Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts

Wednesday 6 May 2020

To His Coy Mistress - Implied Culture vs Historical Fact

Reading Epidemics in Literature


One of the ways of reading 'epidemics' in literature is also to read the 'absence' of epidemics in literature. It can be interesting to read the literature written during and aftermath of epidemics or pandemics. If there is literature which deals with death and yet does not use the metaphor of epidemic to represent death in the literature, it can be something worth questioning.

Questioning the Artistic Sensibility

It is true that the creative writers are not supposed to write the way we want to read. It is their freedom of choice. It is every artist's liberty to deal with subject matter in the way it suits their artistic sensibility. We do not question the poetic liberty or artistic sensibility when we raise this question. What we can try to see is that: who is that poet? That means, not an individual person but a voice of the cultural group or identity that is represented by the artistic voice. It is also to question how different people, in a given culture, at a given moment of time, in a given calamity or epidemic, react to the hardships. How do the people react to the very notion of 'death'?


Here in a very suitable study of Andrew Marvell's poem 'To His Coy Mistress'. The poem is known for it expression of beautiful love-sentiments by a lover to his beloved.

The speaker of the poem starts by addressing a woman who has been slow to respond to his romantic advances. In the first stanza he describes how he would pay court to her if he were to be unencumbered by the constraints of a normal lifespan. He could spend centuries admiring each part of her body and her resistance to his advances (i.e., coyness) would not discourage him. In the second stanza, he laments how short human life is. Once life is over, the speaker contends, the opportunity to enjoy one another is gone, as no one embraces in death. In the last stanza, the speaker urges the woman to requite his efforts, and argues that in loving one another with passion they will both make the most of the brief time they have to live. (Wikipedia)

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.


But at my back I always hear
Time’s wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.  

Critical Reading of the Poem: Implied Culture vs Historical Fact

Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" tells the reader a good deal about the speaker of the poem, much of which is already clear from earlier comments in this volume, using traditional approaches. We know that the speaker is knowledgeable about poems and conventions of classic Greek and Roman literature, about other conventions of love poetry, such as the courtly love conventions of medieval Europe, and about Biblical passages. 

Indeed, if one accepts the close reading of Jules Brody, the speaker shows possible awareness of the Provencal amor de Iohn, neo-Petrarchan "complaints," Aquinas's concept of the
triple-leveled soul, Biblical echoes, a "Platonico-Christian corporeal economy" (59), and the convention of the blazon. The first stanza, says Brody, shows "its insistent, exaggerated literariness" (60). In the second stanza, Brody sees not only the conventional carpe diem theme from Horace but also echoes from Ovid, joined by other echoes from the Book of Common Prayer, from the Greek Anthology, and from "Renaissance vernacular and neo-Latin poets" (61,-64). Brody posits the "implied 1s3dg1//-3s distinct from the fictive lady-who would "be able to summon up a certain number of earlier or contemporaneous examples of this kind of love poem and who [could] be counted on, in short, to supply the models which Marvell may variously have been evoking, imitating, distorting, subverting or transcending" (64). (The concept of the "implied reader," we may note, bulks large in reader response criticism; see, for example, the work of Wolfgang Iser.) The speaker knows all of these things well enough to parody or at least to echo them, for in making his proposition to the coy lady, he hardly expects to be taken seriously in his detailing. He knows that he is echoing the conventions only in order to satirize them and to make light of the real proposal at hand. He knows that she knows, for she comes from the same cultural milieu that he does. In other words, the speaker-like Marvell-is a highly educated person, one who is well read, one whose natural flow of associated images moves lightly over details and allusions that reflect who he is, and he expects his hearer or reader to respond in a kind of harmonic vibration. He thinks in terms of precious stones, of exotic and distant places, of a milieu where eating, drinking, and making merry seem to be an achievable way of life. Beyond what we know of the speaker from his own words, we are justified in speculating that his coy lady is like the implied reader, equally well educated, and therefore knowledgeable of the conventions he uses in parody. He seems to assume that she understands the parodic nature of his comments, for by taking her in on the jests he appeals to her intellect, thus trying to throw her off guard against his very physical requests. After all, if the two of them can be on the same plane in their thoughts and allusions, their smiles and jests,
then perhaps they can shortly be together on a different-and literal-plane: literally bedded. Thus might appear to be the culture and the era of the speaker, his lady-and his implied reader. But what does he not show? As he selects these rich and multifarious allusions, what does he ignore from his culture? He clearly does not think of poverty, the demographics and socioeconomic details of which would show how fortunate his circumstances are. For example, it has been estimated that during this era at least one quarter of the European population was below the poverty line. Nor does the speaker think of disease as a daily reality that he might face. To be sure, in the second and especially in the third stanza he alludes to future death and dissolution. But wealth and leisure and sexual activity are his currency, his coin for present bliss. Worms and marble vaults and ashes are not present, hence not yet real. Now consider historical reality, a dimension that the poem ignores. Consider disease-real and present disease-what has been called the "chronic morbidity" of the population. Although the speaker thrusts disease and death into the future, we know that syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases were just as real a phenomenon in Marvell's day as in our era. What was the reality that the speaker chooses not to think about, as he pushes off death and the "vault" to some distant time? Similarly, one might turn to a different disease that was in some ways even more ominous, more wrenching, in its grasp of the mind and body of the general population. Move ahead a few years, beyond the probable time of composition of the poem in the early 1650s: move to 1.664-65. That was when the London populace was faced with an old horror, one that had ravaged Europe as early as A.D. 542.It did it again in its most thoroughgoing way in the middle of the fourteenth century (especially 1348), killing millions, perhaps 25 million in Europe alone. It was ready to strike again. It was, of course, a recurrence of the Black Death, in the Great Plague of London. From July to October, it killed some 68,000 persons/ and a total of 75,000 in the course of the epidemic. Had we world enough and time, we could present the details of the plague here, its physical manifestations, its rapid spread, the quickness of death: but the gruesome horrors are available elsewhere. For example, the curious can get a sense of the lived experience by reading Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year (1722), an imaginative creation of what it was like. So disease was real in the middle of the seventeenth century. There needed no ghost to come from the world of the dead to tell Marvell's speaker about the real world. Perhaps the speaker and his lady-knew it after all. Maybe too well. Maybe that is why that real world is so thoroughly absent from the poem.

