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How to differentiate literary texts Essay

Carter argues that there are six particular features which can help differentiate literary texts from others and that a literary texts will exhibit most or all of them. These features are medium independence, genre-mixing, semantic density, polysemy, displaced interaction and text patterning. (Carter, 1997, cited in Thornborrow, 2006, p.81-85)

If I look at the first feature identified by Carter, medium independence which means that a literary text does not rely on another medium or media to be read ,(Carter, 1997, cited in Thornborrow, 2006, p.81 ) and apply it to my texts, I can see that the extract from The Lord of The Rings is indeed medium independent. The extract does not need photos and the text “stands up on its own”, it needs no additional information. By contrast, the advertisement from the online catalogue is media dependant. The text at the beginning and the end describes a ring which is obviously for sale so a photo seems to be quite necessary as I do not think many people would buy a piece of jewellery without seeing it no matter how appealing the description is. The text itself seems to beg for an accompanying photo so I think it can safely be said that it is medium dependant.

The second feature identified by Carter is genre-mixing which is the idea that any style of writing not necessarily associated with a literary context can be used to create a literary effect. (Carter, 1997, cited in Thornborrow, 2006, p.82) If I am to look at the Lord of The Rings extract, there is some genre-mixing although not very much, the extract is obviously part of a novel but the last two lines read like poetry. Of course poetic features are usually associated with a literary context by their very nature so what those last two poetic lines do for the rest of the text is to “elevate” it, that is, convey the feeling that the extract has literary pretences at the very least or is simply literary in some ways. In the second text, genre-mixing is more obviously present, the first paragraph is concise as it describes a ring which is for sale but the rest of the text which introduces Jade Jagger as the designer of the ring is mainly written in journalistic style. The last two lines go back to “advertisement” written style.

Semantic density, the third feature identified by Carter is deemed by him to be very important. He believes that semantic density is a clear sign of the literariness of a text. (Carter, 1997, cited in Thornborrow, 2006, p.82) The Lord of The Rings extract has semantic density. One cannot escape the sound patterning and many alliterations which are present in a lot of the text. The text is actually peppered with it. For example, “…the wizard stood looking at the fire ; then he stooped and removed the ring….” or: “…..he now saw fine lines, finer than the finest pen-strokes, running along the ring, outside and inside:lines of fire that seemed to form the letters of a flowing script.” The actual sound patterning along with the syntactic arrangement shows clear semantic density. The use of the adjective fine along with two of its adverbs finer and finest coupled with the sound patterning serves to show how “fine” the script on the ring actually is. Similarly, the alliteration in “running” and “ring” plus the sound patterning as well as the two opposites adjectives “outside and inside” that immediately follow before going back to the “lines” which are now made of “fire” that “form” the letters of a “flowing” script (alliteration plus sound patterning again) give the reader a vivid picture of the actual ring.

There is also contrast in the text. One example is “silent” and “clack”, another is “bright” and “remote”, it is as if those contrasts reflect the contrast between the two worlds, one which is Mordor, faint but unmistakeably dangerous and the normal peaceful world of the Shire. I must point out the seemingly random word association of the “clack” of “Sam’s shears”. The “clack” which is surely onomatopoeic because the sound “which makes up the word mimics the sound which the word refers to” (Short,1996, p.115) and the wonderful alliteration of Sam’s shears which once again produces a incredibly vivid picture, accompanied by sound no less!

There is also some semantic density in the second text about the Jade Jagger ring. The first sentence has sound patterning as well as the syntactic arrangement: “…..sterling silver ring….stylised………..design decorated…..a scattering of sparkling…. zirconias. Sound patterning and syntax aside, the alliteration “s”starting almost every word having to do with the ring offers a mental picture of that ring, a very shiny one at that. The last sentence of the first paragraph also has the repeat alliteration in “edgy, contemporary, jewellery” which once again gives information about the ring but also about its potential buyer. Semantic density is also shown in this text by the reference to the “ halcyon” days and the sentence stating that Jade Jagger “has since carved a feted reputation as an artist”.This is an abnormal paradigm as carving has to do with a concrete material such as stone or wood and it is not possible to physically carve a reputation. It is of course a metaphor (Mick Short,1996, p.7).

