On the Relationship between Literature, History, and Human Beings Essay
On the Relationship between Literature, History, and Human Beings
To assume that an object belongs to a particular set entails that an object possesses similar characteristics to all the other objects in the set. In most cases, two or more sets have a tendency to intertwine with one another since some objects in another set have similar characteristics to the objects in a different set. This intermingling of different objects with different characteristics is apparent in the field of literature. Literature here ought to be understood as a written art form that allows the creation of new worlds.
Such a conception of literature is based on the assumption that literary texts are fluid and malleable in nature due to the vast meanings that may be attributed to their content. This view of literature is based on the Reader-Response Theory which assumes that literary texts may only exist within the reader’s consciousness (Murfin and Ray 426). Murfin and Ray claim, “With… the literary work as a catalyst of mental events comes a redefinition of the reader… (as) the passive recipient of those ideas that an author has planted in a text (427).
The field of literature is thereby characterized by the intermingling of different objects with different characteristics since although some works adhere to a specific form, the meanings attributed to these works change in line with the reader’s conception of a their content. In line with this, the following discussion posits that all forms of literature, regardless of their form and content, are united with one another due to their dependence on the human mind.
This is another way of stating that literature is connected to human existence due to its dependence on human production as well as on its dependence on human interpretation. Such an assumption is based on several propositions. First, literature, as an art form, reflects the social and political conditions during a particular period in history, whether on the period of its production or on the period of its reproduction. Second, the function of human consciousness in determining the meaning of a work is evident in both the author and the reader’s association of a meaning to the form and content of a text.
Finally, the function of human consciousness in unifying not only human experience but also all forms and types of literary works is apparent as the production and reproduction of a work manifests the creation of new meanings and hence new ways of understanding a text. These assumption merely show that the production, reproduction, and reception of a literary work throughout history involves a dialectic process wherein a literary text serves as the main referent for the opposing meanings given to a specific event and? or concept located in a literary work.
Eagleton specifies the interconnection between literature and history as she posits that the definition of the concept literature continually evolves along with the social and political conditions in a particular period in history. She claims, “[W]e can drop once and for all the illusion that the category “literature” is objective in the sense of being eternally given and immutable…Literature reflects… the ways in which what we say and believe connects with the power-structure and power relations of the society we live in” (Eagleton 10-14).
Eagleton emphasizes the dependence of the association of the values and meanings used in the analysis of literary works to a predominant belief in a particular period in history. A concrete example of this can be seen in the case of Gilman’s “A Yellow Wallpaper. ” Gilman’s text was only considered as an important literary work in the later part of the 20th century which may be associated with the sociopolitical conditions that allowed the equality of both men and women and hence the recognition of woman writers and their works during that time.
Another example of this is apparent in the distinction between Formalism and Modernism in literature. Formalists believe that all literary works can be analyzed in terms of their form (Eagleton 3). They argued that form precedes content as they conceived of the former as a mere expression of the later, that being “content was merely the ‘motivation’ of form” (Eagleton 3). As opposed to this, the Modernists argued that the content was more important than the form (“Brief Guide to Modernism”).
The Imagists, a sub-group of Modernists, for example, wrote in free verse as opposed to the restrictive forms of sonnets or villanelles (“Brief Guide to Imagism”). This distinction between Formalism and Modernism shows the evolution of the concept literature. Given that no fixed meaning may be attributed to the term literature; one may claim that a fixed meaning was presented in relation to the term in the initial part of the discussion. It is important to note however that the meaning given to the term above merely emphasizes the fluidity of literature.
Such is the case since a description of literary works as texts that enable the creation of new worlds merely provides a loose definition of the term as opposed to the rigid definition provided by the Formalists. In other words, the way literature is conceived in this discussion merely emphasizes the reader’s relationship to a work, which is the reader’s ability to identify new world or new meanings in the combination of a text’s form and content.
Although the looseness of the definition specified above may seem to consider all forms of written works as literary texts, it is important to note that the definition is still grounded on what is considered to be an art form. Regardless of this definition, the point which is being emphasized here is the dependence of the term literature on the sociopolitical conditions of a period. As can be seen in the case of Gilman’s text as well as in the case of the Formalists and Modernists, the way one understands literature is dependent on the predominant beliefs during the period of a literary text’s production or a literary movement’s existence.
With the relationship between literature and history mentioned above, it becomes evident why human consciousness occupies a primary role in determining the meaning of a literary work. Human consciousness provides the link between literature and history as the human mind interprets specific beliefs and associates them with the content of literary works. In the case of literary critics, the human mind interprets the predominant beliefs regarding the structure of objects in society and creates a connection between this order and the form and content of literary works.
In other words, the human mind ascribes meanings to literary texts. In the same manner that human beings create a bridge between history and literature, literature also creates a bridge between human beings. This relationship between history, literature, and human beings can be seen in Albee’s “The American Dream” and DeLillo’s White Noise. In the case of Albee’s play, his discussion of the American dream not only shows the association of a specific male stereotype to the dream but its association to superficial ideals.
The stereotype is apparent as the Young Man, which represents the American dream, is describes as a “clean-cut, Midwest farm boy type, almost insultingly good looking in a typically American way” (Albee 112). He was further described to possess a “good profile, straight nose, honest eyes, (and a) wonderful smile” (Albee 112). This description of the Young Man shows the dependence of his existence on a specific setup in society wherein “lights fill up…as he steps into…(a) room” (Albee 112).
