Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Fictional bibliotherapy (e.g., novels, poetry) is a dynamic process, where material is actively interpreted in light of the reader's circumstances. From a psychodynamic perspective, fictional materials are believed to be effective through the processes of identification, catharsis and insight. Through identification with a character in the story the reader gains an alternative position from which to view their own issues. By empathizing with the character the client undergoes a form of catharsis through gaining hope and releasing emotional tension, which consequently leads to insights and behavioral change.
After the term bibliotherapy was coined by Samuel Crothers in an August 1916 Atlantic Monthly article, it eventually found its way into the medical lexicon. By the 1920s there were training programs in bibliotherapy. One of the first to offer such training was the School of Library Science at Western Reserve University followed by a program at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. Hospital librarians were at the forefront of bibliotherapy techniques. E. Kathleen Jones, the editor of the book series Hospital Libraries, was the library administrator for the McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. This influential work was first published in 1923, and then updated in 1939, and then 1953. Pioneer librarian Sadie Peterson Delaney used bibliotherapy in her work at the VA Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama from 1924 to her death in 1958. Elizabeth Pomeroy, director of the Veterans Administration Library Service, published the results of her research in 1937 on the efficacy of bibliotherapy at VA hospitals.
The United Kingdom, beginning in the 1930s, also began to show growth in the use in of reading therapy in hospital libraries. Charles Hagberg-Wright, librarian of the London Library, speaking at the 1930 British Empire Red Cross Conference, spoke about the importance of bibliotherapy as part of "curative medicine" in hospitals. In addition, reports from the 1930 Public Health Conference about bibliotherapy were included in the British journal Lancet.
With hospitals taking the lead, bibliotherapy principles and practice developed in the United States. In the United Kingdom, it should be noted, some felt that bibliotherapy lagged behind the US and Joyce Coates, writing in the Library Association Record, felt that "the possibilities of bibliotherapy have yet to be fully explored" .
In 1966, the Association of Hospital and Institution Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, issued a working definition of bibliotherapy in recognition of its growing influence. Then in the 1970s, Arleen McCarty Hynes, a proponent for the use of bibliotherapy, created the "Bibliotherapy Round Table" which sponsored lectures and publication dedicated to the practice.
HCPL started its Book Hunters program in November of 2010 and in the time since, librarians have compiled more than 5,000 recommendations. About 50 librarians work as reading list consultants.
The HCPL form includes questions around likes and dislikes, allows you to select genre and book format (e-book, audiobook, print) and book length (short, medium, long). It also allows readers to request books along a sliding scale of sensibilities including humor (a lot, a little, none or don’t care) sex, violence, obscene language, pace, mood and more. It’s a pretty complex form that allows librarians to really dial into what their readers might want. That profile then gets matched to a librarian whose interests align with the reader.
“We’re matchmaking,” Stevens said. “Just like the librarian is matching you to a book, we’re also matching you to a librarian.”
Online user form:
“We’ve offered this service for seven or eight years, and last year we decided to revamp the form to make it shorter and easier to fill out. Since then the popularity of the service has skyrocketed,” Kadir said. Libraries have actually seen a resurgence in usage as the popularity of e-reading devices has grown, since library members can borrow e-books for free.
Librarians and library school faculty variously attribute the origins of bibliotherapy to the Oct. 15, 1939 Library Journal article, “Can There Be a Science of Bibliotherapy?” or to Christopher Morley’s The Haunted Bookshop (1919).
Aspects of Literary Response: A New Questionnaire
David S. Miall and Don Kuiken
University of Alberta
Therefore, it is appropriate to consider the range of beliefs, attitudes, and predilections that readers report and to develop a psychometrically sound means for assessing such variations. To this end, we have developed the Literary Response Questionnaire (LRQ). Its current version offers a set of low-inference scales that measure different aspects of readers' orientation toward literary texts. The purpose of the present report is to describe development of the LRQ, to review evidence of its reliability and validity, and to offer suggestions for its use in teaching or research settings.
Appendix 2: LRQ Items and Their Primary Factor Loadings
Reading literature makes me sensitive to aspects of my life that I usually ignore (786, personal).
In literature I sometimes recognize feelings that I have overlooked during my daily life (.775, personal).
I often find my shortcomings explored through characters in literary texts (.734, personal).
I find that literature helps me to understand the lives of people that differ from myself (.732, non-personal).
Reading literature often gives me insights into the nature of people and events in my world (.728, non-personal).
I often see similarities between events in literature and events in my own life (.723, personal).
I often find my own motives being explored through characters in literary texts (.715, personal).
I find that certain literary works help me to understand my more negative feelings (.711, personal).
Literature enables you to understand people that you'd probably disregard in normal life (.700, non-personal).
I sometimes find that reading a literary text makes me feel like changing the way I live (.625, personal).
In my reading, I learn to recognize more readily certain types of people or events, i.e., I can see these types more clearly after reading about a particular example in a literary text (.619, non-personal).
When I begin to understand a literary text, it's because I've been able to relate it to my own concerns about life (.602, personal).
Literature often gives special emphasis to those things that make a moral point (.513, non-personal).
Sometimes while reading literature my feelings draw me toward a distinctly unsettling view of life (.512, personal).
Sometimes I feel like I've almost "become" a character I've read about in fiction (.856).
I sometimes have imaginary dialogues with people in fiction (786).
When I read fiction I often think about myself as one of the people in the story (.737).
