Literary Theory

Definition, Approaches, History, Examples

Literary criticism as a systematic study
“It is clear that criticism cannot be a systematic study unless there is a quality in literature which enables it to be so. We have to adopt the hypothesis, then, that just as there is an order of nature behind the natural sciences, so literature is not a piled aggregate of 'works' but an order of 'words'.” Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1957)

Vassilis Lambropoulos, David Neal Miller , eds. Twentieth-Century Literary Theory: An Introductory Anthology David Lodge, 20th century literary criticism: a reader (1972) ml?id=WSMaAQAAIAAJ

com/books?id=QNmFm4M_RXkC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs _ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. http://books. Peter Widdowson. Peter Brooker. Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983) Raman Selden. A reader's guide to contemporary literary theory ( . 5th edition 2005)

From theories to Theory English Literature as a discipline was designed and consolidated during the second half of the 19th century (it was a consequence of the coming of the national dimension into prominence) Canon construction. biographical. canon as a national narrative Historical. moral and rhetorical considerations were blended As an academic discipline it started to develop in a way to meet scientific criteria .

emphasizing that a work of literature functions as a self-contained. .From theories to Theory New Criticism New Criticism was a movement in literary theory that dominated American and had an impact on English literary criticism in the middle decades of the 20th century. Its chief critical strategy was close reading. particularly when discussing poetry. self referential aesthetic object.

The movement is named after John Crowe Ransom's 1941 book The New Criticism. New Critics focused on the text of a work of literature and tried to exclude the author's biography and intention. and moralistic bias from their analysis. .From theories to Theory New Criticism New Criticism developed in the 1920s-30s and peaked in the 1940s-50s. historical and cultural contexts. Reader's response was not taken into account either.

The main aim of New Criticism was to make literary criticism scientific. .From theories to Theory New Criticism New Critics often performed a "close reading" of the text and believed the structure and meaning of the text were intimately connected and should not be analyzed separately.

. the words on the page were all that mattered. and potentially distracting. importation of meanings from outside the text was considered irrelevant. or "intended meaning" in the analysis of a literary work. William K. For Wimsatt and Beardsley. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley published a classic and controversial New Critical essay entitled "The Intentional Fallacy". in which they argued strongly against the relevance of an author's intention.From theories to Theory New Criticism In 1954.

From theories to Theory New Criticism In another essay. "The Affective Fallacy”. . This fallacy would later be repudiated by theorists from the reader-response school of literary theory. which served as a kind of sister essay to "The Intentional Fallacy„ Wimsatt and Beardsley also discounted the reader's personal/emotional reaction to a literary work as a valid means of analyzing a text.

From theories to Theory New Criticism The popularity of the New Criticism persisted through the Cold War years in both American high schools and colleges. and 70s. Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren published Understanding Poetry and Understanding Fiction which both became standard pedagogical textbooks in American high schools and colleges during the 1950s. To this end. in part. because it offered a relatively straightforward (and politically uncontroversial) approach to teaching students how to read and understand poetry and fiction. 60s. .

characterization. political concerns such as those of race. and plot were used to identify the theme of the text. . setting. the New Critics also looked for paradox. class. ambiguity. and tension to help establish the single best and most unified interpretation of the text. Formal elements such as rhyme. irony. meter. In addition to the theme. Such an approach has been criticized as constituting a conservative attempt to isolate the text and to shield it from external. exacting scrutiny of the passage itself.From theories to Theory New Criticism Studying a passage of prose or poetry in New Critical style required careful. and gender.

. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.Robert Frost (1874-1963) Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening Whose woods these are I think I know. He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. His house is in the village though.

And miles to go before I sleep.Frost cont. . The woods are lovely. And miles to go before I sleep. The only other sound's the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. But I have promises to keep. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. dark and deep.

. accusing the New Critics of divorcing literature from its place in history.From theories to Theory New Criticism One of the most common grievances against the New Criticism. detractors react against a perceived anti historicism. is an objection to the idea of the text as autonomous.

rather than products of the unconscious process of signification.the reader and the text . . rightly claiming that the fundamental close reading technique is based on the assumption that the subject and the object of study .are stable and independent forms.From theories to Theory New Criticism Another objection comes from the reader-response school of theory.

