Monday, March 20, 2006

Human Characters in George Orwell's "Animal Farm"

Human Characters in George Orwell’s Animal Farm

Besides the animal characters, there are a few human beings who also figure the story. They are Mr. Jones, Mr. Pilkington, Mr. Frederick, and Mr. Whymper. They are all drawn briefly but convincingly.

Mr. Jones is the man who originally owns Animal Farm, and who is overthrown by the animals at the beginning of the revolution. He symbolizes corrupt and fatally-flawed governments that create societies ripe for Revolution. He represents capitalism and Czarism.

Mr. Pilkington is the neighboring farmer, and the owner of Foxwood Farm. He most probably symbolizes Churchill, the Prime Minister of England at that time. Therefore, his farm represents Britain and the capitalist economy of the time.

Mr. Frederick is the neighboring farmer, and the owner of Pinchfield Farm. He is the evil and cruel farmer to whom Napoleon eventually sells the pile of timber; he pays in forged bank notes, thus cheating Animal Farm. Frederick symbolizes Hitler so that Pinchfield Farm would then represent Germany with her plans to annex (invade) other European countries.

Mr. Wymper is the man who acts as a trade agent for Animal Farm. His interests in the farm’s affairs are purely business-minded, and his lack of concern for the animal rights issues behind the Animal Farm regime offer up a parody of the activities of countries which conduct business with communist regimes. He is a solicitor who is engaged by Napoleon as an intermediary between himself and the human beings in connection with the trading and commercial activities of Animal Farm.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

An Essay on Roland Barhes' "From Work to Text"

From Work to Text
An essay by Lisa Smith


Geoffrey Thurley asserts that "Barthes's essay "From Work to Text" is no more than an expression of a determination not to acknowledge the old `bourgeois' literature, and we should waste our time chasing shadows if we tried to assign his phrases any concrete meaning" (Thurley 228). Though this comment was meant as a criticism of Barthes's work, the second part of the sentence ironically approximates Barthes' own formulation of his essay. His essay offers "not argumentations but enunciations, `touches', approaches that consent to remain metaphorical" (Barthes 192). Meaning, in Barthes' essay, is established by difference - his entire text consists of a play of signifiers which have meaning, not in themselves, but in relation to other signifiers. The concept of "text" is defined only as it is juxtapositioned with the concept of "work." To attempt to assign a `concrete meaning' to "From Work to Text," to attempt to find the kernel of meaning behind this essay would be unBarthean in both spirit and approach. That does not mean that this text is fundamentally incomprehensible. It does mean that, while one might attempt to grasp the sense of what a "work" might be or what a "text" might be, it would be going against the grain of Barthes's essay to attempt to discover the essence of the text and the essence of the work. Accordingly, in this essay, I will attempt to delineate rather than to define the signifying fields of "work" and "text" as developed in Barthes' "From Work to Text."

Before I begin to describe what a "work" and what a "text" might be, however, it is important to determine whether these terms reflect an approach to literature or whether they reflect some qualitative aspect of literature itself. In other words, can any piece of writing be viewed as either a work or a text, or are there some texts that are characteristically texts and others that are characteristically works?

On one hand, Barthes implies that there is a concrete quality to some writing which identifies it as "text" and not as "work." When discussing the issue of whether texts can be seen as a product of modernity, he comments: "There may be `text' in a very ancient work, while many products of contemporary literature are in no way texts" (Barthes 193). This text, however, has no objective reality, but exists only as praxis: "The Text is experienced only in an activity of production" (Barthes 193). The text, then, is not the physical entity that sits on a bookshelf, but something that comes into existence only as it is done.

According to Barthes, only certain types of works can be produced as texts. Some works tend to represent an attempt to circumscribe meaning; others require the reader to co-author the text. "I can delight in reading . . . Proust, Flaubert, Balzac . . . But this pleasure . . . remains in part . . . a pleasure of consumption; for . . . I know that I cannot rewrite them" (Barthes 197). The Text, insofar as it invites the reader to rewrite it, "is bound to jouissance, that is to a pleasure without separation" (Barthes 197).

On the other hand, he claims that anything could be read as a text. Despite his later claim that Proust's work is not a text, he writes that Proust's life can be read as text. "It is the work of Proust, of Genet which allows their lives to be read as text" (Barthes 195), he writes. He seems to indicate that the applicability of the terms "work" and "text" is determined, not by some inherent quality within a piece of writing, but by ways of seeing literature in general. For instance, he proposes that a work is read under the auspices of the "myth of filiation" (Barthes 195) while a text is read as a part of the vast network of intertextuality. "The work is caught up in a process of filiation . . . As for the Text, it reads without the inscription of the Father" (Barthes 195). Whether one chooses to subscribe to the `myth of filiation' or not, seems to be largely a function of one's reading methodology and not of one's discernment of qualities inherent in the specific work/text.

Thurley is inclined to dismiss this aspect of his theory as "profound uncertainty" (Thurley, 228). I do think, however, that Barthes's statements work together to form, a tenable, if problematic position. His view of the text does set up a methodology of reading. At the same time, Barthes is recognizing that some texts are more amenable to this methodology than others. All pieces of writing are "texts" - some, however, are more text-like than others because they intentionally resist closure. The text written as a text consciously submits to the symbolic nature of language. "Thus it is restored to language" (Barthes 194), Barthes writes.

