Karen Anne and others are saying are part of literature. (Well, we speculate about them when we notice them, anyway. It isn't like we are very good at this or very educated about it.) We just don't write about them.

This has been an interesting thread. Thank you, everyone, for explaining so much.

-Nan

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At this point I suspect that the only people still reading this thread may be those of us posting in it. :tongue_smilie:

 

I'm still reading! I have nothing useful to add to the discussion because in high school honestly literary analysis baffled me a bit - made decent grades, but I was bluffing my way through it - and the only literature classes I took in college were in Spanish, where I discovered that I could make an 'A' if I found a "Christ-figure" and expounded upon that - so not the most thoughtful approach to literary analysis. :tongue_smilie:

 

I'm finding this thread fascinating and very educational. :D

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LOL - My only literature class in college was in French. All I remember is how unbelievably long it took me to get through the first bit of Tristan et Iseult, looking up several words every sentence, and how much faster the rest went. Big surprise. And how after those first few pages of TeI, I managed to get through much longer books ok. I know I wrote papers, but I don't remember what I wrote about. I wrote them in French because the prof said that if we wrote them in English every bit of spelling and grammar had to be absolutely perfect and they had to be much better papers. There was no way I could manage that, so I wrote what were probably horrible papers in French.

-Nan

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This is a stunning forum, a great debate. My dd in college does mention that formal literary analysis is rather passe at her SLAC. For next year's World Lit. class in this house I am going to use some of the above suggestions about how to go about looking at Shakespeare. The biggest problem that I have with some of them is that there is not enough time in my dd's day to do all that much. Formal literary analysis also takes time and the biggest problem there is that the reader may end up seeing the trees and not the forest. I'd like my dd to end up "appreciating" literature at a rigorous analytical level and be able to research and write about it critically. I also want her to remain a life-long reader.

That said, I am printing out major portions of this debate to keep in mind while I am planning next year's curriculum.

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Instead, I take the formalist techniques at their best and merely believe that for some – please note the word -- students, an exclusively – please note the word – formalist analysis of literature through all high school might not be the most profitable approach: either intellectually, and for those of us who care, in terms of kids’ engagement and enjoyment of literature as well.

I have noted that. ;)

I am not misunderstanding you, Karen, I simply still disagree with you, because I have different ideas as to when, where, and how far one should "tailor" the education to an individual student and their preferences (barring cognitive barriers; if we are talking merely about preferences towards one approach, one "learning style", etc.) - and my view, that tailoring does not include approches which are, or are in the great danger of, "walking out of discipline" and tackling the topic from fundamentally non-literary angles.

 

And you are still perfectly free to reason or do differently. :)

The only right I wish you did not assume is the "right" for everything you do as a result of genuine good intention and your best professional and paternal judgment (and I do give you the full, absolutely the fullest benefit of the doubt when it comes to that, like to everyone else) to somehow "automatically pass" in my eyes simply because you are another professional and another parent.

 

I can give you that benefit of the doubt while disagreeing with you, and disagree with you while aware that each situation is unique and while I can theoretically imagine that different approaches might work best for different situations; and then while I theoretically imagine that, I can still be philosophically opposed to that level or kind of adaptations of literature education in the particular context of a high school language-and-literature education in this camp. Really. I am pretty much a "menefreghista" when it comes to the practical aspect - do what you wish, your homeschool, your rules; but if we discuss those things, I can disagree not only with your views but also with your premises (starting with that there ARE multiple valid ways of doing things - which not always I agree with, or at least not always to the extent to which you might take it), I can even have a lot less "flexible" view of things, be it literary analysis or education.

 

And once more, university - especially specialist formation - is something else entirely. I am not sure that the freedom of approaches existing in university "translates" well to the freedom of approaches in high school setting. The two are fundamentally different and have different scopes, in my opinion.

the play’s structural use of a play-within-a play; of constant references to looking and playing; repeated references to cloaks, mantles, and changes of clothing or disguise; boundaries and thresholds; or the different uses of types of language in the play; or even the differing versions in which the play exists, and how the use of one or other with its particular cuts or additions can throw the issue of sanity one way or the other in its on-stage portrayal?

Most of those I would accept with no problems :), especially the ones with different types of language and theatre within a theatre. However, it is linking the two - the focus of that particular aspect with Hamlet's "madness" - where I am not sure I would be confident in a high schooler's ability to do this successfully, without ultimately ending up in amateur psychologizing. Like I said, it is not impossible, but it is the kind of textual work which high school kids normally do not do. Reading your examples I have exclusively university papers in my mind, the kind which even by their length differ from high school papers.

It is possible to quibble over the question of to which specific field such a paper would “belong.”

(Literary) history, like you said.

I would not accept such a paper for a regular high school English class. I would accept such a paper for an interdisciplinary graduation thesis in 12th grade, or for a class which we had upfront defined as an interdisciplinary class. Not for language-and-literature class, though.

What does it take, in a Victorian novel, for a man and woman of unequal status to be considered equal enough for marriage?

If one is capable of "divorcing" that from positivism (and I am far from sure that most people are, at that level of education), heavily textually (as opposed to "historically") backing up their claims about whether equality or inequality, focus on how that is represented in the text, and not talking in generalties of "a Victorian novel", but of specific novels read, I can see that being acceptable, too.

 

See, we are probably not that far apart as it seems.

What assumptions about gendered writing can be uncovered and pinpointed through an examination of these “before and after” reviews?

