Summer SAVY 2017, Session 4/Day 2- Theory, Criticism, and The Force (Rising 6th/7th)
Students of Theory, Criticism, and The Force:
We covered a lot today, friends!
After reviewing the two story telling forms we covered on Monday(three-part Aristotelian structure and Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth by way of Blake Snyder), we dove into an exploration of two additional lenses of critical analysis: Formalism and Semiotics. These two disciplines go hand-in-hand, and together with Structuralism they will form a basis for our work this week, as we venture towards more complicated and unexpected means of interpretation.
You know that Formalist analysis examines inherent features of a work, whereby all meaning is derived solely from the work itself. This limits interpretation to forms within content: specific choices or elements of a work. I enjoyed listening to you analyze and defend your pencil sketches, breaking the works into base forms and components. Formalism can be quite literal!
And you know that Semiotics is the study of signs, symbols, and mean-making. You seemed to really connect with semiotic reads of content, and you grasped why breakdowns in cultural understanding limit semiotic analysis. We’re two days out, and we’re already far from the assumption voiced on Monday that there is ever a singular or “correct” way of reading content. Roland Barthes would be proud.
We’ve put your skills of analysis to the test. You picked apart renderings of Obi-Wan Kenobi from two forms of media. You considered meaning that would be lost had the actor James Earl Jones not voiced Darth Vader, or had John Williams not scored Star Wars. I particularly enjoyed our dissection of the original 1977 trailer for Star Wars as compared to the 1996 rerelease; how fascinating that two sequences of similar content can generate such disparate meaning!
And, yes, we finally got around to watching some of Star Wars. We made it through Aristotle’s Beginning, Campbell’s sequence of Departure, and Snyder’s Thesis. We identified the moment of catalyst and themes stated (and now you all know the differentiation of “theme” and “motif”). We read almost as much meaning into the skeletons of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru as we read into Beru’s denim jacket. And your semiotic take of R2-D2 as a bratty toddler was right on the money.
Tomorrow we’ll utilize our three modes of analysis to view Star Wars through lenses of historicism. Star Wars has as much to say about The Great Galactic Civil War as it does about the Vietnam War, the American Civil War, and the American Revolutionary War. We’ll talk about how the film can position as an historical artifact to speak to the cultural zeitgeist of 1977 – and you’ll teach me what the film has to say about the zeitgeist of 2017.
And we’ll probably spend a little time defining zeitgeist.
I’m having a blast with you. Thank you for your engagement with this material. I know that the work can be challenging, but it’s important – and fun – to be able to see new in things familiar.
Mr. David Lee