Want to make a similar critique of the literature of epidemic?

Well, here is a very recent poem written by UK Poet Laureate  Simon Armitage. Would you like to give it a try? Would you like to make a critiqu of this poem with reference to 'implied culture vs historical fact'?

Lockdown by Simon Armitage

And I couldn’t escape the waking dream
of infected fleas
in the warp and weft of soggy cloth
by the tailor’s hearth
in ye olde Eyam.
Then couldn’t un-see
the Boundary Stone,
that cock-eyed dice with its six dark holes,
thimbles brimming with vinegar wine
purging the plagued coins.
Which brought to mind the sorry story
of Emmott Syddall and Rowland Torre,
star-crossed lovers on either side
of the quarantine line
whose wordless courtship spanned the river
till she came no longer.
But slept again,
and dreamt this time
of the exiled yaksha sending word
to his lost wife on a passing cloud,
a cloud that followed an earthly map
of camel trails and cattle tracks,
streams like necklaces,
fan-tailed peacocks, painted elephants,
embroidered bedspreads
of meadows and hedges,
bamboo forests and snow-hatted peaks,
waterfalls, creeks,
the hieroglyphs of wide-winged cranes
and the glistening lotus flower after rain,
the air
hypnotically see-through, rare,
the journey a ponderous one at times, long and slow
but necessarily so.
Brody, Jules. "The Resurrection of the Body: A New Reading of Marvell's 'To His Coy Mistress."' ELH 56, no. L (1,986): 53-80.
Guirin, Wilfred. et all. The Handbook of Critical Approached to Literature.
Marvell, Andrew. To His Coy Mistress

Saturday 8 February 2020

Introduction to Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies

What is Cultural Studies?

Cultural studies, interdisciplinary field concerned with the role of social institutions in the shaping of culture. Cultural studies emerged in Britain in the late 1950s and subsequently spread internationally, notably to the United States and Australia. Originally identified with the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham (founded 1964) and with such scholars as Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall, and Raymond Williams, cultural studies later became a well-established field in many academic institutions, and it has since had broad influence in sociologyanthropologyhistoriographyliterary criticismphilosophy, and art criticism. Among its central concerns are the place of race or ethnicityclass, and gender in the production of cultural knowledge. (Britannica  Brian Duignan).
Cultural studies is a field of theoretically, politically, and empirically engaged cultural analysis that concentrates upon the political dynamics of contemporary culture, its historical foundations, defining traits, conflicts, and contingencies. Cultural studies researchers generally investigate how cultural practices relate to wider systems of power associated with or operating through social phenomena, such as ideologyclass structuresnational formationsethnicitysexual orientationgender, and generation. Cultural studies views cultures not as fixed, bounded, stable, and discrete entities, but rather as constantly interacting and changing sets of practices and processes.
Cultural studies was initially developed by British Marxist academics in the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and has been subsequently taken up and transformed by scholars from many different disciplines around the world. Cultural studies is avowedly and even radically interdisciplinary and can sometimes be seen as antidisciplinary. A key concern for cultural studies practitioners is the examination of the forces within and through which socially organized people conduct and participate in the construction of their everyday lives. (Source: Click to read more).

