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After you read the Lectures on Literary Criticism, choose one school from Literary Criticism Theories and summarize the key concept of that approach in your own words. Write at least one paragraph summarizing the key concepts of that school including major philosophers who established it. Refer to the

Literary Criticism pdf textbook


to choose one chapter for your in-depth response here.

For the second part, think of a literature or art piece you would be able to analyze using this literary theory. For example, we used structuralism to analyze the Images. Think about one example where using one of these theories would help you understand and analyze that concept better and explain why. Bring specific examples. It can be a literary work, a movie, a media news, or advertisement etc… If you look at it closely, you will see that these theories help us look at the world though different perspectives.

P.S. Since we studied about Structuralism and Marxism separately, do NOT use these two theories here.

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Other Pocket Essentials by this author:
Georges Simenon
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Literary Theory
David Carter
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This edition published in 2006 by Pocket Essentials
P.O.Box 394, Harpenden, Herts, AL5 1XJ
© David Carter 2006
The right of David Carter to be identified as author of this work has been asserted
in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored
in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form
or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or
otherwise) without the written permission of the publishers.
Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication
may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 1 904048 66 8
EAN 978 1 904048 66 4
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
Typeset by Avocet Typeset, Chilton, Aylesbury, Bucks
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Cox & Wyman, Reading
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For Kim Chan Young and his family
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The debt to other scholars is enormous, but there is
simply no scope within the confines of this modest
volume to acknowledge them all. The authors of the
works included in the section of Reference Material are
owed the greatest debt: I frequently compared my opinions with theirs and checked for general agreement on
factual details. On the personal level I have greatly appreciated discussions with Kim Chan Young, well read in the
field, and Kim Duk Yung, a sociologist. I have also
consulted students for their opinions on the usefulness
and accessibility of available books on literary theory.
Finally I would like to record here the seminal influence
on my own thinking about literature of my ‘Doktorvater’,
Dr. Hans Popper, one of that rare breed, which I allude to
in my introduction, who made me think seriously about
the nature of literature long before it became fashionable
to speak of ‘literary theory.’
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1. Introduction
2. The Literary Canon and New Criticism
3. Russian Formalism
4. Structuralism
5. Marxist Theory
6. Psychoanalysis
7. Hermeneutics and Reception Theory
8. Feminist Theory
9. Poststructuralism
10. Deconstruction
11. Postcolonial Theory
12. Postmodernism
13. Sexual Orientation Theories
14. Ethnic Theory
15. Recent Trends
16. Theory and After
17. Reference Materials
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Attitudes to the study of literature have undergone
nothing short of a revolution in the last half-century or so.
Changes were afoot in the previous half-century but they
moved at nothing like the pace and in nothing like the
variety of ways that have been evident since the Second
World War. It is true that writers and critics had been
reflecting on the nature of literature at least since Aristotle
but, in the course of the twentieth century, the whole
concept of a ‘literary text’ became questionable.
As a student of European literature in the 1960s I heard
little mention by my professors of ‘literary theory.’ Genre
(tragedy, the novel, the sonnet etc) was certainly
mentioned and so were the writer and the critic, but any
allusion to the reader was rare indeed. Everyone talked
freely of the writer’s ‘intention’ and the ‘meaning’ of the
text. When it was deemed necessary, one brought in
consideration of the writer’s ‘background’, the ‘historical
context’, and the ‘philosophical climate’. There was also
such a thing as ‘practical criticism’, which literature
departments made their students do, although no-one
explained to us why we had to do it, or how it would be
useful to us in our studies. It was assumed that its usefulness was obvious.You took a sample of an unfamiliar text,
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translated it, if necessary, pointed out a few significant
figures of speech that you recognised, such as a metaphor
or a simile, discussed its meanings and implications,
brought in a bit of background knowledge, if you had any,
and that was about it. If you did this well under exam
conditions, you passed the exam, proving to all who cared
to know that you could analyse literature.There were the
great writers and the not so great writers and, by heeding
one’s professors, one gradually learned to distinguish
them. Occasionally, one heard of a ‘psychoanalytic interpretation’ or a ‘Marxist approach’, but, more often than
not, they were mentioned in a tone that suggested that
these were slightly disreputable activities. If you were
lucky, you might be blessed with one lecturer who was
open to new ideas and challenges.Then, suddenly, when I
was a postgraduate in the late 1960s, all these keen young
lecturers appeared telling us that our very notion of a
‘literary text’ was questionable.Whole edifices of carefully
constructed bodies of knowledge started to shake at the
foundations. Nothing was sure or sacred anymore. It was
becoming difficult to utter a word of comment on
anything, especially literary works, without justifying
yourself theoretically. Naturally the question arose, ‘Why
do we need theory?’ Hadn’t we been managing quite well
without it, thank you very much, for some considerable
Why Theory?
What professors, teachers and lesser mortals did not
realise, or were reluctant to admit, was that, in fact, they
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had been using theory all their adult life, without
knowing it (rather as Monsieur Jourdain in Molière’s play
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme does not realise, until it is
pointed out to him, that he has been speaking prose all his
life). How could this be? Quite simply because there is
‘live theory’ (theory we consciously consider when
making judgements) and ‘dead theory’ (the theory which
lies behind the assumptions we hold when making judgements but which has become so integrated into our
common practice that we are no longer aware of it). Many
had been discussing literature using ‘dead theory’, without
having bothered to analyse their own presuppositions. So
the answer to the question ‘Why theory?’ is quite simple:
because it is better and more honest to be aware of the
reasons why you do something than to be ignorant of
them. If this maxim holds good for all human endeavours,
then there is no reason why the study of literature should
be exempt from it.
The problem is that defining what counts as ‘theory’
and what one means by ‘literary’ is no easy task. Most
critics and theorists have grappled bravely with the
problem but have finally given up, declaring that it does
not matter anyway. Some theorists lead one to the conclusion that literary theory does not really exist as an independent discipline. There is, many claim, just ‘Theory’,
theory about everything from literature to lesbianism,
from hooliganism to horror films. Since many books are
to be found with the phrases ‘Literary Theory’ or ‘Theory
of Literature’ in their titles, however, it is clear that there
is a body of thought to which the terms can be applied.
There is a kind of theory with literature as its focus.This
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is an important fact to establish, because there are other
kinds of theory, such as ‘Critical Theory’ and ‘Cultural
Theory’, which rely on the same theorists and schools of
thought as ‘Literary Theory’. The difference between
them all is clearly one of focus and attention. The theorists and schools of thought considered in this book have
in common the fact that they challenge ‘common sense’
notions of what literature is. They often question our
assumptions about ‘great literature’ and propose different
ways to analyse and evaluate it. However, any vague statement about literature (such as ‘All literature is escapist’)
does not constitute a theory. It must meet more stringent
requirements to be considered both valuable and valid.
What Counts as Theory?
Clearly, in the first instance, a theory must attempt to
explain something. Its proponents may believe that it does
this successfully but others may not. Jonathan Culler, an
eminent populariser of literary theory, has made a useful
distinction: ‘…to count as a theory, not only must an
explanation not be obvious; it should involve a certain
complexity’ (Culler, 1997). Unfortunately, many theorists
have not only recognised this basic truth but have taken it
too passionately to heart, cloaking their insights in
obscure language. Yet it is clearly true that new understanding often comes only after developing a model of
some complexity in the mind. Literature, in all its forms,
treats of human life, its nature and problems, its mode of
existence, its ways of coexistence and thought, and its
belief systems. Any theory about these phenomena can,
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therefore, be considered relevant to the study of literature.
However, the actual application of such theories is a
complex procedure, fraught with pitfalls, to which the
revered academic, as much as the novice scholar, is
disturbingly liable to succumb. Misinterpretation, false
analogy, unfounded generalisation, reductive argument –
all these hazards lie in wait for the unsuspecting critic. It
is also, therefore, in the nature of theory that not only does
it have some complexity but that it is also often difficult
to prove or disprove.A theory may sound very convincing
but can it be proved to have validity? If it cannot be
proved, does it thereby lose its usefulness? And what
would constitute proof, or disproof, of any given theory?
Does it finally matter whether it can be proved or not?
These are questions which it is difficult enough to answer
in the fields of the so-called natural sciences and in sociology, psychology and other disciplines. What of literary
theory? It would seem wise to consider first exactly what
the object of study is.
What is Literature?
Because many theorists have been primarily concerned
with phenomena other than literature (psychoanalysts
with the human mind, Marxists with human existence in
a capitalist society etc), it has often been of only secondary
importance to them whether a text they are considering
can be deemed to be literary or not. Often the same
methodology is applied in analysing texts, which may
resemble each other in many ways, but which must be
identified differently. One can imagine, for example, one
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text which is a short story told in the first person, taking
the form of a confession to a murder, and another text
which is an actual signed confession by a real murderer.
They might be almost identical in language, structure and
content. The important difference is, of course, that the
reader knows that one is a story and the other a real
confession, and judges them accordingly. In the case of the
story, the reader might consider whether or not it was realistic or whether or not the character was telling the truth,
but would not need to question whether or not it was an
authentic document, written by the person named. In the
case of the real confession, it would be possible, in principle, to check its truth content against known facts. This
would not be possible, nor would it be relevant in the case
of the story.The reader thinks this way because he or she
knows that the story is a literary text. But how is it obvious
that the text has a quality which we call ‘literariness’?
