This introduction invites readers look back on their previous training in literary studies. It looks at the assumptions behind traditional literary criticism, or 'liberal humanism' as theorists usually call it. The word 'liberal' in this formulation means not politically radical, and hence generally evasive and non-committal on political issues. 'Humanism' implies something similar; it suggests a range of negative attributes, such as 'non-Marxist' and 'non-feminist', and 'non-theoretical'. The chapter explains that we are looking, in literary theory, for something we can use, not something which will use us. It suggests a useful form of intensive reading, known as 'SQ3R' or 'SQRRR', which breaks down the reading of a difficult chapter or article into five stages, as designated by the letters 'SQRRR'. The stages are: Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review. The chapter includes a STOP and THINK section to help readers reflect on the nature of literary education to date.
This final chapter assists readers in reaching some conclusions about the extent to which 'postcolonialism' is an enabling term. Several of the critiques of postcolonialism given in the chapter confront postcolonialism at its possible limits - limits of temporality, geography such as Commonwealth mappings, history, theory and others. Postcolonialism is a Western practice using Western theories that is performed in 'First World' universities in the main by privileged migrants from the once-colonised nations. The chapter briefly examines Robert J. C. Young's model of the 'tricontinental', which was inspired by the 1966 conference in Havana of the Organisation of Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America. It explores whether advent of courses in postcolonial literatures is a part of a containment strategy which pays lip-service to the ideas of postcolonialism while delimiting their impact in a new intellectual 'ghetto'. When globalisation represents imperialism, postcolonialism becomes interested in globalisation.
This chapter presents the story of literary theory by centring it upon a series of ten key events which constitute its public history. The key events are the Indiana University 'Conference on Style', 1958; the Johns Hopkins University international symposium, 1966; the publication of Deconstruction and Criticism, 1979; the MacCabe affair, 1981; and the publication of Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction, 1983. The events also include J. Hillis Miller's MLA presidential address, 1986; the Strathclyde University 'Linguistics of Writing' conference, 1986; the scandal over Paul de Man's wartime writings, 1987-1988; Jean Baudrillard and 'The Gulf War never happened', 1991; and the Sokal affair, 1996. The advantage of doing this is that many of the underlying themes are thereby brought to the fore, so that the trajectory of theory becomes strikingly apparent. The chapter explains the apex of the rise of theory and the beginnings of its decline in the mid-1980s.
The aim of Marxism is to bring about a classless society, based on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange. Steiner calls the two main streams of Marxist criticism, of the 1960s and of the 1970s, the Engelsian Marxist criticism, which stresses the necessary freedom of art from direct political determinism. The Leninist Marxist criticism insists on the need for art to be explicitly committed to the political cause of the Left. This chapter outlines the key terms and concepts of the Marxist thinking on literature introduced by Louis Althusser. A STOP and THINK section helps readers ponder over how the nature of literature is influenced by the social and political circumstances in which it is produced. The chapter describes some critical activities of Marxists and presents an example of Marxist criticism, which mainly shows the Marxist critical activities.
This chapter deals with narratology, the study of narrative structures. Narratology is not the reading and interpretation of individual stories, but the attempt to study the nature of 'story' itself, as a concept and as a cultural practice. The distinction between 'story' and 'plot' is fundamental to narratology, but the story of narratology itself is that there are many competing groups. The chapter presents a truncated 'history' of narratology, centred on three main characters, such as Aristotle, Vladimir Propp, and Gerard Genette. It explains that stories are not always presented 'straight'; often writers make use of 'frame narratives', which contain within them 'embedded narratives'. A STOP and THINK section in the chapter helps readers ponder over the striking aspects of narratology. It describes the activities of narratologists and uses Edgar Allan Poe's tale 'The Oval Portrait' to give an impression of how 'joined-up' narratology might look in practice.
This chapter discusses the divisions within the nation such as ethnicity, language, gender and eliteness which threaten the realisation of its progressive ideals. It considers how nationalist representations might contribute to the continued oppression of some groups within the national population who have not experienced liberation after independence. The chapter looks at the relationship between the imagined community of the nation and its internal divisions. It examines Partha Chatterjee's narrative of Indian nationalism in Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse and explores how the contradictions of nationalism impact upon both reading and writing nationalist representations, with specific reference to Chinua Achebe's novel Anthills of the Savannah. STOP and THINK sections review the ideas concerning nationalist representations and pose a series of questions about them to assist the reader in making judgements about the ideas raised within postcolonialism.
This chapter approaches various attitudes towards nationalist representations in literary and other writings during the busy period of decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s. It deals with national traditions and national history, and the conflict between national liberation and imperialist domination. The chapter provides two (influential) responses concerning writers and intellectuals in the post-war period forging national consciousness: the first is Negritude, while the second emerges from Frantz Fanon's work on national consciousness and national culture. STOP and THINK sections in the chapter list some points to consider concerning representations related to anti-colonial nationalism and their impact upon political, social, cultural and literary contexts. The chapter also discusses Ngugi wa Thiong'o's novel A Grain of Wheat as one kind of postcolonial nationalist representation.
New historicism envisages and practises a mode of study in which literary and non-literary texts are given equal weight and constantly inform or interrogate each other. It is resolutely anti-establishment, always implicitly on the side of liberal ideals of personal freedom and accepting and celebrating all forms of difference and 'deviance'. This chapter describes the critical activities of new historicists and presents an example of new historicism. Cultural materialism combines an attention to historical context, theoretical method, political commitment, and textual analysis. It is often linked in discussion with new historicism, its American counterpart. Political Shakespeare explains some of the differences between the two movements. STOP and THINK sections in the chapter provide the reader with some ‘hands-on’ experience with the subject discussed. It presents Terence Hawkes's essay 'Telmah' as an example of an informal variant of cultural materialism.
This chapter begins with a discussion on some theoretical differences between structuralism and post-structuralism. Post-structuralism says, in effect, that fixed intellectual reference points are permanently removed by properly taking on board what structuralists said about language. The chapter lists some differences and distinctions between structuralism and post-structuralism under the four headings: origins, tone and style, attitude to language, and project. Post-structuralism emerged in France in the late 1960s. Two figures most closely associated with this emergence are Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. The chapter includes a STOP and THINK section presenting key texts from Derrida's book Of Grammatology. It provides a clear example of deconstructive practice, showing what is distinctive about it while at the same time suggesting that it may not constitute a complete break with more familiar forms of criticism. The chapter describes three stages of the deconstructive process: the verbal, the textual, and the linguistic.
Postcolonial criticism emerged as a distinct category only in the 1990s. One significant effect of postcolonial criticism is to further undermine the universalist claims once made on behalf of literature by liberal humanist critics. The ancestry of postcolonial criticism can be traced to Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961, and voicing what might be called 'cultural resistance' to France's African empire. Reading literature with the perspective of 'Orientalism' in mind would make readers critically aware of how Yeats in his two 'Byzantium' poems provides an image of Istanbul, the Eastern capital of the former Roman Empire. A STOP and THINK section shows how postcolonial criticism draws attention to issues of cultural difference in literary texts. It also describes some activities of postcolonial critics and presents the essay by Edward Said on Jane Austen's Mansfield Park as an example of postcolonial criticism.