900RE: [biopoet] Ring Form and the Importance of Description in Literary Studies
- Dec 9, 2013
Bill—I’m not sure if my concerns are either accurate or universal, but in my “other” job, as an archeologist, our discipline is literally drowning in description. In fact, most of the people in the discipline think this their entire raison d’etre, and have no idea what to do when the measuring phase is over—in fact, they don’t even know it is just one step in a process. But these are concrete objects with easily determinable length, breadth, weight, color, wear patterns, etc., and description is quickly dispensed with. What archeology lacks (at least locally) is the type of analysis that synthesizes artifact descriptions with context to accurately extrapolate about larger temporal or spatial patterns.
In literature, on the other hand, we have (and I think this is part of your concern) been drowning in extrapolation, but for the last half century that extrapolation has paid very little attention to the “artifacts” in question (narratives). I, too, would like to see a little more attention to the text, but experience (in lit crit) shows me that there are a thousand ways to describe any narrative text, so that fully describing the text is nearly impossible, or at least impractical, and the ultimate description would likely be longer than the text being described. And at least for post-structuralists, the text is whatever you say it is, so there are potentially infinite descriptions. Hell, even for literary Darwinists a good story is a cornucopia. In archeology, as above, an artifact description is well-defined, and very brief, and most of the descriptive units are inarguable. In Shakespeare studies, not so good.
Given the above, are you suggesting limitations, parameters to the kind or category of description that will fit your new paradigm? And if so, how do you deal with the multitudes of critics who will contest your parameters? Definitively describing a new insect is a lot easier than definitively describing Hamlet. I think. JT
In a way this is a follow-up to me short post on the still-born "revolution" in literary studies that's been spinning around for the last two decades or so. In that post I called for description, which is foundational to literary studies in the way that description was (and still is) foundational to biology. Where would Darwin have been without thousands of descriptions of life forms that had been created in the previous few centuries?
But you can't give prescriptions on how to do descriptions. You need examples. That's what the links here are about. In this post I demonstrate that four very different texts _ "Kubla Khan", Tezuka's Metropolis, Heart of Darkness, and Apocalypse Now – all share center point construction and all have an emblem that can stand for the whole:
In the next post I use the examples in the previous post to argue that it is possible to create a body of descriptive knowledge about literary forms that is rigorous, rich, and objective.
Finally, here's a link to a working paper where I do some of the spade work on Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now:
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