It would seem that a definition of ‘literariness’ should
be of urgent concern.Yet the authors of books on literary
theory provide no such adequate definition.This is likely
to be due to the nature of language as much as to the
incompetence of theorists.The lack of a definition, which
could be applied to all works regarded as literature, is not
necessarily a bad thing. Many of the most useful words, in
all languages, are useful precisely because they do not
designate something very specific, but identify a range of
meanings and related phenomena. Where would we be
without such words as ‘Love’, ‘Hate’, ‘Work’, ‘Business’,
and, more pertinently, ‘Music’, ‘Drama’, ‘Art’, etc? All the
things which we might group together and to which we
might apply one of these words bear family resemblances
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to each other, but they are also all highly individual. If we
had to have words for every single experience, we would
not be able to communicate with each other about those
experiences. We need words, such as ‘literature’ and
‘literary’, indicating such family resemblances, to enable us
to communicate information about individual differences
to each other. All attempts at defining literature therefore
have proved to be only partial and thus of little practical
use: the best that has been thought and said; language
taken out of context; language organised in a special way
which distinguishes it from its other uses; language used to
create a fictional world. None of these definitions is close
to being adequate or useful, because none of them refers
exclusively to literary language (a mentally ill person, for
example, can also create a fictional world).
The words ‘literature’ and ‘literary’ have also changed
their meaning over time. Before about 1800 literature
meant all kinds of writing, including history and philosophy, and it is possible to trace the gradual shifts in meaning
all the way up to the present.This all leads to an inevitable
conclusion: that literature is what a given society at a given
time considers it to be. This may not be a very useful
conclusion, but it is certainly true, and it is also true of
‘Music’,‘Drama’ and ‘Art’. Once you try to apply a specific
definition, you find that there are examples of non-literary
phenomena to which it applies and literary phenomena to
which it does not. Most literature is, of course, fiction but
most people would also agree that not all fiction (eg comic
books, nursery rhymes, and pornography) is literary. On the
other hand travel journals (presumably non-fiction) are
considered by many to be literature.
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To read literature is therefore to become involved in a
conspiracy. A publisher conspires with a writer to publish
something the latter has written.The writer swears that he
has written the book himself and not stolen the material
from another writer (or indeed from police records, if it is
our imagined short story). The publisher publishes the
work in a series of books identified in a catalogue as literature. Then a critic reads the book and joins the
conspiracy by accepting that it is indeed literature. He or
she writes a review of it, identifying it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
literature, according to personal experience and values. If
he is a good critic, he or she considers qualities of style,
structure, use of language, psychological insight, reflection
of social issues, plotting and the like. A reader of this
review is then prompted to buy the book and finds it
shelved under ‘Literature’ or ‘Fiction’ in a local bookshop.
The blurb confirms the fact that it is a novel. The reader
then reads the work, bringing to bear on it ways of
thinking learned through education to be appropriate to
the reading of a novel. If the work is found to be ‘good’,
it is recommended to a friend. Thus all parties have
conspired to confirm the existence of a work of literature.
It was the realisation that what counted as ‘literature’
and ‘good literature’ in any given society at any given time
was a matter of convention that enabled theorists to
consider further how such conventions were established
and the possibilities of alternative conventions. It made it
possible to consider literature in close comparison with
other cultural phenomena and in the light of theories
developed to explain them.
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Hazard Warnings
With literary interpretation, if anything goes, then
nothing comes of it.The more it seems like madness, the
more need there is to have method in it.The philosopher
Karl Popper coined the very useful concept of ‘falsifiability’ to refer to a characteristic any theory must have if
it is to be considered truly scientific.This concept enables
one to identify many fields of study, in addition to those
of the natural sciences, as incorporating rigorous criteria
for the truth value of their findings. Basically, to be truly
scientific, a theory must be ‘falsifiable.’That is to say that it
must be so formulated that it must be possible to predict
under what circumstances it could be proven false. Of
course, the flip-side of this is that it must also be possible
to present evidence to demonstrate that it is true. A clear
example of a pseudo-science, in other words a pseudotheory, is astrology. It is obviously not possible to prove or
disprove the influence of heavenly bodies on the fates of
human beings. The fact that astrology is not falsifiable, of
course, only encourages many to believe in it! What many
do not realise, or will not admit, is that the concept of
‘falsifiability’ can also be applied to interpretations of literature and theories about literature.
Analysing a work of literature from whatever theoretical perspective also requires rigorous attention to
evidence. If, leaving aside the vexed question of whether
it is literature or not, one considers possible interpretations of the nursery rhyme about Miss Muffet who
memorably sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey, and
who was promptly frightened away by a big spider, then
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it is possible, in principle, to prove or disprove, by rigorous
historical research, the theory that the rhyme reflects the
eating habits of poor country people. But it would be
considerably more difficult to prove, or disprove, the
validity of an interpretation which suggested that the
spider symbolised a fear, common among country-girls at
some time in the English Middle Ages, of being raped by
dark strangers.
In my accounts of each of the theories explained in this
book, I shall endeavour to indicate any problems in their
application to literature. The sequence is not strictly
chronological, although it is partly so.Theories dependent
conceptually and logically on earlier ones do appear later
in the book (post-structuralism after structuralism, feminism after psychoanalysis etc). As a final warning I would
like to remind the reader that the interpretation of literature according to a specific theory can itself be reinterpreted according to another theory ad infinitum. In the
words of Professor Morris Zapp in David Lodge’s novel
Small World, which satirises literary scholars, ‘Every
decoding is another encoding.’
A note on conventions in the text
When a quotation is identified by the author’s name
followed by a date and both are enclosed in brackets, this
refers to the edition of the author’s work included in the
bibliography. Where the names of theorists and critics
have been used as headings, their dates have been given
when possible. When it has not proved possible to trace
dates with certainty, they have been omitted.
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The Literary Canon and New Criticism
Most books on the development of literary theory in
England start with Matthew Arnold, because he ushered
in an era in which literature was to be considered by
influential critics as the central repository of English
culture and values. These critics were to have lasting
effects on the ways in which many generations of students
perceived the significance of literature. F R Leavis and the
poet T S Eliot, above all, established the notion of the
existence of a literary canon of undeniably great works of
literature. I A Richards, with his focus on close textual
analysis, inspired the development of the so-called New
Criticism in America.
Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)
Arnold, an educator, poet and professor of poetry at
Oxford University, was of the opinion that literature, apart
from its pleasing aesthetic qualities, had an educational role
in people’s lives. He believed that the persistence of English
culture was threatened by the growth of Philistine values,
which were being encouraged by the rise of a middle class
obsessed with material wealth.As he believed that religion
had been undermined by Darwin’s theory of evolution, he
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expressed the wish that poetry would take its place in
men’s hearts. Poetry would interpret life for us all and
console us, as indeed it had always done, dating back to
antiquity. Arnold famously defined culture as ‘the best that
has been thought and said in the world’ (Culture and
Anarchy, 1869).This culture was to be a bulwark against the
chaotic life of the working class and the illusions by which
middle-class Protestants lived. Through culture it was
possible to be free from fanaticism and move towards an
existence of sweetness and light. Culture encouraged ‘the
growth and predominance of our humanity proper, as
distinguished from our animality’ (ibid).
The problem with Arnold’s ideas for more recent theorists has been that he thought the values of the culture,
which he espoused, were eternally true for every age and
all conditions of human beings. All people, at all times,
were capable of aspiring to the same ideals.The essence of
true culture transcended history. Recent critics have
found it difficult to go along with his notion of poets as
somehow having access to eternally valid wisdom which
they impart to others. Basically, Arnold saw literature as
the domain of high-minded intellectuals and his definition excluded the writing of a large part of the populace.
T S Eliot (1888–1965)
After the First World War, the American-born poet,
T S Eliot, took up Arnold’s challenge and began to reassess
the literary culture of England. In the words of the British
theorist Terry Eagleton, he set about conducting ‘a wholesale salvage and demolition job on its literary traditions’
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(Eagleton, 1983). Eliot was very largely responsible for
formulating what already existed as a loosely drawn up
list: the canon of English literature (the indisputably good
and great works). He made poetry central to his theory
and focused specifically on the poem as a text. For him
poetry should be impersonal. In Traditional and the
Individual Talent (1919), he asserted that a poet did not
have ‘a personality’ to express but a particular medium.
Poetry was to serve as an escape from the self: ‘Poetry is
not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from
emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an
escape from personality’ (ibid). The poet’s personal and
social circumstances were secondary to the poetry itself,
and he/she should not indulge in expressions of profound
emotion, but seek what he called, in the essay Hamlet
(1919), an ‘objective correlative’: ‘a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that
particular emotion.’ Emotion should be conveyed indirectly. Through the awareness of an ironic perception of
the world and of paradoxes, the reader should be challenged and made to think. This meant of course that
Eliot’s canon of good poetry was severely limited in
scope: he found little use for most of the poets in the
previous two centuries!
Eliot considered literature (and especially poetry) to be
in direct opposition to the modern world. Poetry could
provide the profound experience that the modern world,
with its utilitarian materialism, could not offer. Poetry
especially could recapture a lost ideal of wholeness and
convey complex meanings which we would otherwise
simply not perceive. Eliot’s ideas greatly influenced a group
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of academics at Cambridge University, including IA
Richards and F R Leavis, who, in turn, were to exert longlasting influence on critical thinking about literature.
