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Literary theory

literary criticism - literature - theory


Literary theory is an umbrella term for many different movements in the formal study of texts.

Specific theories are distinguished not only by their methods and conclusions, but even by how they define "text." For many, "texts" means "literary (i.e. 'high' art) texts" (see literature). But different principles and methods of literary theory have been applied to non-fiction, pop fiction, film, historical documents, law, advertising, etc. In fact, some theories (e.g. structuralism) treat cultural events like fashion, football, riots, etc. as "texts."

Literary theorists are generally professors of English. There are many popular schools of literary theory, which take different approaches to understanding texts (which can also mean non-fiction, film, and and practically anything else that can be 'read' or interpreted). Most actual theorists combine methods of more than one approach. Schools that have been historically important include formalism (sometimes called 'new critical formalism' or 'the new criticism'), structuralism, post-structuralism, marxism, feminism, historicism, new historicism, deconstruction, reader-response criticism, and psychoanalytic criticism. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_theory [2004]

Literary theory is the theory (or the philosophy) of the interpretation of literature and literary criticism. Its history begins with classical Greek poetics and rhetoric and includes, since the 18th century, aesthetics and hermeneutics. In the 20th century, "theory" has become an umbrella term for a variety of scholarly approaches to reading texts, most of which are informed by various strands of Continental philosophy. (In much academic discussion, the terms "literary theory" and "Continental philosophy" are nearly synonymous, though some scholars would argue that a clear distinction can be drawn between the two.) --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_theory [Oct 2004]

Schools of literary theory

Listed below are some of the most commonly identified schools of literary theory, along with their major authors. (In many of these cases, such as those of the historian and philosopher Michel Foucault and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, these authors were not literary critics and did not primarily write about literature; but, since their work has been broadly influential in literary theory, they are nonetheless listed here.)

  • American pragmatism and other American approaches
  • Cultural studies - emphasized the role of literature in everyday life
  • Deconstruction - which sought to emphasize the ambiguities in a text
  • Feminism (see feminist literary criticism) - which emphasizes themes of gender relations
  • Formalism
  • German hermeneutics and philology
      Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Erich Auerbach
  • Marxism (see Marxist literary criticism) - which emphasized themes of class conflict
  • New Criticism - which looked 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
  • New historicism - which examines a text by also examining other texts of the time period
      Stephen Greenblatt, Louis Montrose, Jonathan Goldberg, H. Aram Vesser
  • New Weird
      China Mieville
  • Postcolonialism - examines literature produced by countries that were once occupied by a governing force
  • Post-structuralism - criticism of structuralism
  • Psychoanalysis (see psychoanalytic literary criticism) - looks at works with close attention paid to the unconscious mind of the author
  • Queer theory - examines, questions, and criticizes the role of gender in literature
  • Reader Response - focusses upon the active response of the reader to a text
  • Russian Formalism
      Victor Shklovsky, Vladimir Propp
  • Structuralism and semiotics (see semiotic literary criticism) -- examined the underlying structures in the content of a text (plot, for example)
  • Other theorists: Robert Graves, Alamgir Hashmi, John Sutherland, Leslie Fiedler and Norhtrop Frye --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_theory#Schools_of_literary_theory [Aug 2005]

    see also: literary criticism - theory - literature

    New Criticism

    New Criticism, literary theory popular in the first half of the 20th century looks at literary works on the basis of what is written, and not at the goals of the author or biographical issues.

    See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Criticism [Jan 2006]

    Theory Of Literature (1949) - Rene Wellek, Austin Warren

    Theory Of Literature (1949) - Rene Wellek, Austin Warren [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Literature is "a stratified structure of signs and meanings which is totally distinct from the mental processes of the author at the time of composition." --René Wellek, 1949

    René Wellek (1903-1995) was a Czech-German comparative literary critic. Wellek, along with Erich Auerbach, is remembered as an eminent product of the Central European philological tradition.

    Born in Prague, Wellek was raised in Vienna speaking Czech and German. He studied literature at the Charles University in Prague. He was active among the Prague School linguists there before moving to teach in London in 1935.

    During World War II Wellek relocated to America, first to the University of Iowa and then to Yale University. In the United States, he became a friend and advocate of the New Critics. With the critic Austin Warren, Wellek wrote the landmark volume Theory of Literature, one of the first works which systematized literary theory, rather than approaching criticism in a more ad-hoc fashion. Beginning in the 1960s, Wellek defended the New Critics against the condemnation of their work in the name of a structuralist-influenced literary theory. For this reason, he is sometimes thought of today as a conservative literary scholar. Wellek's final work was a lengthy, multiple-volume history of literary criticism. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Wellek [Jan 2006]

    Formalism (literature)
    In literary studies, formalism sometimes refers to inquiry into the form (rather than the content) of works of literature, but usually refers broadly to approaches to interpreting or evaluating literary works that focus on features of the text itself (especially properties of its language) rather than on the contexts of its creation (biographical, historical or intellectual) or the contexts of its reception. The term groups together a number of different approaches to literature, many of which seriously diverge from one another. Formalism, in this broad sense, was the dominant mode of academic literary study in the US at least from the end of the Second World War through the 1970s, especially as embodied in René Wellek and Austin Warren's Theory of Literature (1948, 1955, 1962). Beginning in the late 1970s, formalism was substantially displaced by various approaches (often with political aims or assumptions) that were suspicious of the idea that a literary work could be separated from its origins or uses. The term has often had a pejorative cast and has been used by opponents to indicate either aridity or ideological deviance. Some recent trends in academic literary criticism suggest that formalism may be making a comeback. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formalism_%28literature%29 [Jan 2006]

