Archive: August 8th, 2008

More on the way

[General] (08.08.08, 10:16 pm)

Okay, there were a few snags, but the whole reading post business is working alright now.

The awesome thing about the new system is that it will be searchable and will be much easier to start writing. Hopefully that will encourage progress.

Ian Watt: The Rise of the Novel

[Readings] (08.08.08, 10:15 pm)


Ian Watt looks at novels around the period of time that the novel began to emerge as a literary form. He discusses several exemplary works by some of the original novel writers, and uses those to make various arguments about the qualities of the new medium. The most unusual characteristic of the novel in comparison to other literary forms was the quality of realism in the sense of social realism, as well as in the depth of description that novels contain.


Watt opens the book with a peculiar question: Is the novel a new literary form? This is very relevant from the perspective of new media. Watt specifically examines Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. (p. 9) The new feature of the novel is realism, which stems from French realists (Flaubert). Realism is the antonym of idealism. “The novel’s realism does not reside in the kind of life it presents, but in the way it presents it.” Correspondence of work with world it imitates, this is an epistemological problem. (p. 11) The novel rejects universals, and focuses on the particular. This is especially of use in distinguishing it from epic or mythic works (NOTE: many games and genre novels do rely on universals, there is a point of conflict here.) The novel is also unusual in fidelity of representing human experience. (p. 12) During the time of the novel’s rise, there is was a growing tendency for individual experience to trump collective tradition. (p. 14) Identity exists through time and contains past thought and action. Past experience cages present action. (p. 22) Time is seen in novels as a variable, flexible, interruptible unit. (p. 26) This collection of changes stems from a great deal of social and philosophical changes, and the rise of the novel could be seen as merely a reflection of these changes. (Much like new media relates to social and technological changes)

Novels, leisure time, and sex. Reading was seen primarily as a feminine pursuit, but this was generally restricted to upper classes. Gradually, the working class became more able to afford books (in terms of literacy, leisure time, and available income). Women generally had more leisure time, even among lower classes and incomes, so they tended to be major purchasers of books. (p. 43) The changing base of readers changed the desires of general readership. Reading seems to begin as a religious activity, and then passes to secular interests. (p. 50) There was some looking down on novels and their writers as having no talent (or genius) that the writers were only out to get money. New novels grew while unaware of literary tradition. (p. 58)

Watt discusses Robinson Crusoe, and how it relates to individualism and capitalism, which were contemporary trends. This is manifest in the novel’s setting, rendering a world with the value system of the new order. (p. 65) Defoe’s world is set back chronologically, but deals with contemporary theory. (p. 72)

Discussing Moll Flanders, subjects of writing are anti-heroes, presenting lower class citizens as ordinary people. The subject matter of the novel changes to the lower class. (p. 94) This novel is an adventure story, focuses on action, but the subject is the protagonist’s character (in sense of Goffman). Action is seen to evidence character, but is not the end goal, as is the case in dramatic narratives. (p. 109)

On ‘Pamela’, Early narrative focuses on idealization of love, so story is about knight’s adventure rather than actual relationship. With realism and mass interest, a broader spectrum emerges, shifting focus to human relationships themselves. (p. 136) There is a complex interplay between individualism and capitalism and marriage. Social conditions deny women individualism and economic power. Marriage becomes expensive as it turns women into trade goods. Marriage was seen as a ‘market’ and its expensive nature led to many extra-marital relationships. (p. 143) Emphasis in narrative changes to domestic setting, variation in extended roles and relationships between social classes. (p. 154) Pamela concludes with traditional marriage and middle class sexual ethics. The puritan ritual bridges the ideal and real, sine the relationship is idealized within the realistic setting. Pamela does not wholly embrace the real, but presents a confused struggle between the ideal and real. (p. 167)