In this essay, I will be primarily concerned with exploring how Barthes delineates a methodology of reading. This is more revolutionary than merely claiming that some works are written with the text in mind while others are merely written as works. For not only the way in which we express meaning, but our conception of the very nature of meaning itself is transformed as we follow the "epistemological slide" (Barthes 192) that marks the shift of focus from the work to the text.

The conception of the text reflects an alteration of what is considered to constitute meaning. Barthes explains that his notion of the Text is inextricable from a certain way of viewing language. Language, he writes, "is structured but off-centred, without closure" (Barthes 194). There is, then, no meaning, per se, for there is no centre, no locus of meaning to be found. Meaning does not represent the presence of the sign, but rather is a representation of the deferment of meaning: "The work itself functions as a general sign and it is normal that it should represent an institutional category of the civilisation of the Sign. The Text, on the contrary, practices the infinite deferment of the signified" (Barthes 193).

Since there is no locus of meaning to be found in the text, the traditional boundaries placed on meaning in a work are no longer guides to meaning. If meaning is presence, it can be presented in a controlled way by the author and can be seen to occupy a defined space. If meaning is a chimera; if meaning is in fact the absence, the deferment of meaning, then it is fundamentally uncontrollable and refuses to be confined and tied down to a specific signification. The language in a text is not defined by the language in the work which lies between the covers of the book. In Barthes's words, "the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language" (Barthes, 193).

Accordingly, critics who work within the conceptual space of the work circumscribe this space. The meanings found within the work are determined by the author, by the work's historical place within the world, and by its relation to other works (Barthes, 195). The relation between works, however, is subordinated to the authority of the work itself. For while the sources "influence" the work, the determinations of authorial intention dictate the way in which the sources will be shaped (Barthes 195).

According to the concept of the text, by contrast, the sources are not the background of the work which can be separated from the work itself, but are an inextricable part of that text. The work itself is "the text-between of another text" (Barthes 195), Barthes writes. These sources run through the text and yet are "anonymous, untraceable" (Barthes, 195). Since every text only exists as a part of the vast web vast of intertextuality that forms the Text, the author cannot control the meanings that he/she attempts to present in the text: "It is not that the may not `come back' in the Text, in his text, but he then does so as a `guest' (Barthes 195).

When all of the controls which are found in the domain of the work are removed, interpretation is impossible, for there is not one voice which emerges, but rather, a multitude of voices. The voices that are woven through the text as a result of its existence as a part of the intertextual explode in a cacophony of noise. "The Text is plural," Barthes explains, "Which is not simply to say that it has several meanings, but that it accomplishes the very plurality of meaning: an irreducible (and not merely an acceptable) plural" (Barthes, 194).

Perhaps it would be more in accordance with Barthes's methodology to attempt to demonstrate the difference between viewing a piece of literature as a text and as a work. For Barthes emphasizes that his "few propositions" outlined in his essay "do not constitute the articulations of a Theory of the Text" (Barthes 197) for a theory, in effect, is a metalanguage which claims to exist apart from the Text itself which is an impossibility according to Barthes' own articulation of the Text. "The discourse on the Text should itself be nothing other than text, research, textual activity, since the Text is that social space which leaves no language safe" (Barthes 197), Barthes writes.

In this context, it would be interesting to look at Barthes's own essay as a work and as a text. In many ways, Barthes signals his own separation from the "Newtonian" texts that claim to be works (Barthes 192). In other ways, however, the philosophy of the work inevitably permeates his own claims to avoid its dictates. As a work, as an entity which is separable from the discourse surrounding it, Barthes can claim that his essay is in conformation with the view of the text. Paradoxically, when viewed as a text, this separation from those texts which claim to be works is not achieved.

If I were analyzing Barthes' essay from the point of view of the theory of the work, I would accept his authorial claims to place "text" at the critical centre of attention and to throw the concept of "work" onto the periphery. At the beginning and at the end of his essay, Barthes clearly indicates his intention to separate his own critical formulations from critical formulations of the work. Since meta-language employs logic in order to set its own string of signifiers apart from the text, he will avoid doing so. He sets up the "arguments" and the "logic" which others employ in opposition to his "propositions" which are to be "understood more in a grammatical than in a logical sense" (Barthes 192). During the course of the work, he attempts to maintain the distance between the binary opposition of "work" and "text" by defining each term in contrast to its Other. At the end of his essay, he again insists that his "few propositions . . . inevitably" fail to form a meta-language which would dictate how a text should be read (Barthes 197).

In other ways, however, the essay belongs to the textual world consisting of texts conceived as works. For instance, though he claims to avoid formulating a Theory of the Text, he cannot in fact escape the need to understand language through theorizing. Though he signals his aversion to logical constructs by attempting to assert rather than attempting to explain what constitutes a work and what constitutes a text, he cannot do so without operating according to the dictates of a meta-language.

His attempt to distance himself from the `logical' language of literary criticism is only moderately successful. The aphoristic style which he employs to this end has been used before. Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosiphicus, for example, is composed entirely of aphorisms. And yet, taken together, they form the logical positivism of the early Wittgenstein. Similarly, Barthes's assertions work together to form a kind of logic which is more or less internally coherent. As I hope my essay has demonstrated, Barthes does have a theory of the text which is permeated by a certain view of what constitutes meaning and language. His enunciations do constitute the articulations of a Theory of the Text.
In addition, according to my reading of "From Work to Text," Barthes compensates for the way in which he attempts to distance his own writing from the conception of the work by connecting his writing with the world of the work. He cannot claim outright that the logic of the text has supplanted the logic of the work, for that would be the equivalent of setting up a tyranny of the meta-text. Instead, he compares the shift from work to text to the shift from the Newtonian to the Einsteinian conception of the universe:

Just as Einsteinian science demands that the relativity of the frames of reference be included in the object studied, so the combined action of Marxism, Freudianism and structuralism demands, in literature, the relativization of the relations of writer, reader and observer (critic) (Barthes 192).

