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What is Literature and Why Does it Matter? What is Literary Criticism? Does the work contain any paradoxes? If so, how do they complicate, create, or enhance meaning? What is the tone of the work? What formal elements reveal the tone? How does tone contribute to meaning? Define both Formalist Criticism and New Criticism in your own words. Identify and list these elements and devices. Choose one of the formal elements or literary devices you listed above.

Write a paragraph about how that element or device contributes to the meaning of the poem.

Structuralist Criticism Key Terms Definitions Sign the basic unit of Saussurean linguistics, a physical entity consisting of a signifier an acoustic image and a signified a concept ; a sign is said to be arbitrary because a logical relationship between the signifier and signified does not necessarily exist Referent the extra-linguistic object to which a sign refers; the relationship between the sign and referent are also arbitrary and conventional Binary Opposition a pair of related terms or concepts that appear to be opposite in meaning e.

Questions to Ask: Does the plot follow a recognizable pattern? What patterns in the text reveal its similarities to other texts? What binary oppositions e. How is each part of the binary valued? Does the binary imply a hierarchy e. What dialogue or other aspects in the text indicate how each pole of the binary is valued?

Do words, dialogue, imagery, or allusions associated with the binaries contribute to the denigration or elevation of one part e. Explain the following concepts: sign and binary oppositions. For example, does the poem seem to contrast the meaning of words like black, fair, or beauty? How does the poem contrast the connotation of these words? Provide evidence from the poem for your viewpoint. Deconstructive and Post-Structuralist Criticism Key Terms Definitions Binary Opposition a pair of related terms or concepts that appear to be opposite in meaning e.

Questions to Ask: What binary oppositions or tensions e. How do other details and aspects of the text e. How does the text uphold, versus resolve, contradictory meanings? How does the text undermine the possibility of the text creating only one meaning? How does the text explore the free play in between two polarities? How does the text invite ambiguity versus certainty? How can a work be interpreted in multiple ways? Explain the concept of hierarchies in your own words.

What binaries exist in the text? Do they have a stable meaning? Write a paragraph that describes how the binaries in the poem create tension for the speaker. Does the speaker resolve this tension? Does Claude McKay portray America as positive, negative, or both? Defend your perspective by citing words, phrases, and lines from the poem. References Abrams, M.

Refamiliarizing Viktor Shklovsky

Licenses and Attributions. Many critics may not embrace the label "feminist," but the premise that gender is a social construct, one of theoretical feminisms distinguishing insights, is now axiomatic in a number of theoretical perspectives. While literary theory has always implied or directly expressed a conception of the world outside the text, in the twentieth century three movements—"Marxist theory" of the Frankfurt School, "Feminism," and "Postmodernism"—have opened the field of literary studies into a broader area of inquiry.

Marxist approaches to literature require an understanding of the primary economic and social bases of culture since Marxist aesthetic theory sees the work of art as a product, directly or indirectly, of the base structure of society. Feminist thought and practice analyzes the production of literature and literary representation within the framework that includes all social and cultural formations as they pertain to the role of women in history.

Postmodern thought consists of both aesthetic and epistemological strands. Postmodernism in art has included a move toward non-referential, non-linear, abstract forms; a heightened degree of self-referentiality; and the collapse of categories and conventions that had traditionally governed art. Postmodern thought has led to the serious questioning of the so-called metanarratives of history, science, philosophy, and economic and sexual reproduction. Under postmodernity, all knowledge comes to be seen as "constructed" within historical self-contained systems of understanding.

Marxist, feminist, and postmodern thought have brought about the incorporation of all human discourses that is, interlocking fields of language and knowledge as a subject matter for analysis by the literary theorist. Using the various poststructuralist and postmodern theories that often draw on disciplines other than the literary—linguistic, anthropological, psychoanalytic, and philosophical—for their primary insights, literary theory has become an interdisciplinary body of cultural theory.

Taking as its premise that human societies and knowledge consist of texts in one form or another, cultural theory for better or worse is now applied to the varieties of texts, ambitiously undertaking to become the preeminent model of inquiry into the human condition.

Literary theory is a site of theories: some theories, like "Queer Theory," are "in;" other literary theories, like "Deconstruction," are "out" but continue to exert an influence on the field. The other schools of literary theory, to varying degrees, embrace a postmodern view of language and reality that calls into serious question the objective referent of literary studies. The following categories are certainly not exhaustive, nor are they mutually exclusive, but they represent the major trends in literary theory of this century.

