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Literary Criticism

Walter Benjamin and Cultural Theory

The German literary theorist Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was associated with what is known as the Frankfurt School of German critical theory (although he was never a member of its institutional body, the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research). His work is… Read More ›

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Key Concepts of Georges Bataille

French philosopher, novelist, poet and essayist. Georges Bataille‘s (1897-1962) work is antisystematic and hence defies summary, but a number of important themes predominate within it. These themes include an obsessive concern with the erotic, myth, sacrifice, the nature of excess,… Read More ›

Narrative Theory

Modern Narrative Theory begins with Russian Formalism in the 1920s, specifically with the work of Roman Jakobson, Yury Tynyanov, and Viktor Shklovsky. Tynyanov combined his skills as a historical novelist with Formalism to produce, with Jakobson, Theses on Language (1928),… Read More ›

Gay Criticism

Unlike lesbian criticism, gay criticism doesn’t tend to focus on efforts to define homosexuality. Sexual relations between men, or even just the sexual desire of one man for another, is the generally accepted criterion of gayness in white middle-class America… Read More ›

Key Theories of Marshall McLuhan

Punning that one of his books was a ‘collide-oscope of interfaced situations’, the Canadian literary critic and internationally renowned media theorist, Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980), also hints at how his conceptual terrain needs to be viewed: through multiple lenses that bring different… Read More ›

Key Theories of Gayatri Spivak

A focus on Gayatri Spivak’s education and intellectual trajectory reveals a lifelong commitment to literary-critical studies alongside genuine political engagement. Spivak was born in Calcutta, India in 1942; she later attended Presidency College at the University of Calcutta. After graduating… Read More ›

Key Theories of Paul Ricoeur

Two different traditions in the study of language and philosophy come together magisterially in Paul Ricoeur’s (1913–2005) study The Rule of Metaphor (1975; trans. 1977), with Anglo-American and ‘French’ approaches thereby brought into dialogue. While there is much talk of transdisciplinary… Read More ›

Key Theories of Slavoj Zizek

The Slovenian Lacanian Hegelian Slavoj Zizek  (1949– ) is the contemporary dialectician par excellence; the mapping of his identity via the three descriptors that open this sentence, which can be variously positioned and re-positioned, is one way of temporarily locating him…. Read More ›

Key Theories of Michel Foucault

Over three decades after his death, Michel Foucault’s (1920–1984) legacy continues to impact upon the humanities. Key phrases and concepts drawn from Foucault’s historical work now form part of the everyday language of criticism and analysis. Foucault’s texts continue to resonate… Read More ›

Julia Kristeva and the Semanalysis

Kristeva first came into prominence for her work on Bakhtin  Seeking to counter the “necrophilia”as (Kristeva called it) of phenomenology and structural linguistics, she suggested “semanalysis,” a portmanteau term derived from semiology (Saussure) and psychoanalysis (Freud) to address an element… Read More ›

Hermeneutics

The term “hermeneutics”, a Latinized version of the Greek “hermeneutice” has been part of common Ianguage from the beginning of the 17th Century. Nevertheless, its history stretches back to ancient philosophy. Addressing the understanding of religious intuitions, Plato used this… Read More ›

New Historicism

A critical approach developed in the 1980s in the writings of Stephen Greenblatt, New Historicism is characterised by a parallel reading of a text with its socio-cultural and historical conditions, which form the co-text. New Historians rejected the fundamental tenets… Read More ›

Radical and Lesbian Feminism

Contemporary lesbian feminism and action owes greatly to the thoughts of Adrienne Rich who argued that “compulsory heterosexuality” ensured a woman’s continuous subjugation by continually privileging man’s needs. She points out that such an ideology forces the girl/daughter to turn… Read More ›

Ecriture Feminine

Introduced by Helene Cixous in her essay, The Laugh of the Medusa, ecriture feminine refers to a uniquely feminine style of writing characterised by disruptions in the text, such as gaps, silences, puns, new images and so on. It is… Read More ›

Feminism: An Essay

Feminism as a movement gained potential in the twentieth century, marking the culmination of two centuries’ struggle for cultural roles and socio-political rights — a struggle which first found its expression in Mary Wollstonecraft‘s Vindication of the Rights of Woman… Read More ›

Lacan’s Concept of Mirror Stage

Lacan‘s reinterpretation of Freud, with the central focus on language, brought about a post-structuralist turn to psychoanalytic theory. In his paper titled Mirror Stage (1949), Lacan expounds the concept of the mirror stage that occurs between 6-18 months of a child’s development, when… Read More ›

Lacanian Psychoanalysis

The aura created by the Freudian interpretations reached its zenith when the French Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (propelled into this arena by his reading of Freud and Salvador Dali) achieved a place in the literary critical canon. The linguistic, philosophical and… Read More ›

Culture Industry

The Frankfurt School theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer produced an incisive critique of modern culture through their work The Dialectic of Enlightenment, in which they introduced the term “Culture industry,” to describe mass cultural forms which, in the wake… Read More ›

Louis Althusser: ISA and RSA

Althusser is a structuralist Marxist. This should make you ask: How can that be? How can you combine Marxism, which relies on social/historical analysis, with structuralism, which relies on ahistorical/asocial analysis? Althusser answers that initially with distinction between ideologies (historical/social)… Read More ›

Althusserian Marxism

Louis Althusser combined Marxism with the scientifically oriented methods of Structuralism in his essay, Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses (1970) and analysed how the dominant systems enforce their control by subtly moulding their subjects through ideology. Ideology has been… Read More ›

Mimicry in Postcolonial Theory

An increasingly important term in post-colonial theory, because it has come to describe the ambivalent relationship between colonizer and colonized. When colonial discourse encourages the colonized subject to ‘mimic’ the colonizer, by adopting the colonizer’s cultural habits, assumptions, institutions and… Read More ›

Strategic Essentialism

Gayatri Spivak, in Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography, posits that although essentialism is highly problematic for the knowledge it creates about the “other”, there is sometimes a political and social need for what she calls “strategic essentialism.” Spivak uses this term… Read More ›

Subaltern (Postcolonialism)

In the last two decades of the 20th century, Subaltern Studies, postcolonial theory and criticism gained momentum, especially, as a corollary to globalisation in the Third World countries. If postcolonial criticism is taken as an offshoot of postmodernism, subaltern studies… Read More ›

Postcolonialism

A critical analysis of the history, culture, literature and modes of discourse on the Third World countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean Islands and South America, postcolonialism concerns itself with the study of the colonization (which began as early as… Read More ›

Historiographic Metafiction

A term originally coined by Linda Hutcheon, in A Poetics of Postmodernism, historiographic metafiction includes those postmodern works, usually popular novels, which are “both intensely self-reflexive and paradoxically lay claim to historical events and personages”. This is categorically a postmodern… Read More ›

Historiography

The postmodern idea of history repudiates the humanist notion that it corresponds faithfully to reality and asserts that it is textual and mediated in order to validate power centres. Thus, while “history” deals with the past, “historiography” deals with the… Read More ›

Postmodernism

Postmodernism broadly refers to a socio-cultural and literary theory, and a shift in perspective that has manifested in a variety of disciplines including the social sciences, art, architecture, literature, fashion, communications, and technology. It is generally agreed that the postmodern… Read More ›

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