The Newbolt Report
The importance of government education policy on the
study of literature in schools should not be ignored. A
government report entitled The Teaching of English in
England (1921), the author of which was Sir Henry
Newbolt, strongly encouraged the study of English literature in educational institutions. It is full of sentiment
which owes much to Arnold and Eliot: ‘Literature is not
just a subject for academic study, but one of the chief
temples of the Human Spirit, in which all should worship’
and it is ‘an embodiment of the best thoughts of the best
minds, the most direct and lasting communication of
experience by man to man.’ For Newbolt, literature also
had the function of creating a sense of national identity,
serving to ‘form a new element of national unity, linking
together the mental life of all classes’. All these ideas, of
course, were articulated in the aftermath of the First
World War and have to be viewed in that context.
I A Richards (1893–1979)
Following Eliot’s emphasis on the poem as text, Richards,
an academic at Cambridge, with a background in
aesthetics, psychology and semantics, published a widely
influential book in 1924, Principles of Literary Criticism. He
argued that criticism should emulate the precision of
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science and differentiate the ‘emotive’ language of poetry
from the ‘referential’ language of non-literary works. For
Richards, poets are able to articulate the chaos of the
world around them and gain control of it. They can
reconcile contradictions and transcend self-centredness.
Literature helps us to evaluate our personal experiences. It
conveys a certain type of knowledge which is not factual
or scientific but concerned with values.
In his book Practical Criticism (1929), Richards included
examples of work by his students, in which they
attempted to analyse short unidentified poems.This exercise rapidly became the standard method of training
students in critical analysis, both in Great Britain and
America. As it involved the ruthless exclusion of any
consideration of context, historical or social, and of the
biography of the author, its scope was limited but it did
have one positive effect. It nurtured the close reading of
literary texts. Many subsequent theorists have lamented
the passing of this skill. Richards left Cambridge in 1929
and settled at Harvard University. His subsequent work
greatly influenced the development of what became
known as American New Criticism.
William Empson (1906–1984)
William Empson was a student of Richards and he
produced his first and most famous work, Seven Types of
Ambiguity (1930), when he was still a student. For
Empson, ambiguity was the defining characteristic of
poetic language. He shared Richards’ passion for close
reading of texts, which has led many to ally him with the
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American New Critics, but, in many ways, he was
opposed to their major doctrines. He preferred to treat
poetry as a type of utterance which has much continuity
with ordinary ways of speech. He also took seriously into
account what he conceived the author’s intentions to be.
He did not examine works in isolation but was concerned
to consider how the words were used in social contexts.
For him, a final coherent interpretation of a poem was
impossible. The ambiguities he discovered in poetry could
never be given a specific final interpretation. Poetic
language was suggestive of inexhaustible meaning. For
these reasons, his ideas have often found more sympathy
with the common reader than with academic critics,
concerned as they are, for the most part, with precise definition. Empson was a highly idiosyncratic thinker, not
really belonging to any school, and is doubtless long
overdue for reassessment.
New Criticism
American New Criticism, which was active from the late
1930s to the late 1950s, also took on most of the ideas of
Eliot and Richards, as well as those of Empson. The
movement had its roots in the American South, which
had long been backward economically, but was then
undergoing rapid modernisation. The leading critics had
much sympathy with similar reactions against rapid
modernisation among British critics. Prominent among
the group were John Crowe Ransom, W K Wimsatt,
Monroe C Beardsley, Cleanth Brooks and Mark Schorer.
For the New Critics, poetry was also central to their
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concerns and seen as a quasi-religious defence against
sterile scientific modes of thought. An alienated world
could be reanimated. Poetry could remain untouched by
the prevalent materialism all around. A poem existed as a
self-evident, unique entity. It could not be paraphrased,
nor could it be expressed other than as it was. Every
element in a poem was in balanced integration with every
other element, leading to a coherence of the whole. A
poem was considered as an object in itself, cut off from
both author and the world around it. This view was, of
course, completely compatible with Richards’ procedure
of ‘practical criticism’.
Yet New Criticism did not consider the poem to be cut
off completely from reality. It was not, in other words, an
entirely formalist approach, which would involve examining only the form of an isolated entity. The poem was
seen somehow to incorporate the outside world within
itself. In practice, New Criticism concentrated on paradoxes and ambivalence which could be established in the
For John Crowe Ransom, in an essay called Criticism.
Inc (1937), a poem creates harmony and coherence from
the chaos of experience: ‘The poet perpetuates in his
poem an order of existence which in actual life is
constantly crumbling beneath his touch.’ In The Language
of Paradox (1942), Cleanth Brooks wrote that ‘it wields
together the discordant and the contradictory’.
W K Wimsatt and Monroe C Beardsley wrote two
highly influential essays which advocated the importance
of giving prime attention to the text. They isolated two
common fallacies in literary interpretation. In The
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Intentional Fallacy (1946) they criticised the tendency to
confuse what the author intended in the writing of a
work of literature with what is actually there on the page.
One should not speculate on what the writer may have
wanted to say. In The Affective Fallacy (1949), they criticised
readers who confuse their own emotional response to a
work with what the poem itself really tells them.The way
a work affects readers can too easily blur their vision.
These views found echoes later in poststructuralist theory,
though the latter has a different concept of the nature of
a text.
New Criticism clearly focused predominantly on
poetry but one writer, Mark Schorer, extended its main
precepts to include analysis of prose fiction. In an essay
entitled Fiction and the Analogical Matrix (1949), he
concerns himself with the revelation of unconscious
patterns of images and symbols which are present in all
forms of fiction and which clearly go beyond authorial
intentions. Meaning often contradicts surface sense but,
while this theory may seem to prefigure deconstructive
approaches, in reality Schorer emphasises the fact that
prose fiction always ultimately manages to integrate all
apparent contradictions into a coherent whole.
The Chicago School
New Criticism also spawned a group of critics with
similar but fundamentally heretical views. They were
known as ‘The Chicago School’ or the ‘New Aristotelians’, and were active from the late 1930s through the
1940s and 1950s.The central figure was R S Crane at the
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University of Chicago. They derived their ideas basically
from Aristotle and reacted against the principles of New
Criticism, with its prime concern for poetry and its rejection of historical analysis.They believed in applying whatever method of analysis seemed appropriate to a particular
case and were most influential in the study of narrative
structure in the novel.Wayne C Booth, a later critic, in his
book The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), acknowledged his debt
to the ‘New Aristotelians.’ He examined the methods, or
rhetorical devices, employed by the author to communicate with readers, making an important distinction
between the actual author and the ‘authorial voice’ in the
work. He distinguished between ‘reliable’ and ‘unreliable’
narrators and promoted the view that authors do, indeed,
intend to impose their values on the reader through the
presence of a ‘reliable’ narrator.
F R Leavis (1895–1978) and D H Lawrence
Leavis was instrumental in putting English and the study
of English Literature at the heart of school and university
curricula in England. However one may view his critical
legacy, the study of the humanities in England owes much
to his efforts. Especially important were his essays
published as Education and the University (1943). He was
very much concerned with the practical business of criticism and not with theorising about it, and regarded criticism and philosophy as completely separate activities. He
adopted Richards’ methods of practical criticism as well as
the emphasis on the text stipulated by the New Critics.
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For Leavis, a text should contain within it the full justification of why it is as it is and not otherwise.The first stage
in the process of analysis was close scrutiny of the text (he
gave the name Scrutiny to the journal he founded and
edited from 1932 to 1953). Such close scrutiny led ultimately to establishing the ‘Life’ (a term never defined) of
the text, its closeness to experience and its moral force.
In Revaluation (1936), Leavis delineated the ‘true’
English poetic tradition along the lines prescribed by
Eliot, and in The Great Tradition (1948) he established the
Leavisite (the word has entered common critical parlance)
canon of great English novels. His great novelists (Jane
Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and
Leavis’ near contemporary D H Lawrence) promote,
according to Leavis, full human awareness in the face of
materialism and technology. Unlike Richards and the
New Critics, Leavis brought a social and political awareness to bear in his analyses.
D H Lawrence, whom Leavis greatly admired, echoed
Leavis’ sentiments. In his essay Morality and the Novel
(1925) he wrote: ‘If a novel reveals true and vivid relationships, it is a moral work, no matter what the relationships may consist in.’ And in Why the Novel Matters (1936)
his concept of ‘Life’ is as mystically and vaguely defined as
that of Leavis: ‘To be alive, to be man alive, to be whole
man alive: that is the point. And at its best, the novel, and
the novel supremely, can help you.’
Many have regarded Leavis and the ideology of Scrutiny
as essentially elitist: your soul is only really safe if you
studied literature under Leavis, or at least under a
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Russian Formalism
Both American and Russian Formalists were concerned
to examine what was specifically literary about a text. As
has been noted in the Introduction to the present volume,
defining ‘literariness’ has proved to be virtually impossible,
both because its attributes are not unique and because
statements which are true about all literary works are not,
on the whole, very useful. Early Formalism developed
quite independently in America and Russia but it was
Russian Formalism, which flourished during the pre- and
post-revolutionary period in Russia, that had the more
far-reaching effects.
As the name suggests, formalism, and especially Russian
Formalism, was more interested in analysis of form, the
structure of a text and its use of language, than in the
content. Formalists wanted to establish a scientific basis for
the study of literature. The credo of the early Russian
Formalists was an extreme one: they believed that the
human emotions and ideas expressed in a work of literature were of secondary concern and provided the context
only for the implementation of literary devices. Unlike
the New Criticism in America, they were not interested
in the cultural and moral significance of literature, but
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wished to explore how various literary devices produced
certain aesthetic effects.
