Language, Literature, and Critical Practice: Ways of Analysing Text

By David Birch | Go to book overview

3

Reading literary texts: traditions, assumptions, practices

It were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a poet. (Shelley, Defence of Poetry, p. 230)


Literature as moral discipline

Concentration on the idea and practice of language is a crucial means by which people have sought an identity that distinguishes them from the rest of the animal world. The more articulate-eloquent-people are, the more they have felt able to distance themselves from that world. A view of an inarticulate and ineloquent person has been, therefore, a view that has placed them 'lower down the order', closer to the animals. In a word, they are considered 'brutish'. If this is an uncomfortable and insidious idea for many in the 1980s it is only so as a reaction against its widespread acceptance (and against the ideologies and practices of which this view formed a major part) in earlier decades. The increasing conservatism and dominance of New Rightism in the present decade might, unfortunately, suggest that my optimism about that reaction is somewhat naive. Whatever the situation, it is nevertheless certain that now, as then, those who have an articulate control of language have potentially more control over other people than do those who are perceived to be less articulate.

The crucial word here is 'articulate': who determines the rules and recognition criteria for levels of articulateness? In England, prior to the First World War (as a convenient, though unreliable, historical 'moment'), the situation was determined for the most part by those who had status and/or property and wealth. The class system unquestioningly assumed that those at the top of the pile were the most articulate and eloquent, and that those on the bottom were the least. This was certainly the view held by many

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Language, Literature, and Critical Practice: Ways of Analysing Text
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Editor's Introduction to the Interface Series xi
  • Foreword xv
  • Acknowledgements xvi
  • Text Analyses xvii
  • Preface 1
  • 1 - How Texts Mean: Reading as Critical/Political Practice 5
  • 2 - Language, Literature and Scientific Fictions 45
  • 3 - Reading Literary Texts: Traditions, Assumptions, Practices 57
  • 4 - Reading Texts Closely: Language, Style and the 'Buried Life of Words' 88
  • 5 - The Linguistics of Text: Structures and Strictures 117
  • Afterword 167
  • Notes 170
  • Bibliography 176
  • Index 207
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