From theories to Theory I. proved to be founding influences for the New Criticism. The concept of 'practical criticism' led in time to the practices of close reading. what is often thought of as the beginning of modern literary criticism. His books. Richards (1893–1979) was an English literary critic. A. Richards I. especially Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) and Practical Criticism (1929). A. . Richards is regularly considered one of the founders of the contemporary study of literature in English.

From theories to Theory I. A. Richards
In Practical Criticism he advocated an empirical study of literary response. He removed authorial and contextual information from thirteen poems, including one by Longfellow and four by decidedly marginal poets. Then he assigned their interpretation to undergraduates at Cambridge University in order to ascertain the most likely impediments to an adequate response. This approach had a startling impact at the time in demonstrating the depth and variety of misreadings to be expected of otherwise intelligent college students as well as the population at large.

From theories to Theory I. A. Richards
The question arises, however, whether such interpretations are misreadings or relevant varieties of reading.

From theories to Theory
René Wellek and Austin Warren’s Theory of Literature was much ahead of its time when it was first published in 1949. By the 1970s and 80s the term “study of literature” was getting to be substituted by the term “theory” and soon taken over by “Theory” with capital T.

Cultural Criticism. etc. Queer Theory. Ecocriticism. Gender Studies. Structuralism. New Historicism. Archetypal Approach. New Criticism. Myth Criticism.From theories to Theory Theory has a history and is categorized into schools. Psychological Approach. such as – roughly in the order of their appearance – Liberal Humanism. Postmodernism. Marxist. . Formalism. Hermeneutic Approach. Postcolonialism. Phenomenological Criticism. Reader-Response Criticism. Deconstruction. Feminism. Post-structuralism.

structuralism appeared in academia in the second half of the 20th century and grew to become one of the most popular approaches in academic fields concerned with the analysis of language. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics.Structuralism Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. and society. . culture.

Marxist literary criticism Marxist literary criticism is a loose term describing literary criticism based on socialist and dialectic theories. even literature itself is a social institution and has a specific ideological function. According to Marxists. . based on the background and ideology of the author. Marxist criticism views literary works as reflections of the social institutions from which they originate.

determining whether its social content or its literary form are 'progressive'. .Marxist literary criticism The simplest goals of Marxist literary criticism can include an assessment of the political 'tendency' of a literary work. It also includes analyzing the class constructs demonstrated in literature.

Were all of them locked up in coffins of black. That thousands of sweepers. and Jack. That curled like a lamb's back. Dick." And so he was quiet. and in soot I sleep. . and that very night. for when your head's bare. was shaved: so I said. who cried when his head. "Hush. There's little Tom Dacre. he had such a sight. Ned. And my father sold me while yet my tongue Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! So your chimneys I sweep. As Tom was a-sleeping.William Blake (1757-1827) The Chimney Sweeper When my mother died I was very young. You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair. Joe. Tom! never mind it.

Then naked and white. They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind. Tom was happy and warm. all their bags left behind. So if all do their duty they need not fear harm. . And got with our bags and our brushes to work. And the angel told Tom. He'd have God for his father. And so Tom awoke. if he'd be a good boy. they run. And wash in a river. and never want joy. And by came an angel who had a bright key.Blake cont. and we rose in the dark. And he opened the coffins and set them all free. laughing. Though the morning was cold. Then down a green plain leaping. and shine in the sun.

and architecture. the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. and the literary critic Roland Barthes. sociology. the philosopher and social commentator Jacques Derrida. the philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. including anthropology.Structuralism The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied in a diverse range of fields. . The most prominent thinkers associated with structuralism include the linguist Roman Jakobson. literary criticism. the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. psychology.

structuralism was criticized for its rigidity and ahistoricism.Structuralism Proponents of structuralism would argue that a specific domain of culture may be understood by means of a structure .modelled on language . In the 1970s.that is distinct both from the organizations of reality and those of ideas or the imagination. .

which documents the new discipline of the history of ideas. primarily through the work of the critic Stephen Greenblatt.New Historicism New Historicism is a school of literary theory. grounded in critical theory. . that developed in the 1980s. New Historicists aim simultaneously to understand the work through its historical context and to understand cultural and intellectual history through literature.

