selected readings of modern contemporary literary theories l.
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Selected Readings of Modern & Contemporary Literary Theories

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  1. Selected Readings of Modern & Contemporary Literary Theories Why and How Before and After New Criticism Example 1: Rene Magritte Example 2: “Mindscape”

  2. Discussion Starters • What is(are) your interested field(s) and how do you do literary criticism? • Which theoretic issues and literary theory do you like? Can you give some examples to discuss them? Examples: 1. Representation, Structure, Writing, Discourse, Narrative, Figurative Language, Performance, Author, Interpretation, Intention, 2. Unconscious, Determinacy/Indeterminacy, Value/Evaluation, Influence, Rhetoric, 3. Culture, Canon, Popular Culture, Literary History, Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Ideology, Diversity, Imperialism/Nationalism, Desire, Ethics, Class

  3. Outline • Why? How is it related to Literary Criticism? • How? • Suggested attitudes • The focus of our course; • Contextualizing our focus: before and after New Criticism

  4. Con: -- no longer “literary study,” ignoring the beauty or essence of literature (e.g. Frank Kermode clip 1; E. Said clip 5); -- “keep politics lukewarm”; a mere word play or mind game; abstract and obscure; separate from reality or politics -- “fetishization” of theories (T. Eagleton); clip 3 Pro -- Interdisciplinary clip 2 -- It provides us new frameworks and perspectives; helps us ask new questions of the texts we study and about our lives. -- democratization of English Studies.clip 4 e.g. my own experience Why Theory?

  5. How? • Read with an active mind. (Do not feel “oppressed” by the difficult languages.) • Always read to get the main points (to find the questions the theory asks) and to ask questions. • Always try to relate and to map. (It’s impossible to separate all the theoretical discourses into mutually exclusive theoretical schools.)

  6. Theory as an Activity vs. Theory as a body of knowledge • “In the former, theory is taught as a means of understanding the world; in the latter, theorizing is encouraged as a pedagogical practice in which students become actual participants in the use of theory.” (Henry Giroux’s ideas explained by Storey) • It’s better to know how to theorize than to memorize all the theoretical jargons.

  7. General Questions to ask • What are the theorist’s main concerns? What questions does s/he ask and how does s/he answer them? Do you have any questions? • What are the theorist’s key terms? How are they defined? • What is the theorist’s method? Is a methodology explicitly laid out or is it implied? • (modified from “Doxography versus Inquiry” by Donald G. Marshall. Sadoff 84)

  8. Articulation vs. Application • Application –one-to-one correspondence between a theory and a text; • Articulation (接連) of theories and texts, of different theories : connecting, negotiating, translating. • “wrestling with the angels”: “The only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency.” (Stuart Hall textbook 1901)

  9. The focus of our course: Writing in the Unconscious, Subject in Space • “The unconscious is structured like language”: our dream, our desires all tell various stories about ourselves or for our selves. • The Symbolic: We become a subject when entering language (the Symbolic).  Topics: Oedipalization, the uncanny, narcissism, repetition compulsion, Trauma andlife story, – the different ‘plots’ we follow 3. “There is no unspatialized social reality” – Power relations in social space: e.g. Modes of Production, Class and Ideology, Discourse, spatial practice, and postmodern space

  10. before and after New Criticism • Structuralism –Basic ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure? 1. The synchronic vs. the diachronic; langue vs. parole// competence vs. performance 2. Language is a system of difference. Meaning occurs in binary opposition between two signs. (e.g. toy, boy) 3. sign = signifier and signified; the connection between them is arbitrary.

  11. Influences of Structuralism: some examples • Sign= signifier + signified referent • Language is not mimetic (a mirror, or a transparent container of reality); it constructs reality; it speaks us. • Binary thinking.

  12. Politics/Truth vs. Plato – the realm of appearance vs. the realm of Form  poetry twice removed Poetics Aristotle –Three unity, etc. Examples of binarism in traditional literary theories • Sir Philip Sidney: to teach and delight • The Mirror and the Lamp

  13. Reason Plato – poetry tells lies and excites emotions. Pope -- golden rules; restraint, good taste, Dryden: "wit": propriety of thoughts and words Emotion/Energy Romantic poets: imagination New Criticism: Setting up Literature as a discipline (autonomy, organicism, etc.)  An “objective” approach, just as Structuralism is scientific Examples of binarism in traditional literary theories (2)

  14. More Fluid Binaries in contemporary theories • Politics vs. Poetics; • Art vs. popular culture; • Culture vs. Economic Relations; • Father vs. Mother; Lack vs. imaginary plenitude • fixity of meaning vs. fluidity of language, identity and culture, etc. The lines are no longer clear-cut. Autonomy and Absolute truth are out.

  15. References • Storey, John, ed. .What is Cultural Studies: A Reader. London: Arnold, 1996. • Sadoff, Dianne F and William E. Cain, eds. Teaching Contemporary Theory to Undergraduates. NY: MLA 1994.

  16. la neige: 雪 l’Orage