Academic literary criticism prior to the rise of "New Criticism" in the United States tended to practice traditional literary history: tracking influence, establishing the canon of major writers in the literary periods, and clarifying historical context and allusions within the text. Literary biography was and still is an important interpretive method in and out of the academy; versions of moral criticism, not unlike the Leavis School in Britain, and aesthetic e. Perhaps the key unifying feature of traditional literary criticism was the consensus within the academy as to the both the literary canon that is, the books all educated persons should read and the aims and purposes of literature.

Formalism | The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics | Taylor & Francis Group

What literature was, and why we read literature, and what we read, were questions that subsequent movements in literary theory were to raise. The work of the Formalists had a general impact on later developments in "Structuralism" and other theories of narrative. The Formalists placed great importance on the literariness of texts, those qualities that distinguished the literary from other kinds of writing. Neither author nor context was essential for the Formalists; it was the narrative that spoke, the "hero-function," for example, that had meaning.

Form was the content.

Literary Theory

A plot device or narrative strategy was examined for how it functioned and compared to how it had functioned in other literary works. The Formalist adage that the purpose of literature was "to make the stones stonier" nicely expresses their notion of literariness.

Literary language, partly by calling attention to itself as language, estranged the reader from the familiar and made fresh the experience of daily life. The "New Criticism," so designated as to indicate a break with traditional methods, was a product of the American university in the s and 40s.

Eliot, though not explicitly associated with the movement, expressed a similar critical-aesthetic philosophy in his essays on John Donne and the metaphysical poets, writers who Eliot believed experienced a complete integration of thought and feeling. Wimsatt placed a similar focus on the metaphysical poets and poetry in general, a genre well suited to New Critical practice. Perhaps the enduring legacy of "New Criticism" can be found in the college classroom, in which the verbal texture of the poem on the page remains a primary object of literary study.

Marxist literary theories tend to focus on the representation of class conflict as well as the reinforcement of class distinctions through the medium of literature. Marxist theorists use traditional techniques of literary analysis but subordinate aesthetic concerns to the final social and political meanings of literature.

Marxist theorist often champion authors sympathetic to the working classes and authors whose work challenges economic equalities found in capitalist societies. In keeping with the totalizing spirit of Marxism, literary theories arising from the Marxist paradigm have not only sought new ways of understanding the relationship between economic production and literature, but all cultural production as well. Marxist analyses of society and history have had a profound effect on literary theory and practical criticism, most notably in the development of "New Historicism" and "Cultural Materialism.

The Hungarian theorist Georg Lukacs contributed to an understanding of the relationship between historical materialism and literary form, in particular with realism and the historical novel.

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  • Formalism | The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics | Taylor & Francis Group.

Walter Benjamin broke new ground in his work in his study of aesthetics and the reproduction of the work of art. The Frankfurt School of philosophers, including most notably Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse—after their emigration to the United States—played a key role in introducing Marxist assessments of culture into the mainstream of American academic life. These thinkers became associated with what is known as "Critical theory," one of the constituent components of which was a critique of the instrumental use of reason in advanced capitalist culture.

Eagleton is known both as a Marxist theorist and as a popularizer of theory by means of his widely read overview, Literary Theory.

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Lentricchia likewise became influential through his account of trends in theory, After the New Criticism. Jameson is a more diverse theorist, known both for his impact on Marxist theories of culture and for his position as one of the leading figures in theoretical postmodernism.

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Like the "New Criticism," "Structuralism" sought to bring to literary studies a set of objective criteria for analysis and a new intellectual rigor. Like Plato, Saussure regarded the signifier words, marks, symbols as arbitrary and unrelated to the concept, the signified, to which it referred. Within the way a particular society uses language and signs, meaning was constituted by a system of "differences" between units of the language.

Particular meanings were of less interest than the underlying structures of signification that made meaning itself possible, often expressed as an emphasis on "langue" rather than "parole. Greimas, Gerard Genette, and Barthes. The philosopher Roland Barthes proved to be a key figure on the divide between "Structuralism" and "Poststructuralism.

The most important theorist of "Deconstruction," Jacques Derrida, has asserted, "There is no getting outside text," indicating a kind of free play of signification in which no fixed, stable meaning is possible. Other tendencies in the moment after "Deconstruction" that share some of the intellectual tendencies of "Poststructuralism" would included the "Reader response" theories of Stanley Fish, Jane Tompkins, and Wolfgang Iser.