Sentimentalism arises in novel form: Novels do make people cry. This is not because of realness of character, but because of private experience (p. 175) Around the rise of the novel, private space became more commonplace (whereas life used to be much less private in previous eras). Spaces and means of interaction changed. Privacy afforded by suburbia (in terms of areas outside of the city) and letter writing. Privacy, especially a room of one’s own (Woolf) was requirement for women’s emancipation. (p. 188) The novel enables the representation of private affairs that were impossible to discuss openly. Provides an intimate account with characters, and brings the reader into the deepest private concerns. (p. 199) The paradox of private life and the novel: the process of urbanization lead to a way of life more secluded and less social than before, but enables a literary form that was more concerned with private life than ever possible. What are paradoxes of other media and social experience? (p. 206)

According to Watt, Clarissa reflects the maturity of the medium of the Novel. Why? Complication of simple matter and expansion of characters. The implausible and didactic aspects of plot are brought into larger dramatic pattern and form of complexity. “It is this capacity for a continuous enrichment and complication of a simple situation which makes Richardson the great novelist that he is; and it shows, too, that the novel had at last attained literary maturity, with formal resources capable not only of supporting the tremendous imaginative expansion which Richardson gave his theme, but also leading him away from the flat didacticism of his critical preconceptions into so profound a penetration of his characters that their experience partakes of the terrifying ambiguity of human life itself.” (p. 238)

Fielding borrows from epic form. References, but does not actually employ it. Does not use form, but evokes it, alludes to high standards. Part of evoking nostalgia from other great works. (Maybe ref Jane Austen Book Club?) (p. 259)

In later tradition of novels: Psychological distance and authenticity. Austen uses this and juxtaposition. Austen is the successful solution to Richardson and Fielding. “Jane Austen’s novels, in short, must be seen as the most successful solutions of the two general narrative problems for which Richardson and Fielding had provided only partial answers. She was able to combine into a harmonious unity the advantages of both realism of presentation and realism of assessment, of the internal and the external approaches to character; her novels have authenticity without diffuseness or trickery, wisdom of social comment without a garrulous essayist, and a sense of the social order which is not achieved at the expense of the individuality and autonomy of the characters.” (p. 297)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorWatt, Ian
TitleThe Rise of the Novel
ContextRelevant to understanding the historical context of the novel, and comparing that with the use of adaptation
Tagsspecials, media theory, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Roland Barthes: Mythologies

[Readings] (08.08.08, 8:46 pm)


Roland Barthes work on mythologies extends the field of semiotics to apply to a larger set of cultural phenomena. This book is divided into a multitude of mini-essays followed by an extended analysis that ties all of the examples together under the category of semiotics. Mythologies relates semiotics to cultural analysis on the whole, and has roots in Marxist cultural criticism (Mythologies was originally published in 1957). However, over time, the work began becoming co-opted by bourgeois capitalist control, which (I am guessing) led to its influence in the fields of communication and advertising. Barthes describes these large meaning systems and explores how we view them in their own context, as well as how we may view them from a distance: how their domains of meaning relate to our larger perception of meaning as a whole.


Barthes opens in the preface (dated 1970) with a discussion that devising an approach to mass culture is important and necessary. Specifically, that semiotics provides an approach that may help unmask how sign and value systems are universalized. Barthes notes that after May 1968, ideological criticism is made especially important and necessary. (p. 9) In the second preface, Barthes notes that he is exploring myths of the French way of life. He is exploring heterogeneous media, where reality is portrayed as natural when it is anything but. There is a confusion of nature and history. Has notion of bits of common knowledge. Semiotics systematizes the language of myth. Barthes is criticising the embedded illusion of objectivity. “What I mean is that I cannot countenance the traditional belief which postulates a natural dichotomy between the objectivity of the scientist and the subjectivity of the writer, as if the former were endowed with a ‘freedom’ and the latter with a ‘vocation’ equally suitable for spiriting away or sublimating the actual limitations of their situation.” (p. 12)

