Locating literature in its context

Literature is a concept that seldom will have an adequate definition. It is anything that one expects it to be. It can be an idea. It can be any thought. It can be a word. It can be a sentence. It can be a book. It can be a library. It can be spoken words. It can be words on the stones. However, who wrote those words? Why did an author write something like this and not that? Why are these characters in this novel are from hilly areas? Why is the ocean so close to Mr Thatcher’s house? These are the questions that those looking for context in literature ask. 

Why do we need to locate literature in context? By context, I mean many things – historical, cultural, religious, technical evolution, linguistic evolution and so on. Devised by Russian and French scholars, Structuralism looks to locate similarities and differences in literature by keeping it in sequence with other works of the same genesis, theme and genre. You will understand it by following their output in terms of literary works. 

Deconstruction tries to locate the subconscious context of the literary works. It does not follow the historical or linguistic perspective in its historical database. It rather aims at looking for contexts within the text. Deconstruction rocked the world of literature because many authors might not have realised that the subconscious levels of their characters will be analysed by some scholars many years after… Shakespeare’s heroes and heroines, Hardy’s romantic characters, Keats’ imaginary and mythical characters and so on. 

The practice that emerged in England in the early 20th-century and a little after, reading the text closely to find out the meanings and interpretations, has totally been pitted against various methods of interpretations devised by many scholars from different walks of life, not only literature. Liberal humanism, as the English literary interpretation method was named, found its counterparts in the form of formalism, structuralism, deconstruction, feminism, psychoanalytical reading and a few others. Let me make it clear, that I think, that all these emerged only after scholars and critics went away from the texts rather than going closer and deeper into the text. Ferdinand de Saussure’s Langue and Parole or Derrida’s Deconstruction, Strauss’ dyadic binaries or Barthes’ proposition of the death of the author – you can name as many as you can – all hinted at getting away from the text. To a great extent, however, Derridian Deconstruction remained within the text and encouraged readers to look for conflicts and contradictions rather than unities. 

Well, looking at contexts in literature might appear an entertaining and exciting job. However, it has, in some ways, limited the scope for the actual purpose of literary art. Why not the readers can simply enjoy literature? It might arise as a question. And it should. Why does one need to cease his admiration for the lyrical qualities of a poem by Nirala and look for binary oppositions in the text to prove that he wanted to say something that he never thought about saying? 

In literature, text and context come with their values attached. You can pick what you like. It’s purely up to the readers to decide. I do both. But I enjoy it more. 


by Alka for BooksToRead

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