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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
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 literary t heory b erensmeyer
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
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
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
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
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 and movements culler
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tutorial Theories and Methods