Tag: Literary Theory

Can I Make Twilight Sound Interesting?

Posted July 28, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

twilightI have a keen interest in literary theory and criticism, I often think it is a dying art form. However for me personally, I think it is a very useful tool to develop. While literature teaches us about the world around us, it can help develop empathy and lead you to explore new ideas. Literary criticism and theories can help unpack those ideas and look at commonality in those books we read. If writing is a therapeutic undertaking which allows the author to get ideas out and explore their own mind. Literary criticism is the exploration into understanding those thoughts and unpacking some deeper meaning.

While some people read for escapism, I tend to enjoy a book more if I find something deep. That’s not to say that all novels are meant to be dissected in this way, I believe that you could find deeper meaning in all novels, whether the author meant it or not. Sometimes the author is not aware of the deeper meaning that come out in their writing. I think that trends, symbols, motifs and even opinions (both personal and political) seem to be represented in your writing.

There are many types of literary theory out there and I think that most people interested in criticism tend to focus on the theories that they understand the most. For example, if you have a degree in psychology you might focus on psychoanalysing the text you are reading; trying to understand the characters’ and authors’ psychological makeup.  While someone that has a political interest in socialism, might look at a piece of text through a Marxist lens and explore the class issues that are evident in the writing.

I thought I might try to explain some common literary theories on a very basic level, as a way to understand just how interesting criticism can be. Note that I am not an expert and I am trying to learn more about criticism (that is how I got talked into buddy-reading The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism), but I thought this was a topic that needed to be talked about. I am going to use Twilight by Stephanie Meyer as my example, because I want to demonstrate that literary theory can be used on any writing and may even make it more interesting.

Queer theory

Queer theory is the exploration of sexuality and gender identity within a piece of text. From what I can remember there is no queer characters within Twilight; it is a heteronormative novel. However if you look at sexuality within the novel you can come up with a different story. Take for instance the fact that Edward is over a hundred years; is this perpetuating a fantasy of the older more experienced man? What does this say about Belle and her sexuality (not just her sexual identity)?

Feminism (sometimes referred to as Gender studies)

Feminism is a popular lens for critical analysis; in Twilight you can explore a lot on the topic. We are looking at the role of the woman within the text. While there is little descriptions about Belle, what do have makes her out to be a needy woman with no notion of independence or any idea on what she really wants. Although this is done on purpose, to make it easier for female readers to put themselves into her shoes. Ask yourself, how is Belle depicted in her role as a daughter to a single working father, and as a girlfriend. Just to be clear I am not saying Twilight is anti-feminist, I would say it is rather a post-feminist piece of writing (but I will not go into defining post-feminism).

Marxism

I enjoy Marxism when it comes to literary criticism; it looks at the class conflicts. There are three basic classes, all represented in the novel. The Cullen family represent the upper class, the Swans are middle class, while the Blacks are representing the lower class. Look at the Cullen class, they are represented as wealthy, well educated, and the classical representation of all things related to the upper class. Now look at the way Edward Cullen interacts with Belle and Jacob through the Marxist lens. Does their interactions represent an inherent class struggle?

Post-colonialism

Within post-colonialism, you can look at the relationship between the Cullen family and the Blacks. In post-colonialism you need to take into account the historical conflicts of the setting. Since the Cullens are super white (vampires) and the Blacks are Native American, you are able to see this motif play out quite easily. The relationship between white people and the indigenous in western culture is a big issue that is often explored, whether it is obvious or not.

Psychoanalysis

This is the exploration into the conscious and the subconsciousness of not just the characters, but also the author and even the reader. If you think of Twilight as a work of romantic fantasy, what does it say about the characters, the author and even the readers? This would closely parallel Queer theory and feminism in this instance because this is meant to be a romance. So this fantasy of an older, more experienced man plays a big part in understanding the character of Belle.

Intertextuality

While intertextuality is not a literary theory it is useful for criticism and understanding the relationship of a text with the literary world. Intertextuality is simply the ‘interrelationship between texts’, looking at influences and connections with the wider world of literature. In the case of Twilight you can look at the mythology of vampires and werewolves and how they differ to other books on the topic. This is a very simple way to look at Twilight, especially since the vampires in mythology do not match those that are found in this series.

I like to look at the intertextuality between Twilight and Wuthering Height (Belle’s favourite book), especially how the relationship seems to mirror that of Catherine and Heathcliff. To be clear, Wuthering Height is a piece of Romantic literature, which is not to be confused with romance. Both Heathcliff and Edward is a typical Byronic hero, which is described by Lord Macaulay as “a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.” The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is toxic and is disturbing that Belle would base her idea of love on their relationship. Although Edward is named after another Byronic hero, and that is Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, which yet again another toxic relationship that could be compared to the one found in Twilight. You could go with intertextuality, for example the fairy tale Cinderella and the connection Twilight has with that story.

There are so many different literary theories that you could use to look at the writing in Twilight and deconstruct it into something deeper. Also while reading critically, you could use other tools to analyse the text, from looking at Stephanie Meyer’s background, the cultural influence and there are many other ways to look at this series. I am still learning about literary theory and criticism, but I am very interested in the way the tools I am learning can transform the text into something deeper. I think using Twilight was a good way to prove the usefulness of literary theory or criticism. I would like to know what literary theories interest you and how you would use it in the context of Twilight.


