“#Ethical Stylistics”: the issue of censorship in the classroom

Marina LambrouSeminar Room 3

Chair: Dr Marina Lambrou, Associate Professor in English Language and Linguistics, Kingston University; Chair of the Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA)

The aim of this panel is to explore the relationship between contemporary ethics and the teaching of (literary) stylistics with a particular focus on controversial texts and the teacher’s responsibility. The teaching of literature through stylistic approaches allows for numerous insights and interpretations achieved by analysing the linguistic strategies at play. While stylistics is concerned with the study of style (Toolan, 1998), its goal goes beyond simply describing the formal features of texts for their own sake, but to ‘show their functional significance for the interpretation of text; or in order to relate literary effects to linguistic “causes” where these are felt to be relevant.’ (Wales, 2001:373). Traditionally, the preferred texts for stylistic analysis is literature, ‘whether that be institutionally sanctioned “Literature” as high art or more popular “noncanonical” forms of writing (Simpson, 2004:2) so both classic and contemporary texts can be the object of study. One such text (taught by one panel member) is Yeats’ Leda and the Swan, a powerful, vivid, memorable and expertly crafted sonnet whose grammatical choices neatly illustrates the explanatory power of stylistics. The poem can also, however, be seen as a depiction of a rape. Cullingford (1994) describes the poem as “pornography” and an example of canonical status granting immunity from censure to works which legitimise the violent subjugation of women. Is the poem suitable for teaching and should the theme of rape be discussed as one of its interpretations? What of Amis’ (1991) controversial Time’s Arrow, where the protagonist of the novel, a former Nazi concentration camp doctor on the point of death, is born to re-live his life in reverse to enact the poetic undoing or actual reversal of the act of The Holocaust itself. Is this, then, an example of an ethical narrative method as the people who died in the camps appear to ‘come back to life’, in a literal ‘re-writing’ (or un-writing) of history? Then there are texts, which in rewriting or answering back to canonical texts necessarily involve addressing unpleasant topics. One such example is Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, a rewrite of King Lear, in which the head of the family, Larry, is revealed to have abused his daughters. Such texts in themselves can be potentially upsetting for students, particularly in a classroom context. The question this raises is how far do we as teachers censure the choice of texts we present in class and how can we teach controversial subjects as relevant and important objects of study?

Professor Guy Cook, Emeritus Professor of Language in Education, Kings College London 

Dr Jeremy Scott, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Literature, University of Kent

Dr Marcello Giovanelli, Senior Lecturer in English Language and Literature, Aston University 

Cullingford, E B. (19914) "Pornography and Canonicity: The Case of Yeats' ‘Leda and the Swan’” in Representing Women: Law, Literature, and Feminism, ed. S. S. Heinzelman and Z. B. Wiseman. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 165-87.
"Pornography and Canonicity: Simpson, P. (2004) Stylistics, A Resource Book. London: Routledge.
Toolan, M. (1998) Language in Literature. An Introduction to Stylistics. London: Arnold.
Wales, K. (2001) A Dictionary of Stylistics. London: Longman.

Sun 1:00 pm - 2:15 pm