. Deconstruction suggests analysis with high precision.Deconstruction Deconstruction is a term introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1967 book Of Grammatology. Deconstruction refers to a process of exploring the categories and concepts that history and tradition have imposed on a word or a work.

all of the references used to interpret a text are themselves texts.Deconstruction In describing deconstruction." That is to say. . then. even the "text" of reality as a reader knows it. There is no truly objective. Derrida famously observed that "there is nothing outside the text. Deconstruction. non-textual reference from which interpretation can begin. can be described as an effort to understand a text through its relationships to various contexts.

that is distinct both from the organizations of reality and the organization of ideas and imagination.Post-structuralism The post-structuralist movement may be broadly understood as a body of distinct responses to Structuralism.modeled after structural linguistics . Structuralism argued that human culture may be understood by means of a structure . .

Post-structuralism The post-structuralist approach includes the rejection of the self-sufficiency of the structures that structuralism posits and an interrogation of the binary oppositions that constitute those structures. .

Reader-response criticism Reader-response criticism is a school of literary theory that focuses on the reader (or "audience") and his or her experience of a literary work. Although literary theory has long paid some attention to the reader's role in creating the meaning and experience of a literary work. particularly in America and Germany. and others. modern reader-response criticism began in the 1960s and '70s. in contrast to other schools and theories that focus attention primarily on the author or the content and form of the work. Hans-Robert Jauss. . in works by Stanley Fish. Wolfgang Iser. Roland Barthes.

Reader-response theory recognizes the reader as an active agent who constitutes meaning to the work and completes its meaning through interpretation. possibly unique.Reader-response criticism An important predecessor was I. text-related performance. . Richards. A. Reader-response criticism argues that literature should be viewed as a performing art in which each reader creates his or her own. who in 1929 analyzed a group of Cambridge undergraduates‘ misreadings.

.Reader-response criticism vs New Criticism Reader-response criticism stands in total opposition to the theories of formalism and the New Criticism. No appeal to the authority or intention of the author. New Criticism had emphasized that only that which is within a text is part of the meaning of a text. nor to the psychology of the reader. in which the reader's role in re-creating literary works is ignored. was allowed in the discussions of orthodox New Critics.

and has developed into a heterogeneous interpretive tradition. . is influenced by the tradition of psychoanalysis begun by Sigmund Freud.Psychoanalytic criticism Psychoanalytic literary criticism refers to literary criticism or literary theory which. Psychoanalytic reading has been practised since the early development of psychoanalysis itself. or form. concept. in method.

. including "green (cultural) studies".Ecocriticism Ecocriticism is the study of literature and environment from an interdisciplinary point of view where all sciences come together to analyze the environment and brainstorm possible solutions for the correction of the contemporary environmental situation. "ecopoetics". Ecocriticism is an intentionally broad approach that is known by a number of other designations. and "environmental literary criticism".

Owens: The Handbook to Literary Research. 2010 Theory exerts an institutional pressure. 2nd ed.From theories to Theory Delia Da Sousa Correa and W. Students of literature are supposed to understand that their various projects must demonstrate an awareness of Theory. . Theory is a dominant academic discourse. London: Routledge. a body of knowledge that should be acquired and applied. R.

but is an institutional extrapolation from an ongoing process of debating and thinking about literature and criticism. .From theories to Theory Theory is not a given field of knowledge with many ‘schools’ which has to be sampled and picked from and applied.

Theories If so. can any work be analyzed by any method and critical perspective ↕ ↕ ↕ Certain works are more suitable for an analysis according to a particular method or critical perspective .

