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Discussing Text Structure

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    Conflicting Discourses

    My intention with focusing on the textual structure was to encourage students to recognize the different ways in which the women in the text were portrayed. This would then prepare the way for seeing the text as cultuurtekst and the multiple and contrasting discourses embedded in it. In the course of the discussions so far, students had located their comments regarding the text always within one particular representation of the women, one particular discourse. Students were not necessarily aware that they saw the text in terms of a representation. In this lesson, I did not use the meta-language of the cultural studies oriented analysis, which makes up the cultuurtekst part of the framework we would discuss in the next lesson. Students seemed to regard their interpretation as ‘obvious’. As I had said before, students felt confident about their interpretation, and at no point did they seize on the conflicting answers that each student seemed to give in terms of what they thought the main point or aim of the text was. Students then read the text as, what Kramsch (1993: 27) calls after Bakhtin, a ‘single-voiced discourse’.

    Only Claire had voiced her concern with the conflicting discourses. When I asked earlier in the lesson whether there was an argument in the article, she said:

    Claire: Maar ik denk dat het begint met een idee en dat het eindigt niet met hetzelfde idee, of in het midden is er een… there’s wires crossed.

    Claire: But I think that it starts with an idea and it does not end with the same idea, or in the middle, there is eh… wires crossed.

    In the data below, I am trying to focus students’ attention to the contrast of the discourses in the beginning and end of the article; what Claire described as ‘having its wires crossed’. The set of data below starts with me asking how women are represented at the end of the article (i.e. in terms of fulfilled motherhood) in comparison to the beginning, where women were first described in terms of ‘ladette’ behaviour out to ‘destroy men’, and in the paragraph following that, where they are represented in terms of their consumerist lifestyle. Claire and Emma disagree in their interpretation:

    G: … je zei eerder het is een vreemd eind van de tekst heel anders… de vrouw wordt aan het eind totaal anders beschreven dan aan het begin. Hoe wordt ze anders beschreven?

    Emma: een beetje zielig.

    G: Wordt ze als zielig beschreven? Vanuit wie gezien? Vind jij dat ze zielig is of vindt de schrijver dat?

    Sarah: wWt betekent zielig?

    G: Pitiful, iemand waar je medelijden mee zou hebben.

    Claire: Maar de vrouw op het eind zegt… eeh ja, ‘mijn relatie gaat nu al vijf jaar hartstikke goed: dat is echt heerlijk’. Maar het is… wennen… ‘zeker voor vrouwen van mijn generatie’. Dus voor haar, zij is een andere vrouw, ze heeft geleerd en nu ...alles gaat goed, nu heeft zij een man en een kind en zij heeft… ja…

    [Claire and Emma talk at the same time, but I think Emma says]:

    Emma: Dus hij heeft toch eigenlijk wel bereikt wat het doel was waar al die vrouwen naar streven.

    G: ja maar dat is de psychologe dus...

    Emma: ja, maar dat is dus het man-en kindverhaal.


    G: … You said before that the text has a strange end… very different… at the end the woman is described very differently from the beginning. How is she portrayed differently?

    Emma: a bit ‘zielig’ [pitiful].

    G: is she described as pitiful? From whose perspective? Do you think she is pitiful or does the author think that?

    Sarah: What does ‘zielig’ mean?

    G: pitiful, someone whom you would pity.

    Claire: but the woman says at the end: … eeh [she quotes] ‘yes, my relationship has been going really well now for 5 years and that is really wonderful’, but it is… getting used to… ‘for women of my generation’. So for her, she is another woman, she has learned and now… everything is going well, she has a man and a baby and she has… yes…

    [Claire and Emma talk at the same time, but I think Emma says]:

    Emma: so he has achieved what the aim was of all those women.

    G: Yes, but she is a psychologist so...

    Emma: Yes, but that is the husband and child narrative.

    Emma does not take my question as an invitation to describe what that particular representation was, but she momentarily steps outside the classroom discourse of text analysis and uses a personal voice by making a value statement: the women (as described at the end of the text) are to be pitied. Claire disagrees with that particular value judgment; after all, she says, the woman in the text describes herself as happy. She has learnt [from her therapy] and now everything goes well. Claire further quotes from the text itself, saying that women of her (i.e. the female psychologist’s) generation have ‘had to learn’, but now ‘everything is going well’. Claire is trying to find evidence in the article to describe this particular discourse, but Emma responds to Claire by switching the focus from the text and the portrayal of women in that last section, to the author: ‘he has achieved what the aim was for all those women’, and she concludes by saying: ‘that is the ‘husband and child narrative’’, which she explained earlier as the way that women are seen as reaching fulfillment only through motherhood. So Emma seems to suggest that since the article finished with this particular representation, this shows that the representation of women as fulfilled by their relationship and ‘happy motherhood’ is the ‘solution’ or most important discourse of the article: he [the author] achieved what all those women want. Emma looks at the text from a critical ideological perspective; she critiques the intensely traditional view of women finding happiness only in marriage and motherhood, but in this critique, she is not considering any of the other discourses and representations. The discourse or representation of women as taking on the ‘male’ characteristics of achievement and success, she did not mention.

    Claire is much more prepared to see the text in its complexities of conflicting discourses and is still struggling to make sense of the text. Emma is not. She is sure of her interpretation.

    This page titled Discussing Text Structure is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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