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Reading literary material

Reading literary material
I think the question of how context effects the way a literary scholar might– the way a literary student– might study a particular literary text, or the way the context of the text effects how you analyse it and study it. I think that’s a really interesting question. Because actually the answer to that would vary depending on what your approach as a scholar is. There are certain schools of literary study that would say actually we’re not very interested in historical context. Whereas, there are other schools of study that would say all we’re interested in is historical context.
So I think the first step to thinking about how context effects your literary study of a text is to ask, well how should it effect it within the kind of approach to literary study that we’re using. But then I think, beyond that, one of the most important things I think students could realise is that historical context is not just about explaining a text. One of the reasons we choose, the choice– one of the things that guides what texts we choose as lecturers, and literature to study, is texts that are actually really difficult. Texts that resist kind of explaining them, or resist offering up a kind of huge meaning. Quite often we’re working with texts that are very, very slippery.
And so the way they might engage with their historical context might be actually that they’re helping to create those contexts not simply reflecting them. So I think as a literary student, you’d want to think about moving away from assuming that a text is just informed by its historical context. To instead say, how does a literary text inform and change its historical context. And that our task as literary scholars is to deal with that uncertainty, to enjoy it, and to still make good arguments.

In this video an English Literature lecturer is discussing the idea of reading literary material with its historical context in mind.

This is one lecturer’s opinion. Do you agree with their opinion?

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