    Formalism (art)
    Formalism is the concept that a work's artistic value is entirely determined by its form--the way it is made, its purely visual aspects and its medium. Formalism emphasizes compositional elements such as color, line, shape and texture rather than context and content. Formalism dominated modern art from the late 1800s through the 1960s. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formalism_%28art%29 [Jan 2006]

    See also: form - content - 1949 - literary theory - literature - theory

    A Dictionary of Modern Critical Terms (1973) - Roger Fowler

    A Dictionary of Modern Critical Terms (1973) - Roger Fowler [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Book Description
    Around 300 essay-style entries introduce the reader to the traditional terms of literary criticism and the central preoccupations of contemporary critical thinking.

    In What is a classic? (1944) T.S. Eliot asserts that classic status can be known 'only by hindsight and in historical perspective.'


    Though [modernism is] sometimes loosely used as a label for the dominant tendency of the twentieth-century arts, as ‘neo-classicism’ is for eighteenth- and ‘romanticism’ for nineteenth-century arts, ‘modernism’ raises problems crucial to the character and destiny of those arts. Not only is much modern writing not modernist – so Stephen Spender distinguishes between 'modern' and 'contemporary' writers (The Struggle of the Modern, 1963) – but it resists the thesis that modernist style and sensibility are inevitable in our age.

    For modernism tends to propose special opportunities and difficulties for the arts. Modernist art is, in most critical usage, reckoned to be the art of what Harold Rosenburg calls 'the tradition of the new'. It is experimental, formally complex, elliptical, contains elements of decreation as well as creation, and tends to associate notions of the artist's freedom from realism, materialism, traditional genre and form, with notions of cultural apocalypse and disaster.

    Its social content is characteristically avant-garde or bohemian; hence specialized. Its notion of the artist is of a futurist, not the conserver of culture but its onward creator; its notion of the audience is that it is foolish if potentially redeemable: 'Artists are the antennae of the race, but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust their great artists' is Ezra Pound's definition. Beyond art's specialized enclave, conditions of crisis are evident: language awry, cultural cohesion lost, perception pluralized.

    Further than this, there are several modernisms: an intensifying sequence of movements from Symbolism on (Post-impressionism, Expressionism, Futurism, Imagism, Vorticism, Dadaism, Surrealism) often radically at odds, and sharp differences of cultural interpretation coming from writers apparently stylistically analogous (e.g. T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams).

    A like technique can be very differently used (e.g. the use Of STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS in Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and William Faulkner) according to different notions of underlying order in life or art. The post-symbolist stress on the 'hard' or impersonal image (see IMAGISM) can dissolve into the fluidity of Dada or Surrealism or into romantic personalization: while the famous 'classical' element in modernism, emanating particularly from Eliot, its stress on the luminous symbol outside time, can be qualified by a wide variety of political attitudes and forms of historicism.

    Note from the editor: paragraphs were added to this excerpt.

    See also: classic - modern - critical - critical theory - literary criticism - term

    The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory

    The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory () - J. A. Cuddon, Claire Preston [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Product Description:
    The latest installment of this trusted literary companion covers all aspects of literary theory, from definitions of technical terms to characterizations of literary movements. Geared toward students, teachers, readers, and writers alike, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory explains critical jargon (intertextuality, aporia), schools of literary theory (structuralism, feminist criticism), literary forms (sonnet, ottava rima), and genres (elegy, pastoral) and examines artifacts, historic locales, archetypes, origins of well-known phrases, and much, much more. Scholarly, straightforward, comprehensive, and even entertaining, this is a resource that no word lover should be without.

    Fiction and the Reading Public (1932) - Q. D. Leavis

    Move to new criticism [Jan 2006]

    Fiction and the Reading Public (1932) - Q. D. Leavis [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Q. D. ('Queenie') Leavis (1906-1981), nee Roth, was an English literary critic and essayist.

    She wrote about the historical sociology of reading and the development of the English, the European, and the American novel. In her penetrating and lucid criticism she paid particular attention to the writings of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Herman Melville, the Brontes, Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens.

    Much of her work was published collaboratively with her husband, F. R. Leavis. She contributed to and supported as an editor Scrutiny (1932-1951), an influential journal that promoted a morally serious approach to literary criticism.

    Her collected essays which include some previously unpublished writings are available in three volumes. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q._D._Leavis [Jan 2006]

    See also: 1932 - literature - audience - literary theory

    The Meaning of Meaning (1923) - C. K. Ogden, I. A. Richards

    Move to new criticism [Jan 2006]

    The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism (1923) - C. K. Ogden, I. A. Richards [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Ivor Armstrong Richards (February 26, 1893-1979) was an influential literary critic and rhetorician. His books, especially The Meaning of Meaning, Principles of Literary Criticism, Practical Criticism, and The Philosophy of Rhetoric, were among the founding documents of the New Criticism, and most of the eminent New Critics were Richards's students. Since the New Criticism, at least in English-speaking countries, is often thought of as the beginning of modern literary criticism, Richards is one of the founders of the contemporary study of literature in English. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I._A._Richards [Jan 2006]

    See also: meaning - symbol - 1923 - literary theory

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