I sometimes wonder whether I have really experienced something or whether I have read about it in a book (677).
1 actively try to project myself into the role of fictional characters, almost as if I were preparing to act in a play (.652).
Sometimes characters in novels almost become like real people in my life (.647).
After reading a novel or story that I enjoyed, I continue to wonder about the characters almost as though they were real people (.509).
I often see the places in stories I read as clearly as if I were looking at a picture (.800).
I can readily visualize the persons and places described in a novel or short story (.723).
I sometimes think I could draw a map of the places I have read about in a work of fiction (.660).
Sometimes a scene from a story or poem is so clear that I know its smell, its touch, its "feel" (.638).
I often hear dialogue in a novel as though I were listening to an actual conversation (560).
When I read a literary text, a scene that is only partly described often becomes a whole, vividly present place in my mind (.545).
When reading a story, sometimes I can almost feel what it would be like to be there (.515).
I usually hear the tone of speech in a dialogue from a story or novel (498).
Often when I read literary texts, descriptions of smells suggest colors, descriptions of colors suggest feelings, and so on (.468).
Sometimes I like to curl up with a good book just to enjoy myself (840). When I have spare time my favorite activity is reading a novel (.817).
Very often I cannot put down a story until I have finished reading it (.796).
Reading literature is a pleasurable way to spend time when I have nothing else to do (.774).
Reading a story is a wonderful way to relax. (.763).
While reading I completely forget what time it is (.740).
I find that reading literature is a great help in taking my mind off my own problems (666).
I like to become so absorbed in the world of the literary text that I forget my everyday concerns (.608).
Once I've discovered one work by an author I like, I usually try to read all the other works by that author (.579).
I am often so involved in what I am reading that I am no longer aware of myself (.578).
I often wish I had more time for reading literature (.509).
Concern With Author
One of my primary interests in reading literature is to learn about the themes and concerns of a given author (.755).
In reading I like to focus on what is distinctive about the author's style (.742).
One of my primary interests in reading is to learn about the different genres of literature (.727).
I like to see how a particular author's work relates to other literature of the author's period (.726).
When reading I usually try to identify an author's distinctive themes (.701).
One of my primary interests in reading literature is to appreciate the author's understanding of society and culture (.686).
I think literature is especially interesting when it illuminates facts about the author's life (.610).
When I find a work of literature I like, I usually try to find out something about the author (.608).
The challenge of literature is to comprehend the author's unique view of life (.605).
I am often intrigued by an author's literary technique (.508).
I like to see tension building up in the plot of a story (659).
The type of literature I like best tells an interesting story (.635).
I think the most important part of fiction or drama is plot (.619).
When reading a novel, what I most want to know is how the story turns out (.609).
I like it best when a story has an unexpected ending (.600).
I prefer to read fiction in which there is plenty of action (.599).
When reading a novel my main interest is seeing what happens to the characters (.576).
1 find it difficult to read a novel in which nothing much seems to happen (.540).
Rejection of Literary Values
I think people should spend less time talking or writing about literature (.755).
Even if literature were well taught, I think high schools should not devote so much time to it (.738).
For me a work of literature is destroyed by trying to analyze it (.711).
One of the things I dislike most about being a student of literature is the teacher who tells you what a literary text means (.703).
Reading literary texts from past centuries should be left to literary scholars and historians (.623).
1 don't believe that literature is socially relevant (.616).
1 disliked English in high school because most of the texts I was asked to read I would not have chosen myself (.579).
Works of literature often seem to make the issues of life more complicated than they actually are (.491).
If I want to spend time reading, I don't choose "literary" texts (.392).
Louise Rosenblatt; Wolfgang Iser
Transactional Reader Response Theory analyzes the transaction between the text and reader. Both are seen as equally important. A reader can take an efferent stance, based on determinant meanings in a text, or an aesthetic stance, based on determinant and indeterminacy of meanings.
2. Affective Stylistics
Affective Stylistics Reader Response Theory examines a text in a slow motion format, in which each line is studied in order to determine how (stylistics) affects (affective) the reader in the process of reading.
Subjective Reader Response Theory believes that the readers' responses are the text, and that all meaning of a text lies in the readers' interpretations.
Psychological Reader Response Theory analyzes what the readers' interpretations and responses reveal about the reader, not the text.
Stanley Fish Social Reader Response Theory believes that readers approach a text with interpretative strategies that are the products of the "interpretive communities" in which they belong.
categorizing reader-response theorists explicitly invites difficultly due to their overlapping beliefs and practices. Transactional reader-response theory, led by Louise Rosenblatt and supported by Wolfgang Iser, involves a transaction between the text's inferred meaning and the individual interpretation by the reader influenced by their personal emotions and knowledge. Affective stylistics, established by Stanley Fish, believe that a text can only come into existence as it is read; therefore, a text cannot have meaning independent of the reader. Subjective reader-response theory, associated with David Bleich, looks entirely to the reader's response for literary meaning as individual written responses to a text are then compared to other individual interpretations to find continuity of meaning. Psychological reader-response theory, employed by Norman Holland, believes that a reader’s motives heavily affect how they read, and subsequently use this reading to analyze the psychological response of the reader. Social reader-response theory is Stanley Fish's extension of his earlier work, stating that any individual interpretation of a text is created in an interpretive community of minds consisting of participants who share a specific reading and interpretation strategy. In all interpretive communities, readers are predisposed to a particular form of interpretation as a consequence of strategies used at the time of reading.
