TCG's Literary Criticism
Critical Theory

 LIT CRIT Categories & Links 
 A POSTMODERN Vocabulary 


Lit Crit & Theory: Note to the Categories & Links 

After the "General Links," the various theories are arranged under M.H. Abrams' venerable distinction of "Audience" (reader-centered theories), "Artist" (author-centered theories), "Work" (text-centered theories), and "Universe" (e.g., "world" [mimetic & "political"]-centered theories)--with a very loose attempt at chronological order within each. (I've also made a PowerPoint introduction to Abrams' quaternity.) Of course, many theories (and scholars) overlap a great deal in such a schema, and thus my organization should be taken with several shakers of salt. For example, Genre criticism is placed under "Work"--because each genre supposedly possesses certain formal characteristics--but this approach is also inextricably involved with the reader's expectations of what a good example of a specific genre is. Poststructuralism might have been put under any of the four with some modicum of reason--but it's where it is (under "Work") due to its historical ties to structuralism. And psychoanalysis, while traditionally "author"-based, makes assumptions about the "world" or "reality" that are ultimately value-based, and at last "political." Indeed, recent critical theory says that all assumptions about "Lit." are value-based and political, calling Abrams' entire schema into question.

Representative theorists for each "school" are also listed, with--often philosophical--precursors (in parentheses) and [pre-20th-century precursors in square brackets]. Some of the categories probably have few links at this point, and the descriptions/explanations of each type are still in the planning/rough-draft stage. For now, the page is more an interesting skeleton of an outline--with even its bones subjectively joined, no doubt, and its flesh relatively meagre. Still, the outline is what I'm most proud of, anyway, because, while I'm at present an almost-PH.D. (ABD--"all but dead"!) in English at the U of Iowa, I still think, sometimes, that my true calling was "obsessive-compulsive librarian." . . . Finally, some "links," commentary, etc., are my own bad jokes [ :-}].

REVISION NOTE (01/02): I've finally got some decent links together, in addition to brief introductions to the various "schools": however, these latter, are, in large measure (and necessarily), my own misreadings/misprisions of each, of course. (To spell out my own biases, I spent many years [thru my M.A.] comfortably "doing" Jungian [and to a lesser extent, Freudian] criticism. A return for my Ph.D. led me to poststructuralist forms of psychoanalytical theory and to--gasp--ecocriticism.) As another caveat, the lists of "representative" critics are as much "random samples" culled from memory and my own arbitrary reading emphases as they are the most truly "important" figures in their field. (Many listings of representative scholars have now also been supplemented by brief lists of "essential"/indicative readings. For each work, the date refers to the book's first appearance in its native language.)

I've now also COLOR-CODED the MAIN categories/approaches, at least, as follows:
[LitCritName]: This approach is of HISTORICAL INTEREST only, and included for the sake of comprehensiveness.
[LitCritName]: This approach is rather or very "OLD-FASHIONED," but still viable.
[LitCritName]: This approach is CUTTING-EDGE and/or at least recent and still "VIBRANT."

FINAL NOTE: the ubiquitous graphics of "critics" with pooh-pooh gestures and too-cool sneers are tongue-in-cheek, bien sûr, redolent of the popular notion of the overly negative intellectual-snob "critic." Oh, and the occasional brief quots. in white boxes are glosses on an adjacent approach, most silly-satirical, some not.


Note: the following TABLE OF CONTENTS is not all-inclusive: what you're looking for may be a sub-category of one of the following:::: (The color codes are explained above.)

General/Miscellaneous Impressionist Criticism Rhetorical Criticism
Reader-Response Criticism Expressive Criticism Biographical Criticism
Psychoanalytical Criticism Formalism Genre Criticism
Dialogic Criticism New Criticism Structuralism
{{Postmodernism}} Poststructuralism Humanist/Moral Criticism
Archetypal/Myth Criticism Historical Criticism Socio-Political Criticism
Marxist Criticism Frankfurt School New Historicism
Feminist Criticism Race Criticism Queer Theory
Cultural Studies Postcolonial Criticism Ecocriticism


Literary Criticism & Theory: General/Miscellaneous


  "AUDIENCE"/"Pragmatic" Critical Theories & Schools


Impressionist(ic) Criticism

"Gut-level" response to a literary work; immediate & intuitive judgment of its worth, determined to a great extent by the reader's personality type and past experiences (including his/her past experiences with other works of literature). Also: the literary "critiques" of many pre-20th-century (especially 19th-century Romantic) critics, whose criticism was as much self-expression as anything else. "Few" links here, since it's a rather disparaging label, connotative of the affective fallacy, that no one would subscribe to in this day and age. Read De Quincey's "On the Knocking on the Gate in Macbeth" for a good example of responding to literature quite subjectively, often in quite serendipitous or idiosyncratic fashion; or recall your own (or your students') freewriting/gut-feeling responses to assigned texts. See also Anatole France's "The Adventures of the Soul" for an eloquent defense of such personalistic criticism. Valuable--and perhaps inevitable--starting-point to any response of literature, but dangerously subjective ("oh, no!"), and best combined with one or more of the following, more "intellectually reputable," types of literary criticism.

Representative Figures: [. . . Hazlitt, De Quincey, Pater, Anatole France . . .]

