Literary theory | Wikipedia audio article

Literary theory | Wikipedia audio article


Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic
study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However,
literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes—in addition to, or even instead
of literary theory in the strict sense—considerations of intellectual history, moral philosophy,
social prophecy, and other interdisciplinary themes which are of relevance to the way humans
interpret meaning. In the humanities in modern academia, the latter style of scholarship
is an outgrowth of critical theory and is often called simply “theory”.
As a consequence, the word “theory” has become an umbrella term for a variety of scholarly
approaches to reading texts. Many of these approaches are informed by various strands
of Continental philosophy and of sociology.==History==
The practice of literary theory became a profession in the 20th century, but it has historical
roots that run as far back as ancient Greece (Aristotle’s Poetics is an often cited early
example), ancient India (Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra), ancient Rome (Longinus’s On the
Sublime) and medieval Iraq (Al-Jahiz’s al-Bayan wa-‘l-tabyin and al-Hayawan, and ibn al-Mu’tazz’s
Kitab al-Badi). The aesthetic theories of philosophers from ancient philosophy through
the 18th and 19th centuries are important influences on current literary study. The
theory and criticism of literature are, of course, also closely tied to the history of
literature. However, the modern sense of “literary theory”
only dates to approximately the 1950s when the structuralist linguistics of Ferdinand
de Saussure began to strongly influence English language literary criticism. The New Critics
and various European-influenced formalists (particularly the Russian Formalists) had
described some of their more abstract efforts as “theoretical” as well. But it was not until
the broad impact of structuralism began to be felt in the English-speaking academic world
that “literary theory” was thought of as a unified domain.
In the academic world of the United Kingdom and the United States, literary theory was
at its most popular from the late 1960s (when its influence was beginning to spread outward
from elite universities like Johns Hopkins, Yale, and Cornell) through the 1980s (by which
time it was taught nearly everywhere in some form). During this span of time, literary
theory was perceived as academically cutting-edge, and most university literature departments
sought to teach and study theory and incorporate it into their curricula. Because of its meteoric
rise in popularity and the difficult language of its key texts, theory was also often criticized
as faddish or trendy obscurantism (and many academic satire novels of the period, such
as those by David Lodge, feature theory prominently). Some scholars, both theoretical and anti-theoretical,
refer to the 1970s and 1980s debates on the academic merits of theory as “the theory wars”.
By the early 1990s, the popularity of “theory” as a subject of interest by itself was declining
slightly (along with job openings for pure “theorists”) even as the texts of literary
theory were incorporated into the study of almost all literature. By 2010, the controversy
over the use of theory in literary studies had quieted down, and discussions on the topic
within literary and cultural studies tend now to be considerably milder and less lively.
However, some scholars like Mark Bauerlein continue to argue that less capable theorists
have abandoned proven methods of epistemology, resulting in persistent lapses in learning,
research, and evaluation. Some scholars do draw heavily on theory in their work, while
others only mention it in passing or not at all; but it is an acknowledged, important
part of the study of literature.==Overview==
One of the fundamental questions of literary theory is “what is literature?” – although
many contemporary theorists and literary scholars believe either that “literature” cannot be
defined or that it can refer to any use of language. Specific theories are distinguished
not only by their methods and conclusions, but even by how they create meaning in a “text”.
However, some theorists acknowledge that these texts do not have a singular, fixed meaning
which is deemed “correct”.Since theorists of literature often draw on a very heterogeneous
tradition of Continental philosophy and the philosophy of language, any classification
of their approaches is only an approximation. There are many types of literary theory, which
take different approaches to texts. Even among those listed below, many scholars combine
methods from more than one of these approaches (for instance, the deconstructive approach
of Paul de Man drew on a long tradition of close reading pioneered by the New Critics,
and de Man was trained in the European hermeneutic tradition).Broad schools of theory that have
historically been important include historical and biographical criticism, New Criticism,
formalism, Russian formalism, and structuralism, post-structuralism, Marxism, feminism and
French feminism, post-colonialism, new historicism, deconstruction, reader-response criticism,
and psychoanalytic criticism.==Differences among schools==
The different interpretive and epistemological perspectives of different schools of theory
often arise from, and so give support to, different moral and political commitments.
For instance, the work of the New Critics often contained an implicit moral dimension,
and sometimes even a religious one: a New Critic might read a poem by T. S. Eliot or
Gerard Manley Hopkins for its degree of honesty in expressing the torment and contradiction
of a serious search for belief in the modern world. Meanwhile, a Marxist critic might find
such judgments merely ideological rather than critical; the Marxist would say that the New
Critical reading did not keep enough critical distance from the poem’s religious stance
to be able to understand it. Or a post-structuralist critic might simply avoid the issue by understanding
the religious meaning of a poem as an allegory of meaning, treating the poem’s references
to “God” by discussing their referential nature rather than what they refer to. A critic using
Darwinian literary studies might use arguments from the evolutionary psychology of religion.