The fourth criteria in Carter’s theory is polysemy which is the possibility for a text to be read in different ways. (Carter, 1997, cited in Thornborrow, 2006, p.84) For example, in the Lord of The Rings extract, the room “becomes dark and silent”. It could of course be because Gandalf has closed the shutters and drawn the curtains, but it could also be due to the fact that the ring is in the fire and “waking up” revealing its true “dark” nature therefore affecting the atmosphere of the room. The reader is also told of Gandalf’s “bristling brows”, it could mean that Gandalf has stiff and coarse eyebrows which I indeed imagine him to have but it could also infer that Gandalf is showing irritation at Frodo’s trying to get the ring out of the fire, hence the “Wait!” before the “bristling brows”. The word “fiery” is also good because we have been told that the letters are “lines of fire” so they are obviously fiery but “fiery” could also allude to the dark language of “Mordor” or the quick and dangerous temper of Sauron’s spirit which is of course in the ring itself.

My last example is that when Frodo receives the ring, “it seemed to have become thicker and heavier”. It can actually be that the fire, by revealing what the ring is, has also physically altered it and made it thicker and heavier but it may just seem thicker and heavier in Frodo’s hand because it is a dark ring, a ring of power and evil which the fire has just awakened.

In the second text on the other hand, I cannot see any obvious example of polysemy apart from the “halcyon days” which can be read as the “carefree
days” or the “mythical days” as it can refer to the mythical bird. Both meanings are plausible as the pop art scene in New York was famously “carefree and happy” and it has since acquired a “mythical” type of reputation. There is also the metaphor “carved a feted reputation” but I cannot see it other evidence of polysemy.

The fifth feature of Carter’s is displaced interaction which means that the text is there for the reader to “read” and interpret as it wishes. (Carter, 1997, cited in Thornborrow, 2006, p.84) The Lord of The Rings text is a perfect example of displaced interaction as there is nothing for the reader to do but read and provide meaning to the text. The Jade Jagger ring online advert however is not an example of displaced interaction as the aim of the text is to persuade the reader to buy a piece of jewellery.

The last feature identified by Carter is text patterning which is similar to the idea of parallelism in which some features remain the same while others change. The variant features are usually words while the remaining features are structural. (Carter, 1997, cited in Thornborrow, 2006, p.85) (Short,1996 p.14) The most obvious example of parallelism in the Lord of The Rings extract is the last two lines. While the structure stays the same with the same subject, The Ring, the verbs are different. What this does is attract attention to the verbs themselves which is presumably what Tolkien wanted as the verbs tell us what the ring actually does. It “rules, finds, brings and binds” Although different verbs with slightly different meanings, it gives a general idea of power. There is another example of parallelism in this text : “ The letters are Elvish, of an ancient mode but the language is that of Mordor, which I will not utter here” Again, the structure stays more or less the same but the Lexis is different so as to focus the reader’s attention on the difference between the “letters” and the “language” and “Elvish” and “Mordor”. Tolkien wants to highlight these differences are they are crucial to the understanding of the story. In those two lines we also have an example of deviation, when something in the texts deviates from the perceived rules of English which makes it particularly memorable. Deviation is a part of foregrounding, the produce of “deviation from linguistic and non-linguistic norms” (Short,1996, p.12)

The deviation in the last two lines is the invention of the word “Mordor” which Tolkien made up for the particulars of his story. This is called a neologism (Short, 1996, p.45) Finally, I must mention that the last two lines of the Lord of The Rings are an internal deviation, that is, they are two rhyming lines structured like lines of a poem but this is a departure from the rest of the text which has been written in prose. (Short,1996, p.59) Of course this internal deviation makes those two last lines even more memorable. Although there is some text patterning in the second text, particularly around the word “Jade”, I do not feel it can be compared to the other Lord of The Ring text as it doesn’t seem to actually reinforce an important message.

