“The Mark on the Wall” Presentation

I focused on the historical context of “The Mark on the Wall,” as a text responding to trauma and WWI.  This story revolves around a mark that the speaker takes note of on a wall and is fixated upon throughout the story.  At first, she thinks that the mark is a nail for a picture, then “something caused by some round black substance, such as a small roseleaf,” then “a crack in the wood,” and, finally, she learns that it is, in fact, a snail.  I’m reading the trauma of this text as imbedded within the relationship depicted between subject and object.

My secondary source is “Phenomenology Begins at Home: The Presence of Things in the Short Fiction of Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf” by Aimee Gasston, which explores this subject/object relationship.  Gasston discusses the setting of such a relationship, making a distinction between the domestic interior and the exterior context of war, writing that both Woolf and Mansfield depict “an everyday (subjective) existence haunted by (object) matter” (34).  For Woolf, according to Gasston, domestic objects are positive and harmonious, which Gasston connects to Jean Baudrillard’s assertion that it is within “the complex structure of interiority” that “objects take on a certain density, an emotional value” (36).

This harmonious anthropomorphism is contrasted with the connection between objects and war, with “industrial warfare precipitat[ing] a terrifying new phase in the relationship between human and object” (38).  This new relationship emerges in two ways: 1. the object, in its “dignified, pacifist existence,” provides a stark contrast to human destruction, and 2. the object world, in its infinity, reminds humans of their own mortality and vulnerability.

Gasston then concludes by connecting the subject/object relationship to the Uncanny and to Heidegger’s concept of angst and Dasein. These moments emerge when the world around us becomes strange, so that “the self is no longer absorbed in the world” (43).

This essay can be used to perform a close reading of “The Mark on the Wall” and by paying close attention to not only the focus on objects in this story but also on the many references, however subtle, to violence, death, and war.  I think the mark can be read as both a tool of repression of trauma and, simultaneously, as the very source of the speaker’s anxiety.  In this regard, special attention should also be payed to the narrative structure of the story and the stream of consciousness style of narration.  Beyond this interpretation as a text about WWI, however, this subject/object relationship can also be used to explore this story through a feminist reading–the domestic space and imagination/escape–and by connecting this to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” or, in a more general sense, a psychoanalytical reading by using Freud’s “The Uncanny” (can be connected to “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Terrence Cave’s Thinking With Literature

Cave’s book is an overview of cognitive literary theory, which applies theories of cognitive science to interpreting literature.  According to Cave, “philosophers and experimental psychologists…might find that [literature] offers a remarkable source of evidence for the ways in which we think” while literary studies can benefit from a cognitive approach as “both a general explanatory framework…and a set of tools for close reading of individual texts” (15).  Cave offers an anthropological way of approaching literature, seeing it as “a collective activity, an enduring feature of the way humans share their cognitive environment” (3).

Key ideas:

Relevance theory: a theory of language which stems from the work of Paul Grice and was further developed by Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber.  Relevance theory is “a model of communication, seeking to show how language is offered by a speaker as evidence of intentions, beliefs, imaginings, states of mind and body…in the expectation that that evidence will evoke analogous forms of thought in the interlocutor and thus modify his cognitive environment” (24-5). This is very similar to mind-reading, which is connected to studies of autistics.

Kinesis: relevance theory as a model of cognition and perception is limited, according to Cave, because it views communication in purely linguistic. Kinesis, or motor resonance, on the other hand, takes in account embodiment (28).  In literature, kinesis is able to connect the reader to the text because “the ‘imagination of movement’…is a faint but distinct echo in the reader’s own motor response system of what it takes in sensori-motor terms to perform a highly specific gesture” (29).

Affordance theory: a term coined by James Gibson.  Affordance is, according to Gibson, “‘what the environment offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill.’ This [is a] vision of the environment as a site of potentialities for behavior and adaptation” (47).  What is significant about affordance theory is that it is solely operated according to perception, as objects that are viewed in terms of their usage.  Cave writes that “it enables one to signal more consistently the shift of perspective the word carries with it” (48).  Cave applies affordance not just to the interpretation of literature, but to language itself, writing that “if language is an affordance, it can’t be regarded as in any sense an end in itself: it offers itself for improvised use in particular contexts” (54).  Cave concludes by illustrating the significance of affordance theory as a “bridge concept, linking…the respective time-scales of human evolution and cultural history” (61).

