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Peter Barry

Ecocriticism as a concept first arose in the late 1970s, at meetings of the Western Literature Association. Ecocriticism takes its literary bearings from three major nineteenth-century American writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau. This chapter indicates the scope of some of the debates within ecocriticism concerning the crucial matter of the relationship between culture and nature. Perhaps the most fundamental point to make is that ecocritics reject the notion that everything is socially and/or linguistically constructed. A related issue, which is also thrown into relief by ecocriticism, is whether a distinction is deconstructed into self-contradiction by the fact that it is not always absolute and clear-cut. A STOP and THINK section provides the reader with some ‘hands-on’ experience with the subject discussed. The chapter describes some activities of ecocritics and presents Thomas Hardy's poem 'In Time of The Breaking of Nations' as an example of ecocriticism.

in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
Peter Barry

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.

in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
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Peter Barry

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.

in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
Peter Barry

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.

in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
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Peter Barry

There were differences of emphasis between lesbian and gay theory, and two major strands of thinking within lesbian theory itself. The first of these is lesbian feminism, which is understood by seeing it initially in the context of its own origins from within feminism. The second is designated as libertarian lesbianism seen as part of the field of 'queer theory' or 'queer studies'. This chapter discusses the nature and development of the thinking designated as lesbian feminism and libertarian lesbianism. It describes the critical activities of queer theorists and presents an example of this kind of criticism taken from the chapter 'The love poetry of the First World War' in Mark Lilly's Gay Men's Literature in the Twentieth Century. A STOP and THINK section provides the reader with some ‘hands-on’ experience with the subject discussed.

in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
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Peter Barry

This chapter explores whether stylistics, a critical approach, is really a form of critical theory at all. It presents a historical account of stylistics with emphasis on critical practice rather than critical theory. Stylistics developed in the twentieth century and its aim is to show how the technical linguistic features of a literary work, such as the grammatical structure of its sentences, contribute to its overall meanings and effects. It is the modern version of the ancient discipline known as 'rhetoric'. The chapter describes the specific differences between conventional close reading and stylistics, as well as the ambitions of stylistics. A STOP and THINK section suggests readers to make use of a few basic reference tools in understanding stylistics. The chapter includes some critical activities of stylistic critics and presents three examples of stylistics, each of which uses some technical aspect of language in critical interpretation.

in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
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Peter Barry

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.

in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
Peter Barry

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.

in Beginning theory (fourth edition)
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‘One small step’
Peter Barry

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book aims to show that the meanings of poems are hardly ever deliberately or deviously hidden, nor are they usually encrypted in poetic devices like assonance or alliteration. A poem usually passes through various stages of development as it evolves towards its final form during the composition process. In the case of Neil Armstrong's 'poem', there is no known manuscript source, so the surviving audio-tapes of the event must be taken as its equivalent moment of origin. The book also aims to show that we do not have to tune into phonetic bat-squeaks from the hinterlands of language in order to read and appreciate a poem.

in Reading poetry
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Peter Barry

This chapter looks at Vicki Feaver's 'Ironing', Charlotte Smith's 'Middleton Church' sonnet and Roy Fisher's 'Sign Illuminated', trying to say something specific about poetic meaning. The success of the poem as a whole depends upon the complementary fusion of the 'showing' part in the main body and the 'telling' part towards the end. The extent of the reader's enjoyment and grasp of the poem will have a lot to do with appreciating the means and skillfulness of that fusion. The two aspects (telling and showing) are equally important to the construction of the overall poetic effect, even though they are not of equal length. The poetic effect as a whole is tightly shaped and crafted by the poet, and it is natural for poetry readers to be curious about how that process works.

in Reading poetry