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Re: _Reading The Lord of the Rings_ (was Re: [mythsoc] New Arrivals)

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  • Carl F. Hostetter
    A P.S., if I might: Saxey makes a great deal of the fact that Sam actually touches Frodo on occasion, including stroking his hand in moments of extreme concern
    Message 1 of 10 , Mar 16, 2006
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      A P.S., if I might:

      Saxey makes a great deal of the fact that Sam actually touches Frodo
      on occasion, including stroking his hand in moments of extreme
      concern for Frodo. For Saxey, this counts as overwhelming evidence
      that Sam has sexual feelings for Frodo. And so Sam and Frodo might
      indeed be homosexual lovers. Q.E.D.

      An approach to all this that _would_ actually tell us something about
      Tolkien and his work would start with the plain fact that Tolkien
      most certainly did _not_ consider Sam and Frodo to be homosexual
      lovers, and then proceed to the obvious corollary that _he_ did not
      consider touching and concerned hand-stroking among men to be sexual.
      The critic could then proceed to explain to the modern reader (at any
      rate, the modern American reader), who has indeed been conditioned to
      see such touching among men as necessarily sexual, just how it is
      that for Tolkien such gestures could be neither sexual nor unmanly,
      but instead reflect a different time and attitude towards male
      relationships, and a recognition that not all intense feelings of
      affection are sexual. In other words, the thoughtful critic could use
      this as a means to permit the reader a glimpse into a different
      worldview, by using the lens that Tolkien's work provides. Instead,
      we are (as usual in what passes for criticism these days) required by
      Saxey to view Tolkien's work only though the lens that "theory"
      provides, that is, through the postured, eroticized eye of a twenty-
      first-century queer-theorist, and if we don't agree that this lens
      provides an accurate, undistorted view, and judge Tolkien and his
      work according to it, then we must simply be afraid of gay people.

      Yay.
    • David Bratman
      ... My experience with applying packaged theoretical-critical approaches to literature, whether the literature be by Tolkien or anyone else, is that it s like
      Message 2 of 10 , Mar 16, 2006
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        At 03:27 PM 3/16/2006 -0500, Carl F. Hostetter wrote:

        >Drout calls for the application of theoretical-critical approaches to
        >Tolkien (and vice versa), in the expectation that it will shed light
        >on regions that have thus far gone unexplored (and, again, vice
        >versa).

        My experience with applying packaged theoretical-critical approaches to
        literature, whether the literature be by Tolkien or anyone else, is that
        it's like viewing something through colored glasses. You can see
        interesting things that way, but most of the time you will learn more about
        the color of glasses you're wearing than about the thing you're looking at.

        >I must admit to being dubious about both the prospects and
        >the proposal itself since to me the best thing about the best
        >Tolkien criticism to date has been its _freedom from_ reliance on
        >"theory", or psychoanalysis, or any of the various "isms" that seem
        >in effect, if not by intent, always to shed _far more_ heat than
        >light on their (putative) subject.

        This is because they start with the theory used to study, rather than the
        literature being studied.

        >Thus one book by a philologist
        >like Shippey or a close-reading literary mythologist like Flieger can
        >tell us far more about Tolkien's work than a whole library of
        >deconstructionist/gender/class/race/orientation/etc. "theorists" have
        >or (I expect) ever will.

        A good critic, having examined the work itself, then puts on a pair of
        glasses whose color will bring out new features in the work itself. For
        good literature there will be more than one pair of glasses that do this,
        and they may even conflict (Shippey and Flieger have their disagreements).
        But they are the ones that work for this literature. For other literature,
        other glasses work better.

        I find that good theoretical approaches enrich and enlarge one's
        understanding of a good work of literature. Bad ones reduce the work and
        make it petty. And that is the big difference between great and lousy
        criticism.

        - David Bratman
      • Croft, Janet B.
        If you re old-fashioned, I am too. That s the sort of criticism I like -- something that explains what the author did and why, rather than something that
        Message 3 of 10 , Mar 16, 2006
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          If you're old-fashioned, I am too. That's the sort of criticism I like
          -- something that explains what the author did and why, rather than
          something that tries to squeeze it into a critical box where it really
          doesn't belong, with odd bits hanging over the edges or chopped off if
          they don't fit. Theory should be a tool that you can pick up to see if
          it works for the job you're doing, and if it doesn't, then you put it
          down and pick up another one. Or to use your metaphor, if one lens gives
          you a distorted and unhelpful picture of what you're examining, you try
          to look through another one. You don't keep using the one that doesn't
          give a clearly focused picture as if it's the only lens available. The
          particular instances you are looking at, for example, might be better
          explored by looking at the balance of traditionally feminine and
          masculine traits in many of Tolkien's characters and what that implies
          (about his sources, his environment, his opinions on women and men,
          etc.; whatever can be supported by internal and external evidence).
          Queer theory is manifestly the wrong tool to figure out what point
          Tolkien was making. (However, it could be appropriately applied to fan
          fiction which _does_ interpret the Frodo/Sam relationship this way. In
          some cases it could then be the appropriate lens for the job.)