Exam Ideas

Theory:

  1. I want to write about narration in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I haven’t quite figured out my angle here, but I’m really fascinated by the presence of the narrator in the novel, and how this sort of results in the very rare form of first-person omniscient narration. The only problem with this approach is that I don’t know if I can use any other books on the list. I was thinking, though, of using the extra book we’re allowed to write about and of writing about Oscar Wao in connection with Slaughterhouse-Five, which basically has an identical form of narration, with Vonnegut—a fictionalized version of himself—making his presence known throughout the novel as the narrator of the story. Although both books deal with different themes—Oscar Wao with postcolonialism (among others), and Slaughterhouse-Five with war and trauma—I think they both use this approach of having the narrator be a peripheral (and semi-omniscient) character in the novel in order to accomplish similar goals. I was thinking of using Mikhail Bakhtin’s conceptions of heteroglossia and polyphony to inform such a reading.
  2. Alternatively, I think I can analyze Oscar Wao in connection with Fun Home. In this case, I think I would use works more directly within the field of narratology, like Barthes and Todorov. I would use McCloud’s idea of “the gutter” in comics (the empty space between frames), which, through its absence of directly conveyed meaning, actually creates a rich world of action and dialogue. The narration within both of these texts works within the binary of presence/absence and represses voice to the degree that it restores such voice precisely through this absence of narration.
  3. Yet another possibility is analyzing the narration of Oscar Wao in connection with Invisible Man. In this case, my analysis would fall more within the realm of postcolonialism, and I think the most relevant texts to use would be Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and Dubois’ notion of “double consciousness.” The presence of the narrator in Oscar Wao can, in my opinion, be viewed as a repression of voice—most significantly of Beli Cabral. The nameless narrator in Invisible Man is similarly repressed because of his blackness. I think Bakhtin’s heteroglossia would be relevant to this reading as well.

Genre:

  1. I was thinking of analyzing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Dream on Monkey Mountain. I don’t really know the name for this genre, but I guess it would be surrealist fiction. The obvious thing connecting both plays (besides for the fact that they’re plays) is that a large part of the action takes place in dreams. I haven’t gotten very far in Dream on Monkey Mountain, so I’ll know more about where I want to go with this when I finish the play. So this is more of a preliminary idea.
  2. Ok, so this idea may be kind of weird, but I was thinking of analyzing Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Sonnet-Ballad” and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” “Gawain” falls under the genre of the ballad, right? Because that would actually be the uniting line between these two poems. I also think that these two poems really interestingly deal with the topic of death in similar ways.

Historical:

This is kind of a combination of genre and historical context. I’m really into the work of Edgar Allen Poe in general and the way that his stories and poems have been defined as not just gothic, but, more specifically, southern gothic. It is this latter category that I want to use to explore the historical context of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” My analysis would be of the way that the story works within the genre of the southern gothic and how it illuminates an anxiety of the Antebellum South over the institution of slavery. I could use my extra book to talk about a work by William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor, and highlight the ways in which the gothic, specifically, responds to southern identity both pre and post-civil war and how the south has struggled to come to terms with its past and its post-slavery identity. Or I could just analyze “The Tell-Tale Heart” on its own.  Because she has written on this topic and specifically about Poe, I was thinking of using Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. The problem with this approach, as much as it interests me, is that I don’t think I could connect it to any other books on the list. I’m trying to think of ways that I can tie this into a reading of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, but I’m not coming up with anything.

Presentation on Fun Home

For my presentation, I focused on its medium (or genre) as a graphic novel and how that works to generate various readings of the text.  I spoke briefly about two texts that can be used as a primer to comics studies: Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (in this book, I focused primarily on chapter 6, which deals with the connection between language and images).

My secondary source was Roland Barthes’ “Rhetoric of the Image,” which is a semiotic analysis of how meaning is generated in an image (semiotic=the study of signs and systems of signification–basically structuralism, but associated specifically with language).  Barthes breaks down the rhetoric of the image into three distinct messages: the linguistic message, the non-coded iconic message, and the coded iconic message.

