What is a Textual Object?

When I say textual object of analysis, I mean the specific, appropriately-focused* and concrete,** text-based (formal)*** element you intend to analyze.  At times I may refer to textual object of analysis as object of analysis; object of study, object of examination; object of consideration; or object of focus).

*When I say that your object of study should be specific and appropriately focused, I mean that you must adjust the scale of what you’re examining to the amount of space you have to examine.  You are only writing a 200-400 word blog post.  That is barely enough time to talk about the explosion of white lights at the end of the first act; it is certainly not enough time to talk about all of the lighting in the play or all the references to future light and hope in the play.   

**When I say that your object of study should be concrete, I mean that you should be able to pinpoint (literally point your finger to) to where the formal element (object of analysis) you’re considering is in the text.   

***When I say that your object of study should be text-based, I mean that your textual object of analysis should be a specific aspect of how the text is constructed. Meaning you should be thinking not so much about the content, mood, or themes, but rather about how the text crafts, expresses, and invokes that content, theme, and mood.  Your actual object of consideration should be about a specific and concrete textual choice the writer/artist has made (e.g. the use of alliteration in a poem; the choice to emphasize the brass instruments in a track production; the choice to use broad and jagged brush strokes as opposed to more disciplined and clean lines or the choice to forego the use of blackouts between scene transitions). 

Your textual object of analysis is not abstract (you are not analyzing the text’s meditation on freedom); it is not synonymous with the overarching structure or main point (you are not examining the theme of man vs society); nor is it outside of the text (you are not discussing the whole topic of slavery or even the gendered violence of slavery). 

Where do I get to think about the bigger ideas?  Part of what your post should do is posit an idea about the effects of the author/artist’s use of the particular textual object you’re examining.  How does the choice to begin each chapter with an epigraph from Aesop’s tales (as opposed to a Bible Verse or a line of Shakespeare, or a Native American proverb) affect the way we might read (understand) some of the larger aspects of a particular chapter if not the work as a whole.  It’s in thinking about how the specific textual element shapes and helps construct the larger thematic aspects that you are able to address some of the larger ideas in the text. 

Reminder: When you make a claim, you are making an interpretation. Your claim must be an arguable statement, not a statement of fact. Arguable doesn’t necessarily mean that someone would say that your argument is wrong, or argue the exact opposite; rather it means that even though your idea is logically constructed and supported by textual-evidence, someone else could make an equally logical and textually supported claim that differs from your particular interpretation?

Identifying Different Formal Elements (Textual Objects)

While some formal elements (e.g. repetition or rhythm) are applicable and as such considerable across a variety of textual mediums, other formal elements are more particular to the specific textual medium you’re analyzing.  Since for each post you will be focusing on a different textual medium (i.e. script, visual, or performance), it may be helpful to check out the respective handouts on common formal elements for scripted, visual, and performance texts.  (Note: within each medium, there will be different disciplines and genre and formal schools that might make use of and thus call for attention to formal elements specific to that genre or school).