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Why Study Literature

By laydzamurao Jul 23, 2014 33797 Words
Why Study Literature?

Thursday in one of my Introduction to Literature courses, one of my students said, "Ma'am, I have a question. No disrespect, but...."

We all know the feeling that comes with any question or remark that begins that way. I thought, "Oh boy. Here it comes."

"...Why do we need to learn this? Is my commander going to send me a poem and ask me to explicate it?"

This question always flummoxes me--not because I have no answer, but because the answers are so obvious to me yet so myriad that I don't know where to begin to answer. I considered actually assigning him some research on the subject for his first journal, or perhaps incorporating this in my classes next semester as a beginning essay: why is the close study of literature so important and enduring? (Indeed, I may still do this.) Then it occurred to me that if there are so many answers and they are so obvious to me, perhaps I should list them myself and use them as a Why Study Literature? Reason Of The Day. While I love all the [fill in the blank] Of The Day ideas I've heard of and seen in action (word of the day, poem of the day, quote of the day), I can think of none that my classes need more than ongoing reasons to study literature.

Here's my initial list. You'll find some overlap here and there, but each outcome, I think, is unique. I'd like your thoughts on the list, additions to it, and expansions on ideas already listed, please.

1. To benefit from the insight of others. The body of world literature contains most available knowledge about humanity--our beliefs, our self-perception, our philosophies, our assumptions and our interactions with the world at large. Some of life's most important lessons are subtly expressed in our art. We learn these lessons only if we pause to think about what we read. Why would anyone bury important ideas? Because some ideas cannot be expressed adequately in simple language, and because the lessons we have to work for are the ones that stick with us.

2. To open our minds to ambiguities of meaning. While people will "say what they mean and mean what they say" in an ideal world, language in our world is, in reality, maddeningly and delightfully ambiguous. If you go through life expecting people to play by your rules, you'll only be miserable, angry and disappointed. You won't change them. Ambiguity, double entendres and nuance give our language depth and endless possibility. Learn it. Appreciate it. Revel in it.

3. To explore other cultures and beliefs. History, anthropology and religious studies provide a method of learning about the cultures and beliefs of others from the outside looking in. Literature, on the other hand, allows you to experience the cultures and beliefs of others first-hand, from the inside looking out. The only other way to have such a personal understanding of others' beliefs are to adopt them yourself--which most of us aren't willing to do. If you understand where other people are coming from, you are better equipped to communicate meaningfully with them--and they with you. 

4. To appreciate why individuals are the way they are. Each person we meet represents a unique concoction of knowledge, beliefs, and experiences. In our own culture we find an infinite variety of attitudes and personalities, hatreds and bigotries, and assumptions. With each exposure to those who differ from us, we expand our minds. We may still reject their beliefs and assumptions, but we're one step closer to understanding them.

5. To expand our grasp of the machinations of history. History and literature are inextricably entertwined. History is not just names and dates and politics and wars and power. History is about people who were products of their time with their own intricately-woven value systems. Study of literature enhances our appreciation of history's complexity, which in turn expands our appreciation of present political complexities and better equips us to predict and prepare for the future.

6. To exercise our brains. Our brains need exercise just like our bodies do. Don't balk at picking up the barbell and doing a few mental curls. Great literature has hidden meanings that won't slap us in the face like childrens' books will; we'll have to dig and analyze like an adult to find the gold.

7. To teach us to see individual bias. In a sense, each of us is an unreliable or naive narrator, but most of us mindlessly accept the stories of certain friends or family without qualification. We should remember that they are centers of their own universes, though, just like we are. They are first-person narrators--not omniscient--just like we are. The only thing that suffers when we appreciate individual bias is our own gullibility. 

8. To encourage us to question "accepted" knowledge. As children, most of us were taught to believe what we're told and those basic hypotheses provide our schemas, or building blocks of knowledge. As we grow, we learn to question some ideas while rejecting the offensively alien ideas outright, often without real examination. However, human progress often results from the rejection of assumed "facts." The difficulty lies in spotting our own unexamined assumptions. The more ideas we expose yourself to, the more of our own assumptions we can root out to question and either discard or ground our lives in.

9. To help us see ourselves as others do. Literature is a tool of self-examination. You will see your own personality or habits or assumptions in literature. The experience may even be painful. While our ego defense systems help us avoid self-scrutiny and ignore others' observations or reactions to us, literature serves as a mirror, revealing us to ourselves in all our naked, undefended glory.

10. To appreciate the contributions literature has made to history. The pen is mightier than the sword, yes? When a country undergoes regime change, the new regime imprisons, exiles or executes the intelligentsia--scholars and philosophers--who are seen as the keepers of the culture, creators of ideology, and instigators of revolt. See Russian, Chinese, and German history for examples. In American history, see the copious examples of pro- and anti-slavery literature as well as Thomas Paine's and Thomas Jefferson's contributions to the American Revolution. 

11. To see the tragedy. Lenin said "A million deaths are a statistic, but one death is a tragedy." History gives you the statistics. Literature shows you the human tragedy.

12. To further our mastery of language. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words build and destroy nations. Study of literature hones our language skills and teaches us new and valuable techniques for communication. A master of language can seduce your emotions and inspire you to follow him into death--or he can crush your will with a word. Language is the single most important tool of leadership and great leaders embrace its study.

13. To recognize language devices and appreciate their emotional power. Like good music, poetry uses wordplay, rhythm, and sounds to lull the reader into an emotional fog, and therein deliver its message. Great leaders learn to harness these techniques of communication and persuasion. Listen closely to effective advertisements and politicians and lawyers. Listen to the pleasing rhythm and wordplay of their mantras, and watch the sheep blithely flock to them: "It does not fit--you must aquit!" "Crisp and clean and no caffeine!" Politicians use prolific parallelism: "We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail."

14. To explore ethical complexities. Only children find ethical rules cut and dried. Literature forces readers to challenge their simplistic ethical conceptions and sometimes their outright condemnation of others' actions. For example, we believe lying is wrong. But what do we mean? Do we never lie? Have you ever met a person rude enough to follow this rule implicitly? Be advised, though: ethical exploration is a mature endeavor; it is not for the thin-skinned.

15. To see the admirable in everyday life. We are surrounded by unsung nobility and sacrifice. Once we learn to see it in the actions of common folk, our lives will be forever richer, as will our faith in humanity itself.

16. To learn better ways to behave. An untold amount of our opinions and words and reactions are absorbed during childhood and from our culture. Literature teaches us better courses of action and more effective responses to situations...if we let it.

17. To know we aren't alone. Others have been where we are, have felt as we feel, have believed as we believe. Paradoxically, we are unique just like everyone else. But we aren't alone. Others were here and they survived...and may have even learned from it--and so may we.

18. To refine our judgment. This involves several aspects of reading: exposure to new ideas and new ways of looking at old assumptions, expanded vocabulary and understanding, and improved ability to write. Altogether, these benefits refine our ability to think, and thus guide us toward informed, mature judgment.

19. To learn to support our points of view and trust our own interpretations. We provide evidence for our interpretation of a story or poem when we explicate it. When we build a solid case in support of our opinion, we build self-confidence in our own interpretations of language itself. 

20. To develop empathy for those who are unlike us. Literature can train and exercise our ability to weep for those who are not us or ours. As children, our circles of concern stop with ourselves. As we grow, we expand those circles to our families and friends, and perhaps to our neighborhoods, towns, cities, states or countries. Our study of literature continues to expand that realm of concern beyond the things we physically experience. 

21. To expand our vocabularies. New words are tools for grasping new ideas. Each new idea is a building block upon which we may acquire more knowledge. Knowledge is power. 

22. To improve our writing skills. We didn't perfect our writing skills in grade school or high school. Many people have failed to grasp the basics by 18. We learn to speak by listening and imitating; we learn to write by reading and imitating.

23. To learn to use our language well. In order to do this, we must immerse ourselves in it. Since most college graduates tend to use words a fifth-grader can understand when speaking, simply speaking the language is insufficient for continued improvement. Literature, however, presents at infinite variety of ideas, words and expressions. 

24. To improve our reading comprehension. Most people stop improving their reading comprehension in high school, if not before. Improvement in this area pays obvious dividends throughout our professional careers. We improve by reading and analyzing what we read. 

What is the Importance of Literature

By: Rachel Mork
What is the importance of literature? This might be a complaint you hear from your child as she moans about a reading or writing assignment. If your child doesn't understand literature's value, try instilling appreciation by explaining the following concepts.

Importance of Literature Providing Perspective

When you read a piece of literature, you get to read about a life experience through the eyes of someone other than yourself. You get a new perspective when you see a film about another culture or life situation. When you read literature, you get to walk in the shoes of a character whose life is different than your own. A good book can help you think outside the box, empathize with people who have experienced things you have not experienced and teach you about things you'd never encounter on your own. The best pieces of literature are so well-written that they afford you, the reader, the opportunity to feel the feelings of the characters described, allowing you to test-drive ideas through a fictional world. A book like The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton will help your child understand what it's like to grow up poor in the city; reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry will help your child understand what it was like to be African American when segregation was still a common practice in the South.

Importance of Literature Acting as History Lessons

Many pieces of literature are set in historical contexts, allowing the reader to learn about history in a personalized, concentrated way. The stories told in works of literature illustrate how it would feel to live through famous battles, famines, times of prosperity and times of depression.  For example, reading The Grapes of Wrath will help your child understand what it was like to live through the Great Depression.

Importance of Writing Literature Offering Opportunities for Expression

When your child writes an essay or even a piece of fiction like a short story, he gets the chance to tell his point of view on a topic. Writing literature offers your child the opportunity to explore a time period, a life experience or an opinion while learning how to use the power of language. Ask your child to think of a perspective she thinks you don't understand. Then ask her to write a short story that illustrates that perspective. Perhaps she will write about how unfair it is to have to do chores, to do a lot of homework or to ride the bus.  Respond to your child's piece of literature thoughtfully and respectfully to encourage her discovery of the power of writing.

Importance of Literature As a Form of Art
As your child reads and writes literature, point out the poetic devices employed and available for use. Show your child the difference between stating, "My day was good," and explaining in a detailed paragraph exactly what made his day good. Look for opportunities to showcase the power of the written word, how it can evoke emotion, draw a reader into a scenario or persuade a person to change an opinion on a topic.

Literary Criticism
Overview
For all its shortcomings, literary criticism still provides the poet with the tools for self-evaluation and self-improvement. It introduces work of periods and cultures different in theme and treatment. Literary criticism comes in various shapes and aims. At best it poses searching questions of the writer, and insists that he understands how the arts, the sciences and philosophy have different but coexisting concepts of truth and meaning. Art in the end cannot be divorced from contemporary life, and that consideration leads on to literary theory.

Introduction
Literary critics have many skills, {1} but those which the practising poet needs to acquire are close reading, explication and evaluation. And the first two because most poems fail through lack of care. The originating emotion still clots the lines or, in striving for originality, the work becomes muddled, pretentious or incoherent. The incomprehensible can always be taken for the profound of course, and no doubt much get published for that reason, but only the beginner will see publication as the sole purpose of writing. Poems take too much of the writer's time and emotional lifeblood not to be made as good as possible, and dishonesty will spoil even the best talents. Poems grow through evaluation, that dialogue between what has been written and what was originally hoped for, between what the poems say now and what they might with further work. Self appraisal is inescapable. But the critic's eye is a rare gift, rarer than sainthood, Housman thought, and matters have lately become more controversial. Criticism is not fashionable, and has been replaced by literary theory in many university departments. {2} The criticism that continues to be written naturally concentrates on established figures. The remainder, the reviewing/criticism appraising the great torrent that pours off the small presses, is often partisan, shallow and/or doggedly optimistic. {3} Even the aims of criticism seem somewhat doubtful. {4} No single critical approach seems invariably successful, {5} and insights from differing approaches do not necessarily cohere. Nothing brings finality of judgement, moreover, and one critic's findings can be undone by another's ingenuity. Much more damaging, the premises even of literary theory have been uprooted by radical theory. {6}

Purposes of Theory
What does literary criticism hope to achieve? There are many schools of thought, {7} but all take as their starting point the analysis of the reader's or listener's response. Poems may be complex, requiring a good deal of explanation or even correction of corrupt scripts, but there has to be an immediate impact of some sort: not very strong, and not blatantly emotional necessarily, but something that allows the critic to ask: how is this obtained? how significant is it? how does it compare with similar works? No impact and there is nothing to analyze. The work has failed, at least where that particular reader is concerned, and no amount of critical cleverness, literary allusions and information will bully him into responding to what he cannot feel.

But who is the reader? Each and everyone, as Stanley Fish might claim {8}, or Milton's "select audience though few"? Poets may not make money but they still have markets to consider. Whom are they writing for — the editors of leading magazines, friends, society at large, or themselves? And to say something significant about the world around them, to resolve personal quandaries, to gain a literary reputation with those who count? In an ideal world all aims might be served by the one work, but the world is not ideal, and aims needed to be sorted out. It is the original intention or purpose of writing, that much historical and sociological analysis attempts to understand. In Shakespeare or Chaucer, and much more so in the poetry of ancient Greece or China, there are different conventions to appreciate, and many words cannot be fully translated. {9} The difficulties afflict more than the professional translator or literary scholar, as modern poetry very much uses recherché imagery and far-flung allusion. A simple word like "faith" would be very differently appreciated in the church-going communities of small-town America and the Nietzsche-reading intelligentsia of London's Hampstead. The meaning, the literal meaning of the poem, might be the same but not the insights that gave the poem its real subject matter. With conventions come the expectations of the audience. Sidney wrote for the great country house, Shakespeare for the public stage; Middleton for the City. Their work is different in rhetoric, diction and imagery, and had to be. Social distinctions may be much less marked today, but the intellectual traditions continue. Poets are very choosy about their venues. Writers who live in California will keep a Manhattan address. {10} Poems that work well on the page will not necessarily rise to a public performance. All this is obvious, what professional prose writers think about before accepting a commission, {11} but is commonly overlooked by the beginning poet.

Is Objectivity Possible?
Since poets love their creations, and must do to continue writing, how objective can they be? Again, there is much disagreement. {12} Some poets, stunned by yet another wrong-headed review, come to believe that they alone, or at least a small circle of like-minded poets, have any real critical ability. Only they really know what is good and not so good in their own work. And anyone attending workshops regularly may well agree. But few academic critics will accept that poets make the sounder judgements. {13} Not a demarcation dispute, they say, but simple experience and logic. Artists are notoriously partisan, and look at colleagues' work to learn and borrow. And consider a Beethoven sonata: we can all distinguish between the beginner and the accomplished pianist even though possessing no piano-playing skills of our own. True, but the analogy is not exact. Poems are written in a language we all read and speak. Even to use language correctly calls on enormously complex skills, so that poetry may be but a small addition, a thin specialization. On that scale the differences between good and bad in poetry may be analogous to deciding between two almost equally good pieces of piano-playing. That exceeds the competence of most of us, and we hand over to the usual competition panel of musicians and conductors.

Certainly we can accept that critics and poets intend different things, namely articles and poems. And that there is nothing to stop the poet becoming an excellent critic (many have {14}) or academic critics from the learning the difficult art of writing poetry. {15} The experience may well be enriching for both. But the question is more insidious. What exactly is it that the critic produces in his article, and how does it shape the reader's response? An earlier generation (much earlier, that encountered by I. A. Richards in his pioneering reading experiments at Cambridge {16}) sought to make poems out of their responses. Artists do influence each other, and imitation is no doubt the sincerest form of flattery. But Richard's examinees, and perhaps inevitably, without the time and skills to do a decent job, turned in very juvenile work; Richards could dismiss the approach as entirely wrong-headed. Analysis was what was wanted — not adroit phrases but method, the careful reductive method of the sciences. By all means write up the exercise engagingly afterwards, but first read with great attention, asking the right questions. So was born the New Criticism, and few doubt that this was a large step forward. {17} But that does not invalidate the question. The New Critics were now doing what every good poet does or should do — examining and reexamining the work from every conceivable angle: diction, imagery, meaning, shape, etc. Previous critics had rushed to judgement without putting in the fundamental spade work. But what the New Critics produced, the journal article or book, had none of the attraction of the original poem, and indeed became increasingly technical, employing a jargon that only fellow specialists could enjoy. The general reader was not catered for, any more than poets, most of whom were writing in different styles anyway, with different problems to address. Criticism retreated to academia, and eventually bred a poetry that had academia for its readership. {18}

More than that, criticism became an end in itself. {19} The intellectual gymnastics currently performed by the great names of American criticism are not grounded in the poem being analyzed, but in the tenets of radical theory. The poem may serve as the original impetus, as something about which to parade their skills, {20} but the criticism has detached itself and become somewhat like a Modernist poem. It draws inspiration from literary theories, and these can be nebulous or plainly wrong. Speculative theory — self-referencing, and as enclosed as medieval scholasticism — will not help poets working in other traditions, but does underline an earlier question: what is the status, the ontological status, of the critical article?

Schools of Criticism
Suppose we bear that question in mind in surveying the various schools of criticism. There are many, but could perhaps be grouped as:

Traditional
Though perhaps Edwardian in style, this approach — essentially one of trying to broaden understanding and appreciation — is still used in general surveys of English literature. There is usually some information on the writer and his times, and a little illustration, but no close analysis of the individual work or its aims.

New Criticism
The poem (the approach works best for poetry, and especially the lyric) is detached from its biographical or historical context, and analyzed thoroughly: diction, imagery, meanings, particularly complexities of meaning. Some explanation of unfamiliar words and/or uses may be allowed, but the poem is otherwise expected to stand on its own feet, as though it were a contemporary production.

Rhetorical
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and the rhetorical approach attempts to understand how the content of the poem, which is more than intellectual meaning, is put across. How arguments are presented, attitudes struck, evidence marshalled, various appeals made to the reader — all are relevant.

Stylistic
Style is the manner in which something is presented, and this approach concentrates on the peculiarities of diction and imagery employed, sometimes relating them to literary and social theory.

Metaphorical
Metaphor enters into consideration in most approaches, but here the emphasis is deeper and more exclusive, attention focusing on the ways that metaphors actually work: metaphors are not regarded as supporting or decorative devices, but actually constituting the meaning.

Structuralist
Here the writing is related to underlying patterns of symmetry which are held to be common to all societies. Evidence is drawn from sociology and anthropology, and the approach attempts to place the work in larger context rather than assess its quality.

Post-structuralist
In contrast to the New Critics approach, which stresses interdependence and organic unity, the Poststructuralist will point to the dissonances and the non sequiturs, and suggest how the poem works by evading or confronting traditional expectations.

Myth Theory
The approach derives from Northrop Frye and attempts to place poems into categories or subcategories into which all literature is divide by archetypal themes — e.g. the myth of the hero, his subjugation of enemies, his fall. The approach somewhat anticipated structuralism, draws on various psychologies, and is less concerned with isolating what is special than showing what it has in common with works in a similar category.

Freudian
Not only is the diction examined for sexual imagery, but the whole work is seen through Freudian concepts: struggles of the superego, the Oedipus complex, with the repressed contents of consciousness, etc. The aim is illumination of psychic conflicts, not aesthetic ranking. Jungian

Jungians search for recurring poetic images, symbols and situations in poems, but their aim is not to categorize poems as Northrop Frye does but to relate them to larger patterns in society, whether native peoples or high civilizations.

Historical
Poems are placed in their historical context — to explain not only their allusions and particular use of words, but the conventions and expectations of the times. The approach may be evaluative (i.e. the critic may suggest ways of responding to the poem once the perspective is corrected), or may simply use it as historical data.

Biographical
As with the historical approach, a poem may be used to illuminate the writer's psychology, or as biographic data. No less than the correspondence, remembered conversations, choice of reading matter, the poem is analyzed for relevance to its author.

Sociological
Here the focus is on society as a whole, and critics assess the social factors at work in a poem, which may be everything from the attitudes a writer inherits from his social background to the markets which supported his literary efforts.