"I laughed! I cried! (I bonked my head.)
I fell upon the thorns of Lit. and bled!"
[--TO INDEX--]


Rhetorical Criticism

Usually with deep roots in Aristotle and other Classical rhetorical scholarship, this catch-all category includes various takes on how the audience is "manipulated" via rhetorical devices, poetical tropes, etc. (When said devices are genre-specific, we're approaching GENRE criticism, as in the neo-Aristotelian Chicago School.) Important 20th-century contributions in this line include those of Kenneth Burke, Wayne Booth, and the SPEECH-ACT THEORY of J.L. Austin & John Searle, an influential analysis of the rhetorical intent(s) of oral communication, applicable (or not?!) to literary texts.

Representative Figures: [Aristotle, Quintilian, Longinus] . . . Jakobson, Booth, Burke, Habermas, Ong
(Brief) List of Representative Books: Burke: Rhetoric of Motives (1950)
Booth: The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961)
Burke: Language as Symbolic Action (1966)
Representative Figures: J.L. Austin, J.R. Searle, M.L. Pratt
(Brief) List of Representative Books: Austin: How to Do Things with Words (1962)
Searle: Speech Acts (1969)
Pratt: Towards a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (1977)

[--TO INDEX--]


Phenomenological/Hermeneutic/Reader-Response Criticism

General comments: Phenomenology (Husserl), Hermeneutics (Gadamer and Ricoeur), and Reader-Response criticism are closely related labels, all of which attempt a psycho-philosophical analysis of how a reader encounters & interprets a text. Some of the more radical permutations lead to an almost complete reader subjectivism (the text is what the individual reader thinks it means, however absurd), while other versions analyze the means by which various readers arrive at a consensus regarding the "meaning"--which can then be assumed to be a pretty much "correct" interpretation by the "ideal reader" (cf. Iser's "implied reader"). Specific schools and figures include the GENEVA SCHOOL (Ingarden and Poulet), the CONSTANCE SCHOOL (Jauss and Iser's RECEPTION THEORY), and more recent scholars such as J. Hillis Miller and Stanley Fish. And while the general philosophical origins of this approach are mainly Continental, British critics such as William Empson and I.A. Richards were doing a form of "reader-response" criticism before the label itself became common. Note that the now over-used term "reader-response" is hardly synonymous with impressionistic criticism (above), though the former label is sometimes loosely employed to mean the latter.

(General) Influential Figures: [E. Burke] . . . (Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Ortega y Gassett, Ingarden) . . . Bachelard

Representative Figures: (Ingarden) . . . Raymond, Poulet, J.H. Miller . . . NOT J.-J. Rousseau  :-}
(Brief) List of Representative Books: Ingarden: The Literary Work of Art (1965)

Representative Figures: (Schleiermacher, Dilthey) . . . Gadamer, Ricoeur; E.D. Hirsch
(Brief) List of Representative Books: Hirsch: Validity in Interpretation (1967)
Representative Figures: Jauss, Iser; Tompkins
(Brief) List of Representative Books: Iser: The Implied Reader (1972)
Iser: The Act of Reading (1976)

      The Inconstance School :-}

    Representative Figures: William J. Clinton  :-}

    Representative Figures: (I.A. Richards, Empson, Rosenblatt, Kermode) . . . E.D. Hirsch, Fish, Holland, Bleich, Prince, Poulet, Culler, Riffaterre
    (Brief) List of Representative Books: I.A. Richards: Practical Criticism (1929)
    Bleich: Subjective Criticism (1978)
    Rosenblatt: The Reader, the Text, the Poem (1978)
    Fish: Is There a Text in This Class? (1980)
    Tompkins, ed.: Reader-Response Criticism (1980)

    "Very like a whale." (--Polonius)
    [--TO INDEX--]


      "ARTIST"/"Expressive" Critical Theories & Schools


    Expressive Criticism

    M.H. Abrams' term for the Romantics' privileging of the "poet's mind," or creative genius. Like "impressionist" criticism, not a label that many in the 20th century have adopted, although various "critics" from a creative-writing background and/or an introverted intuitive philosophy have no doubt given a more appreciative glance at the inner workings of "Genius" and "Imagination" than others. (It's probably also very true that people of true "genius & imagination," if there be such a thing, have, in general, "wasted" less time writing literary criticism?!)

    Representative Figures: [E. Young, Wordsworth, Coleridge] . . . (Croce) . . .


    (Psycho-)Biographical Criticism

    A now passé approach both fascinating and dangerous in its attempt to apply details from an author's life to his/her works--and then drawing conclusions, perhaps, about the author's "inner mental workings." (Poor Shakespeare: the "literary bios" I've read about him!) In any case, the author's personal biography becomes the focus. For instance, this method might lead to a discussion of the fantastic images in "Kubla Khan" as by-products of Coleridge's addiction to laudanum: momentarily enlightening, perhaps, but ultimately misleading (and blatantly reductive) in its emphasis. Significantly, the "Artist/Author" aspect of Abrams' quaternity isn't even included in recent lit-crit focuses on "text," "reader," and "world," for this very reason: discussing a text based on your notions of the author's psyche and intent is usually deemed a heinous crime nowadays. (And yet some version of "biographical criticism" has snuck in through the back door in much recent "political" criticism, in which speaking of an author's [or other critic's] intent, in the guise of "ideology," seems perfectly okay. For instance, queer theorists' assumption that Shakespeare was gay remains problematic, IMHO.) Bio-literary studies by Caroline Spurgeon and Van Wyck Brooks in the first half of the 20th century are a few of the more well-known examples of this approach. (Finally, my general critique above is less directed at works whose main intent is that of literary biography, as in Ellmann's study of James Joyce.)