Time for some Cultural Studies

Posted August 17, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Education / 4 Comments

ms marvelWhile writing a review for Ms. Marvel: No Normal I came to the burning realisation that I don’t know how to review art work. As a result of this realisation, I had to leave out any thoughts of the art. This got me thinking, I have a book blog that has been a great tool for developing my skills in reviewing and talking about literature. This blog sadly still gets neglected a little too much but I think I can make use of it for developing my skills.

Knowledge Lost was created to allow me to talk about what I have learnt and I can apply them into a blog post. So I have to wonder why I am not trying to socially critique all things pop-culture. Thanks to two recent books I’m starting to see issues relating to feminism (The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss) and sexuality (Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith) in everything I see. I’ve decided to practice these skills and start critiquing movies, TV shows and obviously art. The goal is to improve my writing skills in these areas and gives me an excuse to look more into pop-culture.

I have plans to talk about a few topics already, so I’m hoping that this blog is going to be neglected less. If you read my book blog you may have seen my manifesto where I have decided to write every day. So stay turned, it might not be as educational as before but this blog is now my new playground to practice and develop my abilities. I think the term for this is cultural studies, it is very similar to literary criticism but it applies to all things related to pop-culture.


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.


Is Formalism still Relevant?

Posted April 12, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

Yuri Tynianov

In a time of revolution a new form of literary theory also emerged. Russian Formalism was an influential school of literary criticism that involved a number of influential scholars including Viktor Shklovsky, Yuri Tynianov, Vladimir Propp, Boris Eichenbaum, Roman Jakobson, Boris Tomashevsky and Grigory Gukovsky. The movement may have been short lived from the 1910’s to the 1930’s but it played a big part in influencing modern criticism, including structuralism and post-structuralism.

The idea of Formalism is to study the mode, genre, discourse and forms of literature. Ignoring the social or cultural influences, Formalism choices to analyse the structure rather than analyse the meaning behind it. The approach takes a more scientific look at literature over the others at the time, but still influenced by other schools of thought like Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic theories and Symbolism.

While I don’t know much about literary theory, the concept of Formalism has been on my mind lately, and even been the subject of an interesting debate on Twitter. While this an out-dated school of thought, I do believe it is a useful form of literary criticism. While I wouldn’t recommend focusing on Formalism, it can serve as a basis into diving into the world of literary criticism. I have to wonder, is it just my university or does Formalism get taught as an early concept in other English lit courses?

By developing a basic understanding of mode, genre, discourse and forms, it allows us to ask questions we may not normally ask. Why is the text written in one perspective over another? What does the form say about its content? How does paradox, irony, ambiguity, or tension work in the text?  The idea is to help to develop critical thought, giving students a basis to work with.

Formalism is not a term used in the current subject I’m taking; it’s called Approaches to English Literature but the concept is the same. However recent trends in academic literary criticism suggest that maybe Formalism making a comeback. While I would never focus on Formalism, I think it is a useful skill to learn; I believe there is a use for this school of literary criticism. It may only be to develop skills needed for future studies. What are your thoughts on Formalism? Do you believe its useful or making a comeback? If you’ve studied it, do you believe it helped develop critical thinking?


Become a Better Reader

Posted September 13, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 15 Comments

I have been thinking about myself as a reader lately and I thought I might talk about it in a post. I really want to be a better reader but there seems to be so much I need to learn or get into a habit of doing. So below is a list of those things and I would love it if people can give me some hints or tips to help improve myself as a reader.

Note taking
I really struggle with this; I want to learn to write down thoughts and interesting quotes but never seem to work out a good way to do this. I don’t often have a notepad with me so I don’t know how to get into a habit or what will help. I thought about using Tumblr or Goodreads progress updates to do that but I’m not sure if they will help. I just have to somehow train myself into doing this.

Reading Critically
I want to be able to pick out symbolism, motifs and themes throughout the book. If you have been a reader of my blog for a while you probably can see that my reviewing seems to have improved and has more of a focus on critical understanding but I still think I’m a long way off to where I want to be. This might mean I need to read slower and reread books.

Understanding Literary Theory
I think part of reading critically would be to learn literary theory and that can be tricky. I started a BA in English Lit to learn this stuff but feel like I haven’t got into literary theory yet which is probably not true, I’m just impatient. I would love if there were a podcast or something that will slowly go through basic literary concepts and explain them in a practical, easy to understand manner. If I was smarter I would write my own but I still need to learn and probably need help to bounce my autodidactic learning off to make sure I’m on the right track.

Better Reviews
I struggle with synopsis’s and often fill tempted to use a book blurb or Goodreads synopsis instead. This is just one element of a book review that I want to improve, I know I’m getting better but I would love to write ten pages analysing a book without any effort. I know people won’t want to read a review that long but if I learn to write something like that, then I can work out a way to incorporate that into my blog.

There is a lot to learn here and I think I will eventually get to a place where all these points will be incorporated into my regular reading life. When that day comes I am sure I will have a new goal, I’m just inpatient and I want to have a better understanding in literature than I do now. I feel this will come with practise and continually pushing myself to be better and I hope that my blog is a reflection in this progress.