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Literary Theory: An Overview

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Title: Literary Theory: An Overview


1
Literary Theory An Overview
  • Henderson

2
Why study theory?
  • If literature matters today, it is chiefly
    because it seems to many conventional critics one
    of the few remaining places where, in a divided,
    fragmented world, a sense of universal value may
    still be incarnate and where, in a sordidly
    material world, a rare glimpse of transcendence
    can still be attained.
  • Terry Eagleton

3
Approaching Theory
  • None of the theories we will study will be
    entirely satisfactory to you.
  • While the theorists themselves cling steadfastly
    to their respective approaches, we have the
    luxury of window-shopping lots of em.
  • Incorporate bits and pieces of differing theories
    into your own developing philosophies of
    literature and life.

4
One last thought before we begin
  • Literary theory is not a disembodied set of ideas
    but a force in institutions. Theory exists in
    communities of readers and writers, as a
    discursive practice, inextricably entangled with
    educational and cultural institutions.
  • Jonathan Culler

5
Formalism
  • Russian in origin emerged in the years
    immediately preceding the Bolshevik Revolution in
    1917, flourished in the 1920s until Stalin shut
    em up.
  • Did not take into account feelings, ideas, social
    realities, etc.
  • Focused on the objective parts of language,
    like a machine.

6
Formalism
  • Evaluated literature according to its use of
    devices -- sound, rhythm, imagery, syntax,
    meter, rhyme, etc -- and their ability to
    estrange the language.
  • Estrangement the ability to draw attention to
    the language itself and make the everyday seem
    unfamiliar.

7
Formalism
  • Fine writing is strange writing.
  • Applies linguistics to literature.

8
Phenomenology
  • Founded in the wake of WWI by Edmund Husserl.
  • Rejected the natural attitude that we see the
    world as it really is and that we perceive
    objects objectively, as something existing
    outside our consciousness.

9
Phenomenology
  • Instead, Husserl believed that our thoughts were
    inherently related to an object.
  • Phenomenological reduction we must reduce the
    external world to the contents of our
    consciousness alone.

10
Phenomenology
  • All realities must be treated as phenomena, as
    they appear in our mind, and that is as absolute
    as our knowledge can ever be.
  • Perception is reality, and vice versa.
  • However, phenomenology actually viewed all this
    as concrete, not abstract.

11
Phenomenology
  • The linguistic revolution of the 20th century is
    the assertion that readers create meaning based
    on their reception of the language.
  • In literature, focus on the essential meaning of
    the work, not the language or construction.

12
Phenomenology
  • When analyzing literature according to this
    theory, focus on the reader-response.
  • Describe the readers progressive movement
    through a text, analyzing how readers produce
    meaning by interacting with the text.

13
Phenomenology
  • But which is more valid what the author means,
    or what the text means to me?
  • You are free to attach any meaning you want to
    the text, but what the text authentically means
    must stay within the probabilities of the
    authors intentions.

14
New Criticism
  • Originated in the United States in the 1930s and
    40s.
  • Coincided with a rising emphasis on science and
    technology approaches literature scientifically.
  • However, in approaching literature this way, the
    New Critics were hoping to replace religion
    (wholly rejected as a guiding force in everyday
    life) with poetry.

15
New Criticism
  • Focused on the parts with the intention of
    understanding the whole.
  • Treated works as self-contained aesthetic objects
    rather than social or historical documents.
  • Approach each work independently, analyzing
    irony, paradox, ambiguity, connotation, etc.

16
New Criticism
  • Great Men approach literature is created by
    extraordinary people, and as we decipher a poems
    meaning, we are trying to search for the authors
    original meaning. Every work is essentially
    autobiographical, a chance for us to obtain a
    glimpse of a Great Mans mind.

17
New Criticism
  • New Critics rejected the Great Men system of
    reading.
  • Asserted that an authors intention was
    irrelevant to the text.
  • Poems must be read without concern for context.
  • Reduced the poem to a fetish.
  • We are to read the poem with aloof detachment.

