Said therefore maintains that critics must scrutinise the will to power inherent in texts. Said explains: You experience the text making the critic work, and the critic in turn shows the text at work: the product of these interchanges is simply that they have taken place. Critical ingenuity is pretty much confined to transposing the work into an instance of the method. The critical method. And the production of significance is precisely the principal capability of language.
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What concerns the critic is how language signifies, what it signifies, in what form. Such an exercise also poses the question of what the point of literary study is; if it is exclusively to learn about the wealth of literature that has been written, then this exercise has no place in a literature classroom. If it is also fundamentally to acquire and hone different practices of reading, then it does have a place, and indeed suggests very well the transferable skills that studying literature cultivates. On the one hand it seeks to suggest some of the issues involved when a literary critic reads a range of different kinds of text.
For example, what are some of the key questions in discussions concerning life-writing? Can one treat an autobiography in the same way as fiction for the purposes of analysis, or are there other issues and factors that could or should be taken into account? These sixteen chapters are not meant to be monolithic in their readings of the diverse texts this would be against the very ideas of the text outlined above , but examples of ways in which a broad spectrum of approaches can be brought to bear on a range of varied kinds of text — the sixteen texts and sixteen approaches in the book could be differently aligned with one another, providing permutations or potential different readings.
NOTES 1. Each text has been picked because it adheres to one of the sixteen different types chosen which are by no means exhaustive and might be considered amenable to one of the critical contexts that were also pre-selected. Harari ed. Page references will be given in the body of the Introduction. Fish is quoting M. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans G. Josue V. Harari, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, , p.
Judith Butler 1 The approaches used by critics to study literary texts, particularly novels, are often equally helpful when considering aspects of film, especially features such as theme, narrative and imagery. There are, of course, significant differences between the two genres: in terms of technology, team production, visual realisation and so forth. A film is the result of multiple efforts from hundreds of individuals, even if they are working towards achieving the vision of one person, a director who may or may not also be the screenwriter. The film under consideration in this chapter is a key text for a number of reasons.
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The discussion below thus concentrates on the implications of a popular film which students should be able to recognise as exploring philosophical problems and contemporary preoccupations that are also relevant to much literature but especially to twentieth-century fiction and postmodernist criticism. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation. The Matrix is consequently concerned with, among many other things, the synthetic construction of identity and perception, which is placed above an underlying reality to which no one within the matrix has access.
The world of the matrix is an artificial one that brings together a programmed computer reality with human mental projections into an immaterial environment. In this it has much in common with cybercriticism and post-humanism, both of which analyse the convergence between the human and the machine, casting doubt on traditional understandings of human identity and reality.
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Though this latter question perhaps appears in itself somewhat abstruse it is part of the larger question of distinguishing truth from falsity and reality from illusion. It is made with full knowledge of his options when rejecting the embattled, impoverished real world for the plenitude of simulated cyberspace. Thus, from one perspective The Matrix suggests only naturalised artificiality: the illusion of the real in postmodernity.
From another perspective the film is far more conservative. It posits not just a hyperreal world, but the desert of the real to which Neo awakes from his lifepod. The exciting aspect of The Matrix is its presentation of the world the audience is familiar with as the insubstantial, delusory world, yet this is precisely the contention of philosophers from Plato to Berkeley.
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The Matrix thus becomes fascinating for viewers because, unlike say Buddhism or Lacanian psychoanalysis, it depicts the real world that it claims underlies the illusory or constructed one with which people are familiar. For Baudrillard, the postmodern era is characterised by the actual having been replaced by the virtual in the constant circulation of signs, or more precisely simulacra: signifiers which do not refer back to original signifieds but only to other signifiers.
Baudrillard calls this condition hyperreality and it is most fully expounded in his book Simulations. In this text, Baudrillard argues: The very definition of the real becomes: that of which it is possible to give an equivalent reproduction. At the limit of this process of reproducibility, the real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is always already reproduced.
The hyperreal transcends repesentation.
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It is reality itself today that is hyperrealist. For Baudrillard the traditional distinction between the real and the simulated dissolves, leaving only the circulation of images. Materialism is therefore replaced by idealism in the postmodern world: our conception of reality is based on images, models, idealised versions of life that themselves become the templates or gauges of what is most real.
Consequently, everyday life becomes a pale imitation of the artificial: attending the Olympics is a poor substitute for watching it on TV, life is less involving than soap opera, the Grand Canyon is less spectacular than the multimedia experience of its grandeur in an IMAX cinema. In The Matrix, a drab ordinary life is portrayed as authentic but only in this respect preferable to the world of the matrix for average Americans. The matrix reproduces a world that has ceased to be produced; its reality has already disappeared, despite the continued transmission of its own images.