So, if we follow Carter’s criteria when it comes to identifying a literary text, the Lord of The Rings extract seems to be more literary than the Jade Jagger’s online ring advertisement. The Lord of The Rings extract is not medium dependant, it has some genre-mixing, it has semantic density, polysemy, displaced interaction and text patterning. The Jade Jagger’s online ring advertisement is medium dependant,it is not really polysemic, it is not an example of displaced interaction, I don’t feel it has important text patterning but it does have some semantic density.

On Carter’s cline of literariness, The Lord of The Rings is indeed a literary text as it possesses all of the features which usually identify literariness. Jade Jagger’s ring advertisement does not seem to be a literary text according to Carter’s cline.

Are the two texts creative? I am tempted to answer that if a text is considered literary then it must be creative which would make the Lord of The Rings extract creative as well as literary. I refer to Papen and Tusting who state that “creativity refers to making something which is new, which did not exist before the creative act” (Papen and Tusting,2006, p.315) Taking this into account, both texts analysed in this paper are indeed creative. “Cognitive poetics” which combines “linguistic analysis with insights from cognitive science in order to explain the relationship between the language of texts and reader’s responses to texts” (Semino, 2006, p.37) is interesting as it implies that creativity is always present in literary and non-literary texts but that literary texts “are characterised by particular novel and creative uses of the linguistic and cognitive resources used in everyday communication.” (Seen and Gavins, 2003, p1, cited in Elena Semino,2006, p.37) Following from this is the assumption that, yet again, both the texts analysed in this paper are creative, none more so than the other but that the Lord of The Rings text analysed here would be considered more literary than the Jade Jagger’s ring advertisement as it showcases especially new and creative uses of language and “cognitive resources used in everyday communication.”(Seen and Gavins, 2003, p1, cited in Elena Semino,2006, p.37) Eagleton with his sociocultural approach would imply that The Lord of The Rings text was definitely literary since the sociocultural approach states that literature is made so by society, whether the text had pretence to literariness or not.( Eagleton, 1983, p.11, cited in Maybin and Pearce, 2006, p.12) Since The Lord of The Rings has been widely accepted by society in the last 40 years as being a literary work, then it must be, according to the sociocultural approach.

As a conclusion, I feel that there is an agreement across different school of thoughts that creativity is present in most texts so I would say that both the texts I analysed in this paper are creative in different ways. According to Carter’s inherency approach, the Lord of The Rings text is more literary than Jade Jagger’s ring advertisement and although I realise that Carter’s method of analysis is not without its weaknesses, I must say that I feel that The Lord of The Rings extract is indeed more literary than the advertisement because of the degree of inventiveness involved in the language (I could have added so much more to the analysis of the text) and imagination. I think that the extract (and the book it comes from) combines the two most important things when it comes to literature: beautiful language and a fantastic imagination.

Maybin,J., Pearce,M., 2006, Literature and creativity in English, “The Art of English:Literary Creativity”, Palgrave McMillan, The Open University

Eagleton,T. (1993), Literary Theory: An Introduction, Oxford, Blackwell,pp.9-11)

Carter, R, (1997), Investigating English Discourse:Language, Literacy and Literature, London, Routledge

Thornborrow J., 2006, chapter 2: ”Poetic Language”, The Art of English:Literary Creativity,, Palgrave McMillan, The Open University

Short,M.,1996, Exploring The Language of Poems, Plays, and Prose, Addison Wesley Longman Limited

Papen, U&Tusting, K, 2006, Chapter 7:Literacies, Collaboration and Context,The Art of English:Everyday Creativity, Palgrave McMillan, The Open University.

Semino, S., 2006, Reading C:Cognitive Poetics, The Art of English: Literary Creativity, Palgrave McMillan, The Open University

Seen,G. And Gavins, J. (2003), Contextualising cognitive poetics, in J.Gavins and G.Steen (eds), Cognitive Poetics in Practice, London, Routledge

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