Political
It may be the political movements the poet supported which interest the critic, but more commonly the poem is assessed on political lines: how fairly or effectively it promotes political action or attitudes.

Marxist
The poem may be assessed on its political correctness — on its support for workers against capitalist exploitation — but most Marxists praise work that analyses or describes the injustices which Marxist societies aim to overcome.

Moralist
Many poets have strong ethical or religious convictions, but the moralist critic usually has a broader interest. Literature has a humanizing or civilizing mission, and the critic values work which furthers that end: promotes tolerance, social justice, sensitivity to individual wishes and talents, etc.

Cognitive Scientific
In contrast to others, which generally possess an humanities orientation, that of cognitive science attempts to relate poems to patterns of brain functioning. The approach is in its infancy, but holds some promise in the fractal self-similarity exhibited by works of art.

Testing the Approaches
Which approach is best? That which proves the most illuminating is the usual answer. The various approaches are not entirely distinct, and one can aim for a wise eclecticism {21}, incorporating several approaches in the one article. Certainly this adds length and multiple perspectives to the critical article, but are the individual approaches sound in themselves? They may provide more matter to ponder, but that is surely no proof of value. Suppose that the critical approach employed was not only shaky but fatuously offensive. An extreme example might be a Nazi appraisal of German writers which graded them crudely on their genetic makeup, from blonde Aryans (good) to eastern Jews (atrocious). Would we add this approach to the others? If we say emphatically not, then we must accept that critical approaches need support that we can independently assess. And this innocuous request raises the ominous problems of truth and meaning. These are real and important. If literature had no truths to convey, there would be nothing to distinguish it from recreation or entertainment. Governments might support the arts to keep a restless society off the streets, but truth would remain the province of science, where bureaucrats went for information to back policy decisions. But in fact art, logic and science all have truths, different and no doubt wary of each other, but not fundamentally at loggerheads. Art aims at fullness and fidelity to human experience, and therefore includes the wider social spectrum.

No doubt, to return to Germany, we could argue that our example would not happen in practice. The Nazi article would not in any way clarify our responses to German writers. But suppose it did? A critic appealing to nationalist sentiments might very well have been plausible to his contemporary audience. We ourselves might even find some merit in the judgements. Unless we were very insensitive to Jewish problems in thirties Germany, and lumped all German writers together, we would not be able to help noticing differences in setting and outlook which had a material bearing on the writing. It might be a fearfulness or hopelessness in the outlook or actions of the main protagonists, and we should have to ask ourselves whether the work presented a true view of humanity, or was simply an historical aberration. Wider issues always obtrude, and we have either an ethos to defend, or to find a theory independent of time and context.

The latter was one hope of radical theory, which undercut the varied and apparently successful criticism of the nineteen fifties and sixties by adopting the approaches of philosophy and science. Not only cutbacks in university tenure, or the end of the publishing boom, {22} but an unexamined belief in its right to exist, led to the downfall of traditional literary study. Of course it is possible to argue for a liberal, pluralist, democratic approach, but the argument leads through to philosophical, political and sociological matters, and here the radical critics seized the armoury. The New Critics had dismissed the larger context of literary criticism, and the moralists carried little weight. The radicals demanded that poetry represent its age, and that age they viewed through the spectacles of left-wing and continentalphilosophic concerns.

Their arguments, though perhaps not the tactics, were certainly needed. Approaches do matter, and they must justify themselves before a wider tribunal if art is to be more than make-believe. Hence theTheory Section of this guide. A descriptive critic may simply note the characteristics of the new poetry capturing academic interest, {23} even its declining readership, but the practising poet needs to examine the theories underlying and supporting new work. If simply faddish and incoherent, then the poems are unlikely to possess any lasting value.

Is Criticism a Sham?
But does criticism really work? Do we analyze carefully and consult our books on theory before responding to a work? Not usually. Impressions come first. But we then have to think why and how we are responding in a certain way. Is the poem strained, hackneyed, overworked, etc.? And if so, by what criteria? In setting out thoughts on paper, and then attempting to substantiate them, we are honing essential skills.

Perhaps a good deal of academic criticism is suspect. The goal is already known: certain authors are to be esteemed, and criticism has simply to find additional support. Often the canon intervenes crudely. Literature is divided into essential writers (which all students must read, and other works be compared to), the acceptable (enjoyable but not to be taken too seriously) and the bad (which no one will confess to liking). The canon is consulted, and reasons found for praising or condemning the writer concerned. Literary guides are replete with examples, and argument is often puerile — the dismissive sneer, the appeal to the knowledgeable, right-thinking majority, the comparison of a poor poem by the despise author with a good one by the favoured. But the inanities only underline the need for sharper and independent reading skills. Background and temperament ensure that there will be some writers we shall never like, but we do not have to concoct false reasons for our own tastes.

Practical Critiquing
Now a change of tone. Suppose we look at criticism in practice, at what a young poet might be told, who's pleased with his poem, and doesn't need analysis to know it's good. Tactfully and more modestly than in these notes, we might have to say:

But have you checked — got a colleague to read it through, asked a tutor, presented the piece at a poetry workshop? Readers are perverse creatures, and will cavil in strange ways. Anticipate. Criticize the piece yourself, in your own time, from all angles, before the wounding remarks bring you up short. Remember that evaluation is not a handing down of judgments, but a slow acquisition of essential writing skills.

Appraisal needs honesty and independent judgment, plus a whole battery of techniques that literary critics have developed over the centuries. The better libraries will have long shelves devoted to literary criticism, which you must read and absorb. Indeed you must put pen to paper yourself, and write your own notes and essays. As in everything literary, perception develops with your ability to express and reflect on that perception.

What are the techniques of poetry analysis, and which are worth acquiring? Even on a simple poem you will find a wide range of comments, many of them perplexing if not downright daft. Which critics can you trust for sensible and enlightening comment?

You must make your own judgments. That is the nature of literary criticism. Moreover, until you can appraise the various critical attitudes, weighing up the strengths and shortcomings of each approach, you are not evaluating but just borrowing undigested material for the student essay. That may win you good grades, but it won't help with unfamiliar work, or develop the skills needed to rescue your own productions.

Writers and critics develop at their own pace, and the more precocious are not always the more lasting. Talented authors commonly write from something buried deep within, from something that is ungraspable but troubling, and which seems not to fit any of the established criteria. Progress in such cases is bound to be slow, and perhaps should be if the issues are being properly addressed. But you're not working against a stopwatch: you have a lifetime to appreciate the great writers, and to understand what you are attempting yourself.

:Suggestions
1. Start with the literary criticism of poems you know and love. You will be more engaged by the arguments, and start to understand how criticism can open unsuspected levels of meaning and significance. 2. Read literary criticism of contemporary work and, if at all possible, of poems similar to your own, which will at least help you anticipate the reception likely from editors and workshop presentations. 3. Research has moved from literary criticism to literary theory, which is not written for ready comprehension. Nonetheless, you will need to know where critics are coming from, and therefore the theoretical bases of their remarks. 4. Don't despise the elementary grounding provided by schoolbooks. University texts have much to do with academic reputations and tenure, but those for younger students aim more to help and encourage. 5. Be severe but not over-severe with your creations. You enjoyed writing them, and that pleasure must still be on the page to enthuse, challenge and enchant your readers. The merely correct has little to commend it. 6. Use a checklist. For example:

title — appropriate to subject, tone and genre? Does it generate interest, and hint at what your poem's about?

subject — what's the basic situation? Who is talking, and under what circumstances? Try writing a paraphrase to identify any gaps or confusions.

shape — what are you appealing to: intellect or emotions of the reader? What structure(s) have you used — progressions, comparisons, analogies, bald assertions, etc.? Are these aspects satisfyingly integrated? Does structure support content?

tone — what's your attitude to the subject? Is it appropriate to content and audience: assured, flexible, sensitive, etc.?

word choice — appropriate and uncontrived, economical, varied and energizing? Do you understand each word properly, its common uses and associations? See if listing the verbs truly pushes the poem along. Are words repeated? Do they set mood, emotional rapport, distance? personification — striking but persuasive, adds to unity and power?

metaphor and simile — fresh and convincing, combining
on many levels?

rhythm and metre — natural, inevitable, integrate poem's structure?

rhyme (if employed) — fresh, pleasurable, unassuming but supportive?

overall impression — original, honest, coherent, expressive, significant?

Conclusions
Why practise criticism at all? Because it's interesting, and opens the door to a wider appreciation of poetry, particularly that in other languages.

It's also unavoidable. Good writing needs continual appraisal and improvement, and both are better done by the author, before the work is set in print. Most academics write articles rather than poems, but there seems no reason why their skills should not deployed in creating things which by their own submission are among the most demanding and worthwhile of human creations. Nor should poets despise professional literary criticism. In short, the approaches of this section should give poets some of the tools needed to assess their work, and to learn from the successful creations of others. http://www.textetc.com/criticism.html

Easier - Literary criticism is a view or opinion on what a particular written work means. It is about the meanings that a reader finds in an author's literature.  
Harder - Literary criticism is an attempt to evaluate and understand the creative writing, the literature of an author. Literature includes plays, essays, novels, poetry, and short stories. Literary criticism is a description, analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of a particular literary work or an author's writings as a whole. Literary criticism is usually expressed in the form of a critical essay. In-depth book reviews are also sometimes viewed as literary criticism. http://42explore.com/litcrit.htm

Literary Theories

Introduction
A very basic way of thinking about literary theory is that these ideas act as different lenses critics use to view and talk about art, literature, and even culture. These different lenses allow critics to consider works of art based on certain assumptions within that school of theory. The different lenses also allow critics to focus on particular aspects of a work they consider important.

For example, if a critic is working with certain Marxist theories, s/he might focus on how the characters in a story interact based on their economic situation. If a critic is working with post-colonial theories, s/he might consider the same story but look at how characters from colonial powers (Britain, France, and even America) treat characters from, say, Africa or the Caribbean. Hopefully, after reading through and working with the resources in this area of the OWL, literary theory will become a little easier to understand and use.

Moral Criticism and Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present)

Plato
In Book X of his Republic, Plato may have given us the first volley of detailed and lengthy literary criticism. The dialog between Socrates and two of his associates shows the participants of this discussion concluding that art must play a limited and very strict role in the perfect Greek Republic. Richter provides a nice summary of this point: "...poets may stay as servants of the state if they teach piety and virtue, but the pleasures of art are condemned as inherently corrupting to citizens..." (19). One reason Plato included these ideas in his Socratic dialog because he believed that art was a mediocre reproduction of nature: "...what artists do...is hold the mirror up to nature: They copy the appearances of men, animals, and objects in the physical world...and the intelligence that went into its creation need involve nothing more than conjecture" (Richter 19). So in short, if art does not teach morality and ethics, then it is damaging to its audience, and for Plato this damaged his Republic. Given this controversial approach to art, it's easy to see why Plato's position has an impact on literature and literary criticism even today (though scholars who critique work based on whether or not the story teaches a moral are few - virtue may have an impact on children's literature, however).

Aristotle
In Poetics, Aristotle breaks with his teacher (Plato) in the consideration of art. Aristotle considers poetry (and rhetoric), a productive science, whereas he thought logic and physics to be theoretical sciences, and ethics and politics practical sciences (Richter 38). Because Aristotle saw poetry and drama as means to an end (for example, an audience's enjoyment) he established some basic guidelines for authors to follow to achieve certain objectives.

To help authors achieve their objectives, Aristotle developed elements of organization and methods for writing effective poetry and drama known as the principles of dramatic construction (Richter 39). Aristotle believed that elements like "...language, rhythm, and harmony..." as well as "...plot, character, thought, diction, song, and spectacle..." influence the audience's katharsis (pity and fear) or satisfaction with the work (Richter 39). And so here we see one of the earliest attempts to explain what makes an effective or ineffective work of literature. Like Plato, Aristotle's views on art heavily influence Western thought. The debate between Platonists and Aristotelians continued "...in the Neoplatonists of the second century AD, the Cambridge Platonists of the latter seventeenth century, and the idealists of the romantic movement" (Richter 17). Even today, the debate continues, and this debate is no more evident than in some of the discussions between adherents to the schools of criticism contained in this resource.

Formalism (1930s-present)

Form Follows Function: Russian Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelianism Formalists disagreed about what specific elements make a literary work "good" or "bad"; but generally, Formalism maintains that a literary work contains certain intrinsic features, and the theory "...defined and addressed the specifically literary qualities in the text" (Richter 699). Therefore, it's easy to see Formalism's relation to Aristotle's theories of dramatic construction. Formalism attempts to treat each work as its own distinct piece, free from its environment, era, and even author. This point of view developed in reaction to "...forms of 'extrinsic' criticism that viewed the text as either the product of social and historical forces or a document making an ethical statement" (699). Formalists assume that the keys to understanding a text exist within "the text itself," (..."the battle cry of the New Critical effort..." and thus focus a great deal on, you guessed it, form (Tyson 118). For the most part, Formalism is no longer used in the academy. However, New Critical theories are still used in secondary and college level instruction in literature and even writing (Tyson 115).

Typical questions:
How does the work use imagery to develop its own symbols? (i.e. making a certain road stand for death by constant association) What is the quality of the work's organic unity "...the working together of all the parts to make an inseparable whole..." (Tyson 121)? In other words, does how the work is put together reflect what it is? How are the various parts of the work interconnected?

How do paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension work in the text? How do these parts and their collective whole contribute to or not contribute to the aesthetic quality of the work? How does the author resolve apparent contradictions within the work? What does the form of the work say about its content?

Is there a central or focal passage that can be said to sum up the entirety of the work? How do the rhythms and/or rhyme schemes of a poem contribute to the meaning or effect of the piece? Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Russian Formalism

Victor Shklovsky
Roman Jakobson
Victor Erlich - Russian Formalism: History - Doctrine, 1955 Yuri Tynyanov
New Criticism
John Crowe Ransom - The New Criticism, 1938
I.A. Richards
William Empson
T.S. Eliot
Allen Tate
Cleanth Brooks
Neo-Aristotelianism (Chicago School of Criticism)
R.S. Crane - Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern, 1952 Elder Olson
Norman Maclean
W.R. Keast
Wayne C. Booth - The Rhetoric of Fiction, 1961

Psychoanalytic Criticism (1930s-present)

Sigmund Freud
Psychoanalytic criticism builds on Freudian theories of psychology. While we don't have the room here to discuss all of Freud's work, a general overview is necessary to explain psychoanalytic literary criticism.

The Unconscious, the Desires, and the Defenses
Freud began his psychoanalytic work in the 1880s while attempting to treat behavioral disorders in his Viennese patients. He dubbed the disorders 'hysteria' and began treating them by listening to his patients talk through their problems. Based on this work, Freud asserted that people's behavior is affected by their unconscious: "...the notion that human beings are motivated, even driven, by desires, fears, needs, and conflicts of which they are unaware..." (Tyson 14-15).

Freud believed that our unconscious was influenced by childhood events. Freud organized these events into developmental stages involving relationships with parents and drives of desire and pleasure where children focus "...on different parts of the body...starting with the mouth...shifting to the oral, anal, and phallic phases..." (Richter 1015). These stages reflect base levels of desire, but they also involve fear of loss (loss of genitals, loss of affection from parents, loss of life) and repression: "...the expunging from consciousness of these unhappy psychological events" (Tyson 15).

Tyson reminds us, however, that "...repression doesn't eliminate our painful experiences and emotions...we unconsciously behave in ways that will allow us to 'play out'...our conflicted feelings about the painful experiences and emotions we repress" (15). To keep all of this conflict buried in our unconscious, Freud argued that we develop defenses: selective perception, selective memory, denial, displacement, projection, regression, fear of intimacy, and fear of death, among others.

Id, Ego, and Superego
Freud maintained that our desires and our unconscious conflicts give rise to three areas of the mind that wrestle for dominance as we grow from infancy, to childhood, to adulthood: id - "...the location of the drives" or libido

ego - "...one of the major defenses against the power of the drives..." and home of the defenses listed above superego - the area of the unconscious that houses judgement (of self and others) and "...which begins to form during childhood as a result of the Oedipus complex" (Richter 1015-1016)

Oedipus Complex
Freud believed that the Oedipus complex was "...one of the most powerfully determinative elements in the growth of the child" (Richter 1016). Essentially, the Oedipus complex involves children's need for their parents and the conflict that arises as children mature and realize they are not the absolute focus of their mother's attention: "the Oedipus complex begins in a late phase of infantile sexuality, between the child's third and sixth year, and it takes a different form in males than it does in females" (Richter 1016). Freud argued that both boys and girls wish to possess their mothers, but as they grow older "...they begin to sense that their claim to exclusive attention is thwarted by the mother's attention to the father..." (1016). Children, Freud maintained, connect this conflict of attention to the intimate relations between mother and father, relations from which the children are excluded. Freud believed that "the result is a murderous rage against the father...and a desire to possess the mother" (1016).

Freud pointed out, however, that "...the Oedipus complex differs in boys and girls...the functioning of the related castration complex" (1016). In short, Freud thought that "...during the Oedipal rivalry [between boys and their fathers], boys fantasized that punishment for their rage will take the form of..." castration (1016). When boys effectively work through this anxiety, Freud argued, "...the boy learns to identify with the father in the hope of someday possessing a woman like his mother. In girls, the castration complex does not take the form of anxiety...the result is a frustrated rage in which the girl shifts her sexual desire from the mother to the father" (1016). Freud believed that eventually, the girl's spurned advanced toward the father give way to a desire to possess a man like her father later in life. Freud believed that the impact of the unconscious, id, ego, superego, the defenses, and the Oedipus complexes was inescapable and that these elements of the mind influence all our behavior (and even our dreams) as adults - of course this behavior involves what we write.

Freud and Literature
So what does all of this psychological business have to do with literature and the study of literature? Put simply, some critics believe that we can "...read psychoanalytically...to see which concepts are operating in the text in such a way as to enrich our understanding of the work and, if we plan to write a paper about it, to yield a meaningful, coherent psychoanalytic interpretation" (Tyson 29). Tyson provides some insightful and applicable questions to help guide our understanding of psychoanalytic criticism.

Typical questions:
How do the operations of repression structure or inform the work? Are there any oedipal dynamics - or any other family dynamics - are work here? How can characters' behavior, narrative events, and/or images be explained in terms of psychoanalytic concepts of any kind (for example...fear or fascination with death, sexuality - which includes love and romance as well as sexual behavior - as a primary indicator of psychological identity or the operations of ego-id-superego)? What does the work suggest about the psychological being of its author? What might a given interpretation of a literary work suggest about the psychological motives of the reader? Are there prominent words in the piece that could have different or hidden meanings? Could there be a subconscious reason for the author using these "problem words"?

Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Harold Bloom - A Theory of Poetry, 1973; Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens, 1976 Peter Brooks

Jacque Lacan - The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1988; "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason Since Freud" (fromÉcrits: A Selection, 1957) Jane Gallop - Reading Lacan, 1985

Julia Kristeva - Revolution in Poetic Language, 1984
Marshall Alcorn - Changing the Subject in English Class: Discourse and the Constructions of Desire, 2002

Carl Jung
Jungian criticism attempts to explore the connection between literature and what Carl Jung (a student of Freud) called the “collective unconscious” of the human race: "...racial memory, through which the spirit of the whole human species manifests itself" (Richter 504). Jungian criticism, closely related to Freudian theory because of its connection to psychoanalysis, assumes that all stories and symbols are based on mythic models from mankind’s past.

Based on these commonalities, Jung developed archetypal myths, the Syzygy: "...a quaternion composing a whole, the unified self of which people are in search" (Richter 505). These archetypes are the Shadow, the Anima, the Animus, and the Spirit: "...beneath...[the Shadow] is the Anima, the feminine side of the male Self, and the Animus, the corresponding masculine side of the female Self" (Richter 505). In literary analysis, a Jungian critic would look for archetypes (also see the discussion of Northrop Frye in the Structuralism section) in creative works: "Jungian criticism is generally involved with a search for the embodiment of these symbols within particular works of art." (Richter 505). When dealing with this sort of criticism, it is often useful to keep and handbook of mythology and a dictionary of symbols on hand.