The Three Phases
It has been argued that there are three distinct phases in
the development of Russian Formalism which can be
characterised by three metaphors.The first phase regarded
literature as a kind of machine with various devices and
functioning parts; the second phase considered it to be
more like an ‘organism’; and the third phase saw literary
texts as ‘systems.’ Particularly influential in the early phase
of Russian Formalism was Viktor Shklovsky.
Viktor Shklovsky (1893–1984)
Shklovsky was the leading light in a group of literary critics
based in St Petersburg and known as ‘Opayaz’.They encouraged experimental literature and art. Shklovsky’s essay Art as
Technique, published in 1917, served as a manifesto for the
group. In this essay several concepts were formulated which
are crucial to understanding the philosophical premises of
Russian Formalism.The first of these is ‘habitualisation.’This
refers to the fact that, as we become familiar with things, we
no longer really perceive them: ‘…as perception becomes
habitual, it becomes automatic.’ Related to this idea is what
Shklovsky called the ‘algebraic’ method of thought.Through
‘habitualisation’ we come to think of things in only the most
general way and conceive of them only in ways akin to algebraic symbols. Thus a chair loses its individuality and
becomes just the thing we sit on.We no longer perceive its
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texture, its sheen, its precise design etc. This leads to
Shklovsky’s third and probably most famous concept, that of
‘defamiliarisation’ (ostranenie which means literally ‘making
strange’).This he considers the main function of art:‘And art
exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to
make one feel things, to make the stone stony.The purpose
of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are
perceived and not as they are known.’ He then proceeds to
demonstrate how some great writers (Tolstoy and Pushkin)
have consciously used the technique of ‘defamiliarisation.’ It
is also in this essay that we find the famous formulation
which makes clear the priorities of Russian Formalist
aesthetics:‘the object is not important.’
Theories of Narrative
Theories of narrative featured prominently in Russian
Formalist thought, especially distinctions between ‘story’
and ‘plot.’ This was not, of course, new in the theory of
literature. The distinction goes back at least to Aristotle,
for whom plot (mythos) or ‘the arrangement of the incidents’ was clearly different to the story on which it was
based.The time sequence of events in a Greek tragedy, for
example, is clearly different to that of the events it relates.
Usually the tragedy starts with a report of what happened
before and then the audience is plunged into the middle
of events (in medias res), with occasional references back to
earlier stages in the story.
Boris Tomashevski developed further a concept that
Shklovsky had first formulated in his essay on the English
author Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. The basic
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material of the story was termed fabula. Tomashevski
contrasted this with suzhet, the story as it is actually told.
One fabula can provide material for many suzhet, a notion
which was taken up by later formalists and was also to
provide a link with structuralism.These formalist distinctions are not essentially a reformulation of Aristotelian
concepts because the Russian Formalists conceived the
effects and purposes of suzhet differently to those of
Aristotle’s mythos. For Aristotle, plot had to be plausible,
have a degree of inevitability and provide insight into the
human condition. For the Russian Formalists, on the
other hand, the function of plot was to defamiliarise what
we are observing, to make us aware of the artificiality of
the process of literary creation.
The Russian Formalists also had an idiosyncratic
notion of ‘motivation’, using the concept not with the
meaning of ‘intention, or purpose’, but in relation to the
structural concept of a ‘motif ’. Tomashevski was the one
to elucidate the distinction. It is a unit of construction: the
smallest unit of a plot, a single statement, or action, for
example. Tomashevski distinguished between ‘bound’ and
‘free’ motifs. A ‘bound’ motif is necessitated by the original story (for example, the pact with Mephistopheles in
Goethe’s Faust) but a ‘free’ motif is not necessary in the
same way. It is part of the artifice of the work (for
example, Goethe’s decision to set the scene with a
‘Prologue in Heaven’ at the beginning of his play). The
term ‘motif ’ came about because the Russian Formalists
perceived the ideas and themes of a work as secondary, as
motivations (in the more usual sense) for the literary
devices. They argued that a constant awareness of the
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distinction between ‘bound’ and ‘free’ motifs is necessary
because, when an unfamiliar device or ‘free’ motif is
included, it serves for a while to make us aware of the artificiality of the text but eventually it too becomes familiar
or conventional. For example, when playing with the time
sequence became the norm, both in literature and in the
cinema, then that device could no longer have a defamiliarising effect.
Jan Mukar̆ovský
Jan Mukar̆ovsky´ is usually categorised among the structuralists but his roots are in Russian Formalist thought and
he is certainly a significant transitional figure. He was a
member of the Prague Linguistic Circle, founded in 1926.
He developed Shklovsky’s concept of ‘defamiliarisation’
more systematically, using the term ‘foregrounding’
instead. He defines this as ‘the aesthetically intentional
distortion of the literary components’. For Mukar̆ovsky´,
‘foregrounding’ has the effect of ‘automatizing’ other
aspects of the text in close proximity to it. That is to say,
it makes us no longer sensitive to them.The other objects
have become, to use Shklovsky’s terminology again, overfamiliar to us. The term ‘foregrounding’ clearly comes
from the visual arts (painting and photography providing
the clearest examples). Through focusing (by means of
perspective or adjustment of lens) upon figures or events
in the front (‘foreground’) of a picture, the ‘background’ is
not subjected to our conscious attention. ‘Defamiliarisation’ makes what is familiar appear strange only but
‘foregrounding’ reveals the whole work to be a compli35
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cated and interrelated structure. It is not surprising, therefore, that the concept was taken up by more explicitly
structuralist theorists. It can be compared to the notion of
the ‘dominant’ developed by Roman Jakobson.
Mukar̆ovsky´, unlike earlier Russian Formalists, did not
consider the object, of which a literary work was a treatment, to be of secondary interest. Indeed, he emphasised
the dynamic tension between literature and society in the
creation of literature. He argued also that an object can have
several functions. Often the aesthetic function is just one of
many. A simple and obvious example is that a church can
be both a place of worship and a work of art.A speech can
be political or legal rhetoric and also a work of art.
(Arguably, this is the case with many of Winston Churchill’s
and certainly it is so with several in Shakespeare’s Julius
Caesar.) What is considered to be art changes in close relation to the tastes and preferences of a given society. In
Aesthetic Function, Norm and Value as Social Facts (1936),
Mukar̆ovsky´ argued that aesthetic function cannot exist in
isolation from its place and time, nor without considering
the person evaluating it. He distinguished between the
‘material object’, the actual book or other physical object,
and the ‘aesthetic object’, which can exist only in the mind
of the person who interprets the ‘material object’.
The Bakhtin School
The attribution of several important works to Mikhail
Bakhtin is disputed. Three theorists worked closely
together and precise attribution may never be obtained.
The three associates were Mikhail Bakhtin, Pavel
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Medvedev and Valentin Volosinov.As a student and teacher
in the 1920s, Bakhtin began to take a critical stance
against Russian Formalism but the ideas of the three may
be considered formalist in their interest in the linguistic
structure of literary works.Also, the three men believed in
the social nature of language and reveal clear influence of
Marxist thought. But they differed from orthodox
Marxists in their assumptions about the relationship
between language and ideology. For them, ideology is not
a reflex of socio-economic conditions but is conditioned
by the medium through which it manifests itself:
language. And language is a material reality.The meanings
of words change according to the different social and
historical situations in which they are used. Multiple
meanings are in fact the normal condition of language
(‘heteroglossia’).The reflection of social interaction (in the
novel, for instance) reveals this ‘heteroglossia’. The novel
which embodies a single authorial voice is, in fact, a
distortion of natural language, imposing unity of vision
where naturally there is none.The monologue has always
been an unnatural genre.
Bakhtin, in particular, developed these ideas in relation
to literary texts, principally in three works: Problems of
Dostoievsky’s Art, the revised version Problems in
Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1963) and Rabelais and his World
(1966). He argued that all language partakes of the nature
of dialogue. Every speech is inspired by a previous utterance and expects a future response. And the language
always seems to encourage reflection on its own nature. In
this respect, Bakhtin is still essentially a formalist. In From
the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse (probably written in
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1940 but first published in Russia in 1967) he wrote: ‘To
a greater or lesser extent, every novel is a dialogized
system made up of the images of “languages”, styles and
consciousnesses that are concrete but inseparable from
language. Language in the novel not only represents, but
itself serves as the object of representation. Novelistic
discourse is always criticizing itself.’
Roman Jakobson (1896–1982)
Roman Jakobson was a bridge between Russian Formalism and Structuralism. He was a founder member of the
Moscow Linguistic Circle and all his writings reveal the
centrality of linguistic theory in his thought and especially
the influence of Saussure (see chapter 3). He was also an
enthusiastic supporter of experimental poets. In 1920, he
moved to Czechoslovakia and helped to found the influential Prague Linguistic Circle.With the Nazi invasion of
Czechoslovakia in 1939, he left the country and finally
settled in the USA in 1941.
Apart from his linguistic research Jakobson gained
respect for his very precise linguistic analyses of classic
works of literature. He and Claude Lévi-Strauss, the
French anthropologist, were also colleagues at the New
School of Social Research in New York from 1941.They
collaborated on an analysis of Baudelaire’s poem Les
Chats, which not only became famous as a typical structuralist analysis but also drew much negative criticism.
