literary theory

literary theory
   Literary theory since the 1960s has sustained far more change than in the previous thirty years. After several decades of dominance by the New Critics and the close textual, practical readings recommended by the likes of F.R.Leavis, the 1960s saw a multiplying of critical approaches that has continued to the present, encompassing the following theoretical branches: formalist, structuralist, Marxist, feminist, post-structuralist, psycho-analytical, cultural materialist, phenomenological, reader-response, post-colonial and queer. Literary theory has therefore been overhauled by the influence of other disciplines, particularly history, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, sociology and cultural studies. The shift can itself be described as a development from a modernist critical practice to a postmodernist plurality of theoretical reading. Russian formalism developed around the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The detailed, technical, linguistic analysis of the formalists (for example, Shklovsky and Roman Jakobson) was based on the belief that literary language differed in key ways from other uses of language. The principal difference, they concluded, was that literary style hinged on ‘defamiliarization’ or ‘making strange’, the re-imagining of the world in unfamiliar terms in texts which are simultaneously aware of their own status as art (the quintessential novel was thus perhaps Sterne’s Tristram Shandy). Russian formalism had a great impact on structuralism, an approach less interested in individual works of literature than in systems or structures (linguistic, social, cultural, symbolic) that underlie a range of texts. Most important is the understanding that language is a self-sufficient system: it is not a mirror on the world but a plethora of signifiers (sounds or marks, or, loosely, words) which refer to signifieds (which are concepts not things). The literary critic is then concerned not with how the text refers to life but how it functions, how the signifiers (the words, textual components, or parole) relate to each other within the ‘grammar’ of the text and within the general system of language (langue).
   Influenced by structuralist and then poststructuralist theories, Marxist criticism has changed greatly over the last few decades, but is still concerned to see the text in terms of an analysis of society and history. Since the advent of structuralism, Marxists (like Terry Eagleton) pay more attention to the ideology of the text, its gaps or repressions, and its contradictions. This ties up with feminist criticism (such as that of Kate Millet and Germaine Greer) because both are concerned with the political or social issues (the one with class and the other with gender) at stake in reading literature as well as in the texts themselves. For both theoretical positions, the main point is to reinterpret and change social understanding through analysis of the content (and sometimes the form) of the text. Post-structuralist criticism encompasses and in particular develops from the work of the French theorists Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault who, from the perspectives of philosophy, psychoanalysis and social history respectively, have critiqued the systematic approach of structuralism and, while continuing structura-lism’s fascination with language, have focused on the ways in which discourse conditions all human relations of power or knowledge; that is, how everything is ultimately ‘textual’, made up of language.
   Other theories are far more concerned with the internal workings of the text and the relation between language and mind. Psychoanalytical approaches employ the theories of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva and others to go beneath the surface of the text to analyse its systems, repressions, contradictions or disturbances. Phenomenological criticism (stemming from the theories of Husserl) attempts to comprehend the author through the text: the critic should pay attention to nothing but the way in which the literary work embodies the author’s consciousness. Reader-response criticism (for example, that of Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser or Hans Robert Jauss), by contrast, is more concerned with the activity and subject of reading than the author. It argues that meaning is generated in the act of reading and therefore criticism should focus on the process through which the reader, in a particular time and place, responds to the text, in dialogue with the words on the page. Far closer to Marxism and feminism, other theories insist upon a ‘return to history’. Cultural materialist (new historicist criticism is the US equivalent) approaches are most indebted to the work of the post-structuralist Michel Foucault (but the Marxist Raymond Williams is also key), and attempt to analyse culture through texts and vice versa. Grounding their analyses in historical sources, cultural materialists (like Jonathan Dollimore, Alan Sinfield or the American Stephen Greenblatt) often start outside the literary work with a discussion of contemporary non-literary texts and then use those intertextual reference points to analyse and often undermine (more conventional readings of) the play, poem or novel, paying close attention to marginalized figures and looking for signs of social change. Post-colonial criticism understands the literary canon in terms of the effects and legacies of (particularly the British) empire. It is also concerned to include in the literary curriculum writing from colonized cultures, aiming to study ‘lost’ texts by non-white writers just as feminism aims to recuperate neglected women’s writing. Lastly, queer theory is concerned with the analysis of gender roles and sexuality. Greatly influenced by the work of Judith Butler, queer theory aims to destabilize conventional views of gender and sexual identity, particularly the binary system of sex differences that underpins patriarchal society and sustains a norm of heterosexism. Literary studies appears always to be in crisis, concerned to contemplate its own future directions and possible demise. However, the analysis of (visual and written) texts will continue to generate new approaches and theories and will undoubtedly continue in one (post/inter)disciplinary form or another, reinvigorating and reinvigorated by other academic areas.
   Further reading
    Bradford, R. (ed.) (1996) Studying Literature, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

Игры ⚽ Нужен реферат?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Literary theory — in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. [Culler 1997, p.1] However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes in addition to, or even instead of literary… …   Wikipedia

  • literary theory — noun The theory or the philosophy of the interpretation of literature and literary criticism …   Wiktionary

  • Journal of Literary Theory — Beschreibung Wissenschaftliche Fachzeitschrift Fachgebiet Literaturwissenschaft Sprache Deutsch und Englisch Verlag De Gruyter …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Marxist literary theory — noun An approach to literary criticism which emphasizes the effect of the struggle to control the material side of life on the production of art • • • Main Entry: ↑Marxian …   Useful english dictionary

  • Literary nonsense — (or nonsense literature) is a broad categorization of literature that uses sensical and nonsensical elements to defy language conventions or logical reasoning. Even though the most well known form of literary nonsense is nonsense verse, the genre …   Wikipedia

  • Theory (disambiguation) — Theory may refer to:;Concepts * Theory, a logical explanation for a given set of facts * Theory (mathematics) a branch of mathematics which covers a single subject (e.g. Number theory) * Theory (mathematical logic), the set of statements… …   Wikipedia

  • Heroic Age (literary theory) — In 20th century studies of oral poetry and traditional literature, the Heroic Age was postulated as a stage in the development of human societies likely to give rise to legends about heroic deeds. According to some theorists, oral epic poetry… …   Wikipedia

  • Literary criticism — Literature Major forms Novel · Poem · Drama Short story · Novella Genres Epic  …   Wikipedia

  • literary criticism — Discipline concerned with philosophical, descriptive, and evaluative inquiries about literature, including what literature is, what it does, and what it is worth. The Western critical tradition began with Plato s Republic (4th century BC). A… …   Universalium

  • Theory — The word theory has many distinct meanings in different fields of knowledge, depending on their methodologies and the context of discussion.In science a theory is a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena,… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”