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theoretical approaches to literature
Theoretical Approaches to Literature
  • The Da Vinci Code: A man is murdered in a secured area of the Louvre and arranges his body in an unusual position, apparently to pass to authorities the reason for his death and to expose his murderer’s identity, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is called in to help with the strange case.
literary theories
Literary Theories

Author

  • Ways of thinking about and analyzing a text to determine its value, extract a meaning, create a unified analysis, and evaluate its artistic merit.

Text

Reader

reader response theory
Reader Response Theory

Author

  • This places the reader as the most important factor in determining how the text means.
    • Each reader is seen as product of their culture and education, influenced by what they have read and what they believe

Text

Reader

The good old-fashioned liking of a book falls under this theory’s umbrella

old historicism
“Old” Historicism

Author

  • Look at events in writer’s life to see personal influences in the work.
  • Draw parallels between Brown and the novel’s main character.
    • Brown graduated from Amherst College and Phillips Exeter Academy, taught English and then began to write full-time.
    • His father is a Presidential Award winning math professor, his mother is a professional sacred musician, and his wife is an art historian and painter who collaborates on his research and accompanies him on his frequent research trips.
    • Langdon is an Ivy League graduate of wealthy parents who studies the connections between art and science and who will work closely with a female partner, Sophie, while on break from teaching at Harvard.

Text

Reader

formalism
Formalism

Author

  • The focus is on the work itself as a cinematic structure and it aims to discover the ways in which the work achieves (or fails to achieve) unity.
    • No part of the work is (or should be) superfluous.
    • Sees other contexts—cultural/sociological, biographical, historical information—as lacking importance or as secondary to the question of the film’s artistic quality.

