Tag: Post-Structuralism

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.

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?

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Posted November 29, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Horror / 0 Comments

House of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiTitle: House of Leaves (Goodreads)
Author: Mark Z. Danielewski
Published: Random House, 2000
Pages: 706
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Johnny Truant searches an apartment for his friend and finds an academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record. This film investigates the phenomenon of the Navidson’s house where the house is larger inside than the outside. Initially it’s less than an inch difference but it keeps growing. The only problem with all of this is there is no evidence of this documentary ever existing. The book House of Leaves is that academic study (with all the footnotes) mixed with Johnny’s interjections, transcripts from the documentary and anything else.

This debut novel of Mark Z. Danielewski tries to mix a horror novel with some romance and satire but it mainly focuses on just how unreliable a narrator can be. I’ll be honest with you; I struggled to work out if I should review this as a piece of literature or as art, so I’ve done both and you can find my art review. Danielewski has really come up with a unique idea here, it’s almost the literary equivalent of The Blair Witch Project; there is a lot happening on the pages but the reader never gets a full grasp on what is actually happening.

The first 150 pages of this book were quite enjoyable, there were some funny moments and it gave you a real feel for what was going on. But then everything turns completely weird and I found myself raging and sometimes going insane. This is by no means an easy book to read, more of an exploration in the postmodern idea of Post-structuralism. I don’t pretend to understand postmodern literature but it was interest to see what Mark Z. Danielewski does in this book

You’ll either love or hate this genre blending novel; for me, I hated the story. I think my wife got more enjoyment out of watching me rage than I did with reading it. House of Leaves is known as Ergodic literature, which requires the reader to navigate the text in a non-traditional way; this is the first time I’ve seen a book like this. Everyone will have a different interpretation of this novel, so I would love to hear what others thought. Also make sure you check my post about this book as an art form.