Lit Crit & Theory: Note to the Categories & Links
After the "General Links," the various theories are arranged under M.H. Abrams' venerable distinction of "Audience" (reader-centered theories), "Artist" (author-centered theories), "Work" (text-centered theories), and "Universe" (e.g., "world" [mimetic & "political"]-centered theories)--with a very loose attempt at chronological order within each. (I've also made a PowerPoint introduction to Abrams' quaternity.) Of course, many theories (and scholars) overlap a great deal in such a schema, and thus my organization should be taken with several shakers of salt. For example, Genre criticism is placed under "Work"--because each genre supposedly possesses certain formal characteristics--but this approach is also inextricably involved with the reader's expectations of what a good example of a specific genre is. Poststructuralism might have been put under any of the four with some modicum of reason--but it's where it is (under "Work") due to its historical ties to structuralism. And psychoanalysis, while traditionally "author"-based, makes assumptions about the "world" or "reality" that are ultimately value-based, and at last "political." Indeed, recent critical theory says that all assumptions about "Lit." are value-based and political, calling Abrams' entire schema into question.
Representative theorists for each "school" are also listed, with--often
philosophical--precursors (in parentheses) and [pre-20th-century precursors in square
brackets]. Some of the categories probably have few links at
this point, and the descriptions/explanations of each type are still
in the planning/rough-draft stage. For now, the page is more an interesting
skeleton of an outline--with even its bones subjectively joined, no
doubt, and its flesh relatively meagre. Still, the outline is what I'm most proud of, anyway,
because, while I'm at present an almost-PH.D. (ABD--"all but dead"!) in
English at the U of Iowa, I still think, sometimes, that my true calling was "obsessive-compulsive
librarian." . . . Finally, some "links," commentary, etc., are my own bad jokes
REVISION NOTE (01/02): I've finally got some decent links together, in addition to brief introductions to the various "schools": however, these latter, are, in large measure (and necessarily), my own misreadings/misprisions of each, of course. (To spell out my own biases, I spent many years [thru my M.A.] comfortably "doing" Jungian [and to a lesser extent, Freudian] criticism. A return for my Ph.D. led me to poststructuralist forms of psychoanalytical theory and to--gasp--ecocriticism.) As another caveat, the lists of "representative" critics are as much "random samples" culled from memory and my own arbitrary reading emphases as they are the most truly "important" figures in their field. (Many listings of representative scholars have now also been supplemented by brief lists of "essential"/indicative readings. For each work, the date refers to the book's first appearance in its native language.)
I've now also COLOR-CODED the MAIN categories/approaches, at least, as follows:
FINAL NOTE: the ubiquitous graphics of "critics" with pooh-pooh gestures and too-cool sneers are tongue-in-cheek, bien sûr, redolent of the popular notion of the overly negative intellectual-snob "critic." Oh, and the occasional brief quots. in white boxes are glosses on an adjacent approach, most silly-satirical, some not.
Literary Criticism & Theory: General/Miscellaneous
"Gut-level" response to a literary work; immediate & intuitive judgment of its worth, determined to a great extent by the reader's personality type and past experiences (including his/her past experiences with other works of literature). Also: the literary "critiques" of many pre-20th-century (especially 19th-century Romantic) critics, whose criticism was as much self-expression as anything else. "Few" links here, since it's a rather disparaging label, connotative of the affective fallacy, that no one would subscribe to in this day and age. Read De Quincey's "On the Knocking on the Gate in Macbeth" for a good example of responding to literature quite subjectively, often in quite serendipitous or idiosyncratic fashion; or recall your own (or your students') freewriting/gut-feeling responses to assigned texts. See also Anatole France's "The Adventures of the Soul" for an eloquent defense of such personalistic criticism. Valuable--and perhaps inevitable--starting-point to any response of literature, but dangerously subjective ("oh, no!"), and best combined with one or more of the following, more "intellectually reputable," types of literary criticism.