Science establishes a meta-language which is generally accorded a greater degree of objectivity than a non-empirical discourse like literary theory. In using a scientific metaphor, he implies not only that the work is old fashioned, but that the logic behind the work has been superseded.
This comparison between scientific and non-scientific discourse has also been made before. In the preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, for instance, Kant makes such a claim. All previous philosophers were blinded by their adherence to the Ptolemaic system of the universe, he claims. By contrast, he has affected the philosophical equivalent of a Copernican revolution:

Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved round the spectator, [Copernicus] tried whether he might not have better success if he made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects (Kant 22).
Kant is certainly setting up a meta-language here. In fact, his confidence about his ability to set up this meta-language borders on arrogance. "The danger is not that of being refuted, but of not being understood" (Kant 36-37), he writes. When Barthes' essay is viewed in light of Kant's use of this trope, the hint of the authority of science which, as I have argued, adheres to the metaphor itself, is intensified. This authoritative overtone strains against Barthes' own aversion to setting up a meta-language.

According to Barthes' theories, whether Kant's text is seen to flow into Barthes is not a function of whether or not Barthes' writing was directly influenced by Kant. As Barthes writes, the influences of a text are anonymous, untraceable:

The Text . . . [is] woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages . . . which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. . . The citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read (Barthes 194-5)

If I can see how Kant's writings can be seen to flow through Barthes' work, that part of Kant's writings which seems to be echoed in Barthes' work becomes a part of what Barthes is saying. There are no boundaries between texts and source texts, but only a vast web of intertextuality.
Meaning in Barthes' essay, then, is irreducible. It is an articulation of the theory of the Text; at the same time, it resists a complete articulation of the theory of the Text. Barthes proclaims his allegiance to the text rather than to the work and yet he can only do so by attempting to cut himself off from the texts which surround his text. This attempt to remove himself from the logic of the work is inevitably unsuccessful.

Any position on how to read texts seems to be inevitably formulated in a meta-textual way. To claim that we can work just within the realm of the text without aspiring to reach beyond it is an illusion. At the same time, I agree with Barthes that meta-narratives are themselves a part of the world of intertextuality. We must work according to the meta-narratives we have created. And yet, these meta-narratives can never really escape from the Text itself.

Lisa Smith is a student in ENGL 4F70, 1997-98 at Brock University; she is a year 4 Honours English and Liberal Studies combined major.

Bibliography
Barthes, Roland. "From Work to Text" in Modern Literary Theory. ed. Philip Rice and Patricia Waugh. New York: Arnold, 1996.
Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. trans. Norman Kemp Smith. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1963.
Thurley, Geoffrey. Counter-Modernism in Current Critical Theory. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.


An Essay on Roland Barthes' "From Work to Text"

From Work to Text


In this essay, Barthes argues that the relation of writer, reader and observer is changed by movement from work to text. In this light, we can observe Barthes's propositions of the differences between work and text in terms of method, genres, signs, plurality, filiation, reading, and pleasure.

First of all, Barthes thought that the Text is a "methodological field" rather then a portion of the space of books", that is the work (170). Like Lacan's distinction between "reality" and "real": the work is displayed (the reality which is out there, concrete), the text is a process of demonstration which is held in language. "The text is experienced only in an activity of production": the text is writable through tracing the flickering of presence and absence of the chain of signifiers. So the text "cannot stop" because the process of language does not come to an end; the meaning is always suspended, something deferred or still to come. Then, the subversive power of the text is that it cannot be contained in a hierarchy or a simple division of genres. The text tries to place itself very exactly behind the limit of genres -- all literary texts are woven out of other literary texts. There is no literary 'originality': all literature is 'intertextual' and paradoxical. Thirdly, the Text can be approached, experienced in reaction to the sign. That is, the work closes on a signified which falls under the scope of an interpretation. The text, on the contrary, practices the infinite deferment of the signified. The infinity of the signifier refers a playing -- to play with the disconnections, overlappings, and variations between signifier and signified. In this respect, the text is filled with symbolic energy -- like language, it is structured but decentered, without closure.

The fourth idea is the plurality of the Text: an irreducible plurality which answers not to an interpretation. The weave of signifiers in the Text reveals a complex network of sign (citations, references, cultural languages) -- in this extent, no sign is ever 'pure' or 'fully meaningful'. So the Text can be itself only in its differences, not monistic determination. Here we can connect this idea to the filiation of the text -- it can be read without the inscription of the author (Father). The biography of the author is merely another text which does not indicate any privilege -- it is the language which speaks in the Text, not the author himself. Also, it is the reader who focuses the multiplicity of the text, not the author. In this light, the text itself plays and the reader plays twice over through reading -- the text asks of the reader a practical collaboration, then it becomes writable. The final approach to the Text is pleasure. That is, the Text is a space of social utopia which transcends social relations (author, reader, critic) and language relations (no language has a hold over any other).

A Summary of Rolland Barthes' "From Work to Text"

Geoffrey Thurley in his work, “Counter-Modernism in Current Critical Theory” (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983), asserts that Barthes's essay, "From Work to Text" is no more than an expression of a determination not to acknowledge the old ‘bourgeois’ literature, and we should waste our time chasing shadows if we tried to assign his phrases any concrete meaning" (Thurley, p. 228). Though this comment was meant as a criticism of Barthes's work, the second part of the sentence ironically approximates Barthes' own formulation of his essay because his essay offers "not argumentations but enunciations, ‘touches’, approaches that consent to remain metaphorical".