  • Linguistic message: the text that accompanies an image. This message is further broken down into two functions–anchorage and relay.
    • anchorage–“the text helps to identify purely and simply the elements of the scene and the scene itself; it is a matter of denoted description of the image” (p. 156).  Language associated with this function is used only to further explain or elucidate the image.
    • relay–“here text…and image stand in a complementary relationship; the words, in the same way as the images, are fragments of a more general syntagm and the unity of the message is realized at a higher level” (p. 157).  Relay is the type of text that is associated with comics and graphic novels.  It works as a complement to the images in order to generate meaning beyond both of these elements in isolation.
  • Non-coded iconic message (denoted image): the literal image (as opposed to the symbolic).  Barthes notes, however, that it is “only the photograph [that] is able to transmit the (literal) information without forming it by means of discontinuous signs and rules of transformation” (p. 158).  He goes on to say that “drawing which, even when denoted, is a coded message.”  This is because A) drawing “requires a set of rule-governed transpositions” (p. 158)–it relies on a code of conventions that, for example, indicates to us that a stick figure represents a human being B) it “necessitates a certain division between the significant and the insignificant: the drawing does not reproduce everything” (p. 158), and C) “the ‘execution’ of the drawing itself constitutes a connotation” (p. 158).
  • Coded iconic message (connoted image): the symbolic image. Barthes gives an example of an advertisement of a brand of pasta, which is entirely in the colors of red, green, and white in order to convey a sense of “Italianicity”–authentic Italian.  Other symbolic elements of an image can be its staging or lighting.  This connotation requires an “architecture of signs drawn from a variable depth of lexicons (of idiolects)” (p. 160).

I then discussed ways in which Barthes’ text can be used in connection with Fun Home:

  • semiotic analysis–this would be in connection with Bechdel’s own fascination and trouble with language, evident by the fact that she chose to depict her life through images as opposed to pure language.  Page 141-2 of Fun Home most directly addresses her fears of language.  Barthes, in his essay, asserted that “various techniques are developed intended to fix the floating chain of signifieds in such a way as to counter the terror of uncertain signs; the linguistic message is one of these techniques” (156).  Bechdel seems to disagree with this notion. It would also be interesting, in this sense, to consider the role of language in the text.  The text itself is ripe with literary allusions and extended metaphors relating to authors and literary characters.  Furthermore, there are many images in the text that are of language–books, dictionary definitions.  Language in the text is also used as the primary mode of communication and to convey important realizations and epiphanies–Bechdel comes across the word “lesbian” in the dictionary, she reads books about lesbian experiences, she tells her parents about her sexuality through a letter, etc.
  • talk about the medium of the graphic novel in connection with genre (elegy, autobiography).  Because of its medium, how does the text adhere to or subvert the conventions of its genre?
  • consider its medium as a graphic novel in connection with the various thematic preoccupations of the text (sexuality, family dynamics, artifice)

Links to the texts:

Eisner:

http://www.floobynooby.com/pdfs/Will_Eisner-Theory_of_Comics_and_Sequential_Art.pdf

McCloud:

http://www.jessethompsonart.com/artpage/Pre_C_drawing_Video_files/Understanding%20Comics%20(The%20Invisible%20Art)%20By%20Scott%20McCloud.pdf

Barthes:

https://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Barthes-Rhetoric-of-the-image-ex.pdf

To Do List

The main things I need to do for my essay are to delete my current introduction and add a new one, and add a few more examples. In the draft that was just due, I had two disjointed parts, so I decided to delete one of them and make my essay more cohesive. I think this will be pretty easy to do because I have a clearly articulated thesis, so it’s just a matter of finding the right examples that lend themselves to good, thorough analysis that connect them to my main point.

Feedback and Revision

Before winter break, I had received a lot of feedback from my writing group and knew I had a lot of work to do going forward.  My essay was really disjointed and even I was having trouble following what I was trying to say.  Going forward, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of that, while also understanding that this is just a draft and that I can go back later and add transition sentences and additional clarification (or even delete stuff, if I have to).

What’s really surprised me in this editing process is just how much my essay has been changing.  I’ve written essays before for which I’ve heavily edited, but I’ve never had this experience of editing to a point where even my topic is now different.  I don’t mind this evolution, though, because it wasn’t a conscious effort–I didn’t sit down, have a panic attack about my essay, and completely change the topic; it just organically evolved.

I do still think that the current draft of my essay needs a lot of work and is probably still disjointed, but, at least in my opinion, it makes a lot more sense now.

Progress So Far

I had written a lot, but then, due to my need for perfection, I deleted it all and, as of yesterday, was at a grand total of half a paragraph. So I think going forward, my biggest challenge is going to be to stop worrying so much about the rough draft stage and just get my ideas down on paper. I always have a tendency to edit as I write, so I’m constantly rereading everything I write and convincing myself that it doesn’t make sense and is completely irrelevant to my point. I usually like to write knowing exactly where my essay is going, and that’s easy to do with a five-page essay, but is basically impossible for an essay of this length.