          And David Bratman's addition to this discussion, which came in while I
          was typing, says all this and more with greater clarity. Thank you!
          It's like Lewis said in An Experiment in Criticism -- "receive" the work
          first, then start figuring out how to figure it out. Approach it with
          open eyes, not with a pair of lenses already firmly clamped in place.

          Janet Brennan Croft

          -----Original Message-----
          From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com [mailto:mythsoc@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf
          Of Carl F. Hostetter
          Sent: Thursday, March 16, 2006 2:52 PM
          To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: Re: _Reading The Lord of the Rings_ (was Re: [mythsoc] New
          Arrivals)

          A P.S., if I might:

          Saxey makes a great deal of the fact that Sam actually touches Frodo on
          occasion, including stroking his hand in moments of extreme concern for
          Frodo. For Saxey, this counts as overwhelming evidence that Sam has
          sexual feelings for Frodo. And so Sam and Frodo might indeed be
          homosexual lovers. Q.E.D.

          An approach to all this that _would_ actually tell us something about
          Tolkien and his work would start with the plain fact that Tolkien most
          certainly did _not_ consider Sam and Frodo to be homosexual lovers, and
          then proceed to the obvious corollary that _he_ did not consider
          touching and concerned hand-stroking among men to be sexual.
          The critic could then proceed to explain to the modern reader (at any
          rate, the modern American reader), who has indeed been conditioned to
          see such touching among men as necessarily sexual, just how it is that
          for Tolkien such gestures could be neither sexual nor unmanly, but
          instead reflect a different time and attitude towards male
          relationships, and a recognition that not all intense feelings of
          affection are sexual. In other words, the thoughtful critic could use
          this as a means to permit the reader a glimpse into a different
          worldview, by using the lens that Tolkien's work provides. Instead, we
          are (as usual in what passes for criticism these days) required by Saxey
          to view Tolkien's work only though the lens that "theory"
          provides, that is, through the postured, eroticized eye of a twenty-
          first-century queer-theorist, and if we don't agree that this lens
          provides an accurate, undistorted view, and judge Tolkien and his work
          according to it, then we must simply be afraid of gay people.

          Yay.




          The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org Yahoo! Groups
          Links
        • Carl F. Hostetter
          ... Amen! This is why I always put theory in this sense in scare- quotes. It is tomy mind really rather the _opposite_ of theory, proper, since it forces the
          Message 4 of 10 , Mar 16, 2006
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            On Mar 16, 2006, at 4:08 PM, David Bratman wrote:

            > This is because they start with the theory used to study, rather
            > than the literature being studied.

            Amen! This is why I always put "theory" in this sense in scare-
            quotes. It is tomy mind really rather the _opposite_ of theory,
            proper, since it forces the available evidence to fit the explanation
            it offers, rather than presenting an explanation of the evidence
            derived from that evidence.
          • Stolzi
            ... From: Carl F. Hostetter ... Seems like she s spelling her name wrong. Diamond Proudbrook
            Message 5 of 10 , Mar 16, 2006
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              ----- Original Message -----
              From: "Carl F. Hostetter" <Aelfwine@...>

              >
              > Saxey

              Seems like she's spelling her name wrong.

              Diamond Proudbrook
            • Walter Padgett
              ... Procrustean! [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              Message 6 of 10 , Mar 16, 2006
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                On 3/16/06, Croft, Janet B. <jbcroft@...> wrote:
                >
                >
                > something that tries to squeeze it into a critical box where it really
                > doesn't belong, with odd bits hanging over the edges or chopped off if
                > they don't fit.
                >


                Procrustean!


                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • David Bratman
                There are ways in which it can be appropriate to study a work of literature through the lens of a critical theory that doesn t quite fit. One can - instead of
                Message 7 of 10 , Mar 16, 2006
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                  There are ways in which it can be appropriate to study a work of literature through the lens of a critical theory that doesn't quite fit. One can - instead of trying to make the book fit the theory, be engaged in the project of finding out just how far the book fits the theory, and why it doesn't fit any farther than it does, or to see what sort of things arise if you look at it that way, without trying to claim that this is the actual meaning. Or, one can study the theory itself, to see which books do and do not fit it.

                  Some studies of Tolkien roughly meet this description. Randal Helms's Freudian interpretation of The Hobbit, though he takes it more seriously than an ideal enquirer would, is essentially an exercise to see how well a Freudian interpretation fits. And Brian Attebery studies some theories of fantasy that other books fit to see why The Lord of the Rings doesn't - though he's mostly critiquing critics who try to make it fit, and then get cross at Tolkien when it doesn't.

                  David Bratman
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