How I Should Learn Literature?


Literature ,“only one of many arts” (Frye), is already involved in human society since approximately seven million ago. Poem, one of the most traditional forms of art, had been used as a media to release human feeling, as what Aristotle believes that “the poem is a techne or aesthetic artifact” (Frye, 2000: 66). Some people sometimes write literature because of this catharsis`s concept. When I was in junior high school, for instance, my friends and I ever were told to write a poem or short story by our teacher of Bahasa Indonesia as a requirement to finish her final exam. On the time, it was very hard to write a poem even though it was written in Bahasa Indonesia because I did not know materials which I had to write. However, it would be different if I, at the time, had an accident which is, for instance, slipped from the stairs. I would be sad after slipping from it because it, of course, was hurt and the feeling of hurt itself became my material in writing a poem. Therefore, some people would be easier to write literature after getting sad or happy same as what Aristotle says. They probably write that way as a method of providing relief from anger and suffering and what we said as the emotions are “[the] aesthetic artifact” like what Aristotle relies on.

Nevertheless, Plato has a different view with Aristotle in what literature it is. He, in fact, says that “all good poets, epics well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, [emotion], but because they are inspired and possessed.” Plato, in a way, tries to neglect the emotion as the material to write literature.  Probably, what Plato believes is little older than Aristotle, but we cannot deny him completely. Plato, in a way, resuscitates us that writing poem does not always need emotion or even experience, but it needs what we call now as “inspiration” as well. However, what we need aware in what Plato says is not only about it. We need to see closely about what being inspired and possessed is. Plato says that Rhapsodist, a person who recite poem at the time, “are the interpreters of the poems” (12) which mean the rhapsodist presents the poem. The poem which is a part of art “is appointed by God to have knowledge of a certain work” (13) Therefore, Plato has faith that God is involved in reciting the poem which also means that the rhapsodist are inspired and possessed by God when being reciting the poem. When seeing back to Aristotle and Plato, the different between them is probably the concept of art and self. We can see that Plato does not mention the rhapsodists are God`s interpreter which means they are not themselves and it differs with Aristotle which believes that emotions are the material in creating arts and the emotions are parts of human being. In other words, when an artist uses the emotions in his/her arts, s/he is him/herself and not possessed by God or something else.

Horace`s Art of Poetry has arose many question in my mind. What is poetry? What are requirements to write poetry? How do I know that his/her performance in reciting it is a good citing or bad citing? Or what is a good poem or bad poem? Initially, before reading what Horace said, I as common people would answer the questions by saying that a good poem need to be beautiful. Then, another question arises, what does beautiful mean? It would be very hard for people who did not learn poetry to explain the beauty. Yes, we know that it is beautiful, but how can I say that it is beautiful? Is it its word that makes it beautiful? If yes, what kind of words that can make poetry beauty? Or is it really the word? Sometimes, I found a girl cry hearing his boyfriend reciting a poem in her birthday. Is it really because the beauty of words that made her cry? If the poem was recited by stranger, would the girl cry? No? Is it the boy that made it? Does it mean that the boy is the most important part than the poem itself? Could it mean the beauty itself is not come from the poem, but the reciter? If so, why I learn poetry?

I am confused when trying to answer all of the questions. It is, in hard to find the answers. The function of poetry for students, however, is the primary question in this time. Before answering why students need to learn poetry, the question, why does the poem need to be beautiful, is easier to answer. Horace argues that poetry needs to be beautiful, but it needs more than beauty. In other words, “[poems] must be affecting, and must lead the heart of the hearer as the will” (1971: 80).  The boy could make the girl cry due to the boy had succeeded in conveying his feeling to her. How did it work? Feelings are something abstract and impossible for human to understand it so that how we can see the feelings when someone recites a poem? As what Horace said, human can see it through its words and expression, “sad words are appropriate to a sorrowful face, furious words are fitting to the angry, gay jests to the merry, serious words to the solemn” (1971: 80). Therefore, the girls could cry because the boy probably cried as well when reciting the poem. However, reciting well does not make it a good reciting poem because reciting a paper with good expression does not make it a reciting poem. Consequently, Horace says that “the ideal of poetic style is to mould familiar material with such skill that anyone might hope to achieve the same feat” (1971: 82). It needs to be academic. Therefore, poetry, at the same time, could either inform or delight, “both pleasure and applicability to life” (1971: 83). This is why poetry becomes subject in my course and probably it is the reason why I learn poetry, but how what Horace said could be happen? How the studies of poetry become subject in my course?

