Elmer's English 304 Magazine

Theory and Criticism

by Elmer G. Wiens

The genre of Theory and Criticism provides a framework to study works of literature with the recursive task of simultaneously examining the framework itself. As such, Theory and Criticism is a discipline in its own right offering an understanding of works of literature derived from the study of literature, and other disciplines. It is a dynamic field of endeavour and knowledge mutating as original works of literature emerge. Along the way, its participants struggle with the very meaning of "interpretation" and "literature," often spending much time and energy justifying what they are doing and attacking what other participants have done.

I wrote the following essays for Dr. Lorraine Weir's English 409 course, Modern Critical Theories, during the Spring, 2005 term.

Hearing Heidegger and Saussure.

In their theories of language, Ferdinand de Saussure and Martin Heidegger concern themselves with the correspondence between words and ideas. Whereas both writers discuss the duality between a word and the concept it represents, and how this duality as a link mutates with time, Heidegger focuses on how words as concepts come into being. While Saussure emphasizes that language is form, a system of sound-images linked to ideas, Heidegger deliberates on how language as language speaking, permits new concepts into language.

Herman Melville's Billy Budd: Satan's Game Singularities

In his short story, Billy Budd, Herman Melville investigates the influence that the character traits shaping human conduct have on a tragic incident that takes place on the British Navy's warship, the Bellipotent, operating in the theatre of the 1797 war between Britain and France. The principal characters are Captain Edward Vere, Master-at-Arms John Claggart, and foretopman Billy Budd. Billy Budd's hanging for the murder of John Claggart is the singular event of Melville's tale. The poststructuralist form of critical reading, deconstruction, and the science of game theory provide convenient measures to expose the divergent, untold narratives, their différance from the sequence of events transmitted in the text, as sunken, displaced scenarios initiated by the game-theoretic circumstances.


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