Such a disagreement cannot be easily resolved, because it is inherent in the radically different
terms and goals (that is, the theories) of the critics. Their theories of reading derive
from vastly different intellectual traditions: the New Critic bases his work on an East-Coast
American scholarly and religious tradition, while the Marxist derives his thought from
a body of critical social and economic thought, the post-structuralist’s work emerges from
twentieth-century Continental philosophy of language, and the Darwinian from the modern
evolutionary synthesis. To expect such different approaches to have much in common would be
naïve; so calling them all “theories of literature” without acknowledging their heterogeneity
is itself a reduction of their differences. In the late 1950s, the Canadian literary critic
Northrop Frye attempted to establish an approach for reconciling historical criticism and New
Criticism while addressing concerns of early reader-response and numerous psychological
and social approaches. His approach, laid out in his Anatomy of Criticism, was explicitly
structuralist, relying on the assumption of an intertextual “order of words” and universality
of certain structural types. His approach held sway in English literature programs for
several decades but lost favor during the ascendance of post-structuralism.
For some theories of literature (especially certain kinds of formalism), the distinction
between “literary” and other sorts of texts is of paramount importance. Other schools
(particularly post-structuralism in its various forms: new historicism, deconstruction, some
strains of Marxism and feminism) have sought to break down distinctions between the two
and have applied the tools of textual interpretation to a wide range of “texts”, including film,
non-fiction, historical writing, and even cultural events.
Mikhail Bakhtin argued that the “utter inadequacy” of literary theory is evident when it is forced
to deal with the novel; while other genres are fairly stabilized, the novel is still
developing.Another crucial distinction among the various theories of literary interpretation
is intentionality, the amount of weight given to the author’s own opinions about and intentions
for a work. For most pre-20th century approaches, the author’s intentions are a guiding factor
and an important determiner of the “correct” interpretation of texts. The New Criticism
was the first school to disavow the role of the author in interpreting texts, preferring
to focus on “the text itself” in a close reading. In fact, as much contention as there is between
formalism and later schools, they share the tenet that the author’s interpretation of
a work is no more inherently meaningful than any other.==Schools==
Listed below are some of the most commonly identified schools of literary theory, along
with their major authors. In many cases, such as those of the historian and philosopher
Michel Foucault and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the authors were not primarily
literary critics, but their work has been broadly influential in literary theory. African-American literary theory
Associated with Romanticism, a philosophy defining aesthetic value as the primary goal
in understanding literature. This includes both literary critics who have tried to understand
and/or identify aesthetic values and those like Oscar Wilde who have stressed art for
art’s sake. Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, Harold Bloom
American pragmatism and other American approaches Harold Bloom, Stanley Fish, Richard Rorty
Cognitive literary theory – applies research in cognitive neuroscience, cognitive evolutionary
psychology and anthropology, and philosophy of mind to the study of literature and culture.
Frederick Luis Aldama, Mary Thomas Crane, Nancy Easterlin, William Flesch, David Herman,
Suzanne Keen, Patrick Colm Hogan, Alan Richardson, Ellen Spolsky, Blakey Vermeule, Lisa Zunshine
Cambridge criticism – close examination of the literary text and the relation of literature
to social issues I.A. Richards, F.R. Leavis, Q.D. Leavis, William
Empson. Critical race theory
Cultural studies – emphasizes the role of literature in everyday life
Raymond Williams, Dick Hebdige, and Stuart Hall (British Cultural Studies); Max Horkheimer
and Theodor Adorno; Michel de Certeau; also Paul Gilroy, John Guillory
Darwinian literary studies – situates literature in the context of evolution and natural selection
Deconstruction – a strategy of “close” reading that elicits the ways that key terms and concepts
may be paradoxical or self-undermining, rendering their meaning undecidable
Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Gayatri Spivak,
Avital Ronell Desciptive poetics
Brian McHale Eco-criticism – explores cultural connections
and human relationships to the natural world Gender (see feminist literary criticism) – which
emphasizes themes of gender relations Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Hélène Cixous,
Julia Kristeva, Elaine Showalter Formalism – a school of literary criticism
and literary theory having mainly to do with structural purposes of a particular text
German hermeneutics and philology Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey,
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Erich Auerbach, René Wellek
Marxism (see Marxist literary criticism) – which emphasizes themes of class conflict
