Thursday, February 16, 2006

What Greenblatt said

With the notion of representation Greenblatt connects to literature - because the representation of a character and a person is the same, there is always a narrative, a text, that carries a presentation of self, and there is no real distinction between literature and social life. Greenblatt wants to read people, and characters, as cultural artifacts, something put together that represents and is representative of its culture. Quoting Clifford Geertz, Greenblatt says that “there is no such thing as a human nature independent of culture”, which not only means that people are constructions represented as characters, but that the process of construction is marked by the environment in which it was constructed. (3). Greenblatt argues that the construction of self is restrained by the concepts, values and structures available in a particular culture. The individual is never free to create a self out of whole cloth, but has to use existing cultural codes, things that already have some meaning.
Literature functions in this system in three ways: as manifestation of the author, as expression of the code, and as a reflection upon those codes. I take this to mean that art/literature gives us information about the author and about the code (the particular cultural structure it was written in), but literature/art is not only a passive observer, not a neutral filter - it is also a participant in the culture.
Greenblatt argues that there are similarities in the way people in a given culture fashion themselves and lists what he calls the “governing conditions”. On the one hand there is submission to some absolute authority that is at least in part external, this may be for instance God, the church, science, on the sovereign. On the other hand there is an antiauthority, a demonic Other that is also external and that is either chaotic or false. Between these two poles, a person defines herself to be like her chosen authority and unlike the Other.
Greenblatt ues six writers to exemplify his theory; More, Tyndale, Wyatt, Spenser, Marlowe, and Shakespeare. They all submit to different authorities - e.g. More to the Church, Tyndale to the Bible and Wyatt to the absolutist state. They also balance differently between authority and rejection, i.e. some define themselves more by describing Us against the Other and others by describing The Other in Us. So Spenser is said to celebrate his chosen authority - the Fairie Queen, Marlowe to “embrace the alien” and Shakespeare is said to demonstrate a more ambiguous stance, a sort of subversive submission.

I want to look for similar patterns in the writings of my women, to see how they fashion public selves in general and how they render these selves legitimate public speakers in relation to a gender that would seem to exclude that role. Put in marketing terms the questions are

a) what kind of spin do they use to legitimize voice?
b) is it possible to discern a set of available tropes that these women leaned on?
c) how do these tropes relate to gender - do they ignore gender or use it?
d) how to other people respond to the spin and to what extend do their responses relate to gender as a relevant issue (do they use gender as they women have or is gender used to undercut the women's spin)?
e) does it seem like they are constructing whole selves or bitd and pieces for different audiences (something more like Todd's signs hung out to invite a certain kind of audience).

My work is different from Greenblatt in that I am looking for how they dealt with a particular aspect of their - public - selves, that I use only non fiction texts and letters ( how different is that?), that I want to leave the door open for a fragmented self AND a fragmented, continual process of self fashioning that is affected by the responses and that may be different from the private individual self (maybe the letters give a hint to a disconnect - maybe they will show women believing their own hype).

ADDED a year later - this piece I will only know about AFTER I have done more research - if there are patterns, tropes, and if they look similar across the chronology ... ah ... if they are different, that might say something, if they are not, that might say something else.