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Introduction to Modern Literary Theory


Meaning is derived entirely through difference, ... Applying the principles of psychologists like Sigmund Freud and Jung to a literary work Analyzing characters ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Introduction to Modern Literary Theory

Introduction to Modern Literary Theory
  • A discussion of theory, why we use it, and how it
    helps us understand what we read.

What is modern theory?
  • Theory is a way to approach a text to gain a
    better understanding of its meaning
  • Theory changes with time and new theories are
    always being added to the traditional
  • Theory tries to explain why authors and texts
    exist and what messages they are sending to

New Criticism
  • Takes a text as an autonomous object, non-related
    to the author, the culture, or the event it stems
  • Explores the world within the text
  • Started in 1920s and 1930s
  • Suggested Websites
  • "New Criticism Explained" by Dr. Warren Hedges
    (Southern Oregon University)
  • "Definition of the New Criticism" - virtuaLit
    (Beford-St. Martin's Resource)

  • Heresy of Paraphrase - assuming that an
    interpretation of a literary work could consist
    of a detailed summary or paraphrase.
  • Close reading "a close and detailed analysis of
    the text itself to arrive at an interpretation
    without referring to historical, authorial, or
    cultural concerns" (Bressler)
  • Intentional Fallacy - equating the meaning of a
    poem with the author's intentions.
  • Affective Fallacy - confusing the meaning of a
    text with how it makes the reader feel. A
    reader's emotional response to a text generally
    does not produce a reliable interpretation.

Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • - Do not have to know the authors background
  • -Do not have to be familiar with historical
  • -Can analyze language and imagery
  • Disadvantages
  • -Text seen in isolation
  • -Cannot account for allusions
  • -Ignores context of work
  • -Reduces literature to a series of rhetorical

  • Using Poisonwood Bible, what would this critical
    approach (new criticism) focus on and what would
    it leave out?

  • Sees art and literature as forced by the
    conditions that existed in history
  • Deals with clash between classes
  • Articulation of dominant class
  • Art reflects age in which it was created
  • Suggested Websites
  • "Definition of Marxist Criticism" - virtuaLit
    (Bedford-St. Martin's resource)
  • Marxist Theory and Criticism - from the Johns
    Hopkins Guide to Literary Criticism
  • "Marxism and Ideology" by Dr. Mary Klages -
    University of Colorado at Boulder

Key Terms
  • Material circumstances - the economic conditions
    underlying a society
  • Reflectionism - the superstructure of a society
    mirrors its economic base and, by extension, that
    a text reflects the society that produced it
  • Superstructure - The social, political, and
    ideological systems and institutions that are
    generated by the people
  • Commodification Wanting thing not for their use
    but their ability to impress others or to sell
  • Conspicuous consumption Getting things merely
    for selling or trading
  • Dialectical materialism the eternal struggle to
    find a solution among conflicting ideologies to
    bring about change

Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • Look at the work in the context it was written
  • Allows you to research and understand the culture
  • Can see multiple perspectives from dominant and
    dependent classes
  • Disadvantages
  • Have to be aware of the culture and economic
    system in place when written
  • Have to assume the man was out to get the
  • Has to be a class conflict, not race or gender
    (class matters most)

  • What is a major class conflict that you have seen
    in a movie or read in literature recently? What
    was the dominant class point of view? What was
    the inferior class point of view? Briefly
    analyze how this conflict was resolved or how it
    should have been resolved using Marxist theory.

Reader-Response Theory
  • Analyzes readers role in production of meaning
  • Text itself means nothing until someone reads it
  • Reading is a function of personal identity
  • Authors use strategies to elicit responses from
  • Suggested Websites
  • "Reader Response Various Positions" - Dr. John
    Lye - Brock University
  • Reader Response Theory and Criticism - Johns
    Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory Criticism
  • "The Author, the Text, and the Reader" - Clarissa
    Lee Ai Ling, The London School of Journalism

Key Terms
  • Interpretive communities - a concept, articulated
    by Stanley Fish, that readers within an
    "interpretive community" share reading
    strategies, values and interpretive assumptions
  • Transactional analysis - a concept developed by
    Louise Rosenblatt asserting that meaning is
    produced in a transaction of a reader with a
    text. As an approach, then, the critic would
    consider "how the reader interprets the text as
    well as how the text produces a response in her"
  • Horizons of expectations - a reader's
    "expectations" or frame of reference is based on
    the reader's past experience of literature and
    what preconceived notions about literature the
    reader possesses
  • Implied reader - the implied reader is "a
    hypothetical reader of a text, a construct that
    is unrelated to the real reader
  • -Developed by Wolfgang Iser

Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • No one interpretation
  • Interpretations change over time
  • Disadvantages
  • Can be too subjective
  • No clear criteria to account for differences from
    one reader to the next
  • Highly personal at times

