Task #18 - "Intro to Criticism"


"What is Literature?" from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (pp. 4-5) [online text]

Chapter 7, "The Six Steps" from Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud.

Sacco, Joe. "Through Other Eyes." pp. 549-56 in The Writer's Presence.

Satrapi, Marjane. "The Socks." pp. 259-72 in The Writer's Presence.


NLT 9PM, Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Submit to:

Bistro thread entitled "Task #18: Intro to Criticism"

(see below for details)


400-500 words



The reading from the linked segment What is Literature? comes from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism which we cited above. The editors of this anthology address approaches to interpreting texts: “Within the field of theory and criticism, various terms and concepts are applied to the encounter between the reader and the text. This transaction, which we will provisionally call ‘reading’ or ‘interpretation,’ typically involves such activities as personal response, appreciation, evaluation, historical reception, explication, exegesis, and critique” (emphasis added Leitch 2).

Task #9 and Task #13, you will recall, required you to develop a definition of scientific rhetoric and provide examples using essays from The Writer's Presence (Task #9) , and to examine a number of your sources very carefully (Task #13). In preparing your researched argument, you extrapolated and created meaning using those sources. The tasks in Unit #3 and reading In the Shadow of No Towers will require you to apply many of the concepts previously introduced as you practice being an active, engaged reader.

To become a strong reader of text requires questioning as you read, annotating the material and rereading. Often, finding meaning cannot be accomplished through surface information; however, through asking questions and engagement, strong readers construct the significance of what they read. This philosophy, used in Unit #3, will largely follow New Critics theory, particularly that of Cleanth Brooks. This approach to reading literature works well for this unit because it requires a close reading of In the Shadow of No Towers for the purpose of textual analysis – that is, you will be required to read passages more than one time in order to pull from these passages words, phrases, ideas, symbols, tropes, etc. which lead you to infer the themes and meanings of this work. We have copied some useful guidelines to reading literature adapted from the St. Martin’s Handbook below to provide you with a starting point for the tasks and essay of this unit:


  1. Read the work first for an overall impression. Read it straight through, and jot down your first impressions. How did the work make you feel? What about it is most remarkable or memorable? Are you confused about anything in it?
  2. Reread the work, annotating in the margins to “talk back,” asking questions, pointing out anything that seems out of place or ineffective.
  3. What is the genre —gothic fiction? Tragic drama? Hypertext fiction? Lyric poetry? Creative nonfiction? What is noteworthy about the form of the work?
  4. What is the point of view, and who is (are) the narrator(s)? How reliable and convincing does the narrator seem? What in the work makes the narrator seem reliable or unreliable? How does the narrator’s point of view affect your response to the work?
  5. What do you see as the major themes of the work, the points the author seems to want to make? What evidence in the text supports these themes? Consider plot, setting, character, point of view, imagery, and sound.
  6. What may have led the author to address these themes? Consider the time and place represented in the work as well as when and where the writer lived. Also consider social, political, or even personal forces that may have affected the writer.
  7. Who are the readers the writer seems to address? Do they include you? Do you sympathize with a particular character—and if so, why?
  8. Review your notes , and highlight the ideas that most interest you. Then freewrite for fifteen minutes or so about your overall response to this work and about the key points you would like to make.

Your Task:

A set of concerns closely allied with the meaning and import of literature is that of the definition of art itself. In reading Spiegelman's provocative text you may have found yourself questioning its validity as an academic text, let alone its status as art. Graphic art (or comix or sequential art) is not a new art form. It's been around for more than 100 years, according to one definition, or for the whole of recorded human history, according to another definition. It is true, however, that it has not always enjoyed high status among critics or even readers (and, in fact, some creators of the form do not want it to be lumped in with so-called "high art"-- they believe it should occupy its sphere). The ways in which Spiegelman's work, and the political and other cartoons or comix found in various media, complicate the picture of what is and is not art are tied closely to how our culture operates. Who gets to decide what is "art" or "high culture"? What classifies something as "kitsch" or "camp" or "low culture"?

To further explore the idea of "comix as art," read chapter 7 of Understanding Comics. As you read, take into consideration the myriad ways in which art can be defined. Look carefully at how McCloud defines art, and then apply his standards to Spiegelman's text. McCloud, as you will find, suggests that "Art . . . is any human activity which doesn't grow out of either of our species two basic instincts: survival and reproduction" (164 emphasis in original). How does this broad definition of art compare to what others have said about "what is art"? How does it compare, for example, to what Leitch says about literature in this brief reading? How does it help you to understand Spiegelman's work, or that of other comix artists?

Consider, too, the depth and complexity of any art form, including comix. How do the steps that McCloud identifies help to solidify or validate the idea that comix are an art form? In what ways are McCloud's steps replicated in other art forms? Does it appear to you that McCloud follows his own edicts?

Finally, how do McCloud's ideas and Spiegelman's spreads help to establish ideas about what our culture or society values in artistic expression? What do these questions themselves reveal about the ways in which we look at art or political statements or personal experiences?

If you choose this option, post your responses to the BISTRO thread entitled "Task #18: Introduction to Criticism" NLT 9PM, Tuesday, November 14, 2006. Your response should consist of 400-500 well-crafted, carefully-considered words.



Works Cited

Leitch, Vincent B., Ed.  "Introduction to Theory and Criticism."  The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.  New York: Norton, 2001. 1-7.

Lunsford, Andrea.  "Writing for the Humanities."  The St. Martin's Handbook, 5th ed.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.  872--878.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.




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