Differ from Horace, Plato said in Ion that “all good poets, epics well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed.” It is said that poets does not need to be academic or delight, I just to be another person when reciting it. For some reasons, I also feel that inspiration sometimes came outside me. Plato said that it came from something divine and holy thing. Therefore, people who recite poems at the time probably have a different status with another person because God is inside them. If so, it will become hard and valuable to become a poet at that moment. However, that question comes arise again, why I should learn poetry?

I have studied in faculty of arts for two years. Here, I studied English because, yes, I chose English Major. However, it is not only English I have learned. I learned its literature as well. Actually, I have been upset by a question. What is the function of literature? The question always arises whenever I am studying literature. What I am afraid of is literature did not have any function in my society at all.  Arnold says in one of his essays:-

It is almost too much to expect of poor human nature, that a man capable of producing some effect in one line of literature, should, for the greater good of society, voluntarily doom himself to impotence and obscurity in another (1865: 588).

I was afraid that if literature did not have any function at all in the society. I often ask myself when I graduate from this faculty; will my knowledge about literature that I have learned in entire semester being useless? However, the first question that must be asked as Frye says is not “What use is the study of literature? But, “What follows from the fact that it is possible?” (2000, 10). Frye argue that “it is therefore impossible to “learn literature” [because] [l]iterature is not a subject of study, but an object of study.” Literature as the object of study needs a way to “learn it” and “what one learns [literature], transitively, is the criticism of literature” (2000: 11).

However, what I discussed above arouses a new question, what is the criticism of literature? Frye compares “criticism” and “science” are same “as well as an art” although he realizes that “criticism” is “not a pure or exact science” (2000: 7). When I, as a scholar, had to write a journal article, I need to obedient a kind of format when writing it. I must pay attention to the order of writing, the method I use and the data I need to find. Why do I need to follow these rules? If I write without the rules, it will make my writing same as an ordinary writing. It has no different, for instance, with articles written by junior high school. Moreover, Frey gives example in the difference between “history” and “legend.”   “History”, Frye believes, “is an art”, but “what distinguished history from legend” is that in history, “scientific principle are involved in historian`s treatment of evidence” same as well as criticism, “scientific element” in criticism have “distinguishes it from literary parasitism.” Therefore, it is also scientific format which “distinguishes” my journal article from junior high school writing (2000: 7-8).

Unfortunately, the official of my faculty seems to less know that what the student needs to learn because the curriculum of English Department almost changes every year. We have three curriculums now which are curriculum 2009, 2012, and 2013. The most severe curriculum is curriculum 2012 which is my curriculum. There are many general courses that replace important English courses and unfortunately, the replacing courses are not too important at all for understanding and studying criticism at all. We had to learn how to be an entrepreneur, a tour guide, and a diplomat. Diplomacy is probably suitable, but what is possibly the most useful course I get to be a criticizing writer from the curriculum is teori dan metode kajian budaya. It becomes a problem because my faculty, faculty of arts, supposes to produce a writer, a criticizing writer, not a diplomat, a tour guide, or even entrepreneur. Therefore, it has been protested by lecturers of English department because they know what student needs to learn How about the students? We did not protest it until we realized that it is too late and seriously, the curriculum does not survive long. It just stands one year and after that it changes to curriculum 2013. Although it has changed, we had to follow the curriculum until graduating and it brings out more serious problems not only for the students but also the lecturers. I feel that I am a victim of this “hierarchy” system, in a way. Scholes, argues that the system, “English Department”, is as an institution of “political embodiment” and also “apparatus that limits and enables the specific manifestations of English” (1985, 3). I as the student cannot do anything to change the curriculum because the lecturers even do nothing as well. The high officer in education ministry probably can and therefore English studies as an “apparatus” cannot be rebuild if the hierarchy does not rearrange as well, as Scholes says,

Rebuilding this apparatus, [English studies], is going to mean rearranging the hierarchy: repositioning or redefining literary study, because literary study is the dominant activity in this institution; it is the focus of power that holds everything else in place (1985: 11).