The most fundamental difference among reader-response critics is probably, then, between those who regard individual differences among readers' responses as important and those who try to get around them.
- 1. Reader Response Theory Khadija Khadim Jawad Khan Niazi Waqar Azeem Inam ul Haq Nuzhat Parveen Sadaf Nazir Khawar Hussain (group 3)
- 2. Introduction Emerged in 1930 Primary focus on reading It is text based not author based “text and text alone” Also called as “Affective fallacy”
- 3. Leading Proponents Stanley Fish Wayne Booth Louise Rosenblatt
- 4. Theoretical Assumption Literature is a per formative art and each reading is a performance. The literary text possess no fixed and final meaning literary meaning is created by the interaction of the text and reader Reader is not passive but active Role of reader cannot be ignored
- 5. Salient features Acknowledged importance of text and reader Text relationship with reader Reader is 3rd party Reality exist in readers mind Work is fully created when readers assimilate it Text has not one inherent meaning but it depend on individual interpretation.
- 6. Types of responses Initial emotional response Interpretive Analysis Question Summary Arguing with author Inter textuality
- 7. Text Identity Imaginative literature is lived by reader 2 time reading of single text produces great insight in the reader mind Text alone is nothing as a unit but it completes is identity after the reader interpretation
- 8. Types of Reading Aesthetic Afferent Aesthetic reading for pleasure emotional focus literature. Efferent reading for information telephone book history text. In reader response theory reading must be aesthetic rather than afferent.
- 9. Kinds of Meaning in a Text Determinate Indeterminate Determinate basically the facts in the text Indeterminate are the “gaps” in the text which is filled by readers In RR theory, indeterminate meaning are more focus
- 10. Kinds of Reader Implied Reader Actual Reader Implied reader finds out the determinate meaning of the text Actual reader fills the gap in the text and find out the indeterminate meaning of the text
- 11. Techniques of Reading Reader extracts the meaning through Experiencing Hypothesizing Exploring Synthesizing
- 12. Benefits Broaden the horizon of mind Multiple interpretation Cultural study Encourage the students to make interpretations
- 13. Continued…. Dependence on the teachers is discouraged Students trust on their own Responses Students ability of responsibility and authority is increased Personal responses are valued Help reader to become better critical reader
- 14. limitations Not every interpretation may be valid. Students can also go beyond the interpretation levels. Students can also disagree and argue with each others interpretations.
- 15. Enhancement of RR Literature circles General writing Peer writing group Open ended discussion
- 16. Comparison Reader Response Method Traditional Method Enhance Ideas Student dependent Student become tolerant Produces multiple interpretation Better critical reader Single idea Teacher dependent Teacher biasness Discourages enhancements of ideas No practice of mind
- 17. Conclusion Reader response theory is the best theory which makes the reader and students to be active and to analysis a text by their own ways it achieved great importance in 19th century and for students and teacher it is the most reliable method of studying and teaching.
- from Reader Response Theory http://www.slideshare.net/dijamalik39/reader-response-theory-33860734
Monday, April 25, 2016
- 1. Literary Theory Reader-Response
- 2. Subjective vs. Objective • When we refer to something as “subjective” we mean that it pertains to the individual (the reader). A subjective reading of a text is one in which emphasis is placed on the attitudes, moods, and opinions of the reader. • When we refer to something as “objective” we mean that it pertains to an object (the text) separate from the individual (the reader). An objective reading of a text is one that is uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices. • Reader-Response criticism offers a subjective, or egocentric, reading of a text. Egocentrism refers to anything that regards the self of the individual as the center of all things.
- 3. What is Reader-Response? • RR critics believe that a reader’s interaction with the text gives the text its meaning. The text cannot exist without the reader. • If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a noise? If a text sits on a shelf in a bookstore and no one is around to read it, does the text have meaning?
- 4. What is Reader-Response? • RR criticism is NOT a free-for-all school of thought where anything goes. RR criticism is still a disciplined theory deserving of a careful reading of the text. • RR critics are focused on finding meaning in the act of reading itself and examining the ways individual readers or communities of readers experience texts. • The reader joins with the author to “help the text mean.”
- 5. What is Reader-Response? • A successful reader-response critic does not just respond to a text—anyone can do that— but analyzes his or her response, or the responses of others. • Our life experiences and the communities we belong to greatly influence our reading of a text • Because each reader will interact with the text differently, the text may have more than one valid interpretation.
- 6. READER-RESPONSE STYLISTICS According to Jonathan Culler (1981), RR examines the reader’s response to a text as a response to a horizon of expectations. By a horizon of expectations, is meant that there is multiplicity of meanings of interpretations in a text and these can be accessed by the reader according to his or her level or literary competence.
- 7. A reader’s literary competence is highly informed by the social world in which a text is produced as it usually has a shaping effect on his or her interpretation of a such text. In RR, there is an interaction between the structure of the text and the reader’s response. It evokes a situation where individual readers give meaning to the text. This is because each reader will interact with the text differently, as the text may have more than one vivid interpretation.
- 8. RR theorists share two beliefs: 1. The role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature (unlike New Critics who believe that the meaning of a text is contained in the text alone). 2. Readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text. Instead, readers actively make the meaning they find in literature.
