Contemporary Literary Theory

Contemporary Literary Theory

Contemporary Literary Theory

Contemporary Literary Theory

Excerpt

G. DOUGLAS ATKINS

Introduction: Literary Theory, Critical Practice, and the Classroom

The good critic cannot stop with studying poetry, he must also study poetics. If he thinks he must puritanically abstain from all indulgence in the theory, the good critic may have to be a good little critic. . . . Theory, which is expectation, always determines criticism, and never more than when it is unconscious. The reputed condition of no-theory in the critic's mind is illusory.

John Crowe Ransom, The World's Body

One would expect that our libraries would be full of works on the theory of interpretation, the diagnosis of linguistic situations, systematic ambiguity and the function of symbols. . . . {But} there is no other human activity for which theory bears so small a proportion to practice. Even the theory of football has been more thoroughly inquired into.

I. A. Richards, Practical Criticism

Mere reading, it turns out, prior to any theory, is able to transform critical discourse in a manner that would appear deeply subversive to those who think of the teaching of literature as a substitute for the teaching of theology, ethics, psychology, or intellectual history.

Paul de Man, The Return to Philology

Taken together, the three quotations above are meant to suggest the unsettling nature of theory. That is, unlike the "cold pastoral" of Keats Grecian urn, which "teases us out of thought," theory makes us think, forcing us to examine our assumptions; it thus constitutes, contrary to our . . .

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