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CRITICAL LITERARY THEORY

Page history last edited by Sharon Murchie 1 year, 10 months ago

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).
 
  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).


taken from: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/11/




 

New Criticism:

emphasizes explication, or "close reading," of "the work itself." It rejects old historicism's attention to biographical and sociological matters. Instead, the objective determination as to "how a piece works" can be found through close focus and analysis, rather than through extraneous and erudite special knowledge. 

New Criticism examines the relationships between a text's ideas and its form, between what a text says and the way it says it. New Criticism attempts to be a science of literature, with a technical vocabulary, some of which we all had to learn in junior high school English classes (third-person, denoument, etc.). Working with patterns of sound, imagery, narrative structure, point of view, and other techniques discernible on close reading of the text, they seek to determine the function and appropriateness of these to the self-contained work.
The goal then is not the pursuit of sincerity or authenticity, but subtlety, unity, and integrity--and these are properties of the text, not the author. The work is not the author's; it was detached at birth. The author's intentions are "neither available nor desirable" (nor even to be taken at face value when supposedly found in direct statements by authors). Meaning exists on the page. Thus, New Critics insist that the meaning of a text is intrinsic and should not be confused with the author's intentions nor the work's affective dimension (its impressionistic effects on the reader). The "intentional fallacy" is when one confuses the meaning of a work with the author's purported intention (expressed in letters, diaries, interviews, for example). The "affective fallacy" is the erroneous practice of interpreting texts according to the psychological or emotional responses of readers, confusing the text with its results.

To do New Critical reading, ask yourself, "How does this piece work?" Look for complexities in the text: paradoxes, ironies, ambiguities. Find a unifying idea or theme which resolves these tensions.

New criticism is NOT concerned with: context, the reader's response, or any authorial history.

taken from: http://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/new.crit.html



 

Intersectionality:

the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppressiondomination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include genderracesocial classethnicitynationalitysexual orientationreligion, age, mental disability,physical disabilitymental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity.[1]These aspects of identity are not “unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather…reciprocally constructing phenomena.”[1] The theory proposes that we think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one's identity.[2]

This framework can be used to understand how systemic injustice and social inequality occur on a multidimensional basis.[3]Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society—such as racismsexismclassism,ableismhomophobiatransphobiaxenophobia and belief-based bigotry—do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the "intersection" of multiple forms of discrimination.[4]

taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality



 

Marxist Criticism:

According to Marxists, and to other scholars in fact, literature reflects those social institutions out of which it emerges and is itself a social institution with a particular ideological function. Literature reflects class struggle and materialism: think how often the quest for wealth traditionally defines characters. So Marxists generally view literature "not as works created in accordance with timeless artistic criteria, but as 'products' of the economic and ideological determinants specific to that era" (Abrams 149). Literature reflects an author's own class or analysis of class relations, however piercing or shallow that analysis may be.
The Marxist critic simply is a careful reader or viewer who keeps in mind issues of power and money, and any of the following kinds of questions:

  • What role does class play in the work; what is the author's analysis of class relations?
  • How do characters overcome oppression?
  • In what ways does the work serve as propaganda for the status quo; or does it try to undermine it?
  • What does the work say about oppression; or are social conflicts ignored or blamed elsewhere?
  • Does the work propose some form of utopian vision as a solution to the problems encountered in the work?
  •  

http://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/marxist.crit.html
https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/05/



Reader-Response Criticism:

Reader-Response criticism is not a subjective, impressionistic free-for-all, nor a legitimizing of all half-baked, arbitrary, personal comments on literary works. Instead, it is a school of criticism which emerged in the 1970s, focused on finding meaning in the act of reading itself and examining the ways individual readers or communities of readers experience texts. These critics raise theoretical questions regarding how the reader joins with the author "to help the text mean." They determine what kind of reader or what community of readers the work implies and helps to create. They also may examine the significance of the series of interpretations the reader undergoes in the reading process.

Like New Critics, reader-response critics focus on what texts do; but instead of regarding texts as self-contained entities, reader-response criticism plunges into what the New Critics called the affective fallacy: what do texts do in the minds of the readers? In fact, a text can exist only as activated by the mind of the reader. Thus, where formalists saw texts as spacial, reader-response critics view them as temporal phenomena. And, as Stanley Fish states, "It is not that the presence of poetic qualities compels a certain kind of attention but that the paying of a certain kind of attention results in the emergence of poetic qualities. . . . Interpretation is not the art of construing but the art of constructing. Interpreters do not decode poems; they make them."

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/06/
https://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/reader.crit.html




New Historicism:



Historical Criticism insisted that to understand a literary piece, we need to understand the author's biography and social background, ideas circulating at the time, and the cultural milieu. This school of criticism fell into disfavor as the New Critics emerged.



New Historicism seeks to find meaning in a text by considering the work within the framework of the prevailing ideas and assumptions of its historical era. New Historicists concern themselves with the political function of literature and with the concept of power, the intricate means by which cultures produce and reproduce themselves. These critics focus on revealing the historically specific model of truth and authority (not a "truth" but a "cultural construct") reflected in a given work.



In other words, history here is not a mere chronicle of facts and events, but rather a complex description of human reality and evolution of preconceived notions. Literary works may or may not tell us about various factual aspects of the world from which they emerge, but they will tell us about prevailing ways of thinking at the time: ideas of social organization, prejudices, taboos, etc. They raise questions of interest to anthropologists and sociologists.



New Historicism is more "sociohistorical" than it is a delving into factoids: concerned with ideological products or cultural constructs which are formations of any era. (It's not just where would Keats have seen a Grecian urn in England, but from where he may have absorbed the definitions of art and beauty.)



So, New Historicists, insisting that ideology manifests itself in literary productions and discourse, interest themselves in the interpretive constructions which the members of a society or culture apply to their experience.


https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/09/
https://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/new.hist.html





Gender Studies and Queer Theory:

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).

https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/12/





Psychoanalytic Criticism:



Psychoanalytic criticism adopts the methods of "reading" employed by Freud and later theorists to interpret texts. It argues that literary texts, like dreams, express the secret unconscious desires and anxieties of the author, that a literary work is a manifestation of the author's own neuroses. One may psychoanalyze a particular character within a literary work, but it is usually assumed that all such characters are projections of the author's psyche.

One interesting facet of this approach is that it validates the importance of literature, as it is built on a literary key for the decoding. Freud himself wrote, "The dream-thoughts which we first come across as we proceed with our analysis often strike us by the unusual form in which they are expressed; they are not clothed in the prosaic language usually employed by our thoughts, but are on the contrary represented symbolically by means of similes and metaphors, in images resembling those of poetic speech" (26).

Like psychoanalysis itself, this critical endeavor seeks evidence of unresolved emotions, psychological conflicts, guilts, ambivalences, and so forth within what may well be a disunified literary work. The author's own childhood traumas, family life, sexual conflicts, fixations, and such will be traceable within the behavior of the characters in the literary work. But psychological material will be expressed indirectly, disguised, or encoded (as in dreams) through principles such as "symbolism" (the repressed object represented in disguise), "condensation" (several thoughts or persons represented in a single image), and "displacement" (anxiety located onto another image by means of association).

Despite the importance of the author here, psychoanalytic criticism is similar to New Criticism in not concerning itself with "what the author intended." But what the author never intended (that is, repressed) is sought. The unconscious material has been distorted by the censoring conscious mind.

Psychoanalytic critics will ask such questions as, "What is Hamlet's problem?" or "Why can't Brontë seem to portray any positive mother figures?"


https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/04/
https://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/psycho.crit.html

 

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