- 9. Reader Response Theory, simply stated, is the reader's response to literary text. Tyson (2006) describes in Critical Theory Today the five types of Reader Response theories and the differences that lie within each. The following table summarizes each theory, the noted researcher(s) associated with the theory, and provides a basic definition.
- 10. Theory Theorist(s) Definition Transactional Louise Rosenblatt; Wolfgang Iser Transactional Reader Response Theory analyzes the transaction between the text and reader. Both are seen as equally important. A reader can take an efferent stance, based on determinant meanings in a text, or an aesthetic stance, based on determinant and indeterminacy of meanings. Affective Stylistics Stanley Fish Affective Stylistics Reader Response Theory examines a text in a "slow motion" format, in which each line is studied in order to determine "how (stylistics) affects (affective) the reader in the process of reading" (Tyson, 2006, p. 175). Subjective David Bleich Subjective Reader Response Theory believes that the readers' responses are the text, and that all meaning of a text lies in the readers' interpretations. Psychological Norman Holland Psychological Reader Response Theory znalyzes what the readers' interpretations and responses reveal about the reader, not the text. Social Stanley Fish Social Reader Response Theory believes that readers approach a text with interpretative strategies that are the products of the "interpretive communities" in which they belong.
- 11. Transactional Reader Response Analyzes the transaction between reader and text both the reader and the text are necessary in the production of meaning As we read, the text acts as a stimulus to which we respond feelings, associations, and memories all influence the way we make sense of a text as we read it.
- 12. CONCLUSION Reader response theory is the best theory which makes the reader and students to be active and to analysis a text by their own ways it achieved great importance in 19th century and for students and teacher it is the most reliable method of studying and teaching.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Friday, April 22, 2016
--Cornett, CE and Cornett, CF. Bibliotherapy: the right book at the right time. Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, Bloomington, IN; 1980
--Crothers, SM. A literary clinic. Atlantic Monthly. 1916; 118: 291–301
--Jack, SJ and Ronan, KR. Bibliotherapy: practice and research. Sch Psychol Int. 2008; 29: 161–182
--Kelly, R. Black rainbow: how words healed me—my journey through depression. Hodder & Stoughton, London; 2014
--Latchem, JM and Greenhalgh, J. The role of reading on the health and well-being of people with neurological conditions: a systematic review. Aging Ment Health. 2014; 18: 731–744
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
The world of bibliotherapy contains many researchers, most of them academics, searching for ways to develop it into a more effective technique. A typical figure is Hoi F. Cheu, a professor in the English department at Laurentian University. A student of literature with a bent for unexpected themes (he wrote his PhD dissertation on Zen and the Art of James Joyce), he now concentrates on bibliotherapy. He works with several hospitals, including the Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto.
Cheu believes that recent explorations of neuroplasticity open new directions for bibliotherapy. He quotes Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain that Changes Itself, on “The Culturally Modified Brain.” As Cheu writes, “We now have scientific observations to demonstrate that cultural activities can change brain structures. After decades of cultural construction theories, we can now reunite with the scientists to investigate a biological approach to literature.”
1802 Benjamin Rush, the "father of psychiatry," recommended reading as treatment for mentally ill
1846 Minson Galt developed guidelines for using books with mentally ill
1904 first professional librarian appointed to a mental hospital
1916 Samuel Crothers coined "bibliotherapy"
1923 Sadie Peterson-Delaney established bibliotherapy program in Tuskegee VA hospital
1925 Josephine Jackson published The Therapeutic Value of Books
1937 Elizabeth Pomery completed first systematic research study on bibliotherapy
1941 Bibliotherapy appears in Medical Dictionary
1945 Clara Kircher developed children's literature bibliography for bibliotherapeutic use
1961 Bibliotherapy appears in Webster's Dictionary
1962 First symposium on bibliotherapy
1970 Bibliotherapy Round Table founded
This book is a bit expensive, but the Google Books preview includes a list of dates, starting in the 13th century, in which some form of reading as therapy has been recorded.
Monday, April 18, 2016
“There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author). Rather, an assemblage establishes connections between certain multiplicities drawn from each of these orders, so that a book has no sequel nor the world as its object nor one or several authors as its subject.”
"Rhizome," in A Thousand Plateaus
Friday, April 15, 2016
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The Reading Agency worked in partnership with the Society of Chief Librarians and the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians on the campaign, which is funded by Arts Council England and the Wellcome Trust.
Thursday, April 07, 2016
Wednesday, April 06, 2016
Sunday, April 03, 2016
Friday, April 01, 2016
Monday, March 14, 2016
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Friday, March 11, 2016
Thursday, March 10, 2016
Monday, March 07, 2016
Sunday, March 06, 2016
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Friday, February 12, 2016
The plea condensed into a form absconds
Tough kisses cool that bite instead of soothe
And water lilies more appropriate for ponds
The surface glistens sparkling as it moves
A blue lit cloud my thought invoke, surround,
Is ruining dead religion such a sin
Surprising myth an open door propound
Belief began inside a seed within.
Take red ripe bite into an apple hot
And softly hug your dreams but don't bestow
Before consider what you have begot
The frog, warts and all, we cut long ago.
Then say enough begin wih sharpened tools
Important thoughts not need observe just rules.
Saturday, February 06, 2016
Friday, February 05, 2016
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
ON WITH THE STORY
John Barth gets mixed reviews on Amazon from Publisher's Weekly for this collection of stories.
