September 15, 2004

Does one really have to go to France for relief?

Posted by Curt at 08:20 AM in Literature | TrackBack

So I was in my literature course at the institute in Tours, and we were discussing Ronsard’s sonnet 16, when a girl pipes up: “This may be an overly feminist interpretation, but…I think the way that Ronsard frames his poem, purporting to impart a lesson to a much younger woman with whom he is in love implicitly demonstrates his belief in her inferior intelligence and status in the relationship.” To which the French professor replied…”You’re right. That is an overly feminist interpretation of this text.” Of course she mitigated the rejection by explaining it as a cultural difference, with the French putting more weight on traditional modes of interpretation, but she didn’t exactly throw open the gates to more idle speculation of this kind. While it was undoubtedly a small victory, and I certainly have my differences with French literary methodolgy, after so many years of ideological drudgery in American schools, it was somewhat of a priceless moment for me.

Ok, as obvious of a target as sociological lit. crit. may be, perhaps that statement requires a bit of justification. I certainly don’t question the general validity of the sorts of conclusions that sociological lit. critics derive, but sometimes I wonder why they even turn to the study of literature, instead of remaining esconced within the pseudosciences where they belong. It would be vain to deny that subconscious cultural and societal assumptions underlie literary texts, but exposing them frequently does not yield insights that are any more brilliant or out of the ordinary from those which one could gain by consulting a land register or a marriage contract. This sort of interpretation tends to reduce all literature from a given epoch to an undifferentiated lump of cultural assumptions, without anything to distinguish works from each other or from more mundane records of economic transactions. Not to be overly cruel about it, but the current dominance of this sort of theory within American universities lends some credence to the semi-prevalent view that in general Americans don’t care about literature or learning except insofar as it correlates with their manic pursuit of, and obsession with, money and social climbing.


Can you post the sonnet, both in French and English? I had no luck finding it.

Posted by: John Doe at September 23, 2004 01:39 AM

I'll do it soon. I don't have access to Internet on my computer right now, so I'm bouncing around Parisian cybercafes.

Posted by: Curt at September 28, 2004 09:52 AM

lets face it curt the French have a problem with rote learning! Jeremy Paxman points this out in his book "The English", and I agree with him. I suspect it has its roots in the French Revolution.

Posted by: tom at October 14, 2004 10:57 AM