Tutorial theories and methods
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Tutorial Theories and Methods. Tutorial for 22.04.2014 Set texts : Berensmeyer , Ingo. Literary Theory: An Introduction to Approaches, Methods and Terms . (reader pp. 13-22) Culler , Jonathan. Literary Theory : A very short Introduction . ( reader pp. 23-30).

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Tutorial Theories and Methods

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Tutorial TheoriesandMethods

Tutorial for 22.04.2014

Set texts:

Berensmeyer, Ingo. Literary Theory: An Introduction to Approaches, Methods and Terms.

(reader pp. 13-22)

Culler, Jonathan. LiteraryTheory: A veryshortIntroduction. (reader pp. 23-30)

Tutorial Theories and Methods

1. LiteraryTheory (Berensmeyer)

  • literary theory into literary practice = read literary texts while being theoretically informed

  • literary theory as constant debate of a field in permanent development, expansion and change

  • questions about “constitutive elements” (poetics and aesthetics) and about place, function and purpose of literature (politics and ethics)

Tutorial Theories and Methods

Questions commonly asked when thinking about literature:

  • What is literature?

  • What makes up a (literary) text?

  • Which types of literature are there, and how do they differ?

  • Which relationship exists between literature and its environment?

  • Which roles do authors, readers, other texts play?

  • How is literature linked with aspects of gender, politics, ethics, etc.?

  • How is literature related to other media?

Tutorial Theories and Methods

How to approach a theory

  • Step 1: try to understand key terms and arguments of the theory and attempt to apply it

  • Step 2: What can this theory explain? Where are its limits?

  • use the theory cautiously as a tool for analysis and understanding, but also stay aware that there are other theories for different goals

Tutorial Theories and Methods

Different kinds of theory

  • Hard-core vs. Soft theory: see table 1.1 on page 19 of your reader (Berensmeyer, p.13)

  • cliché: inherent difference between both sciences, which brands humanities both softer and weaker

  • use of metaphors as “travelling concepts” in literary theory, because they are dynamic, open and thus support the constant development of the field

Tutorial Theories and Methods


  • approach ≠ theory, but how you advance a text

  • intrinsic (text-oriented), extrinsic (context-oriented), author- and reader-oriented approaches

    see table 1.2 on page 20 of your reader

  • context can consist of other texts (intertextuality, etc.) or of extratextual reality (history)

  • method = a mode or strategy of reading that can be taught (including rules and techniques of interpretation)

  • theory provides foundations and principles

  • method = practical, theory = abstract

Tutorial Theories and Methods

History of literary theory

  • domains of literature and culture are liable to change and development, as is theory  literary theory is doubly unstable

  • influence of philosophy on literary theory in the past and present: follows major philosophical trends

  • former focus on poetics (product-oriented) changes into focus on aesthetics (process-oriented), the producer and the recipient

  • see also timeline on page 22 of your reader

Tutorial Theories and Methods

2. Theoretical Schools andMovements (Culler)

Beforethe 1960s

  • Russian Formalism

  • early 20th century

  • focus on “literariness of literature” (Culler, 2000: 122), i.e. form and techniques of language

  • verbal strategies and devices, language itself, estranging of experiences by language

  • important names: Roman Jakobson, Victor Shklovsky, Boris Eichenbaum

Tutorial Theories and Methods

2. New Criticism

  • 1930s and 1940s in the U.S.

