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Monday, December 19, 2011

My Literary Theory

Occasionally I am excited about a piece I write, particularly my non-fiction, but I wonder if it's suitable for the masses--lol especially those that don't read non-fiction much. I try to keep them short and sweet but that is not always possible. 

So this last month my class was on Literary Theory and Criticism and for my final last night I had to write my personal Theory based on the critics we've studied over the course. Here is my piece: 

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance (Pope, 204b)." This couplet implies that those who express themselves in sincerity will have an easier time with the task.
Pope gives some practical advice to "wanna-be" writers and poets, and this short bit is the best in the piece because it speaks of sincerity and truth. I believe if a writer expresses themselves with genuine feelings those things will be conveyed to the reader and they will be drawn to it.  How an artist creates their art, or a writer creates great literature, is known from a critical viewpoint as an Expressive theory. After reading several critics I feel comfortable with what I believe is the best creative process.
Truth, sincerity and integrity in writing is the key to a great piece of literature. While doing this, however, it is important to keep your own personality out of the quotient. Eliot explains that the writers element in the process should be, "inert, neutral, and unchanged (Eliot, 540a)." "The more perfect the artist," he writes, "the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material (Eliot, 540a)." This seems an unnatural process for a writer to approach but the truth is that the less personal the literature is the more universal it feels for the reader.
Eliot explains, "The poet's mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unit to form a new compound are present together (Eliot, 540b)." This technique seems atypical for what might seem to be less personal really turns out to be more personal for the reader. For example; sometimes when you hear a speaker you believe they are talking only to you, in reality you are among a crowd and any number of people feel the same way. This is the gift of a great speaker. The same can be said for a beautiful piece of literature that seems to be universal in nature because the writer took himself out of the process. He let the words and phrases and images that have been storing up for years in the recesses of his imagination finally come forth in a manner that is cohesive to the story but not necessarily reflective of the author.
The reason this method works is because of integrity, as Virginia Woolf explains it. "What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth. Yes, one feels, I should never have thought that this could be so; I have never known people behaving like that. But you have convinced me that so it is (Woolf, 604b)." This integrity is what helps give a piece the cohesive feeling of, "the relation of human being to human being (Woolf, 604a)." The expression of a writer can and should be more sincere when their feelings and personality are removed. This does not and should not mean that real emotions are not involved, they definitely are, but on a level so unique as to make a reader feel that they too are feeling those emotions and they believe the events that are written, even if they are fictional.
To "learn to dance," as Pope suggests, means to me that a writer has learned this process as described. Possibly it is an internal gift, to be able to express the truth or rather the integrity of emotion, by removing themselves and spreading the emotions from their mind onto a page. Those feelings are then transferred into the minds and hearts of their readers. This creates great art in literature, in my opinion.

Richter, David A. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, Bedford/St. Martin's2006.


  1. No wonder truly great writing is a both a talent and a process to be learned! To have integrity and sincerity and yet also be able to remove yourself from the story is something not everyone can accomplish. Thinking of some of the literature I tend to read again and again it makes sense though!

  2. Got my grade and Aced it! :) My professor said, "Good work on this original, considered, & thoughtful answer. I like your theory." WOOOOOT!


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