Barthes first example is about the spectacle of professional wrestling. This may be relevant in terms of mythological analysis of story setting. Wrestling is all about spectacle. The purpose of the spectacle: “… it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees.” (p. 15) There is a dramatic, grandiose structure: exaggerated power, emphasis on bodily form. (p. 16) More extrapolation: wrestling is about the cycle of good and evil, cycle of punishment, etc. Cultural symbols are taken to extremes. (p. 25)

The next example is the portrayal of the Romans in films. This is interesting because it explores the popular perception and model of a different society. It informs the translation of popular moral and aesthetic judgements to a classical setting. Focus here is on the audience perception of Romans. What “Roman” means to audience. What are the signs used to portray them? Compare with other adaptations, symbolic meaning out of context: compare with contextual meaning (ie, portrayal of character in context of setting, vs to modern audience). (p. 27)

Blind and dumb criticism: Voluntarily ignorant criticism rejects value of knowledge. Judgement in ignorant criticism is avoidance of self awareness. (p. 35)

Novels and Children: Mini essay describes female writers who have children. Has discussion of ’empowered’ women writers as described by ‘Elle’ magazine. Double parturition by magazine: women acquire self confidence, but are still beholden to the nature of motherhood. “… Like Don Juan between his two peasant girls, Elle says to women: you are worth just as much as men; and to men: your women will never be anything but women.” (p. 51) Summarizes: “A Jesuitic morality: adapt the moral rule of your condition, but never comprimise about the dogma on which it rests.” (p. 52)

The Brain of Einstein: Mythology of genius: knowledge formula. A mechanistic approach to thought. Deep thought can be reduced to an iconic portrayal. (p. 69)

The Blue Guide: this is a guidebook that professes to save labour and identify when picturesque things will happen en route of a journey. The guide gradually causes knowledge to vanish. Rejects explanation and phenomenology. Described as labour saving: denies experience of knowledge. Mechinism of being: guide/formula/algorithm (p. 76)

The Great Family of Man: Exhibition of photographs of people from various ethnographic backgrounds and cultures. Imposition of external morality on photographs in supplying extra context. Interplay of history on nature. (p. 100)

Myth Today: “Myth is a type of speech.” “Myth is not defined by the object of its message, but by the way in which it utters this message: there are formal limits to myth, there are no ‘substantial’ ones.” (p. 109) Speech assumes signifying consciousness. Semiotics gives a general approach or understanding of knowledge. (p. 110) The imposition of signified onto signifier imbues the signifier with a new meaning: ie, interrelation of roses and passion. (p. 113) Semiotic structure defines myth as a super-structure ‘metalanguage’. (p. 115)

Myth is characterized by motivation and value. “The mythical signification, on the other hand, is never arbitrary; it is always in part motivated, and unavoidably contains some analogy.” (p. 126) In reading myth: Methods of reading myth as compared to simulation. Myth is a forrm of simulation! Consider the non-false nature, simulation vs hyperreal. (p. 128) The purpose of myth is to transform history into nature. “We reach here the very principle of myth: it transforms history into nature. We now understand why, in the eyes of the myth consumer, the intention, the adhomination of the concept can remain manifest without however appearing to have an interest in the matter: what causes mythical speech to be uttered is perfectly explicit, but it is immensely frozen into something natural; it is not read as a motive, but as a reason.” (p. 129)

Narrative and history. Writer is expected to signify reality, not represent it. (p. 137) The experience of myth in the bourgeoise world (pp. 150-155):

  1. innoculation: accidental evil conceals a principal evil
  2. privation of history: history evaporates from objects, becomes private in eye of myth-language
  3. identification: other becomes pure object
  4. tautology: kills adverse argument, kills reality behind language, authority
  5. neither-norism: rejects choice as embarassment, flees from reality by reducing it to dualism
  6. quantification of quality: economization of intelligence
  7. the statement of fact: myth tends to proverb, becomes adopted as common sense
Reading Info:
Author/EditorBarthes, Roland
ContextMythologies describes a semiotic structure for interpreting media and cultural artifacts. His critique of embedded meaning in media exposes how meaning can be better conveyed with simulation.
Tagsmedia theory, semiotics
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

On Narrative

[Readings] (08.08.08, 8:38 pm)


On narrative consists of transcripts of the symposium “Narrative: The Illusion of Sequence” held at University of Chicago on October 26-28, 1979. This conference discusses many ways of looking at narrative and of sequence, specifically looking beyond the classic Arisotelian aesthetics. This is made up of several different essays which address different perpsectives and characteristics of narrative.