Usually with deep roots in Aristotle and other Classical rhetorical scholarship, this catch-all category includes various takes on how the audience is "manipulated" via rhetorical devices, poetical tropes, etc. (When said devices are genre-specific, we're approaching GENRE criticism, as in the neo-Aristotelian Chicago School.) Important 20th-century contributions in this line include those of Kenneth Burke, Wayne Booth, and the SPEECH-ACT THEORY of J.L. Austin & John Searle, an influential analysis of the rhetorical intent(s) of oral communication, applicable (or not?!) to literary texts.
General comments: Phenomenology (Husserl), Hermeneutics (Gadamer and Ricoeur), and Reader-Response criticism are closely related labels, all of which attempt a psycho-philosophical analysis of how a reader encounters & interprets a text. Some of the more radical permutations lead to an almost complete reader subjectivism (the text is what the individual reader thinks it means, however absurd), while other versions analyze the means by which various readers arrive at a consensus regarding the "meaning"--which can then be assumed to be a pretty much "correct" interpretation by the "ideal reader" (cf. Iser's "implied reader"). Specific schools and figures include the GENEVA SCHOOL (Ingarden and Poulet), the CONSTANCE SCHOOL (Jauss and Iser's RECEPTION THEORY), and more recent scholars such as J. Hillis Miller and Stanley Fish. And while the general philosophical origins of this approach are mainly Continental, British critics such as William Empson and I.A. Richards were doing a form of "reader-response" criticism before the label itself became common. Note that the now over-used term "reader-response" is hardly synonymous with impressionistic criticism (above), though the former label is sometimes loosely employed to mean the latter.
Hermeneutics (Existential ~)
Constance School (Reception Theory)
Reception theory examines the varying--historically specific--readings/"receptions" of a text by audiences of different time periods.
The Inconstance School :-}
Reader-Response Criticism (general, recent ~)
M.H. Abrams' term for the Romantics' privileging of the "poet's mind," or creative genius. Like "impressionist" criticism, not a label that many in the 20th century have adopted, although various "critics" from a creative-writing background and/or an introverted intuitive philosophy have no doubt given a more appreciative glance at the inner workings of "Genius" and "Imagination" than others. (It's probably also very true that people of true "genius & imagination," if there be such a thing, have, in general, "wasted" less time writing literary criticism?!)
A now passé approach both fascinating and dangerous in its attempt to apply details from an author's life to his/her works--and then drawing conclusions, perhaps, about the author's "inner mental workings." (Poor Shakespeare: the "literary bios" I've read about him!) In any case, the author's personal biography becomes the focus. For instance, this method might lead to a discussion of the fantastic images in "Kubla Khan" as by-products of Coleridge's addiction to laudanum: momentarily enlightening, perhaps, but ultimately misleading (and blatantly reductive) in its emphasis. Significantly, the "Artist/Author" aspect of Abrams' quaternity isn't even included in recent lit-crit focuses on "text," "reader," and "world," for this very reason: discussing a text based on your notions of the author's psyche and intent is usually deemed a heinous crime nowadays. (And yet some version of "biographical criticism" has snuck in through the back door in much recent "political" criticism, in which speaking of an author's [or other critic's] intent, in the guise of "ideology," seems perfectly okay. For instance, queer theorists' assumption that Shakespeare was gay remains problematic, IMHO.) Bio-literary studies by Caroline Spurgeon and Van Wyck Brooks in the first half of the 20th century are a few of the more well-known examples of this approach. (Finally, my general critique above is less directed at works whose main intent is that of literary biography, as in Ellmann's study of James Joyce.)
