24 October 2012

Stories that Tell Themselves

Here is my latest article over at Curator magazine. It is about "embodied literary theory." In it, I examine four novels whose stories about both about literary theory and simultaneously shaped by those very same theories they explore. Here are the novels and their theories:

1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides - gender theory/queer theory/psychoanalysis

2. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides - formalism/narrative theory

3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - historicism/poststructuralism

4. Possession by A. S. Byatt - narrative theory/feminism/poststructuralism

Here are some selected quotes from the article:

Embodied Theology occurs when a religiously devout writer, composer, or artist incarnates faith in the very form and fabric of his or her work. Literature, for instance, can be about some doctrine or belief; it can also enact it. . . . Embodied Theology is an implicit, rather than an explicit, expression of belief. It is subtle and integral. . . .
This concept of embodiment is not limited to a profound expression of theology. . . . the academic study of literature will not kill a really robust talent. In fact, truly elastic genius can turn abstraction into story. There are, I discovered, ways of creating Embodied Literary Theory. . . . [Possession]is all the more complex because the characters themselves realize that they are in a story with a certain shape, and they accept the narrative inevitability of their final acts—in this tale—with a scholar’s delight in accuracy. . . . 
So for those who worry that studying the material you love will strip it of its pleasure, take heart! If it is indeed the field for you—and if you are for it—its pleasures are endless. From the panic of youthful encounters to the intellectual joys of mastery, the material you love will reward you. You can consume it or create it—or both, at once.
Please read the whole article and leave me a comment! Thanks. 


squidlizard said...
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Bill said...

I found Middlesex to be very compelling and it comes to mind often when the cultural warriors are throwing bombs at one another. I did not consciously appreciate it as an embodiment of any theology, but I'm sure that if I returned to it now I probably would.

I enjoyed the article. Thanks.

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks, Bill! What kind of cultural bombs do you have in mind?

There's a twitter talk going on now about guessing what Eugenides' next novel will be.

Oh, and I was using Middlesex as an example of embodied literary theory, not embodied theology. Although I think it's potentially that, too.

Bill said...

Unfortunately here were have a lot of socially conservative religious folks who oppose gay rights (for example)by arguing that God creates people for certain inalterable sexual roles. It is common to hear things like "God make Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

Cal/Callie's sexual ambiguity just doesn't fit into that kind of box.

Sorry I confused the theology and literary theory references. When I read the words "queer theory" my brain rendered them "queer theology."

Iambic Admonit said...

Interesting, Bill. By "here," do you mean this blog? Because I am one of those socially conservative religious folks who believes that homosexual acts are unhealthy and destructive for body and soul, and therefore desires that people would not damage themselves in those ways. My argument is, I hope, my subtle than the straw man's that you lampoon, but shares some common features.
Interestingly, Cal's sexuality DOES fit that box, as Eugenides makes it clear that Cal only ever liked girls, which was one piece of "proof" that he really was a boy (consistent with his chromosomal identity).