JUSTDOLIT: a single tool to analyse all texts

Introducing JUSTDOLIT

1 Aim: learning to analyse literary texts

JUSTDOLIT is a tool of literary and cultural analysis. At the level of beginners its main function is to help students of literature and culture become independent readers who can go beyond the plot and uncover fundamental structures which vertebrate literary (and other) texts.

Because of my literary background I call JUSTDOLIT a tool of literary analysis. However, the tool really enables students to analyse other kinds of cultural medium with a textual component, e.g. movies or ads (in fact, the website also includes analysis of movies to prove some of its points). Thus when I use the word 'literature' and 'literary text' I often really mean something closer to 'fiction' and/or 'cultural object'.

The tool is only concerned with what texts actually mean, i.e. the content of texts. Important as form is, I am only tangentially interested in it here.

2 Scope : can I analyse any text with this tool?

There's good news and bad news in my answer. First the bad news: no, you cannot. Now the good news: very often (I'd even say most often, but one has to be cautious) you can. My analysing and teaching practice tells me that, rightly handled, very often the tool does lead to a fundamental understanding of the way the underlying meaning is constructed in a text, although

  • sometimes it does not, and that's one of the reasons why JustdoLit is a tool, and not a structuralist principle which underlies all texts. However, Western culture has historically been constructed in such a way that often the tool comes pretty close to structuralism.
  • at times the meaning of the text can be analysed in terms of the tool, and yet that analysis does not show anything significant, for the text works along the lines of the tool as a 'matter of course', but really wants to concentrate on something else (sometimes, when families enter the scene, I find it particularly difficult to work with the tool).

Having said that, it is surprising how often the tool can be successfully employed.

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3 What this website cannot give you

JUSTDOLIT is a tool of analysis, and tools can be handled correctly or incorrectly. A certain expertise is of course necessary, and every tool works in a slightly different way. This tool works with a gap which naturally opens up between our everyday knowledge of the world (the way I/my culture knows/feels the world works) and abstract, more academic knowledge.

That gap can only really be bridged through the means of an intensive pedagogical effort, but this is always the case when one tries to bring dry-as-dust abstraction to life. I am working on that (the project includes filming classes, testing the tool with pupils at secondary school level, and developing a software; for anybody interested, help is always welcome), but that takes time, so meanwhile you'll have to take potluck.

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4 Method: how learn to analyse literary texts?

The tool teaches the hows of literary analysis by introducing students to a tool of analysis which can be applied to any kind of text, if not every text. The tool has a theoretical component which is, however, amply illustrated with practical examples. No theory without practice, no practice without theory.

5 Modules

The tool is divided into a series of modules.

Module 1 develops the tool by focussing on some of the benefits it provides to students. Altogether, the benefits are that

  • the tool is (even visually) easy to understand, for it uses only 4 elements. The four elements, however, make it possible to analyse the fictional world in its totality (module 1).
  • the tool is very flexible in terms of application and complex in terms of results (module 1.2).
  • the tool does not only describe, but also tracks down evaluation in the text (module 1.3).
  • further benefits of the tool are that [1] given its use of a limited number of elements, it a. creates expectations in students as to what can be found in a text, and b. makes it possible for students to think systematically on their own about literary content; [2] the tool uses traditional elements of analysis, but uses them in new configurations; [3] by using 4 elements, the tool avoids some of the dangers of binary analysis, avoids working with too many elements, which would be difficult to keep in mind

Module 2 introduces each of the 4 main dimensions the tool uses to analyse the fictional world:

  • these dimensions are individuation (module 2.1), metaphysics (module 2.2), nature (module 2.3) and society (module 2.4). While related to each other, each dimension is also different from the other and obeys its own laws. Module 2 shows us which patterns of dimensional distribution are favoured by contemporary western society.

Module 3 provides introductions to additional, but also highly relevant features of the tool:

  • module 3.1 focuses on the fact that our look on the fictional world is not transparent, but mediated by the epistemological discourse we employ to understand the world. Module 3.2 deals with the most important topic in fiction: love. Module 3.3 focuses on the possibility of ethics, good and evil in fiction.

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6 This website has two levels of complexity

For learners: This is a web guide or web course, and the web has its own laws. I have therefore quoted and referred to other sources as little as possible throughout the main webpages. On the other hand, some of the research behind this website is additionally available for students: a highlighted word or phrase in the text accompanied by a * (e.g. fictional world*) leads to additional information designed for those students who want some more information on issues which are otherwise presented in simple terms.

For teachers: buildling up the tool in three steps guarantees that the tool can be taught at secondary schools and beginner level (step 1 & an intuitive understanding of the 4 dimensions). The full application of the tool (3 steps, 4 dimensions, and the rest) leads to a considerable complexity: I have published articles in international journals in which I use this tool. In terms of its academic challenge, and read in its entirety, JUSTDOLIT is fully equivalent to any undergraduate and probably postgraduate course on literature.

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7 A note on JUSTDOLIT

I first wanted to call the tool 'systhematics', for it combines the words 'system' and 'thematics', and in the end, what this tool enables us to do is think systematically about one of the most slippery but also most important terms of literary analysis: theme, i.e. what a text is about. I was also drawn to the term 'literary toolkit', but unluckily the term is too widely employed already. In the end, I chose JUSTDOLIT, for it combines a catchy something with the idea of making readers independent in their analysis of literary texts and other cultural objects.

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daniel.candel@uah.es | ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann