Friday, September 25, 2015

Notes on Critical Approaches to Literature

  • Literary theorist Kenneth Burke famously described literary criticism as an ongoing conversation, one that began before we arrived and will continue after we leave.
  • Whenever we discuss literature, our appreciation or disdain for a text, interpret its meaning and mysteries, or cite it as an example of a larger trend in culture, we engage in literary criticism.
  • Literary critics and theorist are almost inevitably influenced by major shifts in philosophy, politics, history, science, technology, and economics.
  • Borrowing from all fields are particularly influential for twentieth-century theory and criticism.
  • Critical approaches should be considered as a lens through which a piece of literature can be examined.
  • A critical approach narrows down the overwhelming array of possibilities, providing specific approaches to take and questions to ask.
Formalist Criticism
  • This approach emerged in Russia in the early twentieth century and further developed in the United States and Great Britain under the heading of new criticism.
  • Formalists/new critics consider a successful text to be complete, independent, unified artifact whose meaning and value can be understood purely by analyzing the interaction of its formal and technical components.
  • The approach relies heavily on close reading or explication of the text.
Biographical Criticism
  • This approach emphasizes the belief that literature is created by authors whose unique experiences shaper their writing and therefore can inform our reading of their work.
  • Critics consult the author’s memoirs to uncover connections between the author’s life and the author’s work.
  • The approach is often used as part of a larger critical approach than as the primary critical strategy.
Historical Criticism
  • This approach emphasizes the relationship between a text and its historical context.
  • Historical critics highlight the cultural, philosophical, and political movements and ideologies prevalent during the text’s creation and reception.
  • Historical critics do extensive research which brings to light allusions, concepts, and vocabulary or word usage that would have been easily understood by the author or the original audience but may elude contemporary readers.
Psychological or Psychoanalytic Criticism
  • This approach stemmed from the works of Sigmund Freud.
  • Psychoanalytical critics in a sense study characters and authors as they would patients, looking in the text for evidence of childhood trauma, repressed sexual impulses, preoccupation with death, and so on.
  • Psychoanalytical critics examine the process and nature of literary creation, studying the ways in which create an emotional and intellectual readers and authors.
Archetypal, Mythic, or Mythological Criticism
  • This approach focuses on the patterns or features that recur through much literature, regardless of time period or cultural origins.
  • Carl Jung argued that humans share in a collective unconscious, or a set of characters, plots, symbols, and images that each evoke a universal response.
  • These recurring elements are called archetype and are likened to instincts.
  • Archetypal or mythological critics analyze the ways in which such archetypes function in literature.
Marxist Criticism
  • This approach is based on the writings of Karl Marx, who argued that economic concerns shape lives more than anything else, and that society struggle between the working classes and the dominant capitalist classes.
  • Marxists critics promote literature or interpretations of literature that can change the balance of power between social classes, often by subverting the vales of the dominant classes, or by inspiring the working classes to heroic or communal rebellion.
Structuralist Criticism
  • Structuralism emerged in France in the 1950s.
  • A work of literature can be fully understood only when a reader considers the system of conventions, or the genre which it belongs or responds.
  • Structuralist critics study systematic patterns or structures exhibited by many texts in a given genre.
  • They also look to literature to study the ways in which meaning is created across culture by means of a system of signs. 
New Historicism
  • New historicist look in literary history for “sites of struggle.”
  • Rather than focusing on canonical texts as representations of the most powerful or dominant historical movements, new historicists give equal  or more attention to marginal texts and non-literary texts. 
  • New Historicists attempt to highlight overlooked suppressed texts, particularly those that express deviation from the dominant culture of the time.
  • New Historicists study not just the historical context of a major literary text, but the complex relationship between text and culture, or the ways in which literature can challenge as well as support a given culture.
Gender Criticism
  • Feminist criticism also focuses on sociological determinants in literature, particularly the ways in much of the world’s canonical literature presents a patriarchal or male-dominated perspective.
  • Feministic critics highlight the ways in which female characters are viewed with prejudice, are subjugated to male interests, or are simply overlooked in its literature.
  • Queer theory emerged from gay and lesbian criticism partly in response to the AIDS epidemic and owes much to Michel Foucault’s work on power, discourse, and how language itself shapes our sense of who we are.
Ethnic Studies and Post-colonialism
  • Ethnic  studies employs a cross-curricular analysis that is concerned with the social, economic, and cultural aspects of ethnic groups.
  • An approach in literature that includes artistic and cultural traditions that are often pushed to the margins or considered in relation to a dominant culture.
  • The discipline of post-colonialism  found its beginnings in offering views of relations between the colonizing West and the colonized nations and regions that differed sharply form the conventional Western perspective.
Reader-Response Criticism
  • The approach emphasizes the role of the reader in the writer-text transaction.
  • Reader-response critics believe that each reader has a different set of experiences and views; therefore, each reader’s response to a text may be different.
  • The approach acknowledges the subjectivity of interpretation and aims to discover the ways in which cultural values affect reader’s interpretations.
Post-structuralism and Deconstruction
  • The approach was developed in France in the late sixties.
  • Post-structuralists believe that text do not have a single, stable meaning or interpretation, in part because language itself is filled with ambiguity, multiple meanings, and meanings that can change with time and context.
  • Post-structuralists believe that authors intentionally or unintentionally create even more multiple meanings through sound sense, connotation, or patterns of usage.  
  • The approach “deconstructs” the text to reveal inconsistency or lack of unity.
Cultural Studies
  • The critical perspective was developed in England during the sixties.
  • Cultural studies critics take a sociological approach to literature and their views are colored by the philosophical leftism of social philosophers.
  • The French influence of the approach emphasizes the view of society as a composition of various “texts” and imbuing everything with equal value.
  • Cultural criticism blurs the boundaries among disciplines and the lines between high art and popular culture.

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