1999 . Guerin. John R.Critical approaches Wilfred L. Lee Morgan. 4th ed. Jeanne C. New York. Reesman. Oxford: Oxford University Oress. Earle Labor. Willingham: A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature.

M. H. Abrams. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953) Introduction: Orientation of Critical Theories .

The literary work examined in relation to the world the audience the author in itself or examined .

The literary work in relation to: UNIVERSE WORK OF ART AUTHOR AUDIENCE .

realism (or the effect of the real) Work of art – artist: How the artist creates.g.. what it is the artist expresses .The literary work in relation to: Work of art – universe: How art reflects / mirrors / represents the world e.

The literary work in relation to: Work of art – audience What effect the work of art has / should have Work of art – in itself: What it is like (formal. structural analyses) .

vs an external relation of copy and original You are aware of the resemblance of tragic action to human behaviour and you are aware of the conventions of tragic drama as different from other forms .Mimetic theories Mimesis and imitation rather: representation Aristotle’s Poetics: dramatic plot as imitation of an action Coleridge: imitation of nature in being an organic unity Realistic imitation: recognizable (it is like what the reader knows) Aristotle: imitation: an internal relation of form to content.

delivery .Pragmatic theories 1970s: reader-response criticism. arrangement. the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing.“ (Samuel Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare) Follows classical theory of rhetoric (= art of persuasion) 5 part process: invention. style. Literary Pragmatics: reader’s contribution to text reading actualizes potential meaning 18th century: art has to be useful "The end of writing is to instruct. memory.

archetypes.G. archetypal images . Jung. “The Interpretation of Dreams” (1900) → psychoanalytical criticism Art as an expression of the collective unconscious C.Expressive theories Art as an expression of feelings: “For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” William Wordsworth in “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” (1800) Art as an expression of the personal subconscious Sigmund Freud.

as a closed system: internal structure. art for art’s sake (l’art pour l’art) No one theory can explain all works (The essay is an introduction to his book on the Romantics: The Mirror and the Lamp.Objective theories The work of art studied in itself. 1953 . internal consistency .its "intrinsic" rather than "extrinsic" qualities. form.

Abrams. “Orientation of critical theories” mimetic theories objective theories expressive theories pragmatic theories .H.M.

edn. so far as the available evidence permits. The Editorial Problem in Shakespeare (rev.establishing the text “The aim of a critical edition should be to present the text. W. made by the author himself. Greg. in the form in which we may suppose that it would have stood in a fair copy.textual criticism The editorial art . of the work as he finally intended it. Oxford 1954) .” W.

” “The Intentional Fallacy” by W.K. Literary Criticism) .authorial intention A design or plan in the author's mind: “We argued that the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art. Beardsley (1946) In: The Verbal Icon: studies in the meaning of poetry (also In: Lodge's 2Oth c. Wimsatt and Monroe C. and it seems to us that this is a principle which goes deep into some differences in the history of critical attitude.

] It begins by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the psychological effects of the poem an ends in impressionism and relativism.. Literary Criticism) ..] Plato's feeding and watering of the passions was an early example of affective theory. “The Affective Fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its results (what it is and what it does) [.K. Wimsatt and Monroe C..impressionistic criticism Recreate the poem while writing about the poem. and Aristotle's countertheory of catharsis was another” “The Affective Fallacy” by W. Beardsley (1949) In: The Verbal Icon: studies in the meaning of poetry (also In: Lodge's 20th c.. [.

” Anthony Trollope. ch. if fairly well carried out. and. in the second place. xiv . to tell the public whether a book be or be not be worth public attention. It attempts. in the first place. Its object is no longer that of proving that certain literary work is good and other literary work is bad.value judgements “Literary criticism has in the present day become a profession. so to describe the purport of the work as to enable those who have not time or inclination for reading to feel that by a short cut they have become acquainted with its contents. English criticism at present rarely even pretends to go so far as this. Both these pojects. . in accordance with rules which the critic is able to define.but it has ceased to be an art. are salutary. Autobiography (1883).

untranslateable.. In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art. Against Interpretation (1967) .” Susan Sontag. sensuous immediacy of some of its images.interpretation “Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. and its vigorous if narrow solution to certain problems of cinematic form.. What matters in Marienbad in the pure. The temptation to interpret Marienbad should be resisted...

and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” [1967].deconstructing interpretations We need to interpret interpretations more than to interpret things. trans. Writing and Difference. . Alan Bass (London: Routledge Classics. “Structure. 2001) page 351-370:351. Sign. (Montaigne) Quoted in Jacques Derrida.