Jakobson attempted the daunting task of trying to define
‘literariness’ in linguistic terms. His paper Linguistics and
Poetics, delivered at a conference in 1958 and published as
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Style in Language in 1960, provides the clearest expression
of his ideas on the topic. Even when we transpose a work
of literature, he argues, from one medium to another (eg
a novel into a film, an epic into a comic book) certain
structural features are preserved,‘despite the disappearance
of their verbal shape’. Many features of a work are not
limited to the language in which it is expressed.The ‘truth
value’ of a work, for example, or its significance as a myth
are obviously ‘extralinguistic entities’. Such aspects ‘exceed
the bounds of poetics and of linguistics in general’.
It would seem that Jakobson is here going beyond a
purely formalist approach but, while revealing his awareness of such dimensions, he is firm in restricting himself
to the purely linguistic: ‘…no manifesto, foisting a critic’s
own tastes and opinions on creative literature, may act as
substitute for an objective scholarly analysis of verbal art.’
Another idea of his which proved to be especially relevant
to modern literary theory was the postulation of two
fundamental poles of organising discourse that can be
traced in every kind of cultural product: metaphor and
metonymy. This idea was developed as a result of investigating the mental disorder of aphasia (expounded at
length in Fundamentals of Language, 1956, which he
published together with Morris Halle). In the sentence
‘The ship crossed the sea’, the sentence can be made
metaphorical by selecting a different verb, for example by
comparing the motion of the ship to that of a plough
(‘The ship ploughed the sea’). Metonymy is the use of an
attribute of something to suggest the whole thing. For
example, deepness can suggest the sea (‘The ship crossed
the deep’). Metaphor depends on the combination of
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things not necessarily associated or contiguous, whereas
metonymy utilises closely associated attributes.
This led Jakobson to make some interesting characterisations of different literary schools according to their positions on the metaphor-metonymy axis: ‘The primacy of
the metaphoric process in the literary schools of romanticism and symbolism has been repeatedly acknowledged,
but it is still insufficiently realized that it is the predominance of metonymy which underlies and actually predetermines the so-called “realistic” trend, which belongs to
an intermediary stage between the decline of romanticism
and the rise of symbolism and is opposed to both.’
Jakobson developed the concepts of ‘defamiliarisation’
and ‘foregrounding’ further to characterise whole schools
of critical and literary thought. In the dynamic system of
a work of literature elements are structured in relation to
each other as foreground and background. A foregrounded element was referred to by the later Russian
Formalists as ‘the dominant.’ Jakobson regarded ‘the dominant’ as one of the most important late formalist concepts.
He defined it as ‘the focusing component of a work of art;
it rules, determines and transforms the remaining components’. Literary forms change and develop as a result of a
‘shifting dominant’. He believed that the literary theory
(or poetics) of a particular period might be governed by a
‘dominant’ which derives from a non-literary system. For
example, the theory of Renaissance poetry was derived
from the visual arts and that of Realism from verbal art.
The basic elements of the system do not change (plot,
diction, syntax etc) but the functions of the elements do.
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Structuralism challenged many of the most cherished
beliefs of both critics and readers: the assumption that a
literary work expresses an author’s mind and personality
and that it also tells some essential truth about human life.
Structuralists state bluntly that the author is dead and that
literary discourse has no truth function. In an essay of
1968, the French theorist Roland Barthes put the structuralist view in perhaps its most forceful form. He claimed
that writers only have the power to mix already existing
writings, to reassemble them.They cannot use writing to
express themselves but can only draw on language, which
is already formulated, and culture, which is essentially
already expressed in language (in Barthes’ words it is
‘always already written’). Structuralists also describe themselves as anti-humanist because they oppose all forms of
literary criticism in which the meaning is related to a
human subject. Of course, if all these tenets were demonstrably true, then writers might as well cast aside their pens
and reach for their knitting needles.
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913)
Concepts formulated by one man have greatly influenced
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the whole of modern literary theory. He is included here
among the structuralists because that is where his influence is particularly strong but the whole of cultural theory
is permeated by distinctions first drawn up by him. If
there is some truth in the claim that the whole of western
philosophy is but a series of footnotes to Plato, then the
same could be said of the relationship between cultural
(hence also literary) theory and Ferdinand de Saussure.
Important for structuralist theory is his distinction
between ‘langue’ and ‘parole’. ‘Langue’ is the language
system which we all share and which we unconsciously
draw on when we speak; ‘parole’ is language as we actually realize it in individual utterances. For Saussure, the
proper study for linguistics is the underlying system and
not the individual utterances. Structuralist literary critics
also endeavoured to study the underlying rules, or
grammar, of a work and not its idiosyncrasies.
Another famous distinction made by Saussure is that
between ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’. For him, words do not
refer directly to things. There is, in other words, no
discernible connection between a word and the thing to
which it refers. Words are signs with two aspects: the
‘signifier’ and the ‘signified’.What is written or spoken is
the ‘signifier’ and what is thought when the word is
written or uttered is the ‘signified’. Meaning is perceived
not through the word’s relation to something but in
understanding it as part of a system of relationships, as part
of a sign-system.This mode of analysis can be applied not
only to language but to a whole range of phenomena.The
most common and easily comprehensible illustration of
the principle is in the system of traffic lights. Red, amber
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and green have no intrinsic meanings but mean ‘stop’,‘get
ready’ and ‘go’ only in relation to each other in the
context of a set of traffic lights. The science of such sign
systems is called semiotics or semiology, which are related
to structuralism, but structuralism also concerns itself with
systems, such as kinship relations, which do not utilise
signs. In this respect, structuralism reveals that it has
important roots in the anthropology of Claude LéviStrauss. The basic importance of structuralism for a study
of literature derives from its interest in underlying structures of sign systems. The assumption is that such structures are even more basic than form, more basic therefore
than conventional notions of literary form. Structures are
considered as somehow enabling meaning to emerge.
The term ‘semiotics’ (or the alternative term ‘semiology’) is
frequently used in close association with the theory of
structuralism. In the previous section, it was referred to as a
science of signs. It has been argued that literary structuralists are really engaging in semiotics, so some distinctions
should be made clear. Structuralism is, strictly speaking, a
method of investigation, whereas semiotics can be
described as a field of study. Its field is that of sign systems.
I. C S Peirce (1839–1914)
The American philosopher C S Peirce drew up three
useful distinctions between different types of sign (in
Saussure’s sense of the word).
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1. The ‘Iconic’ is a sign which resembles its referent (eg on
road signs a picture of a ship near a port, or a car falling
off a quayside).The word ‘icon’ is of course still used for
images representing the Virgin Mary in the Russian
Orthodox Church. Nowadays the word is most
commonly used to refer to those little images identifying various functions on a computer.
2. The ‘Indexical’ is a sign associated, sometimes causally,
with a referent (eg smoke as a sign indicating fire, or a
flash as a warning about electricity).
3. The ‘Symbolic’ is a sign which has only an arbitrary
relation to its referent, as is the case with words in a
These terms were generally adopted by semioticians and
further classifications were developed. What a sign stands
for is called ‘denotation’ and what other signs are associated with it is ‘connotation’.There are also ‘paradigmatic’
signs, which may replace each other in the system, and
‘syntagmatic’ signs, which are linked together in a chain.
A sign system which refers to another sign system is called
a ‘metalanguage’ (literary theory itself is a good example
of this).And signs which have more than one meaning are
called ‘polysemic’.With this short list the range of terminology is not exhausted.
II.Yury Lotman
The Russian semiotician Yury Lotman did much to
develop the application of the theory of semiotics to literature, most famously in The Analysis of the Poetic Text
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(1976). He was very much concerned not to restrict
himself to pure structural analysis but also to introduce a
degree of evaluation of the text. He combined strict structural analysis with close reading of the text in the mode of
New Criticism and argued that literary texts were more
worthy of our attention than non-literary ones because
they carried a ‘higher information load’. He describes a
poem, for example, as being ‘semantically saturated’. A
poor poem for him carries insufficient information. A
poem consists of a complex arrangement of interrelated
systems (phonological, metrical, lexical etc) and poetic
effects are created through tensions between these
systems. There is a norm, or standard, for each system,
from which the poet can deviate, or which can clash with
the norms of another system. Sentence structure, for
example, may not correspond with the standard metric
pattern. The reader becomes more aware of relations of
meaning between words when they are placed in some
unusual metric or other structural relationships to each
other. In this way, the reader can perceive new significances beyond dictionary definitions. Lotman argues that
a poem can in effect only be re-read.To read it once is not
to read it at all because some of its effects can only be
perceived with a knowledge of the structural complexity.
What we perceive in a poetic text is only the result of
awareness of contrasts and differences. Even the absence of
an expected effect can produce meaning, such as when
the reader is led to expect a rhyme which does not appear.
Lotman did not believe however that poetry and literature
could be adequately defined by linguistic analysis alone.
The text had to be seen in wider relation to other systems
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of meaning, not only within the literary tradition but in
society generally.
Phoneme Theory
It may not be immediately obvious how phoneme theory
could be of relevance to literary theory but the French
critic Roland Barthes made it central to his analysis of the
short story Sarrasine by the author Balzac. A phoneme is a
distinct unit of sound in a language which distinguishes
one word from another, for example the p, b, d and t in the
English words pad, pat, bad and bat. A word can be
pronounced in a variety of ways, with different stresses
and accents etc, and the whole word will remain distinguishable and therefore recognizable as long as the individual phonemes remain recognizable. There is of course
no ideal phoneme but only a mental abstraction of it. All
actually occurring sounds are variations of phonemes.The
logical consequence of this is that we do not recognize
sounds in their own right but only by distinguishing them
from others.
