Literary Theory

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Literary Theory

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1avaland
Abr 4, 2007, 9:55am

I'm curious, how much literary theory did you get as an undergrad?

I can't remember any formal classes, just the stuff I've picked up along the way and in my own personal reading since. Which is why I've started to slowly pick my way through Literary Theory a Guide for the Perplexed to fill in the gaps.

What has your experience with theory been?

2fleurdiabolique
Abr 4, 2007, 10:16pm

I received no formal training in theory (although there are courses in the department that touch on it; I just didn't choose to take those courses) until I took a course about literary theory last quarter -- which would have been my next to last quarter in college if I weren't coterming. But that was a very broad overview (we went from Plato to Romanticism, and the teacher had originally intended to go up to the 1980s), and it focused more on getting through the theory itself than applying it to other texts. Theory courses are not required at all for the English B.A. at my school, although "major's seminars", which are supposed to be more critically rigorous, are required. In the two graduate-level classes I just started this week, however, theory appears to be pervasive -- and something with which it seems we are assumed to have at least a little familiarity. I find that perplexing, given that there is no assurance that any of us received training in theory at the undergraduate level. ...then again, both of those courses are VERY upper-level graduate courses (courses in my department are 000 level for non-majors, 100 level for the general undergraduate major/minor population, 200 level for advanced undergraduates and graduate students, and 300 level for graduate students (particularly Ph.D. candidates); and these are both 300s) -- so that might have something to do with it.

...wow, enough parentheses there? ;)

3Brian242
Abr 4, 2007, 10:24pm

I just took the one required theory class, but enjoyed it immensely. We studied Marxist, Feminist, Constructivism, Deconstruction, and a little bit of "New Criticism." The fun part was we read (most of us re-read) The Great Gatsby at the beginning of the semester. We then applied each theory to that work. I certainly am a literary nerd to think that is fun, but it really helped me learn each theory.

We also read works along the way to help illustrate each theory.

4siew
Abr 9, 2007, 11:26pm

Mensagem removida pelo autor.

5juv3nal
Abr 10, 2007, 5:08pm

I took one class that did the whole post-structuralist thing. Saussure, Barthes, Derrida, Jameson, Foucalt, Lacan. Bit of coverage of Levi Strauss, Heidegger & Nietzsche in relation to those previous.

Another class on narrative theory covered Todorov, Propp, Bakhtin, more Barthes & a bit more Levi Strauss.

Also an independent study class that went over some of the above along with Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Deleuze & Guattari.

Supplemented that with an elective from the Philosophy department (philosophy of languague...I think, I vaguely remember something about Searle and speech acts), & another on film theory.

But yeah, none of those were core requirements, so you could have totally avoided them if that wasn't what you were into.

Oddly enough, no Baudrillard.

6mrsradcliffe
Editado: Maio 19, 2007, 5:05am

Lots and lots of theory. I graduated in 2004. It was interesting and informative but I think we did so much that it killed it for me.
I get now why 'close reading' was such a big deal in the 1950s with Leavis et al, attempting to make literature a serious weighty subject worthy of academic study.
I disliked the indea that only the 'words on the page' matter - I do feel that literature has to be a product of its own socio-economic and culturally political period. Nothing remain unaffected by its own history. However, I feel now that the focus has shifted so much onto these socio-cultural areas of meaning that we sometimes forget about the text that we are analysing. No wonder Derrida concluded that there was no longer any meaning if he constantly deferred the idea and got bogged down in the gradual disintegration of the sign/ signifier relationship due to their abundance.
Perhaps there comes a point when one should stop looking at literature through the post-modern eyes of someone unable to find any 'true' meaning due to the spead of parody and self-parody, and actually analyse the words on the page syntactically a little more. Whist also retaining their original context of course ;)

7DoctorRobert
Maio 19, 2007, 8:10am

Mensagem removida pelo autor.

8verbafacio
Maio 19, 2007, 9:33am

My college had a 1 class theory requirement, but they dropped it my senior year. Since I had been procrastinating on fulfilling that one, I lucked out. That isn't to say that we never got any theory. Our "Introduction to the Major" course was somewhat heavy on the theory, and we frequently needed to work theory into our papers.

9andyray
Jun 20, 2007, 11:29am

i am a published author with some 4,000 by-lined magazine and newspaper articles to my credit. I have won collegiate and state-wide awards for my writing.

I have one question:

What is literary theory?

Is it anything like quantum theory?

Or creationist theory?

Or is it more like spinach?

10mrsradcliffe
Jul 2, 2007, 6:59am

Different ways of approaching the text and looking at how it connects with history and society (if at all.) It is necessary at higher academic levels as it gives some weight to arguments, so it’s not all just ‘I like that book’ ‘Well I don’t’ arguments and there’s nothing more to say. Literature is about more than just book club opinions – if one is to devote serious time to the study of words then different approaches to the text are developed, eg Marxist readings, Foucault’s theories of power, Saussurean linguistics (which I hate btw) and Feminist discourses (which can often go too far.) My favourite I think is the psycological and social approach, however as I said before one must be careful to neglect the language altogether when looking at theoretical perpectives.

11prehensel
Jul 17, 2007, 5:49pm

I did my undergrad at UT-Austin, and I was introduced to zero theory. None. So little, in fact, that in my first graduate seminar we had to pick a theorist to present on during the term. I knew only 2 on the list and they had been taken by the time it got to me. I picked Jacques Lacan over Edward Said...that's how little I knew about it.