    • "Anne Hathaway: The Woman Behind The Taming of the Shrew"  :-} (wait--I think I have read an essay like this!...)
    Representative Figures: [Saint-Beuve] . . . (Croce) . . . E. Wilson, J.M. Murry, Spurgeon, V.W. Brooks, Kenner, R. Ellmann
    (Brief) List of Representative Books: Spurgeon: Shakespeare's Imagery and What it Tells Us (1935)

    [--TO INDEX--]

    Representative Figures: Freud, E. Jones, M. Bonaparte, E. Wilson, Trilling, K. Burke, Lesser, Fiedler . . . Holland, G. Hartman, H. Bloom; Lacan, Kristeva, Deleuze & Guattari
    (Brief) List of Representative Books: Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams (1899)
    Freud: Introductory Lectures in Psycho-Analysis (1917)
    Freud: New Introductory Lectures in Psycho-Analysis (1933)
    Bonaparte: The Life and Works of Edgar Allen Poe (1949)
    Lacan: The Language of the Self (1956)
    Lesser: Fiction and the Unconscious (1957)
    Lacan: Écrits (1966)
    Bloom, H.: The Anxiety of Influence (1973)
    Kristeva: Revolution in Poetic Language (1974)
    Kristeva: Desire in Language (1980)
    Holland: Holland's Guide to Psychoanalytic Psychology
        and Literature-and-Psychology (1990)

    "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." (--Bill Clinton?!)
    [--TO INDEX--]


      "WORK"/"Objective" Critical Theories & Schools



             [The following summary applies more specifically to New Criticism than to other branches of formalism:]
    For the formalist, the careful-thoughtful-and-well-informed reader judges the merits of the work as a finely-crafted aesthetic whole--considering, for instance, in a work of fiction, its use of plot, style, characterization, etc.; in a work of poetry, matters of prosody, diction, figurative language, et al. At last, attentiveness to the purely formal aspects of literature is an antidote to the reader's propensity for straying too far from the text. Indeed, formalist criticism is supposedly unique among critical methods in being completely "intrinsic," dealing only with aesthetic techniques evident within the work per se. All other critical approaches are extrinsic, bringing to bear considerations outside the text. For the formalist, such intrinsic analyses should at least be an integral part of any well-rounded critical discussion of literature, and the psychologically or politically based critic (for example) runs the danger of a distorted interpretation if formalistic matters are not also taken into consideration.
            The paragraph above presents formalism in its best light. On the negative side, in dealing with specific literary "devices" in isolation (irony, point of view, etc.), this approach may actually tend to destroy a work's "organic unity": as Wordsworth says, "We murder to dissect." Also, the claim to non-political "objectivity" has been severely called into question by politically-oriented critics, for whom all critical statements are ideological, even--and especially--those that claim not to be so. In sum, a "retreat" to formalism might well be said to be an implicit support of the political status quo.
            In the U.S., the main formalist approach was known as the NEW CRITICISM ("flourished" 1940's & 50's, but lives on today in Freshman Lit. textbooks!); in Europe, RUSSIAN FORMALISM led to (predominantly French) STRUCTURALISM. Finally, (Anglo/American) formalism is apparently attempting a comeback as the "New Formalism."

    (General) Representative Figures: [Longinus] . . . Ricks . . . [see below for figures associated with more specific schools]

    "Note the story's llllo-o-o-ong rising action, its quickshotclimax, and its
    brief falling action--then the author lies back and smokes a cigarette."

      Genre Criticism

      From Aristotle on, many scholars have emphasized the readers' expectations about what such-and-such type of literature should be and do. (Thus Aristotle thought that a good tragedy has a noble hero with a tragic flaw, creates some emotional catharsis in the audience, etc.) And so the genre critic considers the conventions that make up a particular literary type (e.g., the gothic romance, the pastoral poem), often analyzing how a particular example of that genre follows--or flaunts--those conventions, and to what effect. (Thus this approach can best be deemed a type of formalist criticism with rhetorical/reader-response considerations factored in.) The most famous "genre" school of the 20th century is the neo-Aristotelian Chicago School, of R.S. Crane, Wayne Booth, etc. However, Mikhail Bakhtin's DIALOGIC theory--with its emphasis on the novel genre and its sociological implications--has been more influential recently, in part because such notions as polyphony and heteroglossia allow for a quite politically "against-the-grain" reading of the text.

    Representative Figures: [[Aristotle, Horace] . . . E.E. Stoll*, Frye . . . [see below for figures associated with more specific/recent schools]
    * If only for his famous retort to critics' "over-analysis" of Hamlet's character & delay--simply put, "The play's gotta last five acts, after all!"

    "Here's bettin' Mr. Goody Two-Shoes gets a cap in the arse in Act V."
    Representative Figures: R.S. Crane, E. Olson, Booth
    (Brief) List of Representative Books: Crane: The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry (1953)
    Olson: The Theory of Comedy (1968)
    Representative Figures: ((Frye)) . . . Bakhtin
    (Brief) List of Representative Books: Bakhtin: Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (1929)
    Bakhtin: Rabelais and His World (1965)
    Bakhtin: The Dialogic Imagination (1981)

    [--TO INDEX--]

    Representative Figures:   {e.g., [Coleridge, Poe, H. James] . . . (T.E. Hulme, Pound, Eliot, I.A. Richards, Empson) . . . Burke, R.P. Blackmur, Wellek, Wimsatt & Beardsley, Y. Winters, Schorer . . . and most of all, see the NEXT subcategory-->>
    (Brief) List of Representative Books: Richards: Principles of Literary Criticism (1924)
    Empson: Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930)
    Wimsatt & Beardsley: The Verbal Icon (1954)