In his essay, From Work to Text, Barthes argues that the relation of writer, reader and observer is changed by movement from work to text. In this light, we can observe Barthes's propositions of the differences between work and text in terms of method, genres, signs, plurality, filiation, reading, and pleasure.

First of all, Barthes said that the text should not be thought as an object that can be computed. It would be futile to try to separate out materially works from texts. Besides, we must also avoid the tendency to say that the work is classis and the text is avant-grade. Barthes implies that there is a concrete quality to some writing, which identifies it as a ‘text’ and not as a ‘wok’. When discussing the issue of whether texts can be seen as a product of modernity, he comments, “There may be ‘text’ in a very ancient work, while many products of contemporary literature are in no way texts”. Barthes thought that the Text is a "methodological field" rather than a portion of the space of books", that is the work (170). Like Lacan's distinction between "reality" and "real": the one is displayed, the other is demonstrated. Likewise, the work can be seen and held in hand while the text is a process of demonstration, which is held in language. "The text is experienced only in an activity of production": the text is writable through tracing the flickering of presence and absence of the chain of signifiers. So the text "cannot stop" because the process of language does not come to an end, the meaning is always suspended, something deferred or still to come.

Then, the subversive power of the text is that it cannot be contained in a hierarchy or a simple division of genres. What constitutes the text is its subversive force with regard to old classifications. The text poses problems of classification because it always involves a certain experience of limits. The text tries to place itself very exactly behind the limit of genres – all literary texts are woven out of other literary texts. There is no literary 'originality': all literature is 'intertextual' and paradoxical.

Thirdly, the Text can be approached, experienced, in reaction to the sign. That is, the work closes on a signified that falls under the scope of an interpretation. In short, the work itself functions as a general sign and it is normal that it should represent an institutional category of the civilization of the Sign. The text, on the contrary, practices the infinite deferment of the signified. The infinity of the signifier refers to some idea of a playing – to play with the disconnections, overlappings, and variations between signifier and signified. In this respect, the work is moderately symbolic and the text is radically symbolic, filled with symbolic nature – like language, it is structured but off-centered, without closure.

The fourth idea is the plurality of the Text. It accomplishes the very plural of meaning: an irreducible plurality, which answers not to an interpretation but to an explosion, a dissemination. The plurality of the text depends not on the ambiguity of its contents but on the stereographic plurality of its weave of signifier. The weave of signifiers in the Text reveals a complex network of sign (citations, references, echoes, cultural languages) – in this extent, no sign is ever 'pure' or 'fully meaningful'. So the Text can be itself only in its differences, not monistic determination.

Then, the work is caught up in a process of filiation. According to Barthes, literary science teaches us two things i.e. to respect for the work and to respect the author’s declared intentions (the law/his copyright) therefore if we respect or admire the work we must also respect its author. The text can be read without the inscription of the author who is refuted the father and the owner of his work. Hence, no vital ‘respect’ is due to the text because text can be broken and read without the guarantee of its father. The author who exists in his text is only as a textual element or factor. He is merely a symbol of the function at the level of the work. The biography of the author is merely another text, which does not indicate any privilege – it is the language, which speaks in the Text, not the author himself. Also, it is the reader who focuses the multiplicity of the text, not the author.

The work is normally the object of consumption. We focus on the quality of the work rather than reading a text as a process. On the occasion as we focus on the reading as a process, we create ‘text’. We cannot consume the text, we can only play with it. Reading is the consumption of the work, not that of the text. In this light, the text itself plays and the reader plays twice over through reading – the text asks of the reader a practical collaboration, then it becomes writable. The radical fundamentality of text is that ‘text’ is the practice; it actively plays the volume.

The final approach to the Text is pleasure. According to Barthes, there exists a pleasure of certain works but this pleasure is in the level of consumption (passive). As for the text, the pleasure is bound to ‘jouis sance’ or the pleasure without separation. That is, the Text is a space of social utopia, which transcends social relations (author, reader, critic) and language relations (no language has a hold over any other).

At the beginning and at the end of his essay, Barthes clearly indicates his intention to separate his own critical formulations from critical formulations of the work. Since meta-language employs logic in order to set its own string of signifiers apart from the text, he will avoid doing so. He sets up the "arguments" and the "logic" which others employ in opposition to his "propositions" which are to be "understood more in a grammatical than in a logical sense". In his essay, ‘From Work to Text’, he attempts to maintain the distance between the binary opposition of "work" and "text" by defining each term in contrast to each other. At the end of his essay, he again insists that his "few propositions" do not constitute the articulations of a Theory of the Text and fail to form a meta-language, which would dictate how a text should be read. The theory of the Text is nothing but practice.

In other ways, however, the essay belongs to the textual world consisting of texts conceived as works. For instance, though he claims to avoid formulating a Theory of the Text, he cannot in fact escape the need to understand language through theorizing. Though he signals his aversion to logical constructs by attempting to assert rather than attempting to explain what constitutes a work and what constitutes a text, he cannot do so without operating according to the dictates of a meta-language.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar": Brutus is a Tragic Hero

Brutus is a Tragic Hero

Brutus possesses in abundance the characteristics of a tragic hero: hubris (pride) and hamartia (tragic flaw). He is full of the pride of ancestry, having been descended from Marcus Junius Brutus who had driven the Tarquins from the streets of Rome when they were called kings.

