The Literary Theory Toolkit: A Compendium of Concepts and Methods

The Literary Theory Toolkit: A Compendium of Concepts and Methods

The Literary Theory Toolkit: A Compendium of Concepts and Methods

The Literary Theory Toolkit: A Compendium of Concepts and Methods

Synopsis

The Literary Theory Toolkit offers readers a rich compendium of key terms, concepts, and arguments necessary for the study of literature in a critical-theoretical context.
  • Includes varied examples drawn from readily available literary texts spanning all periods and genres
  • Features a chapter on performance, something not usually covered in similar texts
  • Covers differing theories of the public sphere, ideology, power, and the social relations necessary for the understanding of approaches to literature

Excerpt

What we call literary criticism has traditionally been the study of literary texts by readers with special competencies in the study of writings by major authors. These competencies include detailed knowledge of the author’s life and times, excellent competence in the language within which an author has written, and knowledge of disciplines relevant to an author’s work, for example, religion, philosophy, or psychology. In addition, the literary critic has expertise in reading a wide range of authors from a number of different historical periods and therefore is familiar with literary conventions (standard practices), allusions (cultural references), and genres (literary types). Literary critics are also expert in the study of literary devices like metaphor, metonymy, irony, and paradox, which they may see as significant to the patterning or structure of literary works. Most importantly, however, literary critics are intuitive readers who perceive semantic and syntactic implications that escape notice by most others and use these implications to develop suggestive and coherent interpretations. In and of themselves such forms of literary critical expertise do not make up any kind of theory, since they just represent an ensemble of practices that literary critics have found useful in literary analysis.

When literary critics talk about literary theory, they are referring to a critical analytic that is aware of itself as a methodology and that is capable of self-reflexively calling its own assumptions into question. Theory has its roots in the methodological study of interpretation that goes back at least as far as Aristotle’s treatise “Of Interpretation,” though unquestionably this was hardly its inception. Interpretation theory asks the question of how we can know the difference between a true and a false interpretation, a reading that is good from one that is bad. How do we know we are construing meanings accurately? What are the limits of inferring meanings or developing textual implications? How do we know that a sentence is to be taken . . .

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