Further, if we accept that a text is an ‘aesthetic object’ (however TS Eliot and others might have us define that) then if we are to take anything valuable away from our ‘aesthetic experience’ , we need to focus on what it tells us about ourselves.
For Nietzsche, transformation was not simply a matter suspending audience disbelief, but instead allowing the audience to actually enter the world of the Greek god Dionysus, in whose realm lies all primordial truths and with it, the tragic suffering inherent in comprehending these truths.
As a feminist looking at texts through structuralist eyes, I am also able to hone in on sex-inflected signifiers pointing to specific patriarchal cultural values I am keen to eliminate.
Rather like Michel Foucault, the New Historicist believes that words are power and that it is through words that we are ‘communicated’ into being. Those who would ‘normalise’ and ‘socialise’ us to their purposes can do this well with facts and reported events that support their goals.
Whilst in full flow in answering the latter point, she quotes from Gray’s Ode : “what is grandeur, what is power? – what the bright reward we gain?’
Gain indeed; power is what people want and in her writings Woolf not only demonstrates this but she also deals with some of the ways and reasons it occurs.
It seems that this knowledge has prevented Clarissa from also committing suicide although why she would want to do so – so privileged she was such – is not completely clear. If, as she believed, her life was a failure then more had to be at root of such failure than the fact that she had not been invited along with her husband, Peter, to lunch with Lady Bruton that day.
For example, in her essay Poses and Passions, Zirka Filipczak reminds us that the poses adopted by men and women in the artwork of the English Renaissance are strategically quite different – whilst men are represented as active (holding a sword, perhaps) and intelligent (hands on a stack of books, for example), women either sit modestly silent, their empty hands crossed demurely across their girdles or, in exceptional circumstances, they hold a bible.
If as postmodern philosophers like Foucault have suggested, the ‘self’ is narrated into existence by the stories that we and others tell us about us, then this ability to be someone else allows the disguised character to disconnect with his/her story and play an entirely different one to great effect.
The form of English tragedy has most certain evolved over time – with Chaucer it was a ‘ditty’ about prosperity ending in wretchedness whist in later periods it had morphed into sad stories about a man’s fall as told by his ghost. By the 15th and early 16th century, we see the so-called ‘everyman (morality) plays’ – whereby on actor represents all of mankind with angels and the like tempting him to do evil with a view to investigating notions of Christian salvation.
If we accept that (1) the concept of canon has existed for at least two thousand years and likely to exist for a few more and (2) in our increasingly globally mobile society, canon formation will not become easier then we need to look for a new solution and I propose that to be a radical change in our point of view.