Literary Theory

15 03 2009

They say “He who smiles rather than rages is always the stronger” – let’s think on this, shall we… Some things are just beyond words… If you are ever angry, upset or unhappy for no apparent reason, just blame your ex…any one of them, take your pick… but, enough venting (though my thoughts do not seem lucid in any way), let us rather turn to a bit of literary theory. How boring that seems, you might be thinking, but when you get down to it, it is rather fascinating.

Take Roland Barthes, for instance (think structuralism): he airs the notion that all stories share a similar structure [in a nutshell; if any of you are REALLY interested, I could look more into it, although I would rather talk about Lacan, and the whole idea of the Self-Other binary…watch this space!] To a certain extent it is probably true that one might find a structure in every story, although it is debatable whether it is similar… History may be a narrative, and it is true that it would seem that history ‘repeats’ itself: one might blame England (Europe), if you think about it, for the British were the first to colonize and segregate people (so we are taught; that is what they did with their colonies, and in Africa); they set up missionary ideals of having to care for the poor savages, making them educated, docile (?) and ‘noble’ – they taught us to fear the native, savage ‘Other’, and also (though this might be more particular to America? It was worldwide, at any rate) by using blacks as slaves, set up the standard for apartheid, for what is it but a division between those in the ‘superior’ position, and those meant to stand secondary? I might be grabbing at strings, but you get my point. In any case, look at oppressors – Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Zuma (if you will)…one might find similar aspects, a ‘structure’ in all of them, in those seeking power (and, in the case of Hitler, who was a cunning genius, he thought he was doing the ‘right’ thing, separating the ‘weak’ to create a stronger Germany – just like apartheid, protecting the Afrikaner and establishing their dominance by subjugating and oppressing the blacks)… Conflict, warfare, trials, resolutions – someone wins and someone loses; that is history, and, inevitably, the ‘structure’ of life. It really makes one think…

If one sees history then as a structure adhering to the norm of sharing aspects, its empirical designated value is blown out of the water, if only temporarily. For one might find it hard to believe that everything is the same, that there is, then, in fact no control – that it all relies one what some see as blasphemous and a myth: FATE. So if one is determined to do so, I am sure one could use narrative techniques, elements and such a Proppian reading to read the Zuma-Mbeki feud. After all, it is a typical power debate being set up, and, as in any story, it goes as follows: we have the two protagonists, who are antagonists to one another. Each individual has his or her supporters, secondary (some even ‘flat’) characters to flesh out and aid the narrative, to fuel the opposition between the two and ultimately win supporters to them respectively. One must win, one must lose. One must fall, one must rise up. And yet, how can one find Zuma admirable? What kind of protagonist/antagonist is he? Which morals do he uphold, or supposedly uphold, and how does he break with them (i.e. not adhere to them, break those very rules, codes and morals/principles he stands for and should promote/uphold)? As in any narrative, each character has his own strengths and weaknesses, and in this master narrative, the nation as collective entity/voice will have the final say, although one might question how powerful this voice is if parliament has rule (controlling votes, influencing people on the inside, et cetera…) There is intrigue, deceit, double-dealing, confrontation – the epic battle – and… well, I suppose you all get my point.

I know all this seems confusing at the moment, but in a strange, psychological and psychosocial sense, it DOES make sense. Look at the world, at society: it all comes down to language, and language is a structure with its own rules…as stories, also, have structures and certain codes they adhere to. Questions? Comments?

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One response

14 05 2009
Binary Watch Freak

Great article. Thanks

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