And because I started with Lacan's Ecrits, I hated theory for a time. Until I read Terry Eagleton (can't remember if it was Literary Theory: An Introduction or his article "Two Approaches in the Sociology of Literature"). He asserted, and I agreed, that literary theory is a way of reading and interpreting a text, and if that is theory's function, then it's nothing to be resisted or derided because everyone practices it. I read from a cultural studies bent, Eagleton from a Marxist one, Gilbert & Gubar from a feminist one, I.A. Richards from a textual one, Lacan from a psychoanalytic/linguistic one, Greenblatt from a self- and culturally-aware historical one, etc. I can't imagine why this would be considered a bad thing--unless one group tries to claim dominance over all the others. The way I see it (and yes, this smacks of a "can't-we-all-just-get-along" naivety, but I don't care anymore), all of these interpretations are pieces of an always-unfinished puzzle. A work of "literature" (whatever that is) should be able to bear the weight of all of these readings, the ones listed by mrsradcliffe, and any others we can come up with. Theory is a toolbox as far as I'm concerned: it can open up new ways of reading for you, but it can close off others if you're not careful.

And, no. I haven't had a "theory" class yet (I'm a 2nd-year PhD student who's already gotten an MA). I've just picked up what I thought I needed along the way in writing papers and my thesis.

12mrsradcliffe
Jul 18, 2007, 4:22am

Prehensel, what did you write about for your dissertation if you had no knowledge of theory? It’s interesting, as UK Universities really do throw you in the deep end with theory as an undergrad.

13prehensel
Jul 18, 2007, 4:20pm

Well, I had *little previous* knowledge of theory. I'd read Lacan, used a bit of Baudrillard and Lyotard in a paper on Heaney, and poked through Bhabha and Said on my own time. I certainly wasn't pure as the driven snow in the theory department, but I didn't know very much. I ended up using monster theory (Jeffrey Cohen, John Block Friedman, etc.) but read through some New Historicism, PoMo, and lots and lots of cultural studies to get there. It also took me two years to get it done instead of one (but it was 142 pages instead of the recommended seventy).

The thesis itself was focused on the Grendelkin in "Beowulf." I argued that their status as monsters is not an ontological category but a culturally-created one--because their breaking of cultural rules is much more important in their monsterization than the vocabulary of the text or their physical descriptions.

I wish I'd gotten a dose or two of theory as an undergrad; I was really upset when I got into grad school. It felt like a sucker punch.

14strandbooks
Jul 28, 2007, 11:17am

I attended a small liberal arts college and graduated 4 years ago. I had one theory class in my senior year. It was required and we were only allowed to take it in our last year. The year I left there was discussion to have an into to theory class earlier and then the senior year theory. I wish that was already in place. I think applying the theories while I was reading novels and writing papers would have been helpful. Or at least I'd see other ways to look at the works. Not sure if they did implement the second theory class. The year I left they took Shakespeare out as a requirement for English majors. I guess there had been students who wanted to major in english but only if they didn't have to study Shakespeare so Will went into the optional list. Sad state of affairs in my opinion. I loved the Shakespeare course. Plus, I have no idea how one would read modern works without some basis of Shakespeare. Just like I wish I had taken a Intro to the bible or some sort of course. Without any religious upbringing I often miss so many allusions to biblical stories. Off on a tangent...sorry about that.

15andyray
Ago 3, 2007, 9:20am

i return to my original question: what is literary theory?

as an author, i can guarantee you that i have goals in mind as i write whatever; whether it's about the anti-war movement in Florida, memoirs of growing up in the Adirondacks, the life of a recovered alcoholic, a collection of short stories, or my current project about getting rich in the drug trade in the Everglades, i hope to both "entertain and elucidate." Mailer told me in a rare sober moment years ago that is what he tries to do.

I think literary theory, whatever it may be, has surfaced as part of the cirriculum vitae in the past 20 years, n'est-ce pas? It didn't exist in the Florida universities in 1990. (unless it was known under the name of "literary criticism!) HM. that may be.

16juv3nal
Ago 3, 2007, 8:05pm

"I think literary theory, whatever it may be, has surfaced as part of the cirriculum vitae in the past 20 years, n'est-ce pas? It didn't exist in the Florida universities in 1990. (unless it was known under the name of "literary criticism!) HM. that may be."

Nope, much of the seminal writing in the field was done in the late 60s (Barthes' Elements of Semiology '67, Derrida's Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences '66). Saussure's original bit on signifier/signified goes back to 1916.

It's maybe escaped your notice by falling under the labels of sociology, psychology, philosophy, cultural theory, linguistics, anthropology, semiotics/semiology, etc. but there's really not much difference or if there is, the lines are very, very blurred.

17prehensel
Ago 4, 2007, 2:46am

andyray, in answer to your question, I'd call literary theory and theoretical literary criticism the same thing. I'd make a distinction, however, between theoretical literary criticism (like the works juv3nal mentioned and Foucault, Freud, Lacan, Propp, Kristeva, etc.) and practical or applied literary criticism (like Arnold, Dryden, Sidney, Johnson, Hazlitt, etc.).

Maybe you don't place emphasis on theory because so much of the post-structuralist theory doesn't place any emphasis on you? It's hard to expect an author to support theorists that declare him dead or less important than both the critic and the reader...

18talkofsummertime
Set 12, 2007, 6:44pm

I had one theory class in college that basically outlined the various schools, but we read no primary sources. Then I went to grad school and found I was expected to be familiar with names like Foulcault, Lacan, Derrida, Baudrillard, etc. and be able to use them in discussion and papers. Scary. Kinda turned me off to a lot of it. But I don't mind it in moderation. :) In fact, I really enjoy some of the feminist theorists.

19jlane
Set 12, 2007, 8:16pm

One course in a pre-1980 BA. I don't recall that it was required.