Hayden White: The Value of Narrative in the Representation of Reality

Narrative is the transformation from knowing to telling. Compare this to the issues of setting, game, etcetera. “Far from being a problem, then, narrative might well be considered a solution to a problem of general human concern, namely, the problem of how to translate knowing into telling, the problem of fashioning human experience into a form assimilable to structures of meaning that are generally human rather than culture-specific.” This is a bold proposition, but one that White is going to critique. (p. 1)

Referring to semiotics: in narratives form is highly important. Narrativizing is different from telling. According to Barthes: “Narrative is translation without fundamental damage.” Compare with translation in other forms. What defines fundamental damage? Refusing narrative indicates an absence or refusal of meaning itself. (p. 2)

White discusses works of linguists/philosophers. Differential between narrative and discourse, structuralism, etcetera. Notes: Jakobson, Benveniste, Genette, Todorov, Barthes. (p. 3)

White begins on how narrative relates specifically to histories, and method of narration alters perception of events. This is especially relevant in anything that is a story that is nonfiction. Fictive elements naturally arise in process of telling. White notes terms: There are referents of a discourse, tellers of the narrative. The story itself is artificial, as real events cannot “speak themselves” (p. 4) White addresses histories next, and examines distinctly non-narrative types of them. Some concerns: accuracy, objectivity, correctness, adaptation, etc. Notably forms such as the chronicle an annals. (p. 5)

What is Kariotic time? Vs Chronological time?

White discusses a portion of the annals which represents time in a peculiar and unsettling way: This has a distinct lack of agency or social center, but has no shortage of years. Events just seem to happen. Are some games like this? (p. 11) Narrative requires a subject. Subject requires a law or order, requires difference between self and other. (p. 12) Narratives depend on the notion of a plot, which likens content to sorts of ideals. “This is why the plot of a historical narrative is always an embarassment, and has to be presented as ‘found’ in the events rather than put there by narrative techniques.” (p. 20)

Narrative is a moral judgement, as is film, and all other forms of communication. So too must be simulation! (p. 22)

Discussion of the development of the Id as a narrative structure (p. 27) Freud’s other discussions fall in line with Newtonian physics, likening to operations of human condition as part story, part machine. (p. 28)

Roy Schafer: Narration in the Psychoanalytic dialogue

This is about the use of narration in psychoanalysis. A few interesting tidbits are in here… The Freudian drive is a narrative subject. (p. 37) can’t seem to find much more than that…

Frank Kermode: Secrets and Narrative Sequence

Kermode discusses sequence and means of thinking about stories and such. Motivators, causes of action: Ethos, Dianoia, Mythos. Action occurs because it is motivated by various means, moral issues, character, and also (beyond Aristotle) mythic reasoning. Plot/Action relates to Narrative/Telling. Way events are told compares “Teases out of us thought” vs “Sort of makes us think”. Difference is in how we percieve and are forced to interpret. This interpretation does not depend on narrative sequence, but does depend on relation and association. Compare serious games. (p. 80)

Both interpretation and construction of narrative involve extraction of relevant messages, properties, objects. There is the same selectiveness in simulation: translating means and properties. Where conflict over the final means and interpretation gives way to secrets. These are hidden terms in simulation, black boxes, but is born in the conflict of illusion of narrative sequence. Kermode discusses stories with properties of plot. “Good readers may conspire to ignore these properties; but they are relevant to my main theme, which is the conflict between narrative sequence (or whatever it is that creates the ‘illusion of narrative sequence’) and what I shall loosely, but with pregnant intention call ‘secrets.'”(p. 81)