His tragic flaws are as follows:
1. His failure to understand that Caesarism is the spirit of the times. It is impossible to destroy Caesarism just by the mere killing of Caesar.
2. He has no strategy or plan regarding the form of government that will replace Caesarism.
3. He refuses to be bound by an oath of unity and loyalty.
4. He objects the inclusion of Cicero in the conspiracy. His silver hairs and silver tongue could have been useful.
5. He refuses the proposal that Mark Antony should die with Caesar.
6. Brutus confides the plot to Portia who has all the weaknesses of a woman.
7. He allows Antony to speak at the funeral of Caesar.
8. Against Caussius’ better judgment, he insists on leaving the vantage ground of the hills and moves to Philippi. This is a great error and against the cardinal principle of warfare: “Always take the higher ground”.
9. He is a stoic who is equally indifferent to pain and pleasure.
10. All the same, he was the greatest Roman of them all (a high tribute from Antony).


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

An Essay on George Bernard Shaws's Statement that ‘There Are No Villains’ in "Saint Joan"

i. Introduction to Saint Joan

‘Saint Joan’, which was written by G.B. Shaw in the period immediately following Joan’s canonization by the Catholic Church in 1920, and which was first produced in Great Britain in 1924, has sincerity and a sense of tragedy. It sticks mainly to recorded historical fact, although Shaw obviously has compressed incidents, and rearranged material in order to achieve dramatic effect. It is a chronicle play in six scenes and epilogue. In this play, Shaw is concerned with the question of Christian belief and its effect upon those who believe. He is primarily interested in showing the differences between Joan’s ideas of Christianity and that of the church. As pointed out by Shaw that in the given circumstances, there was no option before the church than to burn Joan as a heretic since she refused to do the instructions given by church. The play has variety, humour, interesting well-drawn characters, and the action progresses clearly and inevitably towards Joan’s trial. The play is a record of what mankind does to its geniuses and Saints.

ii. The Salient Features of the Trial Scene
Of the scenes in ‘Saint Joan’, the trial scene, which takes place in scene VI constitutes the climatic one because all the conflicts of character and idea of the play come together in it. This scene makes use of what is sometimes prosaically called ‘description by effect’. No direct illustration of Joan’s martyrdom could compare with the picture of its effect on the bigoted chaplain whose hatred of Joan has exceeded all the others. Ironically, he is the one most affected by her burning. Emotionally and intellectually, it is the most powerful scene in the whole range of Shavian dramas. Its artistic excellence has received high praise from the critics, but its fairness and justice to Joan has been questioned. In ‘The Preface’ Shaw has tried to assert the fairness of the trial, and declared that “Joan got a fairer trial from the Inquisition than any prisoner of her type gets now-a-days in any official secular court: and the decision was strictly according to law.” Shaw says that her judges might have committed an error of judgement, but certainly they did not act out of malice or prejudice. He absolves (declare free) them from the charges of corruption, hostility, and cruelty. It is a different matter that they committed an error in sending Joan to the stake.

iii. Historical Veracity
Shaw’s assertion that Joan got a fair trial has been controversial and a lot of historical evidence has been brought forward by medieval scholars, like Dr. Coulton and W.P. Barrett, to show that Joan did not receive a fair trial at the hands of holy Inquisition.
Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, was not as free from personal motives as Shaw represents him to be. It was this Bishop who chose the twenty-two judges that were in charge of the trial. The English had specially procured for him the diocese of Rheims, from where he was turned out by the Dauphin and the Maid. It was thus personal interest of some discontented and ambitious individuals and the national jealousies of the English, which were really at the root of a trial represented by Shaw as a mere personal struggle between Roman Catholic authorities and a Protestant maiden.

The Promoter, too, had been specially selected for the trial. He was also turned out of his diocese by the French, and so was hostile to the Maid.
Shaw presents Joan’s trial as a continuous process, with Joan’s trial and execution taking place in a single day. But actually Joan had been a prisoner of Warwick for over three months and during that time she had been interrogated and spied by agents posing as fellow prisoners.
In history, the trial commenced on February 24, 1431 and ran for several days. It was postponed several times, once because of Joan’s illness from food poisoning and other times because various members of the court, convinced of her innocence, and showing sympathy for the Maid, had to be replaced or discharged.

The episode in which Joan was confronted with her executioner and told that fires had been ready, actually took place on May 23, 1431, when she was taken from prison to the cemetery of St. Ouen and exposed to diatribe and sermon for many hours. Dazed and frightened by the horrors shown to her, she recanted and signed the confession.

The moment when she tore up her signed statement in defiance of the court’s sentence, never actually occurred. When she was returned to prison after her experience at St. Ouen she was given a woman’s dress. Hearing that she was again wearing man’s clothing, Cauchon went to see for himself. It is recorded that she re-affirmed her faith in the voices at this time.
On the 28th of May the Court reassembled and pronounced her a relapsed heretic and turned her over to the secular authorities with the admonition “deal with her tenderly.”

Shaw sends Joan from the Courtroom to the stake in her male garb. Actually she was brought from prison in the executioner’s cart to the market square in Rouen clad in a long white robe. Platforms had been constructed for the eminent spectators to view the spectacle; one of the clergy, Nicholas Midi, preached an interminable sermon before she was tied to the stake. Then she was burned.