    "I move to keep things whole." (--Mark Strand)
    Representative Figures: Ransom, Tate, Davidson, C. Brooks & Warren . . . David Jansen?!  :-}
    (Brief) List of Representative Books: Brooks & Warren: Understanding Poetry (1938)
    Ransom: The New Criticism (1941)
    Brooks: The Well-Wrought Urn (1947)

    from the nightmare of history?"
    [--TO INDEX--]


    Representative Figures: [Peirce,] (Saussure, Lévy-Strauss) . . . Greimas, Todorov, Genette, Eco, Barthes, Foucault, Riffaterre, Culler, Kristeva, Scholes
    (Brief) List of Representative Books: Saussure: Course in General Linguistics (1916)
    Barthes: Mythologies (1957)
    Barthes: S/Z (1970)
    Scholes: Structuralism in Literature (1974)
    Culler: Structuralist Poetics (1975)
    Riffaterre: The Semiotics of Poetry (1978)
    Prince: Narratology: The Form and Functioning of Narrative (1982)
      Representative Figures: Propp, Shklovsky, Eichenbaum, Jakobson
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: Propp: Morphology of the Folktale (1927)
      Representative Figures: Jakobson, Mukarovsky
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: Jakobson: Fundamentals of Language (1956)

      [--TO INDEX--]



      A term denoting the common perception among intellectuals that the grand project of Renaissance modernism and historical progress is over--for better, or for worse. (And somehow, its "arrival" seems to have coincided with a particular student foment, in Paris, in the late 1960's?!) Lyotard, who popularized the term, and Baudrillard, with his concept of "simulation," are two of the major figures here. Poststructuralism [see next] is a closely related complex of ideas, and might be described as THE theory (or rather, theories) of the postmodern condition--or, to its detractors, the major intellectual symptom of our "postmodern" plight.

      Representative Figures: [Nietzsche,] (Heidegger, Sartre, Robbes-Grillet) . . . Lyotard, Baudrillard, Rorty, Jameson . . . and see, especially, NEXT category-->>
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: Lyotard: The Postmodern Condition (1979)
      Baudrillard: Simulacra and Simulation (1981)
      Jameson: Postmodernism: or, The Cultural logic of Late Capitalism (1991)

      "Ersatz Brothers Coffee--the REAL one!" (--Firesign Theatre)
      [--TO INDEX--]
      Representative Figures: [Nietzsche] . . . Lacan, Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Deleuze & Guattari, Althusser, Kristeva, Culler, H. White, B. Johnson
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: Derrida: Of Grammatology (1967)
      Derrida: Writing and Difference (1967)
      Deleuze & Guattari: Anti-Oedipus (1972)
      Barthes: The Pleasure of the Text (1973)
      Barthes: Image--Music--Text (1977)
      Culler: On Deconstruction (1982)

          Yale School (New Haven ~)

      Representative Figures: Hartman, J.H. Miller, de Man, H. Bloom
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: de Man: Allegories of Reading (1979)
      Hartman [et al.], ed.: Deconstruction and Criticism (1979)
      Hartman: Criticism in the Wilderness (1980)
      Miller, J.H.: Tropes, Parables, and Performatives (1990)

          The Harvard School (Gilligan's Island ~)

      Representative Figures: Thurston Howell III  :-}

      [--TO INDEX--]


        "UNIVERSE"/"Mimetic" Critical Theories & Schools


      Humanist/Moral Criticism

      Here, the critic brings the cultural/religious assumptions of his or her own time to bear upon a literary work, judging the text according to how well it fits the critic's own ethical values system. At its best, this approach heaps praise on works of literature for their superlative expression of humankind's highest ideals & aspirations. (Thus are the writings of Homer, Shakespeare, and Goethe often lauded.) However, the critic's subjective bias often leads to abuse: thus adherents of existentialism may regard King Lear only as a great "early" expression of existential rebellion and malaise, while some Christian critics might consider Milton's Paradise Lost a great epic solely on its merits of religious orthodoxy(?!). As for specific schools, the early 20th-century New Humanism of Irving Babbitt and P.E. More was a "neo-Classical" reaction of sorts that condemned Romanticism for a "hazy & lazy" spirituality that wasn't in accord with their own (more "subdued" & rationalist) ethical viewpoint. Obviously, abuse of this method can easily evolve into dogmatic condemnation and censorship, and indeed, many works otherwise deemed as "aesthetically" great have been blacklisted, banned, or burned throughout the history of humankind by well-meaning "moral" critics. (Indeed, even Plato wanted to keep poets out of his utopian Republic because their inspiration bordered on insanity and were thus a danger to the general morality.)

      Representative Figures: [Plato, S. Johnson, Arnold, Tolstoi] . . . Leavis, Y. Winters, D. Bush, W.J. Bate, Altieri
      Representative Figures: Babbitt, P.E. More
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: Babbit: Rousseau and Romanticism (1919)

      [--TO INDEX--]