So, as of now, I do have more than half a paragraph and am forcing myself to not go back and edit what I’ve written and to just keep writing and worry about editing later, even though doing this is not at all in line with my OCD tendencies. Hopefully I won’t decide to delete everything I’ve written.

Annotated Bibliography

Badmington, Neil. “From Difference to Differance.” Alien Chic: Posthumanism and the Other Within. Psychology Press, 2004.

This chapter uses Derridean deconstruction to unravel the binary of human/alien. Badmington identifies “gaps” in humanist discourse, which signify “as surely as the moments of intention” (153). Although Badmington is writing about aliens, I will use this same idea and apply it to animation and attempt to bridge the perceived distance between viewer and animated characters. My usage of this source would probably fall under the category of “piggybacking”; I am borrowing Badmington’s scholarship on a certain topic and applying it to a related yet different field.

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Precession of Simulacra.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, Norton, 2010, pp. 1556-66.

In this essay, Baudrillard discusses “hyperreality,” a state in which the signifier is detached from the signified. Thus, we live in a world of simulation, which no longer reflects reality. I am interested in using this essay to explore the connection between hyperreality and posthumanism. Specifically, I think it is very relevant to Ghost in the Shell and Kusanagi’s struggle to find her humanity and her relationship with her cyborgian body. I think my use of this source can be classified as “piggybacking.”

De Man, Paul. “Autobiography as De-facement.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 94, no. 5, Dec. 1979, pp. 919-30. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2906560. Accessed 27 October 2016.

In The Rhetoric of Romanticism, De Man deals with the two terms “figuration” and “disfiguration,” which are the ability of a text to posit meaning and the simultaneous instability of the internal structure of a text which then erases such meaning. In the essay “Autobiography as De-facement,” De Man sees autobiography not as “a genre or a mode, but a figure of reading or of understanding that occurs…in all texts” (70). He then goes on to identify prosopopoeia as the dominant trope of autobiography, which deals with the “giving and taking away of faces, with…figuration and disfiguration” (76). His ultimate point is that (figurative) language is used both to give face and then unravel that meaning that was posited. I would like to use De Man’s ideas about language and texts and apply them to animation, which can also be seen as the giving of voice (and life) to construct meaning. It seems like a glaring error to assume that this meaning that is created is stable and not subject to its own deconstruction. A large part of my essay seems to be dealing with the deconstruction of the human subject in the face of animation, but I think I also need to address the deconstruction of the animation itself, and how it potentially fails at allowing the human subject to transcend traditional human boundaries. Again, I would call my use of this source as “piggybacking.”

Derrida, Jacque, and David Wills. “The Animal That I Therefore Am.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 28, no. 2, 2002, pp. 369-418. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1344276. Accessed 16 Nov. 2016.

In this work, Derrida coins the neologism “limitrophy” to consider the divide between animal and human, “not just because it will concern what sprouts or grows at the limit, around the limit, by maintaining the limit, but also what feeds the limit, generates it, raises it, and complicates it” (398). His enquiry is, in part, a historical one, as he analyzes philosophers’ treatments of this divide from Aristotle to Heidegger and asserts that they are all guilty of misrepresentation. One thing that I felt Derrida sort of glosses over is other philosophers’, particularly Lacan’s, assertion that the divide exists because of language. I would like to use this source in two ways, then. One is a simple application of Derrida’s notions of the ontological categories of Human and Animal to posthuman discourse. The other is to address the divide between human and animal in terms of language, and how anthropomorphized animated characters further deconstruct the divide. This would be both “piggybacking” and “leapfrogging.”

Goodall, Jane. “Hybridity and the End of Innocence.” The Illusion of Life II: More Essays on Animation, edited by Alan Cholodenko, Power Publications, 2007, pp. 152-71.

Goodall focuses on the way that animation is, on the one hand, “strongly identified with the popular culture of early childhood,” and on the other “has also proved its capacity for catering to the sado-erotic fantasies of an adults-only audience” (152). She imagines these two poles in the tradition of William Blake’s innocence and experience categories, where, in the “experience” end of animation, “the category divisions are always threatening to dissolve” (155). Goodall does not simply focus on the intended outcomes on the viewers’ part, but also comments on the animators’ relationship with the animated worlds that they create, and the ways in which they play games with genre and taxonomic slippage through, literally, the slip of the pen. I think I’ll use this essay in relation to Paul de Man because it focuses on the inherent instability of animation and exposes it as mere lines that draw on familiar tropes in order to signify meaning. This, too, would be “piggybacking.”