  • For Jean Baudrillard, postmodernism marks a
    culture composed "of disparate fragmentary
    experiences and images that constantly bombard
    the individual in music, video, television,
    advertising and other forms of electronic media.
    The speed and ease of reproduction of these
    images mean that they exist only as image, devoid
    of depth, coherence, or originality"

Postmodernist Theories
  • Deconstruction
  • Hermeneutics
  • Semiotics

  • Sees literature as fluid parts and not one whole,
    with multiple meanings and ways to look at and
    not one large meaning.
  • Infinite number of signifiers
  • Deconstruction - Stanford University
  • Deconstruction - Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary
    Theory Criticism

  • Sees interpretation as a circular process whereby
    valid interpretation can occur by seeing the
    literary work as a whole and as a combination of
    its parts
  • Can analyze the historical authorial intent and
    at the same time the language within the text to
    gain understanding
  • Phenomenology Online - page developed by Max van

  • The science of signs
  • Proposes that human actions and productions have
    shared meaning to a group of people
  • Linguistics is a branch of semiotics
  • "Semiotics for Beginners" - Dr. David Chandler
    (University of Wales)
  • Semiotics - Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary
    Theory Criticism

Signified and Signifier
  • Sign vs. Symbol - According to Saussure, "words
    are not symbols which correspond to referents,
    but rather are 'signs' which are made up of two
    parts a mark,either written or spoken, called a
    'signifier,' and a concept (what is 'thought'
    when the mark is made), called a 'signified.
  • Meaning--the interpretation of a sign--can exist
    only in relationship with other signs. (I.e. The
    stoplight color red signifies "stop," even though
    "there is no natural bond between red and stop)
  • Meaning is derived entirely through difference,
    e.g., referring back to the traffic lights'
    example, red's meaning depends on the fact that
    it is not green and not amber

Psychoanalytic Criticism
  • Applying the principles of psychologists like
    Sigmund Freud and Jung to a literary work
  • Analyzing characters within the work
  • Analyze writers psyche, writing process, or the
    influence of the writers thoughts on the novel
  • Effects of literature on readers
  • Suggested Websites
  • "Definition of Psychoanalytic Criticism" from
    virtuaLit (Bedford-St.Martin's resource)
  • "Introduction to Psychoanalysis" by Dr. Dino
  • "The Mind and the Book A Long Look at
    Psychoanalytic Criticism" by Norman N. Holland

Key Terms
  • Jungian Approach
  • Three parts of self
  • -Shadow (dark part of self)
  • -Persona (social part of personality)
  • -Anima (mans soul image)
  • Neurosis occurs when someone fails to assimilate
    one of these levels of unconsciousness into his
    or her conscious and projects it onto someone
  • Freud's model of the psyche
  •   Id - completely unconscious part of the psyche
    that serves as a storehouse of our desires,
    wishes, and fears. The id houses the libido, the
    source of psychosexual energy.
  • Ego - mostly to partially conscious part of
    the psyche that processes experiences and
    operates as a mediator between the id and
  • Superego - often thought of as one's
    "conscience" the superego operates "like an
    internal censor encouraging moral judgments in
    light of social pressures" (Bressler)

Key Terms (cont)
  • Unconscious - the irrational part of the psyche
    unavailable to a person's consciousness except
    through dissociated acts or dreams.

Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • Can help understand works with characters who
    have obvious psychological issues
  • Helps us understand the writers mind and
    therefore his work
  • Disadvantages
  • Makes literature a scientific case study
  • Can we psychologically analyze dead writers?
  • Not all works allow for this approach
  • Sex is overdone

  • Choose a text that you have read, other than
    Poisonwood Bible, where you could do a
    psychological analysis on a character. Who is
    that character and what are his or her issues?
    Use the information from Freud or Jung.

  • Suggested Websites
  • Approaches to Feminism - Stanford Encyclopedia of
  • "What is Feminism and Why Do We Have to Talk
    About It So Much?" by Dr. Mary Klages -
    University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Feminist Theory An Overview - Elixabeth Lee -
    The Victorian Web
  • Concerned with impact of gender on writing and
  • Desire for a new literary canon (not men)
  • Deals with conflicts between often dominate male
    and inferior female in traditional literature
  • Deals with female issues

Key Terms
  • Androgeny- world without genders
  • Écriture féminine- style, women must write about
    their experiences to strengthen the work
  • Essentialism- a female image above and beyond
    social constructs
  • Phallologocentrism - language ordered around an
    absolute Word (logos) which is masculine
    phallic, systematically excludes, disqualifies,
    denigrates, diminishes, silences the feminine

Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • Allows for more female authors works to be read
  • Get to see an alternative perspective in
  • Understand women more
  • Not all dead white men
  • Disadvantages
  • Often attack works solely based on male
  • Often too theoretical
  • Distinct female style often excludes elements
    that get novels into the canon

  • Look at a novel by Barbara Kingsolver from the
    feminist perspective, whether it be The Bean
    Trees or Poisonwood Bible. What elements exist
    to show this political battlefield that often
    exists in feminist literature. List
    characteristics that make the novel feminist.

