Book Reviews

The implication to Understanding Literature: Muslim Shafi

In the beginning, let me decipher the term ‘implication’, which is a term employed by semanticists in studying inferred meaning in Semantics. It indicates the meaning of something unstated in words, but still; can be inferred. Such as, in the subsequent lines:
‘Please keep quiet in the library.’
The seeming obvious meaning of the sentence is ‘do not talk in the library because others will be disturbed’.

And an implicated meaning could be something like this: ‘an authority says you cannot talk because we do not want you to talk’. So likewise, other possible meanings can be deduced. Though, the concerned book is not directly about literature in general but does capture some basic literary concepts that enable students of literature to grasp the explanation and analyses of the literary canon persuasively.

Some time ago, I read a book named: ‘Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction,’ by Jonathan Culler, which is one of the books by Oxford University Press titled: A Very Short Introduction Series.’ It is an alluring and plentiful read about literature in general and literary analysis in particular. Its contents are both rich and fitting to carry out a textual attack on attacking meanings of the literary language.

However the book which, no doubt, is not an explicit elucidation of literature and its fundamentals, but does infer a literary understanding that would surely benefit the students of literature and Semantics which is the study of what meaning is.
Jonathan speaks of everything the students of general literature and Literature need to make sense of the changing nature of a literary work whose meaning flies like a bird hovering over the texts.

Jonathan launches the book by defining what the theory is. Theory, he says, is a bunch of writings or ideas whose ends or results are hard to demonstrate. He draws a significant difference between a ‘guess’ and the ‘Theory’ by quoting real-life examples. He sketches the attack on sex’s interpretation and Derrida’s push on writing to signify theory. And there is a lot more in the same chapter to make sense of the theory and theorizing the texts. Zip in through!
Then, Culler goes about unfolding chapter 2 where he attempts to define literature and answers the ever posed question whether it matters as a discipline. In the same chapter, he, most convincingly, describes that what texts are literary, means what texts are said to have literariness–to use a formalistic term—and which sorts of texts are not considered literary by providing some literary techniques to pinpoint his illumination .

And finally he discusses the ‘nature of literature’ by describing five elements of its matureness. He debates about those formulas that could be used to define literature and its fundamentals in general.
He goes further and touches the history of literary studies with the creation of a otherness between Literary Studies and Cultural Studies, and profoundly sketches a distinction between the two concerned field studies that sometimes overlap the borderlines of that distinction.

He says that Cultural Studies are concerned to make us understand that how power works within cultures and how someone can analyze culture and cultural relations, whereas Literary Studies find meaning, aesthetics, and foregrounding of language to see life and beauty differently.
Moving on, Culler, then, goes into the heart of the literary analysis of decoding techniques of meaning by discussing the chapter named: ‘Language, Meaning and Interpretations’.

Every student of literature and linguistics has some idea about how important is language, and its interpretation when they prepare to conduct a literary analysis of literary items. Jonathan elucidates that analysis of meaning with glorified instances of some literary giants’ poems.
He pulls some beautiful lines of peculiarity between literary language and ordinary speech or as Terry Elgton calls it ‘fact-naming-language,’ which we use to buy things and get our things sold via the customers.

Per sure, there is a difference between the two. For example, if you are standing in a line on the road waiting for the bus to arrive and somebody says:
Love me like life and liberty,
then surely, you are in a literary atmosphere because it is not a sort of language that one uses to talk about ordinary things or ask something about buses and their timings.

He discusses quotes and lines from the great authors to create a convincing dissimilarity between the language of literature and the language of customers and sellers.

Furthermore, in the same chapter, he takes on a journey about the different types of meanings, and how someone, especially a student of literature, can utilize them to analyze a work of literature. Like Heraclitus’s lines that of ‘everything is in flux.’ Meaning, he believes, is in everlasting swing or a twist of changes.

You, the student of literary studies, do handle it with care!
After dealing with the never-ending disease of change of meaning, he goes about chatting how one can interpret a text. He discusses the varying dimensions of interpreting texts or decoding the encoded meanings in the texts. He provides examples from world literature to illustrate his point in concern.

This chapter is essential for the students of literature in the sense that settles the role of the students to grasp how they could analyze meanings of texts as they never sit at a place, but can be deduced and can be contextualized somehow. It also says that the reader has some right to incorporate his experience in the texts when interpreting it because no one on the earth can dodge their psychological and social evolution, while they interpret the texts in consideration.