Conflict of story vs interpretation. There are facts from the story, and then what is between them. Fact vs metaphor, allegory. What is the unit of event? These are put through interpretive systems (layers of them) by reader and context. Narrative IS the product of presentation and interpretation. This definition does NOT rule out simulation or anything interactive. Think “The Sims”. Kermode does not actually say this, but does come close. (p. 83)

The unreliable narrator: Does not need to be a false narrator, but unreliable in terms of inclusion of extraneous information, or leaving out information. Difference between reader’s perspective of relevance and the narrators. (p. 86)

Consider diagetic ghosts and phantoms; information not logically includable in regular course of narrative. Surreal imagery is specialized application thereof. Usually these can be interpreted away or ignored. How do we construct these in games? Dreamy imagery in tabletop roleplaying, etc? (p. 88) Metaphorical secrets form deliberate ambiguity. This serves as direct invitation for reader. This directly applies to tabletop, secrets may coalesce, but this impedes on their nature. (p. 89)

Nelson Goodman: Twisted Tales; or, Story, Study, and Symphony

Distinction here is event and sequence. The order independent of sequence of telling is derived from contextual cues and background knowledge. Goal for observer is to order them. (p. 100)

Goodman examines a significant number of paintings that depict stories, multiple perspectives on the lives of saints in medieval artwork, wherein the saint appears multiple times in different locations in the paintings. This discussion applies narrative analysis to still images. The analysis is not precisely rational, but neither is it inappropriate, as visual spatiality relates to time. (p. 109)

Ordering is a definitive characteristic of narrative. All narratives may survive some reordering, but survival is interesting point. Can identify reordered sequences that no longer can be identifiable as narratives.

Seymour Chatman: What Novels can Do That Films Can’t (and Vice Versa)

Narrative demands a dual time order, event and reading. Compare encyclopedic nature of readings with discourse time. In film and other structures (games?), order is mediated. Maybe fixed, or encyclopedic, or both. Paintings, novels, films, reference books, histories… (p. 118)

Chatman discusses Cinderaella as transmediated: “Narratologists immediately observed an important consequence of this property of narrative texts, namely, the translatability of a given narrative from one medium to another: Cinderalla as verbal tale, as ballet, as opera, as film, as comic strip, as pantomime, and so on.” This sort of translatability is of great interest in the structuralist movement. The differences between media are, of course, highly significant. (p. 118) It is still interesting to note that each of these media express narratives, and preserve the meaning of narrative sequence. Games and interactive domains are not bound to the notion of sequence, and thus are made difficult.

The presentation of details: Small and alternately ambiguous details may follow from written text. Film enables realism, but importance of details is complicated by wealth of information. Visual, filmic language is used for ordering and explaining details. This is of great relevance to cybertexts and games, especially in games which strive for realism. Realism adds additional confusion and complicates purpose and message of the text. (p. 121)

“Why is it that the force of plot, with its ongoing march of events, its ticking away of storytime, is so hard to dispel in the movies? … The answer may have something to do with the medium itself. Whereas in novels movements and hence events are at best constructions imaged by the reader out of words, that is, abstract sybmols which are different from them in kind, the movements on the screen are so iconic, so like the real life movements they imitate, that the illusion of time passage simply cannot be divorced from them.” Compare with the relationship of time and progress in games and cybertexts. (p. 126)

Chatman discusses specifically one film, Partie de Champagne (1936), in great detail. He discusses the voyeurism of the male characters in the film, and mentions its portrayal of the gaze as compensating for the camera’s sexless objectivity. This, as we know, is a highly dubious claim.