This would be tricky, though. I would consider this a fundamentally "sociology" thing (esp. with different reception, etc.), rather than a genuine literary approach. I can imagine it being done under the "umbrella" of a different (specified as interdisciplinary) subject.

and then repeatedly condemn as “not valid,” someone else’s informed, professional, and parental choices, no matter how strongly you feel wedded to your own corner of the field

I don't see what is problematic about it. I consider at least some of the extant alternate approaches fundamentally invalid for the field (i.e. belonging to the sphere of another discipline, where they might not be invalid) in my admittedly more narrow definition and the one I philosophically agree with, and some of those acceptable, but doubting that it would be possible to produce an acceptable paper within the limits of a typical high school experience (and I am being rather ambitious with what constitutes that). Doubting - not pronouncing it impossible. Like I said previously, if you have a kid capable of doing actual and tangible university-level in high school, great for you, but I am not sure it does much good arguing that it is okay that other kids do it too, not only those who can do it well.

 

I know that some people find it very hard to understand that one can reach such a conclusion. Or that one can honestly consider a current state of humanities not the ideal one (and thus not even something too look up to). Or that one maybe does not even take as "normative" for "acceptability" of high school writing what is published in some professional journals. No need to take it personally; I tried to make it as clear as possible, too, that I am speaking about high school language-and-literature classes, not classes specified as interdisciplinary, nor about a university setting where rules of the game do change if one decides to major in certain fields and where the "interdisciplinary mess" is a part of the package. That is something to forewarn our kids about when the time for serious talks about their university academic formation approaches (when we discourage them from taking our path and facing with our disillusionments regarding what we viewed as the level of scholarship in the field :tongue_smilie:).

with the implication that these examples are the only possibly alternatives

Oh, I said right in the first post that it is possible to deal with DQ's madness from a fundamentally literary standpoint. Just that it is the kind of textual work normally not expected nor practiced at a high school level... and because of that, in danger of turning into a drivel (nowhere is it implied that it MUST, invariably, turn into it - but I have too much experience with writing in this age group to give it too big a benefit of the doubt on the whole; exceptions always exist, naturally).

 

Here is something nice for you all (wait, maybe

would be better LOL). My version of recipes, I suppose.

 

I am done too, FWIW - addio. (ETA: :) to everyone, it has been an interesting discussion)

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I've followed this entire thread and it's been enormously helpful to me. My understanding of not only what constitutes literary analysis, but what constitutes humanities education, in the US and in Europe, has been deepened.

 

Thank you all so much!

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One of the issues is that colleges and others are putting out How To Information that is confusing to students. If lit analysis is not this:

 

www.goshen.edu/english/litanalysis-html/ or this:

 

http://lrc.sierra.cc.ca.us/writingcenter/litcrit.htm-- (these are simply the first two sites which come up in a basic Google search (I knew exactly the type of info I would find and had a giggle over it) what is it, and how are students and parents to know, for sure, what is needed by the college level?

 

What does a good lit/writing analysis paper by an average, well-educated 17 year old look like? Unless parents have access to a trusted college literature teacher or is one, we really can't be sure our students are getting instruction that will allow them to tackle dissecting literary form when they get to university.

 

I've looked at various programs, and we've done IEW, and I still don't see this issue with clarity.

 

If I think of what EM is saying as writing analysis, in the most strict sense, then personal thoughts or emotions, discussion of the psychological motivation of the literary characters etc., have no place in an essay on form, structure etc. I do believe that literary (literary being more than *how* it is written) analysis in it's more familiar form (to me) can encompass those things, although not handily by a younger student.

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I am still listening and I am sorry this thread seems to be over. I was hoping for a list or two of books, references, or preferred curriculum.

 

This has helped me clarify my views on literary analysis and how I approach it and gives me hope that we are doing the right thing and that my don-degreed perspective may be valid.

 

I was hoping your gift at the end, EM, was a link to a book or website with a discussion of literary analysis but I will take what you gave with a :D. I prefer it to a kilt any day.

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What does a good lit analysis paper by an average, well-educated 17 year old look like? Unless parents have access to a trusted college literature teacher or is one, we really can't be sure our students are getting instruction that will allow them to tackle dissecting literary form when they get to university.

 

I've looked at various programs, and we've done IEW, and I still don't see this issue with clarity.

 

I emphatically do NOT have an answer to this, nor do I have a philosophical point of view that I will argue and defend. I tend to be have a pragmatic approach to homeschooling, or as I like to joke, the Deng Xiaoping philosophy. He said, in defending open markets in a communist country, "I don't care what color the cat is as long as it catches mice." I don't care if an approach is formalist, revisionist, classical or unschooling. I'm educating the kids sitting on the couch in my house and I will use any approach that works!!

 

My literary analysis light bulb moment came when reading The Well Educated Mind. It is a practical and step by step approach to tackling literature, a wonderful introduction to dissecting form and discussing content and ideas. I have used it as a guide in tackling all forms literature. The background information and the questions are very helpful and my kids have had an introduction to literary analysis.

 

I also am not so worried about college. The big state universities and the small liberal arts colleges all have programs designed to get students on a level playing ground in literature and writing. A high school student needs to be introduced to the nuts and bolts of analysis, needs to be able to write logically and coherently. If they have a love of reading and maintained a love of literature and learning, they will thrive in college.

 

Just as I'm leaving college level math and science to the professionals, I'm leaving college level literary analysis to the professors. My job is to prepare my children without ruining their innate love of learning.

 

See? Pragmatic. No need for arguments and angst!:D

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LOL - Yup. I can understand the second one, thanks to the translation. Which is sort of beside the point. But anyway... (Do you know the joke about why UUers can't sing?... They are too busy reading the words to see if they feel comfortable singing them. I am not one of those sorts of UUers. And something totally off topic now - did you see my post about head voice vs chest voice?)

 

-Nan

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