Tag Archives: interpretation

Goodbye to the Jar

I think that Assignment #4 is the last one that deals with Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar,” so I’d like to share some of the ideas I came up with for interpreting this poem.  Most of them are a bit weird, but I came up with them late Monday night so I had something to work with in class.  They’re also dealing with chains of association for psychoanalysis, so they are based off of wordplay, metonymy and metaphor.  Some of these ideas were brought up in class by other people, so sorry if there is overlap.  Most of them I didn’t think through all the way, so they’re rather unfinished. 

1. The food idea.  I thought the jar could be metonymy for a kitchen, or some other place where you get food (such as a pantry or a grocery store).  The wilderness could then be like the ingredients, being assembled into a coherent whole.  I guess the jar could also be a recipe in this interpretation.  The hill could be a table or a mixing bowl.  The one problem I identified with this interpretation was: “The jar was gray and bare” (10).  This line does not fit with a recipe, or with the ingredients being assembled (unless the recipe is a burnt failure).

2. Jar as car.  This idea was based off of very obvious wordplay.  Cars pollute, so this explains lines 10 and 11 of the poem.  I tried to take this idea a bit further, looking at the jar as a ship.  Ships can also pollute, especially when they have smokestacks (and this helps to explain line 8 – “And tall and of a port in air”).  With the jar as a ship, the wilderness could then be the water the ship is sailing on.  Of course, this runs into problems when you get to line 9 (“It took dominion everywhere”); how does a ship take dominion over all the water?  I guess it could sail everywhere, and so take dominion that way.  Nonetheless, this was a bit weak. 

The jar could also be an actual port between water and an island (which I guess would be the hill).  Again, not that strong, but I thought it accounted for the latter part of line 8 nicely.

3. Of course, there are the original ideas I had for the first two assignments that dealt with this poem: the jar as culture/urbanization/pollution, and the wilderness as nature/the natural world.  I didn’t bother thinking this through for this assignment because it felt like I would be restating what I argued in the other ones.  But basically, the jar is taking over the natural world, functioning as a city, dividing the wilderness and taming it.  The wilderness was whole, but became divided into three: the jar world, the tamed wilderness directly surrounding the hill (the suburbs of the jar world) and the still wild wilderness. 

4. Assignment #4 calls for a Lacanian interpretation, so I thought of the wilderness as the ideal self of the jar.  The jar tries to be like the wilderness, but it can’t, as per lines 10 and 11 (“The jar was gray and bare./It did not give of bird or bush”).  This is one of the ideas that I expanded on for my assignment, so I am not going to go into more detail here.

5. I thought the jar and the wilderness could be people.  The jar could be a man.  The jar lacks eggs, which are symbolic of fertility.  The wilderness, as a producer, is linked with fertility, and so it is a woman.  The jar is “gray and bare” without the wilderness.  You need both to successfully produce, but the jar has tamed the wilderness too much and so the world around them has become stagnant.  I thought this idea could be expanded on to critique patriarchy, but this was as far as I went with it.

6. I again went back to Lacan for my final idea.  This time, I looked at the wilderness as a child in the realm of the Real.  The jar is introduced, becoming the ideal self of the child wilderness (and also bringing the child into the realm of the Imaginary).  And when the wilderness is tamed at the end of the poem, it has successfully entered the adult realm of the Symbolic.  This ended up my main focus for my paper, but I also incorporated idea #4 as a play element that destabilizes the whole system.

So those were the 6 ideas I came up with Monday night for my psychoanalytic reading of “Anecdote of the Jar.”  It was fun letting my mind make all kinds of wild connections (my favourite was the food idea).  With that, I now bid Stevens’ poem adieu.  It was a lot of fun to work with, especially because it was so ambiguous.  But I found it a bit hard to keep switching frameworks for the same poem with only a couple of weeks between assignments.  I’m excited to be looking at new things for the remaining papers.

Leave a comment

Filed under School

Structralism in a Few Paragraphs

When I first read Klages’ chapter on structuralism, it made my head hurt.  I understood the very basic idea behind it: structuralism seeks to find the underlying skeleton or elements (structure) of various systems.  But once Klages got into the specifics of Saussure and Levi-Strauss, I felt hopelessly lost.  Luckily, after today’s lecture and re-reading Klages’ chapter, I feel a little more confident about both Saussure and Levi-Strauss (although these theories still make my head hurt).  Rereading Klages’ chapter, I discovered that both Saussure and Levi-Strauss have a lot of terms that describe similar things or build off similar ideas.  I think this accounts for the headache I got while originally reading.  So here is my new-found understanding of Saussure and Levi-Strauss in just a few paragraphs. 

As far as I understand it, Saussure’s ideas basically say that a sign (a linguistic unit) is made up of a signifier (a sound image, which is the psychological imprint of a sound, like when you hear yourself talking in your head; basically a word) and a signified (a concept, or the thing that is represented).  The bond between signifier and signified is always arbitrary.  The signifier and signified are different, but always together (this is where the idea of the front and back of a piece of paper comes in – they can be very different, but they can never be separated). 

Because of the arbitrary relationship between the signifier and signified, meaning only arises in a social context.  You can make up your own code, but you can’t communicate with anyone unless they agree to your code.  Saussure then split meaning into two: signification and value.  Signification refers to the relationship between the two parts of the sign (signifier and signified), while value refers to the relationship of one sign to all the other signs in the system.  This is that idea that “cat” is not “bat” or “rat.” 

Levi-Strauss took Saussure’s ideas and applied them to human kinship systems and myths.  He had the idea of binary opposites, and how they form the basis of human systems.  A binary opposite is a pair of things that are different from each other, like male/female.  One of the terms is valued more than the other in such a pairing.  Levi-Strauss also distinguished myths as a distinct system from human language.

I hope this quick explanation will keep other people from feeling lost in Klages’ structuralism chapter!

1 Comment

Filed under School

Theory or Pleasure?

“At the end of this year, Shauna, you’re going to eat, sleep and breathe literary theory.”  That’s what a friend of mine told me over the summer.  And I’m not going to lie: it scared me.  A lot.

My academic background only recently includes English.  For that reason, school and hobbies have always remained separate.  For school, I read textbooks.  For fun, I read novels.  But life has a funny way of bringing things together.  So here I am now, looking at the prospect of joining school with fun.

Now I have no qualms about looking at Shakespeare or Margaret Atwood through the theory lense.  But the thought of looking at everything in this way fills me with dread.  My friend started our conversation off with: “I can’t even watch a bad movie without noticing how something is an example of colonialism or whatnot.”  I can’t say that I want to be pointing out colonialism in a bad movie.  Bad movies are something I want to enjoy (or at least make fun of) on a superficial level, not on a deep, intellectual level.  And today, a professor in another class brought this point up again, thereby bringing my dread to the forefront once again.  How can I avoid damaging my pleasure reading with the interpretation school is now demanding of me?

Luckily, Dr. Pound came to the rescue this morning.  He said that it is possible to preserve your enjoyment by not studying something too much.  You can choose to intellectually examine only certain things, while leaving other things just to your senses to enjoy.  Maybe it is possible to live in both worlds, just not both simultaneously.  I only hope that my brain can make the distinction!

1 Comment

Filed under School