Evidence against her was admitted, but she was not allowed to see that evidence. This was against all judicial procedure. The case made against her was not explained to her. Questions put to her were ambiguous. They were put in such a way that she would have been convicted whatever her replies had been. She was threatened with torture. Her judges were many and she was alone without any advocate. The judges would all speak together in passion or anger so that she was forced to protest, “Good my lords, speak to me one at a time.”

iv. Shaw’s Judges Honest and Fair
But Shaw has shown in the play that her judges were fair and just. He has whitewashed the character of Cauchon, and has taken pains to show him honest and sincere. While Warwick is concerned with the political aspects of Joan’s case, Cauchon cares only that the girl be made to see what he considers is the error of her ways and become once more a true daughter of the Church. He tells Warwick that “my faith is to me, what your honour is to you” and declares that if there is a loophole by which Joan can be saved, he will guide her to it. Bishop Cauchon is distressed at the threat that The Maid presents to the Church and at the spread of what he calls “Nationalism”.

During the long and complicated trial, Cauchon does his best to ensure that the trial is a fair one and shows sincere disappointment when Joan condemns herself with her own words. Though he finally casts out The Maid in the name of the Church, he is determined to the end that she will be treated fairly and deplores the headstrong and unethical action of the English when they thrust the girl straight into the fire without observing any formalities. So the character and behaviour of Cauchon leaves no one in doubt about his honesty and sincerity. He tries Joan only on the grounds of heresy, and brushes aside the charges of sorcery and witchcraft or charges of political nature. He does not permit torture to be applied to her, and gives her ample time to recant. He makes all out efforts to save her soul.

Similarly the Inquisitor is also shown as just and fair. Like Cauchon, he has no patience with the innumerable petty charges at the trial, and by virtue of the authority of his office he reduces them from 64 to 12. He maintains a strong hand over the court proceedings and treats Joan with unfailing courtesy. He gives her chances to speak. The Earl of Warwick has been given no hand in the trial and John de Stogumber is a mere piece of impertinence, who fails to influence the course of events. Ladvenu, who is sympathetic to Joan, is allowed to speak freely and he advocates her case effectively.

There may be some falsification of history in the trial of Joan, but we must remember that the play is a work of art, and the playwright has every liberty to give imaginative treatments to the facts of history. That is why Shaw has shown Joan’s judges as pious and honest men guided by the best of their intentions. They were not villains. So “Joan’s murder was a judicial murder, a pious murder, a murder that is not committed by murderers.”

v. The Summing Up
Thus, in the play Joan has been given a fair trial, fairer than any prisoner of the type is likely to get in a modern court. Artistic merits of the scene are also beyond question. The trial is long but few would care to miss a word of it. Trials were always “good theatre”. There is every kind of dramatic conflict. Everybody agrees that the cases both of the church and the Maid have been presented with remarkable brilliance. Shaw has captured the very atmosphere of the Middle Ages in the play – the faith of the people in the religious institutions, the force of the Church, and the belief of the people in the miracles. Shaw might not be true to the letter, but he is certainly true to the spirit.
Shaw had studied the records of the trial and some of the remarks of Joan echo the words, which were actually spoken by her. The scene re-emphasizes the spread of Protestantism and Nationalism.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Symbolism and Meaning in John Donne's "The Canonization"

Symbolism and Meaning in John Donne's “The Canonization”

Starting in the late 16th Century and lasting throughout the 17th Century, was a form of poetry that has come to be known as Metaphysical. Though not a poetic movement in the sense of having a manifesto (as did the Romantics), these poets explored similar themes such as love and religion, approaching them in a practical yet transcendent manner. One of the greatest of these Metaphysical Poets was John Donne (1572-1631). Writing in a time of political, social and religious upheaval, his poetry is largely concerned with the enigmatic relationship between a person’s sexuality and spirituality. This question is raised in his poem “The Canonization”, in which the social stigma surrounding an overt love affair is compared to the martyrdom of saints. Many poetic techniques, characteristic of Metaphysical poetry, are used to develop this theme, as love is established as an alternative religion to Orthodox Christianity and the societal conventions it propagates.

The structure of “The Canonization” is an example of a love Lyric, and operating within considerable structural constraints. The poem consists of 5 stanzas, each of 9 lines, with a Rhyme scheme of ABBACCCAA. This could be described as an alternative Quatrain followed by a tercet and a rhyming couplet, thereby highlighting the epigrammatical origins of Metaphysical poetry, however none of these sections are separated by voltars to make this analysis explicit. This strict format can be understood as showing social constraints within which the persona must operate, and to whom the persona’s love is held accountable. The metre of the lines varies within individual stanzas, alternating between iambic Pentameter, tetrameter, and trimeter, often changing Foot as well. These various meters are, however, to some extent consistent between stanzas. This is a reflection of the Metaphysical attempts at a more conversational Rhythm, so as to be more accessible in meaning. This strict structure also allows for distinct stages in the development in the persona’s argument, however jumbled these stages may be in comparison to convention. The first Stanza describes the viewpoint of society (however briefly) and passes judgement on that viewpoint. The second stanza presents the case of the persona’s argument. A decision is therefore already made before the reader has heard all cases, forcing them to accept the message of the text, and allowing the following stanzas to operate on that assumption of agreement. The structure has thereby played a major role in the persuasion of readers, and manipulation of their reader position.

