THOUGHTS ON STUDYING LITERARY THEORY TOGETHER

Hello Monarch Writers!

Join our writing critique and discussion group either in person (St. Louis Area) with MEETUP.com  or online  with our GOODREADS.com forums

I am writing to let you know I’ve changed the dates of the meetings in October and the subsequent Mondays to the 2nd and 4th Mondays, as there was only a week until our next big Monday meeting. So the next meeting will be October 8th at the Gelateria, and then on October 22 I’ll be hosting a potluck dinner meeting at my place, where we’ll be sharing some Mexican/Spanish foods together. Foods with a bit of ‘spice’ to them, as our theme is this next month we’re talking about our approach to studying Literary Theory / Criticism and how, perhaps unexpectedly, things like rules, and structure can free us specifically by restricting us, to spice up our writing with more personal flourish.

In case you missed the last email, here is a free Yale video course on Introduction to Literary Theory on Youtube that I think it’d be great if we could watch in the coming months individually, over time, and start discussing together.

And if you are a fan of either of the graphic ‘Introducing’ or ‘For Beginners’ series, both have a book on the topic. There is ‘Literary Theory for Beginners’ and ‘Introducing Literary Criticism’which both provide a good overview.

Particularly, in October, I would like to study an essay talked about in the first two introductory videos of that Yale course, by philosopher Michel Foucault, titled “What Is An Author?” I believe it raises a lot of points salient to literary theory, including, once one writes a piece of work, how much ‘authority’ do they still have over the meaning of it, after it is released into the world? How much do we need to look to the author when we ask what it means? Or how much is it now fair game to the various interpretations and dissections applied to it, and in what sense does the idea of any ‘authority’ over the meaning of a text allow more powerful actors in the marketplace of ideas to take away from our individual claims to what we see as meaningful or present in the world of meanings and possibilities?

If you want to get the best context for this essay, I would recommend watching the first two lectures of the Yale series along with it. There’s a whole lot covered, they are both introductory lectures for the entire rest of the course, and introduce a great many big and difficult ideas. He gives the best context for this essay at the finish of the second lecture, but if you can make it through the first and get through to the end of the second, things will start to come together just a little bit, and it will be a good start going forward.

I think this has relevance for anyone who wants to be a writer, or better, an author, because we want very much to believe that we are a magician churning out our golden threads from base straw. And I will very strongly hold onto that belief. But it’s good to be confronted by these kinds of challenges to that view, from the perspective that, we are all walking in some kind of space suit through a swarm of angry symbols and words aswarm like alien insects, trying to swat them down onto the surface of the page, this alien planet, to just make sense enough to make it to the next outpost. That there are big philosophical conundrums of skepticism, problems with how we know what we know, whether we are predetermined machines, and we are perhaps treading water against the undertow that tells us the human spirit is some kind of mechanical mirage. But, well, that’s part of the reason we do it. Because, we’re in the quicksand. Because we have to struggle to get out. Because we’re not just going to sit there and sink. Even if the struggling, might, in some long view, make us sink all the better, we know, god damnit… it feels good to struggle. Instead of sinking, we’re singing.

So, put your all into your work, never trust an artist who says they have a choice, and if they say, ‘there’s no such thing as an author’, give ’em the old line from Brendan Behan’s play ‘Hostage’. “When I came back to Dublin, I was courtmartialled in my absence, and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence.”

“You’ve lied too, but

It’s a sin that I can’t tell the truth

Cause it all comes out wrong

Unless I put it in a song…”

– The Magnetic Fields

Good Hunting, Writers,

– Cypress Butane

THE MONARCH WRITERS

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