Typical questions:
What connections can we make between elements of the text and the archetypes? (Mask, Shadow, Anima, Animus) How do the characters in the text mirror the archetypal figures? (Great Mother or nurturing Mother, Whore, destroying Crone, Lover, Destroying Angel) How does the text mirror the archetypal narrative patterns? (Quest, Night-Sea-Journey) How symbolic is the imagery in the work?

How does the protagonist reflect the hero of myth?
Does the “hero” embark on a journey in either a physical or spiritual sense? Is there a journey to an underworld or land of the dead?
What trials or ordeals does the protagonist face? What is the reward for overcoming them? Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Maud Bodkin - Archetypal Patterns in Poetry, 1934

Carl Jung - The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Vol. 9, Part 1 of Collected Works. 2nd ed. Trans. R.F.C. Hull, 1968 Bettina Knapp - Music, Archetype and the Writer: A Jungian View, 1988 Ricahrd Sugg - Jungian Literary Criticism, 1993

Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)

Whom Does it Benefit?
Based on the theories of Karl Marx (and so influenced by philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel), this school concerns itself with class differences, economic and otherwise, as well as the implications and complications of the capitalist system: "Marxism attempts to reveal the ways in which our socioeconomic system is the ultimate source of our experience" (Tyson 277).

Theorists working in the Marxist tradition, therefore, are interested in answering the overarching question, whom does it [the work, the effort, the policy, the road, etc.] benefit? The elite? The middle class? And Marxists critics are also interested in how the lower or working classes are oppressed - in everyday life and in literature.

The Material Dialectic
The Marxist school follows a process of thinking called the material dialectic. This belief system maintains that "...what drives historical change are the material realities of the economic base of society, rather than the ideological superstructure of politics, law, philosophy, religion, and art that is built upon that economic base" (Richter 1088).

Marx asserts that "...stable societies develop sites of resistance: contradictions build into the social system that ultimately lead to social revolution and the development of a new society upon the old" (1088). This cycle of contradiction, tension, and revolution must continue: there will always be conflict between the upper, middle, and lower (working) classes and this conflict will be reflected in literature and other forms of expression - art, music, movies, etc.

The Revolution
The continuing conflict between the classes will lead to upheaval and revolution by oppressed peoples and form the groundwork for a new order of society and economics where capitalism is abolished. According to Marx, the revolution will be led by the working class (others think peasants will lead the uprising) under the guidance of intellectuals. Once the elite and middle class are overthrown, the intellectuals will compose an equal society where everyone owns everything (socialism - not to be confused with Soviet or Maoist Communism).

Though a staggering number of different nuances exist within this school of literary theory, Marxist critics generally work in areas covered by the following questions.

Typical questions:
Whom does it benefit if the work or effort is accepted/successful/believed, etc.? What is the social class of the author?
Which class does the work claim to represent?
What values does it reinforce?
What values does it subvert?
What conflict can be seen between the values the work champions and those it portrays? What social classes do the characters represent?
How do characters from different classes interact or conflict? Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Karl Marx - (with Friedrich Engels) The Communist Manifesto, 1848; Das Kapital, 1867; "Consciousness Derived from Material Conditions" from The German Ideology, 1932; "On Greek Art in Its Time" from A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859 Leon Trotsky - "Literature and Revolution," 1923

Georg Lukács - "The Ideology of Modernism," 1956
Walter Benjamin - "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," 1936 Theodor W. Adorno
Louis Althusser - Reading Capital, 1965
Terry Eagleton - Marxism and Literary Criticism, Criticism and Ideology, 1976 Frederic Jameson - Marxism and Form, The Political Unconscious, 1971 Jürgen Habermas - The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, 1990

Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)

What Do You Think?
At its most basic level, reader response criticism considers readers' reactions to literature as vital to interpreting the meaning of the text. However, reader-response criticism can take a number of different approaches. A critic deploying reader-response theory can use a psychoanalytic lens, a feminists lens, or even a structuralist lens. What these different lenses have in common when using a reader response approach is they maintain "...that what a text is cannot be separated from what it does" (Tyson 154).

Tyson explains that "...reader-response theorists share two beliefs: 1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and 2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature" (154). In this way, reader-response theory shares common ground with some of the deconstructionists discussed in the Post-structural area when they talk about "the death of the author," or her displacement as the (author)itarian figure in the text.

Typical questions:
How does the interaction of text and reader create meaning?
What does a phrase-by-phrase analysis of a short literary text, or a key portion of a longer text, tell us about the reading experience prestructured by (built into) that text? Do the sounds/shapes of the words as they appear on the page or how they are spoken by the reader enhance or change the meaning of the word/work? How might we interpret a literary text to show that the reader's response is, or is analogous to, the topic of the story? What does the body of criticism published about a literary text suggest about the critics who interpreted that text and/or about the reading experience produced by that text? (Tyson 191) Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Peter Rabinowitz - Before Reading, 1987

Stanley Fish - Is There a Text in This Class?-The Authority of Interpretive Communities, 1980 Elizabeth Freund - The Return of the Reader: Reader-Response Criticism, 1987 David Bleich
Norman Holland - The Dynamics of Literary Response, 1968
Louise Rosenblatt
Wolfgang Iser - The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett, 1974 Hans Rober Jauss

Structuralism and Semiotics (1920s-present)

Note: Structuralism, semiotics, and post-structuralism are some of the most complex literary theories to understand. Please be patient.

Linguistic Roots
The structuralist school emerges from theories of language and linguistics, and it looks for underlying elements in culture and literature that can be connected so that critics can develop general conclusions about the individual works and the systems from which they emerge. In fact, structuralism maintains that "...practically everything we do that is specifically human is expressed in language" (Richter 809). Structuralists believe that these language symbols extend far beyond written or oral communication. For example, codes that represent all sorts of things permeate everything we do: "the performance of music requires complex notation...our economic life rests upon the exchange of labor and goods for symbols, such as cash, checks, stock, and certificates...social life depends on the meaningful gestures and signals of 'body language' and revolves around the exchange of small, symbolic favors: drinks, parties, dinners" (Richter 809).

Patterns and Experience
Structuralists assert that, since language exists in patterns, certain underlying elements are common to all human experiences. Structuralists believe we can observe these experiences through patterns: "...if you examine the physical structures of all buildings built in urban America in 1850 to discover the underlying principles that govern their composition, for example, principles of mechanical construction or of artistic form..." you are using a structuralist lens (Tyson 197). Moreover, "you are also engaged in structuralist activity if you examine the structure of a single building to discover how its composition demonstrates underlying principles of a structural system. In the first example...you're generating a structural system of classification; in the second, you're demonstrating that an individual item belongs to a particular structural class" (Tyson 197).

Structuralism in Literary Theory
Structuralism is used in literary theory, for example, "...if you examine the structure of a large number of short stories to discover the underlying principles that govern their composition...principles of narrative progression...or of characterization...you are also engaged in structuralist activity if you describe the structure of a single literary work to discover how its composition demonstrates the underlying principles of a given structural system" (Tyson 197-198). Northrop Frye, however, takes a different approach to structuralism by exploring ways in which genres of Western literature fall into his four mythoi (also see Jungian criticism in the Freudian Literary Criticism resource): 1. theory of modes, or historical criticism (tragic, comic, and thematic); 2. theory of symbols, or ethical criticism (literal/descriptive, formal, mythical, and anagogic); 3. theory of myths, or archetypal criticism (comedy, romance, tragedy, irony/satire); 4. theory of genres, or rhetorical criticism (epos, prose, drama, lyric) (Tyson 240). Peirce and Saussure

Two important theorists form the framework (hah) of structuralism: Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure. Peirce gave structuralism three important ideas for analyzing the sign systems that permeate and define our experiences: 1. "iconic signs, in which the signifier resembles the thing signified (such as the stick figures on washroom doors that signify 'Men' or 'Women'; 2. indexes, in which the signifier is a reliable indicator of the presence of the signified (like fire and smoke); 3. true symbols, in which the signifier's relation to the thing signified is completely arbitrary and conventional [just as the sound /kat/ or the written word cat are conventional signs for the familiar feline]" (Richter 810). These elements become very important when we move into deconstruction in the Postmodernism resource. Peirce also influenced the semiotic school of structuralist theory that uses sign systems.

Sign Systems
The discipline of semiotics plays an important role in structuralist literary theory and cultural studies. Semioticians "...appl[y] structuralist insights to the study of...sign systems...a non-linguistic object or behavior...that can be analyzed as if it were a language" (Tyson 205). Specifically, "...semiotics examines the ways non-linguistic objects and behaviors 'tell' us something. For example, the picture of the reclining blond beauty in the skin-tight, black velvet dress on the billboard...'tells' us that those who drink this whiskey (presumably male) will be attractive to...beautiful women like the one displayed here" (Tyson 205). Lastly, Richter states, "semiotics takes off from Peirce - for whom language is one of numerous sign systems - and structuralism takes off from Saussure, for whom language was the sign system par excellence" (810).

Typical questions:
Using a specific structuralist framework (like Frye's mythoi)...how should the text be classified in terms of its genre? In other words, what patterns exist within the text that make it a part of other works like it? Using a specific structuralist framework...analyze the text's narrative operations...can you speculate about the relationship between the...[text]... and the culture from which the text emerged? In other words, what patterns exist within the text that make it a product of a larger culture? What patterns exist within the text that connect it to the larger "human" experience? In other words, can we connect patterns and elements within the text to other texts from other cultures to map similarities that tell us more about the common human experience? This is a liberal humanist move that assumes that since we are all human, we all share basic human commonalities What rules or codes of interpretation must be internalized in order to 'make sense' of the text? What are the semiotics of a given category of cultural phenomena, or 'text,' such as high-school football games, television and/or magazine ads for a particular brand of perfume...or even media coverage of an historical event? (Tyson 225)

Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Charles Sanders Peirce
Ferdinand de Saussure - Course in General Linguistics, 1923 Claude Lévi-Strauss - The Elementary Structure of Kinship, 1949; "The Structural Study of Myth," 1955 Northrop Frye - Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, 1957

Noam Chomsky - Syntactic Structures, 1957; Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, 1965 Roland Barthes - Critical Essays, 1964; Mythologies, 1957; S/Z, 1970; Image, Music, Text, 1977 Umberto Eco - The Role of the Reader, 1979

The Center Cannot Hold
This approach concerns itself with the ways and places where systems, frameworks, definitions, and certainties break down. Post-structuralism maintains that frameworks and systems, for example the structuralist systems explained in the Structuralist area, are merely fictitious constructs and that they cannot be trusted to develop meaning or to give order. In fact, the very act of seeking order or a singular Truth (with a capital T) is absurd because there exists no unified truth. Post-structuralism holds that there are many truths, that frameworks must bleed, and that structures must become unstable or decentered. Moreover, post-structuralism is also concerned with the power structures or hegemonies and power and how these elements contribute to and/or maintain structures to enforce hierarchy. Therefore, post-structural theory carries implications far beyond literary criticism.

What Does Your Meaning Mean?
By questioning the process of developing meaning, post-structural theory strikes at the very heart of philosophy and reality and throws knowledge making into what Jacques Derrida called "freeplay": "The concept of centered structure...is contradictorily coherent...the concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of a freeplay which is constituted upon a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude, which is itself beyond the reach of the freeplay" (qtd. in Richter, 878-879).

Derrida first posited these ideas in 1966 at Johns Hopkins University, when he delivered “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”: "Perhaps something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that could be called an 'event,' if this loaded word did not entail a meaning which it is precisely the function of structural-or structuralist-thought to reduce or to suspect. But let me use the term “event” anyway, employing it with caution and as if in quotation marks. In this sense, this event will have the exterior form of a rupture and a redoubling” (qtd. in Richter, 878). In his presentation, Derrida challenged structuralism's most basic ideas.

Can Language Do That?
Post-structural theory can be tied to a move against Modernist/Enlightenment ideas (philosophers: Immanuel Kant, Réne Descartes, John Locke, etc.) and Western religious beliefs (neo-Platonism, Catholicism, etc.). An early pioneer of this resistance was philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In his essay, “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-moral Sense” (1873), Nietzsche rejects even the very basis of our knowledge making, language, as a reliable system of communication: “The various languages, juxtaposed, show that words are never concerned with truth, never with adequate expression...” (248). Below is an example, adapted from the Tyson text, of some language freeplay and a simple form of deconstruction: Time (noun) flies (verb) like an arrow (adverb clause) = Time passes quickly. Time (verb) flies (object) like an arrow (adverb clause) = Get out your stopwatch and time the speed of flies as you would time an arrow's flight.

Time flies (noun) like (verb) an arrow (object) = Time flies are fond of arrows (or at least of one particular arrow). So, post-structuralists assert that if we cannot trust language systems to convey truth, the very bases of truth are unreliable and the universe - or at least the universe we have constructed - becomes unraveled or de-centered. Nietzsche uses language slip as a base to move into the slip and shift of truth as a whole: “What is truth? …truths are an illusion about which it has been forgotten that they are illusions...” (On Truth and Lies 250).

This returns us to the discussion in the Structuralist area regarding signs, signifiers, and signified. Essentially, post-structuralism holds that we cannot trust the sign = signifier + signified formula, that there is a breakdown of certainty between sign/signifier, which leaves language systems hopelessly inadequate for relaying meaning so that we are (returning to Derrida) in eternal freeplay or instability.

What's Left?
Important to note, however, is that deconstruction is not just about tearing down - this is a common misconception. Derrida, in "Signature Event Context," addressed this limited view of post-structural theory: "Deconstruction cannot limit or proceed immediately to a neutralization: it must…practice an overturning of the classical opposition and a general displacement of the system. It is only on this condition that deconstruction will provide itself the means with which to intervene in the field of oppositions that it criticizes, which is also a field of nondiscursive forces" (328). Derrida reminds us that through deconstruction we can identify the in-betweens and the marginalized to begin interstitial knowledge building.

Modernism vs Postmodernism
With the resistance to traditional forms of knowledge making (science, religion, language), inquiry, communication, and building meaning take on different forms to the post-structuralist. We can look at this difference as a split between Modernism and Postmodernism. The table below, excerpted from theorist Ihab Hassan's The Dismemberment of Orpheus (1998), offers us a way to make sense of some differences between modernism, dominated by Enlightenment ideas, and postmodernism, a space of freeplay and discourse. Keep in mind that even the author, Hassan, "...is quick to point out how the dichotomies are themselves insecure, equivocal" (Harvey 42). Though post-structuralism is uncomfortable with binaries, Hassan provides us with some interesting contrasts to consider:

Modernism vs Postmodernism
Modernism
Postmodernism
romanticism/symbolism
paraphysics/Dadaism
form (conjunctive, closed)
antiform (disjunctive, open)
purpose
play
design
chance
hierarchy
anarchy
mastery/logos
exhaustion/silence
art object/finished work/logos
process/performance/antithesis
centering
absence
genre/boundary
text/intertext
semantics
rhetoric
metaphor
metonymy
root/depth
rhizome/surface
signified
signifier
narrative/grande histoire
anti-narrative/petite histoire
genital/phallic
polymorphous/androgynous
paranoia
schizophrenia
origin/cause
difference-difference/trace
God the Father
The Holy Ghost
determinacy
interdeterminacy
transcendence
immanence

Post-Structuralism and Literature
If we are questioning/resisting the methods we use to build knowledge (science, religion, language), then traditional literary notions are also thrown into freeplay. These include the narrative and the author:

Narrative
The narrative is a fiction that locks readers into interpreting text in a single, chronological manner that does not reflect our experiences. Postmodern texts may not adhere to traditional notions of narrative. For example, in his seminal work, Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs explodes the traditional narrative structure and critiques almost everything Modern: modern government, modern medicine, modern law-enforcement. Other examples of authors playing with narrative include John Fowles; in the final sections of The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fowles steps outside his narrative to speak with the reader directly.

Moreover, grand narratives are resisted. For example, the belief that through science the human race will improve is questioned. In addition, metaphysics is questioned. Instead, postmodern knowledge building is local, situated, slippery, and self-critical (i.e. it questions itself and its role). Because post-structural work is self-critical, post-structural critics even look for ways texts contradict themselves (see typical questions below).

Author
The author is displaced as absolute author(ity), and the reader plays a role in interpreting the text and developing meaning (as best as possible) from the text. In “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes argues that the idea of singular authorship is a recent phenomenon. Barthes explains that the death of the author shatters Modernist notions of authority and knowledge building (145). Lastly, he states that once the author is dead and the Modernist idea of singular narrative (and thus authority) is overturned, texts become plural, and the interpretation of texts becomes a collaborative process between author and audience: “...a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue...but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader” (148). Barthes ends his essay by empowering the reader: “Classical criticism has never paid any attention to the reader...the writer is the only person in literature…it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (148).

Typical questions:
How is language thrown into freeplay or questioned in the work? For example, note how Anthony Burgess plays with language (Russian vs English) in A Clockwork Orange, or how Burroughs plays with names and language in Naked Lunch. How does the work undermine or contradict generally accepted truths? How does the author (or a character) omit, change, or reconstruct memory and identity? How does a work fulfill or move outside the established conventions of its genre? How does the work deal with the separation (or lack thereof) between writer, work, and reader? What ideology does the text seem to promote?

What is left out of the text that if included might undermine the goal of the work? If we changed the point of view of the text - say from one character to another, or multiple characters - how would the story change? Whose story is not told in the text? Who is left out and why might the author have omitted this character's tale?

Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Theorists
Immanuel Kant - "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?", 1784 (as a baseline to understand what Nietzsche was resisting) Friedrich Nietzsche - “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-moral Sense," 1873; The Gay Science, 1882; Thus Spoke Zarathustra, A Book for All and None, 1885 Jacques Derrida - "Structure Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences," 1966; Of Grammatology, 1967; "Signature Even Context," 1972 Roland Barthes - "The Death of the Author," 1967

Deleuze and Guattari - "Rhizome," 1976
Jean-François Lyotard - The Postmodern Condition, 1979
Michele Foucault - The Foucault Reader, 1984
Stephen Toulmin - Cosmopolis, 1990
Martin Heidegger - Basic Writings, 1993
Paul Cilliers - Complexity and Postmodernity, 1998
Ihab Hassan - The Dismemberment of Orpheus, 1998; From Postmodernism to Postmodernity: The Local/Global Context, 2001

Postmodern Literature
William S. Burroughs - Naked Lunch, 1959
Angela Carter - Burning Your Boats, stories from 1962-1993 (first published as a collection in 1995) Kathy Acker - Blood and Guts in High School, 1978
Paul Auster - City of Glass (volume one of the New York City Trilogy), 1985 (as a graphic novel published by Neon Lit, a division of Avon Books, 1994) Lynne Tillman - Haunted Houses, 1987
David Wojnarowicz - The Waterfront Journals, 1996

New Historicism, Cultural Studies (1980s-present)

It's All Relative...
This school, influenced by structuralist and post-structuralist theories, seeks to reconnect a work with the time period in which it was produced and identify it with the cultural and political movements of the time (Michel Foucault's concept of épistème). New Historicism assumes that every work is a product of the historic moment that created it. Specifically, New Historicism is "...a practice that has developed out of contemporary theory, particularly the structuralist realization that all human systems are symbolic and subject to the rules of language, and the deconstructive realization that there is no way of positioning oneself as an observer outside the closed circle of textuality" (Richter 1205). A helpful way of considering New Historical theory, Tyson explains, is to think about the retelling of history itself: "...questions asked by traditional historians and by new historicists are quite different...traditional historians ask, 'What happened?' and 'What does the event tell us about history?' In contrast, new historicists ask, 'How has the event been interpreted?' and 'What do the interpretations tell us about the interpreters?'" (278). So New Historicism resists the notion that "...history is a series of events that have a linear, causal relationship: event A caused event B; event B caused event C; and so on" (Tyson 278). New historicists do not believe that we can look at history objectively, but rather that we interpret events as products of our time and culture and that "...we don't have clear access to any but the most basic facts of history...our understanding of what such facts mean...is...strictly a matter of interpretation, not fact" (279). Moreover, New Historicism holds that we are hopelessly subjective interpreters of what we observe.

