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The first period North considers, the s and s, witnesses a struggle between traditional scholars, caught up in obscure debates over etymology, and amateur belletristic critics concerned with shaping the sensibility of the general public. The hero in this drama is the British thinker I. Richards, who embraces the goal of using literature to educate readers outside the academy, but simultaneously introduces more rigorous critical methods which literature departments end up adopting.

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By emphasizing the usefulness of aesthetic cultivation for non-scholarly lives, Richards pinpoints a means by which literary criticism can contribute to the transformation of society. This rewriting of the goals of literary criticism has had far-reaching consequences. Embracing a wholly political approach to reading, these critics abandon what North believes is the one means by which literature might be made to reshape the world. Though they believe they are pushing literary studies to become more politically engaged, they are, North contends, doing the opposite.

In their view, literature is primarily a vehicle of ideology, a way of masking the painful contradictions of capitalism. Their criticism treats literature as a symptom, valuable only as an indirect expression of the political forces that created it. Moreover, they tend to couch their readings in esoteric jargon, effectively shielding their work from any broader social relevance.

But his account does clarify why the literary academic world is allowed to exist despite its radical posture: A remote and sparsely inhabited island, it exerts zero influence on the world around it. Now, however, the neoliberal order is in crisis, throwing global politics into disarray and creating an opening for a new critical paradigm.

If such a renewal happens, North will deserve some credit: His effort to disentangle the progressive possibilities of aesthetic cultivation from the reactionary forms it has assumed may well help to rejuvenate the discipline. After all, it is entirely possible to expose students to complexity and nuance without reaffirming the old-school canon of dead white men or the reactionary politics that the canon was made to serve. North is such a smart and articulate thinker that it seems foolish to argue with him. But his strident tone invites debate. A good place to begin is his valorization of I.

Meaning: The Movement from Author to Reader

Richards and corresponding demonization of the New Critics. To this day, any student who scours a passage from a literary work in search of ambiguities and ironies is following the example they set.

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The New Critics did defend traditional hierarchies segregating highbrow and lowbrow literature. The theory and criticism of literature are tied to the history of literature. However, the modern sense of "literary theory" only dates to approximately the s when the structuralist linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure began to strongly influence English language literary criticism.

In the academic world of the United Kingdom and the United States, literary theory was at its most popular from the late s when its influence was beginning to spread outward from universities such as Johns Hopkins , Yale , and Cornell through the s by which time it was taught nearly everywhere in some form. By the early s, the popularity of "theory" as a subject of interest by itself was declining slightly along with job openings for pure "theorists" even as the texts of literary theory were incorporated into the study of almost all literature. One of the fundamental questions of literary theory is "what is literature?

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Specific theories are distinguished not only by their methods and conclusions, but even by how they create meaning in a " text ". However, some theorists acknowledge that these texts do not have a singular, fixed meaning which is deemed "correct". Since theorists of literature often draw on a very heterogeneous tradition of Continental philosophy and the philosophy of language , any classification of their approaches is only an approximation.

What is LITERARY THEORY? What does LITERARY THEORY mean? LITERARY THEORY meaning & explanation

There are many types of literary theory, which take different approaches to texts. Even among those listed below, many scholars combine methods from more than one of these approaches for instance, the deconstructive approach of Paul de Man drew on a long tradition of close reading pioneered by the New Critics , and de Man was trained in the European hermeneutic tradition. Broad schools of theory that have historically been important include historical and biographical criticism , New Criticism , formalism , Russian formalism , and structuralism , post-structuralism , Marxism , feminism and French feminism , post-colonialism , new historicism , deconstruction , reader-response criticism , and psychoanalytic criticism.

The different interpretive and epistemological perspectives of different schools of theory often arise from, and so give support to, different moral and political commitments. For instance, the work of the New Critics often contained an implicit moral dimension, and sometimes even a religious one: a New Critic might read a poem by T. Eliot or Gerard Manley Hopkins for its degree of honesty in expressing the torment and contradiction of a serious search for belief in the modern world.

Meanwhile, a Marxist critic might find such judgments merely ideological rather than critical; the Marxist would say that the New Critical reading did not keep enough critical distance from the poem's religious stance to be able to understand it.

Such a disagreement cannot be easily resolved, because it is inherent in the radically different terms and goals that is, the theories of the critics. Their theories of reading derive from vastly different intellectual traditions: the New Critic bases his work on an East-Coast American scholarly and religious tradition, while the Marxist derives his thought from a body of critical social and economic thought, the post-structuralist's work emerges from twentieth-century Continental philosophy of language, and the Darwinian from the modern evolutionary synthesis.


In the late s, the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye attempted to establish an approach for reconciling historical criticism and New Criticism while addressing concerns of early reader-response and numerous psychological and social approaches. His approach, laid out in his Anatomy of Criticism , was explicitly structuralist, relying on the assumption of an intertextual "order of words" and universality of certain structural types.

His approach held sway in English literature programs for several decades but lost favor during the ascendance of post-structuralism. For some theories of literature especially certain kinds of formalism , the distinction between "literary" and other sorts of texts is of paramount importance. Other schools particularly post-structuralism in its various forms: new historicism, deconstruction, some strains of Marxism and feminism have sought to break down distinctions between the two and have applied the tools of textual interpretation to a wide range of "texts", including film, non-fiction, historical writing, and even cultural events.

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Mikhail Bakhtin argued that the "utter inadequacy" of literary theory is evident when it is forced to deal with the novel ; while other genres are fairly stabilized, the novel is still developing. Another crucial distinction among the various theories of literary interpretation is intentionality, the amount of weight given to the author's own opinions about and intentions for a work.

For most preth century approaches, the author's intentions are a guiding factor and an important determiner of the "correct" interpretation of texts. The New Criticism was the first school to disavow the role of the author in interpreting texts, preferring to focus on "the text itself" in a close reading. In fact, as much contention as there is between formalism and later schools, they share the tenet that the author's interpretation of a work is no more inherently meaningful than any other.

Listed below are some of the most commonly identified schools of literary theory, along with their major authors. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.