Psychoanalytical critics interpret a literary work à la Freud, that is, in terms of unconscious fantasies & desires, fixations & complexes, displacement & repression. Early psychoanalytical critics Archetypal Criticism. Early Freudian critics include Jones and Marie Bonaparte; later, Leslie Fiedler, Harold Bloom, and Norman Holland took such criticism beyond mere psychoanalysis of the author. Freud's own relevance to "critical theory" was revived by Jacques Lacan's poststructuralist revision of psychoanalysis, in which the "self" (or ego)--trapped in the Symbolic of language--is forever fraught with a "gap" or incompleteness that is always striving--and failing--to (re-)achieve a wholeness with the original (and "Imaginary") state of unity perceived by the infant. Finally, the neo-Lacanian psychology of Julia Kristeva, especially her notion of the pre-lingual, maternal "semiotic," has been influential for various psychoanalytical, poststructuralist, and feminist scholars.assumed, with Freud, that even creative works of literature are at last products of the author's (sexual) libido: thus Ernest Jones concluded that Hamlet's delays in avenging his father's murder are the result of Hamlet's (and Shakespeare's) unresolved Oedipal complex. ("I can't kill my uncle--er--gasp--'Daddy'!") Such ingenious interpretations live or die on the questionable scientific veracity of Freudian theory. Therefore the caveat above (regarding biographical criticism) on the dangers of making assumptions about an author's inner psychic mechanisms--UNLESS there exists the possibility that those mechanisms are very similar to the reader's, an hypothesis that leads to C.G. Jung's revision of Freudian psychoanalysis,
[The following summary applies more specifically to New Criticism than to other
branches of formalism:]
From Aristotle on, many scholars have emphasized the readers' expectations about what such-and-such type of literature should be and do. (Thus Aristotle thought that a good tragedy has a noble hero with a tragic flaw, creates some emotional catharsis in the audience, etc.) And so the genre critic considers the conventions that make up a particular literary type (e.g., the gothic romance, the pastoral poem), often analyzing how a particular example of that genre follows--or flaunts--those conventions, and to what effect. (Thus this approach can best be deemed a type of formalist criticism with rhetorical/reader-response considerations factored in.) The most famous "genre" school of the 20th century is the neo-Aristotelian Chicago School, of R.S. Crane, Wayne Booth, etc. However, Mikhail Bakhtin's DIALOGIC theory--with its emphasis on the novel genre and its sociological implications--has been more influential recently, in part because such notions as polyphony and heteroglossia allow for a quite politically "against-the-grain" reading of the text.
Chicago (Neo-Aristotelian) School
See FORMALISM for a description of their main modus operandi. The original group of Southern critics were known as the FUGITIVES (from The Fugitive literary journal, U of Vanderbilt) [see next-->>].
STRUCTURALISM may best be thought of as an (often French) version/extension of RUSSIAN
FORMALISM and its descendent, the PRAGUE SCHOOL (both below), with the added
emphases of SAUSSUREan linguistics (sign, signifier, and
signified) and anthropology (LÉVI-STRAUSS's analyses of the "deep
structures" of culture). Thus it is closely related to semiotics, the
study of signs or semiotic codes. Characteristically, the structuralist
"arranges," say, the characters or plot events of a novel into sets of
binary oppositions, perhaps then reducing them to "letter" formulas or
"geometric" diagrams. (Such structuralist analyses of narratives have come to be termed Narratology.)
For example, the four main characters in a certain story might be "arranged" as follows--
Instead of the New Critics' emphasis on irony, the Russian Formalists were most famous for the concept of defamiliarization, by which a text "announces," as it were, via formal devices, its status as a special use of language--its literariness, in short. Also, Propp's formalist analysis of fairy tales was instrumental in the development of Narratology.
A term denoting the common perception among intellectuals that the grand project of Renaissance modernism and historical progress is over--for better, or for worse. (And somehow, its "arrival" seems to have coincided with a particular student foment, in Paris, in the late 1960's?!) Lyotard, who popularized the term, and Baudrillard, with his concept of "simulation," are two of the major figures here. Poststructuralism [see next] is a closely related complex of ideas, and might be described as THE theory (or rather, theories) of the postmodern condition--or, to its detractors, the major intellectual symptom of our "postmodern" plight.