Hayles, N. Katherine. “Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers.” How We Became Posthuman. Kindle ed., University of Chicago Press, 2008, pp. 25-48.

In this chapter, Hayles addresses the results of rethinking human beings as information systems. This would render obsolete the traditional binaries that exist in our psyches, the primary one being presence/absence. In its place, we are left with the new binary of pattern/randomness, which affects both the “material substrate” (change in the body) and “the codes of representation” (change in the message). Hayles borrows Lacan’s floating signifier to illustrate her thesis, saying that “information technologies operate within a realm in which the signifier is opened to a rich interplay of difference…[it] can no longer be understood as a single marker…rather it exists as a flexible chain of markers bound together by the arbitrary relations specified by the relevant codes” (30). I think this chapter will be helpful in my attempt to construct a posthuman identity that can then be applied to animation. This, yet again, is “piggybacking.”

Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Social-Feminism in the 1980s.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, Norton, 2010, pp. 2190-2220.

Haraway outlines an “ironic political myth” of the cyborg that would address women’s’ places in the advanced technological world. Current tools for analysis—Marxism, feminism, etc.—are outdated or problematic. The cyborg is a good metaphor because it resists current humanist concepts of women. Its replication is “uncoupled from organic reproduction,” does not have an origin myth, and does not aspire to “organic wholeness through the final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity.” What I’m mainly interested in is Haraway’s focus on the concept of the origin and reproduction as it relates to the cyborg. This would be relevant mostly to Ghost in the Shell and the “birth” scene at the beginning of the film in which the viewer sees a cyborg being created. I guess this would also be “piggybacking.”

Kakoudaki, Despina. Anatomy of a Robot: Literature, Cinema, and the Cultural Work of Artificial People. Rutgers University Press, 2014.

This whole book looks promising, but so far I’ve only read the first chapter entitled “The Artificial Birth,” which I want to use for similar purposes as Haraway’s essay. Kakoudaki argues in this chapter that in order “to understand the origins of the discourse of the artificial person…we might focus on how they were born” (86). She posits that when we ask “where do artificial people come from?” we are really unconsciously asking “where do people come from?” Origin stories, then, can be our potential link between real and artificial people. I plan on using this essay as well as Haraway’s to consider the birth scene in Ghost in the Shell. Beyond this film, however, I think notions of origin stories and birth can be applied more generally to animation itself and to a consideration of the relationship between animator and animated characters. This would be considered “piggybacking.”

Ballroom Diagram:

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At the center of my diagram is Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell and Finn the Human from Adventure Time. Both of these characters are facing existential crises because their understandings of “human” and what that entails is being challenged. For Kusanagi, she is wondering whether or not she is even human and if her memories are really hers or they are false ones that were given to her. Finn, for the most part, is really happy and upbeat, but he does get really contemplative occasionally when he pauses to think about the fact that he is literally the last human being on earth. They are surrounded by a few people telling them not to worry because “human” is a flexible category anyway. For Baudrillard, reality does not even exist; for Derrida and Badmington, the line between human/Other is arbitrary and needs to be deconstructed; for Hayles, we are moving towards conceptualizing humans as information systems; and for Haraway, the cyborg (as opposed to human) is not bogged down by all that outdated human baggage. I do have a few people in my diagram who are outside of this circle of comforting and assuaging Finn and Kusanagi of their fears, but I don’t think I have any serious disagreement in my sources. I just have many different ideas about conceptualizing animation, language, and artificial life, and hope to unite them so that they can offer a new perspective on things in this age of virtual reality and rapid technological advancement. So my motivating moves would primarily be #2 and #5.