Georg Lukács, Valentin Voloshinov, Raymond Williams, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson,
Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin Narratology
New Criticism – looks at literary works on the basis of what is written, and not at
the goals of the author or biographical issues W. K. Wimsatt, F. R. Leavis, John Crowe Ransom,
Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, T.S. Eliot New Historicism – which examines the work
through its historical context and seeks to understand cultural and intellectual history
through literature Stephen Greenblatt, Louis Montrose, Jonathan
Goldberg, H. Aram Veeser Postcolonialism – focuses on the influences
of colonialism in literature, especially regarding the historical conflict resulting from the
exploitation of less developed countries and indigenous peoples by Western nations
Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Homi Bhabha and Declan Kiberd
Postmodernism – criticism of the conditions present in the twentieth century, often with
concern for those viewed as social deviants or the Other
Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and Maurice Blanchot
Post-structuralism – a catch-all term for various theoretical approaches (such as deconstruction)
that criticize or go beyond Structuralism’s aspirations to create a rational science of
culture by extrapolating the model of linguistics to other discursive and aesthetic formations
Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva Psychoanalysis (see psychoanalytic literary
criticism) – explores the role of consciousnesses and the unconscious in literature including
that of the author, reader, and characters in the text
Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Harold Bloom, Slavoj Žižek, Viktor Tausk
Queer theory – examines, questions, and criticizes the role of gender identity and
sexuality in literature Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Michel
Foucault Reader-response criticism – focuses upon
the active response of the reader to a text Louise Rosenblatt, Wolfgang Iser, Norman Holland,
Hans-Robert Jauss, Stuart Hall Realist
James Wood Russian formalism
Victor Shklovsky, Vladimir Propp Structuralism and semiotics (see semiotic
literary criticism) – examines the universal underlying structures in a text, the linguistic
units in a text and how the author conveys meaning through any structures
Ferdinand de Saussure, Roman Jakobson, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Mikhail Bakhtin,
Yurii Lotman, Umberto Eco, Jacques Ehrmann, Northrop Frye and morphology of folklore
Other theorists: Robert Graves, Alamgir Hashmi, John Sutherland, Leslie Fiedler, Kenneth Burke,
Paul Bénichou, Barbara Johnson, Blanca de Lizaur==See also==
List of literary terms List of literary movements
Dramatic theory Critical theory
Text (literary theory) School of Resentment==Notes====
References==Peter Barry. Beginning Theory: An Introduction
to Literary and Cultural Theory. ISBN 0-7190-6268-3. Jonathan Culler. (1997) Literary Theory: A
Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-285383-X.
Terry Eagleton. Literary Theory: An Introduction. ISBN 0-8166-1251-X.
Terry Eagleton. After Theory. ISBN 0-465-01773-8. Jean-Michel Rabaté. The Future of Theory.
ISBN 0-631-23013-0. The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory
and Criticism. ISBN 0-8018-4560-2. Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. Ed.
David Lodge and Nigel Wood. 2nd Ed. ISBN 0-582-31287-6 Theory’s Empire: An Anthology of Dissent.
Ed. Daphne Patai and Will H. Corral. ISBN 0-231-13417-7.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans.
Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
René Wellek. A history of modern criticism : 1750-1950. Yale University Press, 1955-1992,
8 volumes. 1: The later eighteenth century
2: The romantic age 3: The age of transition
4: The later nineteenth century 5: English criticism, 1900-1950
6: American criticism, 1900-1950 7: German, Russian, and Eastern European criticism,
1900-1950 8: French, Italian and Spanish criticism,
1900-1950==Further reading==
Carroll, J. (2007). Evolutionary Approaches to Literature and Drama. In Robin Dunbar and
Louise Barrett, (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Chapter 44. Full
text Castle, Gregory. Blackwell Guide to Literary
Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
Culler, Jonathan. The Literary in Theory. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007.
Terry Eagleton. Literary Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. (http://www.upress.umn.edu/)
Literary Theory: An Anthology. Edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell
Publishing, 2004. Lisa Zunshine, ed. Introduction to Cognitive
Cultural Studies. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010==External links==
Aristotle’s Poetics (350 BCE) Longinus’s On the Sublime (1st century CE)
Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesie (1595) “A Bibliography of Literary Theory, Criticism
and Philology”, by José Ángel García Landa “Some Literary Criticism quotes”, by Tim Love
The Litcrit Toolkit Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Literary
Theory,” by Vince Brewton Annotated bibliography on literary theory
Critical Literary Theory Introduction to Theory
Encyclopedia of Philosophy Purdue OWL
Johns Hopkins Guide

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