October 07, 2005

Paige's Shirt: A New Critical Approach

Dr. Watson is sick again today. His illness last night led to me and Gallagher running our Reading the Bible as Literature class. Today I was to have Literary Criticism with him, as usual, but sadly he was not here. Instead we were instructed to compose our journals for today using a poem or other short work and applying a formalist reading to the text.

I hate New Criticism. I find it limiting, narrow-minded, and pretentious. I, for one, would rather not put blinders on before I read something. But that is what I was instructed to do. As my Lit Crit group (self, Paige, Randy, and Ashley) got into a huddle, all of our eyes were drawn once again to Paige's shirt, a rather busy affair consisting of scads of black text in different fonts crowded onto a white background. I've already forgotten who suggested the idea, but it didn't take long for everyone to latch onto it and run with it . . . we must clearly analyze Paige's shirt using New Criticism. No, seriously, we should. See end of post for bibliography.

"Entity" by Daniel Benjamin is a work full of confusion, contrast, tension, and irony which, ultimately, resolves itself into a pointed description of a culture defined by superficial materialism. The work is composed of a wild, disorderly jumble of words in different fonts and different sizes. All of the words, phrases, and concepts in the work appear multiple times. Some of the words are associated with others, some seem to have nothing to do with anything else, and some change according to their context within the work.

For instance, the word "diet" (center, under collar; center, above stomach, left sleeve, shoulder) appears in numerous places throughout the work, but is never truly connected to anything else. However, the concept of encouraging weight-loss is affirmed by the few types of foods which appear scattered here and there: "apples" and "avocados" (right, under collar). Additionally, the text includes a number of disconnected references to tropical destinations like "Miami," (right sleeve, wrist) "Palm Beach," (center, upper back) and "Costa Rica" (center, lower back). One of the most telling phrases in terms of a unifying theme is "US leadership in terms of culture" (right, lower back).

Juxtaposition also plays an important role. For instance, when "Perfect Compromise" is linked with "Nothing," (center, chest) producing the impression that a perfect compromise is no compromise at all. In another spot, "Looking Younger" is placed next to "Production," (center, diaphragm) implying that one must work to avoid the effects of aging and produce a good impression. Or there is the connection of "Behind Those Blue Eyes" and "BOMBSHELL," (left, chest) indicating that shocking part of ourselves which we keep hidden from the world.

"Entity" is a jumbled work, full of contradiction, tension, and irony, but ultimately the entirety is unified through its connection to a single person: the average vapid materialist of modern culture. The work is a testament to the busyness and drive of their lifestyle, but also shows the emptiness of it all. It hints at dark tensions that lie beneath the surface of even the shallowest personality.

Work Cited

Benjamin, Daniel. "Entity." 45% polyester, 45% rayon, 10% lycra. Machine wash cold, gentle cycle, reshape, dry flat, no bleach, inside out. Cut 717, Style #1252-1. Made in USA, Small.

Posted by Jared at October 7, 2005 02:18 PM | TrackBack