Theory often eclipses the text, just as the moon's shadow obscures the sun in an eclipse, so that the text loses its own voice and begins to voice theory. This book provides summaries or descriptions of a number of important theoretical essays. It commences with an account of the 'liberal humanism' against which all newer critical approaches to literature, broadly speaking, define themselves. The book suggests a useful form of intensive reading, which breaks down the reading of a difficult chapter or article into five stages, as designated by the letters 'SQRRR': Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review. It explains the rise of English studies by indicating what higher education was like in England until the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The book talks about the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, and Jacques Derrida. It lists some differences and distinctions between structuralism and post-structuralism under the four headings: origins, tone and style, attitude to language, and project. Providing a clear example of deconstructive practice, the book then describes three stages of the deconstructive process: the verbal, the textual, and the linguistic. It includes information on some important characteristics of literary modernism practiced by various writers, psychoanalytic criticism, feminist criticism and queer theory. The book presents an example of Marxist criticism, and discusses the overlap between cultural materialism and new historicism, specific differences between conventional close reading and stylistics and insights on narratology. It covers the story of literary theory through ten key events.
Poetry reading is a topic about which there is always something more that can usefully be said. This book explores key aspects of poetry by discussing poems which are quoted in full and then treated in a sustained way. It considers a broad range of poetry, using examples taken from the Tudor period to the twenty-first century. Some are very traditional, and some are very avant-garde, and most are somewhere in between, so it is unusually broad and eclectic in its generic range. The book invites readers to cultivate generic generosity, and entertain a willingness to be astonished by the bizarre practices poets sometimes indulge in, in the privacy of their garrets, and among consenting adults. The emphasis is on meanings rather than words, looking beyond technical devices like alliteration and assonance so that poems are understood as dynamic structures creating specific ends and effects. The three sections cover progressively expanding areas. The first deals with such basics as imagery, diction and metre; the second concerns broader matters, such as poetry and context, and the reading of sequences of poems. The third section looks at 'theorised' readings and the 'textual genesis' of poems from manuscript to print. By adopting a smallish personal 'stable' of writers whose work is followed in this long-term way, a poetry reader can develop the kind of intimacy with authors that brings a sense of confidence and purpose.
The feminist literary criticism of today is the direct product of the 'women's movement' of the 1960s. In feminist criticism in the 1970s the major effort went into exposing what might be called the mechanisms of patriarchy, that is, the cultural 'mind-set' in men and women which perpetuated sexual inequality. This chapter looks at three particular areas on which debates and disagreements have centred on about feminist criticism: the role of theory; the nature of language; and the value or otherwise of psychoanalysis. It includes a STOP and THINK section to help readers ponder over anti-essentialism which has for some years now been a dominant concept in critical theory. The chapter describes some critical activities of feminist critics and presents an example of feminist criticism by taking the account of Wuthering Heights by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, from their book The Madwoman in the Attic.
This chapter begins by explaining the rise of English studies by indicating what higher education was like in England until the first quarter of the nineteenth century. A STOP and THINK section includes multiple choice questions that indicate the scope of this chapter. F. D. Maurice regarded literature as the particular property of the middle class and the expression of their values. For him the middle class represents the essence of Englishness so middle-class education should be specifically English. The chapter presents a list of the values and beliefs which formed the English subject's half-hidden curriculum. It sketches out a characteristic liberal humanist reading of Edgar Allan Poe's tale 'The Oval Portrait'. The growth of critical theory in the post-war period seems to comprise a series of 'waves', each associated with a specific decade, and all aimed against the liberal humanist consensus.
Psychoanalytic criticism is a form of literary criticism which uses some of the techniques of psychoanalysis in the interpretation of literature. This chapter begins by discussing Sigmund Freud's major ideas related to psychoanalysis. It then explains how Freudian interpretation works. A STOP and THINK section in the chapter helps readers understand the logic of Freudian interpretation. Freud's misreading is seen in the case study usually known simply as 'Dora'. The chapter concentrates on a dream which she related to Freud in the course of the treatment. It lists some activities of Freudian psychoanalytic critics and Lacanian critics, and provides examples of Freudian psychoanalytic criticism and Lacanian criticism. Comparing the Freudian and Lacanian examples will make it immediately apparent that there is an immense gulf between these two approaches, even though they both stem from the same original body of Freudian theory.
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.
Though structuralism began in the 1950s and 1960s, it has its roots in the thinking of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure was a key figure in the development of modern approaches to language study. He emphasised that the meanings given to words are purely arbitrary, and that these meanings are maintained by convention only. This chapter examines Saussure's pronouncements about linguistic structures which the structuralists later found so interesting. The other major figure in the early phase of structuralism was Roland Barthes, who applied the structuralist method to the general field of modern culture. The chapter lists the activities of structuralist critics and provides examples on the methods of literary analysis described and demonstrated in Barthes's book S/Z. STOP and THINK sections in the chapter provide the reader with some ‘hands-on’ experience with the subject discussed.
As with structuralism and post-structuralism, there is a great deal of debate about how modernism and postmodernism differ, the topic this chapter is concerned about. The period of high modernism was from 1910 to 1930, and this chapter begins with some of the important characteristics of literary modernism practiced by various writers of this movement. It summarises the distinction between modernism and postmodernism as in various postmodernist poems, plays and novels. Some of the works of major theorists of postmodernism such as Habermas, Lyotard and Baudrillard, which are considered to be the 'landmarks' in postmodernism, are presented. The chapter describes Baudrillard's four-stage model for signs. It also describes the activities of postmodernists and presents an example of postmodernist criticism, which makes an application of ideas derived from Lyotard. A STOP and THINK section helps readers understand one of the crucial category in Baudrillard's four-stage model, the sign which conceals an absence.
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 chapter mentions four general shifts or 'settlements' in the intellectual landscape of theory itself. Firstly, theory has become less willing than hitherto to suspend disbelief in the face of vast and speculative intellectual claims. Secondly, there is evidence of a turning away from the dominant materialism epitomised by British cultural materialism and American new historicism. Thirdly, there has been a marked shift away from the 'linguistic sublime'. Finally, a new kind of cultural critique has arisen in response to extreme events such as 9/11, and the global pessimism which is the product of apparently intractable problems such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, the spread of religious fundamentalism, and the relentless progress of environmental deterioration. The chapter looks at five areas of development which beginning-theorists might usefully be aware of: presentism, new aestheticism, cognitive poetics, consilience and 'conciliatory' approaches to literary studies, and posthumanism.