Saturday, October 12, 2013

Comparison as Method in Description

This just a place-holder for a more thorough post I’ve been thinking about. Every day this week when I went to bed I figured on writing that post in the morning. And each morning something has kicked it off the top of the to-do stack.

Hence this place holder. I might write that more thorough post tomorrow, or not until next week. Maybe I won’t write it at all.

The main point of that post to-be is this: When describing literary texts (or films, or whatever) it’s useful to make comparisons. In fact, I rather suspect that you can’t avoid it.

When describing a single text, you make comparisons between elements within the text. That, for example, is how you figure out the rhyme scheme for a poem. At a more complex level, that’s what I did with the third part of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The same sequence of events took place on each of three consecutive days. So, compare and contrast what happened those three times. I did the same in Dumbo, where Dumbo appears under the big top three times.

In the large, you can make comparisons between different texts. That’s what Lévi-Strauss did in Mythologies; he compared myth1 to myth2 to myth3 ... to mythN. I did the same when I compared Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, and The Winter’s Tale. Why did I compare them? 1) Each is structured around a story about a man who wrongly accuses his beloved of betraying him. 2) They represent three genres: comedy, tragedy, and romance, respectively.

What’s so very important about comparison as a descriptive method is that it lets the texts themselves set the descriptive terms. What parts of a text resonate together, or repel one another? Given a group of texts, where are the resonances and where the repulsions?

Yes, you the critic have to notice these things and set them forth in description, but that’s a minor critical ‘intrusion’ in comparison to translating the ‘meaning’ of a text into some critical discourse.

Comparison allows the texts to speak, while interpretation silences them in favor of the critic’s voice.

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