Historical/Cultural Criticism A.K.A. New
  • Takes the work and looks at it in context of the
    world it came out of (opposite of New Criticism)
  • Good to use for Shakespearean works as well as
    older works, to gain more understanding of
    authors and impact
  • Analyzes historically accurate influences on
    author and storyline.
  • Sources
  • -Any sight that deals with the history of the
    time period a novel, play, or poem was written in

Key Terms
  • The intentional fallacy meaning of a work is
    determined by authors intention

Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • To fully understand works by some authors, one
    must be able to understand where they are coming
    from. For example, Milton was blind and one must
    know that to get any meaning out of his essay On
    His Blindness
  • Necessary to place allusions in appropriate
  • Good to recognize patterns
  • Disadvantages
  • Reduces art to level of biography
  • Works not necessarily seen as universal
  • Can date certain works (feel not as applicable to
    modern life.)

  • Choose a text that you have recently read and are
    familiar with. What was your personal response
    to that text? Why did you react the way you did
    while reading it? What did you see in the text
    that caused you to react in one way or another?

  • Philosophy (Satre and Camus) that views each
    person as an isolated being thrust into a
    universe with no truths, values, or meanings
  • Nothing to nothing
  • All choices possible
  • Absurd and anguished
  • Condemned to be free
  • Suggested Websites
  • "Existentialism" - Stanford Encyclopedia of
  • "The Ethics of Absolute Freedom" by Dr. David
  • "Jean-Paul Sartre The Humanism of
    Existentialism" by Dr. Bob Zunjic (University of
    Rhode Island)

Key Terms
  • Absurd - a term used to describe existence--a
    world without inherent meaning or truth.
  • Authenticity - to make choices based on an
    individual code of ethics (commitment) rather
    than because of societal pressures. A choice made
    just because "it's what people do" would be
    considered inauthentic.
  • "Leap of faith" - although Kierkegaard
    acknowledged that religion was inherently
    unknowable and filled with risks, faith required
    an act of commitment (the "leap of faith") the
    commitment to Christianity would also lessen the
    despair of an absurd world.

Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • Ultimate choice is the characters, no external
  • Potential explanation for need for religion
  • Disadvantages
  • Confined by constructs of society
  • Can drive you insane
  • Why are we here then?
  • I might as well just die

  • School of thought that existed in the
    post-European empire period, the body of
    theoretical literature that existed in that time
  • Takes us back to time and place to examine works
    (resurrect culture)
  • Free from modern constructs of history
  • Suggested Websites
  • "Post-Colonialism" - Wikipedia Encyclopedia
  • "Some Issues in Postcolonial Theory" by Dr. John
    Lye (Brock University)
  • "Introduction to Postcolonial Studies" by Dr.
    Deepika Bahri (Emory University)

Key Terms
  • Alterity Being different than ones community
  • Diaspora- Being forced as an ethnic culture to
    leave original homeland and dispersed throughout
  • Eurocentrism an emphasis on European or Western
    beliefs, often at expense of other cultures.
    Aligned with current and past power structures in
    the world.
  • Hybridity - The assimilation and adaptation of
    cultural practices, the cross-fertilization of
    cultures can be seen as positive, enriching, and
    dynamic, as well as as oppressive
  • Imperialism- If you dont know it I dont know

Advantages and Disadvantages
  • Advantages
  • Forces us to look at lost cultures and the
    origins of alternative cultures (non-Western)
  • Considers literature in context and therefore
    makes it easier to understand at times
  • Disadvantages
  • Hard to completely remove from modern realm
  • Have to assume there is an oppressed people in
    order to use
  • Cannot apply to all Western works

  • Consider some of the American Literature that you
    read last year. Was any of it from a perspective
    other than a colonist? A European? A white male?
    Were there any characters that stood out as not
    fitting into their culture or society? How or why?

  • Now you have the basics, and when I say that I
    mean BARE minimum you need to know to begin to
    understand the literary criticisms you will
    become familiar with this year. Keep your notes
    as we will refer back to them often, as we read
    literary criticisms of the novels we read and as
    we start to analyze literature ourselves.
  • YOU HAVE THE KEYS, unlock the doors
  • ?

  • Dr. Kristie Siegel
  • Skylar Hamilton Burris
  • Literary Resources Criticism
  • http//
  • Richter, David H. (2000). Falling Into Theory.
    Boston Bedford/St. Martins.