Victor Turner: Social Dramas and Stories about Them

Turner discusses in this essay the notion of a social drama and how the drama is related and chronicled. Turner starts with the Ndembu of northwestern Zambia, and the forms and ritualized structures of social drama that they enage in, and then brings this back to western culture, specifically examining the Wategate scandal as a social drama. Turner begins by comparing “emic” and “etic” perspectives. The former explores things within the context of a specific culture or domain, and the etic perspective is alien and external. (p. 141)

The social drama is continuous and event based. As such, it is distinctly non-narrative. The drama has four phases: Breach, Crisis, Redress, and Reintegration or Recognition. “Social dramas occur within groups of persons who share values and interests and who have a real or alleged common history. The main actors are persons for whom the group has high value priority.” Turner differentiates types of groups and social relevance, “Most of us have what I call our ‘star’ groups or groups to which we owe our deepest loyalty and whose fate is for us the greatest personal concern.” This can be explored in a multitude of ways. One is the types of groups of real people around games, how they play games, and for online ones, groups within the game worlds. From a simulation perspective, this offers a great deal of insight in how to relate different social structures in game worlds. (p. 145) “… we find symbolic equivalents of sibling rivalry and parent-child competition among star groupers.” (p. 146) The notions of loalty and alignment to different groups are of a great deal of interest and concern from the perspective of simulation. Group dynamics and relationships are highly symbolic.

Within groups, a dramatic breach (of a norm, morality, law, custom, etiquette, in public arena) can occur as a result of various forces: “This breach is seen as the expression of a deeper division of interests and loyalties than appears on the surface.” (p. 146)

There is an emphasis on action within the social rama: Resources are applied towards dramatic means. (p. 148)

Real drama requires a symbolic rhetorical structure. This needs performers (via rituals) to formalize and legitimize dramatic form. Stage drama and social drama play off each other and build upon one another in order to create a working dramatic convention. This connects highly to Baudrillard, who argues that the difference between symbolic and real drama is eroded to the point where they can no longer be distinguished. (p. 151)

Turner discusses the interpretive process of the drama, and how symbolic dramas are reflective of our own lives, raising consciousness and informing cognition under the rhetorical infrastructure that the drama creates. Turner explores how meaning arrives through narrative interpretation of dramas, via ordering the drama according to the four form structure. (p. 152)

The social drama is the originating structure for many cultural performances. These are things such as rites of passage, and rituals. Turner has described ritual as “perscribed formal behavior for occasions not given over to technological routine, having reference to beliefs in invisible beings or powers regarded as the first and final causes of all effects.” This persists in opposition to Sir Edmund Leach who frames it without the religious context: “stereotyped behavior which is potent in itself in terms of the cultural conventions of the actors, though not potent in a rational-technological sense.” Ritual is nontheless performance and enactment and not primarily as rules or rubrics (!). Sequence is intrinsic in performance and ritual. (pp. 155-156) We can think of this as a framework for contextualized behaviors, where groups and space allows this sort of symbolic enactment. The question is what is the symbolic language of these groups and how do they relate and compare with others?

Reading Info:
Author/EditorMitchell, W.T.J.
TitleOn Narrative
Contextsymposium exploring the essence of narrative
Tagsspecials, media theory, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Janice Radway: Reading the Romance

[Readings] (08.08.08, 8:08 pm)


Radway examines the role of romantic fiction in the space of popular literature. She finds that romantic fiction fulfills the needs of middle class women whose needs are not being met by their marriages and roles in life. Radway is approaching this from the perspective of feminist criticism, but finds the role of the romance is extremely nuanced and complex. It is impossible to tell whether romantic fiction is ultimately empowering or disempowering to women in these situations.

Romance serves as an interesting object of study in the analysis of adaptation and simulation, as it is an example of a means of simulation (romances immerse the readers in highly structured operational worlds) that serves an interesting purpose for the readers. Initially it seemed that this would be an interesting text to consider in the aim of extending adaptation games to a broader audience (which did turn out to be the case, Radway describes several concrete things romance readers get out of their fiction), but it also is highly important from the perspective of model reinforcement within simulations. Romances satisfy women’s needs that are not met by patriarchy, yet the texts reinforce that patriarchy is the ultimate happiness and satisfaction. What features of simulation could be employed to subvert this process rather than reinforce it?