Four Goals of Cultural Studies

  1. Cultural Studies transcends the confines of a particular discipline such as literary criticism or history.
  2. Cultural Studies is politically engaged.
  3. Cultural Studies denies the separation of 'high' and 'low' or elite and popular culture.
  4. Cultural Studies analyzes not only the cultural work, but also the means of production.

Five Types of Cultural Studies

  1. British Cultural Materialism
  2. New Historicism
  3. American Multiculturalism
  4. Postmodernism & Popular Culture
  5. Postcolonial Studies

Cultural Studies in Practice

  • Reading 'Hamlet' - Two Characters: Marginalization with a Vengeance
  • Reading 'To His Coy Mistress - Implied Culture versus Historical Fact
  • Reading 'Frankenstein' - From 'Paradise Lost to Frank-N-Furter: The Creature Lives!
  • Reading 'Writer & Market' - Hawthorne, Chetan Bhagat & their Markets

 Limitations of Cultural Studies

Check your progress - online test

Points to Ponder

Saturday 25 January 2020

Culture and Anarchy

Culture and Anarchy (1869)  - Matthew Arnold

Culture and Anarchy is a series of periodical essays by Matthew Arnold, first published in Cornhill Magazine 1867-68 and collected as a book in 1869. The preface was added in 1875.
Arnold's famous piece of writing on culture established his High Victorian cultural agenda which remained dominant in debate from the 1860s until the 1950s.
Matthew Arnold's "Culture and Anarchy" is a cultural and political critique written in 1869 that addresses the state of England's cultural and political systems during the time. The essay explores the idea of culture as a means of promoting order and unity in society, while contrasting it with the chaos and disorder caused by a lack of cultural values. Arnold argues that the lack of a strong cultural foundation in England was leading to social and political unrest and that the cultivation of a broader, more sophisticated culture was necessary for the country's progress and stability. The essay is considered a classic of cultural criticism and remains relevant to discussions of the role of culture and values in shaping society.

According to his view advanced in the book, "Culture [...] is a study of perfection". He further wrote that: "[Culture] seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere; to make all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light [...]".
His often quoted phrase "[culture is] the best which has been thought and said" comes from the Preface to Culture and Anarchy:
The whole scope of the essay is to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically, vainly imagining that there is a virtue in following them staunchly which makes up for the mischief of following them mechanically.
The book contains most of the terms – culturesweetness and lightBarbarianPhilistineHebraism, and many others – which are more associated with Arnold's work influence. (Wikipedia)

Culture and Anarchy, major work of criticism by Matthew Arnold, published in 1869. In it Arnold contrasts culture, which he defines as “the study of perfection,” with anarchy, the prevalent mood of England’s then new democracy, which lacks standards and a sense of direction. Arnold classified English society into the Barbarians (with their lofty spirit, serenity, and distinguished manners and their inaccessibility to ideas), the Philistines (the stronghold of religious nonconformity, with plenty of energy and morality but insufficient “sweetness and light”), and the Populace (still raw and blind). He saw in the Philistines the key to culture; they were the most influential segment of society; their strength was the nation’s strength, their crudeness its crudeness; it therefore was necessary to educate and humanize the Philistines. Arnold saw in the idea of “the State,” and not in any one class of society, the true organ and repository of the nation’s collective “best self.” No summary can do justice to Culture and Anarchy, however; it is written with an inward poise, a serene detachment, and an infusion of subtle humour that make it a masterpiece of ridicule as well as a searching analysis of Victorian society. The same is true of its unduly neglected sequel, Friendship’s Garland (1871). (Source:This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Kuiper, Senior Editor.)

The published book on these essays in divided in following chapters:

Preamble. What is Culture?
Chapter I.Sweetness and Light
Chapter II.Doing as One Likes - Anarchy
Chapter III.Barbarians, Philistines, Populace
Chapter IV.Hebraism and Hellenism
Chapter V.Porro Unum est Necessarium
Chapter VI.Our Liberal Practitioners

(Click on the chapter numbers to read it is details.)

