Literary Theory - School of English and American Studies

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Transcript Literary Theory - School of English and American Studies

Literary Theory
Literary Theory. Gender, Culture and
Adaptation Studies
The literary work examined
in relation to
or examined
the world
the audience
the author
in itself
M. H. Abrams,
The Mirror and the Lamp:
Romantic Theory and the
Critical Tradition
Introduction: Orientation
of Critical Theories
The literary work in relation to:
The literary work in relation to:
Work of art – universe:
How art reflects / mirrors / represents the world
e.g., realism (or the effect of the real)
Work of art – artist:
How the artist creates, what it is the artist
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)
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,
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
Pragmatic theories
1970s: reader-response criticism, 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; 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, arrangement, style, memory, delivery
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, “The Interpretation of Dreams”
(1900) → psychoanalytical criticism
Art as an expression of the collective unconscious
C.G. Jung, archetypes, archetypal images
Objective theories
The work of art studied in itself, as a closed
system: internal structure, form, internal
consistency - its "intrinsic" rather than
"extrinsic" qualities.
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, 1953
M.H. Abrams, “Orientation of critical
mimetic theories
objective theories
expressive theories
pragmatic theories
textual criticism
The editorial art - establishing the text
“The aim of a critical edition should be to present
the text, so far as the available evidence permits,
in the form in which we may suppose that it
would have stood in a fair copy, made by the
author himself, of the work as he finally intended
W. W. Greg, The Editorial Problem in Shakespeare
(rev. edn. Oxford 1954)
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, and it seems to us that this is a
principle which goes deep into some differences
in the history of critical attitude.”
“The Intentional Fallacy” by W.K. Wimsatt and
Monroe C. Beardsley (1946) In: The Verbal Icon:
studies in the meaning of poetry
(also In: Lodge's 2Oth c. Literary Criticism)
impressionistic criticism
Recreate the poem while writing about the poem.
“The Affective Fallacy is a confusion between the poem
and its results (what it is and what it does) [...] It begins
by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the
psychological effects of the poem an ends in
impressionism and relativism. [...] Plato's feeding and
watering of the passions was an early example of
affective theory, and Aristotle's countertheory of
catharsis was another”
“The Affective Fallacy” by W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe
C. Beardsley (1949) In: The Verbal Icon: studies in the
meaning of poetry (also In: Lodge's 20th c. Literary
value judgements
“Literary criticism has in the present day become a
profession, - but it has ceased to be an art. Its object is
no longer that of proving that certain literary work is
good and other literary work is bad, in accordance with
rules which the critic is able to define. English criticism
at present rarely even pretends to go so far as this. It
attempts, in the first place, to tell the public whether a
book be or be not be worth public attention; and, in
the second place, 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. Both these
pojects, if fairly well carried out, are salutary.”
Anthony Trollope, Autobiography (1883), ch. xiv
“Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect
upon art... The temptation to interpret
Marienbad should be resisted. What matters
in Marienbad in the pure, untranslateable,
sensuous immediacy of some of its images,
and its vigorous if narrow solution to certain
problems of cinematic form... In place of a
hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.”
Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation (1967)
deconstructing interpretations
We need to interpret interpretations more than
to interpret things.
Quoted in Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and
Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”
[1967], Writing and Difference, trans. Alan
Bass (London: Routledge Classics, 2001) page
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
man, a human being of a specific gender
• Objective approach: e.g.,écriture féminine
(an aside about basic terms)
female ≠ feminine ≠ feminist
biological vs socio-cultural vs political
context and terminology
• feminism ≠ gender studies
- political vs academic context and terminology,
- focus on women vs focus on gendered experience
of being human
• feminist literary criticism
• gender studies in literature
Gender as performance
Judith Butler
Bodies That Matter: On the
Discursive Limits of Sex, 1993
Another example:
adaptation theory
“My method has been to identify a text-based issue
that extends across a variety of media, find ways to
study it comparatively, and then tease out the
theoretical implications from multiple textual
examples. At various times, therefore, I take on the
roles of formalist semiotician, poststructuralist
deconstructor, or feminist and postcolonial
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. All these perspectives and others,
however, do inevitably inform my theoretical frame
of reference”
Hutcheon, Linda (2009-04-04). “Preface” to A
Theory of Adaptation . T & F Books US. Kindle
Linda Hutcheon
… It is the very act of adaptation itself that
interests me, 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
….A Theory of Adaptation begins its study of
adaptations as adaptations; that is, not only as
autonomous works. Instead, they are
examined as deliberate, announced, 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, this suggests to me the need for a
theoretical perspective that is at once formal
and "experiential."