Radway starts by discussing her process as ethnography, and describes Geertz’s take on it as a constructive approach. There is a conflict between empiricism and constructionism, representation and interpretation. The question is ambiguous how much we construct a culture by reading it, versus how much we can observe objectively. (p. 5) The reading process (with romance especially) is a form of construction, to readers serves as a declaration of independence. Communities form around collective interpretation of works. (p. 7) Radway is especially informed by Nancy Chordorow’s work revising Freudian psychology. By that, the way reading serves as need fulfillment illustrates the gap in social structure. (p. 13)

The publishing institution, in its early development, leads to disposable, serial, “formulaic” paperbacks. There is established an orthodoxy of formula and format. (p. 29) Gradually, the publishing system develops a “semiprogrammed issue”, which is a product that has content, but is primarily established by format. Readers know what they are going to get. The need for this relates to middle class anxiety (Paul Fussell reference!) relating expectation to product. Product is content to satisfy expectation. (p. 45)

Dot’s incipient feminism: ostensibly conservative, but espouses progressive ideas in her values. Reflects complex social value system. Views independence and marriage/patriarchy as compatible, wheras feminist crituque does not. Reading is seen as an active activity, rather than a passive one. There are active components in selection of material, and interpretation of such material. (p. 54) One of the important qualities of romance: what it is like to be an object of love / romance. Question of identity and perspective in the view from the heroine; vicarious sensation. (p. 64)

The sexuality of the romance is nurturing in nature, and needs to be uplifting in the end. Successful romances need to pay explicit attention to emotions to be appealing to romance readers. The female sexual emotions revolve around some of the following: Hesitancy, Doubt, Anger, Confusion, Loss of control, Exhiliration. How would these be expressed in a digital form? Requires emotional representation. (p. 70) The most important quality of a romance is a happy ending. This completes the cycle of support and redemption. There is a complex understanding and set of requirements for romance to be successful (or not objectionable). Must reinforce happy monogamy. (p. 74)

There is a matter of relative independence at work in the reader’s minds. “The Smithton women seem ot be struggling simultaneously with the promise and threat of the women’s movement as well as with their culture’s now doubled capacity to belittle the intelligence and activities of ‘the ordinary housewife.'” There is strong importance of the assertion of the heroine’s uplifting identity and intelligence, even though she is shown to be vulnerable and needing to be loved. “In the utopia of romantic fiction, ‘independence’ and a secure individual ‘identity’ are never comprimised by the paternalistic care and protection of the male.” (p. 78-79)

Domestic dynamics of reading (as compared to TV, etc) are an expression of privacy, and essentially resented by husbands. The standard role of motherhood and wifeness requires an effacement and abnegation of self. This contrasts with strikingly solitary and private activity such as reading. In role where women spend all their time caring for others, reading is a self-care activity. (p. 92) Reading is escapism, but also compensatory: relieving tensions, diffusing resentment (!), indulging fantasy. Essentially ‘harmlessly’ expressing suppressed emotions. (p. 95) Romance also considered to be a kind of “education” but this is at peculiar odds with fantastic nature.