      Archetypal (or Jungian) (or Mythic) Criticism

      Another "both fascinating and dangerous" approach that assumes that all of humankind's creative works--including literature, myths, and religious rituals & symbols, and indeed, our very dreams--emanate from the same inner psychic source, the collective unconscious, as formulated by Carl Jung. Therefore one may find in many works of literature archetypal (universal-to-our-species) symbols that represent the various emotions and aspirations of humankind's ancestral psychological heritage. And so the author may (unconsciously) invoke the images of night and sunrise, and the reader may unexplainably respond with great emotion: well, there resides within the collective unconscious (common to both writer and reader) a myriad of ancestral memories that associate night with fear and death and the unknown, and sunrise with relief, and joy, and "life" and "rebirth" and--? (for finally, Jung agrees with the German Romantics [and Coleridge] that a true symbol is inexhaustible in its associations). And at last, all archetypal symbols are ultimately intrapsychic (in Jung's original theory, anyway), representing figures or processes within the psyche: "night," then, may connote the strange "otherness" of the unconscious "within" our own psyches, which our conscious egohood fears with all its might, because the unconscious is by definition unknown. "Sunrise" may carry connotations of the "dawn" of ego consciousness, or its "rebirth," depending upon the context of the poem or myth--or dream. (This approach's common reliance on the oppositions of night & day, summer & winter, etc., reveals it to be a kind of psychological structuralism.) The archetypal method is also commonly called MYTH or MYTHIC criticism because archetypal figures & processes--such as the shadow, the anima/animus, the wise old man, the god-image (or "Self"), the journey, the "divine marriage," and rebirth--are profusely evident in humankind's myths and rituals.
              The drawbacks of archetypal criticism are two-fold: 1) the Jungian critic is sometimes guilty of finding an "archetype" in every image, character, and twist of plot, thus weakening the impact of the critic's discoveries of the truly(?!) archetypal; 2) this approach is not able to judge the greatness of an artistic work solely on the presence of archetypal symbols, for, although Macbeth is replete with archetypal symbolism, so, too, is the graffiti on the bathroom walls in the bar downtown (but, of course, this latter limitation is really true of all "extrinsic" criticism); and 3) Jung's archetypes, as he presents them, are very much culturally and racially specific: e.g., to claim that dreaming of a "black man" is archetypally symbolic of the "shadow figure" applies, at best, to a quite white, Eurocentric psyche.
              Final Note: the comments above refer to Jungian criticism per se; many so-called "myth" critics have been more influenced by anthropology and other social-centered theories regarding myth & ritual--e.g., Northrop Frye, as far as I can tell--than archetypal psychology.

      Representative Figures: [Fraser,] (Jung, Eliade) . . . Cornford, Murray, Bodkin, G.W. Knight, Frye, Chase, Fergusson, Wheelwright, Fiedler, Graves, Campbell, Edinger, Bickman, Bly, Applewhite, A.V. Pratt, Knapp
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: Jung: Collected Works (1953-1978)
      Bodkin: Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (1934)
      Campbell: The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)
      Wheelwright: The Burning Fountain (1954)
      Fergusson: The Idea of the Theatre (1957)
      Frye: Anatomy of Criticism (1957)
      Edinger: Ego and Archetype (1972)
      Bickman: The Unsounded Centre: Jungian Studies in American Romanticism (1980)
      Knapp: A Jungian Approach to Literature (1984)
      Applewhite: Seas and Inland Journeys (1985)

      "Help! My Wise Old Man ran off with my Woman-within--
               and left me alone with my inner Child!"
      [--TO INDEX--]

      Historical Criticism

      Next to formalist criticism, traditionally considered the most "objective" critical approach. The historical critic may be concerned with 1) the historical context per se, and thus be concerned about the effects of the writer's historical milieu (race, place, & time [cf. Taine]) upon the literary work at hand--e.g., the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the work of a particular English Romantic poet; or 2) the cultural/philosophical--"HISTORY OF IDEAS"--background of the writer's milieu--e.g., the impact of Einstein's theory of relativity on, say, the novels of James Joyce--or 3) the effects of previous works of literature (literary history) on the writer & his/her work--e.g., the influence of Whitman's free verse and mystical worldview on American Beat poetry of the 1950's & 60's.

      Representative Figures: [Taine] . . . E. Wilson, V.W. Brooks, F.O. Mathiessen, J.D. Wilson, E.E. Stoll, Tillyard, F.W. Bateson, Tindall, Kermode, A. Kazin
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: Lovejoy: The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936)
      V.W. Brooks: The Flowering of New England (1937)

        History of Ideas Criticism

        Prime examples include Lovejoy's study of the Renaissance "Great Chain of Being" and M.H. Abrams' analysis of the aesthetic progression from the "Mirror" (of Classicism) to the "Lamp" (of Romanticism).

      Representative Figures: Lovejoy, Kenner, W.J. Bate, Abrams
      (Brief) List of Representative Books: Lovejoy: The Great Chain of Being (1936)
      W.J. Bate: From Classic to Romantic (1946)
      Abrams: The Mirror and the Lamp (1953)
      W.H. Abrams: Natural Supernaturalism (1971)

        Genealogical Criticism

        A label sometimes applied to the theories of Foucault (& others), which hold that the so-called (& high-falootin') "history of ideas" entails an origin in, and evolution of, socio-historical discourses & disciplines of knowledge and power. (See New Historicism; for Foucault links, see Poststructuralism.)

        Representative Figures: [Nietzsche] . . . Foucault; (Said)
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Foucault: The Order of Things (1966)
        Foucault: The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969)
        Foucault: Discipline and Punish (1975)

        [--TO INDEX--]


        Socio-Political Criticism

        Another catch-all-general category that (traditionally) borders on historical criticism, if the critic limits his/her task to a non-judgmental(?!) study of an author's sociological milieu. More characteristically today, however, it refers to any critical angle with a conscious political ax to grind. Indeed, this general orientation--including all the remaining approaches--brings to the fore a political awareness relatively new to literary study, in explicit opposition to the "text-only" emphasis of the formalists, making laudable contributions to our attitudes towards literature through an often impassioned concern for the social oppressed and downtrodden.
                However, like moral criticism, this method may become proscriptive and condemnatory. For instance, the socio-political critic with a Marxist bent might reject as worthless any literary classic--Homer's Iliad, for example--that implicitly accepts the framework of a class-based society--even though Homer was unable to be instructed in the wonders of Marxist dialectic before he wrote his 9th c. B.C. feudal-warrior epic. Similarly, the feminist critic might question the merits of any literary work with an implicitly sexist view--in other words, most literature written before this century. Certainly no one in this day & age supports men-beat-women-rich-cudgel-poor social systems--well, most of us don't [pace, Mr. Limbaugh]--but to condemn out of hand an aesthetically fine(?!) literary classic for "bad politics" is perhaps too harsh. (But admittedly, I overstate/simplify both Marxist and feminist criticism in the blatant arguments above.) Again, and ultimately, such critics' efforts to approach literature via a specific political "angle" is one of the most significant events of recent literary scholarship.