Have not read. However, consensus seems to support that whether or not this is his best work, Barth is a clever boy.
for which Michael Ignatieff was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1993, comes highly regarded and covers a lot of ground according to this list of tags from the NYU LitMed database. Clicking on any link should pull up the titles in their collection that have been tagged the same.
- Art of Medicine
- Chronic Illness/Chronic Disease
- Death and Dying
- Disease and Health
- Doctor-Patient Relationship
- Family Relationships
- Father-Son Relationship
- Human Worth
- Illness and the Family
- Marital Discord
- Medical Research
- Mental Illness
- Mother-Son Relationship
- Narrative as Method
- Women's Health
David Lodge tells his story through the pages of his protagonist's psychotherapy journal.
Monday, February 01, 2016
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Saturday, January 23, 2016
Friday, January 22, 2016
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Sunday, November 15, 2015
I'm like a man who's been half-asleep all his life, trying to find out what he was like before he woke up.
...emotional problems can't be solved as intellectual problems are.
I am not only a thing, but also a way of being--one of many ways--and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.
How many great problems have gone unsolved because men didn't know enough, or have enough faith in the creative process and in themselves, to let go for the whole mind to work at it?
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Saturday, October 10, 2015
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Even though some resolution was implied, in that there are descendants of survivors, the Eves, making up the second part of the novel - there is no sense of continuity. It almost seems as if this were a 1000+ page novel and that publishers edited down the pastry shell to 638 but left out the creamy center. Or maybe NS just lost the momentum he needed to bring it all home.
Seven moons is about how long it will take to plod through to the end. (I had a peek through and skimmed the last chapter. There is a teaser about a character from the first part. Will we see the parallel storyline developed in a 2nd in a series of #? Will I even care?
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Quote: the image world is not part of our mind - our mind is part of the image world.
Barry is great for helping me get out of my head. Perfect inspiration for starting the process of visual journaling. She supports drawing for no reason and inner critics on vacation. Be a kid. Pick up a brush. Make a mess. Make art farts.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
I have this book sitting beside me...a beautiful book physically. Boxed with pages in one long sectionally-glued manuscript with archadian fold. It would be a good book for me to read, about a girl who lost her brother. So irresponsible of her...
Thursday, July 09, 2015
"It's not the act of observation which makes things inherently uncertain--it's the system itself which is uncertain. We blame it on us, the observers, but this is merely a convenient excuse, for the uncertainty is actually built into the world. A particle can never have two definite atributes--direction and position. If you define one, the other fades into determinism. And so: there is no way to know everything. You must choose your knowledge."
"The Japanese have a saying: Shiranu ga hotoke...
You must be prepared not to know what you want to know...you must be prepared for the question to be the answer."
"...two different types of Norwegian-Nynorsk and Bokmal...
nynorsk was the language invented for the people, not the elite, who all spoke Bokmal.
Bokmal is really a kind of bastardized Danish."
Thursday, June 04, 2015
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
"People kept their books, she thought, not because they were likely to read them again but because these objects contained the past--the texture of being oneself at a particular place, at a particular time, each volume a piece of one's intellect..."
Referencing J.M.E. McTaggart, "...human perception deceives us: time only feels like a forward moving flow because of the limits of our minds, whereas time actually exists, as another country and its inhabitants exist even once you leave it."
"...past is like overseas: it still exists, even when you are not there anymore."
"Like a black hole, the Internet generated its own gravity, neither light not time escaping."
Monday, January 19, 2015
How to Deconstruct Almost Anything
Step 1 -- Select a work to be deconstructed. This a called a "text" and is generally a piece of text, though it need not be. It is very much within the lit crit mainstream to take something which is not text and call it a text. In fact, this can be a very useful thing to do, since it leaves the critic with broad discretion to define what it means to "read" it and thus a great deal of flexibility in interpretation. It also allows the literary critic to extend his reach beyond mere literature.
How to Deconstruct Almost Anything--My Postmodern Adventure
Chip Morningstar, Electric Communities
"Academics get paid for being clever, not for being right." -- Donald Norman
This is the story of one computer professional's explorations in the world of postmodern literary criticism. I'm a working software engineer, not a student nor an academic nor a person with any real background in the humanities. Consequently, I've approached the whole subject with a somewhat different frame of mind than perhaps people in the field are accustomed to. Being a vulgar engineer I'm allowed to break a lot of the rules that people in the humanities usually have to play by, since nobody expects an engineer to be literate. Ha. Anyway, here is my tale.
It started when my colleague Randy Farmer and I presented a paper at the Second International Conference on Cyberspace, held in Santa Cruz, California in April, 1991. Like the first conference, at which we also presented a paper, it was an aggressively interdisciplinary gathering, drawing from fields as diverse as computer science, literary criticism, engineering, history, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and political science. About the only relevant field that seemed to lack strong representation was economics (an important gap but one which we don't have room to get into here). It was in turn stimulating, aggravating, fascinating and infuriating, a breathtaking intellectual roller coaster ride unlike anything else I've recently encountered in my professional life. My last serious brush with the humanities in an academic context had been in college, ten years earlier. The humanities appear to have experienced a considerable amount of evolution (or perhaps more accurately, genetic drift) since then.