  • literature as aesthetic rather than historical

  • focus on verbal features, their interaction and meaning, ambiguity, paradox, irony, connotation effects and poetic imagery

  • every instance of poetry is understood to contribute to a “unified structure” (Culler, 2000: 122) of integrated literature

  • techniques of close reading and tests of criticism for its usefulness and validity

Tutorial Theories and Methods

3. Phenomenology

  • early 20th century

  • centered on the work of Edmund Husserl

  • there is no ultimate reality, but a phenomenal reality of objects (also texts), which entails individual understanding (also readings) of these

  • focus: production of meaning, i.e. the reader’s conscious experience (reader-response criticism, aesthetics of reception)

  • the readers’ expectations and aesthetic norms influence their perception of the object, i.e. the text

Tutorial Theories and Methods

4. Structuralism

  • 1950s and 1960s, primarily French thinkers

  • Ferdinand de Saussure’s theory of language was applied to concepts of other fields

  • with literary studies: works are not re-interpreted but their existing meanings and effects are sought to be understood

  • focus: production of meaning, i.e. unconscious structures of experience and interpretation  which underlying structures/ codes make experience possible?

  • reader = agent of meaning

  • important names: Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roman Jakobson, Roland Barthes, Gérard Genette, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser

Tutorial Theories and Methods

5. Post-Structuralism

  • goes beyond structuralism with the claim that structures/ signifying systems cannot be described entirely or objectively

  • all structures “are entangled with the forces that produce them” (Culler, 2000: 125), i.e. theories become entangled with the phenomena they describe and objectivity becomes impossible

  • critique of totality, knowledge and the idea of the subject

  • important names: Barthes, Lacan, Foucault

Tutorial Theories and Methods

6. Deconstruction

  • 1970s, Jacques Derrida

  • similar to post-structuralism: critique of objective knowledge and a subject with knowledge of him-/herself

  • critique of common binaries and hierarchial oppositions: mind vs. body, presence vs. absence, nature vs. culture, form vs. meaning…

  • focus on the deconstruction of Western thought in order to reveal it as constructed: show that an opposition is not natural or inevitable but a discoursively produced construction that needs to be dismantled

Tutorial Theories and Methods

7. Feminist Theory

  • feminism = social and intellectual movement and debate

  • deconstruction of opposition man vs. woman

  • discussion of female identity, fight for female rights, promotion of female writing, critique of heterosexual norm determining the world

  • Elaine Showalter’s distinction: feminist critique (of male assumptions) and gynocriticism (of female experience and literature)

Tutorial Theories and Methods

8. Psychoanalysis

  • mode of interpretation, theory of language, identity and the subject

  • = a “meta-language or technical vocabulary that can be applied to literary works” (Culler, 2000: 128), a hermeneutic = process of understanding and interpreting a text

  • texts are replayed in order to be understood

    9. Marxism

  • texts as cultural products are part of a superstructure and produced on an economic base

  • interpretation of cultural products relates back to this basis of economics; the individual is determined by the social basis

  • subject = effect of unconscious processes, discourse and those practices organizing society

  • important name: Althusser

Tutorial Theories and Methods

10. New Historicism (U.S.)/Cultural Materialism (GB)

  • 1980s and 1990s

  • focus on the subject and the text under historical circumstances: form and signs are analyzed in the context of their (time of) production  cause and effect idea

  • subject = historically constituted

  • new historicism seeks connections among texts, discourses, different understandings of subjectivity, etc.

Tutorial Theories and Methods

11. Post-Colonial Theory

  • focus on the effects of European colonialism and “hybrid [post-colonial] subjects” (Culler, 2000:130)

  • strong link to Western discoursive practices

  • important name: Edward W. Said

Tutorial Theories and Methods

12. Minority Discourse

  • especially in the U.S.

  • black, Latino, Asian-American, Native American writing and discourse

  • goal: strengthen cultural identity of minorities and celebrating multiculturalism

  • development of concepts for the analysis of cultural traditions

  • marginal position is utilized to reveal majority assumptions and take part in majority discourse

Tutorial Theories and Methods

13. Queer Theory

  • marginal position is utilized to analyze the culturally constructed centre, i.e. heterosexual norm

  • questions culture and cultural constructions of sexuality

  • linked to social liberation movements

  • important names: Eve Sedgwick, Judith Butler

Tutorial Theories and Methods


Tutorial Theories and Methods

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