Literary universals

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Literary Universals Patrick Colm Hogan A presentation by Léon Dijkman Literature Theory II, 02-04-’09 Presentation Overview • • • • • Hogan’s project of literary universals Common objections to universalism Explanation of Hogans theory How and why universals work Further research & utility of universals to literature and society • Questions Hogan’s Theory • Every culture knows (verbal) art • Envisions a project that embodies both empirical studies as well as close readings of the text ▫ Again, the study of literary universals, like the study of linguistic universals, is a project that can progress only through the cooperative efforts of a broad range of researchers engaged in an ongoing process of empirical reevaluation of theories and theoreti- cal reorientation of empirical research (Hogan p.244) • Hogan is trying to find secondary principles in cross-language literature that are universal, which can then be analyzed further so as to come to a broader understanding of art and humanity Common objections to universalism • Today there is little enthusiasm for universalism as the focus shifts to cultural theory; universalism is seen as opressive ▫ When universalism is mentioned at all in humanistic writing, it is most often denounced as a tool of oppression (Hogan p.224) • Hegemonic and empathic universalism (Pandit) ▫ Empathic universalism, in contrast, is based on the as- sumption that all people share ethical and experiential subjectivity, and that universality must both derive from and contribute to this sense of shared subjectivity, with all that it entails in terms of allowing each set of subjective experiences equal weight, etc (Hogan, p.224) • Hence, universals not preclude historical and cultural research ▫ Thus, to isolate and test universal patterns, we often require a good deal of cultural and historical knowledge At the same time, however, in order to gain any understanding of cultural particularity, we necessarily presuppose a background of commonality (Hogan, p.226) Explanation of Hogans Theory ▫ More exactly, a property or relation may be considered a universal only if it is found in distinct bodies of literature that not share a common ancestor having that property or relation (Hogan, p.228) • Statistical and absolute universals (heart v hair) • Literary techniques and nontechnical correlatives ▫ Techniques include all universal matters of "form" and "content"-including poetic meters, rhetorical devices, etc.-that an author may draw upon in composing a literary work (Hogan, p.229) ▫ Nontechnical correlations comprise universal principles that are not, so to speak, devices or elements or structures that can be taken up and used in the making of literature, though they may define a range of or limits on usable devices (Hogan, p.229) • Composed into schemata (“sonnet”); “the most broadly encompassing schema is verbal art itself”  absolute universal Explanation of Hogan’s theory II • Universality of a technique or nontechnical correlation does not imply universality of all of its specifications • We should seek for the ‘highest’ abstractions (birds  metaphor  symbolism) ▫ At the highest level, the specifically literary universals should indicate what is at the origin of the development of literature, what defines the human urge to make and experience verbal art (Hogan, p.234) • … which can then be explained further with other disciplines such as psychology etc • Striving to form statistical universals into absolute universals through reformulation – typologies (sonnet) ▫ However, the goal of absolute universality may be pursued further through the delineation of specific conditions in which statistically universal techniques or correlations occur (Hogan, p.234) How and why universals work • The project won’t ever be finished ▫ Rather, an empirically based theory is always and necessarily part of a project, an ongoing, broadly collaborative research program (Hogan, p.236) • Two examples are mentioned: ▫ Technique  Aims at conveying “secondary principles”  Therefore, a differentia of literature is the maximization of patterning (Hogan, p.238)  Problem I: some features are patterned while others are not Solution: encoding  Problem II: certain linguistic features reach a “maximum” Solution: refinement of general principle, normative maximum ▫ Nontechnical correlative  Linking of average line length to rehearsal memory  Conclude that the correlative is a statistical absolute  Change the predicate of the universal Further Research & Uses • As shown, all findings related to universals lead to more research in other humanities fields ▫ In any event, each possible outcome would point to areas of further research and theorization in an ongoing program (Hogan, p.244) • This further research may: ▫ Generate understanding of art creation ▫ Generate broader understanding of the human mind ▫ Have political consequences as universalist rhetoric is breached and more general principles are discovered Questions?
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