        Representative Figures: [Taine, Zola] . . . V.W. Brooks, F.O. Mathiessen; K. Burke, Altieri


        Representative Figures: [Marx, Engels] . . . Trotsky, Brecht, Lukács, Benjamin, Bataille, Adorno, Caudwell, Hicks, Howe, Trilling, Gramsci, Althusser, Macherey, R. Williams, Jameson, Eagleton
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Lukács: Theory of the Novel (1916)
        Hicks: The Great Tradition (1931)
        Lukács: The Historical Novel (1937)
        Althusser: Lenin and Philosophy (1969)
        Jameson: Marxism and Form (1971)
        Eagleton: Marxism and Literary Criticism (1976)
        Williams, R.: Marxism and Literature (1977)
        Jameson: The Political Unconscious (1981)
        Jameson: Postmodernism (1991)


        Imagine there's no heaven
        It's easy if you try
        No hell below us
        Above us only sky
        Imagine all the people
        Living for today

        Imagine there's no countries
        It isn't hard to do
        Nothing to kill or die for
        And no religion too
        Imagine all the people
        Living life in peace

        You may say I'm a dreamer
        But I'm not the only one
        I hope someday you'll join us
        And the world will be as one

        Imagine no possessions
        I wonder if you can
        No need for greed or hunger
        A brotherhood of man
        Imagine all the people
        Sharing all the world

        You may say I'm a dreamer
        But I'm not the only one
        I hope someday you'll join us
        And the world will live as one

                --John Lennon, 1971

        Representative Figures: Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Habermas
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Horkheimer & Adorno: Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)
        Benjamin: Illuminations (1969)
        Adorno: Aesthetic Theory (1970)

        "Eat flaming death, Fascist media pigs!" (--Firesign Theatre)
        Representative Figures: (R. Williams) . . . Dollimore, Sinfield
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Williams, R.: Marxism and Literature (1977)
        Dollimore: Radical Tragedy (1984)
        Dollimore & Sinfield, eds.: Political Shakespeare (1985)

          New Historicism (Cultural Poetics)

          In the 1980's, Anglo-American critics read the French philosopher FOUCAULT and developed a "New Historicism" that differed from traditional historical criticism in several important ways. For one thing, they usually read a period's "texts"--characteristically, those of the Renaissance & Romantic eras--as contestatory, reflective of the time's socio-political forces of power/coercion/containment vs. rebellion/subversion. (But while they often at least implicitly viewed the latter more favorably, the two contestatory forces seem to be usually presented in a state of unresolvable tension--geez, much like the Reagan era in which they wrote!) Secondly, the New Historicists saw everything as a "text" (a precedent established by French structuralism) and went "outside the canon" of traditional literary studies, examining, for instance, private letters, obscure public documents, and forgotten/"minor" literary texts--and even, and almost especially, public spectacles and displays--in their analyses of the workings of social power. (The British manifestation of this movement is known as CULTURAL MATERIALISM.)

        Representative Figures: (Foucault, Geertz) . . . Greenblatt, Tennenhouse, Montrose, Liu, McGann
        (Brief) List of Representative Books:
        Greenblatt: Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980)
        McGann: The Romantic Ideology (1983)
        Greenblatt: Shakespearean Negotiations (1988)
        Liu: Wordsworth: The Sense of History (1989)
        Montrose: The Purpose of Playing (1996)

        [--TO INDEX--]

        Representative Figures: [de Staël, Wollstonecraft] . . . Woolf, de Beauvoir . . . Millett, M. Ellmann, Moer, Donovan, Showalter, Gilbert & Gubar, Kristeva, Cixous, Irigaray, A. Kolodny, Fetterley, A.V. Pratt, Jacobus, Tompkins, bell hooks, B. Smith, J. Butler, Trinh Minh-Ha
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Woolf: A Room of One's Own (1929)
        de Beauvoir: The Second Sex (1949)
        Millett: Sexual Politics (1970)
        Irigaray: Speculum of the Other Woman (1974)
        Cixous & Clément: The Newly Born Woman (1975)
        Kolodny: The Lay of the Land (1975)
        Showalter: A Literature of Their Own (1979)
        Gilbert & Gubar: The Madwoman in the Attic (1979)
        hooks: Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984)
        Moi: Sexual/Textual Politics (1985)
        Allen: The Sacred Hoop (1986)
        Jacobus: Reading Woman: Essays in Feminist Criticism (1986)

        [--TO INDEX--]


          Race/Minority Studies/Criticism

          With class and gender, race may be said to complete the main triumvirate of oppressed social groups "writing back" against dominant Western culture. But with such demeaning labels as "African-American Studies" and "Native American Studies," much of the scholarship here may also be said to be truly on the "outside lookin' in." And yet the criticism of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Houston Baker, Jr., and bell hooks makes African-American lit. ctir. one of the more fascinating and powerful branches of literary scholarship today. Likewise--and given my own "native" heritage--Vine Deloria, Jr., N. Scott Momaday, Paula Gunn Allen, and the poststructuralist "postindian" musings of Gerald Vizenor point towards a renaissance in "Native American lit. crit.," too.

