Selected Readings of
Modern & Contemporary
Literary Theories
1.
2.
3.
4.
Why and How
Before and After New Criticism
Example 1: Q & A; Rene Magritte
Example 2: Another Great Day
Reading Literary
Theories
1.
2.
Why and How
Before and After
New Criticism
Kate Liu, Fall 2003
Outline
Why?
How?
1.
2.
•
•
3.
Suggested attitudes
The focus of our course;
Contextualizing our focus: before and
after New Criticism
Why Theory?
Con:
-- no longer “literary study,”
ignoring the beauty or
essence of literature (e.g.
Frank Kermode; E. Said);
-- a mere word play or mind
game; abstract and obscure;
separate from reality or
politics
-- “fetishization” of theories (T.
Eagleton);

Pro
-- It provides us new
frameworks and
perspectives; helps
us ask new questions
of the texts we study
and about our lives.
-- democratization of
English Studies.

How?
1.
2.
3.
Read with an active mind. (Do not feel
“oppressed” by the difficult languages.)
Always read to get the main points (to
find the questions the theory asks) and to
ask questions.
Always try to relate and to map. (It’s
impossible to separate all the theoretical
discourses into mutually exclusive
theoretical schools.)
Theory as an Activity vs.
Theory as a body of knowledge
“In the former, theory is taught as a
means of understanding the world; in the
latter, theorizing is encouraged as a
pedagogical practice in which students
become actual participants in the use of
theory.” (Henry Giroux’s ideas explained by Storey)
 It’s better to know how to theorize than to
memorize all the theoretical jargons.

General Questions to ask
What are the theorist’s main concerns?
What questions does s/he ask and how
does s/he answer them? Do you have any
questions?
 What are the theorist’s key terms? How
are they defined?
 What is the theorist’s method? Is a
methodology explicitly laid out or is it
implied?


(modified from “Doxography versus Inquiry” by Donald G.
Marshall. Sadoff 84)
Articulation vs. Application
Application –one-to-one correspondence
between a theory and a text;
 Articulation (接連) of theories and texts, of
different theories : connecting, negotiating,
translating.
 “wrestling with the angels”: “The only
theory worth having is that which you have
to fight off, not that which you speak with
profound fluency.” (Stuart Hall textbook 1901)

The focus of our course: Language,
Gender, Textuality and Space
1.
2.
3.
4.
Language: basic structure, as signs
Gender: social positions, difference,
gender and writing; postfeminism and
transexualism;
From Structuralism to poststructuralism –
a de-centered or textualized view of
writing, knowledge and identity.
Theories of Space– as examples of how
theories are negotiated, combined and/or
re-interpreted.
before and after New
Criticism
Structuralism –Basic ideas of
Ferdinand de Saussure?
1. The synchronic vs. the diachronic;
langue vs. parole// competence vs.
performance

2. Language is a system of difference.
Meaning occurs in binary opposition
between two signs. (e.g. toy, boy)
3. sign = signifier and signified; the
connection between them is arbitrary.
Influences of Structuralism:
some examples
Sign= signifier + signified referent
 Language is not mimetic (a mirror, or
a transparent container of reality); it
constructs reality; it speaks us.
 Binary thinking.

Examples of binarism in
traditional literary theories


Politics/Truth vs.
Plato – the realm of
appearance vs. the
realm of Form 
poetry twice
removed


Poetics
Aristotle –Three
unity, etc.
Sir Philip Sidney: to teach and delight
The Mirror and the Lamp
Examples of binarism in
traditional literary theories (2)



Reason
Plato – poetry tells
lies and excites
emotions.
Pope -- golden
rules; restraint,
good taste,
Dryden: "wit":
propriety of
thoughts and words
Emotion/Energy
 Romantic poets:
imagination
 New Criticism: Setting up
Literature as a discipline
(autonomy, organicism,
etc.)
 An “objective” approach,
just as Structuralism is
scientific

More Fluid Binaries in
contemporary theories
Politics vs. Poetics;
 Art vs. popular culture;
 Culture vs. Economic Relations;
 Father vs. Mother; Lack vs. imaginary
plenitude
 fixity of meaning vs. fluidity of language,
identity and culture, etc.
The lines are no longer clear-cut. Autonomy
and Absolute truth are out.

References
Storey, John, ed. . What is
Cultural Studies: A
Reader. London: Arnold, 1996.
 Sadoff, Dianne F and William E. Cain,
eds. Teaching Contemporary Theory
to Undergraduates. NY: MLA 1994.

Selected Readings of
Modern and
Contemporary Literary
Theories
Q&A
& General Introduction
Q&A
What is your field and how do you do
literary criticism?
 Which literary theory do you like or
hate?

The False Mirror
Magritte, Rene
The Key of Dreams
1930
la neige: 雪
l’Orage
Magritte, Rene
Philosophy in the
Boudoir (女性臥房、起居
室) 1947
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Reading Literary Theories