Midterm Review (510)

It’s important not only to be familiar with the key ideas presented in Abbott’s Introduction to Narrative but to be able to utilize them in your writing and thinking. Clearly there is no shortcut in acquiring this knowledge; if you haven’t already done so read the first eleven chapters. There you will find narratological concepts such as closure, narrativity, masterplot, constituent (vs. supplementary) events, character, and many others. One way of preparing for the midterm is to select a few of these terms and apply them to The Talisman. You could even experiment with Abbott’s three modes of interpretation (intentional, symptomatic, adaptive). What would a symptomatic reading of Scott’s novel look like? What would such a reading allow you to say about this historical romance?

Methods of formal analysis lie at the heart of this course, as does the theoretical apparatus we’ve been constructing through our readings of critical sources. Any theory relies on a specific terminology to render explicit its means and ends. Hall’s chapter on “The West and the Rest” deploys a specialized language to examine “the West” as a discourse even as it offers a thumbnail sketch of the history of ideas with which that discourse is built. Recall that he identifies his project as one of “historical sociology”– which is to say that he is interested in both the role of values and practices in constituting social reality and the way these things develop. To that end he catalogs how “the West” has been mobilized and imagined. We’ve covered this list at least three times in class and it can be found in the opening pages of his essay.

One helpful addition to Hall’s account is the concept of “the geographical imaginary.” Remember the medieval map on the course information page which features Jerusalem (al-Quds in transliterated Arabic) as the navel of the world. This document represents a European imaginary of the known world, one that would be superseded as Europeans explored and conquered a vast area that would come to be known as America. As a visual representation of the world the medieval map grants pride of place to the site of the “Holy Sepulcher.” Shifting focus, over time an increasingly self-conscious Europe would assume the central position on maps. One issue here is the way such representations implicitly value territories and their populations. Entire image-systems come to be associated with geographical regions. Thus the Orient of Orientalist discourse– as we saw with the paintings by Gerome and others– is represented by the harem and the souk, voluptuous female bodies and exotic animals. In this reductive (if titillating) rendering the Orient is the scene of a surfeit of pleasures even as it remains fundamentally “unreadable” to “western” sensibilities.

The act of othering the Orient (and “Orientals,” who in Said’s analysis refer primarily to Arabs and Muslims) is related to stadial theory as it is articulated by (European) Enlightenment figures. Patterson helps us to understand the deep history of distinguishing peoples by their mode of subsistence, a paradigm which is at once both developmental and hierarchical.

Edgar and Sedgewick define “othering” as

“a form of cultural projection of concepts [which] constructs the identities of cultural subjects through a relationship of power in which the Other is the subjugated element. In claiming knowledge about the Colonized [Muslims, barbarians, terrorists] this projection [this discourse, what Edward Said termed “Orientalism”] constructs them as its own (European) Other. Through describing purportedly ‘native’ [Muslim, ‘Oriental’, etc.] characteristics [irrational, uncivilized, etc.] Orientalism provided a definition not of the real ‘native’ identity but of the European identity in terms of the oppositions which structured its putatively innocent account. Hence, irrational Other presupposes rational Self. The construction of the Other in Orientalist discourse, then, is a matter of asserting self-identity, and the issue of the European account of the Other is thereby rendered a question of power” (Edgar and Sedgwick 2007).

Note that this definition relies heavily on the Foucauldian notion of discourse.

Be sure to think about our conversations concerning The Talisman as a text that complicates the notion of the West. Rather than a straightforward Orientalist text, Scott’s novel potrays Saladin as a paragon of chivalry, thereby elevating him over certain European characters. In one sense this characterization is simply the expression of a long-held assessment of the Crusades as an irrational explosion of religious violence. Scottish philosopher David Hume, for example, described the wars of the cross as “the most signal and most durable monument of human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation” while Francis Bacon considered them to be “‘a rendezvous of cracked brains that wore their feather in their head instead of their hat'” (qtd. in Tyerman xiv). Even this, however, can tell us something about “the West’s” conception of itself. Finally, consider the novel’s moral economy, one which allows no ambiguity or remainder and asserts full closure. How (at what formal level) is this accomplished?

That’s all for now if I have additional comments I’ll post them.

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