ENG 220 Approaches to reading and Interpretation


Grew out of women's movement following WW II, this approach analyzes the representation of women in literature. Though the projects of individual critics differ, there is general agreement that interpretation of literature involves critique of patriarchy. Patriarchy = ideology that privileges masculine ways of thinking/points of view and marginalizes women politically, economically and psychologically.
For some (French influence), project of interpretation is to expose patriarchal nature of language itself. This involves usage that denigrates or ignores women. It also includes the deeper view that a masculine style of language has suppressed a feminine one. Women need to assert a feminine language. What would this be like? Some have argued that it would be more fluid, less straightforward and logical, more perceptual, open to ongoing semiosis (For what this may look like, read Virginia Woolf's short story "The Mark on the Wall.")
Some authors (American) explore texts in detail, demonstrating patriarchical patterns, or the complex response of women writers to their own authorial status.
Some explore challenges to a literary canon that is so dominated by men. This means the insertion of ignored female writers (e.g. Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman) into the canon. It also entails the study of a literary tradition of women writers.

In the sense that this criticism often explores less what the text overtly says but what it hides (e.g. unquestioning attitude toward ideologically entrenched ideas about women) this criticism counts as an example of a "hermeneutics of suspicion."

Major authors, critics:
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (1869); Margaret Fuller, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845); Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929); Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949); Mary Ellman, Thinking about Women (1968); Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1969); Judith Fetterley, The Resisting Reader (1978); Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own (1977); Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous

dominant values, beliefs, ways of thinking through which a culture understands reality. Similar to the phrase "cultural mythology," it usually represents in tacit fashion the prevailing views of a particular class. Examples of ideology relevant to American culture: gender roles, value of capitalism, constitutional rights protecting individual liberties, Protestant work ethic, Rocky Balboa . . .
LITERARY CANON: the group of texts deemed to be major works of literary tradition
concerns itself with works by women

Interpretive approaches that lend credence to authorial or rhetorical intentionality, that concern themselves with laying bare the verbal sense in all of its dynamics. Examples: formalism, reader-response

HERMENEUTICS OF SUSPICION: involves a resistance to author's intentions or textual design to unearth hidden ideologies or aporia (anomalies). Less what the text says; more what the text hides. Examples: Deconstruction, Feminist Literary Criticism, Marxist literary criticism


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