Monday, May 29, 2006

Modernism by Comparison

One way of grasping the peculiar nature of literary modernism is by the method of classical dialectic: in short, by comparison with a alternative which is appreciable similar but effectovely different formally & substantially. A post on the topic in relation to Japanese modes of structure, set in terms of theorist John Hinds' systems of reader- versus writer-responsible texts, is here.

Update: the Hinds article will be available on Reserve Tuesday.


pigeon said...

If I understand correctly, the Japanese writing technique " ki-sho-ten-ketsu" requires that the reader take responsibility for connecting the various parts of a text together to give it its cohesion - much like what Woolf requires of us when we read "Jacob's Room." I wonder, are we Westerners too accustomed to having things handed to us in nicely wrapped conclusive packages? I prefer to think that, like the consumers of ki-sho-ten-ketsu, we are quite capable of drawing meaning from unwoven threads of ideas. We are endlessly trying to make sense of the world, give it meaning (coincidences...karma...history) and gleaning meaning from Woolf's JR, for us, is unavoidable. Theorist Stanley Fish thought along these lines and tested his ideas on his students at Harvard. Fish wrote a list of names on the board ("Jacobs-Rosenbaum, Levin, Thorne, Hayes, Ohman") and told the class that the list was a poem. The students all found meaning in the "poem" once they learned of the structure they were to work with. He tried this with many classes to the same end.
I'm convinced we create meaning from everything - even Woolf's writing - it may be the case that, in lieu of practice, we just aren't confident enough in our own interpretations.

Dr. S.A. Ogden said...

Dear "Pigeon":

That's a very good question, or questions. Does the structure create the meaning? I suggested in lecture that the human mind is constructed to discern pattern (a form of meaning) in chaos, and therefore will read meaning into fragmented, or stylistically heterogeneous, texts.

I hope you follow up on ki-sho-ten-ketsu -- perhaps in your presentation, at least. I hesitate to bring it into lecture. I will, however, mention there, now that you add this post, that Woolf wrote a strong review of the first English translation of the Japanese classic "Tale of Genji." You can find it online here: