Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Hi everyone! This is the first post I am doing for my Currents in American Lit class, and today I wanted to quickly introduce you to the gloriousness that is Anne Bradstreet.

Now, here's the deal: Anne Bradstreet is considered to be the first female author published in the New World, and that feat in itself is impressive. Which is kind of sad, because the fact that it is impressive speaks to the position of women during this time period and even more specifically (and especially) in the Puritan society that Bradstreet resided in. The surprise that follows the publication of Anne's work The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up In America is best summarized by her brother in law, John Woodbridge, as he writes in his prologue:

"The worst effect of his [the reader’s] reading will be unbelief, which will make him question whether it be a woman’s work, and ask, is it possible?"

This is exactly the point where Bradstreet's subtle feminism comes into play. Forget bra burning in the 60's, because this wonderful woman dethroned the patriarchy with her understated poetry and I'm not even quite sure she knew the power in her own words.

In her poem "Prologue", Anne addresses those who question her abilities as a writer, and in turn her womanliness:

"I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits.
A poet's pen all scorn I should thus wrong;
For such despite they cast on female wits,
If what I do prove well, it wont advance-
They'll say it was stolen, or else it was by chance."

To me this verse screams, "Hey men, I know you don't like me and you think I should stick to my womanly duties but screw you because I'm just as capable as you!" Her mocking tone and sarcastic rhetoric is somewhat hidden underneath her coy jabs at male views on women. 

Personally, I believe that Bradstreet's  In Honour Of The High And Mighty Princess, Queen Elizabeth is the most overtly feminist poem in the collection. In a world where men are consistently and simultaneously the author and the reader, Bradstreet turned this notion on its head by dedicating a poem to Queen Elizabeth who, "was so good, so just, so learn'd, so wise, from all the kings on earth she won the prize". To praise a queen rather than a king could be considered treason in the eyes of men, so in doing so Bradstreet may be considered the first American feminist. The most intriguing part of Bradstreet's ode to Elizabeth can be found in the second epitaph at the conclusion of the poem. Here, Elizabeth is referred to as an "unparallel'd prince", which leads to the question: Why use a highly gender specific (ie male) term to refer to a powerful woman? Is it because she is trying to appeal to her male readers, perhaps making Elizabeth more manly and therefore more fit to rule in the eyes of men? Or is it because Anne Bradstreet is attempting to shake society to its core by stating that a woman can do just as good of a job, maybe even a superior job, when it comes to ruling than a man? Gasp!

With all things considered, Ms. Bradstreet was surely onto something with these poems of hers. Whether she was aware or not of the effects her work would have on society and how women were viewed within it, who knows. But regardless, Anne Bradstreet's radical poetry paved the way for female voices in the New World and that in itself is a contribution to be proud of.

until next time,


Sunday, September 27, 2015


Hi all! I feel a trend emerging...here I go again finding connections between popular movies and less popular critical theory. I feel like I simply cannot live a normal life anymore because I analyze everything way too freakin' much. Life of an English major, am I right?

In case you didn't guess already, this time around we are looking at the 2013 horror movie (this categorization is questionable, i would suggest cautionary tale) The Purge.

For anyone who hasn't seen it (Robin, this one's for you), here is the trailer:

I think that watching the trailer is important in this instance, as the film's premise is somewhat complicated to explain. Here is the announcement that commences the holiday:

 "This is not a test. This is your emergency broadcast system announcing the commencement of the Annual Purge sanctioned by the U.S. Government. Weapons of class 4 and lower have been authorized for use during the Purge. All other weapons are restricted. Government officials of ranking 10 have been granted immunity from the Purge and shall not be harmed. Commencing at the siren, any and all crime, including murder, will be legal for 12 continuous hours. Police, fire, and emergency medical services will be unavailable until tomorrow morning until 7 a.m., when The Purge concludes. Blessed be our New Founding Fathers and America, a nation reborn. May God be with you all."

(In Critical Theory, we have been talking about Marxism and therefore how class structure influences and interacts with ideologies. For this blog post, I will be referring specifically to and quoting from Louis Althusser's Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.) Before we even get to the film itself, let's take a moment to look closely at this specific piece of text.

I think one of the most striking things about this announcement is the strong religious language. Yes, the documents and oral tradition that make America the great country it is today are steeped in religion (i'm looking at you puritans, ooh crossover between american lit and crit theory, so meta) so it is not particularly surprising that this speech echoes that tradition. What is jarring about the pious content is that it acts as a buffer or excuse, if you will.

Oh, you murdered your neighbor? Well, it must have been God's will I guess. Good thing he's there to back you up. And since you're a model citizen the other 364 days out of the year, he's going to forget it even happened.

Here is where the ideology comes in: Religion (or the church itself), in Althusser's writings, functions as one of the main ideological state apparatuses (or ISA's as they will be referred to from here on out, because that phrase is too damn long). An ISA, as he explains is a, "distinct and specialized institution(s)...of the private domain". Even in the slightly futuristic setting of The Purge, religion remains one, if not the most, dominant ISA in American culture.

The concept of the Purge itself is arguably religious as well. The definition of the word "purge" is

a) rid (someone) of an unwanted feeling, memory, or condition, typically giving a sense of cathartic release

b) an abrupt or violent removal of a group of people from an organization or place

Okay, the first definition to me is fraught with religious overtones. Confession anyone?!

The second one is a tad more out there, at least in the context we're using it, but it sure is interesting. The Purge is not just the masses wreaking bloody havoc on the upper class, the Purge is an "equal opportunity employer" of sorts in the way that it encourages everyone to participate.

Another startling aspect of the Purge is the absence of what Althusser calls repressive state apparatuses (or RSA's). Unlike ISA's, RSA's belong to the public domain as they are in place to control society (for example, the police are an RSA). As Althusser points out, if ISA’s do their job there is no real need for RSA’s with a few rare exceptions simply because we do not live in a utopian society.

But is the comfort of ideology enough to survive the Purge? Does the complete withdrawal of RSA’s from society for a brief period of time lead to the destruction of ideology, and therefore all sense of morality? This leads to the ultimate question: How many people would actually participate in such an atrocious “holiday” if the opportunity arose?

In the film, there are two distinct kinds of people; those who are gung ho about the Purge and seem excited, even giddy to murder and maim whomever they can get their hands on. The other kinds of people are entirely against the Purge, their only wish to survive the night and they do so in varying ways. The family in the movie is well off financially; therefore they can afford to hide out in their giant mansion which is armed with an expensive and elaborate alarm system. However, as it is addressed in the sequel The Purge: Anarchy, the majority of people (shall we call them the 99 percent?) spend the night hiding wherever they can whether that’s their modest unarmed home which is vulnerable to those who run amuck or perhaps people who have no home at all who are trapped outside. This discrepancy in protection and support for the Purge itself is yet another example of Marxist theory coinciding with the concept, as the discrepancy amplifies the theme of class struggle that pervades the film as a whole.

As far as ideology is concerned, this film could be interpreted a multitude of different ways. Take for instance, this article that suggests that The Purge serves an allegory for the possible domination of the U.S. by the Republican party. What I do know for certain is that this film would intrigue the likes of Marx and Althusser, and for that reason I wish they were still around so we could ask them: To purge? Or not to purge?

That is the question.

until next time,

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Hi guys! As you can probably tell, this post (and most likely the next few, at least) is going to be different than my usual posts. I will be creating content for two of the English classes that I am taking this semester which happen to be Critical Theory and Currents in American Literature. Today, for Critical Theory, I'm going to attempt to make connections between two things that seem entirely unrelated: welcome to the life of an English major.

Last night I went to see Sinister 2 with my boyfriend and, as expected, I was royally disappointed. I mean it's not like I went into it with the highest of expectations anyways.

I'm not going to waste much of my time recapping the plot for you, because a) I'm still kind of confused by it to be completely honest and b) it's not that important when it comes to the point that I'm attempting to make. As someone who is reasonably jumpy and easily spooked, it means something for me to say that I didn't find this film to be that scary at all. Sure, there were a few moments where I was disgusted by the gore or I jumped but the most shocking aspect of the movie was not supernatural in the least. 

For this next part, you might need a little bit of backstory for you to follow me so here we go:

Sinister 2 follows a family (single mom with two twin nine year old boys) who moves to a farm in rural Indiana where some real crazy stuff has happened in the past. I'm talking some really messed up stuff. But that's besides the point. The mom is fighting for custody of her twin sons, as it is revealed over the course of the movie that their father is extremely abusive towards his wife and children, even sending his own son to the emergency room at one point.

Yes, I am aware that Sinister 2 is a horror film that on its superficial surface is about a demon that recruits children to do his bidding and murder their families. However, I can't shake the feeling that deep in the underbelly of this messy mythology there's something more sinister lurking than the Boogeyman. The subplot that addresses the domestic abuse that the mother and her two sons endure, to me, doesn't seem like much of a subplot at all. When I walked out of the movie last night, I couldn't stop pondering whether I had just watched a horror movie or a manifesto on the issue of basic human rights. As my boyfriend said to me after the movie was over, "You totally just analyzed that movie like an English major".

I know it's been a strange journey to this point, but here we are connecting Wimsatt and Beardsley's The Intentional Fallacy and The Affective Fallacy to Sinister 2. These two concepts, brought to you by New Criticism, question the role of the author and reader when it comes to trying to decode the meaning of a work. In this case, I suppose we are dealing with the author and the observer although the relationship between the two are highly similar.

According to Wimsatt and Beardsley, everything I just said about thinking Sinister 2 was about domestic abuse is irrelevant because the only way to know the "truth" is to look to the text, or in this case the script. If I asked Scott Derrickson, one of the writers, if he intended for the movie to actually be a giant metaphor for domestic abuse, with the Boogeyman character who tries to steal children away representing the twin's father, he may have absolutely no idea what the hell I'm even talking about. In most cases, the author doesn't even know his/her own intention! Therefore, how can the observer know the author's intention if he/she is unaware of it?

Also, the emotional effect that the film had on me personally is irrelevant as well in the eyes of Beardsley and Wimsatt. Just because it makes you feel something, doesn't mean that it's of any importance from a critical perspective. Harsh but true, man.

And that, my friends, is why new criticism was replaced by reader-response theory. Insert mic drop here.

until next time,

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