Typical questions:
What language/characters/events present in the work reflect the current events of the author’s day? Are there words in the text that have changed their meaning from the time of the writing? How are such events interpreted and presented?

How are events' interpretation and presentation a product of the culture of the author? Does the work's presentation support or condemn the event?
Can it be seen to do both?
How does this portrayal criticize the leading political figures or movements of the day? How does the literary text function as part of a continuum with other historical/cultural texts from the same period...? How can we use a literary work to "map" the interplay of both traditional and subversive discourses circulating in the culture in which that work emerged and/or the cultures in which the work has been interpreted? How does the work consider traditionally marginalized populations? Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Michel Foucault - The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, 1970;Language, Counter-memory, Practice, 1977 Clifford Geertz - The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973; "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight," 1992 Hayden White - Metahistory, 1974; "The Politics of Historical Interpretation: Discipline and De-Sublimation," 1982 Stephen Greenblatt - Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, 1980 Pierre Bourdieu - Outline of a Theory of Practice, 1977; Homo Academicus, 1984; The Field of Cultural Production, 1993

Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)

History is Written by the Victors
Post-colonial criticism is similar to cultural studies, but it assumes a unique perspective on literature and politics that warrants a separate discussion. Specifically, post-colonial critics are concerned with literature produced by colonial powers and works produced by those who were/are colonized. Post-colonial theory looks at issues of power, economics, politics, religion, and culture and how these elements work in relation to colonial hegemony (western colonizers controlling the colonized). Therefore, a post-colonial critic might be interested in works such as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe where colonial "...ideology [is] manifest in Crusoe's colonialist attitude toward the land upon which he's shipwrecked and toward the black man he 'colonizes' and names Friday" (Tyson 377). In addition, post-colonial theory might point out that "...despite Heart of Darkness's (Joseph Conrad) obvious anti-colonist agenda, the novel points to the colonized population as the standard of savagery to which Europeans are contrasted" (Tyson 375). Post-colonial criticism also takes the form of literature composed by authors that critique Euro-centric hegemony.

A Unique Perspective on Empire
Seminal post-colonial writers such as Nigerian author Chinua Achebe and Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o have written a number of stories recounting the suffering of colonized people. For example, in Things Fall Apart, Achebe details the strife and devastation that occurred when British colonists began moving inland from the Nigerian coast. Rather than glorifying the exploratory nature of European colonists as they expanded their sphere of influence, Achebe narrates the destructive events that led to the death and enslavement of thousands of Nigerians when the British imposed their Imperial government. In turn, Achebe points out the negative effects (and shifting ideas of identity and culture) caused by the imposition of western religion and economics on Nigerians during colonial rule.

Power, Hegemony, and Literature
Post-colonial criticism also questions the role of the western literary canon and western history as dominant forms of knowledge making. The terms "first-world," "second world," "third world" and "fourth world" nations are critiqued by post-colonial critics because they reinforce the dominant positions of western cultures populating first world status. This critique includes the literary canon and histories written from the perspective of first-world cultures. So, for example, a post-colonial critic might question the works included in "the canon" because the canon does not contain works by authors outside western culture.

Moreover, the authors included in the canon often reinforce colonial hegemonic ideology, such as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Western critics might consider Heart of Darkness an effective critique of colonial behavior. But post-colonial theorists and authors might disagree with this perspective: "...as Chinua Achebe observes, the novel's condemnation of European is based on a definition of Africans as savages: beneath their veneer of civilization, the Europeans are, the novel tells us, as barbaric as the Africans. And indeed, Achebe notes, the novel portrays Africans as a pre-historic mass of frenzied, howling, incomprehensible barbarians..." (Tyson 374-375).

Typical questions:
How does the literary text, explicitly or allegorically, represent various aspects of colonial oppression? What does the text reveal about the problematics of post-colonial identity, including the relationship between personal and cultural identity and such issues as double consciousness and hybridity? What person(s) or groups does the work identify as "other" or stranger? How are such persons/groups described and treated? What does the text reveal about the politics and/or psychology of anti-colonialist resistance? What does the text reveal about the operations of cultural difference - the ways in which race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural beliefs, and customs combine to form individual identity - in shaping our perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world in which we live? How does the text respond to or comment upon the characters, themes, or assumptions of a canonized (colonialist) work? Are there meaningful similarities among the literatures of different post-colonial populations? How does a literary text in the Western canon reinforce or undermine colonialist ideology through its representation of colonialization and/or its inappropriate silence about colonized peoples? (Tyson 378-379)

Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Criticism
Edward Said - Orientalism, 1978; Culture and Imperialism, 1994 Kamau Braithwaite - The History of the Voice, 1979
Gayatri Spivak - In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics, 1987 Dominick LaCapra - The Bounds of Race: Perspectives on Hegemony and Resistance, 1991 Homi Bhabha - The Location of Culture, 1994

Literature and non-fiction
Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart, 1958
Ngugi wa Thiong'o - The River Between, 1965
Sembene Ousman - God's Bits of Wood, 1962
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala - Heat and Dust, 1975
Buchi Emecheta - The Joys of Motherhood, 1979
Keri Hulme - The Bone People, 1983
Robertson Davies - What's Bred in the Bone, 1985
Kazuo Ishiguro - The Remains of the Day, 1988
Bharati Mukherjee - Jasmine, 1989
Jill Ker Conway - The Road from Coorain, 1989
Helena Norberg-Hodge - Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, 1991 Michael Ondaatje - The English Patient, 1992
Gita Mehta - A River Sutra, 1993
Arundhati Roy - The God of Small Things, 1997
Patrick Chamoiseau - Texaco, 1997

Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)

S/he
Feminist criticism is concerned with "...the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women" (Tyson). This school of theory looks at how aspects of our culture are inherently patriarchal (male dominated) and "...this critique strives to expose the explicit and implicit misogyny in male writing about women" (Richter 1346). This misogyny, Tyson reminds us, can extend into diverse areas of our culture: "Perhaps the most chilling example...is found in the world of modern medicine, where drugs prescribed for both sexes often have been tested on male subjects only" (83). Feminist criticism is also concerned with less obvious forms of marginalization such as the exclusion of women writers from the traditional literary canon: "...unless the critical or historical point of view is feminist, there is a tendency to under-represent the contribution of women writers" (Tyson 82-83).

Common Space in Feminist Theories
Though a number of different approaches exist in feminist criticism, there exist some areas of commonality. This list is excerpted from Tyson: 1. Women are oppressed by patriarchy economically, politically, socially, and psychologically; patriarchal ideology is the primary means by which they are kept so 2. In every domain where patriarchy reigns, woman is other: she is marginalized, defined only by her difference from male norms and values 3. All of western (Anglo-European) civilization is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideology, for example, in the biblical portrayal of Eve as the origin of sin and death in the world 4. While biology determines our sex (male or female), culture determines our gender (masculine or feminine) 5. All feminist activity, including feminist theory and literary criticism, has as its ultimate goal to change the world by prompting gender equality 6. Gender issues play a part in every aspect of human production and experience, including the production and experience of literature, whether we are consciously aware of these issues or not (91).

Feminist criticism has, in many ways, followed what some theorists call the three waves of feminism: 1. First Wave Feminism - late 1700s-early 1900's: writers like Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792) highlight the inequalities between the sexes. Activists like Susan B. Anthony and Victoria Woodhull contribute to the women's suffrage movement, which leads to National Universal Suffrage in 1920 with the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment 2. Second Wave Feminism - early 1960s-late 1970s: building on more equal working conditions necessary in America during World War II, movements such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), formed in 1966, cohere feminist political activism. Writers like Simone de Beauvoir (Le deuxième sexe, 1972) and Elaine Showalter established the groundwork for the dissemination of feminist theories dove-tailed with the American Civil Rights movement 3. Third Wave Feminism - early 1990s-present: resisting the perceived essentialist (over generalized, over simplified) ideologies and a white, heterosexual, middle class focus of second wave feminism, third wave feminism borrows from post-structural and contemporary gender and race theories (see below) to expand on marginalized populations' experiences. Writers like Alice Walker work to "...reconcile it [feminism] with the concerns of the black community...[and] the survival and wholeness of her people, men and women both, and for the promotion of dialog and community as well as for the valorization of women and of all the varieties of work women perform" (Tyson 97).

Typical questions:
How is the relationship between men and women portrayed?
What are the power relationships between men and women (or characters assuming male/female roles)? How are male and female roles defined?
What constitutes masculinity and femininity?
How do characters embody these traits?
Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? How so? How does this change others’ reactions to them? What does the work reveal about the operations (economically, politically, socially, or psychologically) of patriarchy? What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy? What does the work say about women's creativity?

What does the history of the work's reception by the public and by the critics tell us about the operation of patriarchy? What role the work play in terms of women's literary history and literary tradition? (Tyson) Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Mary Wollstonecraft - A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792 Simone de Beauvoir - Le deuxième sexe, 1972

Julia Kristeva - About Chinese Women, 1977
Elaine Showalter - A Literature of Their Own, 1977; "Toward a Feminist Poetics," 1979 Deborah E. McDowell - "New Directions for Black Feminist Criticism," 1980 Alice Walker - In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, 1983

Lillian S. Robinson - "Treason out Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon," 1983 Camile Paglia - Sexual Personae: The Androgyne in Literature and Art, 1990

Gender Studies and Queer Theory (1970s-present)

Gender(s), Power, and Marginalization
Gender studies and queer theory explore issues of sexuality, power, and marginalized populations (woman as other) in literature and culture. Much of the work in gender studies and queer theory, while influenced by feminist criticism, emerges from post-structural interest in fragmented, de-centered knowledge building (Nietzsche, Derrida, Foucault), language (the breakdown of sign-signifier), and psychoanalysis (Lacan). A primary concern in gender studies and queer theory is the manner in which gender and sexuality is discussed: "Effective as this work [feminism] was in changing what teachers taught and what the students read, there was a sense on the part of some feminist critics that...it was still the old game that was being played, when what it needed was a new game entirely. The argument posed was that in order to counter patriarchy, it was necessary not merely to think about new texts, but to think about them in radically new ways" (Richter 1432).

Therefore, a critic working in gender studies and queer theory might even be uncomfortable with the binary established by many feminist scholars between masculine and feminine: "Cixous (following Derrida in Of Grammatology) sets up a series of binary oppositions (active/passive, sun/moon...father/mother, logos/pathos). Each pair can be analyzed as a hierarchy in which the former term represents the positive and masculine and the latter the negative and feminine principle" (Richter 1433-1434).

In-Betweens
Many critics working with gender and queer theory are interested in the breakdown of binaries such as male and female, the in-betweens (also following Derrida's interstitial knowledge building). For example, gender studies and queer theory maintains that cultural definitions of sexuality and what it means to be male and female are in flux: "...the distinction between "masculine" and "feminine" activities and behavior is constantly changing, so that women who wear baseball caps and fatigues...can be perceived as more piquantly sexy by some heterosexual men than those women who wear white frocks and gloves and look down demurely" (Richter 1437).

Moreover, Richter reminds us that as we learn more about our genetic structure, the biology of male/female becomes increasingly complex and murky: "even the physical dualism of sexual genetic structures and bodily parts breaks down when one considers those instances - XXY syndromes, natural sexual bimorphisms, as well as surgical transsexuals - that defy attempts at binary classification" (1437). Typical questions:

What elements of the text can be perceived as being masculine (active, powerful) and feminine (passive, marginalized) and how do the characters support these traditional roles? What sort of support (if any) is given to elements or characters who question the masculine/feminine binary? What happens to those elements/characters? What elements in the text exist in the middle, between the perceived masculine/feminine binary? In other words, what elements exhibit traits of both (bisexual)? How does the author present the text? Is it a traditional narrative? Is it secure and forceful? Or is it more hesitant or even collaborative? What are the politics (ideological agendas) of specific gay, lesbian, or queer works, and how are those politics revealed in...the work's thematic content or portrayals of its characters? What are the poetics (literary devices and strategies) of a specific lesbian, gay, or queer works? What does the work contribute to our knowledge of queer, gay, or lesbian experience and history, including literary history? How is queer, gay, or lesbian experience coded in texts that are by writers who are apparently homosexual? What does the work reveal about the operations (socially, politically, psychologically) homophobic? How does the literary text illustrate the problematics of sexuality and sexual "identity," that is the ways in which human sexuality does not fall neatly into the separate categories defined by the words homosexual and heterosexual? Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory: Luce Irigaray - Speculum of the Other Woman, 1974

Hélène Cixous - "The Laugh of the Medussa," 1976
Laura Mulvey - "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," 1975; "Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," 1981 Michele Foucault - The History of Sexuality, Volume I, 1980 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick - Epistemology of the Closet, 1994

Lee Edelman - "Homographies," 1989
Michael Warner
Judith Butler - "Imitation and Gender Insubordination," 1991 http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/12/

Critical Theories and Literature

Through the course of reading, thinking and writing about literature, it is often helpful to consider some of the broader categories of critical theory. Not only will this enrich your understanding of a work, but in considering these theories, you may also discover new approaches to focus on in your writing. The following terms are defined briefly and are linked to further explanations from outside sources. If you're interested in any of these theories, be sure to investigate each more thoroughly--through reading and research--to gain a more complete understanding of the ideas involved.

Formalism/New Criticism
This school of criticism examines the work itself as a stand-alone product and does not take into account the history of either the author or time period.

Deconstruction/Post-Structuralism
This approach relies on the written product as a clue to the actual meaning of the writer, which can be elusive and self-contradictory (the opposite of Formalism), as no one can be certain of what the actual meaning is except the original writer.  

Reader-Response
This method relies on the reader making mental and life-experience connections to the work. The meaning of the work depends upon the reader’s state of mind at the time of the reading and the reader’s previous life-experiences.  

Archetypal (Myth) Criticism
This approach relies on the idea of the “collective unconscious,” a set of mythic experiences that repeat themselves throughout human history. The writer and reader are assumed to share these experiences; the writer reveals patterns that make the work comparative to and distinct from other works.  

New Historicism
This methodology relies on the view that history is not the absolute rendition of societal events. The past is disputable and uncertain and may reveal heroic actions as nothing more than despotism. This approach tries to get away from the fallacies that dominant societies inevitably produce when creating their history.  

Post-Colonialism
This viewpoint supposes a society moving away from cultural, economic, psychological, and social dependence on another society in the creation of its literature.  
Lesbian and Gay Criticism (Queer Theory)
This school of thought deals with the effect sexual orientation has on interpreting a text. This view also deals with the literary representation of homosexuals in the past. Furthermore, it discusses the ideas of closeted and guilt-ridden sentiment (as well as current uncloseted sentiment in the gay and lesbian community), and also how gays and lesbians have dealt with making their work more acceptable to the general public. http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~uwc/Grad%20Gateway/grad_level_writing/critical_theories.htm

Literary Theory and Criticism
Literary theory and literary criticism are interpretive tools that help us think more deeply and insightfully about the literature that we read. Over time, different schools of literary criticism have developed, each with its own approaches to the act of reading.

Schools of Interpretation
Cambridge School (1920s–1930s): A group of scholars at Cambridge University who rejected historical and biographical analysis of texts in favor of close readings of the texts themselves. Chicago School (1950s): A group, formed at the University of Chicago in the 1950s, that drew on Aristotle’s distinctions between the various elements within a narrative to analyze the relation between form and structure. Critics and Criticisms: Ancient and Modern (1952) is the major work of the Chicago School. Deconstruction (1967–present): A philosophical approach to reading, first advanced by Jacques Derrida that attacks the assumption that a text has a single, stable meaning. Derrida suggests that all interpretation of a text simply constitutes further texts, which means there is no “outside the text” at all. Therefore, it is impossible for a text to have stable meaning. The practice of deconstruction involves identifying the contradictions within a text’s claim to have a single, stable meaning, and showing that a text can be taken to mean a variety of things that differ significantly from what it purports to mean.

Feminist criticism (1960s–present): An umbrella term for a number of different critical approaches that seek to distinguish the human experience from the male experience. Feminist critics draw attention to the ways in which patriarchal social structures have marginalized women and male authors have exploited women in their portrayal of them. Although feminist criticism dates as far back as Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and had some significant advocates in the early 20th century, such as Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir, it did not gain widespread recognition as a theoretical and political movement until the 1960s and 1970s.

Psychoanalytic criticism: Any form of criticism that draws on psychoanalysis,the practice of analyzing the role of unconscious psychological drives and impulses in shaping human behavior or artistic production. The three main schools of psychoanalysis are named for the three leading figures in developing psychoanalytic theory: Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jacques Lacan. Freudian criticism (c. 1900–present): The view of art as the imagined fulfillment of wishes that reality denies. According to Freud, artists sublimate their desires and translate their imagined wishes into art. We, as an audience, respond to the sublimated wishes that we share with the artist. Working from this view, an artist’s biography becomes a useful tool in interpreting his or her work. “Freudian criticism” is also used as a term to describe the analysis of Freudian images within a work of art. Jungian criticism (1920s–present): A school of criticism that draws on Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, a reservoir of common thoughts and experiences that all cultures share. Jung holds that literature is an expression of the main themes of the collective unconscious, and critics often invoke his work in discussions of literary archetypes. Lacanian criticism (c. 1977–present): Criticism based on Jacques Lacan’s view that the unconscious, and our perception of ourselves, is shaped in the “symbolic” order of language rather than in the “imaginary” order of prelinguistic thought. Lacan is famous in literary circles for his influential reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.”

Marxist criticism: An umbrella term for a number of critical approaches to literature that draw inspiration from the social and economic theories of Karl Marx. Marx maintained that material production, or economics, ultimately determines the course of history, and in turn influences social structures.These social structures, Marx argued, are held in place by the dominant ideology, which serves to reinforce the interests of the ruling class. Marxist criticism approaches literature as a struggle with social realities and ideologies. Frankfurt School (c. 1923–1970): A group of German Marxist thinkers associated with the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. These thinkers applied the principles of Marxism to a wide range of social phenomena, including literature. Major members of the Frankfurt School include Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, and Jürgen Habermas.

New Criticism (1930s–1960s): Coined in John Crowe Ransom’s The New Criticism (1941), this approach discourages the use of history and biography in interpreting a literary work. Instead, it encourages readers to discover the meaning of a work through a detailed analysis of the text itself. This approach was popular in the middle of the 20th century, especially in the United States, but has since fallen out of favor.

New Historicism (1980s–present): An approach that breaks down distinctions between “literature” and “historical context” by examining the contemporary production and reception of literary texts, including the dominant social, political, and moral movements of the time. Stephen Greenblatt is a leader in this field, which joins the careful textual analysis of New Criticism with a dynamic model of historical research.

New Humanism (c. 1910–1933): An American movement, led by Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, that embraced conservative literary and moral values and advocated a return to humanistic education.

Post-structuralism (1960s–1970s): A movement that comprised, among other things, Deconstruction, Lacanian criticism, and the later works of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. It criticized structuralism for its claims to scientific objectivity, including its assumption that the system of signs in which language operates was stable.

Queer theory (1980s–present): A “constructivist” (as opposed to “essentialist”) approach to gender and sexuality that asserts that gender roles and sexual identity are social constructions rather than an essential, inescapable part of our nature. Queer theory consequently studies literary texts with an eye to the ways in which different authors in different eras construct sexual and gender identity. Queer theory draws on certain branches of feminist criticism and traces its roots to the first volume of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality (1976).

Russian Formalism (1915–1929): A school that attempted a scientific analysis of the formal literary devices used in a text. The Stalinist authorities criticized and silenced the Formalists, but Western critics rediscovered their work in the 1960s. Ultimately, the Russian Formalists had significant influence on structuralism and Marxist criticism.

Structuralism (1950s–1960s): An intellectual movement that made significant contributions not only to literary criticism but also to philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and history. Structuralist literary critics, such as Roland Barthes, read texts as an interrelated system of signs that refer to one another rather than to an external “meaning” that is fixed either by author or reader. Structuralist literary theory draws on the work of the Russian Formalists, as well as the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure and C. S. Peirce.