Randy and I were scheduled to speak on the second day of the conference. This was fortunate because it gave us the opportunity to recalibrate our presentation based on the first day's proceedings, during which we discovered that we had grossly mischaracterized the audience by assuming that it would be like the crowd from the first conference. I spent most of that first day furiously scribbling notes. People kept saying the most remarkable things using the most remarkable language, which I found I needed to put down in writing because the words would disappear from my brain within seconds if I didn't. Are you familiar with the experience of having memories of your dreams fade within a few minutes of waking? It was like that, and I think for much the same reason. Dreams have a logic and structure all their own, falling apart into unmemorable pieces that make no sense when subjected to the scrutiny of the conscious mind. So it was with many of the academics who got up to speak. The things they said were largely incomprehensible. There was much talk about deconstruction and signifiers and arguments about whether cyberspace was or was not "narrative". There was much quotation from Baudrillard, Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Saussure, and the like, every single word of which was impenetrable. I'd never before had the experience of being quite this baffled by things other people were saying. I've attended lectures on quantum physics, group theory, cardiology, and contract law, all fields about which I know nothing and all of which have their own specialized jargon and notational conventions. None of those lectures were as opaque as anything these academics said. But I captured on my notepad an astonishing collection of phrases and a sense of the overall tone of the event.
We retreated back to Palo Alto that evening for a quick rewrite. The first order of business was to excise various little bits of phraseology that we now realized were likely to be perceived as Politically Incorrect. Mind you, the fundamental thesis of our presentation was Politically Incorrect, but we wanted people to get upset about the actual content rather than the form in which it was presented. Then we set about attempting to add something that would be an adequate response to the postmodern lit crit-speak we had been inundated with that day. Since we had no idea what any of it meant (or even if it actually meant anything at all), I simply cut-and-pasted from my notes. The next day I stood up in front of the room and opened our presentation with the following:
The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.
This bit of nonsense was constructed entirely out of things people had actually said the day before, except for the last ten words or so which are a pastiche of Danny Kaye's "flagon with the dragon" bit from The Court Jester, contributed by our co-worker Gayle Pergamit, who took great glee in the entire enterprise. Observing the audience reaction was instructive. At first, various people started nodding their heads in nods of profound understanding, though you could see that their brain cells were beginning to strain a little. Then some of the techies in the back of the room began to giggle. By the time I finished, unable to get through the last line with a straight face, the entire room was on the floor in hysterics, as by then even the most obtuse English professor had caught on to the joke. With the postmodernist lit crit shit thus defused, we went on with our actual presentation.
Contrary to the report given in the "Hype List" column of issue #1 of Wired ("Po-Mo Gets Tek-No", page 87), we did not shout down the postmodernists. We made fun of them.
Afterward, however, I was left with a sense that I should try to actually understand what these people were saying, really. I figured that one of three cases must apply. It could be that there was truly some content there of value, once you learned the lingo. If this was the case, then I wanted to know what it was. On the other hand, perhaps there was actually content there but it was bogus (my working hypothesis), in which case I wanted to be able to respond to it credibly. On the third hand, maybe there was no content there after all, in which case I wanted to be able to write these clowns off without feeling guilty that I hadn't given them due consideration.
The subject that I kept hearing about over and over again at the conference was deconstruction. I figured I'd start there. I asked my friend Michael Benedikt for a pointer to some sources. I had gotten to know Michael when he organized the First International Conference on Cyberspace. I knew him to be a person with a foot in the lit crit camp but also a person of clear intellectual integrity who was not a fool. He suggested a book called On Deconstruction by Jonathan Culler. I got the book and read it. It was a stretch, but I found I could work my way through it, although I did end up with the most heavily marked up book in my library by the time I was done. The Culler book lead me to some other things, which I also read. And I started subscribing to alt.postmodern and now actually find it interesting, much of the time. I can't claim to be an expert, but I feel I've reached the level of a competent amateur. I think I can explain it. It turns out that there's nothing to be afraid of.
We engineers are frequently accused of speaking an alien language, of wrapping what we do in jargon and obscurity in order to preserve the technological priesthood. There is, I think, a grain of truth in this accusation. Defenders frequently counter with arguments about how what we do really is technical and really does require precise language in order to talk about it clearly. There is, I think, a substantial bit of truth in this as well, though it is hard to use these grounds to defend the use of the term "grep" to describe digging through a backpack to find a lost item, as a friend of mine sometimes does. However, I think it's human nature for members of any group to use the ideas they have in common as metaphors for everything else in life, so I'm willing to forgive him.
The really telling factor that neither side of the debate seems to cotton to, however, is this: technical people like me work in a commercial environment. Every day I have to explain what I do to people who are different from me -- marketing people, technical writers, my boss, my investors, my customers -- none of whom belong to my profession or share my technical background or knowledge. As a consequence, I'm constantly forced to describe what I know in terms that other people can at least begin to understand. My success in my job depends to a large degree on my success in so communicating. At the very least, in order to remain employed I have to convince somebody else that what I'm doing is worth having them pay for it.
Contrast this situation with that of academia. Professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies in their professional life find themselves communicating principally with other professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They also, of course, communicate with students, but students don't really count. Graduate students are studying to be professors themselves and so are already part of the in-crowd. Undergraduate students rarely get a chance to close the feedback loop, especially at the so called "better schools" (I once spoke with a Harvard professor who told me that it is quite easy to get a Harvard undergraduate degree without ever once encountering a tenured member of the faculty inside a classroom; I don't know if this is actually true but it's a delightful piece of slander regardless). They publish in peer reviewed journals, which are not only edited by their peers but published for and mainly read by their peers (if they are read at all). Decisions about their career advancement, tenure, promotion, and so on are made by committees of their fellows. They are supervised by deans and other academic officials who themselves used to be professors of Literature or History or Cultural Studies. They rarely have any reason to talk to anybody but themselves -- occasionally a Professor of Literature will collaborate with a Professor of History, but in academic circles this sort of interdisciplinary work is still considered sufficiently daring and risquÝ as to be newsworthy.