Linda Hutcheon
…This book is not, however, a history of
adaptation, 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
Linda Hutcheon
A Theory of Adaptation
Routledge, 2006
The language of literary criticism
“A statement may be used for the sake of the
reference, true or false, which it causes. This is
the scientific use of language. But it may also
be used for the sake of the effects in emotion
and attitude produced by the reference it
occasions. This is the emotive use of
language.” I.A. Richards, “The two uses of
language” (ch. 34 from The Principles of
Literary Criticism (1924) also in Lodge's 20th
Century Literary Criticism
• (10 X 1 POINT):
• (2 X 3 POINTS):
• A) TECHNICAL FOCUS. Please list 3 possible ways
you could write a meaningful analysis of the
following text. Mention the technical focus for
each of your possible analyses and write a title
for each. Make sure you choose appropriate
approaches that would help toward an
interpretation, since the next task will be to
actually write one of the 3 analyses you
suggest here. (3 X 2 POINT):
• Argumentation (make points, prove them
with quotes from text) 2 points
• Use of critical terminology (apply terms learnt
for the exam) 3 points
• Use of course material (apply concepts
discussed in lectures) 3 points
• Essay format (one page, paragraphs,
beginning, middle, ending) 2 points
What follows has not been discussed in the
lecture but may provide useful - feel free to
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)
Terry Eagleton,
Literary Theory: An Introduction
Raman Selden, Peter
Widdowson, Peter Brooker,
A reader's guide to
contemporary literary theory
(1985; 5th edition 2005)
From theories to Theory
English Literature as a discipline:
designed and consolidated 2nd half of 19th c
(a consequence of the coming of the national
dimension into prominence)
Canon construction, canon as a national
Historical, biographical, moral and rhetorical
considerations were blended
As an academic discipline it started to develop
in a way to meet scientific criteria
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
Its chief critical strategy was close reading, particularly
when discussing poetry, emphasizing that a work of
literature functions as a self-contained, self referential
aesthetic object.
From theories to Theory
New Criticism
New Criticism developed in the 1920s-30s and peaked
in the 1940s-50s. 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, historical and cultural contexts, and
moralistic bias from their analysis.
Reader's response was not taken into account either.
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
The main aim of New Criticism was to make literary
criticism scientific.
From theories to Theory
New Criticism
One of the most common grievances against the New
Criticism, is an objection to the idea of the text as
autonomous; detractors react against a perceived anti
historicism, accusing the New Critics of divorcing
literature from its place in history.
From theories to Theory
New Criticism
Another objection comes from the reader-response
school of theory, rightly claiming that the fundamental
close reading technique is based on the assumption
that the subject and the object of study - the reader
and the text - are stable and independent forms, rather
than products of the unconscious process of
From theories to Theory
I. A. Richards
I. A. Richards (1893–1979) , English literary critic.
His books, especially Principles of Literary Criticism
(1924) and Practical Criticism (1929), 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. 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
From theories to Theory
René Wellek and Austin Warren’s Theory of Literature
was much ahead of its time when it first published in
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.
From theories to Theory
Theory has a history and is categorized into schools,
such as – roughly in the order of their appearance –
Liberal Humanism, New Criticism, Formalism,
Structuralism, Marxist, Psychological Approach,
Archetypal Approach, Myth Criticism, Cultural
Criticism, Post-structuralism, Deconstruction, New
Historicism, Reader’s Response Criticism,
Hermeneutic Approach, Phenomenological Criticism,
Postmodernism, Postcolonialism, Feminism, Gender
Studies, Queer Theory, Ecocriticism, etc.