The Young Man’s existence, as a representation of the American dream, is dependent on a society wherein external appearance is lauded in comparison to a person’s character. Note for example that the Young Man is also described to be incapable of loving anyone else (Albee 115). He is thereby an individual who is devoid of establishing a loving connection with other human beings. By representing the Young Man’s existence to be dependent on a superficial society, Albee paves the way for different ways of reading the text.
One, for example, may focus on the Young Man’s representation of the Hollywood ideal in America and its connection to the American dream. In addition, one may also focus on the Young Man’s superficial existence. Albee’s text, in this sense, is fluid since no specific interpretation of the work may be given. Its interpretation is dependent on the reader and? or audience of his play. In a similar manner, DeLillo’s White Noise is also a text open to interpretation. The text also discusses an aspect of life which is also common to all men, that being death.
It is a truism that all human beings are bound to die. DeLillo’s novel associates death with the rapid developments caused by the electronic age. Consider, for example, his description of white noise in the following passage, “[T]raffic washes past, a remote and steady murmur around our sleep, as of dead souls babbling at the edge of a dream” (DeLillo 4). The novel’s title, White Noise, may be understood as a representation of death. Death, like white noise, is a sound that permeates human existence. They are both representations of the nothingness that lies outside of life and activity.
Notice that it was only in the graveyard, as Jack was faced with the figures of the dead, that there was no mentioned of the white noise in Jack’s surroundings (DeLillo 71). White noise, in this sense, serves as a reminder of death. It is the sound that one hears before one encounters the death of one’s own body. In conjunction to the continuous technological developments in our world, white noise is a sound of reckoning for the possible end of the world itself. In both Albee’s play and DeLillo’s novel, one notes that both texts discuss certain universal themes.
Albee’s play revolves around the theme of a country’s dream. DeLillo’s novel, on the other hand, revolves around the theme of death. Both of these are universal themes as they represent certain aspects of human experience that resounds throughout time. The relationship between literature, history, and human beings is thereby apparent in both texts as they themselves present an author’s view regarding a universal theme, one which will be experienced by all human beings throughout the existence of our race.
Due to its universal character, these themes, and hence both texts which are grounded on these themes, will be interpreted in different ways by all those who will read them. Human consciousness thereby determines the meaning of a work as an author and a reader associates meanings to a work’s form and content. The universal themes of all literary works provide all human beings, regardless of the spatiotemporal conditions during their existence, with a common ground for understanding literary texts.
It is partially due to these universal themes that the members of the current generation are able to find a connection with the works of authors who belong to a different generation. These themes however have been reinterpreted in line with the current generation’s experiences and conception of reality. This can be seen in Frosts’ “Stopping by Woods on a Rainy Evening” and Jacoby’s “The Diner. ” In Frosts’ poem, one is presented with the theme of death as the poem’s persona ponders on the mysteries associated with it. He states, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.?
But I have promises to keep, ? And miles to go before I sleep” (Poe). The persona, in this sense, attempts to ward off thoughts of death since he recognizes that life has a lot more experiences in store for him. Although Poe wrote this poem in the 1920’s, its theme continues to be found in contemporary works as can be seen in Jacoby’s “The Diner. ” In the text, Jacoby speaks of another form of death, one that has been brought about by the artificial reality enabled by technological innovations. He claims, “Bright bright city lights…? I’ll take your pale and shadowed glow,?
Whatever half-light path you show…? I feel so close to those in here, ? I share their loneliness and fear…? From the probing, searching nighttime” (Jacoby). In “The Diner,” the persona speaks of the death of human interaction caused by the alienating conditions in the modern world. In this world, although men are given the innovations that should have provided them with the chance to have longer periods of meaningful interaction with one another, the artificiality of their surroundings has led them to create artificial relationships with each other.
The similarity of the theme of both Frost’s and Jacoby’s texts manifest how literature may serve as a tool for portraying similar themes whose meanings vary due to the new events and? or concepts which have been associated with it. Within this context, it is evident that all forms of literature are much more alike than disparate. Human consciousness has allowed the connection of all literary works as it has enabled the form of all literary texts to correspond with one another due to its relationship to the reader who continually participates in the active reinterpretation of literary works.
As McEwan claims, “Literature flourishes along the channels of this unspoken agreement between writers and readers, offering a mental map whose north and south are the specific, and the general” (41). In this mental map, human minds throughout history interact in a dialectic dialogue with one another as they conceive, interpret, and reinterpret universal themes in literature. This dialogue allows the conception of literature as an art form that continually allows the creation of new worlds and new ways of perceiving reality. Works Cited “A Brief Guide to Imagism.
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15 May 2010. Gilman, Charlotte. “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Other Stories. London: Courier Dover, 1997. Print. Jacoby, Peter. “The Diner. ” Prof. Peter R. Jacoby’s Spring 2010 Web Site. San Diego Mesa College. n. d. Web. 15 May 2010. McEwan, Ian. “Literature, Science and Human Nature. ” Human Nature: Fact and Fiction. Eds. Robin Headlam and Johnjoe McFadden. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006. 40-62. Print. Murfin, Ross and Supryia Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. London: Bedford? St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.