In the matrix, because nothing within it is actually happening outside of the minds of its prisoners, the distinctions between politics and entertainment, news and lies, or experience and fantasy, are entirely perceptual. It is a landscape of surfaces in which meaning is meaningless because the matrix refers to nothing in existence other than itself, like the dictionary of an unknown dead language. To simulate, Baudrillard initially says in Simulacra and Simulations, is to pretend to have what one has not.
Baudrillard makes a comparison here with a religion in which there are only icons or images of a non-existent God. Subsequently, Baudrillard argues that there are four phases of the image: one that reflects a basic reality; one that disguises or perverts a basic reality; one that masks the absence of a basic reality; and one that bears no relation to any reality and so is its own pure simulacrum. Reality has become its own appearance. When Neo chooses to take the red pill he finds that each person in a pod is jacked into the matrix as if into a roleplaying computer game.
The idea of performed identities has been explored in the work of the influential philosopher Judith Butler. Which is to say that identity does not precede action, but is constructed through performance within these regulations. It is the repetition of actions or self-presentations that constitutes identity categories, that makes subjects who they are and that creates the signs and effects they believe express them. Thus, for Butler the acts people perform are themselves copies which do not have originals but which have social meanings. These identity effects are themselves always organised in terms of binaries that are socially constructed, reliant upon hierarchical oppositions and promoting a norm and its other.
Thomas Anderson exists only as an imagined life, his identity constructed from a template of behaviour that allows him, in the matrix, to live out and believe in a subjectivity that he does not have except inasmuch as it is performed in his mind. So, again in The Matrix, Thomas Anderson does not exist other than through the actions Neo imagines: he does not exist prior to the matrix and has no identity apart from the matrix. Which is to say that he, Thomas Anderson, does not exist except within a regulated and simulated system of predetermined signs and images.
Thomas Anderson is something that Neo does imagines rather than is. Identity here is something virtual, as all identity is for Butler. Here it becomes apparent that the matrix is akin to discourse, which Butler understands in the Foucauldian sense of groups of statements or utterances that govern the way people think about society, history and culture.
Also, the matrix writes its system on the pre-imagined body in the sense that it inscribes itself or latches onto the body in the pod, imposing its system and rules upon an individual who firmly believes it has a subjectivity. Only then can he subvert the discursive power of the matrix, which then puts him on a par with the agents sentient programs like Smith.
Similarly for Butler, human beings have the illusion of agency but are in fact playing out the rules of the heterosexual matrix without realising it. This starts to take the film away from analyses indebted to the work of Butler and Baudrillard by introducing more traditional philosophical questions about fantasy, self-delusion and choice. To explore the questions raised here it is helpful to recall the choices faced by Neo and Cypher that I mentioned earlier.
What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? Nozick posits a machine that uses electrodes connected to the central nervous system successfully and unproblematically to provide individuals, suspended in a tank, with the illusion of living any life they choose.
Which is to say that Nozick believes humans wish to do things, and be a certain way, instead of just feeling it. He argues that people have a deep desire to connect with reality and that they also wish to be certain things — courageous, loyal, loving and so on — which the experience machine deprives them of ever being. Yet, because the choice is not complicated by knowledge it may be easier.
For Baudrillard by contrast, people are all already in the experience machine where there is a simulated existence but no reality that it is copying. There is no escape from the experience machine nor are we out of it. Finally, while it is possible to read the film in myriad terms, such as Buddhist philosophy,18 postcolonial perspectives for example, liberation from oppression or slavery , or religious beliefs for example, Neo is a born-again saviour ,19 it is worth considering The Matrix in terms of contemporary politics.
Euroamerica, this implies, lives in an artificial world protected from the reality of modern post-industrial relations. Through its economic and cultural machinery the West is cocooned from the true state of global affairs, benefiting from inequalities of which it is wilfully ignorant. Ford, James L. Haraway, Donna J. Irwin, William ed.
Tauris, Yeffeth, Glenn ed. Butler, , p. Kaveney, p.
For a philosophical discussion of this see Baudrillard in Thomas ed. See Haraway. The film can be profitably compared with the comic-strip-derived film Dark City , dir. Alex Proyas , in which similar questions of faith, truth and falsity in an artificial world culminate in a maverick hero discovering and overthrowing the powers that are controlling humanity.
Baudrillard, , pp. Quoted in Best and Kellner, p. Baudrillard, , p. Kellner, p. See Ford. See Schuchardt.
Roberts, p. In particular, the tools of literary analysis and theory have been helpfully employed to consider the built environment.