However, I cannot accept it offhandedly. The system has a possibility to harm me. When I see something burned, for instance, in my home, I must do something to put out the fire. I can put water or a wet towel to the fire. If I do nothing, my home will be burned as well and everything inside it will be gone. Hence, the fire harms me so I need to resist it and therefore it also applies for the system. If the system harms me, I need to struggle to face it, but it does not mean resigning from English Department.

Resistance to the system does not mean defecting or changing the system in general, but we, first, had to realize that the system has failed to be a “truth”. It cannot guidance me when I fully follow it as a guidance of my academic choice. What will happen is the opposite. Although my lecturers have a good method to teach the student, it is still in wrong ways. De man says, “[f]or [the] method that cannot be made to suit the “truth” of [the students] can only teach delusion” (1986, 4). However, I cannot fully blame my lecturer or even the faculty officer because of their inability to solve the problem. It is possible why the problems is never be resolved because the students itself are not realize that what they know all this time is a delusion. Hence, we do not realize the real problems we had to face. This is the function of literary studies actually needed. People sometimes hardly see problems from different point of view. When I can see the problems from another side and can write it on a piece of paper or online media such as facebook, twitter, or even blogs, I, at least, can answer the question, why I should study literature? And even the question I ask above, “How I should study literature?” It, in a way, can answer the question about the beneficial of literature for our society as well.

However, not every student has an ability and courage to write. Although they face a same problems, not every of them can speak. If so, there will be a problem when all students speak the same thing together or one by one. It will consume a lot of time and effort. The problems will not resolve as fast as it can and therefore it is not effective. Hence, the students need a representative to talk. In my faculty, for instance, a class, the smallest organization in campus had to choose a person to be a leader. He/she is a representative of his/her class. Therefore, the leader will represent the idea of his/her class. What he/she says is what his/her friends say in the class as well. In bigger case, English students need a person to become its representation and therefore an election is needed to choose the leader. When the leader has been chosen, he/she becomes a person that, as Max saw, is “as the executive committee or direct instrument of the ruling class” (Marx, Cowling and Martin, 2002: 179). In other words, the leader of English students, in my major called Gemasi, has a right to create work programs or events for the students. For instance, when the leader held an event, he/she needs to write a proposal to Faculty`s dean. If there is nothing wrong with the proposal, the dean will accept it and the event can be held. The proposal, as a text and a literature, in a way, present the desire of Gemasi because it is written by Gemasi`s representation. However, the proposal, in other way, represents the leader and therefore it represents Gemasi as well. How could it be happen? What textual elements/aspects in the proposal as a literary work may represent what element/aspect of the issue?

Representation is not only built by a person. In Plato`s Ion, for instance, God that is represented by Rhapsodist is not only constructed by the Rhapsodist only, but also the condition of the society at the time. Their belief, however, becomes a term to help the Rhapsodist presenting their selves as God, “God himself is the speaker [Rhapsodist]” and “God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers” (Plato).   Nevertheless, the question is how they can believe that the God is the speaker. The answer is, indeed, as what Plato says.

The God would seem to indicate to us and not allow us to doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, or the work of man, but divine and the work of God.

Horace has supported Plato`s argument about the poem which has to “delight” and also “must have charm, and draw the hearer’s feeling which way they will.” These concept has distinguished what is good [beautiful] and bad poem it is. Consequently, Plato suggests that the good poem is not “the work of man” and therefore the poem is suggested to be God`s representation.

However, when we talk about political representation in university, it is better to read Marx. Marx argues “[p]lainly, too, classes do not simply represent themselves; their members need to form political parties such as the Party of Order” (8). In university`s case, for instance, students of English Department “[also] need to form political parties” which is now called Gemasi. “They represent is the people’s right to rule; their interests are the people’s interests”(48). Marx argues that Gemasi, representation of English student, “appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unrestricted governmental power which protects them from other classes and watches over them from on high” because the students “cannot represent themselves, they must be represented” (101).

Nevertheless, Marx doubts that the representation does not always represent all members in the party because sometimes there are members called by Marx as “potatoes in a sack” – “living in similar conditions but not really forming a proper class because they had very limited means of communication with each other and no proper political representation” (8). This idea, therefore, becomes a lack in the idea of representation. It likes a hole in a wall. When we want build the wall, for instance, we had to buy some materials such as bricks, stones, cements, water, and sand. Without these elements, we cannot build the wall. Therefore, this activity of model building, Rowe says, can be referred as a term of structure (35). The structure in what Rowe says is similar with “communication” and “political representation” in what Marx argues above. When we have only the materials on the ground, we cannot call it the wall because it does not have “structure” or it does not communicate each other and “no proper political representation.” In other words, Rowe and Marx have agreed that to construct wall as a representation of the material, it needs to have “structure” of wall. The brick needs to be placed in proper place and water, sand, and cements need to be stirred with appropriate measure. Nevertheless, is the structure of wall will be same with the structure of organization?