The ideal romance challenges the traditional gender roles [before submitting to them?]. Several examples given describe highly independent and tomboyish heroines. (p. 125) Ideal romance tends to subscribe to a Proppian narrative grammar. These still have other themes, but ultimately subscribe to the following model (p. 134):

  1. The heroine’s social identity is destroyed.
  2. The heroine reacts antagonistically to an aristocratic male.
  3. The aristocratic male responds ambiguously to the heroine.
  4. The heroine interprets the hero’s behavior as evidence of a purely sexual interest in her.
  5. The heroine responds to the hero’s behavior with anger or coldness.
  6. The hero retaliates by punishing the heroine.
  7. The heroine and hero are physically and/or emotionally separated.
  8. The hero treats the heroine tenderly.
  9. The heroine responds warmly to the hero’s act of tenderness.
  10. The heroine reinterprets the hero’s ambiguous behavior as the product of previous hurt.
  11. The hero proposes/openly declares love his love for/demonstrates his unwavering commitment to the heroine with a supreme act of tenderness.
  12. The heroine responds sexually and emotionally.
  13. The herione’s identity is restored.

Male characters in ideal romances have peculiar characterization. There are double perspectives, must have exemplary or exceptional status as heroes. The male is initially distant or aloof (not nurturing) and later becomes converted or is realized as nurturing. This forms peculiar expectation/fulfillment pattern that implies a thing or two about the husbands in the readers’ marriages. (p. 140)

The ideal romance implies inevitability of love and resolution. The failed romance suggests work and struggle is neeeded to maintain status quo or bar disaster. The labor of the failed romance mirrors the work exerted by the readers as wives and mothers. The structure of the ending is what will allow a text to “make it” to be classified as a romance. (p. 162) Another failed romance, “The Court of the Flowering Peach” makes explicit the fantasy nature of the romance. Implies that the ideal relationship and romance is ephemeral and/or impossible. Sounds like a great story, but fails the happy ending requirement pretty bad. (p. 175)

Earlier, the romance was described to be held by its readers as an educational experience. The escapism is at odds with the education and knowledge building of the real world. After all, ideal world is fantasy and definitionally not real, so how does it build knowledge about the real world? (p. 186) Readers assume straightforward and unambiguous prose. When readers intend to read works, they do not want convoluted subtext and meaning, but rather clear prose/instruction. This reflects sim games without reflection of the rule systems or meanings. Rather, value or rule system is assumed or taken for granted, never addressed explicitly. (p. 190) Romance follows peculiar strain of detail and realism (as compared to the realism of the novel as described by Ian Watt). Descriptions and scenes are heavy with detail, but of setting, not of character or mood. References to Umbert Eco’s idea of “the technique of the aimless glance”. (p. 194) There is a Jane Austen reference! Austen is hard to understand by readers, they wish to be passive recipients of the story, rather than an active interpreter. (Note that this is at odds with claims made earlier) (pp. 197)

Romances work in a storytelling cycle. Since this is semiprogrammed issue, most of the stories are variations on same theme, are essentially retelling tropes with variations, as in the oral tradition. This falls back to the notion of Barthes’ mythology. Umbert Eco points this out explicitly concerning retellings of Roland the Paladin. “Therefore, the act of retelling that same myth functioned as the ritual reaffirmation of fundamental cultural beliefs and collective aspirations.” (p. 198) The mythological sameness of the romantic heroines is predetermined. There is rigid cultural role establishment. The act of reading is a partial protest, but reaffirms the culturally defined female role. (p. 208)

Romance relates to Jameson and the utopian movement. (p. 215) Mass produced art has a cultural power (ideology of contemporary cultural forms), consider other mass produced art, such as games. “If we can learn, then, to look at the ways in which various groups appropriate and use the mass-produced art of our culture, I suspect that we may well begin to uderstand that although the ideological poower of conteporary cultural forms is enormous, indeed sometimes even frightening, that power is not yet all-pervasive, totally vigilant, or complete. Interstices still exist within the social fabric where opposition is carried out by people who are not satisfied by their place within it or by the restricted material and emotional rewards that accompany it.” (p. 222)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorRadway, Janice
TitleReading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature
Tagsspecials, media theory, narrative, feminism
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Here we go

[General] (08.08.08, 8:06 pm)

Okay, I’ve got my readings plugin set up. The full bibliography can be seen on the bibliography page, and I’m about to start putting up readings. Hopefully this won’t turn into a big mess.