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Degener 1
Cole Degener
English 305
Keyword, Abstract, Summary, Evaluation
October 12, 2014
Iser Keyword Search
Iser, Wolfgang. How to do Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006. Print.
Subjects: Romantics; modes of theory; metaphor v. law; hard-core theory; soft-core
theory; aesthetics; presuppositions; humanistic theories; literary theories; Norwood
Russell Hanson; Thomas Kuhn; humanities
Graff Abstract
Graff, Gerald. “Taking Cover in Coverage.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and
Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch, et. al. New York: Norton, 2001. 2059-67. Print.
Graff argues that literary theory is crucial to have in education institutions. He suggests
that the focus on close reading and text analysis that occurs in education institutions
happens as a result of the presumption that literary theory is too complex for students to
comprehend. As a result of this presumption, Graff states that students lack certain
knowledge. Graff points to the field-coverage model of organization as the cause of
downfall of theory. He explains why institutions are attracted to the field-coverage
model, but then he follows by explaining the numerous disadvantages that result from the
model. Graff focuses on the problems that arise as a result of compartmentalization that
exists among the faculty, the students, as well as the students and the faculty.
Furthermore, Graff comments on the lack of integration of conflict in education. He
explains the various reasons why students and faculty suffer from the lack of integration.
Degener 2
Graff moves to conclude by stating that the field-coverage model needs to be revamped
or discarded if education institutions want to start incorporating more theory. Graff then
ends by summarizing what educational institutions can incorporate into their classrooms
and departments if they want to solve the problems that persist as a result of the fieldcoverage model.
Eagleton Summary
Summary of Eagleton’s Introduction: What is Literature
In his introduction “What is Literature,” Terry Eagleton argues that literature is defined
by the ever-changing value system that society has implemented. Eagleton states that
what constitutes as literature is defined by the value judgments of individuals with higher
power in society. These certain individuals use their ideologies, or set of beliefs and
values, to establish the ideals that society values at a given time. Therefore, powerholding individuals and their ideologies determine what is considered literature.
Throughout his introduction chapter, Eagleton examines various definitions of literature
that have been presented. First, Eagleton opens his introduction by giving a brief history
of how literature has historically been defined.
The first definition Eagleton discusses revolves around individuals defining
literature as any work that is fiction, while others have claimed literature is any work that
is nonfiction. Eagleton brings forth various examples of both, such as Shakespeare and
John Donne, to show that this definition does not suffice. Eagleton also argues that
individuals perceive the same work differently, such as the Bible; with the Bible, some
individuals may view it as fiction, while others view it as fact.
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Eagleton then discusses the Russian Formalists’ proposed definition of literature.
The Russian Formalists, an early 1900s militant group, defined literature strictly by the
type of language used. The Formalist believed literature had its own rules and regulations
that were applied to language, thus creating an estranged type of language. For a work to
be estranged and atypical, Eagleton says that it would have to go against a norm in
society. This hypothetical norm of language would have to be a set of specific rules and
regulations that society agreed upon. If this norm existed, there would be a basic
language that every individual would, which would then allow writers to deviate from the
set rules and regulations; this would create estranged and atypical language.
Furthermore, this group believed that the literature should not be filtered through the
author’s belief, but as a separate entity. In other words, the piece of literature should be
viewed as itself, not as the author’s words and ideas presented in book form. Eagleton
also addresses the Formalist’s view on allegories. The Formalists believed that real life
events did not influence writing, but they did serve as a medium for the message the
literature wanted to portray. According to the Formalists, authors did this by using
literary devices, such as rhythm and imagery; these literary devices are what attract
readers to literature. Because literature uses these devices, the Formalists considered
literature atypical language.
At this point, Eagleton points to the assumption here that there is a “typical”
language and the words in that language have a single, agreed upon meaning. Eagleton
explains that the Formalists solved this by differentiating between “literature” and
“literariness.” According to the Formalists, they were trying to define “literariness,”
which is simply the type of language that is used in literature. ”Literariness” is not
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eternal, but always evolving. By this, the Formalists mean that language comes and goes
with time. Eagleton continues by stating that the Formalists saw literature as poetry and
artists as poets. The Formalists believed this because any piece of literature can be poetic.