I had to say that we are talking about the way the literature talk about itself not what it said as if the literature presents reality. Therefore, we are focus on the mechanism not the character because the characters have been created in that way. We are trying to know how the mechanism can represent/represented by the character.

For instance, when we see two women who have different type of hair, straight hair and wavy hair, we will probably have different kind of view. When you choose straight hair woman is more attractive than the other, the question we seek is not why you choose the wavy hair. Instead of asking that question, we will try to find out what is the structure. Yes, in what structure the straight hair woman is more desirable than the wavy one. Therefore, the problem is in what way you see it and in what way you serve the problem.

Now we can see that the straight hair woman has been associated with good mechanism. The mechanism produces image and value. Both of them are discussed in structure. Structure is arranged, but sometimes it can be spread as well. Because it just happens sometimes, we will discuss in what situation the structure need to be spread. Thus, when it has been spread, how we understood the structure. Moreover, we can ask the structure has been spread as the concept of what and what is showed by the concept itself.

However, when we criticize the text, we are criticizing the behavior of it. But, we are not viewing the text as a figure; we are trying to know the behavior of the text which serves something. For instance, when we put on a mask, we are writing on our body. In a way, we can liken the concept with writers who write on their works.

Actually, it is easier to arrange structure by categorizing it. It is what we call now as science. Our work, indeed, is different with science. Criticizers consciously operate by using language. Because our system is regulated by the language, we organize the language as well. There are two things that we do with the language. We have seen and articulated the language and all of these things are regulated by the language as well.

When we talk about self and desire, we will face phenomenon and the meaning of it. It is usual to talk about language as structure. What is uncommon is the structure of self, world, and politics. How to discuss it? If we relate it with machine, what are components we need? What are screws?  If it works, who is the person who operates it?

How our selves are structured? Saussure argues that selves are fixed and permanent. Therefore, he calls self as something we try to call or remember. He says that the structure of linguistic sign can be represented by “concept” and “sound image.” “The two elements are intimately united and each recalls the other” (251). We think and ourselves will be exist. It is the problem with knowing not thinking. Rottenly, the act of knowing is related with ingenious and ingenious is related with dreams. When we try to use text, we will find that there are relations in the middle of knowing and not knowing and it is what we call as the real knowing. Therefore, we will find intercourse between act of knowing and act of throwing.

There are two kinds of subject which are subject that speaks and subject within speaking. Before eating the fruit of knowledge, human is not bounded by law. Therefore, in a way, human as subject has agency and power, but in another way, he has not as well. For instance, kids who are not yet baligh cannot represent themselves. Now, we have a problem here. Why they can`t? Does it happen because they are not ready or because they does not been granted the permission to be baligh?

We have problems with seeing and throwing. When think something in our head, we project the image of it. For instance, when you assume the image of Elsa, girl`s character in Frozen, initially, you will project the image of princess. You just seeing her, and you directly throwing the image you built to her. It is seeing and throwing. However, it will be hard for us when we always throwing the image without further seeing. Elsa, the object of your gaze, is not always served as a princess. We had to see her in another way. Therefore, we must to avoid fetishizing and glorifying the object because it can make us blind and not criticize.

We seeing something, unconsciously we are making it in our mind. For instance, when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we as subject see ourselves as object. It is similar with narcissus that Spivak says, “Narcissus’ madness is disclosed when he recognizes his Other as his self: “Iste ego sum” (250). After that, we will ignore the object and echo it using the word from another person like what Bhabha says:

[M]imicry emerges as the representation of a difference that is itself a process of disavowal. Mimicry is, thus, the sign of a double articulation; a complex strategy of reform, regulation, and discipline, which “appropriates” the Other as it visualizes power (126).

Then, the concept of picture reflected by the mirror becomes real and therefore it try to be being itself whereas the imaginary is looking for itself and the symbolic is being for it or other. Finally, we will say in front of the mirror, “s/he is I am.”