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of
Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague
and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural
linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes
of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in
linguistics, 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, culture, and
Marxist literary criticism
Marxist literary criticism is a loose term describing
literary criticism based on socialist and dialectic
theories. Marxist criticism views literary works as
reflections of the social institutions from which they
originate. According to Marxists, even literature itself is
a social institution and has a specific ideological
function, based on the background and ideology of the
Marxist literary criticism
The simplest goals of Marxist literary criticism can
include an assessment of the political 'tendency' of a
literary work, determining whether its social content or
its literary form are 'progressive'. It also includes
analyzing the class constructs demonstrated in the
The structuralist mode of reasoning has been applied
in a diverse range of fields, including anthropology,
sociology, psychology, literary criticism, and
The most prominent thinkers associated with
structuralism include the linguist Roman Jakobson, the
anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the psychoanalyst
Jacques Lacan, the philosopher and historian Michel
Foucault, the philosopher and social commentator
Jacques Derrida, and the literary critic Roland Barthes.
Proponents of structuralism would argue that a
specific domain of culture may be understood by
means of a structure - modelled on language - that is
distinct both from the organizations of reality and
those of ideas or the imagination. In the 1970s,
structuralism was criticized for its rigidity and
New Historicism
New Historicism is a school of literary theory,
grounded in critical theory, that developed in the
1980s, primarily through the work of the critic Stephen
New Historicists aim simultaneously to understand the
work through its historical context and to understand
cultural and intellectual history through literature,
which documents the new discipline of the history of
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 has
imposed on a word or a work. Deconstruction suggests
analysis with high precision.
In describing deconstruction, Derrida famously
observed that "there is nothing outside the text." That
is to say, all of the references used to interpret a text
are themselves texts, even the "text" of reality as a
reader knows it. There is no truly objective, non-textual
reference from which interpretation can begin.
Deconstruction, then, can be described as an effort to
understand a text through its relationships to various
The post-structuralist movement may be broadly
understood as a body of distinct responses to
Structuralism. Structuralism argued that human culture
may be understood by means of a structure - modeled
after structural linguistics - that is distinct both from
the organizations of reality and the organization of
ideas and imagination.
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, in contrast to other
schools and theories that focus attention primarily on
the author or the content and form of the work.
Although literary theory has long paid some attention
to the reader's role in creating the meaning and
experience of a literary work, modern reader-response
criticism began in the 1960s and '70s, particularly in
America and Germany, in works by, Stanley Fish,
Wolfgang Iser, Hans-Robert Jauss, Roland Barthes,
and others.
Reader-response criticism
An important predecessor was I. A. Richards, who in
1929 analyzed a group of Cambridge undergraduates‘
Reader-response theory recognizes the reader as an
active agent who constitutes meaning to the work
and completes its meaning through interpretation.
Reader-response criticism argues that literature should
be viewed as a performing art in which each reader
creates his or her own, possibly unique, text-related
Reader-response criticism
vs. New Criticism
It stands in total opposition to the theories of
formalism and the New Criticism, in which the reader's
role in re-creating literary works is ignored. New
Criticism had emphasized that only that which is within
a text is part of the meaning of a text. No appeal to the
authority or intention of the author, nor to the
psychology of the reader, was allowed in the
discussions of orthodox New Critics.
Psychoanalytic criticism
Psychoanalytic literary criticism refers to literary
criticism or literary theory which, in method, concept,
or form, is influenced by the tradition of
psychoanalysis begun by Sigmund Freud.
Psychoanalytic reading has been practiced since the
early development of psychoanalysis itself, and has
developed into a heterogeneous interpretive tradition.
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.
Ecocriticism is an intentionally broad approach that is
known by a number of other designations, including
"green (cultural) studies", "ecopoetics", and
"environmental literary criticism".
From theories to Theory
Delia Da Sousa Correa and W. R. Owens: The
Handbook to Literary Research. 2nd ed. London:
Routledge, 2010
Theory exerts an institutional pressure. Students of
literature are supposed to understand that their various
projects must demonstrate an awareness of Theory.