As a result of literature being poetic, literature is assumed to be subjective, since it can be
interpreted in various ways. Eagleton counteracts these ideas by saying that any work can
be literature based on this definition. For a work to be estranged and atypical, Eagleton
says that it would have to go against a norm in society.
The next definition of literature argues that literature uses peculiar language,
which was an idea that originated with the Russian Formalists, to create “non-pragmatic”
literature. This definition, in turn, uses the Formalists’ conclusion that language used in
literature is often times peculiar; peculiar language is used in literature when the work
does not refer to a specific subject, but a broad subject. For example Eagleton uses the
example of literature being a “way of talking about a woman, rather than any particular
real-life woman” (7). Using this example of the woman, different readers may think of
different women when they read literature that uses peculiar language about a nonspecific woman. The meaning placed upon the language used is subjective depending on
what specific subject the reader believes the text is referencing.
Eagleton then explains that individuals say that literature is “non-pragmatic”
because it does not solve a problem immediately, like textbooks and other related works
do. According to supporters of this definition, literature is “non-pragmatic” because it
uses peculiar language that can be applied to various situations; therefore, it does not
serve immediate use. As a result of literature being “non-pragmatic” then, literature
becomes subjective and no definition can be determined.
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The next definition Eagleton destructs considers literature to being what readers
“highly value.” A piece of writing’s value changes over time as a result of literature being
fluid. Literature is considered fluid because it may start off meaning one idea, but as time
progresses, meaning is changed over and over again. Eagleton articulates the problem of
why some authors are considered literature writers and others are not. Eagleton proposes
that some writers may possibly be better at writing than others. Then, problem that arises
is why bad literature exists. In other words, why do readers consider bad literature
literature at all? The answer to this, Eagleton offers, is that readers have a value system in
place that ranks literature, well-written to poorly written. Although readers may consider
something poorly written, they still consider it (bad) literature. Here, Eagleton suggests
that since readers use their values to determine what is literature and what is not, works
of literature can cease to exist whenever the readers decide. Additionally, pieces of
literature can change meaning over time. As values change in society, so does literature.
Eagleton explains this phenomenon by stating how readers filter literature because they
interpret the text how they want, in accordance to their values. At one point in time, a
work may mean one idea, but then years later, it might mean another idea to the same
person.. As a result of an individual’s value system being flexible, Eagleton explains that
literature is simply an opinion and that it is unstable.
According to Eagleton, although the values system is individualistic, it is often
determined by ideologies in society. An ideology is a set of beliefs and values that an
individual possesses. Oftentimes in society, the beliefs and values that are considered
more important originate as a result of the power-holding individuals. As a result of this,
at a certain point in time, individuals are likely to consider the same piece of work
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“literature” if it meets the ideologies that are held to a higher standard in society.
Eagleton argues that higher individuals in power determine what values are deemed
important based upon their ideologies. Since these individuals have more power in
society, their ideology is mimicked throughout society; in other words, the basis for
deeming literature as highly valuable is based off of the shared ideologies of the
individuals in power. Therefore, whatever is the power-holders in a society believe,
society values the same ideas. As a result of this, Eagleton argues that literature is based
on the power structure in society; literature is any piece of work that is in accordance
with the ideologies of the society members with maximum power.
Eagleton concludes that there is no objective definition of literature, because of
the power structure in society. This is Eagleton’s sixth and final proposed definition of
literature. Eagleton arrives at his conclusion that literature is determined by the value
system that is implemented by society. Therefore, even though literature is not objective,
it is also not subjective, but a combination of the both. Literature is not subjective
because it is not purely individualistic, instead a work is considered literature if it meets
the values of the individuals in higher power. If the piece of work does, it is considered
literature and passed down to the lower members in society.