Lacan says about this concept of mimicry in mirror stage. After seeing images, we will assume the concept inside our head.

We have only to understand the mirror stage as an identification, in the full sense that analysis gives the term: namely, the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image- whose predestination to this phase- effect is sufficiently indicated by the use; in analytic theory, of the ancient term imago (382).

For instance, when England colonialized India, they try to replicate their law on them. We can see the proses of mimicry here. By doing the mimicry, England tried to make the structure of India same as it and Bhabha believes that “mimicry emerges as one of the most elusive and effec-tive strategies of colonial power and knowledge” (126).  Unfortunately, although they had succeeded enforcing the law in India, still, India is not English. India cannot represent England and therefore Bhabha argues that “Mimicry repeats rather than re-presens” (128).It is what Bhabha says it “is almost the same, but not quite” (126).

The problem happens in us as well. When you have an aim to become a good writer, you should have an idol to be followed. Let`s say your idol is Edgar Allan Poe. Then, there are images that you want to imitate so you can become like him. However, the images cannot be intact. Self we try to construct never finish. We cannot imitate 100% because we do not know the measure. It also happens when you look at the mirror. We cannot fully see ourselves. Everything on it is limited. Totality cannot be happen unless you believe on it.

Same condition is happen when we read a book. To understand the book, we will try to imitate the mind of the writer, but our concepts often collide with the writing. Therefore, books will always be revised. It will be changed never be total.

In drama, it happens as well. When the actors imitate a character in the script, they cannot fully imitate the character. Moreover, drama does not last forever. It also happens in films. Both film and drama cannot show their story completely. It is fragmented. Hence, the drama usually has problems when it needs to play two acts in one time. How should it done? Is it possible to do that? Is it easier to fragment both of the acts?

While Saussure is seeing structure as something that has been done and autonomous, Spivak, however, has a different point of view. She believes that structure especially in texts is associated with another text. It is unstable and always changes. In another word, one structure is dependable with other structures. We can analogy this concept on mobile phones. One mobile phone is still limited to access all information in the world, but usb cable, infrared, and Bluetooth help the phone connect with other devices, other structures.

These synchronizations to another world make technology develop over and over.  Consequently, we never satisfy with our phones because there are always new phones. Even when we have the phones, they are not fully ours. The software does not belong to us. It does not the concept of space and time.

However, the concept is only exists in particular time because it is abstract and very hard to understand. Hence, to understand time, we convert it into space, for instance, by writing our schedule in calendar. At the time, somehow, we see time as something linear, whereas in another time, another event is happening. Another example can be seen in our watch. We see time in the watch is limited by space inside it. In another word, we see time in term of space and sometimes we do the other way.

What is structure? When you fill a glass with water, what do you see? Normally, you will say that it is full of water. However, you can say that the air on the water has been emptied. Then, what is structure? Is it full or empty? How we construct self? Do we fill it with something? If so, do we take out something as well? These are also happened on memory, but when we forget some memories, we do not forget all of it. Bhabha says:

The ambivalence of colonial authority re-peatedly turns from mimicry-a difference that is almost nothing but not quite-to menace- a difference that is almost total but not quite. And in that other scene of colonial power, where history turns to farce and presence to “a part,” can be seen the twin figures of narcissism and paranoia that repeat furi-ously, uncontrollably (132).

The structure of self, therefore, cannot be totally constructed. The proses cannot be finished because it is limited by space and time. What we see after meeting a person is how s/he represents him/herself. Deconstruction, however, does not destroy the structure, but it is about how we see the impermanent structure. Finally, the structure is always same but how we interpret it that is probably dissimilar.

Note: I will provide further elaborations later.

Work Citied

Adam, Hazard. Art of Poetry in Critical Theory Since Plato. Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1971.

Adam, Hazard. Ion in Critical Theory Since Plato. Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1971.

Arnold, Matthew. Essays in Criticism. London ; Cambridge: Macmillan & Co., 1865. Print.

De Man, Paul. The Resistance to Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986. Print.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism : Four Essays. Toronto ; London: University of Toronto Press, 2006. Print.

Marx, Karl, Mark Cowling, and James Martin. Marx’s ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’ : (Post)Modern Interpretations. London: Pluto, 2002. Print.

Scholes, Robert. Textual Power : Literary Theory and the Teaching of English. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 1985. Print.


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