What you have is rather like birds on the Galapagos islands -- an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population. There's no reason you should be able to understand what these academics are saying because, for several generations, comprehensibility to outsiders has not been one of the selective criteria to which they've been subjected. What's more, it's not particularly important that they even be terribly comprehensible to each other, since the quality of academic work, particularly in the humanities, is judged primarily on the basis of politics and cleverness. In fact, one of the beliefs that seems to be characteristic of the postmodernist mind set is the idea that politics and cleverness are the basis for all judgments about quality or truth, regardless of the subject matter or who is making the judgment. A work need not be right, clear, original, or connected to anything outside the group. Indeed, it looks to me like the vast bulk of literary criticism that is published has other works of literary criticism as its principal subject, with the occasional reference to the odd work of actual literature tossed in for flavoring from time to time.
Thus it is not surprising that it takes a bit of detective work to puzzle out what is going on. But I've been on the case for a while now and I think I've identified most of the guilty suspects. I hope I can spare some of my own peers the inconvenience and wasted time of actually doing the legwork themselves (though if you have an inclination in that direction I recommend it as a mind stretching departure from debugging C code).
The basic enterprise of contemporary literary criticism is actually quite simple. It is based on the observation that with a sufficient amount of clever handwaving and artful verbiage, you can interpret any piece of writing as a statement about anything at all. The broader movement that goes under the label "postmodernism" generalizes this principle from writing to all forms of human activity, though you have to be careful about applying this label, since a standard postmodernist tactic for ducking criticism is to try to stir up metaphysical confusion by questioning the very idea of labels and categories. "Deconstruction" is based on a specialization of the principle, in which a work is interpreted as a statement about itself, using a literary version of the same cheap trick that Kurt Gðdel used to try to frighten mathematicians back in the thirties.
Deconstruction, in particular, is a fairly formulaic process that hardly merits the commotion that it has generated. However, like hack writers or television producers, academics will use a formula if it does the job and they are not held to any higher standard (though perhaps Derrida can legitimately claim some credit for originality in inventing the formula in the first place). Just to clear up the mystery, here is the formula, step-by-step:
Step 1 -- Select a work to be deconstructed. This a called a "text" and is generally a piece of text, though it need not be. It is very much within the lit crit mainstream to take something which is not text and call it a text. In fact, this can be a very useful thing to do, since it leaves the critic with broad discretion to define what it means to "read" it and thus a great deal of flexibility in interpretation. It also allows the literary critic to extend his reach beyond mere literature. However, the choice of text is actually one of the less important decisions you will need to make, since points are awarded on the basis of style and wit rather than substance, although more challenging works are valued for their greater potential for exercising cleverness. Thus you want to pick your text with an eye to the opportunities it will give you to be clever and convoluted, rather than whether the text has anything important to say or there is anything important to say about it. Generally speaking, obscure works are better than well known ones, though an acceptable alternative is to choose a text from the popular mass media, such as a Madonna video or the latest Danielle Steele novel. The text can be of any length, from the complete works of Louis L'Amour to a single sentence. For example, let's deconstruct the phrase, "John F. Kennedy was not a homosexual."
Step 2 -- Decide what the text says. This can be whatever you want, although of course in the case of a text which actually consists of text it is easier if you pick something that it really does say. This is called "reading". I will read our example phrase as saying that John F. Kennedy was not a homosexual.
Step 3 -- Identify within the reading a distinction of some sort. This can be either something which is described or referred to by the text directly or it can be inferred from the presumed cultural context of a hypothetical reader. It is a convention of the genre to choose a duality, such as man/woman, good/evil, earth/sky, chocolate/vanilla, etc. In the case of our example, the obvious duality to pick is homosexual/heterosexual, though a really clever person might be able to find something else.
Step 4 -- Convert your chosen distinction into a "hierarchical opposition" by asserting that the text claims or presumes a particular primacy, superiority, privilege or importance to one side or the other of the distinction. Since it's pretty much arbitrary, you don't have to give a justification for this assertion unless you feel like it. Programmers and computer scientists may find the concept of a hierarchy consisting of only two elements to be a bit odd, but this appears to be an established tradition in literary criticism. Continuing our example, we can claim homophobia on the part of the society in which this sentence was uttered and therefor assert that it presumes superiority of heterosexuality over homosexuality.
Step 5 -- Derive another reading of the text, one in which it is interpreted as referring to itself. In particular, find a way to read it as a statement which contradicts or undermines either the original reading or the ordering of the hierarchical opposition (which amounts to the same thing). This is really the tricky part and is the key to the whole exercise. Pulling this off successfully may require a variety of techniques, though you get more style points for some techniques than for others. Fortunately, you have a wide range of intellectual tools at your disposal, which the rules allow you to use in literary criticism even though they would be frowned upon in engineering or the sciences. These include appeals to authority (you can even cite obscure authorities that nobody has heard of), reasoning from etymology, reasoning from puns, and a variety of word other games. You are allowed to use the word "problematic" as a noun. You are also allowed to pretend that the works of Freud present a correct model of human psychology and the works of Marx present a correct model of sociology and economics (it's not clear to me whether practitioners in the field actually believe Freud and Marx or if it's just a convention of the genre).