Research Proposal

I’m planning to explore two topics in relation to each other: animation and posthumanism. I’m interested in exploring the creation of sentience in animation and how this works to deconstruct (or fails to deconstruct?) our humanist, anthropocentric ontology. In order to establish some sort of framework for my analysis, I’d like to use post-structuralism and apply textual and rhetorical/tropological deconstruction to animation. I’ve made a distinction in my primary sources between Western animation and Japanese animation (anime) because I think they are too different to broadly classify them equally as “animation.” So, for my Western animated shows, I’m going to focus on Adventure Time and Bojack Horseman, while for anime I’ll focus primarily on Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion (and maybe Grave of the Fireflies). First, then, the question raised is what separates these two traditions of animation? Are they different in their thematic preoccupations (anime is usually associated with futurism and the posthuman)? Or do they differ more significantly stylistically, in their form? How do these different aspects of animation contribute to their perceived creation of sentience? What are the dynamics at play within each work that contribute to posthuman discourse? Adventure Time is a children’s’ TV show, so I think my analysis there will focus on audience. With Bojack Horseman, I’m interested in exploring anthropomorphism. For both Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion, I think the major question raised is what constitutes a human being? How do the cyborgian beings in the show/film interrupt our narrative of the link between body and mind?

In terms of my secondary sources, I have a few different fields that I want to draw from, so I’ll try to cover them all. In terms of animation, I’m primarily using The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation by Thomas Lamarre and The Illusion of Life by Alan Cholodenko, a collection of essays focusing on animation theory. With regard to posthumanism, I’m going to use Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” and Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman. For my focus on anthropomorphism, I think Jacque Derrida’s seminar “The Animal that I Therefore Am” is very relevant. In terms of my interest in connecting post-structuralism with animation, I’d like to focus on the works of Paul de Man, particularly Allegories of Reading and The Rhetoric of Romanticism (with a particular interest in the essay “Autobiography as De-facement” for its conception of the autobiography as prosopopoeia, which I think has many parallels to animation).

I chose to focus on this topic first and foremost because I love animation and I think it’s not taken very seriously as a field in academia. And even when it is discussed in an intellectual and academic context, I think it’s always relegated to film studies and is simply seen as a subset of that field. Recently, I think there has been a gradual shift away from this dismissive sort of relegation, and animation is indeed becoming a field that is taken more seriously and on its own merit, and I hope to contribute to this development. With the rapid advancement of technology in society, I think the questions raised by exploring animation through a posthumanist lens are more pertinent than ever. I think the genres of science fiction and futurism are becoming less fictive and more of reality and therefore it’s important to consider the questions raised by works with this focus.

Gawain and the Romance Genre

W. A. Davenport writes in “The Hero and His Adventure” that “the poet’s choice of a literary form with a well-defined tradition could be assumed to arouse certain expectations in his audience; it is the poet’s ingenious pleasure to attempt to satisfy his reader’s interest in adventure while partly frustrating such expectations by eschewing the easy romance path and attempting a more penetrating treatment of the knight, showing him as an individual struggling to accomplish an impossible task” (131-32). Sorry for the super long quote, but I felt like this summed up my feelings while reading the poem (but in a much less eloquent way). In my English 242 class, we focused on the romance genre, so I’ve read the poems of Chretien de Troyes, Marie de France’s Lais, and a bunch of other medieval romance stuff that I can’t really remember, but when I started this text, I did have a set of expectations based on my small bit of knowledge about the genre. I thought it would involve courtly love, chivalry, and bravery, for starters, but it didn’t focus on any of those things. Gawain does not embark on a quest on behalf of a woman; he’s the one who got himself into his situation in the first place by agreeing to face the Green Knight, so he’s not honorably defending anyone; and he wasn’t able to face his death without flinching, thus displaying cowardice instead of bravery.

Rather than detract from the poem, however, these deviations from traditional Arthurian romances made the story deeper and far more interesting. As Davenport points out, the qualities that Gawain possesses “create[s] a figure who eventually seems to possess character and not just characteristics” (133). It also unmasked the unrealistic expectations of chivalry and how it conflicts with basic human instinct to preserve your own life at whatever cost. In this sense, “Sir Gawain” actually seems surprisingly anti-religious. Chivalry goes hand-in-hand with Christianity, piety, and sacrifice, but Gawain displays none of this willingness to follow the will of God or to see his physical life as secondary to the afterlife. Davenport also points out that Gawain’s dilemma and shame is not resolved neatly at the end. These questions are left open to the reader to grapple with.

After reading Davenport’s essay, I began to wonder about the author’s intention. Was this poem meant to challenge the genre of the Romance and the hero’s journey, like Don Quixote, or was the then-contemporary reader meant to take it as a faithful continuation of the genre? Either way, I really appreciated the depiction of Gawain and found him a far more relatable character than many other romantic heroes.