The Extrinsic Approach to The Study Of Literature

Posted: July 29, 2007 in About Literature, Book Review, Literary Thoery, Student Paper


There are some external points are discussed in study of literature. But setting and environment are more often discussed. Sometimes, the extrinsic study only connects the literature to the social context and the previous growth. In most cases, it becomes a ‘causal’ explanation, professing to account for literature, to explain it, and finally to reduce it to its origins (the ‘fallacy of origins’) (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 73).

Yet, it is clear that causal study can never dispose of problems of description, analysis, and evaluation of an object such as work of literary art. Cause and effect are incommensurate: the concrete result of these extrinsic causes –the work of art- is always unpredictable (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 73)

There are some opinions about the extrinsic factors influence the literary works such as the biography, psychology, social life, causal explanation of literature largely in such other collective creations, and some quintessential spirit of the time.

But either how far these factors determine the production process of literary works, or how far the extrinsic method supposed to be able in measuring the external influence, depends on the approach which is used. The scientist who uses the social approach tent to come to determine in straight. Their radicalism is the influence of positivism. This occurs to the proponents of geistegeschichte, which is combined with hegelianism and romanticism. Moreover, they are more radical than the scientists who use the social approach. On the other hand, there are some of scientists who are more modest. They do not depend only on one factor. The other factors may give effects as well.

Biography is only regarded that it is valuable if it gives any contribution to the making of literary works. From a biography, we will not only know the genius, moral, intellectual and emotional development of a man. Furthermore, we may learn the psychology condition and his creative process.

It is necessary to distinguish these three point of views. First, biography tells the student about the making of a literary works. Second, biography shifts the subject matter of the study to the works of an author. Third, biography is supposed to be a science of future science, the psychology of artistic creation.

Biography is a kind of work from a very ancient age. It was a part of historiography. Biography of a man, whatever his capacity, is always interesting if it is said honestly. From a biography writer’s point of view, moral and intellectual developments, external career and emotional life can be reconstructed and evaluated based on the ethical system or certain code of manners. A biography writer must reinterpret some documents, letters, accounts by eyewitness, reminiscences, and autobiographical statement. Beside that, he must decide which the original materials are and trustable eyewitnesses. The problem then may evoke in writing a biography is, first, the selection. Then, how a secret should be hidden.

When a biography has been arranged, two mayor questions address it. First, how far the biography writer uses the literature work for evidence? Then, how far a biography can be used to understand a literary work? These questions are usually answered that poetry can give some explanations about biography of its poet. Of course, this doesn’t work to the other owner of a biography who didn’t write a poem.

Poem may give some explanation about the biography of its poet. But, how does the biography writer write a biography of an author who is difficult to seek his story for his life? Meanwhile, usually only a series of public documents, birth registers, marriage certificates, lawsuits, and the like, and evidence of the works.

For example, to write Shakespeare biography, some scientists had ever applied different method. Caroline Spurgeon, used a scientific spirit. But she came to a long-list of trivial things in Shakespeare life. On the other hand, George Brandes and Frans Haris used the Shakespeare’s works as the material of their research. A biographical romance is as the result.

The biographical method proponents do not agree with such contention. They argue that it is necessary for us understand the different condition at that age compared with nowadays. For example, some authors such as Milton, Pope, Goethe, Wordsworth, and Byron were aware that they were well known. So, it is necessary for them to make a biographical statement, even arranged an autobiography.

In this context, it is important for us to divide the poets into two categories: objective and subjective. Those who, like Keats and T.S. Elliot, stress the poet’s “negative capability”, has openness to the world, the obliteration of his concrete personality, and the opposite type of the poet, who aims at displaying his personality, wants to draw a self-portrait, to confess, to express himself (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 77).

But even with the subjective poet, the distinction between a personal statement of an autobiographical nature and the use of the very same motif in a work of art should not and cannot be withdrawn. A work of art forms a unity on a quite different plane, with a unique different relation to reality, than a book of memoirs, a diary, or a letter (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 78)

The biographical method has some weakness. The biographical approach forgets that a work of art is not only simply the embodiment of experience but always the latest work in a series of such works; it is in drama, a novel, a poem determined, so far as it is determined at all, by literary tradition and conventions. The biographical approach actually obscures a proper comprehension of the literary process, since it breaks up the order of literary tradition to substitute the life-circle of an individual (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 78)

The biographical approach ignores also quite simple psychological facts. A work of art may be the ‘mask’, the ‘anti-self’ behind which his real person is hiding, or it may be a picture of the life from which the author wants to escape (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 78). Simply we can sum up that there is a parallelism between the author and the characters in his works.

There are four possible definitions about psychology of literature: psychological study of the writer, as type and as individual, or the study of the creative process, or the study of the psychological types and laws present within works of literature, or, finally, the effects of literature upon its readers (audience psychology) (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 81). But the third definition is the only one which is strongly related with the study.

Some theorists had ever theorized about the successful of an author. First, the most decided the successful of an author is his literary genius. Some others said that the successful of an author depended on his physical appearance. The rests argued that emotional disorders and compensatory distinguished the artists, scientists, and other ‘contemplatives’.

Two mayor questions then may evoke. First, if an emotional disorder occurs to an author, does it become the theme of his works, or motivation to create a work? (If it is only a motivation for him to create a work, it occurs to other scientists as well.) Second, if the theme of a literary work is neurotic, how should a reader understand it?