Eagleton Evaluation
In Introduction: What is Literature? Terry Eagleton concludes by saying that
there is no objective definition of literature because literature is determined by the power
structure in society. Eagleton argues that individuals in higher power in the society
determine what is considered literature based on the cultural standards, values, and
beliefs. Lterature, according to Eagleton, is defined by ideologies of the power-holding
Degener 7
members of society. As a result of this, that which is considered literature changes as
society changes. In his introduction, Eagleton examines various proposed definitions of
literature, but ultimately shows that these definitions are not sufficient. Based on my past
educational experiences, I would agree with Eagleton’s definition that literature reflects
the standards, values, and beliefs that society values at a given time.
Throughout my years in high school and my few years at college, Eagleton’s
definition has held true. Individuals in power, such as teachers, professors, principals,
teachers, etc., determined all of the texts that were read. No matter what literature was
read in both of these institutions, all reflected a standard of society. This fact fits
Eagleton’s definition because these individuals all possess power in the educational
institution. Furthermore, in today’s education, the government has implemented the
Common Core State Standards. By implementing this program, the government is
ultimately determining the outcomes of education. The Common Core State Standards do
allow for the schools to decide how they will reach the outcomes decided by the
government, but there are limited routes to get there. This further supports Eagleton’s
definition of literature because higher power-holding individuals are using their
ideologies to determine what areas of literature should be taught in educational
institutions. For example, in many school districts, Animal Farm by George Orwell is
read and analyzed in high school; this was the case for my high school English class. The
officials of the school decided that it was advantageous to read this book in order to
present certain values to the students. For example, some of the values my English class
analyzed were religion, social class, social order, leadership, and power. All of these
values persist in today’s society, making Animal Farm very prevalent. The government
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officials who are creating the standards for educational institutions are determining what
they believe society values. Therefore, these government officials are using their values
to determine what literature should be taught. As a result of these experiences, Eagleton’s
definition of literature holds true.
Undoubtedly, some of the main reasons for reading books in school and college
was not purely to see what society valued, but there was always a certain perspective one
could read into that would give insight to society’s ideologies. Furthermore, reading
certain texts gave understanding to what previous societies have valued. Although
Eagleton did not mention this in his introduction, reading older texts that may not show
what the current society values, but what a previous society did value, is critical to
understand. For example, in high school English and an English course in college, I have
analyzed The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. By being introduced to this text and
analyzing it, I was able to see the Puritan values that were important to the society when
the book was written. In Hawthorne’s novel, religion and gender expectations are major
values and themes. By reading this novel, I was able to see how religion and gender was
viewed in Puritan time. By studying older texts, one is able to see what ideologies existed
in that time period. By this example, one is able to see how ideologies are brought up in
classrooms even if it does not seem apparent.
Although some critics of Eagleton do not believe that he includes literature that
stands the test of time in his definition, it is apparent that he actually does include these
forms of literature since these works include values that are still part of society’s ideology
today; this was apparent in my education. For example, in high school English and a
Chaucer course in college, I have analyzed The Canterbury Tales. As part of the tale
Degener 9
analysis, past views of religion were contrasted with present day ideas of religion. Not
only did this give students the ability to see what religious ideologies were present in
Orwell’s time, but they were also able to discuss the religious ideology that exists today.
Here one can see how old texts can be used to portray the ideologies that society
possesses today. Another example is Shakespeare. Shakespeare is not read because it
only shows what values were prevalent back in Shakespeare’s time, but individuals read
Shakespeare because some of the values present in the book can still be connected with
today’s ideologies. Furthermore, literature written by Shakespeare, Chaucer,
Hemmingway, etc. are not solely prevalent today because individuals continue to value
them, but because their works still show values that are present today. By reading and
analyzing older texts, one can compare social ideologies in different time periods.
All together, Eagleton’s Introduction accomplishes defining literature. Eagleton
walks his readers through various proposed definitions of literature and is able to point
out the gaps that are present within each definition. By applying his definition of
literature to my educational experiences, I am able to see how his definition holds true
more than any of the other definitions presented. Although defining literature looked like
an impossible task, Eagleton was able to define literature sufficiently.
Works Cited
Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: The University of
Minnesota, 1996. 1-14. Print.
Graff, Gerald. “Taking Cover in Coverage.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and
Criticism. Ed. Vincent Leitch, et. al. New York: Norton, 2001. 2059-67. Print.
Iser, Wolfgang. How to do Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006. 1-11. Print.