A Momentous First has just occurred. Highlyeccentric just drafted a paragraph- the very first paragraph in the essay, discounting the introduction- defining her theoretical approach to literature. Apparently, I use a ‘dialogic’ theoretical basis, as defined by Laurie A. Finke in her chapter on Sexuality in Old French Literature, in the aforementioned Bullough & Brundage ‘Handbook of Medieval Sexuality’.
It’s just as well I started reading B&B, really- I picked up my feedback forms from the honours conference today, and although I thought I’d gone through reasonably clearly for the benefit of everyone the way I saw literature (or at least SGGK) relating to social context, most of them came back with ‘please define your theoretical approach’. So now I have a definition, and I will wave it around. I like this definition, because it will also allow me to argue the validity of the study of literature before historians, should I meet any historians in a fightin’ mood. Also, thanks to Finke, I have names and publication titles which I can use (later) to read MORE about this theory, and generally advance in the world of literary awesomeness.
Everybody witness this amazing first:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a product of the chivalric ideals of the fourteenth century English nobility. It is not a pure reflection of the practices of that class, by any means, but rather a stylised expression of the ideals by which they identified themselves. The poet guides his audience to identify with Gawain, rarely presenting a scene outside of his point of view. For a fourteenth century audience, the poet’s artistry in this respect would only serve to emphasise a personal identification with Gawain based on his status as representative of Arthur’s court, the embodied figure of the golden age of English chivalry to which fourteenth century chivalry aspired to emulate. The literary depiction of the chivalric ideal is not a static one, however, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in its construction of this ideal can be seen respond to the anxieties facing the knightly class in the fourteenth century. The literary construction of chivalry is, if you like, in dialogue with the actual situation of chivalry in society. This set of assumptions about the relationship between literature and history is defined by Laurie A. Finke, in his overview of theoretical approaches to the study of sexuality in Old French literature, as a ‘dialogic’ approach, emphasising the dynamic, two-way interaction between a literary formulation of an ideal, and the historical realities affecting that ideal.
Please note that it’s very draft-y, and you’re bereft of the rest of the essay it goes with (although so am I, not having written it). If it strikes you, however, that this makes no sense as an introduction to the basic assumptions underlying the essay I’m about to write, please do tell me.
In case you think I need to actually explain the anxieties of the fourteenth century chivalric classes if I’m going to argue anything based on them, yes, I know, and the next paragraph will be a SRS version of this post, plus some more stuff I’ve picked up along the way.
And now, to bed, to mourn the demise of my happy theory-free existence.