Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Rise Of English (Till Page 23)

Terry Eagleton talks of the concept of literature in eighteenth-century England. He says that in the eighteenth century, the concept of literature was not confined as it is today to just 'creative' or 'imaginative' writing. It included the whole body of valued writing in society: philosophy, history, essays, letters and poems. Literature was not limited to a text that was fictional; a text was literature if it conformed to certain standards of 'polite letters'. It was in the eighteenth century, that the form of the 'novel' was emerging and the eighteenth century was in a dilemma whether to consider this 'novel' as literature or not.
At that time, the criteria for calling a piece of work literature was completely ideological: writing which embodied the balues and 'tastes' of a particular social class qualified as literature.
Literature did not only 'embody' certain social values.
In the previous century, England had suffered from the Civil War - there was a lot of friction between the difference social classes and there was a need to restore the shaken social order and the neo-classical notions of Reason, Nature, and order. Literature gained importance as it served the function of uniting the different classes of people. It tried to incorporate the 'raw middle class' with values so that they could match up to the cultural standards of the ruling aristocracy.
In eighteenth-century England, literature was very easily available in written form. The coffee-house culture was also emerging.

Today, we choose to define literature only considering the 'Romantic Period', With the Romantic Movement, literature was shortened to include writings which were 'creative' and 'imaginative'. By nineteenth century, literature was synonymous with the 'imaginative'. Prose started appearing to be dull and it did not have any effect on the people. People got satisfaction from only the 'creative' writings.

The period we are looking at was one of revolution. Middle-class England did not believe in the utilitarian principles anymore. The French Revolution and the American Revolution was going on. In such a political scenario, the Romantics can be said to have used their 'creative imagination' to create an imaginative realm which did not just question the reason-centric world but also created an alternate escapist world of imagination. The Romantics used the poetic form to criticise all rationalist thoughts. Thus poetry had social, political and philosophical implications and literature could be viewed as a political force. Most of the Romantic poets were political activists themselves.
However, the stress was laid upon the sovereignty and autonomy of imagination. Imagination was of a 'transcendental' nature and it detached the reader and the writer from the actual scenario. Though it claimed to be'representative' of humankind and all sections of society, the Romantic artist existed only in the margins of the society.
However, the Romantic Period saw the rise of modern 'aesthetics', or the philosophy of art.
Literature was not merely seen as a medium of instruction. It also served the purpose of delight. It was in this era , from the works of Coleridge, Hegel and others that we inherit the contemporary ideas of the 'symbol' and 'aesthetic experience', and the unique nature of the artefact.
Aesthetics served the function of suppressing historical differences.
Aesthetics introduced the semi-mystical doctrine of the symbol. Objects in the society which were earlier seen as lifeless and inert now became the medium of an eternal spiritual truth, one perceived by direct intuition and not by any laborious process of critical analysis. The symbol was a unitary thing - either one saw it or one did not. It could not be torn apart to see how it worked. It represented one common idea. Throughout the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, the symbol is a literary artefact which was offered as an ideal model of human society itself.

Literature is an ideology. The failure of religion was one reason for the growth of English studies in the late nineteenth century. By the mid-Victorian period, religion no longer had a strong hold on the masses owing to the scientific discoveries that were being made and the social changes happening. This was something to worry about for the Victorian ruling class as religion was an extremely effective form of ideological control. As T.S Eliot put it, Religion was capable of operating at every social level. It provided an excellent social 'cement', encompassing pious peasants, enlightened middle-class liberal and theological intellectual in a single organization. Religious symbols are not open to rational demonstrations.
For the Victorian Ruling class, English literature was another remarkably similar discourse to Religious idelogy. Thus English literature, along with serving the functions of instructing, delighting also had a third function: that of saving the souls and healing the State (England).


2 comments:

sümeyye çetinkaya said...

very good writing :)

sümeyye çetinkaya said...

very good writing :)

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