An example: gender studies • Mimetic approach: the way the work represents gender issues in society • Pragmatic approach: the way the work can help raising awareness and show alternative models of relating to gender issues • Expressive approach: the way the author expresses the experience of being a woman. a human being of a specific gender • Objective approach: e. a man.écriture féminine .g..

political vs academic context and terminology.focus on women vs focus on gendered experience of being human • feminist literary criticism • gender studies in literature .(an aside about basic terms) • female ≠ feminine ≠ feminist biological vs socio-cultural vs political context and terminology • feminism ≠ gender studies . .

1990 Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex.Gender as performance Judith Butler Gender Trouble. 1993 .

When Muriel Purdy. opening the small green envelopes with your thumb. bringing sharp hands and the order you had to obey. to be kept in and told once again. Fluff was a cat.Carol Ann Duffy (1955) Sit at Peace When they gave you them to shell and you sat on the back-doorstep. embryonic cop. Sit – . thwacked the back of your knees with a bamboo-cane. you were sitting at peace. mouth open. sit at peace. They sat at peace on a coloured-in mat. all summer. so why couldn’t you? Sometimes your questions were stray snipes over no-man’s land. a greeting wean. Nip was a dog. Sit at peace. you ran to your house. minding the queues of peas. soundless in a cave of pain.

At – Peace! Jigsaws you couldn’t do or dull stamps didn’t want to collect arrived with the frost. A long silent afternoon. But the day you fell from the Parachute Tree. sit at peace. clouding the strange blue view with your restless breath. A voice saying peace. carried you in to a quiet room you were glad of. . sit at peace. cont. You would rather stand with your nose to the window. dreamlike. they came from nowhere running.Duffy.

I take on the roles of formalist semiotician. therefore. At various times.Another example: adaptation theory “My method has been to identify a text-based issue that extends across a variety of media. poststructuralist deconstructor. and then tease out the theoretical implications from multiple textual examples. find ways to study it comparatively. . or feminist and postcolonial demythifier.

however. . “Preface” to A Theory of Adaptation . T & F Books US.Linda Hutcheon but at no time do I (at least consciously) try to impose any of these theories on my examination of the texts or the general issues surrounding adaptation. do inevitably inform my theoretical frame of reference” Hutcheon. All these perspectives and others. Linda (2009-04-04). Kindle Edition.

not necessarily in any specific media or even genre.… My working assumption is that common denominators across media and genres can be as revealing as significant differences. .Linda Hutcheon … It is the very act of adaptation itself that interests me.

A Theory of Adaptation begins its study of adaptations as adaptations." . Instead. they are examined as deliberate.Linda Hutcheon …. that is. this suggests to me the need for a theoretical perspective that is at once formal and "experiential. and extended revisitations of prior works. Because we use the word adaptation to refer to both a product and a process of creation and reception. not only as autonomous works. announced.

a history of adaptation.Linda Hutcheon …This book is not. though it is written with an awareness of the fact that adaptations can and do have different functions in different cultures at different times. A Theory of Adaptation is quite simply what its title says it is: one single attempt to think through some of the theoretical issues surrounding the ubiquitous phenomenon of adaptation as adaptation.” . however.

Linda Hutcheon A Theory of Adaptation Routledge. 2006 .

This is the emotive use of language. “The two uses of language” (ch.A. This is the scientific use of language. which it causes.” I. 34 from The Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) also in Lodge's 20th Century Literary Criticism . But it may also be used for the sake of the effects in emotion and attitude produced by the reference it occasions. true or false.The language of literary criticism “A statement may be used for the sake of the reference. Richards.