Literary Terms and Theories
Literary theory is notorious for its complex and somewhat inaccessible jargon. The following list defines some of the more commonly encountered terms in the field.

Anxiety of influence: A theory that the critic Harold Bloom put forth in The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973). Bloom uses Freud’s idea of the Oedipus complex (see below) to suggest that poets, plagued by anxiety that they have nothing new to say, struggle against the influence of earlier generations of poets. Bloom suggests that poets find their distinctive voices in an act of misprision, or misreading, of earlier influences, thus refiguring the poetic tradition. Although Bloom presents his thesis as a theory of poetry, it can be applied to other arts as well.

Canon: A group of literary works commonly regarded as central or authoritative to the literary tradition. For example, many critics concur that the Western canon—the central literary works of Western civilization—includes the writings of Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and the like. A canon is an evolving entity, as works are added or subtracted as their perceived value shifts over time. For example, the fiction of W. Somerset Maugham was central to the canon during the middle of the 20th century but is read less frequently today. In recent decades, the idea of an authoritative canon has come under attack, especially from feminist and postcolonial critics, who see the canon as a tyranny of dead white males that marginalizes less mainstream voices.

Death of the author: A post-structuralist theory, first advanced by Roland Barthes, that suggests that the reader, not the author, creates the meaning of a text. Ultimately, the very idea of an author is a fiction invented by the reader.

Diachronic/synchronic: Terms that Ferdinand de Saussure used to describe two different approaches to language. The diachronic approach looks at language as a historical process and examines the ways in which it has changed over time. Thesynchronic approach looks at language at a particular moment in time, without reference to history. Saussure’s structuralist approach is synchronic, for it studies language as a system of interrelated signs that have no reference to anything (such as history) outside of the system.

Dialogic/monologic: Terms that the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin used to distinguish works that are controlled by a single, authorial voice (monologic) from works in which no single voice predominates (dialogic or polyphonic). Bakhtin takes Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky as examples of monologic and dialogic writing, respectively.

Diegesis/Mimesis: Terms that Aristotle first used to distinguish “telling”(diegesis) from “showing” (mimesis). In a play, for instance, most of the action is mimetic, but moments in which a character recounts what has happened offstage are diegetic.

Discourse: A post-structuralist term for the wider social and intellectual context in which communication takes place. The implication is that the meaning of works is as dependent on their surrounding context as it is on the content of the works themselves. Exegesis: An explanation of a text that clarifies difficult passages and analyzes its contemporary relevance or application. Explication: A close reading of a text that identifies and explains the figurative language and forms within the work.

Hermeneutics: The study of textual interpretation and of the way in which a text communicates meaning.

Intertextuality: The various relationships a text may have with other texts, through allusions, borrowing of formal or thematic elements, or simply by reference to traditional literary forms. The term is important to structuralist and poststructuralist critics, who argue that texts relate primarily to one another and not to an external reality.

Linguistics: The scientific study of language, encompassing, among other things, the study of syntax, semantics, and the evolution of language.

Logocentrism: The desire for an ultimate guarantee of meaning, whether God, Truth, Reason, or something else. Jacques Derrida criticizes the bulk of Western philosophy as being based on a logocentric “metaphysics of presence,” which insists on the presence of some such ultimate guarantee. The main goal of deconstruction is to undermine this belief.

Metalanguage: A technical language that explains and interprets the properties of ordinary language. For example, the vocabulary of literary criticism is a metalanguage that explains the ordinary language of literature. Post-structuralist critics argue that there is no such thing as a metalanguage; rather, they assert, all language is on an even plane and therefore there is no essential difference between literature and criticism.

Metanarrative: A larger framework within which we understand historical processes. For instance, a Marxist metanarrative sees history primarily as a history of changing material circumstances and class struggle. Post-structuralist critics draw our attention to the ways in which assumed met narratives can be used as tools of political domination.

Mimesis:Seediegesis/mimesis,above.

Monologic:Seedialogic/monologic,above.

Narratology: The study of narrative, encompassing the different kinds of narrative voices, forms of narrative, and possibilities of narrative analysis.

Oedipus complex: Sigmund Freud’s theory that a male child feels unconscious jealousy toward his father and lust for his mother. The name comes from Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, in which the main character unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. Freud applies this theory in an influential reading of Hamlet, in which he sees Hamlet as struggling with his admiration of Claudius, who fulfilled Hamlet’s own desire of murdering Hamlet’s father and marrying his mother.

Semantics: The branch of linguistics that studies the meanings of words.

Semiotics or semiology: Terms for the study of sign systems and the ways in which communication functions through conventions in sign systems. Semiotics is central to structuralist linguistics. Sign/signifier/signified: Terms fundamental to Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralism linguistics. A sign is a basic unit of meaning—a word, picture, or hand gesture, for instance, that conveys some meaning. A signifier is the perceptible aspect of a sign (e.g., the word “car”) while the signified is the conceptual aspect of a sign (e.g., the concept of a car). A referent is a physical object to which a sign system refers (e.g., the physical car itself). Synchronic:Seediachronic/synchronicabove.

Literary Movements and Periods
Literature constantly evolves as new movements emerge to speak to the concerns of different groups of people and historical periods. Absurd, literature of the (c. 1930–1970): A movement, primarily in the theater, that responded to the seeming illogicality and purposelessness of human life in works marked by a lack of clear narrative, understandable psychological motives, or emotional catharsis. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is one of the most celebrated works in the theater of the absurd. Aestheticism (c. 1835–1910): A late-19th-century movement that believed in art as an end in itself. Aesthetes such as Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater rejected the view that art had to posses a higher moral or political value and believed instead in “art for art’s sake.” Angry Young Men (1950s–1980s): A group of male British writers who created visceral plays and fiction at odds with the political establishment and a self-satisfied middle class. John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (1957) is one of the seminal works of this movement. Beat Generation (1950s–1960s): A group of American writers in the 1950s and 1960s who sought release and illumination though a bohemian counterculture of sex, drugs, and Zen Buddhism. Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac (On The Road) and Allen Ginsberg (Howl) gained fame by giving readings in coffeehouses, often accompanied by jazz music. Bloomsbury Group (c. 1906–1930s): An informal group of friends and lovers, including Clive Bell, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, and John Maynard Keynes, who lived in the Bloomsbury section of London in the early 20th century and who had a considerable liberalizing influence on British culture. Commedia dell’arte (1500s–1700s): Improvisational comedy first developed in Renaissance Italy that involved stock characters and centered around a set scenario. The elements of farce and buffoonery in commedia dell’arte, as well as its standard characters and plot intrigues, have had a tremendous influence on Western comedy, and can still be seen in contemporary drama and television sitcoms. Dadaism (1916–1922): An avant-garde movement that began in response to the devastation of World War I. Based in Paris and led by the poet Tristan Tzara, the Dadaists produced nihilistic and antilogical prose, poetry, and art, and rejected the traditions, rules, and ideals of prewar Europe. Enlightenment (c. 1660–1790): An intellectual movement in France and other parts of Europe that emphasized the importance of reason, progress, and liberty. The Enlightenment, sometimes called the Age of Reason, is primarily associated with nonfiction writing, such as essays and philosophical treatises. Major Enlightenment writers include Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, René Descartes. Elizabethan era (c. 1558–1603): A flourishing period in English literature, particularly drama, that coincided with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and included writers such as Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sidney, and Edmund Spenser. Gothic fiction (c. 1764–1820): A genre of late-18th-century literature that featured brooding, mysterious settings and plots and set the stage for what we now call “horror stories.” Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, set inside a medieval castle, was the first major Gothic novel. Later, the term “Gothic” grew to include any work that attempted to create an atmosphere of terror or the unknown, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Harlem Renaissance (c. 1918–1930): A flowering of African-American literature, art, and music during the 1920s in New York City. W. E. B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk anticipated the movement, which included Alain Locke’s anthology The New Negro, Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the poetry of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Lost Generation (c. 1918–1930s): A term used to describe the generation of writers, many of them soldiers that came to maturity during World War I. Notable members of this group include F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway, whose novel The Sun Also Rises embodies the Lost Generation’s sense of disillusionment. Magic realism (c. 1935–present): A style of writing, popularized by Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Günter Grass, and others, that combines realism with moments of dream-like fantasy within a single prose narrative. Metaphysical poets (c. 1633–1680): A group of 17th-century poets who combined direct language with ingenious images, paradoxes, and conceits. John Donne and Andrew Marvell are the best known poets of this school. Middle English (c. 1066–1500): The transitional period between Anglo-Saxon and modern English. The cultural upheaval that followed the Norman Conquest of England, in 1066, saw a flowering of secular literature, including ballads, chivalric romances, allegorical poems, and a variety of religious plays. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is the most celebrated work of this period. Modernism (1890s–1940s): A literary and artistic movement that provided a radical breaks with traditional modes of Western art, thought, religion, social conventions, and morality. Major themes of this period include the attack on notions of hierarchy; experimentation in new forms of narrative, such as stream of consciousness; doubt about the existence of knowable, objective reality; attention to alternative viewpoints and modes of thinking; and self-referentiality as a means of drawing attention to the relationships between artist and audience, and form and content. High modernism (1920s): Generally considered the golden age of modernist literature, this period saw the publication of James Joyce’sUlysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Naturalism (c. 1865–1900): A literary movement that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. Leading writers in the movement include Émile Zola, Theodore Dreiser, and Stephen Crane. Neoclassicism (c. 1660–1798): A literary movement, inspired by the rediscovery of classical works of ancient Greece and Rome that emphasized balance, restraint, and order. Neoclassicism roughly coincided with the Enlightenment, which espoused reason over passion. Notable neoclassical writers include Edmund Burke, John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift. Nouveau Roman (“New Novel”) (c. 1955–1970): A French movement, led by Alain Robbe-Grillet, that dispensed with traditional elements of the novel, such as plot and character, in favor of neutrally recording the experience of sensations and things. Postcolonial literature (c. 1950s–present): Literature by and about people from former European colonies, primarily in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. This literature aims both to expand the traditional canon of Western literature and to challenge Eurocentric assumptions about literature, especially through examination of questions of otherness, identity, and race. Prominent postcolonial works include Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Edward Said’sOrientalism (1978) provided an important theoretical basis for understanding postcolonial literature. Postmodernism (c. 1945–present): A notoriously ambiguous term, especially as it refers to literature, postmodernism can be seen as a response to the elitism of high modernism as well as to the horrors of World War II. Postmodern literature is characterized by a disjointed, fragmented pastiche of high and low culture that reflects the absence of tradition and structure in a world driven by technology and consumerism. Julian Barnes, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie, and Kurt Vonnegut are among many who are considered postmodern authors. Pre-Raphaelites (c. 1848–1870): The literary arm of an artistic movement that drew inspiration from Italian artists working before Raphael (1483–1520). The Pre-Raphaelites combined sensuousness and religiosity through archaic poetic forms and medieval settings. William Morris, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Charles Swinburne were leading poets in the movement. Realism (c. 1830–1900): A loose term that can refer to any work that aims at honest portrayal over sensationalism, exaggeration, or melodrama. Technically, realism refers to a late-19th-century literary movement—primarily French, English, and American—that aimed at accurate detailed portrayal of ordinary, contemporary life. Many of the 19th century’s greatest novelists, such as Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, and Leo Tolstoy, are classified as realists. Naturalism ( see above ) can be seen as an intensification of realism. Romanticism (c. 1798–1832): A literary and artistic movement that reacted against the restraint and universalism of the Enlightenment. The Romantics celebrated spontaneity, imagination, subjectivity, and the purity of nature. Notable English Romantic writers include Jane Austen, William Blake, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Wordsworth. Prominent figures in the American Romantic movement include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, William Cullen Bryant, and John Greenleaf Whittier. Sturm und Drang (1770s): German for “storm and stress,” this brief German literary movement advocated passionate individuality in the face of Neoclassical rationalism and restraint. Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther is the most enduring work of this movement, which greatly influenced the Romantic movement (see above). Surrealism (1920s–1930s): An avant-garde movement, based primarily in France, that sought to break down the boundaries between rational and irrational, conscious and unconscious, through a variety of literary and artistic experiments. The surrealist poets, such as André Breton and Paul Eluard, were not as successful as their artist counterparts, who included Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and René Magritte. Symbolists (1870s–1890s): A group of French poets who reacted against realism with a poetry of suggestion based on private symbols, and experimented with new poetic forms such as free verse and the prose poem. The symbolists—Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Verlaine are the most well known—were influenced by Charles Baudelaire. In turn, they had a seminal influence on the modernist poetry of the early 20th century. Transcendentalism (c. 1835–1860): An American philosophical and spiritual movement, based in New England, that focused on the primacy of the individual conscience and rejected materialism in favor of closer communion with nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden are famous transcendentalist works. Victorian era (c. 1832–1901): The period of English history between the passage of the first Reform Bill (1832) and the death of Queen Victoria (reigned 1837–1901). Though remembered for strict social, political, and sexual conservatism and frequent clashes between religion and science, the period also saw prolific literary activity and significant social reform and criticism. Notable Victorian novelists include the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, and Thomas Hardy, while prominent poets include Matthew Arnold; Robert Browning; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Gerard Manley Hopkins; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and Christina Rossetti. Notable Victorian nonfiction writers include Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and Charles Darwin, who penned the famous On the Origin of Species (1859).  

Common Literary Forms and Genres
Allegory: A narrative in which literal meaning corresponds clearly and directly to symbolic meaning. For example, the literal story in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress—Christian’s journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City—is an allegory for the spiritual journey from sin to holiness. Anecdote: The brief narration of a single event or incident. Aphorism: A concise expression of insight or wisdom: “The vanity of others offends our taste only when it offends our vanity” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil). Autobiography: The nonfictional story of a person’s life, told by that person. St. Augustine’s Confessions is an early, canonical work in this genre (see alsomemoir,below). Ballad: Traditionally, a folk song telling a story or legend in simple language, often with a refrain. A number of poets outside the folk tradition have adopted the ballad form, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge did in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Biography: The nonfictional story of a person’s life. James Boswell’s Life of Johnson is one of the most celebrated works of biography. When the author of a biography is also its subject, the work is an autobiography (see above). Black comedy: Disturbing or absurd material presented in a humorous manner, usually with the intention to confront uncomfortable truths. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22is a notable example. Burlesque: A humorous imitation of a serious work of literature. The humor often arises from the incongruity between the imitation and the work being imitated. For example, Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock uses the high diction of epic poetry to talk about a domestic matter. Confessional poetry: An autobiographical poetic genre in which the poet discusses intensely personal subject matter with unusual frankness. The genre was popular from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, due in part to Robert Lowell’s Life Studies (1959). Didactic literature: Literature intended to instruct or educate. For example, Virgil’sGeorgics contains farming advice in verse form. Dirge: A short poetic expression of grief. A dirge differs from an elegy (see below) in that it often is embedded within a larger work, is less highly structured, and is meant to be sung. Ariel’s song “Full fathom five thy father lies” in Shakespeare’s The Tempest is an example of a dirge. Drama: A composition that is meant to be performed. The term often is used interchangeably with play (see below), but drama is a broader term that includes some forms that may not strictly be defined as plays, such as radio broadcasts, comedy sketches, and opera. Dramatic monologue: A poem that contains words that a fictional or historical character speaks to a particular audience. Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is a famous example. Dystopic literature: A genre of fiction that presents an imagined future society that purports to be perfect and utopian but that the author presents to the reader as horrifyingly inhuman. Usually the author intends to warn contemporary readers that their own society resembles, or is in danger of resembling, this flawed future world. George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are well-known works of dystopic literature. Eclogue: A short pastoral poem (see below) in the form of a soliloquy (see below) or dialogue between two shepherds. Virgil’s Eclogues is the most famous example of this genre. Elegy: A formal poem that laments the death of a friend or public figure, or, occasionally, a meditation on death itself. In Greek and Latin poetry, the term applies to a specific type of meter (alternating hexameters and pentameters) regardless of content, but only some elegies in English obey that meter. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Adonais,” which mourns the death of John Keats, is an example of an elegy. Epic: A lengthy narrative that describes the deeds of a heroic figure, often of national or cultural importance, in elevated language. Strictly, the term applies only to verse narratives like Beowulf or Virgil’s Aeneid, but it is used to describe prose, drama, or film works of similar scope, such as Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Epigram: A succinct, witty statement, often in verse. For example, William Wordsworth’s observation “The child is the father of the man.” Essay: A form of nonfictional discussion or argument that Michel de Montaigne pioneered in the 1500s. Essays are flexible in form: although they usually are short prose works, there are also examples of book-length essays (by John Locke) and verse essays (by Alexander Pope). Fable: A short prose or verse narrative, such as those by Aesop, that illustrates a moral, which often is stated explicitly at the end. Frequently, the characters in a fable are animals that embody different human character traits. Fiction: An invented narrative, as opposed to one that reports true events. Legend: A story about a heroic figure derived from oral tradition and based partly on fact and partly on fiction. The terms legend and myth (see below) are often used interchangeably, but legends are typically rooted in real historical events, whereas myths are primarily supernatural. The stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood are examples of legends. Lyric: A short poetic composition that describes the thoughts of a single speaker. Most modern poetry is lyrical (as opposed to dramatic or narrative), employing such common forms as the ode and sonnet. Memoir: An autobiographical work. Rather than focus exclusively on the author’s life, it pays significant attention to the author’s involvement in historical events and the characterization of individuals other than the author. A famous example is Winston Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War. Metafiction: Fiction that concerns the nature of fiction itself, either by reinterpreting a previous fictional work or by drawing attention to its own fictional status. Examples of the former include John Gardner’s Grendel, which retells the Anglo-Saxon epicBeowulf from a new perspective, and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which portrays three women connected to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, including Woolf herself. An example of the latter is Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in which the narrator tells the story and simultaneously comments on his own telling of the story. Myth: A story about the origins of a culture’s beliefs and practices, or of supernatural phenomena, usually derived from oral tradition and set in an imagined supernatural past. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a famous early example. Some writers, such as William Blake and William Butler Yeats, have invented their own myths. Myths are similar, but not equivalent, to legends (see above). Noir: A fiction genre, popularized in the 1940s, with a cynical, disillusioned, loner protagonist. Noir often involves crime or the criminal underworld. The term stems from “film noir,” which describes films of similar style and content. Classic examples of noir fiction include Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Nonfiction: A narrative work that reports true events.