"Poststructuralism," the more general term, describes the various theories of social
and linguistic constructivism that critique the grand
Structuralist (and general "modernist") project of the "whole"--finding instead a "hole," gap, or
aporia that leaves the grands récits of "truth" and
"meaning" in flux, doubt, and relativity. (Ironically, many of the scholars first associated with
"poststructuralism" had already made their names as structuralists: i.e., Lacan, Barthes, and
Foucault.) Above all, poststructuralism is a de-centering of all the dominant stances of Western Civilization,
including philosophy (science & logic [vs. "insanity"], etc.) and
socio-politics (upper [vs. lower] class, white [vs. minority] race, male
[vs. female] gender, hetero- [vs. homo-]sexuality, and culture [vs.
nature], etc.). And so the importance of poststructuralism's general critique
of all such hierarchies is evident in, and often crucial to, many of the
"political" approaches below, including feminism, Marxism, queer theory,
New Historicism, and ecocriticism.
Yale School (New Haven ~)
The Harvard School (Gilligan's Island ~)
Here, the critic brings the cultural/religious assumptions of his or her own time to bear upon a literary work, judging the text according to how well it fits the critic's own ethical values system. At its best, this approach heaps praise on works of literature for their superlative expression of humankind's highest ideals & aspirations. (Thus are the writings of Homer, Shakespeare, and Goethe often lauded.) However, the critic's subjective bias often leads to abuse: thus adherents of existentialism may regard King Lear only as a great "early" expression of existential rebellion and malaise, while some Christian critics might consider Milton's Paradise Lost a great epic solely on its merits of religious orthodoxy(?!). As for specific schools, the early 20th-century New Humanism of Irving Babbitt and P.E. More was a "neo-Classical" reaction of sorts that condemned Romanticism for a "hazy & lazy" spirituality that wasn't in accord with their own (more "subdued" & rationalist) ethical viewpoint. Obviously, abuse of this method can easily evolve into dogmatic condemnation and censorship, and indeed, many works otherwise deemed as "aesthetically" great have been blacklisted, banned, or burned throughout the history of humankind by well-meaning "moral" critics. (Indeed, even Plato wanted to keep poets out of his utopian Republic because their inspiration bordered on insanity and were thus a danger to the general morality.)
Archetypal (or Jungian) (or Mythic) Criticism
Another "both fascinating and dangerous" approach that assumes that all of
humankind's creative works--including literature, myths, and religious rituals &
symbols, and indeed, our very dreams--emanate from the same inner psychic
source, the collective unconscious, as formulated by Carl Jung. Therefore one
may find in many works of literature archetypal (universal-to-our-species)
symbols that represent the various emotions and aspirations of humankind's
ancestral psychological heritage. And so the author may (unconsciously) invoke the
images of night and sunrise, and the reader may unexplainably respond with great
emotion: well, there resides within the collective unconscious (common to both
writer and reader) a myriad of ancestral memories that associate night with fear
and death and the unknown, and sunrise with relief, and joy, and "life" and
"rebirth" and--? (for finally, Jung agrees with the German Romantics
[and Coleridge] that a true symbol is inexhaustible in its
associations). And at last, all archetypal symbols are ultimately intrapsychic
(in Jung's original theory, anyway),
representing figures or processes within the psyche: "night," then, may connote
the strange "otherness" of the unconscious "within" our own psyches, which our
conscious egohood fears with all its might, because the unconscious is by
definition unknown. "Sunrise" may carry connotations of the "dawn" of ego
consciousness, or its "rebirth," depending upon the context of the poem or
myth--or dream. (This approach's common reliance on the oppositions of night &
day, summer & winter, etc., reveals it to be a kind of psychological
structuralism.) The archetypal method is also commonly called MYTH or MYTHIC criticism because
archetypal figures & processes--such as the shadow, the anima/animus, the wise
old man, the god-image (or "Self"), the journey, the "divine marriage," and
rebirth--are profusely evident in humankind's myths and rituals.