You get maximum style points for being French. Since most of us aren't French, we don't qualify for this one, but we can still score almost as much by writing in French or citing French sources. However, it is difficult for even the most intense and unprincipled American academician writing in French to match the zen obliqueness of a native French literary critic. Least credit is given for a clear, rational argument which makes its case directly, though of course that is what I will do with our example since, being gainfully employed, I don't have to worry about graduation or tenure. And besides, I'm actually trying to communicate here. Here is a possible argument to go with our example:
It is not generally claimed that John F. Kennedy was a homosexual. Since it is not an issue, why would anyone choose to explicitly declare that he was not a homosexual unless they wanted to make it an issue? Clearly, the reader is left with a question, a lingering doubt which had not previously been there. If the text had instead simply asked, "Was John F. Kennedy a homosexual?", the reader would simply answer, "No." and forget the matter. If it had simply declared, "John F. Kennedy was a homosexual.", it would have left the reader begging for further justification or argument to support the proposition. Phrasing it as a negative declaration, however, introduces the question in the reader's mind, exploiting society's homophobia to attack the reputation of the fallen President. What's more, the form makes it appear as if there is ongoing debate, further legitimizing the reader's entertainment of the question. Thus the text can be read as questioning the very assertion that it is making.
Of course, no real deconstruction would be like this. I only used a single paragraph and avoided literary jargon. All of the words will be found in a typical abridged dictionary and were used with their conventional meanings. I also wrote entirely in English and did not cite anyone. Thus in an English literature course I would probably get a D for this, but I already have my degree so I don't care.
Another minor point, by the way, is that we don't say that we deconstruct the text but that the text deconstructs itself. This way it looks less like we are making things up.
That's basically all there is to it, although there is an enormous variety of stylistic complication that is added in practice. This is mainly due to the genetic drift phenomenon I mentioned earlier, resulting in the intellectual equivalent of peacock feathers, although I suspect that the need for enough material to fill up a degree program plays a part as well. The best way to learn, of course, is to try to do it yourself. First you need to read some real lit crit to get a feel for the style and the jargon. One or two volumes is all it takes, since it's all pretty much the same (I advise starting with the Culler book the way I did). Here are some ideas for texts you might try to deconstruct, once you are ready to attempt it yourself, graded by approximate level of difficulty:
Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea
Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers
James Cameron's The Terminator
issue #1 of Wired
anything by Marx
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
the Book of Genesis
Francois Truffaut's Day For Night
The United States Constitution
Elvis Presley singing Jailhouse Rock
anything by Foucault
Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene
the Great Pyramid of Giza
Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa
the Macintosh user interface
Tony Bennett singing I Left My Heart In San Francisco
anything by Derrida
Tour de Force:
James Joyce's Finnegans Wake
the San Jose, California telephone directory
IRS Form 1040
the Intel i486DX Programmer's Reference Manual
the Mississippi River
anything by Baudrillard
So, what are we to make of all this? I earlier stated that my quest was to learn if there was any content to this stuff and if it was or was not bogus. Well, my assessment is that there is indeed some content, much of it interesting. The question of bogosity, however, is a little more difficult. It is clear that the forms used by academicians writing in this area go right off the bogosity scale, pegging my bogometer until it breaks. The quality of the actual analysis of various literary works varies tremendously and must be judged on a case-by-case basis, but I find most of it highly questionable. Buried in the muck, however, are a set of important and interesting ideas: that in reading a work it is illuminating to consider the contrast between what is said and what is not said, between what is explicit and what is assumed, and that popular notions of truth and value depend to a disturbingly high degree on the reader's credulity and willingness to accept the text's own claims as to its validity.
Looking at the field of contemporary literary criticism as a whole also yields some valuable insights. It is a cautionary lesson about the consequences of allowing a branch of academia that has been entrusted with the study of important problems to become isolated and inbred. The Pseudo Politically Correct term that I would use to describe the mind set of postmodernism is "epistemologically challenged": a constitutional inability to adopt a reasonable way to tell the good stuff from the bad stuff. The language and idea space of the field have become so convoluted that they have confused even themselves. But the tangle offers a safe refuge for the academics. It erects a wall between them and the rest of the world. It immunizes them against having to confront their own failings, since any genuine criticism can simply be absorbed into the morass and made indistinguishable from all the other verbiage. Intellectual tools that might help prune the thicket are systematically ignored or discredited. This is why, for example, science, psychology and economics are represented in the literary world by theories that were abandoned by practicing scientists, psychologists and economists fifty or a hundred years ago. The field is absorbed in triviality. Deconstruction is an idea that would make a worthy topic for some bright graduate student's Ph.D. dissertation but has instead spawned an entire subfield. Ideas that would merit a good solid evening or afternoon of argument and debate and perhaps a paper or two instead become the focus of entire careers.
Engineering and the sciences have, to a greater degree, been spared this isolation and genetic drift because of crass commercial necessity. The constraints of the physical world and the actual needs and wants of the actual population have provided a grounding that is difficult to dodge. However, in academia the pressures for isolation are enormous. It is clear to me that the humanities are not going to emerge from the jungle on their