Literary Theory - School of English and American Studies

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Literary Theory
So far:
So far: concentrating on the literary work itself:
its form, shape, structure,
its categorization by genre or period
Now: the work in relation to
the world
the audience
the author
The literary work in relation to:
UNIVERSE
WORK OF ART
AUTHOR
AUDIENCE
The literary work in relation to:
Work of art – universe:
How art reflects / mirrors / represents the world
e.g., realism (or the effect of the real)
Work of art – in itself:
What it is like (formal, structural analyses)
The literary work in relation to:
Work of art – artist:
How the artist creates, what it is the artist
expresses
Work of art – audience
What effect the work of art has / should have
M.H. Abrams, “Orientation of critical
theories”
mimetic theories
objective theories
expressive theories
pragmatic theories
Mimetic theories
Mimesis and imitation
rather: representation
Aristotle’s Poetics: dramatic plot as imitation of an action
Coleridge: imitation of nature in being an organic unity
Realistic imitation: recognizable
(it is like what the reader knows)
Aristotle: imitation: an internal relation of form to content,
vs an external relation of copy and original
You are aware of the resemblance of tragic action to human
behaviour and you are aware of the conventions of tragic
drama as different from other forms
Pragmatic theories
1970s: reader-response criticism, Literary
Pragmatics: reader’s contribution to text
reading actualizes potential meaning
18th century: art has to be useful
"The end of writing is to instruct; the end of
poetry is to instruct by pleasing,“
(Samuel Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare)
Follows classical theory of rhetoric (= art of
persuasion) 5 part process:
invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery
Expressive theories
Art as an expression of feelings:
“For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow
of powerful feelings” William Wordsworth in
“Preface to Lyrical Ballads” (1800)
Art as an expression of the personal subconscious
Sigmund Freud, “The Interpretation of Dreams”
(1900) → psychoanalytical criticism
Art as an expression of the collective unconscious
C.G. Jung, archetypes, archetypal images
Objective theories
The work of art studied in itself, as a closed
system: internal structure, form, internal
consistency - its "intrinsic" rather than
"extrinsic" qualities.
art for art’s sake (l’art pour l’art)
No one theory can explain all works
(The essay is an introduction to his book on the
Romantics: The Mirror and the Lamp, 1953
textual criticism
The editorial art - establishing the text
“The aim of a critical edition should be to present
the text, so far as the available evidence permits,
in the form in which we may suppose that it
would have stood in a fair copy, made by the
author himself, of the work as he finally intended
it.”
W. W. Greg, The Editorial Problem in Shakespeare
(rev. edn. Oxford 1954)
authorial intention
A design or plan in the author's mind:
“We argued that the design or intention of the
author is neither available nor desirable as a
standard for judging the success of a work of
literary art, and it seems to us that this is a
principle which goes deep into some differences
in the history of critical attitude.”
“The Intentional Fallacy” by W.K. Wimsatt and
Monroe C. Beardsley (1946) In: The Verbal Icon:
studies in the meaning of poetry
(also In: Lodge's 2Oth c. Literary Criticism)
impressionistic criticism
Recreate the poem while writing about the poem.
“The Affective Fallacy is a confusion between the poem
and its results (what it is and what it does) [...] It begins
by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the
psychological effects of the poem an ends in
impressionism and relativism. [...] Plato's feeding and
watering of the passions was an early example of
affective theory, and Aristotle's countertheory of
catharsis was another”
“The Affective Fallacy” by W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe
C. Beardsley (1949) In: The Verbal Icon: studies in the
meaning of poetry (also In: Lodge's 20th c. Literary
Criticism)
value judgements
“Literary criticism has in the present day become a
profession, - but it has ceased to be an art. Its object is
no longer that of proving that certain literary work is
good and other literary work is bad, in accordance with
rules which the critic is able to define. English criticism
at present rarely even pretends to go so far as this. It
attempts, in the first place, to tell the public whether a
book be or be not be worth public attention; and, in
the second place, so to describe the purport of the
work as to enable those who have not time or
inclination for reading to feel that by a short cut they
have become acquainted with its contents. Both these
pojects, if fairly well carried out, are salutary.”
Anthony Trollope, Autobiography (1883), ch. xiv
interpretation
“Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect
upon art... The temptation to interpret
Marienbad should be resisted. What matters
in Marienbad in the pure, untranslateable,
sensuous immediacy of some of its images,
and its vigorous if narrow solution to certain
problems of cinematic form... In place of a
hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.”
Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation (1967)
Literary criticism as a systematic study
“It is clear that criticism cannot be a
systematic study unless there is a quality in
literature which enables it to be so. We have
to adopt the hypothesis, then, that just as
there is an order of nature behind the natural
sciences, so literature is not a piled aggregate
of 'works' but an order of 'words'.”
Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1957)
The language of literary criticism
“A statement may be used for the sake of the
reference, true or false, which it causes. This is
the scientific use of language. But it may also
be used for the sake of the effects in emotion
and attitude produced by the reference it
occasions. This is the emotive use of
language.” I.A. Richards, “The two uses of
language” (ch. 34 from The Principles of
Literary Criticism (1924) also in Lodge's 20th
Century Literary Criticism
Deconstructing interpretations
We need to interpret interpretations more than
to interpret things.
(Montaigne)
Quoted in Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and
Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”
[1967], Writing and Difference, trans. Alan
Bass (London: Routledge Classics, 2001) page
351-370:351.

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