JUSTDOLIT: a single tool to analyse all texts

Comparing the present tool with established approaches in literary theory

What are we comparing JustdoLit with?

The variety, complexity and wealth of contemporary critical theory is endless, as are the many brilliant and insightful applications of such theory to literary and cultural works. This makes it difficult to assess the place of JustdoLit with regard to established ways of analysing literary and cultural works. But one thing is the wealth of literary theory, another its popularisation as a means of introducing students to literary and cultural analysis. It is easier to find out where JustdoLit stands at this beginning of the educational transmission of literary theory.

Differences

In this context I would like to single out four differences between JustdoLit and established ways of analysing which I think turn out to the advantage of JustdoLit.

1st difference: old wine in new bottles

The first difference between this tool and established approaches emerges from a background of similarity: the opposition between ‘nature’ and ‘society’, and the use of the term ‘metaphysics’ and ‘individuality’, loom large in JustdoLit as they do in feminist, postcolonial, and other approaches. But while these and other terms and preocupations are shared,

  • JustdoLit welds the four terms inseparably together, and offers new configurations of these terms which also operate with a new logic
  • in this tool the attitude to stereotype is probably less dismissive and more ambiguous than it tends to be when students are introduced to established theories. JustdoLit is aware of stereotyping as obviously dangerous, but it also recognises that communication and meaning depend on the use of stereotype-forming categories. They help to connect the experience of the reader with that reflected in the work.

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2nd difference: holism

The aim of Justdolit is clearly holistic: it focuses on the whole world of the text. The aim of most other approaches has a tendency to select specific aspects of reality and look at it from the tensions which emerge from such aspects. No doubt this is legitimate and valuable. No doubt it is different from being holistic.

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3rd difference: politics

JustdoLit tries to be indifferent to politics: contemporary approaches in literary theory have a tendency to court politics. The argument that every statement is inescapably political is sometimes invoked to justify such political tendencies. Now while one can obviously hold a political stance when doing analysis (I also hold one), and use JustdoLit in political ways (why not?), as a tool JustdoLit does not take sides. Paradoxically, JustdoLit analyses whole worlds, but seems to have less of a world-view than other schools of analysis.

This triple combination of using well-known categories of analysis in new configurations (1st difference), looking at the whole (2nd difference) and not taking sides (3rd difference), makes of JustdoLit a tool which can in many ways be used prior to interpretation along the lines of contemporary theory, and in complementarity with it.

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4th difference: the result of analysis is known ‘beforehand’

Maybe the most surprising difference is that by invoking a world made up of four interdependent categories, JustdoLit unashamedly tells you that we already know very much about the result of analysis (what we don’t know is the configuration of the elements). In our culture, which values creativity and autonomy, this sounds off-putting, a threat to the autonomy and creativity of the critic.

In more established practices of analysis students easily get the impression that every text is more or less unique in the way it creates its meaning, and that analysis is equally creative. This looks liberating at first, for it seems to allow a fresh approach to every single text, and a multiplicity of possible meanings. In the end, however, this liberation

  • is problematic because it does not allow students to have expectations as to what could emerge in a text, and it is impossible to interpret without expectations
  • is false because, although literature is very rich in nuances, there are ways in which its content is surprisingly repetitive

The analogy of literary interpretation with making a journey may be enlightening at this point. When making a journey we know where we are going, and so we can focus on the signs which lead us to our destination. JustdoLit does just that: it takes the destination more or less for granted. The security this provides allows the reader to enjoy the journey and attend to its many details, thus ensuring arrival at his or her destination.

On the other hand, if we don’t know where we are going, we do not know which signs to attend to. When our students grab hold of a set text, they often do not know where their reading journey will take them, and so neither do they know which text-signs to look out for. “Analyse the text, the characters or the style” just proves too vague for successful analysis. Experienced readers do not analyse like that: they know what to expect from the text, and when the text does not meet their expectations, readers can make the necessary adjustments.

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