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Literary Theory

Reader Response Criticism: An Essay

Reader Response, primarily a German and American offshoot of literary theory, emerged (prominent since 1960s) in the West mainly as a reaction to the textual emphasis of New Criticism of the 1940s. New Criticism, the culmination of liberal humanist ideals,… Read More ›

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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 ›

Feminist Critique of Freud

Freud had been widely discredited by early second wave feminists including Simone de Beauvoir, Kate Millett and Germaine Greer. Millett, in particular, had persuasively argued that Freudian theory worked to perpetuate sexual difference and reinforce the belief that inferiority was… 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 ›

Modernist Use of Myth

In an age that was wrought with scientism, technology and loss of spirituality, many of the major modernist writers realised and asserted the employment of integrative mythology in order to give “shape and significance” to the contemporary fragmented reality. The… Read More ›

Decanonisation

In the wake on Postmodernist critique of modernism and liberal humanism, and with the vogue of Derridean deconstruction and decentering of the subject/centre, the Western canon of “great” books, not only in literature but in all areas of humanistic study, has… Read More ›

The Yale Critics

The Yale School is the name given to an influential group of literary critics, theorists, and philosophers of literature who were influenced by Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction. Many of the theorists were affiliated with Yale University in the late… Read More ›

Aporia

The word “aporia” originally came from Greek which, in philosophy, meant a philosophical puzzle or state of being in puzzle, and a rhetorically useful expression of doubt. In contemporary theoretical parlance, the term has more been associated with deconstructive criticism,… Read More ›

Deconstruction

Deconstruction involves the close reading of texts in order to demonstrate that any given text has irreconcilably contradictory meanings, rather than being a unified, logical whole. As J. Hillis Miller, the preeminent American deconstructionist, has explained in an essay entitled Stevens’… Read More ›

Derrida’s Notion of the Centre

Decentering in poststructuralism is a consequence of Derrida’s critique of binary oppositions, especially of speech/writing, where he accused Saussure of privileging speech over writing, owing to the presence, and authority of the speaker. Terming it as phonocentrism, which is a manifestation… Read More ›

Poststructuralism

The second half of the twentieth century, with its torturous experiences of the World Wars, Holocaust and the advent of new technologies, witnessed revolutionary developments in literary theory that were to undermine several of the established notions of Western literary… Read More ›

Myth Criticism of Northrop Frye

Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism (1957) introduced the archetypal approach called Myth Criticism, combining the typological interpretation of the Bible and the conception of imagination prevalent in the writings of William Blake. Frye continued the formalist emphasis of New Criticism… Read More ›

Structuralist Narratology 

Espoused by Tzvetan Todorov and Roland Barthes, Structuralist Narratology illustrates how a story’s meaning develops from its overall structure (the langue) rather than from each individual story’s isolated theme (the parole). According to Aristotle, all narratives develop longitudinally, from beginning to… Read More ›

Semiotics/ Semiology

A highly influential branch of study, Semiotics or the study of signs, can be considered the foundation for literary theory. Many of the revolutionary theories of the twentieth century, such as Structuralism and Poststructuralism, Structural Anthropology (Levi-Strauss), Psychoanalysis (Lacan), Cultural… Read More ›

Linguistic Sign

Announcing a revolutionary change in the study of language, which had been hitherto philological, Saussure with his Course in General Linguistics (1916), introduced Structural Linguistics, which considers language as a system of signs constructed by cultural conventions. Constituting of a… Read More ›

Saussurean Structuralism

Saussure introduced Structuralism in Linguistics, marking a revolutionary break in the study of language, which had till then been historical and , philological. In his Course in General Linguistics (1916), Saussure saw language as a system of signs constructed by… Read More ›

Structuralism

The advent of critical theory in the post-war period, which comprised various complex disciplines like linguistics, literary criticism, Psychoanalytic Criticism, Structuralism, Postcolonialism etc., proved hostile to the liberal consensus which reigned the realm of criticism between the 1930s and `50s. Among… Read More ›

Connotation and Denotation

Connotation and Denotation are crucial concepts in Semiotics, Structuralism, Marxism, Cultural Studies and in the entire realm of literary and cultural theory. Denotation refers to the primary signification or reference – the definitional, literal, obvious meaning of a sign. In… Read More ›

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