Text

Reader

structuralism
Structuralism
  • There are two kinds, which are closely related
    • One concentrates of the patterns formed by the cinematic elements in the work and examines these patterns to find ones which unify the text and throw certain elements into relief.
    • The other sees the cinematic conventions and forms as constituting a system of codes that contribute to and convey meaning. The special interest here is on the organization and function of the elements, on how meaning is conveyed rather that what meaning is conveyed, on how the cinematic devices function rather than how they imitate an external reality. (This branch is closely related to semiotics.)
semiotics
Semiotics
  • The study of systems of rules and conventions that enable social and cultural phenomena, considered as signs, to have meaning.
    • This kind of analysis might compare chapters, characters, or word usage, both within a book itself or within the canon of work produced by a given writer, or from within the genre the works are written
modernism
Modernism
  • Modernism dominated the arts and culture of the first half of the twentieth century. It challenged the “old” standards concerning how art should be constructed and what art is, favoring different and opposing conventions, such as the dissolution of harmony and melody in music, and the rejection of traditional realism in favor of experimental forms in literature and film.
    • Modernists view the break with tradition in favor of experimentation as mournful; they see it as leaving behind a longed for (and better) past.
post modernism
Post-Modernism
  • Postmodernism is an answer to Modernism, as it celebrates the freedom of new forms of expression.
    • A discussion of Modernism and Postmodernism would not be complete without some attention to culture, specifically high and low or popular culture. In brief, whereas Modernists privilege 'high' culture such as literature and classical art and music, Postmodernists refuse to put any art forms on a pedestal and revel in combining the everyday aspects of popular culture with what has been considered “high” art.
marxism
Marxism
  • Marxists see the base (material means of production, distribution, and exchange) as the driving force of society, and the superstructure (cultural world - ideas, art, religion, law) as being shaped by the base or as a reflection of events that take place within the base. This view of society is economic determinism.
    • Based on this description of art as a influenced by the economic base of society, general Marxist literary criticism maintains that a writer's or a director’s social class and the prevailing ideology (outlook, values) thereof have major bearing on what s/he writes.
deconstruction
Deconstruction
  • Deconstruction, or Deconstructionsim, grew out of philosophy and, consequently, is skeptical concerning the existence of absolute truth or reliable knowledge. It sees a certain anxiety in the reliance on language, and thus on shots and scenes, etc., as the path to knowledge.
slide12
Deconstructionists see meaning as fluid and emphasize the lack of attachment between the verbal sign and the idea or concept to which it is supposed to refer.
  • This free play of meaning breaks down the concept of signifier/signified in that the relationship can be compromised when everything becomes a signifier (a sort of chain effect with no beginning or end) or when there are multiple elements on either side of the relationship.
slide13
The idea that words, and by extension shots, angles, etc., cannot be defined without viewing them in terms of their opposites also troubles deconstructionists because this relational way of acquiring meaning defies the possibility of ‘pure’ or ‘true’ meaning.
  • In the same way that words are influenced by other words, they are also contaminated by their own histories. Since language does not take place within a vacuum , the very history or connotation of words influences how they are used in present day.
slide14
Deconstructionists, then, attempt to show how meaning breaks down in a text because of the text; their goal is to deconstruct the text.
  • A deconstruction of The Da Vinci Code might, then, look at what the text says truth is and then show, using passages from the text that the truth isn’t really out there, finally concluding that the book cannot be pinned down to any meaning at all.
sociological criticism
Sociological Criticism
  • Focuses on the time/place context that produced the work to help explain the work’s meaning or relevance. It holds that the product, the film, cannot be understood without understanding the world that produced it.
  • One might situate this film in the ‘culture war’ era which pits the 1960s civil rights movement against the conservative movement that began in the1980s and picked up speed nationally amid the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and then the contentious battle for the presidency in 2000.
new historicism
New Historicism
  • Combines “Old Historicism,” the Sociological Approach, and an understanding of the industry factors that control the production and dissemination of the film.
feminism
Feminism
  • Look at the roles men and women play to see whether they are equal or not.
    • Are women rewarded for playing traditional roles?
    • Are women punished for playing non-traditional roles?
    • Are men conversely rewarded or punished?
american eclecticism
American Eclecticism
  • The movie as being important and speaking to people through their American values.
  • Approaching it through a specific rubric or perspective, like through a particular sociological concept.
overview of u s values
Overview of U.S. Values
  • Fairy tales, romances, and “chick flicks,” have a great popularity and staying power, as can be explained when one analyzes the values they often communicate, perpetuate, and reinforce.
  • Sociologists have identified several core values and beliefs that are communicated by, perpetuated through, and reinforced within our culture.
    • James Henslin, Southern Illinois University Sociology Professor, identifies fifteen.
achievement and success
Achievement and Success
  • Achievement and success are defined, at least from the female point of view, as concerning love and companionship. That is stressed for the male, as well, but for men creating something, doing something work-related or reputation-related is also stressed.
individualism
Individualism
  • The female character is portrayed as not being like other women, while at the same time representing the “modern woman” to the man from the past. This uniqueness among women makes her successful at work but, apparently, not at love.
activity and work
Activity and Work
  • Females do occupy positions in the workplace in the film but the heroine’s ultimate choice, after attaining success at work, is to leave it all behind for love. The subordinate secretary clearly values love over the work, too.
  • The male character, apparently, never has to choose between work and the past.
efficiency and practicality
Efficiency and Practicality
  • Even the duke from the past values this, as the broken toaster scene illustrates.
science and technology
Science and Technology
  • That science is stressed is obvious, as it motivates the entire plot. It is science and math that allows the young man from the present to visit the past and start the events in action.
progress
Progress
  • The idea of progress is challenged in the film, as corresponds to the conservative perspective it espouses. Life was better in the duke’s time: less caught up in time-wasting technologies, more caring, more honest, better educated, more devoted to individual happiness.
material comfort
Material Comfort
  • Female character considers it important, as she judges her brother on his lack of success. Worrying about money is a value the duke is resistant to and resentful of, even though he shouldn’t be as it is his livelihood at stake.
humanitarianism
Humanitarianism
  • The duke is certainly presented as being concerned for the average person when he realizes that modern society is willing to lie about butter just to sell it to the masses. He does not feel comfortable lying to the masses in that way.
freedom
Freedom
  • Freedom of choice is clearly an issue in the film. The duke resents that he does not have the monetary freedom to choose a companion wife, and the heroine does have the freedom to choose between work and family—and perhaps will be able to continue to work in the past.
democracy
Democracy
  • Democracy is an implied value in the film, as the duke is feeling entrapped, to a degree, by his “noble” status and position. Hence, he has already re-located to America from England.
equality
Equality
  • That equality, or at least honesty, is advocated in the film is evident at the way honesty in relationships is stressed through the film. The duke, too, shows he has not let class prejudice interfere with his actions when he informs the heroine that he once courted a librarian.
racism and group superiority
Racism and Group Superiority
  • There is still an example of class superiority as the duke, held up as the hero, is clearly of noble status. Further, he shows that his education and manners are better than his rival for the heroine’s affection.
education
Education
  • Education, in terms of academics, intelligence, and social skills like manners and treating women “properly,” are all used as positives in the film.
religiosity
Religiosity
  • Love is portrayed as an almost spiritual experience in the film, especially in the moment the lovers are reunited. The jumping to and from the past as fated gives it a larger than real significance. Love for science on the men’s part is clearly held up as more spiritual than the heroine’s love for her work.
romantic love
Romantic Love
  • The whole plot hinges and depends on the supremacy of this value, of course, as do romance novels.