Principles of Literature

Oct 27, 2018 | 10:45 AM - 12:15 AM | Loft 2

Phelan Hourigan, BA University of Victoria

Culture and Literary Transformation: Repetition and the Literary Topos

One can loosely define the literary topos as a textual motif or theme. This ranges from, though is not limited to, a narrative type (e.g. the hero’s journey) or a character model such as the mentor or teacher (e.g. Gandalf or Dumbledore). This concept gives insight into the problem of transformation as it illustrates the relationship between literature and culture through repetition. To show this transformation with respect to the topos, we will focus on the problem of the universal and the particular, intertextuality, and the interplay of semantics and semiotics construed as the difference between discourse and system within respect to the topos. We can use the topos to better understand the larger question of the connection between culture and literature in their evolution.

This research makes an important contribution in that it not only helps us better understand a new dimension of transformation, but also has wider implications for literary and cultural studies. As ideas, narratives, gestures, etc. are repeated, they are never uniformly duplicated. Although Gandalf and Dumbledore are both examples of “the mentor,” they are not identical reproductions and have their own meaning and uniqueness within the given story. This analysis will also illustrate the danger of applying archetypes or abstractions to different texts, as this process can ultimately be reductive and simplifying. As literature transforms and evolves alongside culture, we must consider the specificity of each change. Transformation, though related to a meta-concept, does not become pure repetition.

Edward Matthews, PhD Fanshawe College

Language, Ideology, and the Faculty of Thought, or “Please to meet you, Thing One and Thing Two”

In terms of our understanding of its fundamental principles, the relationship between language, thought, and ideology is both richly-varied and historically-conditioned. The pre-Socratics and later, Plato sought an intimate association between words and their material referents. In ancient Athens, language was considered an instrument of knowledge, and words themselves presupposed knowledge of their material referents. By the early 1600s, humans began to conceive ideas as weapons that helped to fulfil their own desires or interests, rather than the discovery of truth. In Francis Bacon’s view, “words plainly force[d] and overrule[d] the understanding.” Bacon’s assessment of language takes us closer to ideology, a term first coined by Destutt de Tracy in the early 1800s.

Building upon Locke’s notion that we first experience ideas only after we have experienced sensations, Destutt de Tracy wanted to elaborate a science and a method to facilitate clear thoughts regarding ideas about the world. In The German Ideology (1846), Marx pointed out that the production of all ideas, of consciousness itself, was interwoven directly with the material activity of individuals, or, as he called it, “the language of real life.” From this perspective, ideology retained a direct link with material production and the lived life of individuals. Most recently, Louis Althusser provides us with the most rigorous definition of the social function of ideology, namely, “as a system (with its own logic and rigour) of representations (images, myths, ideas, or concepts, depending on the case) endowed with a historical existence and role within a given society.” What is the role of ideology in the early twentieth-first century? More important, what is the relationship between the role of ideology and the production of language? Is language merely based on social consensus, as de Saussure had argued, or has it become an ideological weapon used by the “idols of the marketplace” (Bacon)? Who controls the reason that governs the understanding of words? Are we left with choosing between words for things which do not exist, or the names of things which do exist, yet conditionally derived from reality?

Erik Mortensen, MA Humber College

Lost for Words: Tracing the Limits of Language in Advancing New Theories

This paper will explore the challenges in expressing new ideas through language that is also limited by the context and through the language these new ideas are uttered. It will begin by exploring the shift in Literary studies form Post-colonial towards World Literature Studies. From that point it will examine Franco Moretti's theories of approaching World Literature through an objective, evolutionary perspective of literature. His examples and approaches draw on scientific concepts and metaphors that do not make an easy, or proper fit, to the concepts he wishes to engage with. The talk will then explore the limited language and impacts of cultural context that shaped Darwin's ideas when he advanced his new evolutionary theories and ideas.


Phelan Hourigan, BA

Phelan Hourigan discovered a passion for languages, literature, and culture during their second year of university studies at the University of Victoria, focusing mainly on French, but also Spanish and German. Phelan developed an interest in literary theory and how it relates to culture and expects to finish a Master of Arts degree by December 2018, and start doctoral degree in September 2019. Phelan Hourigan grew up in a monolingual anglophone environment and spent most of their life in British Columbia outside of eight months in Montréal where Phelan completed their first year of studies and ten weeks in France. Phelan finds that exploration outside of one’s own culture and language is necessary to appreciate one’s own cultural context. Phelan hopes that this colloquium can be one step further toward a career of sharing their passion with others and that it will help us to better understand the culture and languages that we live from day to day.

Edward Matthews, PhD

Dr. Edward Matthews is a partial-load Instructor at Fanshawe College in the School of Language and Liberal Studies. During the 2019 Winter term at Fanshawe, he teaches a graduate course entitled "French Enlightenment Thought and the Rise of Materialism" at Western University at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism. He received his PhD in 1997 through the Faculty of Social and Political Thought at York University. His dissertation centred on Hegelian social and political theory (major) and Critical Theory (minor). He received his MA in Social and Political Thought in 1990 at York University, examining Bakhtin's theory of carnival in relation to Freudian theories on hysteria.  He has presented numerous papers at conferences including “Post-Truth and the Politics of Cultural Transformation” in October 2017 at Humber’s LAS Conference ("What's Next?"). “The Sacred and the Profane in the Idea of Marilyn Manson” in February 2015 at UnLondon’s 121 Studios Public Lecture Series in London, Ontario, “Canada Faces of Death: The Reality of Death/The Death of Reality” in March 2016 at the Strategies of Critique, VII Conference and participated in Essays on Electronic Music Immigrants and the NFB Cinema Canada, in February 1987.

Erik Mortensen, MA

Erik Mortensen is contract professor at Humber College and a PhD Candidate in the Department of Humanities at York University. His dissertation focus is on examining the vigilante as a mythic figure in American culture and texts. He completed his MA at Wilfrid Laurier University from the department of English and Film Studies, and his BAH at the University of Guelph with a double major from the department of English and Theater Studies & History. Publications include: "The Mode of Lynching: One Method of Vigilante Justice" Stand Your Ground Essay Collection (forthcoming) and "Vigilant Citizens and Horrific Heroes: Perpetuating the Positive Portrayal of Vigilantes" in Violence in American Popular Culture from Prager Press, 2015