The relevance of this theory for cultural and literary
analysis is that it presupposes an underlying system, or
structure, of paired opposites at the very basic level of
language. In phoneme theory, it manifests itself in pairs
which are, for example, nasalised/non-nasalised, voiced/
unvoiced etc. Such ‘binary oppositions’ occur in many
cultural phenomena and have been especially fruitful in
anthropological analyses by, for example, Mary Douglas
and Claude Lévi-Strauss who analysed rites and kinship
structures by adapting phoneme theory to examine the
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underlying system of differences between practices.
Roland Barthes adapted the procedure to analyse all kinds
of human activities, from clothes to cuisine. His early
essays, collected in Mythologies (1957) and Système de la
mode (1967), are accessible and enjoyable books. His ideas
will be considered again later in the context of Poststructuralism.
Structuralist Narratology
Structuralist narrative theory uses the model of linguistic
analysis to reveal the structure of narrative. The basis
model for that of a storyline is that of grammatical syntax.
Narrative is compared to the structure of a sentence.
Especially influential on the development of structuralist
narratology was Vladimir Propp.
I. Vladimir Propp (1895–1970)
Tomashevski’s distinctions between fabula and suzhet were
taken up by Vladimir Propp and applied to the analysis of
fairy tales. Propp was not a formalist and used the terms
for purely structural analysis. He realised that if you look
closely at traditional Russian fairy tales and folk tales, you
find one basic story structure underlying them all: many
suzhets derived from one basic fabula. There might be
superficial differences between the stories, in terms of the
individual details of events and characters, but all can be
reduced to the same basic structure. To demonstrate this
Propp devised the categories of ‘actors’ and ‘functions’.
‘Actors’ are the types of central characters who appear and
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‘functions’ are the acts or events which carry the narrative
forward. There is a limited number of ‘actors’, the main
ones being the following: the hero, the villain, the seeker
(often identical with the hero), the helper, the false helper
and the princess. And there are thirty-one functions
which always appear in the same sequence, although not
all of them appear in every story. Some common ones are:
the setting of a task or challenge, successful completion of
the task or overcoming the challenge, recognition of the
hero, exposure of the villain, marriage of the hero etc. It is
therefore possible to fit virtually all popular fairy tales into
this basic pattern.The comparison with sentence structure
is, in the first instance, a very simple one. The ‘actors’ are
the subject of the sentences and the ‘functions’ are the
predicates. It is clear also that many of Propp’s ‘actors’ and
‘functions’ are to be found in all kinds of literary narratives and are most clearly defined in myths, epics and
romances. Needless to say the reader is not usually aware
of this underlying structure, nor is it necessary to be.The
recognition that this kind of structural analysis was
possible for all fairy tales inspired the hope of pursuing
such analysis of literature in general.
II. A J Greimas (1917–1992)
A J Greimas (Sémantique Structurale, 1966) developed and
expanded Propp’s theory to make it applicable to various
genres. His approach was based on a semantic analysis of
sentence structure. He proposed three pairs of binary oppositions which include all six main ‘actors’ (actants) necessary:
Subject/Object, Sender/Receiver, Helper/Opponent. He
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thereby made Propp’s scheme more abstract, stressing
neither a narrative form nor a specific type of character but
a structural unit. These six actants can be combined into
three structural units which he believed recur in all kinds of
1. Subject/Object: desire, search or aim.
2. Sender/Receiver: communication.
3. Helper/Opponent: auxiliary support or hindrance.
The most basic structure is the first. The subject is the
main element, though not necessarily a person, in a story.
This subject desires to achieve a certain object through its
(his, her) action. It is this desire which moves the narrative
along.The pattern as applied to actual texts becomes more
complex than this, with various permutations.
Greimas also reduced Propp’s thirty-one functions to
twenty and grouped them into three ‘syntagms’ (structures): ‘contractual’, ‘performative’, and ‘disjunctive’. The
first of these is perhaps the most common. As its name
suggests the ‘contractual syntagm’ involves the setting up
or breaking of contracts, rules or systems of order.Thus, a
narrative may adopt either of two structures: there is a
contract or other principle of order, which is violated and
subsequently punished, or there is the absence of such a
contract (disorder) with a subsequent establishment of
order. Greek tragedies and some of Shakespeare’s plays
conform to the first structure and American novels of the
Wild West conform to the second. It must be stressed that
Greimas’ approach enables the reader to identify how
meaning is created in the text but does not imply any
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specific interpretation. This the reader must supply for
him- or herself.
III. Tzvetan Todorov (1939–)
Tzvetan Todorov took the ideas of both Propp and
Greimas to what one might term their logical conclusion.
He describes narrative structure using common syntactic
concepts: agency, predication, adjectival and verbal functions, mood, aspect, etc. The basic unit of narrative is the
proposition, which can either be an agent (such as a
person) or a predicate (such as action).A predicate can also
function like an adjective, describing the state of something, or it can function like a verb, indicating some kind
of action. There are two higher levels of organisation
above that of proposition: the sequence and the text.The
basic sequence is made up of five propositions describing
a state, which is subsequently disturbed and then re-established, though usually in a different form.The five propositions in sequence are: equilibrium (1), force (1),
disequilibrium, force (2) and equilibrium (2).A succession
of such sequences forms a text.Various complexities and
permutations of the sequences can, of course, be introduced, connecting them in different ways, embedding one
within another, digressing and returning etc. A work of
literature is thus read as though it were one extended and
complex sentence. Such a theory provides an apparently
scientific procedure but it contributes little, if anything, to
an actual understanding of meaning.
One of Todorov’s most well-known studies is The
Typology of Detective Fiction (1966), in which he distin50
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guishes three basic types of detective fiction, which have
evolved over time: the ‘whodunit’, the ‘thriller’ and the
‘suspense novel’.This study also confirms the view that it
is much easier to apply structuralist techniques of analysis
to popular fiction than to more ‘literary’ works.
IV. Gérard Genette (1930–)
Gérard Genette’s Narrative Discourse (1972) is regarded by
many as one of the most important contributions to
narratology. He redefined existing categories and introduced a number of completely new ones. For example he
redefined the Russian Formalist distinctions between
fabula and suzhet by dividing narrative into three levels:
‘story’ (histoire), ‘discourse’ (récit) and narration. This is
most clearly perceived in texts in which there is a distinct
narrator or storyteller addressing the reader directly
(‘narration’). He or she presents a verbal ‘discourse’, in
which he or she also appears as a character in the events
related (‘story’). These three levels are related to each
other by three aspects, which Genette derived from the
three common aspects of verbs:‘tense’,‘mood’ and ‘voice’.
While the aspect of ‘tense’ may be readily understood by
its reference to situating the story and/or the ‘narration’ in
present or past time, those of ‘mood’ and ‘voice’ need
further clarification. Both are important in analysing the
point of view in a text.‘Mood’ here refers to the perspective from which events are viewed (eg from that of a
particular character) which may actually be described by
a different narrative ‘voice’ (it might for example be an old
man telling of the events of his own youth). Genette
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formulated a distinction between two different kinds of
relation between narrator and character in terms of a
binary opposition: there is ‘homodiegetic’ narrative, in
which the narrator tells us about him/herself, and there is
‘heterodiegetic’ narrative, in which the narrator tells us
about third persons.A ‘homodiegetic’ narrator is always in
some way involved in the world narrated. A
‘heterodiegetic’ narrator is never involved in that world.
Genette also used the term ‘focalisation’, which has
proved to be of lasting usefulness in literary theory for
describing some of the more complex relations between
narrator and the world narrated. This term is especially
useful when dealing with uncertain or shifting perspectives. In the case, for example, of what is known as free
indirect discourse (revealing the thoughts of characters in
their own idiom, but in the third person and tense of the
narration). Sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish
between the ‘voice’ of the narrator and that of the character. If the narration has yielded in this way to the
perspective of the character but still maintains the third
person form (eg ‘He knew he would always love her’),
then this narrative can be described as being related
through a ‘focaliser’.
Genette’s theory is more complex than I have been able
to outline here and he employed a wider range of technical vocabulary than can be defined in the present
context but one more of its achievements needs to be
highlighted. In the essay Frontiers of Narrative (1966), he
explored and criticised three pairs of commonly maintained binary oppositions in a way which prefigures, to
some extent, the approach of deconstructive theory. The
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first opposition is that which Aristotle formulated in his
Poetics of ‘diegesis’ (the author speaking in his own voice)
and ‘mimesis’ (representation of what someone else actually said). Genette argued that ‘mimesis’ in this sense is
simply not possible, as part of a text can never be what
someone actually said. It is also narrative. The second
opposition is that between narration and description.
Narration, telling about the actions and events in a story,
would appear to be different in kind to describing things,
people and circumstances. However, Genette demonstrated that the very choice of nouns and verbs in a
sentence telling of an action is part of the description. He
dissolved the distinction. ‘The man closed his hand into a
ball’ can become descriptive of quite a different situation
if one changes the verb and a few of the nouns: ‘The
stranger clenched his hand into a fist.’ The third opposition is that between narrative (a pure telling of a story
uninfluenced by the subjectivity of the author) and
discourse (in which the reader is aware of the nature of
the teller). Genette demonstrated that pure narrative with
no trace of authorial perspective is very rare indeed and
difficult to maintain.