Theory is a dominant academic discourse, a body of
knowledge that should be acquired and applied.
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, but is an institutional extrapolation from
an ongoing process of debating and thinking about
literature and criticism.
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
Robert Frost
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
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.
Frost cont.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
New Criticism
William Blake
The Chimney Sweeper
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.
There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved: so I said,
"Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair."
And so he was quiet; and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.
Blake cont.
And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.
Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father, and never want joy.
And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.
New Historicism
Carol Ann Duffy
Sit at Peace
When they gave you them to shell and you sat
on the back-doorstep, opening the small green envelopes
with your thumb, minding the queues of peas, you were
sitting at peace. Sit at peace, sit at peace, all summer.
When Muriel Purdy, embryonic cop, thwacked the back
of your knees with a bamboo-cane, mouth open, soundless
in a cave of pain, you ran to your house,
a greeting wean, to be kept in and told once again.
Nip was a dog. Fluff was a cat. They sat at peace
on a coloured-in mat, so why couldn’t you? Sometimes
your questions were stray snipes over no-man’s land,
bringing sharp hands and the order you had to obey. Sit –
Duffy, cont.
At – Peace! Jigsaws you couldn’t do or dull stamps
didn’t want to collect arrived with the frost.
You would rather stand with your nose to the window, clouding
the strange blue view with your restless breath.
But the day you fell from the Parachute Tree, they came
from nowhere running, carried you in to a quiet room
you were glad of. A long silent afternoon, dreamlike.
A voice saying peace, sit at peace, sit at peace.
John Donne
A Valediction: Of Weeping
Let me pour forth
My tears before thy face, whilst I stay here,
For thy face coins them, and thy stamp they bear,
And by this mintage they are something worth.
For thus they be
Pregnant of thee ;
Fruits of much grief they are, emblems of more ;
When a tear falls, that thou fall'st which it bore ;
So thou and I are nothing then, when on a divers shore.
Donne, cont.
On a round ball
A workman, that hath copies by, can lay
An Europe, Afric, and an Asia,
And quickly make that, which was nothing, all.
So doth each tear.
Which thee doth wear,
A globe, yea world, by that impression grow,
Till thy tears mix'd with mine do overflow
This world, by waters sent from thee, my heaven dissolvèd so.
Donne, cont.
O ! more than moon,
Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere;
Weep me not dead, in thine arms, but forbear
To teach the sea, what it may do too soon;
Let not the wind
Example find
To do me more harm than it purposeth :
Since thou and I sigh one another's breath,
Whoe'er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other's death.
Charles Tennyson Turner
Letty’s Globe
When Letty had scarce pass'd her third glad year,
And her young artless words began to flow,
One day we gave the child a colour'd sphere
Of the wide earth, that she might mark and know,
By tint and outline, all its sea and land.
She patted all the world; old empires peep'd
Between her baby fingers; her soft hand
Was welcome at all frontiers. How she leap'd,
And laugh'd and prattled in her world-wide bliss;
But when we turn'd her sweet unlearned eye
On our own isle, she raised a joyous cry-'Oh! yes, I see it, Letty's home is there!'
And while she hid all England with a kiss,
Bright over Europe fell her golden hair.
Charles Tennyson Turner
Letty’s Globe
When Letty had scarce pass'd her third glad year,
And her young artless words began to flow,
One day we gave the child a colour'd sphere
Of the wide earth, that she might mark and know,
By tint and outline, all its sea and land.
She patted all the world; old empires peep'd
Between her baby fingers; her soft hand
Was welcome at all frontiers. How she leap'd,
And laugh'd and prattled in her world-wide bliss;
But when we turn'd her sweet unlearned eye
On our own isle, she raised a joyous cry 'Oh! yes, I see it, Letty's home is there!'
And while she hid all England with a kiss,
Bright over Europe fell her golden hair.
Critical approaches
Wilfred L. Guerin, Earle Labor, Lee Morgan, Jeanne C.
Reesman, John R. Willingham:
A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 4th
New York, Oxford: Oxford University Oress, 1999