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There are two main facets to every reading of a literary text: the efferent and the aesthetic. The efferent reading is basically concerned with understanding the text as it is. That is to say, the reader should be able to comprehend the informational elements that are contained in the text, and be able to answer questions such as: what is the subject matter of the text? What is the text about? If there is a conflict, then what is it? And who are the characters involved in it? The reader should also be able to point out to the characters and describe them and narrate their deeds and contributions to the narrative. In short, an efferent reading of a short story, for example, means that the reader can retell the story as it appears in the text.

Efferent Reading

Efferently speaking, Luigi Pirandello's "War" is a story about a group of exhausted people, a few men and a woman, traveling in a second-class train carriage from Rome to another Italian town. The men in the train are exchanging remarks and stories about their sons in the front. While listening to their tales of bravado, the woman is hiding her watery eyes and swollen face in a bid to suppress her agitated motherly feelings as her only son is taken from her directly to the war zone. All the men are boasting about their courage and sacrifice in sending their kids to die. One of the passengers bravely admits that he is proud that his son died in the front. All the men appear to believe that sending their sons to die at war is a prerogative to nationalism. Only when, suddenly, the half bereaved woman turns her face to the apparently brave, stoic man, and asks him "is your sun really dead?" the man realizes the magnitude of his loss. He fails to contain himself, and bursts into heart-rending tears.

Aesthetic Reading and Criticism

On the other hand, an aesthetic reading is concerned with the reader's appreciation, reception, and evaluation of the text. In short, an aesthetic reading is what I call criticism at large.

In essence, any comment on a text is criticism. Yet, there is criticism dictated by the reader's initial subjective feelings and responses: such as, I like the text; I hate the text; the text tickles my feelings and arouses my conscience; the text is a biased narrative produced by a sickly bigoted mind, and is not worth the time spent on reading through it etc. Also, there is professional and well-informed criticism dictated by the reader's systematic knowledge of literary theory. It is this latter kind of criticism that students are encouraged to pursue.

The well informed, academic criticism requires that the reader reads between the lines of the text, sees and points out to the text that is not written, yet is lurking beneath the lines or inside the figurative language and voices in the text. In fact, each literary theory advocates reading in conjunction with its methods and tools. Thus, for students to produce academic criticism, they have to cultivate a working knowledge of a literary theory or more plus some knowledge of the world at large.

Thanks to the huge welter of theories available to us now, students will never lack the choice of a suitable theory to guide and inform their readings and appreciations of any reading material. Among the common theories still fashionable so far are: Formalism and/or New Criticism, Marxism, Structuralism, Poststructuralism or Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, Postcolonialism, New Historicism, and Reader Response. There are also less fashionable, yet legitimate readings of texts where the critic grounds the text in history, biography of its author or in the author's so called intentional meaning.

In my subsequent lectures I will attempt a variety of readings that cover most of the above-mentioned theories. Here I will attempt a short textual analysis akin to that of New Criticism based on paragraphs from the opening of the text.

A Segment of "War" and the New Criticism

Pirandello's "War"



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