The first impressions of the meaning of any poem are given by the poem’s title. The title “The Canonization” has direct religious connotations; however, Donne manipulates reader preconceptions in order to generate meaning. Readers may think of canonization in terms of idyllic saints, given devotion by the Roman Catholic Church in particular. Donne, though originally a Roman Catholic himself, wrote much polemic poetry against Catholicism (following his switch to Protestantism), and is therefore critical of this romanticised view of saints. Instead, he contrasts these reader preconceptions with the actual struggle and torture of martyrdom that created these saints. The poem deals with this later view of canonization. In this title, Donne gives readers a potentially false sense of prior understanding of the poem’s message, a sense which is used to create a Paradox between readers’ understanding and the text’s message, a paradox used throughout the poem to persuade readers into Donne’s point of view.
The first stanza deals with the reaction of society to the persona’s love. No explanation is given of the details of the love affair, nor if there are any particular moral questions of which society could be critical. Instead, the persona lists society’s General complaints against the obsession of love. The poem begins in true Metaphysical form with:
For Godsake hold your tongue, and let me love,

This has a sense of immediacy and converstionalism, with the reference to a listener’s “…tongue…” creating an awareness of prior words in the conversation. Metaphysical poets strove for this more realistic representation of language (realistic in comparison to their contemporary poet’s, though perhaps not compared to modern standards) in order to affect the poem’s accessibility and high level of reader engagement. Immediately the reader is addressed and given the proposition to “…let me (the speaker) love…”. The opening line also establishes the dialectic of God (the conventions of religion and social decorousness) in contrast to love (more specifically a love affair, with some sexual aspect). The tension between these two powers is discussed throughout the poem. This line is followed by a listing of reasons against the overt love of the persona. These are almost given in the manner of an inverted blazon, with the listing of physical defects of the persona (“…palsie…gout…gray haires…”). Though no link is explicitly made, such catalogues of the problems of age were common in carpe diem poems, extolling the need to ‘make love while we may’. Reader’s at the time of the poem’s composition would have recognised this and possibly anticipated that genre of poetry to follow. However, again Donne challenges the preconceptions of readers by refusing to conform. Reference is next made to the Elizabethan belief in fate/fortune, emphasised by the alliteration “…ruined fortune flout…”. The reasons for not loving are that the persona is too old and that it will ruin his fortunes for the future. It should be noted that no mention is made of the persona’s love interest. The love remains a singular activity until the end of the second stanza. In the second half of the first stanza, the persona dismisses the criticisms of society, addressing the critics and prescribing for them a course of action. The treasures of wealth, education, destiny and rank are given to society, if the persona is allowed to love in return. The search for these commodities was expanding dramatically at the time of Donne, especially with the exploration of the New World and the precarious position of the British monarchy; however, here they are regarded as worthless in comparison to love. The tone in discussing them verges on mockery, it certainly demeans the value given to them by the era. In return for love, society is also given leave to honour an ambiguous ‘him’, either the monarchy, the King, or perhaps Christ. This section may possibly have biblical connotations to the questioning of Christ over taxes paid to Caesar (Christ pointing to the face of Caesar on the coins as warranting that they are given as tax). However, again the story is inverted, as God and the social conventions supported by religion take the role of Caesar, in contrast to love playing the role of God. In this extended judgement of a society critical of love, Donne confronts any readership in sympathy with that opinion, either antagonising such readers or persuading them into a less resistant reading of the poem.

In contrast to conventions of Rhetoric, judgement is passed on those in disagreement with the persona in stanza one, before the persona defends his case in stanza two. This is carried out through successive rhetorical questions:
Alas, alas, who’s injur’d by my love?

What merchants ships have my sighs drown’d?
Implicit descriptions of the tortures intrinsic to love (as opposed to being imposed by society) are made with reference to “…sighs…teares…colds…heats…”. These are linked with successive natural disasters, which may also be seen as acts of God, such as floods and diseases. With this interpretation, Donne can be viewed as verging on apostasy, as he discretely criticises God by pointing out that love has no hand in causing the disasters for which God can be viewed as responsible. Whereas God causes ten plagues of Egypt in the Bible, and strikes many people dead:

When did the heats which my veines fill
Adde one man to the plaguie Bill?

Love is thereby established as an alternative religion to Orthodox understandings of Christianity. The reference to soldiers and lawyers, towards the stanza’s conclusion, is again symptomatic of Metaphysical poetry. The Metaphysical poets often compared metaphysical themes such as love to more practical aspects of life, such as law and war. Though here the legal and military aspects do not play an active role in the poem’s imagery, their inclusion challenges readers. Readers are encouraged to acknowledge the practical applications of the poem’s message, as well as provided with an illustration of the harmless nature of love (whereas conventional religion often attacks the offices of war and law as sinful). The stanza is really concerned with proving that love in no way hurts the operations of society, and that there is therefore no need for society to hurt the operations of love. In the final lines of the stanza, a second lover enters the poem, a voiceless female figure. Gender studies of “The Canonization” and Metaphysical poetry in general, would argue that this is representative of a depersonalised and objectified view of women, that they are merely objects of love, rather than being active participants in the love affair. This is supported by the fact that in leading up to the introduction of the female, the love is owned by the male. This is not only in the fact that he provides the discourse about love, but that it is often referred to as “…my love…” and he as the only lover that needs release from the taunts of society. When the lady does enter, it is not as an equal to the male persona, but either separated from him (“…she and I do love…”) or spoken for by him. Love is a male dominated issue, which is revealed through the gaps and silences of the poem.
The third stanza focuses on the essence of the love itself. Though the male voice retains command of the discourse, the female is joined to him as an “…us…”. Little regard is given in this stanza, to the criticisms of society. The real issue is now the saintly nature of love, with criticisms of love becoming a side-point. The persona declares:
Call us what you will, wee’are made such by love;