Culture and Anarchy is a controversial philosophical work written by the celebrated Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold. Composed during a time of unprecedented social and political change, the essay argues for a restructuring of England's social ideology. It reflects Arnold's passionate conviction that the uneducated English masses could be molded into conscientious individuals who strive for human perfection through the harmonious cultivation of all of their skills and talents. A crucial condition of Arnold's thesis is that a state-administered system of education must replace the ecclesiastical program which emphasized rigid individual moral conduct at the expense of free thinking and devotion to community. Much more than a mere treatise on the state of education in England, Culture and Anarchy is, in the words of J. Dover Wilson, “at once a masterpiece of vivacious prose, a great poet's great defence of poetry, a profoundly religious book, and the finest apology for education in the English language.”
Plot and Major Characters
Although Arnold does not create specific fictional characters to express his ideas in Culture and Anarchy, he does infuse his essays with a narrative persona that can best be described as a Socratic figure. This sagacious mentor serves as a thematic link between each of the chapters, underscoring the importance of self-knowledge in order to fully engage the concept of pursuing human perfection. This mentor also identifies and classifies three groups of people who comprise contemporary English society. The first group is the Barbarians, or the aristocratic segment of society who are so involved with their archaic traditions and gluttony that they have lost touch with the rest of society for which they were once responsible. The second group—for whom Arnold's persona reserves his most scornful criticism—is the Philistines, or the selfish and materialistic middle class who have been gulled into a torpid state of puritanical self-centeredness by nonconforming religious sects. The third group is the Populace, or the disenfranchised, poverty-stricken lower class who have been let down by the negligent Barbarians and greedy Philistines. For Arnold, the Populace represents the most malleable, and the most deserving, social class to be elevated out of anarchy through the pursuit of culture.
Major Themes
Arnold introduces the principal themes of Culture and Anarchy directly in the essay's title. Culture involves an active personal quest to forsake egocentricity, prejudice, and narrow-mindedness and to embrace an equally balanced development of all human talents in the pursuit of flawlessness. It is a process of self-discipline which initiates a metamorphosis from self-interest to conscientiousness and an enlightened understanding of one's singular obligation to an all-inclusive utopian society. According to Stefan Collini, culture is “an ideal of human life, a standard of excellence and fullness for the development of our capacities, aesthetic, intellectual, and moral.” By contrast, anarchy represents the absence of a guiding principle in one's life which prevents one from striving to attain perfection. This lack of purpose manifests itself in such social and religious defects as laissez faire commercialism and puritanical hypocrisy. For Arnold, the myopic emphasis on egocentric self-assertion has a devastating impact on providing for the needs of the community; indeed, it can only lead to a future of increased anarchy as the rapidly evolving modern democracy secures the enfranchisement of the middle and lower classes without instilling in them the need for culture. Inherent in Arnold's argument is the idea of Hebraism versus Hellenism. Hebraism represents the actions of people who are either ignorant or resistant to the idea of culture. Hebraists subscribe to a strict, narrow-minded method of moral conduct and self-control which does not allow them to visualize a utopian future of belonging to an enlightened community. Conversely, Hellenism signifies the open-minded, spontaneous exploration of classical ideas and their application to contemporary society. Indeed, Arnold believes that the ideals promulgated by such philosophers as Plato and Socrates can help resolve the moral and ethical problems resulting from the bitter conflict between society, politics, and religion in Victorian England. As serious as Arnold's message is, he elects to employ the device of irony to reveal his philosophical points to his readers. Through irony, satire, and urbane humor, the author deftly entertains his readers with examples of educational travesties, he wittily exposes the enemies of reform and culture, and he beguiles his readers with self-deprecating humor in order to endear them to his ideas. 
(Source: Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism, ©2003 Gale Cengage.) 

Concept of Culture

Culture - Sweetness and Light

What is anarchy in society?

Discuss 'Doing as One Likes'

Bring out the distinction and difference among Barbarians, Philistines and Populace

What is Hebraism and Hellenism?

Porro Unum est Necessarium

Out Liberal Practitioners

Critique of the essay - 'Culture and Anarchy'


1.    What is the concept of Culture according to Matthew Arnold? Explain the various factors which make ‘Culture’.
2.    “The whole scope of the essay is to recommend Culture as the great help our of our present difficulties; Culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us – ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’.” Explain with reference to the essay ‘Culture & Anarchy’.
3.    Discuss ‘Doing as One Likes’.
4.    What does Arnold mean by ‘Anarchy in Society’ in his essay Culture and Anarchy?
5.    Freedom of doing as one likes, according to Arnold, was one of those things which English thus worshipped in itself, without enough regarding the ends for which freedom is to be desired. Justify with reference to your reading of Culture and Anarchy.
6.    “Firstly, never go against the best light you have; Secondly, take care that your light be not darkness”. Justify with reference to Matthew Arnold’s views on Culture & Anarchy.
7.    Explain the concepts of ‘Hebruism and Hellenism’ as discussed by M. Arnold in his essay ‘Culture and Anarchy’.
Write brief note on class distinctions discussed in form of ‘Barbarians, Philistines & Populace’ by M. Arnold in his essay Culture and Anarchy.