Freud’s view about an author is inconsistent. Freud, Jung, and Frank are civilized people. They were well educated in Austria and respected the classical works of Greeks and German literature. Freud himself found his works were almost same with Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Kamarazov, in Hamlet, in Diderot’s Neveu de Rameau, in Goethe. According to him, the author as an obdurate neurotic who, by his creative work, kept himself a crack-up but also from any real cure. The poet, that is, is a day-dreamer who socially validated (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 82).

Such an account presumably disposes of the philosopher and ‘the pure scientist’ along with the artists, and is, therefore, a kind of positivist, ‘reduction’ of contemplative activity to an observing and naming instead of acting (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 82). This limit, however, merely describes the indirect effect of literary works, that is “alterations in the outer world”.
The theory of art as a neurosis leads to a new problem that is the relation between the imagination and belief. The artists keep felling and seeing his own though. Beside that, it is common for them to combine two kinds of imagery. For example, audition coloree: the trumpet as scarlet.

T.S Elliot had argued his views about a poet since his writing. Over there, he said that a poet is supposed to repeat and keep his relation with his childhood meanwhile he is running to the future. Then, in 1918, he wrote that a poet “is more primitive, as well as more civilized, than his contemporaries …”. In 1932, he repeated this conception, especially about “auditory imagination” but also of the poet’s visual imagery, and especially his recurrent images, which “may have symbolic value, but of what we cannot tell, for they have come to represent the depths felling into which we cannot peer” (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 84). Then he concluded that “the pre-logical mentality persists in civilized man, but becomes available only to or through the poet (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 84).

Jung made a complicated typological psychology. There are two categories: extrovert and introvert. These categories, then, divided into four types based on the strength of thinking, feeling, intuition, and sensation. But, surprisingly, Jung did not categorize all of the authors to certain types. He remarks that some writers reveal their type in their creative work, while others reveal their anti-type, their complement (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 84).

Nietzsche, in his The Birth of Tragedy (1872) proposed two polarities of art. They were classical “maker” and romantic “possessed”. Nietzsche theorized this according to Apollo and Dionysos, two gods of arts in Greeks myths.

This influenced Ribot, a French psychologist, much. He divided the artists into “plastic” and “diffluent”. A “plastic” artist can make a very rigid visualization, even if he is stimulated. Meanwhile the “diffluent” artist begins his imagination from his emotion or feeling then reveals it. He is helped by “stimmung” from inside of himself.

Then L. Rusu, a contemporary Rumanian scholar, distinguished three basic types of artists: “type sympatique”, “type demoniaque anarchique” and the “type demoniaque equilibre”. The second type is the anti-thesis of the first type. The rest is claimed to be the greatest type, at the end of the quarrel against the battle, the balance occurs.

The “creative process” should cover the entire sequence from the subconscious origins of a literary work to those last revisions which, with some writers, are the most genuinely creative part of the whole (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 85). The structure of a poet’s mental is different from a form of a poem. Impression is different from expression.

“Inspiration” is a traditional name for the unconscious factor in creation, is classically associated with the Muses, the daughters of memory, and in Christian thought with the Holy Spirit. Creative habits are assuredly are, as well as stimulants and rituals. Alcohol, opium, and other drugs dull the conscious mind, the over-critical ‘censor’, and release the activity of the subconscious (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 86).

Then, do the way and technical of writing influence the style of writing? Hemingway said that the typewriter “solidifies one’s sentence before they are ready to print.” Then, the others in commented that the using of a typewriter leads to a work in journalistic style. Milton himself knew by heart his Paradise Lost and dictated it. Even, Scott, Goethe, and Henry James had prepared their works. They dictated it and other people wrote it.

The discussion about the creative process in creation must have talked about the unconscious world. It is easy for us to compare the romantic and expressionistic periods exaggerate the unconscious world to the classic and realistic proposed the intelligence, communication, and the text revision.

We have to make two kinds of tests if we want to seek literary talents. The first test is proposed to see a poet talent. The second test is to see the narrative writer. A poet is associated with symbols, meanwhile a narrative writer with the creation of character in a story.

Our discussion above is about the psychology of the writers. Their creative process is the scope of psychologists’ investigative curiosity. Then, can we use psychology to interpret and judge a literary work? Psychology, as we have discussed above, can explain about the creative process. A study of revisions, corrections, and the like has more which is literarily profitable, since, well used, it may help us perceive critically relevant fissures, inconsistencies, turnings, distortions, in a work of art (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 91).

The last question is psychology itself in literary work. A character may be right psychologically. But, does it have any artistic value? The knowledge of psychological truth is needed, sometimes. But it is not too necessary for art because psychological truth does not have any artistic
For some conscious artists, psychology may have tightened their sense of reality, sharpened their powers of observation or allowed them to fall into hithero undiscovered patterns. But, in itself, psychology is only preparatory to the act of creation; and in the work itself, psychological truth is an artistic value only if it enhances coherence and complexity –if, in short, it is an art (Wellek and Warren, 1977: 93).

This article is writen by Leny Nuzuliyanti, a student of English Literature Department of Diponegoro University, Semarang, Central Java,Indonesia.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Good job for the owner of this blog. I am very appreciate with you who provide any literary information. Keep blogging.

    Best Regard

    from England

  2. Joyce says:

    This is a direct photo copy of Wellek and Warren’s “Theory of Literature:

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