confirming that it is their censure within society that makes them martyrs, effecting their canonisation. The two figures become meaningless as themselves (“…mee another flye…”) as the poem’s focus shifts to an intense view of their love as an entity. The condensed conceit:
We’are Tapers too, and at our own cost die,
again reflects the lovers’ martyrdom to the religion of love. Conventional symbols of the “…Eagle and the Dove…” are used to describe the relationship within the love affair. The eagle, as a conventional image of male strength, and the dove, representing female gentleness, juxta posed together, reveal the inequality between the partners (evidence of the Patriarchal system contemporary to the poet). These two binary opposites brought together can also be viewed as part of the Neoplatonic understanding, that the entire world is present within the two lovers, all the opposing forces (represented by the eagle and dove) brought together within them. The mythological Phoenix is next alluded to, bringing with it the religious connotations of resurrection awaiting the lovers. However, these spiritual understandings are called into question by sexual images that follow:
By us, we two being one, are it,
So, to one neutrall thing both sexes fit.
Wee dye and rise the same,…

It is again almost blasphemous the combination of such copulative images with the religious connotations of resurrection (“…dye and rise…). The final line of the stanza refers to the love as “…Mysterious…”. This has further religious overtones, with the understanding that the term ‘sacrament’ is derived from the Latin for ‘mystery’. The sexual act is transformed into a Sacrament, celebrated by two saints, in worship of the religion of love. By now the poem is not concerned with whether society should censure the persona’s love, but is instead occupied with evangelising in the name of the religion of love. Readers are moved through this change in issue of the poem, and are thereby prevented from forming any resistance to the original premise of the poem.
The fourth stanza begins with the proposition that love is intrinsic to life:
Wee can dye by it, if not live by love,
followed by a reflection on the fate of the lovers once their martyrdom is effected, that is, after their deaths. It is not debated whether the lovers will be remembered (the fact that both persona and reader agree over the lovers’ status as “…legend(s)…” is assumed by the text), instead the issue is in what form that memory will be recorded. The Historical form of “…Chronicle…” is juxta posed with the beautiful “…sonnets…”, transformed by Metaphor into religious “…hymnes…”. In this way, the lovers’ sexual understanding is enshrined in both secular and religious memory, a union of the spiritual and sexual which has been the aim of the poem. This remembrance is alluded to as a creation of Heaven, as “…pretty roomes…” may refer to Christ’s ‘many rooms in my father’s house’. The second half of the stanza employs conceits to further expound on the fate of the lovers’ “…legend…”. The lovers are compared to “…The greatest ashes…” and the poem which immortalises them “…a well wrought urn…”. The form of “…Chronicle…” is compared to “…half-acre tombes…” which wouldn’t suit the encasement of ashes. The specific compact conceit of “…ashes…” for the lovers is particularly appropriate, considering that burning at the stake was a common form of martyrdom. The image thereby provides a link with the stanza’s concluding line and the title of the poem, “…Canoniz’d for Love…”. At this stage, the argument is proven that the lovers are saints, and readings of the text have been limited so that no other empathy can be felt for any other viewpoint besides that of the persona. This has been achieved by the systematic expulsion of other voices from the text, first the female and by now the opinion of society. Readers are not provided any opportunity to see the issues from another light; therefore, their position on the issues of the text has been manipulated in compliance with the views of the persona and subsequently Donne.

With an argument already resolved and a readership in total sympathy for the persona, the final stanza opens instructing readers to “…thus invoke us…” (an instruction emphasised by assonance or in-rhyme). It is confirmed that the lovers are canonized martyrs, worthy of devotion. Ironically, this devotion would come from conventional religious, the very society that martyred the lovers in the poem’s beginning. The fifth stanza relies heavily on the Neoplatonic understanding that quintessence of the world can be found wholly within the two lovers. They are “…one anothers hermitage…” a message ironic within the poem’s historical context of world exploration and deeper understanding of the heavens (with Galileo giving credibility to Copernican theories of the solar system). This philosophical understanding is then applied to the intermingling of sexual and spiritual love:
You, to whom love was peace (religious, conventional), that now is rage (passionate, sexual);
This quintessential love is further explored with the scientific conceit, comparing lovemaking to the experiment in alchemy, extracting essences in “…glasses…”. Again, the practical scientific analogy combined with the metaphysical theme of love, acts as a persuasive tool in the ensuring of reader sympathy. The final statement in the poem:
…Beg from above
A patterne of your love!
though an unsatisfying rhyming couplet (as in its use in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, it fails to summarise the thematic journey of the poem), does reveal the ultimate transformation of love. Love is not to be ridiculed, as in the poem’s opening; it is now a religion, martyrdom, a canonisation, and a grace to be evoked from above.

“The Canonization” by John Donne is a complex piece of rhetoric, which uses persuasive and poetic techniques to manipulate readers through different understandings of the place of love within society. Beginning with the condemnation of over love by society, the persona establishes an argument by which means love challenges conventional religion, before taking its place as religion, martyrdom, canonisation and grace. Different techniques are used to effect this transformation, including the metaphysical conceit, Irony, paradox, structure and sound devices. These are all performed within the metaphysical style, recognisable in its attempts at conversationalism, accessibility, refusal of convention, and witticisms. By creating this intricate forum of expression, John Donne has, to considerable extent, been able to link the enigmatic opposites of human sexuality and spirituality within the religion of love.