Next to formalist criticism, traditionally considered the most "objective" critical approach. The historical critic may be concerned with 1) the historical context per se, and thus be concerned about the effects of the writer's historical milieu (race, place, & time [cf. Taine]) upon the literary work at hand--e.g., the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the work of a particular English Romantic poet; or 2) the cultural/philosophical--"HISTORY OF IDEAS"--background of the writer's milieu--e.g., the impact of Einstein's theory of relativity on, say, the novels of James Joyce--or 3) the effects of previous works of literature (literary history) on the writer & his/her work--e.g., the influence of Whitman's free verse and mystical worldview on American Beat poetry of the 1950's & 60's.
History of Ideas Criticism
Prime examples include Lovejoy's study of the Renaissance "Great Chain of Being" and M.H. Abrams' analysis of the aesthetic progression from the "Mirror" (of Classicism) to the "Lamp" (of Romanticism).
A label sometimes applied to the theories of Foucault (& others), which hold that the so-called (& high-falootin') "history of ideas" entails an origin in, and evolution of, socio-historical discourses & disciplines of knowledge and power. (See New Historicism; for Foucault links, see Poststructuralism.)
Another catch-all-general category that (traditionally) borders on historical criticism,
if the critic limits his/her task to a non-judgmental(?!) study of an
author's sociological milieu. More characteristically today, however, it
refers to any critical angle with a conscious political ax to grind. Indeed, this general
orientation--including all the remaining approaches--brings to the fore a political awareness
relatively new to literary study,
in explicit opposition to the "text-only" emphasis of the formalists, making
laudable contributions to our attitudes towards literature through an often
impassioned concern for the social oppressed and downtrodden.
Marxist criticism (very simply put) champions the downtrodden of socio-economic class, critiquing texts that assume a classist society of economic elitism and hegemony (Gramsci), and championing texts that support the "common man." In this century, the FRANKFURT SCHOOL's attacks on pop culture as a dehumanizing, alienating prop for the capitalist State have been influential. Recent neo-Marxist criticism also often includes a poststructuralist critique of the capitalist and cultural ideology (superstructure) that props up the dominant economic system (base)--e.g., ALTHUSSER's notions of interpellation and state ideological apparatuses. Finally, "Cultural Studies" and postcolonial theories (among other approaches below) commonly adopt a Marxist methodology in their critiques of the dominant culture.
The term "Critical Theory" originally & specifically applied to these neo-Marxist critics of (capitalist, often popular) culture.
In the 1980's, Anglo-American critics read the French philosopher FOUCAULT and developed a "New Historicism" that differed from traditional historical criticism in several important ways. For one thing, they usually read a period's "texts"--characteristically, those of the Renaissance & Romantic eras--as contestatory, reflective of the time's socio-political forces of power/coercion/containment vs. rebellion/subversion. (But while they often at least implicitly viewed the latter more favorably, the two contestatory forces seem to be usually presented in a state of unresolvable tension--geez, much like the Reagan era in which they wrote!) Secondly, the New Historicists saw everything as a "text" (a precedent established by French structuralism) and went "outside the canon" of traditional literary studies, examining, for instance, private letters, obscure public documents, and forgotten/"minor" literary texts--and even, and almost especially, public spectacles and displays--in their analyses of the workings of social power. (The British manifestation of this movement is known as CULTURAL MATERIALISM.)
Feminist criticism (very simply put) champions the downtrodden of the "war of the sexes," critiquing
patriarchal (or phallocentric) texts and championing neglected (and recent) "pro-woman"
literary works. Like Marxism,
feminism quite often teams up with poststructuralism in its critique of the dominant male "hegemony."
One might conveniently divide feminism into two "camps": 1) those who posit an innate (and culturally
repressed) "female" way of writing, reading, even thinking (essentialist); and 2) those who see sex
or gender as socially conditioned and linguistically constructed (constructivist). Either way,
patriarchal dominance/oppression has been--and continues to be, to a great extent (as I see on MTV!)--the
order of the day.