Novel: A fictional prose narrative of significant length. Since the novel form became popular in the 1700s, however, the term has come to describe other works—nonfiction novels, novels in verse, short novels, and others—that do not necessarily fit this strict definition. Autobiographical novel: A novel that tells a nonfictional, autobiographical story but uses novelistic techniques, such as fictionalized dialogue or anecdotes, to add color, immediacy, or thematic unity. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiographical novel. Bildungsroman: A German term, meaning “formation novel,” for a novel about a child or adolescent’s development into maturity, with special focus on the protagonist’s quest for identity. James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a notable example. Epistolary novel: A novel written in the form of letters exchanged by characters in the story, such as Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. This form was especially popular in the 1700s. Historical novel: A novel set in an earlier historical period that features a plot shaped by the historical circumstances of that period. Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, written in the early 1990s, portrays a tragic romance set against the backdrop of World War II. Novel of ideas: A novel, such as Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, that the author uses as a platform for discussing ideas. Character and plot are of secondary importance. Novel of manners: A novel that focuses on the social customs of a certain class of people, often with a sharp eye for irony. Jane Austen’s novels are prime examples of this genre. Picaresque novel: Originally, a realistic novel detailing a scoundrel’s exploits. The term grew to refer more generally to any novel with a loosely structured, episodic plot that revolves around the adventures of a central character. Cervantes’s Don Quixote is a classic picaresque novel. Social protest novel: A novel in which the author’s aim is to tell a story that illuminates and draws attention to contemporary social problems with the goal of inciting change for the better. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which exposed the horrors of African- American slavery, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which popularized the plight of penniless migrant workers during the Great Depression, are examples. Verse novel: A full-length fictional work that is novelistic in nature but written in verse rather than prose. Examples include Aleksandr Pushkin’sEugene Onegin and Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate. Novella: A work of fiction of middle length, often divided into a few short chapters, such as Henry James’s Daisy Miller. Ode: A serious lyric poem, often of significant length, that usually conforms to an elaborate metrical structure. An example is William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality.” Parable: A short narrative that illustrates a moral by means of allegory (see above). Parody: A humorous and often satirical imitation of the style or particular work of another author. Henry Fielding’s Shamela is a parody of Samuel Richardson’sPamela. Pastiche: A work that imitates the style of a previous author, work, or literary genre. Alternatively, the term may refer to a work that contains a hodgepodge of elements or fragments from different sources or influences. Pastiche differs fromparody in that its imitation is not meant as a form of mockery. For example, John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman was written in the 1960s but imitates the style of the Victorian novel. Pastoral: A celebration of the simple, rustic life of shepherds and shepherdesses, usually written by a sophisticated, urban writer. Christopher Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” epitomizes pastoral themes. Play: A story meant to be performed in a theater before an audience. Most plays are written in dialogue form and are divided into several acts. Many include stage directions and instructions for sets and costumes. Comedy: A lighthearted play characterized by humor and a happy ending. Epic theater: Bertolt Brecht’s Marxist approach to theater, which rejects emotional and psychological engagement in favor of critical detachment. His plays The Threepenny Opera and Mother Courage are two famous works in this genre. Farce: A form of high-energy comedy that plays on confusions and deceptions between characters and features a convoluted and fast-paced plot. Farce often incorporates buffoonery, slapstick, and stock characters to provoke uproarious laughter. Molière was a master of farce with such plays as The Imaginary Invalid. Miracle play: A play from the Middle Ages featuring saints or miraculous appearances by the Virgin Mary. Morality play: A play written in the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries that presents an allegory (see above) of the Christian struggle for salvation. Mystery play: A short play based on a biblical story. Mystery plays, popular in the Middle Ages, often were presented in cycles, in which dozens of plays were performed at different locations throughout a city and collectively presented the most significant moments in the Bible. Noh drama: A ritualized form of Japanese drama that evolved in the 1300s involving masks and slow, stylized movement. Problem play: A play that confronts a contemporary social problem with the intent of changing public opinion on the matter. Henrik Ibsen popularized this form in plays such as Hedda Gabler. Tragedy: A serious play that ends unhappily for the protagonist. Sophocles’Antigone is one of the best-known Greek tragedies. Tragicomedy: A play such as Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale that mixes elements of tragedy and comedy. One-act play: A play consisting of a single act, without intermission and running usually less than an hour. Edward Albee’s Zoo Story is a well-known example. Primitivist literature: Works that express a preference for the natural over the artificial in human culture, and a belief that the life of primitive cultures is preferable to modern lifestyles. Primitivism is often associated with a nostalgia for the lost innocence of a natural, childlike past. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the foremost advocates of primitivism in works such as Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse. Propaganda: A work of didactic literature that aims to influence the reader on a specific social or political issue. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is an example of propaganda instrumental in the American Revolution. Prose: Any composition not written in verse. The basic unit of prose is the sentence, which distinguishes it from free verse (see poetry, above), in which the basic unit is a line of verse. Prose writing can be rhythmic, but on the whole, rhythm in prose is less pronounced than in verse. Prose works encompass everything from Henry James’s The Ambassadors, with its elaborate sentences, to Amy Tan’s interconnected stories in The Joy Luck Club. Prose poem: A poetic work that features the strong rhythms of free verse (seeRhythm and Meter,above) but is presented on the page in the form of prose, without line breaks. Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations is an example of a prose poem. Romance: A nonrealistic story, in verse or prose, that features idealized characters, improbable adventures, and exotic settings. Although love often plays a significant role, the association of “romance” with “love” is a modern phenomenon. Romances, such as Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, were particularly popular in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Chivalric romance: A romance that describes the adventures of medieval knights and celebrates their strict code of honor, loyalty, and respectful devotion to women. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an example of a chivalric romance. Satire: A work that exposes to ridicule the shortcomings of individuals, institutions, or society, often to make a political point. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is one of the most well known satires in English. Science fiction: Fiction that is set in an alternative reality—often a technologically advanced future—and that contains fantastical elements. The genre traces its roots to the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the late 1800s. Notable 20th-century science fiction writers include Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. Short story: A work of prose fiction that is much shorter than a novel (rarely more than forty pages) and focused more tightly on a single event. Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party” is a masterful short story. Short-short story: A particularly compressed and truncated short story. Short-short stories are rarely longer than 1,000 words. Soliloquy: A speech, often in verse, by a lone character. Soliloquies are most common in drama, perhaps the most famous example being the “To be or not to be” speech in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Elements of Poetry
Poetry is a literary form characterized by a strong sense of rhythm and meter and an emphasis on the interaction between sound and sense. The study of the elements of poetry is called prosody. For an in-depth explanation of poetry and poetic forms, see the Poetry Spark Chart.  

Rhythm and Meter
Rhythm and meter are the building blocks of poetry. Rhythm is the pattern of sound created by the varying length and emphasis given to different syllables. The rise and fall of spoken language is called its cadence. Meter

Meter is the rhythmic pattern created in a line of verse. There are four basic kinds of meter: Accentual (strong-stress) meter: The number of stressed syllables in a line is fixed, but the number of total syllables is not. This kind of meter is common in Anglo-Saxon poetry, such as Beowulf. Gerard Manley Hopkins developed a form of accentual meter called sprung rhythm, which had considerable influence on 20th-century poetry. Syllabic meter: The number of total syllables in a line is fixed, but the number of stressed syllables is not. This kind of meter is relatively rare in English poetry. Accentual-syllabic meter: Both the number of stressed syllables and the number of total syllables is fixed. Accentual-syllabic meter has been the most common kind of meter in English poetry since Chaucer in the late Middle Ages. Quantitative meter: The duration of sound of each syllable, rather than its stress, determines the meter. Quantitative meter is common in Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and Arabic but not in English. The Foot

The foot is the basic rhythmic unit into which a line of verse can be divided. When reciting verse, there usually is a slight pause between feet. When this pause is especially pronounced, it is called a caesura. The process of analyzing the number and type of feet in a line is called scansion. These are the most common types of feet in English poetry.

Iamb: An unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable: “to day ” Trochee: A stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable: “ car ry” Dactyl: A stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables: “ difficult” Anapest: Two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable: “it istime ” Spondee: Two successive syllables with strong stresses: “stop, thief” Pyrrhic: Two successive syllables with light stresses: “up to” Most English poetry has four or five feet in a line, but it is not uncommon to see as few as one or as many as eight. Monometer: One foot

Dimeter: Two feet
Trimeter: Three feet
Tetrameter: Four feet
Pentameter: Five feet
Hexameter: Six feet
Heptameter: Seven feet
Octameter: Eight feet
Types of Accentual-Syllabic Meter
Accentual-syllabic meter is determined by the number and type of feet in a line of verse. Iambic pentameter: Each line of verse has five feet (pentameter), each of which consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (iamb). Iambic pentameter is one of the most popular metrical schemes in English poetry. Blank verse: Unrhymed iambic pentameter. Blank verse bears a close resemblance to the rhythms of ordinary speech, giving poetry a natural feel. Shakespeare’s plays are written primarily in blank verse. Ballad: Alternating tetrameter and trimeter, usually iambic and rhyming. Ballad form, which is common in traditional folk poetry and song, enjoyed a revival in the Romantic period with such poems as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Free verse: Verse that does not conform to any fixed meter or rhyme scheme. Free verse is not, however, loose or unrestricted: its rules of composition are as strict and difficult as traditional verse, for they rely on less evident rhythmic patterns to give the poem shape. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is a seminal work of free verse.

Elements of Style
  
Figures of Speech
Figures of speech are expressions that stretch words beyond their literal meanings. By connecting or juxtaposing different sounds and thoughts, figures of speech increase the breadth and subtlety of expression. Alliteration: The repetition of similar sounds, usually consonants, at the beginning of words. For example, Robert Frost’s poem “Out, out—” contains the alliterative phrase “sweet scented stuff.” Aposiopesis: A breaking-off of speech, usually because of rising emotion or excitement. For example, “Touch me one more time, and I swear—” Apostrophe: A direct address to an absent or dead person, or to an object, quality, or idea. Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain, My Captain,” written upon the death of Abraham Lincoln, is an example of apostrophe. Assonance: The repetition of similar vowel sounds in a sequence of nearby words. For example, Alfred, Lord Tennyson creates assonance with the “o” sound in this line from “The Lotos-Eaters”: “All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone.” Cacophony: The clash of discordant or harsh sounds within a sentence or phrase. Cacophony is a familiar feature of tongue twisters but can also be used to poetic effect, as in the words “anfractuous rocks” in T. S. Eliot’s “Sweeney Erect.” Although dissonance has a different musical meaning, it is sometimes used interchangeably with “cacophony.” Chiasmus: Two phrases in which the syntax is the same but the placement of words is reversed, as in these lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Pains of Sleep”: “To be beloved is all I need, / And whom I love, I love indeed.” Cliché: An expression such as “turn over a new leaf” that has been used so frequently it has lost its expressive power. Colloquialism: An informal expression or slang, especially in the context of formal writing, as in Philip Larkin’s “Send No Money”: “All the other lads there / Were itching to have a bash.” Conceit: An elaborate parallel between two seemingly dissimilar objects or ideas. The metaphysical poets (see Literary Movements, below) are especially known for their conceits, as in John Donne’s “The Flea.” Epithet: An adjective or phrase that describes a prominent feature of a person or thing. “Richard ‘the Lionheart’ ” and “ ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson” are both examples of epithets. Euphemism: The use of decorous language to express vulgar or unpleasant ideas, events, or actions. For example, “passed away” instead of “died”; “ethnic cleansing” instead of “genocide.” Euphony: A pleasing arrangement of sounds. Many consider “cellar door” one of the most euphonious phrases in English. Hyperbole: An excessive overstatement or conscious exaggeration of fact: “I’ve told you about it a million times already.” Idiom: A common expression that has acquired a meaning that differs from its literal meaning, such as “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “a bolt from the blue.” Litotes: A form of understatement in which a statement is affirmed by negating its opposite: “He is not unfriendly.” Meiosis: Intentional understatement, as, for example, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio is mortally wounded and says it is only “a scratch.” Meiosis is the opposite of hyperbole and often employs litotes to ironic effect. Metaphor: The comparison of one thing to another that does not use the terms “like” or “as.” Shakespeare is famous for his metaphors, as in Macbeth: “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage.” Mixed metaphor: A combination of metaphors that produces a confused or contradictory image, such as “The company’s collapse left mountains of debt in its wake.” Metonymy: The substitution of one term for another that generally is associated with it. For example, “suits” instead of “businessmen.” Onomatopoeia: The use of words, such as “pop,” “hiss,” and “boing,” that sound like the thing they refer to. Oxymoron: The association of two contrary terms, as in the expressions “same difference” or “wise fool.” Paradox: A statement that seems absurd or even contradictory on its face but often expresses a deeper truth. For example, a line in Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”: “And all men kill the thing they love.” Paralipsis: Also known as praeteritio, the technique of drawing attention to something by claiming not to mention it. For example, from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: “We will not speak of all Queequeg’s peculiarities here; how he eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare.” Parallelism: The use of similar grammatical structures or word order in two sentences or phrases to suggest a comparison or contrast between them. In Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 129”: “Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.” Parallelism also can refer to parallels between larger elements in a narrative (see Literary Techniques, below). Pathetic fallacy: The attribution of human feeling or motivation to a nonhuman object, especially an object found in nature. For example, John Keats’s “Ode to Melancholy” describes a “weeping” cloud. Periphrasis: An elaborate and roundabout manner of speech that uses more words than necessary. Saying “I appear to be entirely without financial resources” instead of “I’m broke” is an example. Euphemisms often employ periphrasis. Personification: The use of human characteristics to describe animals, things, or ideas. Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” describes the city as “Stormy, husky, brawling, / City of the Big Shoulders.” Pun: A play on words that exploits the similarity in sound between two words with distinctly different meanings. For example, the title of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest is a pun on the word “earnest,” which means “serious or sober,” and the name “Ernest,” which figures into a scheme that some of the play’s main characters perpetrate. Rhetorical question: A question that is asked not to elicit a response but to make an impact or call attention to something. For example, the question “Isn’t she great?” expresses regard for another person and does not call for discussion. Sarcasm: A simple form of verbal irony (see Literary Techniques, below) in which it is obvious from context and tone that the speaker means the opposite of what he or she says. Sarcasm usually, but not always, expresses scorn. Commenting “That was graceful” when someone trips and falls is an example. Simile: A comparison of two things through the use of “like” or “as.” The title of Robert Burns’s poem “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” is a simile. Synaesthesia: The use of one kind of sensory experience to describe another, such as in the line “Heard melodies are sweet” in John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Synecdoche: A form of metonymy in which a part of an entity is used to refer to the whole, for example, “my wheels” for “my car.” Trope: A category of figures of speech that extend the literal meanings of words by inviting a comparison to other words, things, or ideas. Metaphor, metonymy, and simile are three common tropes. Zeugma: The use of one word in a sentence to modify two other words in the sentence, typically in two different ways. For example, in Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers, the sentence “Mr. Pickwick took his hat and his leave” uses the word “took” to mean two different things.  Literary Techniques

Whereas figures of speech work on the level of individual words or sentences, writers also use a variety of techniques to add clarity or intensity to a larger passage, advance the plot in a particular way, or suggest connections between elements in the plot. Allusion: An implicit reference within a literary work to a historical or literary person, place, or event. For example, the title of William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury alludes to a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Authors use allusion to add symbolic weight because it makes subtle or implicit connections with other works. For example, in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab’s name alludes to the wicked and idolatrous biblical king Ahab—a connection that adds depth to our understanding of Ahab’s character. Anagnorisis: A moment of recognition or discovery, primarily used in reference to Greek tragedy. For example, in Euripides’ The Bacchae, Agave experiences anagnorisis when she discovers that she has murdered her own son, Pentheus. Bathos: A sudden and unexpected drop from the lofty to the trivial or excessively sentimental. Bathos sometimes is used intentionally, to create humor, but just as often is derided as miscalculation or poor judgment on a writer’s part. An example from Alexander Pope: “Ye Gods! Annihilate but Space and Time / And make two lovers happy.” Caricature: A description or characterization that exaggerates or distorts a character’s prominent features, usually to elicit mockery. For example, in Candide,Voltaire portrays the character of Pangloss as a mocking caricature of the optimistic rationalism of philosophers like Leibniz. Deus ex machina: Greek for “God from a machine.” The phrase originally referred to a technique in ancient tragedy in which a mechanical god was lowered onto the stage to intervene and solve the play’s problems or bring the play to a satisfactory conclusion. Now, the term describes more generally a sudden or improbable plot twist that brings about the plot’s resolution. Epiphany: A sudden, powerful, and often spiritual or life changing realization that a character reaches in an otherwise ordinary or everyday moment. Many of the short stories in James Joyce’s Dubliners involve moments of epiphany. Foreshadowing: An author’s deliberate use of hints or suggestions to give a preview of events or themes that do not develop until later in the narrative. For example, in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, the nightmares Lockwood has the night he spends in Catherine’s bed prefigure later events in the novel. In medias rest: Latin for “in the middle of things.” The term refers to the technique of starting a narrative in the middle of the action. For example, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which concerns the war among the angels in Heaven, opens after the fallen angels already are in Hell and only later examines the events that led to their expulsion from Heaven. Interior monologue: A record of a character’s thoughts, unmediated by a narrator. Interior monologue sometimes takes the form of stream-of-consciousness narration (see Point of View, above) but often is more structured and logical than stream of consciousness. Invocation: A prayer for inspiration to a god or muse usually placed at the beginning of an epic. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey both open with invocations. Irony: A wide-ranging technique of detachment that draws awareness to the discrepancy between words and their meanings, between expectation and fulfillment, or, most generally, between what is and what seems to be. Verbal irony: The use of a statement that, by its context, implies its opposite. For example, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Antony repeats, “Brutus is an honorable man,” while clearly implying that Brutus is dishonorable. Sarcasm (see Figures of Speech, above) is a particularly blunt form of verbal irony. Situational irony: A technique in which one understanding of a situation stands in sharp contrast to another, usually more prevalent, understanding of the same situation. For example, Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” comments on the grotesque difference between politicians’ high-minded praise of the noble warrior and the unspeakably awful conditions of soldiers at the front. Romantic irony: An author’s persistent reminding of his or her presence in the work. By drawing attention to the artifice of the work, the author ensures that the reader or audience will maintain critical detachment and not simply accept the writing at face value. Laurence Sterne employs romantic irony in Tristram Shandy by discussing the writing of the novel in the novel itself. Dramatic irony: A technique in which the author lets the audience or reader in on a character’s situation while the character himself remains in the dark. With dramatic irony, the character’s words or actions carry a significance that the character is not aware of. When used in tragedy, dramatic irony is called tragic irony. One example is in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, when Oedipus vows to discover his father’s murderer, not knowing, as the audience does, that he himself is the murderer. Cosmic irony: The perception of fate or the universe as malicious or indifferent to human suffering, which creates a painful contrast between our purposeful activity and its ultimate meaninglessness. Thomas Hardy’s novels abound in cosmic irony. Melodrama: The use of sentimentality, gushing emotion, or sensational action or plot twists to provoke audience or reader response. Melodrama was popular in Victorian England, but critics now deride it as manipulative and hokey. Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, for example, is a particularly melodramatic work. Parallelism: Similarities between elements in a narrative (such as two characters or two plot lines). For instance, in Shakespeare’s King Lear, both Lear and Gloucester suffer at the hands of their own children because they are blind to which of their children are goodhearted and which areKing Lear, evil. Parallelism can also occur on the level of sentences or phrases (see Figures of Speech, above). Pathos: From the Greek word for “feeling,” the quality in a work of literature that evokes high emotion, most commonly sorrow, pity, or compassion. Charles Dickens exploits pathos very effectively, especially when describing the deaths of his characters. Poetic diction: The use of specific types of words, phrases, or literary structures that are not common in contemporary speech or prose. For example, Wilfred Owen’s “Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of Our Artillery Brought Into Action,” though written in the 20th century, uses antiquated diction and the time-tested sonnet form. The intentional discrepancy creates an ironic contrast between the horrors of modern war and the way poets wrote about war in the past: “Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm, / Great gun towering toward Heaven, about to curse.” Poetic license The liberty that authors sometimes take with ordinary rules of syntax and grammar, employing unusual vocabulary, metrical devices, or figures of speech or committing factual errors in order to strengthen a passage of writing. For example, the poet e. e. cummings takes poetic license in violating rules of capitalization in his works. Wit: A form of wordplay that displays cleverness or ingenuity with language. Often, but not always, wit displays humor. Oscar Wilde’s plays are famous for their witty phrases, which expose the hypocrisies of the intellectual beliefs of Wilde’s time.  

