Tag: Jonathan Culler

Critical Theory: An Introduction by Jennifer Rich

Posted July 24, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Critical Theory: An Introduction by Jennifer RichTitle: Critical Theory: An Introduction (Goodreads)
Author: Jennifer Rich
Published: Humanities-Ebooks, 2010
Pages: 97
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: eBook

For me Critical Theory: An Introduction by Jennifer Rich was everything I wanted Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler to be. It had a logical format and it went through a few different literary movements and talked about the key people and theories involved with each school of thoughts. But then it got me wondering; what is the different between Critical Theory and Literary Theory? There seems to be no real difference and I’m not entirely sure why they would use two different names to talk about the exact same thing. I might be ignorant and not fully understanding the differences but if there is a difference please let me know in the comments below.

The book starts off with Russian Formalism, a topic I spent a bit of time exploring before continuing the rest of the book. The idea of formalism is something that I feel may be a good foundation for any literary student. To be able to understand genres, tropes, metering, grammar and syntax can provide you with some questions to ask every piece of literature. Asking why a piece of text is written in one perspective and not another and what the focalisation is focusing on can help develop some useful skills. Some people are saying that formalism is making a comeback and I tend to agree, I recently completed a university subject that went though the basics of this school of thought (even if there was no mention of formalism). If you understand these basic concepts, I think you develop a decent tool base for critical reading and future studies of literary theories.

Critical Theory: An Introduction also looked at Structuralism, Semiotics, Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction, Psychoanalytic and Postcolonial Theory. I have a feeling my interest will psychoanalysis and Marxism and this book seemed to verify this very thought, even if it only went into Marxism in passing. The major problem I found is that Psychoanalytic Theory is going to be a huge undertaking, more so than most of the others. I feel that I will need to develop, not only an understanding in psychology, but also a bit of a focus into semiotics as well. I am not too bothered by this thought; this is more of a blinding realisation of how much work is ahead of me.

While Critical Theory: An Introduction may have taken a more textbook type approach to literary theory than Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, I think the format is better suited if I ever need to refer back to the book. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction was a little all over the place and it works well for reading the book from cover to cover but if I need to look up what the book says on a topic it won’t be easy. I prefer to have chapters dedicated to one literary theory; makes things easier when I refer back to this book in the future.

I’m really enjoying exploring the world of literary theory and I’m beginning to understand the different types of theories on a very fundamental level. The only downside to this is the realisation that there is so much more to learn. I have to remind myself that I’m not going to be able to become an expert in all these fields and I need to focus. I’ve chosen my preferred fields but I will continue to learn the basics of all literary theories and see if something else pops out. I’m still shopping around, while psychoanalysis and Marxism seem like the right fit for me, I’m open to the possibility of finding something better (and maybe easier). Also, learning the basics in literary theory will have the added bonus of been able to see a book from different schools of thought. If you are looking for a good, quick introduction to literary theories, Critical Theory: An Introduction by Jennifer Rich is a good pick, it is short and only covers a few theories but will give you a decent understanding of them.


Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler

Posted June 6, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan CullerTitle: Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Goodreads)
Series: A Very Short Introduction #4
, 1997
Pages: 144
Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, as you might have guessed by the title, gives you a quick overview on the importance of literary theory. It is a little introduction on the history and the progression of literary studies. It was interesting how the book looked at literary criticism as a field of studies that is losing a battle to cultural studies. Even thought this field steams from the study of literature, people seem more interested in studying music, movies and TV than literature. Cultural studies seem to be pushing out literary studies and, sadly, the two fields may merge.

I got the broad-brush strokes on literary theory from this book but it never really explored any literary movements in great detail. I really wanted to learn more about the different schools of thought. The book provides a basic idea of what each school is focusing on; “‘the class struggle’ (Marxism), ‘the possibility of unifying experience’ (the new criticism), ‘Oedipal conflict’ (psychoanalysis), ‘the containment of subversive energies’ (new historicism), ‘the asymmetry of gender relations’ (feminism), ‘the self-deconstructive nature of the text’ (deconstruction), ‘the occlusion of imperialism’ (postcolonial theory), ‘the heterosexual matrix’ (gay and lesbian studies).” This did allow me to have a general idea of the schools but I suspect there is a lot more complexity to them. Also this is a very small sample of the different schools of thought; probably just the more popular ones..

In the end I found the most informative section of the book to be the appendix, which had a brief definition of most of the literary schools of thought. This was the information that I was looking for but the book did provide a decent starting point for someone like me. I know I will need to read a lot more about literary theory but I’m starting to get a handle on what to expect. I know I’ll never be an expert in all fields but the more I learn, the more I understand each school of thought in a basic sense.

I feel like my interests will be focused on psychoanalysis and Marxism. I like the idea of using psychology to analyse characters in a book; it could be dark and twisted and that is the type of thing I’m interested in. You only have to see my opinions on Frankenstein and Crime and Punishment to see that. I’m also interested in the social structure and how society affects the characters, so I think Marxism will be an interesting field of study as well; it will also have the added bonus of freaking out my in-laws.

This A Very Short Introduction series of books are a great idea, I can see myself trying out some different ones in different ranges of topics. They don’t just focus on literature, you can learn about religion, sociology, music, history, psychology, science and so much more. I plan to try out a few more of the books; I’m thinking the one on Marx might be my next choice. They are short and if you prefer they are also available as audiobooks.