        Representative Figures: (Du Bois, Fanon) . . . H.L. Gates, Jr., S. Hall, H. Baker, Jr., C. West, hooks, B. Smith; Trinh; Vizenor, P.G. Allen
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Fanon: Black Skin, White Masks (1952)
        Gates, ed.: "Race," Writing, and Difference (1986)
        Gates: The Signifying Monkey (1987)
        Trinh: Woman, Native, Other (1989)
        Vizenor: Manifest Manners (1994)

        "This portrait is not an Indian." (--Gerald Vizenor)  
        [--TO INDEX--]

        Representative Figures: (Fiedler) . . . Sedgwick, J. Butler, Sinfield, R. Martin, M. Moon
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Sedgwick: Epistemology of the Closet (1990)
        Butler: Bodies that Matter (1993)
        Sinfield: Cultural Politics--Queer Theory (1994)

        "Je est un autre." (--Arthur Rimbaud)
        [--TO INDEX--]


          Cultural Studies

          Beginning with the Birmingham School (of British Cultural Studies), this movement brings critical theory concertedly to bear upon pop culture, and might best be deemed a new academic discipline or "subject matter"--at last, a radical extension of the "literary" canon--rather than a specific approach. Indeed, in crucial ways, it is an extension of structuralism and New Historicism in its propensity to "read" all cultural artifacts as "codes" and "text," from Hollywood movies to matchbook covers--which are inevitably indicative of the contestatory ideologies at work in the culture at hand (i.e., our culture). Not surprisingly, given their origins, cultural critics often employ the "tools" of (neo-)Marxism--especially the Frankfurt School--against, for instance, the onslaught of global capitalism upon the consumer masses.

        Representative Figures: Leavis, Bourdieu . . . R. Williams, Hoggart, S. Hall, Hebdige, Mulvey, Radway, During
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Hebdige: The Meaning of Style (1979)
        Radway: Reading the Romance (1984)
        Marcus: Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century (1989)
        Mulvey: Visual and Other Pleasures (1989)
        During, ed.: The Cultural Studies Reader (1993)

        "I, like, majored in Madonna Studies!"
        [--TO INDEX--]


        Representative Figures: Fanon, Retamar, Achebe, Said, B. Anderson, Spivak, Chatterjee, Appiah, Bhabha, JanMohamed, S. Rushdie, McClintock, R. Young, Trinh
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth (1961)
        Said: Orientalism (1978)
        JanMohamed: Manichean Aesthetics (1983)
        Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin: The Empire Writes Back (1989)
        Trinh: Woman, Native, Other (1989)
        Spivak: The Post-Colonial Critic (1990)
        Rushdie: Imaginary Homelands (1991)
        Said: Culture and Imperialism (1993)
        Bhabha: The Location of Culture (1994)
        Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, eds.: The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (1995)

        [--TO INDEX--]



          The most recent "school" to arrive on the scene (1990's, mostly), ecocriticism examines the relationship of literature and nature, often from a quite political (environmentalist or animal rights) point of view. Not surprisingly, (creative) "nature writers" such as Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and Edward Abbey are commonly championed by such critics. Ecocritic William Howarth has defined the "ecocritic," in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion, as follows: "a person who judges the merits and faults of writings that depict the effects of culture upon nature, with a view towards celebrating nature, berating its despoilers, and reversing the harm through political action." Ecocriticism asks such questions as--"Does the 'nature' in this novel do more than just serve as a clichéd setting, acting instead as a major 'character' therein?" (And, either way, "Is that 'nature' a healthy ecosystem, or a [female] 'body' to be raped and ruined by the human characters who inhabit it?"); "What if I read this book from the point of view of one the animals in it, rather than just the human characters?"; "Are the birds in Wordsworth acknowledged as authentic, unique beings for-themselves, or are they simply used, 'othered,' as surrogate-object, substitutional metaphors for Wordsworth's longing for his mother (as in 'mother nature')?" (Ooh, a little bit of psychoanalytical criticism has crept in. Also, as evident in some of the questions above, feminism and ecocriticism are frequently combined; thus the term, Ecofeminism.)

        Representative Figures: [G. White, Wordsworth, Thoreau] . . . (Leopold, Naess) . . . Meeker, Kroeber, G. Snyder, Glotfelty, M. Branch, J. Bate, Merchant, Howarth, Buell, Armbruster
        (Brief) List of Representative Books: Meeker: The Comedy of Survival (1972)
        Bate: Romantic Ecology (1991)
        Buell: The Environmental Imagination (1995)
        Glotfelty & Fromm, eds.: The Ecocritical Reader (1996)
        Kerridge & Sammells, eds.: Writing the Environment (1998)
        Coetzee: The Lives of Animals (1999)

        "Ecocritics do it--naturally."
        [--TO INDEX--]


        Words & Phrases for the "Enlightened" English Academic!