18
Structuralism
  • Asserts that writing is not a random,
    self-contained act or series of devices. Each
    work -- and all literature as a collective body
    of work -- is governed by a series of codes,
    archetypes, myths, and genres that acted as
    aesthetic laws.

19
Structuralism
  • Emphasizes that all meaning is relative and
    contextual.
  • Hut derives its meaning from its placement
    between hovel and mansion.
  • Terrorist and freedom fighter denote the same
    object but connote different meanings.

20
Structuralism
  • Moves from the particular to the general
    commentary focuses on how a work fits into a
    greater schema.
  • The aim of structuralism is to arrive at a sense
    of unity.

21
Structuralism
  • In VERY basic terms, structuralism is happy!
    It recognizes the relativity of language but does
    not despair, and it seeks to critique language
    anyway. In such criticism, language arrives at
    something unified and harmonious.

22
Deconstruction
  • Method derived from post-structuralism.
  • Deconstructionists begin with structuralist
    theory but then move beyond it and rebel against
    it.
  • Deconstruction occurred immediately after and
    then alongside structuralism.

23
Deconstruction
  • There are no facts only perceptions.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche

24
Deconstruction
  • Jacques Derrida created the concept and coined
    the term deconstruction.
  • Argued that Western culture LOVES them some
    binary sets black vs. white, feminine vs.
    masculine, etc.
  • These binary sets imply a hierarchy and mutually
    exclusive relationships.
  • Deconstruction erases the boundary between these
    sets.

25
Deconstruction
  • Argues that if language really is relative and
    arbitrary, and there are no fixed points for
    reference, then all language and meaning is
    essentially one hot mess.
  • We live in a decentered universe in which
    language and meaning have free play.

26
Deconstruction
  • Look for shifts and breaks at various levels of
    the work. Read against the grain so that the
    text betrays itself. A deconstructionist
    triumphantly finds ways in which an author
    accidentally contradicts himself so that meaning
    breaks down.

27
Deconstruction
  • In very basic terms, deconstruction reveals
    anxieties about language and seeks to find
    disunity in the text that reflects disunity in
    our existence.
  • More on structuralism and deconstruction in
    another power point!

28
Psychoanalysis
  • Established by everybodys favorite
    phallus-obsessed psychiatrist.
  • Focuses on a meta-language in which the reader
    seeks out whats really going on in the text.

29
Modernism
  • Parallel movements in fine arts Dadaism, Cubism,
    Surrealism.
  • In literature, a rejection of traditional realism
    in favor of experimentation.
  • High modernism, 1910-1930.

30
Modernism
  • New emphasis on impressionism and subjectivity
    HOW we see it is more important than WHAT we see.
  • Movement away from devices that convey
    objectivity, such as omniscient 3rd person
    narration, clear-cut moral conclusions.
  • An affinity for fragmented forms

31
Modernism
  • Attitude is self-conscious and nostalgic.
  • Through its fragmentation, celebrates a by-gone
    era when circumstances precipitated continuity in
    form and style.
  • Laments its own fragmentation in simplest terms,
    modernism is sad.

32
Postmodernism
  • In simplest terms, is happy.
  • Is not a subsequent, chronological step
    co-existed with modernism and demonstrates a
    shift in attitude.
  • While modernism was ascetic (hence ugly
    box-shaped houses), postmodernism did not
    distinguish between high culture and pop
    culture. Celebrated gaudiness.

33
Postmodernism
  • Baudrillard examined a hyperreality, or the
    loss of the real. (Martin Scorsese capitalized
    on this concept in Gangs of New York.)
  • Pervasive influences of TV, film, other media
    have blurred the lines between reality and
    illusion, surface and depth.
  • In terms of semiotics, a sign is recognized as
    such, with an unclear connection to the reality
    of the signified. Ex Disneyland IS reality.

34
Postmodernism
  • Focus on intertextuality -- the close
    relationship between several works, seen through
    allusion, parody, etc.
  • Focus on irony.