Additional Resources:

Friday 12 February 2016


Q for Question

The structure of any question is as devoid of neutrality as is its content

This is an excerpt from Niel Postman's Technolopy: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.

To put it simply, like any important piece of machinery— television or the computer, for example—language has an ideological agenda that is apt to be hidden from view. In the case of language, that agenda is so deeply integrated into our personalities and world-view that a special effort and, often, special training are required to detect its presence. Unlike television or the computer, language appears to be not an extension of our powers but simply a natural expression of who and what we are. This is the great secret of language: Because it comes from inside us, we believe it to be a direct, unedited, unbiased, apolitical expression of how the world really is. A machine, on the other hand, is outside of us, clearly created by us, modifiable by us, even discardable by us; it is easier to see how a machine re-creates the world in its own image. But in many respects, a sentence functions very much like a machine, and this is nowhere more obvious than in the sentences we call questions. As an example of what I mean, let us take a "fill-in" question, which I shall require you to answer exactly if you wish full credit: Thomas Jefferson died in the year ––––––. Suppose we now rephrase the question in multiple-choice form: Thomas Jefferson died in the year (a) 1788 (b) 1826 (c) 1926 (d) 1809. Which of these two questions is easier to answer? I assume you will agree with me that the second question is easier unless you happen to know precisely the year of Jefferson's death, in which case neither question is difficult. However, for most of us who know only roughly when Jefferson lived, Question Two has arranged matters so that our chances of "knowing" the answer are greatly increased. Students will always be "smarter" when answering a multiple-choice test than when answering a "fill-in" test, even when the subject matter is the same. A question, even of the simplest kind, is not and can never be unbiased. I am not, in this context, referring to the common accusation that a particular test is "culturally biased." Of course questions can be culturally biased. (Why, for example, should anyone be asked about Thomas Jefferson at all, let alone when he died?) My purpose is to say that the structure of any question is as devoid of neutrality as is its content. The form of a question may ease our way or pose obstacles. Or, when even slightly altered, it may generate antithetical answers, as in the case of the two priests who, being unsure if it was permissible to smoke and pray at the same time, wrote to the Pope for a definitive answer. One priest phrased the question "Is it permissible to smoke while praying?" and was told it is not, since prayer should be the focus of one's whole attention; the other priest asked if it is permissible to pray while smoking and was told that it is, since it is always appropriate to pray. The form of a question may even block us from seeing solutions to problems that become visible through a different question. Consider the following story, whose authenticity is questionable but not, I think, its point:
Once upon a time, in a village in what is now Lithuania, there arose an unusual problem. A curious disease afflicted many of the townspeople. It was mostly fatal (though not always), and its onset was signaled by the victim's lapsing into a deathlike coma. Medical science not being quite so advanced as it is now, there was no definite way of knowing if the victim was actually dead when burial appeared seemly. As a result, the townspeople feared that several of their relatives had already been buried alive and that a similar fate might await them. How to overcome this uncertainty was their dilemma.

One group of people suggested that the coffins be well stocked with water and food and that a small air vent be drilled into them, just in case one of the "dead" happened to be alive. This was expensive to do but seemed more than worth the trouble. A second group, however, came up with a less expensive and more efficient idea. Each coffin would have a twelveinch stake affixed to the inside of the coffin lid, exactly at the level of the heart. Then, when the coffin was closed, all uncertainty would cease. The story does not indicate which solution was chosen, but for my purposes the choice is irrelevant. What is important to note is that different solutions were generated by different questions. The first solution was an answer to the question, How can we make sure that we do not bury people who are still alive? The second was an answer to the question, How can we make sure that everyone we bury is dead? Questions, then, are like computers or television or stethoscopes or lie detectors, in that they are mechanisms that give direction to our thoughts, generate new ideas, venerate old ones, expose facts, or hide them. In this chapter, I wish to consider mechanisms that act like machines but are not normally thought of as part of Technopoly's repertoire. I must call attention to them precisely because they are so often overlooked. For all practical purposes, they may be considered technologies— technologies in disguise, perhaps, but technologies all the same.