Structuralist Poetics
Jonathan Culler took as his premise in Structuralist Poetics
(1975) that linguistics provided the best model for the
analysis of literature. He wanted to explore ‘the conventions that enable readers to make sense of ’ works of literature, believing that it was impossible to establish rules
that govern the actual writing of texts. Structure could be
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found underlying the reader’s interpretation of a text. In a
later work, The Pursuit of Signs (1981), he attempted to
explain the fact that readers, while following the same
interpretative conventions, often produce different interpretations of, for example, a poem. One reason for this is
that readers expect to find unity in a work but they
employ different models of unity and apply such models
to the actual work in different ways. In this book,
however, Culler did not consider the effects of the reader’s
own ideology on perceptions of meaning. Using
Chomsky’s notion of underlying ‘competence’, Culler
argued that a poet or novelist writes on the assumption of
such a ‘competence’ in the reader. Just as we need
linguistic ‘competence’ to make sense of what we hear or
read, so we make use of ‘literary competence’, acquired
through experience and institutional education, to make
sense of literature. In more recent works, especially in
Framing the Sign (1988), Culler has questioned more the
institutional and ideological basis of the concept of
‘literary competence’ and, in his popular introduction,
Literary Theory (1997), he summed up structuralism as
attempting to ‘analyse structures that operate unconsciously (structures of language, of the psyche, of society)’.
But he still emphasised that structuralist poetics is not
essentially concerned with establishing meaning: ‘it seeks
not to produce new interpretations of works but to
understand how they can have the meanings and effects
that they do.’
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Marxist Theory
The Essence of Marxist Thought
There is no scope in the present context to expound
Marxist theory adequately.All that can be done is to stress
the aspects of it, the essential concepts, which are relevant
to understanding a Marxist approach to the study of literature. For Karl Marx, and those closest to his way of
thinking, all those modes of thought, including literary
creativity, are ideological and are products of social and
economic existence. Basically Man’s social being determines his consciousness and the material interests of the
dominant social class determine how all classes perceive
their existence.All forms of culture, therefore, do not exist
in an ideal, abstract form but are inseparable from the
historical determining social conditions. They exist, in
other words, as a superstructure to the basic economic
structure of a society. This view was the exact reverse of
the Hegelian belief that the world was governed by
thought and the application of reason, whether it be
human or divine. Philosophising about the world alone
was insufficient for Marx; the most important thing was to
change it. In The German Ideology (1846), Marx and
Friedrich Engels wrote of religion, morality and philos55
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ophy as ‘phantoms found in the brains of men’. But in
letters which he wrote in the 1890s Engels acknowledged
that both he and Marx recognised that art, philosophy and
other forms of human consciousness could alter the
human condition and had a degree of autonomy. The
special status of literature was also recognised by Marx in
the Grundrisse. Greek tragedy was for him an anomaly
because it seemed to represent a timeless, universal
achievement but was actually produced within a society
with a structure and ideology which he could no longer
consider valid. How could such a phenomenon continue
to give aesthetic pleasure and be regarded as expressing
universal truths?
Socialist Realism
Socialist Realism is the term usually applied to the statesanctioned theory of art favoured predominantly in the
Soviet Union, and therefore known as Soviet Socialist
Realism, but it was also the dominant party aesthetic in
other Eastern European countries under the political
domination of Russia after the Stalinist period and the
Second World War. Basically the ideal of nineteenth
century Russian realist literature was set up as the most
suitable norm for a communist aesthetic but it was given
a doctrinaire edge. All other forms of modernist experimental art and literature were considered to be the decadent offspring of late capitalism. Only lip service was paid
to the notion of artistic freedom. In practise, a writer
could not hope to get his work published if he or she did
not write to please the party. Lenin had made this explicit
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in his essay Party Organisation and Party Literature (1905), in
which he asserted that writers were free to write whatever
they wanted but, if they wanted to get their work
published in party journals, they would have to toe the
party line. As all journals were soon to become affiliated
to the party, this provided writers, effectively, with only
Hobson’s choice. Literary critics were encouraged to
praise those writers of the past who had revealed insights
into the social problems and developments of their time,
even though they might have been of bourgeois origin
themselves. Leo Tolstoy, Honoré de Balzac and Charles
Dickens therefore came in for special praise. All literature
had also to address the interests of the people as a whole.
This quality was known as narodnost.And it had to present
a progressive and, of course, communist outlook for the
future of society.
Georg Lukács (1885–1971)
One of the most admired Marxist critics is Georg Lukács,
a Hungarian-born philosopher and critic. He is associated
with socialist realism but reveals great subtlety in his arguments. He greatly admired many of the great Realist
works of the 19th century, especially when they revealed
underlying contradictions in society. It was for this reason
that he praised the novels of the Prussian writer Theodor
Fontane, especially his short novel Schach von Wuthenow
(translated as A Man of Honour), which provides a
disturbing critique of the Prussian code of honour. For
Lukács, it was ‘the pinnacle of German historical narrative
art’. In Lukács’ eyes, true Realism did not just depict the
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appearance of the social world but provided ‘a truer, more
complete, more vivid and more dynamic reflection of
reality’. A Realist novel does not provide an illusion of
reality but is ‘a special form of reflecting reality’. A truly
realistic work provides a sense of the ‘artistic necessity’ of
the scenes and details presented.The writer reflects, in an
intensified form, the structure of the society depicted and
its dialectical development. Lukács’ ideas are expounded
most fully in two major works: The Historical Novel (1937)
and Studies in European Realism (1950). In The Meaning of
Contemporary Realism (1957), he attacks especially
modernist literature. He rejected the static, ahistorical epic
structure of James Joyce’s work, and found modernist
writing, in general, lacking in historical awareness. Beckett
and Kafka were condemned for these reasons. For Lukács,
modernist writers were too concerned about evoking an
inner stream of consciousness and the obsessions of
isolated individuals.This he related to the effects of living
in late capitalist societies. One of the few contemporaries
he did admire was Thomas Mann, whom he considered an
exponent of a genuine ‘critical realism’. During a stay in
Berlin in the 1930s he also attacked the use of modernist
techniques in the writings of left-wing radicals. His attack
on the playwright and theorist Bertolt Brecht has become
particularly famous.
Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)
After reading Marx in the 1920s, Bertolt Brecht, the
German-born playwright, focused his earlier anarchistic
attitudes into more clearly defined communist convic58
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tions. He wrote many clearly didactic plays (the Lehrstücke)
and more complex thought-provoking plays, mainly in
exile from Nazi Germany. His theoretical works on
theatre practice revolutionised modern drama. He
rejected entirely the Aristotelian tradition of theatre: plot,
fate and universality were out. He employed techniques to
bring about what he called a Verfremdungseffekt, meaning
literally ‘the effect of making strange’ and usually translated as ‘alienation’. It has much in common with the
concept of ‘defamiliarisation’ coined by the Russian
Formalists. By such methods he attempted to show up the
contradictions in capitalist society as something strange
and unnatural, requiring change. His actors were not to
create the illusion of real people with whom audiences
could identify but should present caricatures revealing the
inner contradictions of the characters, the ways in which
their behaviour was moulded by social forces and their
need to survive.
One aspect of Brecht’s theory, which brought him into
conflict with Lukács, was the rejection of formal unity in
a work. His ‘epic’ theatre consisted of a series of looselyrelated episodes, rather than an all-embracing structure.
The unities of time and place were rejected. He did not
believe in any ‘eternal aesthetic laws’ and, for him, any
dramatic device was acceptable if it served his purpose. He
strongly opposed what he saw as Lukács’ attempts to
establish ‘purely formal and literary criteria of realism’. He
demanded constant adjustment to the ever-changing
nature of political reality: ‘to represent it the means of
representation must alter too.’
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The Frankfurt School
The name ‘The Frankfurt School’ has come to be applied
to a group of philosophers and thinkers of other disciplines who were members or were associated with The
Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt am Main in
Germany. They practised what they called ‘Critical
Theory’. The leading figures in the group were Theodor
Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse. The
institute moved to New York during the Nazi period but
settled back in Frankfurt again in 1950. Their analysis of
modern culture and society was very much influenced by
their experience of Fascism.
Theodor Adorno (1903–1969)
The leading and most influential writer on aesthetics in
the Frankfurt School was undoubtedly Adorno. He criticised Lukács’ view that art could have a direct relationship
with reality. For Adorno, art, including literature, is
detached from reality and this is the very source of its
strength. Popular art forms only confirm and conform to
the norms of a society but true art takes up a critical
stance, distanced from the world which engendered it:‘Art
is the negative knowledge of the actual world.’ He saw the
alienation evident in the writings of Proust and Beckett as
proving such ‘negative knowledge’ of the modern world.
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Walter Benjamin (1892–1940)
Walter Benjamin was closely associated with the Frankfurt
School but he was very much a maverick thinker. His
early writing was on Goethe and German Baroque
drama. His best known essay is undoubtedly The Work of
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in which he
argued that modern means of reproducing works of art,
especially photography and film, have changed the special
status of a work of art. This is also true, of course, of the
reproduction of musical performances. Benjamin argues
that works of art once used to have the quality of uniqueness which he calls their ‘aura’. Even in the case of literature which, of course, had long been available in multiple
copies, this aura had been maintained. Many kinds of
modern works of art are actually designed with a view to
reproducing them, as is the case with art prints, for
example. In the case of the cinema there exist multiple
copies without there being a real original from which the
film is derived. Benjamin believed this to be a good and
beneficial development, making art no longer something
remote and awe-inspiring but accessible to intelligent lay
analysis. One might argue against Benjamin, of course,
that the result has been only to make much art more
remote, obscure and unfathomable. In another essay, The
Author as Producer, he stresses the need for socialist writers
and artists to take full advantage of the potential of the
new possibilities of reproduction, and to use them
consciously to political effect. There is no guarantee of
changing people’s thought merely through the ready
availability of works of art.