35
New Historicism
  • Conduct a parallel reading of literary and
    historical texts from the same period puts both
    forms on equal footing
  • Rejects the more traditional approach of using
    historical texts as a backdrop for literature.
  • Culture is not simply a reflection of the
    economic and political system, but it cannot be
    independent from those systems.

36
Postcolonialism
  • Undermines the universal standard for judging
    the greatness of literature, as universal
    inevitably leads to dead-European/white-male
    perspective.
  • An effect of Orientalism was to place everything
    other in an inferior position. At the same
    time, the East became the repository for the
    Wests hidden self

37
Postcolonialism
  • projected human cruelty, indulgence, laziness,
    and sensuality onto the Orient.
  • At the same time, the West was fascinated by the
    East and perceived it as exotic, mystical, and
    seductive.

38
Postcolonialism
  • Phases of postcolonialism writing
  • ADOPT begin with an unquestioning acceptance of
    European models.
  • ADAPT adapt Western form to Eastern subject
    matter.
  • ADEPT reject Western forms and return to more
    nativepre-colonial forms.

39
Marxist criticism
  • Some basic tenets of Marxism
  • Founded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  • Considered themselves Communists instead of
    Marxist in particular.
  • Supported state ownership vs. private ownership.

40
Marxist criticism
  • Is a materialist theory looks for concrete,
    observable facts to determine the limits of
    reality, as opposed to
  • Idealist philosophy believes in another,
    spiritual world, as part of reality.
  • Progress comes about through class struggle.
    History should be measured this way instead of as
    a series of dynasties or as a progression toward
    sovereignty.

41
Marxist criticism
  • Base material means of production, distribution,
    exchange.
  • Superstructure cultural world of arts,
    religion, law, etc.
  • Economic determinism the belief that the base
    dictates the nature of the superstructure.

42
Marxist criticism
  • Individual genius doesnt really exist artists
    and their works are formed by their social
    contexts.
  • The Soviets hijacked Marxism Lenin insisted that
    literature must be an instrument of the Party.
  • All literature became propaganda literary
    complexity couldnt rise above an Uncle Toms
    Cabin level.

43
Marxist criticism
  • Modern adaptations of Marxism
  • Althusser identifies repressive structures
    institutions like law courts, police forces, etc.
    that impose state control by external force.
  • State ideological structures maintain state
    control through political parties, schools,
    churches, and the arts

44
Marxist criticism
  • Hegemony internalized form of social control
    that make certain views seem natural,
    invisible, the way things are.
  • Makes us feel like free agents with the ability
    to choose and determine our lives.

45
Feminist theory
  • Rethink the canon, rediscover feminine texts.
  • Challenge literary representations of other.
  • Seek out patriarchy in literature politically
    and socially aimed connotations that perpetuate a
    male outlook on the world.

46
Feminist theory
  • Feminine phase women writers imitated dominant
    male artistic form and style
  • Feminist phase radical and separatist positions
    dominate womens writing.
  • Female phase focuses on female writing and the
    female experience.

47
Feminist theory
  • Male language is prose more linear, didactic,
    structured.
  • Female language is poetry more fluid,
    flexible, changing.
  • Men read and write through symbolism women read
    and write through semiotics.

48
Feminism Psychoanalysis
  • Redefines Freuds penis envy.
  • Feminist critics argue that the envy isnt for
    the organ itself (or even the symbolic nature of
    it) but for the varieties of power it represents
    (the semiotics).
  • Sexual identity is a cultural construct. Female
    is biological feminine is social.

49
Lesbian/Gay Criticism
  • At this point, lesbian criticism is simply an
    extension of feminist criticism.
  • Gay criticism, commonly called queer theory,
    looks for gay episodes in mainstream works
    redefining cults of friendship in literature.
    (Look at WWI poetry again.)
  • Metaphorically gay reading of literature
    connotes any blurring of social boundaries.

50
Guess what
  • Its over!!
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