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Blog Post Number 7
During the past semester it has become apparent to me that when one approaches the literature of another culture one must be quite cautious before making judgments about the value of the work or in fact interpreting it. There is often substantial context built around every work which is difficult to understand without immersing oneself in the culture from which it came. Likewise, when one is writing about that context from which a work came–writing about the facets of a diverse culture–it’s equally important to be cautious and respectful of the culture or community before making statements about it.
While this course has served to reinforce this notion I have also realized the importance of widening the scope of the cultures and societies which students study more generally. Confining oneself to one particular cultural discourse and its set of presuppositions is often limiting and stymies diversity.
I think one of the important pieces of work which I engaged with this semester were Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” which served as a model for how an author could integrate a critique of two cultures while simultaneously retaining the human dignity of individuals the communities he critiqued. Although Achebe’s text was important to me I think reading “Theory Before Theory” was the most valuable text I’d read in terms of academic material. Peter Barry did a fantastic job of running through the evolution and current state of literary theory. Theory itself, much like a culture is not unified and Barry was respectful yet critical of each theoretical system he presented. Importantly Barry pointed out the axioms on which some theories operate. For instance he noted that gender studies operate under the axiom that gender identities which we often regard as “given” are in fact “socially constructed [or] dependent on social and political forces” (34). A notion which has allowed for substantial breakthroughs in explaining subjective human experiences. While Barry notes that this is an axiom of gender studies which has proven useful he also points out some problems for the basis of most theoretical enterprises. For instance when he discusses the assumption that “thinking is necessarily affected and largely determined by prior ideological commitment. The notion of a disinterested enquiry is. . . untenable” he also points out that this view is that it “tends to discredit one’s own project” (35). In other words it can function to refute the very view one is seeking to defend, a problem which I think is of importance for literary critics to consider and one which has affected the way I see literary theory.