        (A little semi-tongue-in-cheek exercise of mine, circa 1997 [minor update: 2002])


        • aporia [de Man] / black nihilist hole of doom [TCG]  :-}
        • author, the death of the [Barthes]
        • binary [Derrida]
        • bracket / bracketing [Husserl]
        • carnival / carnivalesque [Bakhtin]
        • -centric / -centrism
        • chora, the [Kristeva]
        • code
        • commodify / commodified / commodification
        • constative vs. performative [Austin]
        • constructivism / constructivist
        • containment vs. subversion [Foucault]
        • contest (verb) / contestatory
        • co-opt / co-opted (and its So. Dak. form?: ""co-op")  :-}
        • critical theory / Critical Theory
        • decenter / decentered
        • deconstruct / deconstruction / deconstructive [Derrida]
        • defamiliarization [Shklovsky]
        • demystify / demystification // demythologization
        • desire / lack
        • dialogic / dialogism [Bakhtin]
        • difference / différence / différance [Derrida]
        • discourse [Foucault, et al.] (and its So. Dak. converse: "datcourse")  :-}
        • displace / displacement [Freud/Lacan]
        • empower / empowerment
        • énuncé / énonciation
        • gap / blank [Iser] / lack / black nihilist hole of doom  :-}
        • gender / sexuality [. . . lack thereof: TCG?]  :-}
        • grands récits [Lyotard]
        • gynocriticism [Showalter]
        • habitus [Bourdieu]
        • hegemony (hegemonic), consensus [Gramsci] / counter-hegemonic
        • hermeneutics / hermeneutic circle
        • heterogeneity
        • history / historiography / New Historicism [cf. Foucault; cf. Reagan!]
        • homosocial [Sedgwick]
        • hybridity [Bhabha]
        • ideology / ideological
        • Imaginary (the ~) [Lacan]
        • imperialism / colonialism / postcolonialism / neo-colonialism
        • infrastructure vs. superstructure [Marx, (Althusser)]
        • interpellation [Althusser]
        • langue, parole [Saussure]
        • Law, the [Lacan]
        • liminal / liminality
        • logocentric / logocentrism [Derrida]
        • margin / marginal / marginalized
        • male gaze, the [Mulvey]
        • materialism [Marx, et al.] / historical ~ [Benjamin, et al.] / cultural ~ [R. Williams, et al.]
        • meta- [followed by any word, damn near!]
          • e.g.: metatheatrical / metatheatricality
        • metaphor / metaphoric vs. metonymy / metonymic [Jacobson]
        • mirror stage [Lacan] / lipstick & gloss stage  :-}
        • misprision [Bloom]
        • neo- [followed by any word, damn near!]
        • nightmare of history, the [Benjamin]
        • oppression / oppressor / oppressed
        • Orientalism [Said]
        • Other / Othered [de Beauvoir; Lacan; etc.]
        • palimpsest
        • paradigmatic vs. syntagmatic [Saussure]
        • patriarchy / patriarchal
        • performative / performativity
        • phallus / phallocentrism / phallocentric / phallogocentrism / phallogocentric [Lacan, etc.]
        • polyphony / polyphonic [Bakhtin, Said]
        • poco / pomo / porno  :-}
        • post- [followed by any word, damn near!]
          • e.g.: postcolonial / postcolonialism
        • postmodern / postmodernism / postmodernist / Post-Kellogg  :-}
        • poststructuralism / poststructuralist
        • power [Foucault]
        • praxis
        • privilege (verb)
        • projection [Freud, Lacan]
        • ["]race["] / racism / racist
        • Real [Lacan]
        • referent
        • reification [Lukács]
        • repression [Freud, Lacan]
        • secular criticism [Said]
        • Self, the [vs.] Other, the [Lacan, etc.]
        • semiotic (the ~) [Kristeva]
        • sex, sex, sex  :-} / sexism / sexist
        • simulation / simulacra
        • sign / signifier vs. signified [Saussure] / transcendental ~ [Lacan, Derrida]
          • signify / resignify / (re)signification / sigmundfreudification  :-}
        • space / place / room / black nihilist hole of doom  :-}
        • specularity
        • subaltern [Gramsci; Spivak]
        • substitution [Freud, Lacan]
        • subvert / subversion [Foucault, et al.] / resistance
        • Symbolic ( the ~) [Lacan]
        • synchronic vs. diachronic [Saussure]
        • text / textuality / intertextuality / meta-intertextuality!?  :-}
        • trope
        • theatrical / theatricality [Butler, et al.]
        • uncanny [J.H. Miller]
        • unconscious [Freud, et al.] / political ~ [Jameson]
        • womanspeak [Irigaray]


        *"Cool" Proper Names to Throw Around

        • Bakhtin, Mikhail
        • Barthes, Roland
        • Benjamin, Walter
        • Bhabha, Homi
        • Butler, Judith
        • De Man, Paul
        • Derrida, Jacques
        • Foucault, Michel
        • Freud
        • Greenblatt, Stephen
        • hooks, bell
        • Jameson, Frederic
        • Kristeva, Julia
        • Lacan, Jacques
        • Nietzsche
        • Said, Edward
        • Spivak, Gayatri
        • Williams, Raymond


        *Words & Phrases to Avoid, Unless Attacking!  :-}

        • archetype
        • Canon, the
        • collective unconscious
        • essential / essentialism
        • form / formalism / formalist / formalistic
        • God / the big Guy upstairs
        • humanism / New Humanism
        • "I'm a New Critic!"
        • innate
        • intent / intention / intentionality
        • "little woman, the" / "my better half" (etc.)
        • man
        • meaning
        • metaphor / symbol
        • metrics / prosody
        • mimesis
        • modernism / High Modernism
        • moral / morality
        • "my impression" / "my gut feeling" (etc.)
        • organic unity / irony / tension / paradox
        • Romanticism
        • sense, common
        • individual, person (humanist ~)
        • truth, beauty, et al.
        • universal / universals
        • Victorian / Victorianism


        *"Bad" Proper Names to Avoid--Unless Attacking