Language and Literature in Society: A Sociological Essay on Theory and Method in the Interpretation of Linguistic Symbols

Language and Literature in Society: A Sociological Essay on Theory and Method in the Interpretation of Linguistic Symbols

Language and Literature in Society: A Sociological Essay on Theory and Method in the Interpretation of Linguistic Symbols

Language and Literature in Society: A Sociological Essay on Theory and Method in the Interpretation of Linguistic Symbols

Excerpt

While this book assumes a sociological orientation toward literature, it is not intended for sociologists alone. It will, I hope, be useful to scholars and students who must deal with various forms of language and literature. The hero of this book is the writer, not as unconscious prophet, but as rational maker of forms through which life in society becomes possible. Traditions, folkways, mores, and utopias are experienced as forms of expression, and these forms must be studied as carefully as forms of space-time. Perhaps, if we were wiser, we would study them more carefully, for it is through such forms of expression that we learn to be human and, in turn, to pass on our humanity-- and inhumanity--to others. Linguistic symbols occur in every phase of human action from the simplest perception to the most profound moments of consummation. Literature (like all art) is important to society because its makers perfect language; they enable us to express ourselves better; and thus they extend the range of our understanding to people once remote and strange. Literature is a cause in sociation as well as a result. Language may be--indeed, must be--an end in itself for the writer, but the end he fashions becomes a means for others. How we name things and events determines how we will act; what we teach our young to call things will determine how they can act toward them.

Perhaps it is a basic condition of all discourse that when we talk about one thing, we must, perforce, neglect another. If any reader feels that, because this book is written by a sociologist concerned with symbolic experience, it neglects the resources of language as such, I can only say that such neglect arises out of a desire to keep to fairly rigorous sociological discourse about symbolic action. Many good things have been said about symbolic experience. There is no point in repeating these in some new jargon which happens to be fashionable for the moment in American social science. In any kind of sociological analysis of art there is always a danger of confusing the conditions of art with the expressive forms of the art. But aesthetic analysis is not without its dangers too. The "beautiful," as an abstraction, must be used carefully. There are, it seems, several kinds of beauty, not only among widely separate . . .

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