Then, in chapter five, Culler demystifies the relation of Rhetoric, Poetics, and Poetry. He is in believe that these three levels of effect and affect making are different concepts from each other, though sometimes the theorists and hermeneutics may overlap when analyzing some work of poetry. He says that deliberate and persuasive use of common language is called Rhetoric, but certainly, it is not poetry.

Such as is the succeeding line:

Respected President, I have lived a life of blamelessness and poverty.
It tries to draw attention and has a cause and needs results to fulfill by the authority, whereas poetry does not explicitly claim though, it may have an implicit one. So, poetry is not presentation literacy. It is inconsistent aesthetics.

Poetics, he says, is the poetic use of languages like rhyming and rhythm, tone and intonation, pitch, and its various procedures in poetry that draw attention towards the effects of poetry. If we say that Poetics is the parameter that how poetry is analyzed, written, and interpreted; we would not be inaccurate in our prerogative. So, Poetics is the study of poetry in the common sense of the term.
Afterward, Jonathan Culler discusses ‘narrative’ or as somewhat called ‘narratology’ by Peter Barry in his thought-provoking book: ‘Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory.

This (narrative) is the art of storytelling, writing and analyzing, and decoding encoded characters, plots, resolutions, and themes. There are several concepts regarding ‘narrative’ in the concerned chapter that the students of literature would encounter with ease, such as; ‘what do stories do?’ do they have a purpose or goal? Or is narrative a sort of knowledge? Does it teach us something? And there is much more about narratology and its understanding and intelligibility.

Furthermore, in chapter seven, Jonathan writes about ‘Performatives’ or Performative Language, which is the theory of British Philosopher J.L. Austin about what we do with language and what we say with it. Austin postulates that we do things with language which he calls ‘Performative Language’.

He also confers the types of Performatives by citing famous examples of Austin, Judith Butler, and Derrida and their take on their overlapping nature of them. He shows some perspective about language as a doer and language as a communicator that changes our perceptions about language.
Moving on, he discusses Judith Butler’s take on the interpretations about Performatives who (Judith) believes that they create the norm, the gender. As for Austin, a Performative is an act of speech, but for Butler, a Performative is a change in the norm or a social creation of something, particularly gendered thinking. It is in this sense construction of gendered-oriented thinking for Butler. So, Derrida, Austin, and Judith have differing versions of Performatives.

Culler also demystifies that it is hard to demonstrate a distinction between Constative and Performatives. A Constative utterance is a statement that can be true or false based on its given conditions and performatives are the actions we perform using language. So the main issue, which Culler brings forth, is the discrepancy between conservatives and performatives. Because Derrida and Butler make the picture blur when they attack and drag performatives to various dimensions of human thinking.

In chapter 8, Culler negotiates the topic of identity and identification through discursive practices of literary genres that a subject (person) adopts when he/she goes through the world of literature. He says that identity is created through identifications of the subject with novels, characters, and other literary genres.

He also reflects on the problem of whether literature represents the individuals or it produces that identity into the subjects.
He takes a journey on what Psychoanalysis and other theoretical prospects have to say about identity and identifications through literature and discursive practices. He also argues the differing versions of identities and identifications.

Such as, he clearly defines the question of what subject is and what pervasive structures and group identities are.
As concluding this last chapter he says, “I begin by saying that theory was endless—an unbound corpus of challenging and fascinating writings—but not just more writings: it is also an ongoing project of thinking which does not end when a very short introduction ends.”

Culler provides some explanations theoretical schools and movements that have been basics to the creation of the ‘Theory.’ There are other concepts in the book that he talks over which can be said the issues of basic literature and other terms of literary analyses that mostly remain untouched in other books because of their small scale of ideas and shortcut definitions. Such as, there goes Lacan’s idea of ‘Mirror Stage’, The Liberal Subject, and Althusser’s concept of Interpellation to name but a few.

As I said at the beginning of the review that though the book is not an explicit elucidation and journey of literature’s characterizations and its fundamentals, but does offer an implicated or indirect display of how one can conduct literary analyses or what those artifices and parameters are that can be utilized when interpreting literary texts of never-ending nature. Therefore, it is basic grasping the literary canons and genres that otherwise are hard to decode.

Or simply, it can be concluded that it is a crucial book for the ones dangling in a class of literature about what is going on. It does clarify our issues of formal analysis, formal criticism: the critique conducted in academia or academics. I loved it!