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Lucien Goldmann (1913–1970)
Lucien Goldmann was a Romanian by birth but lived in
France. He rejected the notion of individual genius in the
arts. He believed that works of art and literature reflected
the ‘mental structures’ of the class which engendered
them. Great writers possessed the ability to formulate and
express these structures and enable people to perceive
them through the works. He developed a distinctive form
of Marxist literary theory he called ‘genetic structuralism’
which, as the name suggests, also owes much to structuralist thought. He was interested in tracing the relationships between a work of literature, predominant modes of
philosophical thought and ideology and specific social
classes.There may be no obvious surface parallels but they
share structural similarities on a deeper level. For this
process of comparing parallel deep structures he used the
term ‘homology’. His most famous working out of the
procedure was in his study of the French dramatist Racine
(Le Dieu Caché). In Pour une Sociologie du Roman (1964), he
provided a ‘homological’ study of the modern novel
compared with the structure of market economy.
Louis Althusser (1918–1990)
Louis Althusser’s ideas are also clearly indebted to structuralism. He abhorred the notion of order and systems
with central controlling principles. Social structures consist
of various levels in complex interaction with each other
and often in mutual conflict. One level may dominate the
rest at any time but this is itself determined by economic
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factors. In A Letter on Art, Althusser considers art to be
located somewhere between ideology and scientific
knowledge. A work of literature he sees in a somewhat
negative light: it neither provides a full understanding of
the real world, nor does it simply lend expression to the
ideology of a specific class. But it does make us aware of
the ideology which governs both its and our own existence in society.
In fact, Althusser presents in his writing two theses
concerning ideology.The first is that,‘Ideology represents
the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real
conditions of existence’. The second thesis relates
ideology to its social origins. For Althusser ideology works
through the so-called ‘ideological state apparatuses’.These
include the political system, the law, education, organised
religion etc. Ideology has a material existence in the sense
that it is embodied in material systems. Thus, everything
we do and everything we involve ourselves in is, in some
way, ideological. When we believe that we are acting
according to free will it is really in accordance with the
dominant ideology. In accordance with his belief that
social structures are not systems with central controlling
principles, he also asserted that ideology in capitalist societies was not dominated by the self-interest of a small
group who use it to exploit others.Those who profit from
the system are as blind to its effects as others. One of the
causes of this blindness is the very force of ideology itself.
It convinces us that we are real ‘concrete subjects’.We see
as natural whatever ideology wants us to see as part of the
natural order of things.
Critics influenced by Althusser’s ideas have attempted
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to show how, in novels, readers are often invited to
become part of a world which is depicted as essentially
free, peopled by individuals who behave in autonomous
ways. Such novels also give the reader the illusion that he
or she is free when, in fact, they are also in the grip of an
ideology. Many Marxist critics, however, have not been
happy with the implied deterministic view of ideology set
down by Althusser. He seems to allow no scope for nonideological thought or action.
Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937)
The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci did not contribute
specifically to literary theory but his ideas have influenced
many Marxist literary critics, notably the British critic
Raymond Williams. Gramsci’s concept of ideology is less
deterministic than that of Althusser and allows room for
dissent.Writing in the 1930s in Fascist Italy, Gramsci was
fully aware of the power of ideology and of ‘the consent
given by the great masses of the population to the general
direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group’. For Gramsci, it was possible for the individual to resist what he called the ‘hegemony’: the
domination by a ruling ideology through ‘consent’ rather
than ‘coercive power’. Under ‘hegemony’ the citizens of a
state have internalised what the rulers want them to
believe so thoroughly that they genuinely believe that
they are expressing their own opinions. But this hegemony does not, as Althusser believed, blind all members of
the society to the truth of the situation. It is possible to
become aware of the dominance of ‘hegemony’ and resist
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its effects, even if it is impossible to escape completely its
influence.This is the loophole of which the artist can take
Pierre Macherey
Another important influence on British critics in the
1960s and 1970s was Pierre Macherey. In A Theory of
Literary Production (1966), Macherey considered a text not
as something ‘created’ but as ‘produced’.Whatever authorial intentions might be and whatever aesthetic standards
might prevail at a given time, the literary text is never
completely ‘aware of what it is doing’. He regarded
literary texts as being pervaded by ideology and it was the
job of the critic to look for the cracks and weaknesses in
the surface of the work, caused by its own internal contradictions.The title of a later essay summarises this view as
The Text Says What It Does Not Say. In order to reveal the
ideology in a text the critic must focus on what the text
represses rather than overtly expresses. The cracks are the
gaps where the author failed to make a thought conscious.
To some extent, this approach pre-figures that of poststructuralism but, whereas Macherey considered his
approach to be scientific and leading to objectively true
interpretations, poststructuralists believed that there was
no such thing as objective truth.
Raymond Williams (1921–1988)
The British critic Raymond Williams took as his task a
complete reassessment of the British tradition of cultural
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thought. In Culture and Society 1780–1950 (1958), he
defined culture as ‘a whole way of life’. He was very much
aware that in any given society there is more than one
single culture, each with its own ‘ideas of the nature of
social relationship’. The coexistence of different cultures
does not mean that there cannot also be a common
culture: ‘…there is both a constant interaction between
these ways of life and an area which can properly be
described as common to or underlying both.’ While
granting the ‘vital importance’ of literature, he was instrumental in establishing a broader base for cultural studies:
‘For experience that is formally recorded we go, not only
to the rich source of literature, but also to history,
building, painting, music, philosophy, theology and social
theory, the physical theory, the physical and natural
sciences, anthropology, and indeed the whole body of
learning.’ Williams’ work is sometimes compared and
contrasted with his contemporary Richard Hoggart, who
also broadened the base of literary studies to include
popular literature. Hoggart has a warm engaging style and
a strong sympathy for working class culture, as evidenced
in his study The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class
Life with Special Reference to Publications and Entertainments
(1957).A major difference between Hoggart and Williams
is that of the nature of their political commitment.
Williams’ approach was determinedly historical and materialist and in fact he eventually described it as ‘cultural
materialism’. It was only in Marxism and Literature (1977)
that he finally identified himself as a Marxist.
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Terry Eagleton (1943–)
In Criticism and Ideology (1976), the British critic Terry
Eagleton revealed the influence of Pierre Macherey’s
concern to find the cracks and contradictions in a text. In
this early work, Eagleton was interested not in what made
a text coherent but what made it incoherent. The influence of Althusser is also evident. There may be apparent
freedom in a text but it is not free in its reflection of the
dominant ideology. In this work Eagleton analysed a
number of canonical British novels, exploring the relationships between literary form and ideology.
In the late 1970s Eagleton was greatly influenced by
poststructuralism. He came to believe that deconstructive
theories could be used to undermine all absolute forms of
knowledge, although he also rejected the deconstructive
denial of the possibility of objectivity. He now believed
that it should be the role of the critic to analyse critically
accepted notions of what constituted literature and reveal
the ideologies behind them. He thought that the critic
should interpret non-socialist works ‘against the grain’ to
reveal a socialist perspective.
Eagleton shares with Walter Benjamin an admiration
for Brecht. Benjamin admired Brecht’s own re-reading of
history ‘against the grain’, and this inspired Eagleton to
devote a whole book to Benjamin: Walter Benjamin or
Towards a Revolutionary Criticism (1981). Benjamin viewed
history as always obscuring the significance of events by
selective reactionary memory, and Brecht made audiences
see history from the perspective of the downtrodden.
Eagleton’s ideas undergo constant change. He has
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utilised the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan and
the ideas of Jacques Derrida. His own Literary Theory, An
Introduction (1983, second edition 1996) provides a witty
and perceptive analysis of major literary schools,
concluding with doubts about the very viability of literary
theory as an independent discipline. A recent book by
Eagleton, After Theory (2003), takes a whole new perspective on the future of cultural theory. I shall take up some
of these issues in my own final chapter.
Fredric Jameson
The American theorist Fredric Jameson has been greatly
influenced by the Frankfurt School. He explored Marxist
theories of literature, especially with reference to their
dialectical aspects, in his Marxism and Form (1971). He
returns, in fact, to a reconsideration of Hegel’s philosophy,
in its investigation of the part to the whole. Any object is
bound up in a larger whole, is part, for example, of a
specific historical situation.The aspects of literature that a
critic analyses must also always be seen in relation to the
critic’s own historical situation.
In The Political Unconscious (1981), Jameson retains his
earlier dialectic approach but also incorporates various
other, often conflicting modes of thought, such as structuralism and poststructuralism.The influence of Althusser
is also evident. Jameson sees ideologies as ‘strategies of
containment’, providing acceptable explanations but
suppressing contradictions. The solutions provided by
works of literature also suppress historical truths. He also
believes that the ‘story’ is an essential ‘epistemological
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category’ of the human mind.We can only understand the
world in terms of stories. Scientific, cultural and historical
accounts are all created narratives. Jameson took his title
from Freud’s concept of repression which he extends from
the individual to the collective level: ideology represses
revolutionary ideas. He provides a complex rethinking of
Marxist thought about social structure and follows the
view of Althusser that society is a ‘decentred structure’ in
which various levels retain some degree of autonomy.The
heterogeneity of society is reflected in the heterogeneity
of texts: literature is essentially a mirror of the society in
which it is produced. All kinds of interpretative methods
can be applied to a text, and will reveal something actually present in the text but each method of interpretation

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