With class and gender, race may be said to complete the main triumvirate of oppressed social groups "writing back" against dominant Western culture. But with such demeaning labels as "African-American Studies" and "Native American Studies," much of the scholarship here may also be said to be truly on the "outside lookin' in." And yet the criticism of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Houston Baker, Jr., and bell hooks makes African-American lit. ctir. one of the more fascinating and powerful branches of literary scholarship today. Likewise--and given my own "native" heritage--Vine Deloria, Jr., N. Scott Momaday, Paula Gunn Allen, and the poststructuralist "postindian" musings of Gerald Vizenor point towards a renaissance in "Native American lit. crit.," too.
Queer theory--to repeat my by-now-generic-and-oversimplified formula--champions the downtrodden of sexual persuasion, critiquing homophobic texts, and championing neglected (and/or recent) gay and lesbian authors & literary works. Via poststructuralism and, often, psychoanalysis, the writings of Eve SEDGWICK, for instance, also point out how much the dominant male heterosexual worldview includes a homoerotic (or "homosocial") element. Queer theory, like feminism, is often quite constructivist, and the battle is waged in the sphere of discourse; witness, then, these scholars' move to resignify the traditionally negative label "queer" as a positive term, and Judith BUTLER's (and others', of course) argument that gender identity itself is ultimately discursive.
Beginning with the Birmingham School (of British Cultural Studies), this movement brings critical theory concertedly to bear upon pop culture, and might best be deemed a new academic discipline or "subject matter"--at last, a radical extension of the "literary" canon--rather than a specific approach. Indeed, in crucial ways, it is an extension of structuralism and New Historicism in its propensity to "read" all cultural artifacts as "codes" and "text," from Hollywood movies to matchbook covers--which are inevitably indicative of the contestatory ideologies at work in the culture at hand (i.e., our culture). Not surprisingly, given their origins, cultural critics often employ the "tools" of (neo-)Marxism--especially the Frankfurt School--against, for instance, the onslaught of global capitalism upon the consumer masses.
Originally the study of "writings against the Empire" by the colonized natives of the former British colonies (especially India and, later, South Africa), this approach may now fruitfully be said to include any lit. crit. that champions the "Third World" native group(s) of all "postcolonial"--or still colonizing--nations, including the United States. (And so one might place U.S. African-American scholars and Native American theorists under this heading, too, especially since I'm convinced that Native Americans are still subjects/objects of a colonizing U.S. government.) As with most other "political" approaches, postcolonial theorists also employ deconstruction, psychoanalysis, et al., to render their outrage more amenable to (and perhaps ultimately more subversive of?) the dominant white academic establishment. Key figures/concepts in ("traditional"/mainstream) poststructuralism include Edward Said's notion of "Orientalism," Homi Bhabha's "hybridity," and Gayatri Spivak's "strategic essentialism."
The most recent "school" to arrive on the scene (1990's, mostly), ecocriticism examines the relationship of literature and nature, often from a quite political (environmentalist or animal rights) point of view. Not surprisingly, (creative) "nature writers" such as Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and Edward Abbey are commonly championed by such critics. Ecocritic William Howarth has defined the "ecocritic," in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion, as follows: "a person who judges the merits and faults of writings that depict the effects of culture upon nature, with a view towards celebrating nature, berating its despoilers, and reversing the harm through political action." Ecocriticism asks such questions as--"Does the 'nature' in this novel do more than just serve as a clichéd setting, acting instead as a major 'character' therein?" (And, either way, "Is that 'nature' a healthy ecosystem, or a [female] 'body' to be raped and ruined by the human characters who inhabit it?"); "What if I read this book from the point of view of one the animals in it, rather than just the human characters?"; "Are the birds in Wordsworth acknowledged as authentic, unique beings for-themselves, or are they simply used, 'othered,' as surrogate-object, substitutional metaphors for Wordsworth's longing for his mother (as in 'mother nature')?" (Ooh, a little bit of psychoanalytical criticism has crept in. Also, as evident in some of the questions above, feminism and ecocriticism are frequently combined; thus the term, Ecofeminism.)
*"Cool" Proper Names to Throw Around
*Words & Phrases to Avoid, Unless Attacking! :-}
*"Bad" Proper Names to Avoid--Unless Attacking