 
Thematic Meaning
Literature becomes universal when it draws connections between the particular and the general. Often, certain levels of a literary work’s meaning are not immediately evident. The following terms relate to the relationship between the words on the page and the deeper significance those words may hold. Archetype: A theme, motif, symbol, or stock character that holds a familiar and fixed place in a culture’s consciousness. For example, many cultures across the world feature an archetype of the resurrected god to herald the coming of spring. The Fisher King, Jesus Christ, and the goddess Persephone are three familiar instances of this archetype in Western culture. Emblem: A concrete object that represents something abstract. For example, the Star of David is an emblem of Judaism. An emblem differs from a symbol in that an emblem’s meaning is fixed: the Star of David always represents Judaism, regardless of context. Imagery: Language that brings to mind sense-impressions, especially via figures of speech. Sometimes, certain imagery is characteristic of a particular writer or work. For example, many of Shakespeare’s plays contain nautical imagery. Motif: A recurring structure, contrast, or other device that develops or informs a work’s major themes. A motif may relate to concrete objects, like Eastern vs. Western architecture in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, or may be a recurrent idea, phrase, or emotion, like Lily Bart’s constant desire to move up in the world in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. Symbol: An object, character, figure, or color that is used to represent an abstract idea or concept. For example, the two roads in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” symbolize the choice between two paths in life. Unlike an emblem, a symbol may have different meanings in different contexts. Theme: A fundamental and universal idea explored in a literary work. For example, a major theme of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is the perpetual contest between good and evil. Thesis: The central argument that an author makes in a work. Although the term is primarily associated with nonfiction, it can apply to fiction. For example, the thesis of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is that Chicago meatpacking plants subject poor immigrants to horrible and unjust working conditions, and that the government must do something to address the problem. Tone: The general atmosphere created in a story, or the narrator’s attitude toward the story or reader. For example, the tone of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground is outraged, defiant, and claustrophobic.

 
Narrative
A narrative is a sequence of events that a narrator tells in story form. A narratoris a storyteller of any kind, whether the authorial voice in a novel or a friend telling you about last night’s party. Point of View

The point of view is the perspective that a narrative takes toward the events it describes. First-person narration: A narrative in which the narrator tells the story from his/her own point of view and refers to him/herself as “I.” The narrator may be an active participant in the story or just an observer. When the point of view represented is specifically the author’s, and not a fictional narrator’s, the story isautobiographical and may be nonfictional (see Common Literary Forms and Genres below). Third-person narration: The narrator remains outside the story and describes the characters in the story using proper names and the third-person pronouns “he,” “she,” “it,” and “they.” Omniscient narration: The narrator knows all of the actions, feelings, and motivations of all of the characters. For example, the narrator of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina seems to know everything about all the characters and events in the story. Limited omniscient narration: The narrator knows the actions, feelings, and motivations of only one or a handful of characters. For example, the narrator of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has full knowledge of only Alice. Free indirect discourse: The narrator conveys a character’s inner thoughts while staying in the third person. Gustave Flaubert pioneered this style in Madame Bovary, as in this passage: “Sometimes she thought that these were after all the best days of her life, the honeymoon, so-called.” Objective narration: A style in which the narrator reports neutrally on the outward behavior of the characters but offers no interpretation of their actions or their inner states. Ernest Hemingway pioneered this style. Unreliable narration: The narrator is revealed over time to be an untrustworthy source of information. Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Stevens in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day are good examples of unreliable narrators. Stream-of-consciousness narration: The narrator conveys a subject’s thoughts, impressions, and perceptions exactly as they occur, often in disjointed fashion and without the logic and grammar of typical speech and writing. Molly Bloom’s monologue in the final chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses is an example of stream of consciousness. While stream-of-consciousness narration usually is written in the first person, it can, by means of free indirect discourse (see above), be written in the third person, as in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Character

A character is a person, animal, or any other thing with a personality that appears in a story. Protagonist: The main character around whom the story revolves. If the protagonist is admirable, he or she is called the hero or heroine of the story. A protagonist who is not admirable, or who challenges our notions of what should be considered admirable, is called an antihero or antiheroine. For example, Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is an antihero because he is ordinary and pathetic, whereas Meursault in Albert Camus’s The Stranger is an antihero because he challenges the traditional conception of what a hero should be. Antagonist: The primary character or entity that acts to frustrate the goals of the protagonist. The antagonist typically is a character but may also be a nonhuman force. For example, Claudius is the antagonist in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, whereas the military bureaucracy is the antagonist in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Stock character: A common character type that recurs throughout literature. Notable examples include the witty servant, the scheming villain, the femme fatale, the trusty sidekick, the old miser, and so on. A stock character that holds a central place in a culture’s folklore or consciousness may be called an archetype (seeThematic Meaning, below). Foil: A character who illuminates the qualities of another character by means of contrast. In John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale,” the swiftly traveling nightingale serves as a foil to Keats’s sleepy, opium-laden narrator. Plot

A plot is the arrangement of the events in a story, including the sequence in which they are told, the relative emphasis they are given, and the causal connections between events. Elements of a plot: A plot can have a complicated structure, but most plots have the same basic elements. 1. Conflict: The central struggle that moves the plot forward. The conflict can be the protagonist’s struggle against fate, nature, society, or another person. In certain circumstances, the conflict can be between opposing elements within the protagonist. 2. Rising action: The early part of the narrative, which builds momentum and develops the narrative’s major conflict. 3. Climax: The moment of highest tension, at which the conflict comes to a head. The word “climax” can refer either to the single moment of highest tension in the plot or, more generally, to any episode of high tension. Ananticlimax occurs when the plot builds up to an expected climax only to tease the reader with a frustrating non-event. Jane Austen’s novels, such as Sense and Sensibility, are full of romantic anticlimaxes. 4. Falling action: Also called the denouement, this is the latter part of the narrative, during which the protagonist responds to the events of the climax and the various plot elements introduced in the rising action are resolved. 5. Reversal: Sometimes called by its Greek name, peripeteia, a reversal is a sudden shift that sends the protagonist’s fortunes from good to bad or vice versa. 6. Resolution: An ending that satisfactorily answers all the questions raised over the course of the plot. Types of plot: Plots can take a wide variety of forms, ranging from orderly sequences of clearly related events to chaotic jumbles of loosely connected events. Chronological plot: Events are arranged in the sequence in which they occur. Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, for example, tells a roughly straightforward story from beginning to end. Achronological plot: Events are not arranged in the sequence in which they occur. For example, Homer’s Iliad is full of flashbacks and digressions that relate what happened before and after the central conflict of the poem. Climactic plot: All the action focuses toward a single climax. Aeschylus’sAgamemnon is a classic example of a climactic plot. Episodic plot: A series of loosely connected events. Cervantes’s Don Quixote is episodic. Non sequitur plot: More of an “anti-plot,” the non sequitur plot defies traditional logic by presenting events without any clear sequence and characters without any clear motivation. The theater of the absurd (seeLiterary Movements, below) is particularly famous for its non sequiturs. Subplot: A secondary plot that is of less importance to the overall story but may serve as a point of contrast or comparison to the main plot. For example, the subplot involving Gloucester and his sons in Shakespeare’sKing Lear serves this function. Setting

Setting is the location of a narrative in time and space. It may be specifically historical or geographical, as in the ancient Rome of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, or it may be imaginary, as in the Neverland of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The suggestive mood that the setting may create is called the atmosphere. For example, the open windows of the nursery in Peter Pan create an atmosphere of innocence and magic. http://sparkcharts.sparknotes.com/lit/literaryterms/section6.php Literary Theory

“Literary theory” is the body of ideas and methods we use in the practical reading of literature. By literary theory we refer not to the meaning of a work of literature but to the theories that reveal what literature can mean. Literary theory is a description of the underlying principles, one might say the tools, by which we attempt to understand literature. All literary interpretation draws on a basis in theory but can serve as a justification for very different kinds of critical activity. It is literary theory that formulates the relationship between author and work; literary theory develops the significance of race, class, and gender for literary study, both from the standpoint of the biography of the author and an analysis of their thematic presence within texts. Literary theory offers varying approaches for understanding the role of historical context in interpretation as well as the relevance of linguistic and unconscious elements of the text. Literary theorists trace the history and evolution of the different genres—narrative, dramatic, lyric—in addition to the more recent emergence of the novel and the short story, while also investigating the importance of formal elements of literary structure. Lastly, literary theory in recent years has sought to explain the degree to which the text is more the product of a culture than an individual author and in turn how those texts help to create the culture. Table of Contents

1. What Is Literary Theory?
2. Traditional Literary Criticism
3. Formalism and New Criticism
4. Marxism and Critical Theory
5. Structuralism and Poststructuralism
6. New Historicism and Cultural Materialism
7. Ethnic Studies and Postcolonial Criticism
8. Gender Studies and Queer Theory
9. Cultural Studies
10. References and Further Reading
a. General Works on Theory
b. Literary and Cultural Theory

1. What Is Literary Theory?
“Literary theory,” sometimes designated “critical theory,” or “theory,” and now undergoing a transformation into “cultural theory” within the discipline of literary studies, can be understood as the set of concepts and intellectual assumptions on which rests the work of explaining or interpreting literary texts. Literary theory refers to any principles derived from internal analysis of literary texts or from knowledge external to the text that can be applied in multiple interpretive situations. All critical practice regarding literature depends on an underlying structure of ideas in at least two ways: theory provides a rationale for what constitutes the subject matter of criticism—”the literary”—and the specific aims of critical practice—the act of interpretation itself. For example, to speak of the “unity” of Oedipus the Kingexplicitly invokes Aristotle’s theoretical statements on poetics. To argue, as does Chinua Achebe, that Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness fails to grant full humanity to the Africans it depicts is a perspective informed by a postcolonial literary theory that presupposes a history of exploitation and racism. Critics that explain the climactic drowning of Edna Pontellier in The Awakening as a suicide generally call upon a supporting architecture of feminist and gender theory. The structure of ideas that enables criticism of a literary work may or may not be acknowledged by the critic, and the status of literary theory within the academic discipline of literary studies continues to evolve. Literary theory and the formal practice of literary interpretation runs a parallel but less well known course with the history of philosophy and is evident in the historical record at least as far back as Plato.The Cratylus contains a Plato’s meditation on the relationship of words and the things to which they refer. Plato’s skepticism about signification, i.e., that words bear no etymological relationship to their meanings but are arbitrarily “imposed,” becomes a central concern in the twentieth century to both “Structuralism” and “Poststructuralism.” However, a persistent belief in “reference,” the notion that words and images refer to an objective reality, has provided epistemological (that is, having to do with theories of knowledge) support for theories of literary representation throughout most of Western history. Until the nineteenth century, Art, in Shakespeare’s phrase, held “a mirror up to nature” and faithfully recorded an objectively real world independent of the observer. Modern literary theory gradually emerges in Europe during the nineteenth century. In one of the earliest developments of literary theory, German “higher criticism” subjected biblical texts to a radical historicizing that broke with traditional scriptural interpretation. “Higher,” or “source criticism,” analyzed biblical tales in light of comparable narratives from other cultures, an approach that anticipated some of the method and spirit of twentieth century theory, particularly “Structuralism” and “New Historicism.” In France, the eminent literary critic Charles Augustin Saint Beuve maintained that a work of literature could be explained entirely in terms of biography, while novelist Marcel Proust devoted his life to refuting Saint Beuve in a massive narrative in which he contended that the details of the life of the artist are utterly transformed in the work of art. (This dispute was taken up anew by the French theorist Roland Barthes in his famous declaration of the “Death of the Author.” See “Structuralism” and “Poststructuralism.”) Perhaps the greatest nineteenth century influence on literary theory came from the deep epistemological suspicion of Friedrich Nietzsche: that facts are not facts until they have been interpreted. Nietzsche’s critique of knowledge has had a profound impact on literary studies and helped usher in an era of intense literary theorizing that has yet to pass. Attention to the etymology of the term “theory,” from the Greek “theoria,” alerts us to the partial nature of theoretical approaches to literature. “Theoria” indicates a view or perspective of the Greek stage. This is precisely what literary theory offers, though specific theories often claim to present a complete system for understanding literature. The current state of theory is such that there are many overlapping areas of influence, and older schools of theory, though no longer enjoying their previous eminence, continue to exert an influence on the whole. The once widely-held conviction (an implicit theory) that literature is a repository of all that is meaningful and ennobling in the human experience, a view championed by the Leavis School in Britain, may no longer be acknowledged by name but remains an essential justification for the current structure of American universities and liberal arts curricula. The moment of “Deconstruction” may have passed, but its emphasis on the indeterminacy of signs (that we are unable to establish exclusively what a word means when used in a given situation) and thus of texts, remains significant. Many critics may not embrace the label “feminist,” but the premise that gender is a social construct, one of theoretical feminisms distinguishing insights, is now axiomatic in a number of theoretical perspectives. While literary theory has always implied or directly expressed a conception of the world outside the text, in the twentieth century three movements—”Marxist theory” of the Frankfurt School, “Feminism,” and “Postmodernism”—have opened the field of literary studies into a broader area of inquiry. Marxist approaches to literature require an understanding of the primary economic and social bases of culture since Marxist aesthetic theory sees the work of art as a product, directly or indirectly, of the base structure of society. Feminist thought and practice analyzes the production of literature and literary representation within the framework that includes all social and cultural formations as they pertain to the role of women in history. Postmodern thought consists of both aesthetic and epistemological strands. Postmodernism in art has included a move toward non-referential, non-linear, abstract forms; a heightened degree of self-referentiality; and the collapse of categories and conventions that had traditionally governed art. Postmodern thought has led to the serious questioning of the so-called metanarratives of history, science, philosophy, and economic and sexual reproduction. Under postmodernity, all knowledge comes to be seen as “constructed” within historical self-contained systems of understanding. Marxist, feminist, and postmodern thought have brought about the incorporation of all human discourses (that is, interlocking fields of language and knowledge) as a subject matter for analysis by the literary theorist. Using the various poststructuralist and postmodern theories that often draw on disciplines other than the literary—linguistic, anthropological, psychoanalytic, and philosophical—for their primary insights, literary theory has become an interdisciplinary body of cultural theory. Taking as its premise that human societies and knowledge consist of texts in one form or another, cultural theory (for better or worse) is now applied to the varieties of texts, ambitiously undertaking to become the preeminent model of inquiry into the human condition. Literary theory is a site of theories: some theories, like “Queer Theory,” are “in;” other literary theories, like “Deconstruction,” are “out” but continue to exert an influence on the field. “Traditional literary criticism,” “New Criticism,” and “Structuralism” are alike in that they held to the view that the study of literature has an objective body of knowledge under its scrutiny. The other schools of literary theory, to varying degrees, embrace a postmodern view of language and reality that calls into serious question the objective referent of literary studies. The following categories are certainly not exhaustive, nor are they mutually exclusive, but they represent the major trends in literary theory of this century. 2. Traditional Literary Criticism

Academic literary criticism prior to the rise of “New Criticism” in the United States tended to practice traditional literary history: tracking influence, establishing the canon of major writers in the literary periods, and clarifying historical context and allusions within the text. Literary biography was and still is an important interpretive method in and out of the academy; versions of moral criticism, not unlike the Leavis School in Britain, and aesthetic (e.g. genre studies) criticism were also generally influential literary practices. Perhaps the key unifying feature of traditional literary criticism was the consensus within the academy as to the both the literary canon (that is, the books all educated persons should read) and the aims and purposes of literature. What literature was, and why we read literature, and what we read, were questions that subsequent movements in literary theory were to raise. 3. Formalism and New Criticism

“Formalism” is, as the name implies, an interpretive approach that emphasizes literary form and the study of literary devices within the text. The work of the Formalists had a general impact on later developments in “Structuralism” and other theories of narrative. “Formalism,” like “Structuralism,” sought to place the study of literature on a scientific basis through objective analysis of the motifs, devices, techniques, and other “functions” that comprise the literary work. The Formalists placed great importance on the literariness of texts, those qualities that distinguished the literary from other kinds of writing. Neither author nor context was essential for the Formalists; it was the narrative that spoke, the “hero-function,” for example, that had meaning. Form was the content. A plot device or narrative strategy was examined for how it functioned and compared to how it had functioned in other literary works. Of the Russian Formalist critics, Roman Jakobson and Viktor Shklovsky are probably the most well known. The Formalist adage that the purpose of literature was “to make the stones stonier” nicely expresses their notion of literariness. “Formalism” is perhaps best known is Shklovsky’s concept of “defamiliarization.” The routine of ordinary experience, Shklovsky contended, rendered invisible the uniqueness and particularity of the objects of existence. Literary language, partly by calling attention to itself as language, estranged the reader from the familiar and made fresh the experience of daily life. The “New Criticism,” so designated as to indicate a break with traditional methods, was a product of the American university in the 1930s and 40s. “New Criticism” stressed close reading of the text itself, much like the French pedagogical precept “explication du texte.” As a strategy of reading, “New Criticism” viewed the work of literature as an aesthetic object independent of historical context and as a unified whole that reflected the unified sensibility of the artist. T.S. Eliot, though not explicitly associated with the movement, expressed a similar critical-aesthetic philosophy in his essays on John Donne and the metaphysical poets, writers who Eliot believed experienced a complete integration of thought and feeling. New Critics like Cleanth Brooks, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren and W.K. Wimsatt placed a similar focus on the metaphysical poets and poetry in general, a genre well suited to New Critical practice. “New Criticism” aimed at bringing a greater intellectual rigor to literary studies, confining itself to careful scrutiny of the text alone and the formal structures of paradox, ambiguity, irony, and metaphor, among others. “New Criticism” was fired by the conviction that their readings of poetry would yield a humanizing influence on readers and thus counter the alienating tendencies of modern, industrial life. “New Criticism” in this regard bears an affinity to the Southern Agrarian movement whose manifesto, I’ll Take My Stand, contained essays by two New Critics, Ransom and Warren. Perhaps the enduring legacy of “New Criticism” can be found in the college classroom, in which the verbal texture of the poem on the page remains a primary object of literary study. 4. Marxism and Critical Theory

Marxist literary theories tend to focus on the representation of class conflict as well as the reinforcement of class distinctions through the medium of literature. Marxist theorists use traditional techniques of literary analysis but subordinate aesthetic concerns to the final social and political meanings of literature. Marxist theorist often champion authors sympathetic to the working classes and authors whose work challenges economic equalities found in capitalist societies. In keeping with the totalizing spirit of Marxism, literary theories arising from the Marxist paradigm have not only sought new ways of understanding the relationship between economic production and literature, but all cultural production as well. Marxist analyses of society and history have had a profound effect on literary theory and practical criticism, most notably in the development of “New Historicism” and “Cultural Materialism.” The Hungarian theorist Georg Lukacs contributed to an understanding of the relationship between historical materialism and literary form, in particular with realism and the historical novel. Walter Benjamin broke new ground in his work in his study of aesthetics and the reproduction of the work of art. The Frankfurt School of philosophers, including most notably Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse—after their emigration to the United States—played a key role in introducing Marxist assessments of culture into the mainstream of American academic life. These thinkers became associated with what is known as “Critical theory,” one of the constituent components of which was a critique of the instrumental use of reason in advanced capitalist culture. “Critical theory” held to a distinction between the high cultural heritage of Europe and the mass culture produced by capitalist societies as an instrument of domination. “Critical theory” sees in the structure of mass cultural forms—jazz, Hollywood film, advertising—a replication of the structure of the factory and the workplace. Creativity and cultural production in advanced capitalist societies were always already co-opted by the entertainment needs of an economic system that requires sensory stimulation and recognizable cliché and suppressed the tendency for sustained deliberation. The major Marxist influences on literary theory since the Frankfurt School have been Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton in Great Britain and Frank Lentricchia and Fredric Jameson in the United States. Williams is associated with the New Left political movement in Great Britain and the development of “Cultural Materialism” and the Cultural Studies Movement, originating in the 1960s at Birmingham University’s Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies. Eagleton is known both as a Marxist theorist and as a popularizer of theory by means of his widely read overview, Literary Theory. Lentricchia likewise became influential through his account of trends in theory, After the New Criticism. Jameson is a more diverse theorist, known both for his impact on Marxist theories of culture and for his position as one of the leading figures in theoretical postmodernism. Jameson’s work on consumer culture, architecture, film, literature and other areas, typifies the collapse of disciplinary boundaries taking place in the realm of Marxist and postmodern cultural theory. Jameson’s work investigates the way the structural features of late capitalism—particularly the transformation of all culture into commodity form—are now deeply embedded in all of our ways of communicating. 5. Structuralism and Poststructuralism

Like the “New Criticism,” “Structuralism” sought to bring to literary studies a set of objective criteria for analysis and a new intellectual rigor. “Structuralism” can be viewed as an extension of “Formalism” in that that both “Structuralism” and “Formalism” devoted their attention to matters of literary form (i.e. structure) rather than social or historical content; and that both bodies of thought were intended to put the study of literature on a scientific, objective basis. “Structuralism” relied initially on the ideas of the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure. Like Plato, Saussure regarded the signifier (words, marks, symbols) as arbitrary and unrelated to the concept, the signified, to which it referred. Within the way a particular society uses language and signs, meaning was constituted by a system of “differences” between units of the language. Particular meanings were of less interest than the underlying structures of signification that made meaning itself possible, often expressed as an emphasis on “langue” rather than “parole.” “Structuralism” was to be a metalanguage, a language about languages, used to decode actual languages, or systems of signification. The work of the “Formalist” Roman Jakobson contributed to “Structuralist” thought, and the more prominent Structuralists included Claude Levi-Strauss in anthropology, Tzvetan Todorov, A.J. Greimas, Gerard Genette, and Barthes. The philosopher Roland Barthes proved to be a key figure on the divide between “Structuralism” and “Poststructuralism.” “Poststructuralism” is less unified as a theoretical movement than its precursor; indeed, the work of its advocates known by the term “Deconstruction” calls into question the possibility of the coherence of discourse, or the capacity for language to communicate. “Deconstruction,” Semiotic theory (a study of signs with close connections to “Structuralism,” “Reader response theory” in America (“Reception theory” in Europe), and “Gender theory” informed by the psychoanalysts Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva are areas of inquiry that can be located under the banner of “Poststructuralism.” If signifier and signified are both cultural concepts, as they are in “Poststructuralism,” reference to an empirically certifiable reality is no longer guaranteed by language. “Deconstruction” argues that this loss of reference causes an endless deferral of meaning, a system of differences between units of language that has no resting place or final signifier that would enable the other signifiers to hold their meaning. The most important theorist of “Deconstruction,” Jacques Derrida, has asserted, “There is no getting outside text,” indicating a kind of free play of signification in which no fixed, stable meaning is possible. “Poststructuralism” in America was originally identified with a group of Yale academics, the Yale School of “Deconstruction:” J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartmann, and Paul de Man. Other tendencies in the moment after “Deconstruction” that share some of the intellectual tendencies of “Poststructuralism” would included the “Reader response” theories of Stanley Fish, Jane Tompkins, and Wolfgang Iser. Lacanian psychoanalysis, an updating of the work of Sigmund Freud, extends “Postructuralism” to the human subject with further consequences for literary theory. According to Lacan, the fixed, stable self is a Romantic fiction; like the text in “Deconstruction,” the self is a decentered mass of traces left by our encounter with signs, visual symbols, language, etc. For Lacan, the self is constituted by language, a language that is never one’s own, always another’s, always already in use. Barthes applies these currents of thought in his famous declaration of the “death” of the Author: “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin” while also applying a similar “Poststructuralist” view to the Reader: “the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted.” Michel Foucault is another philosopher, like Barthes, whose ideas inform much of poststructuralist literary theory. Foucault played a critical role in the development of the postmodern perspective that knowledge is constructed in concrete historical situations in the form of discourse; knowledge is not communicated by discourse but is discourse itself, can only be encountered textually. Following Nietzsche, Foucault performs what he calls “genealogies,” attempts at deconstructing the unacknowledged operation of power and knowledge to reveal the ideologies that make domination of one group by another seem “natural.” Foucaldian investigations of discourse and power were to provide much of the intellectual impetus for a new way of looking at history and doing textual studies that came to be known as the “New Historicism.” 6. New Historicism and Cultural Materialism

“New Historicism,” a term coined by Stephen Greenblatt, designates a body of theoretical and interpretive practices that began largely with the study of early modern literature in the United States. “New Historicism” in America had been somewhat anticipated by the theorists of “Cultural Materialism” in Britain, which, in the words of their leading advocate, Raymond Williams describes “the analysis of all forms of signification, including quite centrally writing, within the actual means and conditions of their production.” Both “New Historicism” and “Cultural Materialism” seek to understand literary texts historically and reject the formalizing influence of previous literary studies, including “New Criticism,” “Structuralism” and “Deconstruction,” all of which in varying ways privilege the literary text and place only secondary emphasis on historical and social context. According to “New Historicism,” the circulation of literary and non-literary texts produces relations of social power within a culture. New Historicist thought differs from traditional historicism in literary studies in several crucial ways. Rejecting traditional historicism’s premise of neutral inquiry, “New Historicism” accepts the necessity of making historical value judgments. According to “New Historicism,” we can only know the textual history of the past because it is “embedded,” a key term, in the textuality of the present and its concerns. Text and context are less clearly distinct in New Historicist practice. Traditional separations of literary and non-literary texts, “great” literature and popular literature, are also fundamentally challenged. For the “New Historicist,” all acts of expression are embedded in the material conditions of a culture. Texts are examined with an eye for how they reveal the economic and social realities, especially as they produce ideology and represent power or subversion. Like much of the emergent European social history of the 1980s, “New Historicism” takes particular interest in representations of marginal/marginalized groups and non-normative behaviors—witchcraft, cross-dressing, peasant revolts, and exorcisms—as exemplary of the need for power to represent subversive alternatives, the Other, to legitimize itself. Louis Montrose, another major innovator and exponent of “New Historicism,” describes a fundamental axiom of the movement as an intellectual belief in “the textuality of history and the historicity of texts.” “New Historicism” draws on the work of Levi-Strauss, in particular his notion of culture as a “self-regulating system.” The Foucaldian premise that power is ubiquitous and cannot be equated with state or economic power and Gramsci’s conception of “hegemony,” i.e., that domination is often achieved through culturally-orchestrated consent rather than force, are critical underpinnings to the “New Historicist” perspective. The translation of the work of Mikhail Bakhtin on carnival coincided with the rise of the “New Historicism” and “Cultural Materialism” and left a legacy in work of other theorists of influence like Peter Stallybrass and Jonathan Dollimore. In its period of ascendancy during the 1980s, “New Historicism” drew criticism from the political left for its depiction of counter-cultural expression as always co-opted by the dominant discourses. Equally, “New Historicism’s” lack of emphasis on “literariness” and formal literary concerns brought disdain from traditional literary scholars. However, “New Historicism” continues to exercise a major influence in the humanities and in the extended conception of literary studies. 7. Ethnic Studies and Postcolonial Criticism

“Ethnic Studies,” sometimes referred to as “Minority Studies,” has an obvious historical relationship with “Postcolonial Criticism” in that Euro-American imperialism and colonization in the last four centuries, whether external (empire) or internal (slavery) has been directed at recognizable ethnic groups: African and African-American, Chinese, the subaltern peoples of India, Irish, Latino, Native American, and Philipino, among others. “Ethnic Studies” concerns itself generally with art and literature produced by identifiable ethnic groups either marginalized or in a subordinate position to a dominant culture. “Postcolonial Criticism” investigates the relationships between colonizers and colonized in the period post-colonization. Though the two fields are increasingly finding points of intersection—the work of bell hooks, for example—and are both activist intellectual enterprises, “Ethnic Studies and “Postcolonial Criticism” have significant differences in their history and ideas. “Ethnic Studies” has had a considerable impact on literary studies in the United States and Britain. In W.E.B. Dubois, we find an early attempt to theorize the position of African-Americans within dominant white culture through his concept of “double consciousness,” a dual identity including both “American” and “Negro.” Dubois and theorists after him seek an understanding of how that double experience both creates identity and reveals itself in culture. Afro-Caribbean and African writers—Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe—have made significant early contributions to the theory and practice of ethnic criticism that explores the traditions, sometimes suppressed or underground, of ethnic literary activity while providing a critique of representations of ethnic identity as found within the majority culture. Ethnic and minority literary theory emphasizes the relationship of cultural identity to individual identity in historical circumstances of overt racial oppression. More recently, scholars and writers such as Henry Louis Gates, Toni Morrison, and Kwame Anthony Appiah have brought attention to the problems inherent in applying theoretical models derived from Euro-centric paradigms (that is, structures of thought) to minority works of literature while at the same time exploring new interpretive strategies for understanding the vernacular (common speech) traditions of racial groups that have been historically marginalized by dominant cultures. Though not the first writer to explore the historical condition of postcolonialism, the Palestinian literary theorist Edward Said’s book Orientalism is generally regarded as having inaugurated the field of explicitly “Postcolonial Criticism” in the West. Said argues that the concept of “the Orient” was produced by the “imaginative geography” of Western scholarship and has been instrumental in the colonization and domination of non-Western societies. “Postcolonial” theory reverses the historical center/margin direction of cultural inquiry: critiques of the metropolis and capital now emanate from the former colonies. Moreover, theorists like Homi K. Bhabha have questioned the binary thought that produces the dichotomies—center/margin, white/black, and colonizer/colonized—by which colonial practices are justified. The work of Gayatri C. Spivak has focused attention on the question of who speaks for the colonial “Other” and the relation of the ownership of discourse and representation to the development of the postcolonial subjectivity. Like feminist and ethnic theory, “Postcolonial Criticism” pursues not merely the inclusion of the marginalized literature of colonial peoples into the dominant canon and discourse. “Postcolonial Criticism” offers a fundamental critique of the ideology of colonial domination and at the same time seeks to undo the “imaginative geography” of Orientalist thought that produced conceptual as well as economic divides between West and East, civilized and uncivilized, First and Third Worlds. In this respect, “Postcolonial Criticism” is activist and adversarial in its basic aims. Postcolonial theory has brought fresh perspectives to the role of colonial peoples—their wealth, labor, and culture—in the development of modern European nation states. While “Postcolonial Criticism” emerged in the historical moment following the collapse of the modern colonial empires, the increasing globalization of culture, including the neo-colonialism of multinational capitalism, suggests a continued relevance for this field of inquiry. 8. Gender Studies and Queer Theory

Gender theory came to the forefront of the theoretical scene first as feminist theory but has subsequently come to include the investigation of all gender and sexual categories and identities. Feminist gender theory followed slightly behind the reemergence of political feminism in the United States and Western Europe during the 1960s. Political feminism of the so-called “second wave” had as its emphasis practical concerns with the rights of women in contemporary societies, women’s identity, and the representation of women in media and culture. These causes converged with early literary feminist practice, characterized by Elaine Showalter as “gynocriticism,” which emphasized the study and canonical inclusion of works by female authors as well as the depiction of women in male-authored canonical texts. Feminist gender theory is postmodern in that it challenges the paradigms and intellectual premises of western thought, but also takes an activist stance by proposing frequent interventions and alternative epistemological positions meant to change the social order. In the context of postmodernism, gender theorists, led by the work of Judith Butler, initially viewed the category of “gender” as a human construct enacted by a vast repetition of social performance. The biological distinction between man and woman eventually came under the same scrutiny by theorists who reached a similar conclusion: the sexual categories are products of culture and as such help create social reality rather than simply reflect it. Gender theory achieved a wide readership and acquired much its initial theoretical rigor through the work of a group of French feminist theorists that included Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous, and Julia Kristeva, who while Bulgarian rather than French, made her mark writing in French. French feminist thought is based on the assumption that the Western philosophical tradition represses the experience of women in the structure of its ideas. As an important consequence of this systematic intellectual repression and exclusion, women’s lives and bodies in historical societies are subject to repression as well. In the creative/critical work of Cixous, we find the history of Western thought depicted as binary oppositions: “speech/writing; Nature/Art, Nature/History, Nature/Mind, Passion/Action.” For Cixous, and for Irigaray as well, these binaries are less a function of any objective reality they describe than the male-dominated discourse of the Western tradition that produced them. Their work beyond the descriptive stage becomes an intervention in the history of theoretical discourse, an attempt to alter the existing categories and systems of thought that found Western rationality. French feminism, and perhaps all feminism after Beauvoir, has been in conversation with the psychoanalytic revision of Freud in the work of Jacques Lacan. Kristeva’s work draws heavily on Lacan. Two concepts from Kristeva—the “semiotic” and “abjection”—have had a significant influence on literary theory. Kristeva’s “semiotic” refers to the gaps, silences, spaces, and bodily presence within the language/symbol system of a culture in which there might be a space for a women’s language, different in kind as it would be from male-dominated discourse. Masculine gender theory as a separate enterprise has focused largely on social, literary, and historical accounts of the construction of male gender identities. Such work generally lacks feminisms’ activist stance and tends to serve primarily as an indictment rather than a validation of male gender practices and masculinity. The so-called “Men’s Movement,” inspired by the work of Robert Bly among others, was more practical than theoretical and has had only limited impact on gender discourse. The impetus for the “Men’s Movement” came largely as a response to the critique of masculinity and male domination that runs throughout feminism and the upheaval of the 1960s, a period of crisis in American social ideology that has required a reconsideration of gender roles. Having long served as the de facto “subject” of Western thought, male identity and masculine gender theory awaits serious investigation as a particular, and no longer universally representative, field of inquiry. Much of what theoretical energy of masculine gender theory currently possesses comes from its ambiguous relationship with the field of “Queer theory.” “Queer theory” is not synonymous with gender theory, nor even with the overlapping fields of gay and lesbian studies, but does share many of their concerns with normative definitions of man, woman, and sexuality. “Queer theory” questions the fixed categories of sexual identity and the cognitive paradigms generated by normative (that is, what is considered “normal”) sexual ideology. To “queer” becomes an act by which stable boundaries of sexual identity are transgressed, reversed, mimicked, or otherwise critiqued. “Queering” can be enacted on behalf of all non-normative sexualities and identities as well, all that is considered by the dominant paradigms of culture to be alien, strange, unfamiliar, transgressive, odd—in short, queer. Michel Foucault’s work on sexuality anticipates and informs the Queer theoretical movement in a role similar to the way his writing on power and discourse prepared the ground for “New Historicism.” Judith Butler contends that heterosexual identity long held to be a normative ground of sexuality is actually produced by the suppression of homoerotic possibility. Eve Sedgwick is another pioneering theorist of “Queer theory,” and like Butler, Sedgwick maintains that the dominance of heterosexual culture conceals the extensive presence of homosocial relations. For Sedgwick, the standard histories of western societies are presented in exclusively in terms of heterosexual identity: “Inheritance, Marriage, Dynasty, Family, Domesticity, Population,” and thus conceiving of homosexual identity within this framework is already problematic. 9. Cultural Studies

Much of the intellectual legacy of “New Historicism” and “Cultural Materialism” can now be felt in the “Cultural Studies” movement in departments of literature, a movement not identifiable in terms of a single theoretical school, but one that embraces a wide array of perspectives—media studies, social criticism, anthropology, and literary theory—as they apply to the general study of culture. “Cultural Studies” arose quite self-consciously in the 80s to provide a means of analysis of the rapidly expanding global culture industry that includes entertainment, advertising, publishing, television, film, computers and the Internet. “Cultural Studies” brings scrutiny not only to these varied categories of culture, and not only to the decreasing margins of difference between these realms of expression, but just as importantly to the politics and ideology that make contemporary culture possible. “Cultural Studies” became notorious in the 90s for its emphasis on pop music icons and music video in place of canonical literature, and extends the ideas of the Frankfurt School on the transition from a truly popular culture to mass culture in late capitalist societies, emphasizing the significance of the patterns of consumption of cultural artifacts. “Cultural Studies” has been interdisciplinary, even antidisciplinary, from its inception; indeed, “Cultural Studies” can be understood as a set of sometimes conflicting methods and approaches applied to a questioning of current cultural categories. Stuart Hall, Meaghan Morris, Tony Bennett and Simon During are some of the important advocates of a “Cultural Studies” that seeks to displace the traditional model of literary studies. 10. References and Further Reading

a. General Works on Theory
Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. During, Simon. Ed. The Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge, 1999. Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Lentricchia, Frank. After the New Criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980. Moore-Gilbert, Bart, Stanton, Gareth, and Maley, Willy. Eds. Postcolonial Criticism. New York: Addison, Wesley, Longman, 1997. Rice, Philip and Waugh, Patricia. Eds. Modern Literary Theory: A Reader. 4th edition. Richter, David H. Ed. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 2nd Ed. Bedford Books: Boston, 1998. Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael. Eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998. b. Literary and Cultural Theory

Adorno, Theodor. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. Ed. J. M. Bernstein. London: Routledge, 2001. Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy: And Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971. Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953. Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981. Barthes, Roland. Image—Music—Text. Trans. Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994. Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975. Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Tr. H.M. Parshley. New York: Knopf, 1953. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1988. Brooks, Cleanth. The Well-Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry. New York: Harcourt, 1947. Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri C. Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1976. Dubois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903. Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Volume 1. An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1981. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage, 1973. Gates, Henry Louis. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. hooks, bell. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Boston: South End Press, 1981. Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, Theodor. Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. Ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. Trans. Edmund Jephcott. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002. Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985. Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism: Or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection. London: Routledge, 2001. Lemon Lee T. and Reis, Marion J. Eds. Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1965. Lukacs, Georg. The Historical Novel. Trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1962. Marcuse, Herbert. Eros and Civilization. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1969. Plato. The Collected Dialogues. Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961. Proust, Marcel. Remembrance of Things Past. Trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: Vintage, 1982. Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon, 1978.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men. Between Men: English literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky Epistemology of the Closet. London: Penguin, 1994. Showalter, Elaine. Ed. The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory. London: Virago, 1986. Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: the Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Wellek, Rene and Warren, Austin. Theory of Literature. 3rd ed. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1956. Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. http://www.iep.utm.edu/literary/

I once taught a poem called The Almond Tree by Jon Stallworthy to a class of 15 year olds. 

It’s about a man driving to the hospital where his wife is about to give birth to their first child. He is excited at the prospect and imagines his son at Oxbridge and lots of other wonderful things in his child’s future. When he gets there, he finds that his son has Down’s Syndrome. His reaction on being told is captured by:

“How easily the word went in – 
clean as a bullet 
leaving no mark on the skin, 
stopping the heart within it. 

This was my first death.”

He even goes as far as seeing the news as being told his son had died– which he had, I suppose, because the son he thought he’d have had gone. But he goes on to say:

“wrenched from the caul of my thirty 
years' growing, fathered by my son, 
unkindly in a kind season 
by love shattered and set free.”

The love he feels for his mongol son both shatters him and sets him free. He learns, I suppose, that genuine love is very hard, full of compromises and can be heartbreaking – but it’s real – and certainly far more real than the conventional, bland hopes he had for his son on the way to the hospital. The last stanza has been omitted by Stallworthy in later versions of the poem but I really like it:

You turn to the window for the first time. 
I am called to the cot 
to see your focus shift, 
take tendril-hold on a shaft 
of sun, explore its dusty surface, climb 
to an eye you cannot 

meet. You have a sickness they cannot heal 
the doctors say: locked in 
your body you will remain. 
Well, I have been locked in mine. 
We will tunnel each other out. You seal 
the covenant with a grin. 

In the days we have known one another, 
my little mongol love, 
I have learnt more from your lips 
than you will from mine perhaps: 
I have learnt that to live is to suffer, 
To suffer is to live.

After I had been through the poem with them, one boy was noticeably very upset. At the end of the lesson, he stayed behind and said to me, “I’m sorry that I got upset, it’s just that I would have had a brother but he died when my mum was having him. I really liked the poem though – it made me think about what’s really important.”

“And do you know why you are so upset?” I asked him. “Because you care. As we live in a world where so few people seem to, that’s to your credit. You care because, to you, some things matter.”

Now, I think that the quality of the poem enabled that lad to feel something that is really important. Suddenly, he wasn’t alone. He had also learned something about the experience of being alive without having it made all cuddly and twee. For me, that’s what Literature does – it makes you more aware of what it is to be alive and it doesn’t lie to you about either the good parts or the bad. 

That’s why we should study Literature.

Bibliographic information

Title
The Johns Hopkins guide to literary theory & criticism
The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism
Authors
Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth, Imre Szeman
Editors
Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth, Imre Szeman
Contributor
Michael Groden
Edition
2
Publisher
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005
Original from
the University of Michigan
Digitized
1 Oct 2010
ISBN
0801880106, 9780801880100
Length
985 pages
Subjects
Biography & Autobiography
 › 
General

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