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List of literary theories

After school, I learned to read literature on my own -- more to be entertained, and no longer out of fear of flunking my Humanities subjects with all the assigned readings. I came to that point when I discovered that reading essays, short stories, novels, poems, and even plays gave pleasure that could not be had from other forms of entertainment (sports, TV, movies, watching goldfish in an aquarium, etc.) I discovered that there was something beautiful in the way words were strung together, phrases turned out, ideas expressed, insights revealed, stories told, worldviews exposed, and moral codes subtly indoctrinated by writers who I slowly learned to refer to with fondness and respect as "wordsmiths" or even "artists." Eventually I learned to read a text not only for the germ of thought it contained but how it told/expressed its central idea. I even learned to appreciate or consider who or what was saying it and when and where, because these factors all mattered to me, whether in a major or minor, blatant or subtle, way. It came to me as well that a written work was like all of art: It could be seen in different ways, depending on who was looking. It could be seen in two or more different ways at the same time, with each way of seeing valid in its own way. I also learned not to scoff at a given work just because it was hard to understand; I noticed that there was virtue in giving allowance to the possibility that I was encountering a new invention, a new way of seeing things and expressing it in a new language. But I surely was offended if I sensed that a given text put too much attention on form or called too much attention to its writer. I quit such work the same way that I quit unengaging or mediocre or derivative ones. Today, as a devoted reader (and a wannabe writer), I often prefer straightforward stories but I am open to the same stories told in a different way. Ideas are not the only ones that matter to me. Style does too. Strategy or organizational structure does. Tone does. 'Voice' does. Uniqueness matters. And oftentimes, these subordinate things turn out to be what largely matters. After all, as in Ecclesiastes 1:9-14, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Sometimes, I get lucky and learn to appreciate new ideas or themes that require new ways of expressions as well, and that is certainly a moment of triumph for me, the reward of encountering a new work of art, i.e., a new genre, a new exciting trend in the art of appreciating the beauty of the written word. Ultimately, I have learned that the written word, just like in all of art, appreciation is a matter of personal taste, not so much along the terms of good vs bad as taste that corresponds to one's personality type and set of preferences. A style or approach that may be captivating to someone may be quite an unnerving experience to another. In giving wide reading a try, I have learned to give writers, and my fellow readers, some respect.

It should, therefore, not be so surprising for me to give allowance to each of the ideas that literary artists and critics have each espoused down the ages, particularly the allowance that they could all be telling something truthful or right, that they might be shedding some light on at least one facet of reality, the reality of the written word. ** The following is an exercise of distilling the undistillable, I know, but let me try it anyway because it's fun, and I personally need to learn and relearn these ideas because I'm a parttime English tutor and thus a student of language for life. Wikipedia has, of course, already done the formidable task of listing down all the known major theories in literature and literary appreciation (aka criticism); what is new here is my own attempt at putting each theory in my own words, hopefully in one-liners that the common reader will easily grasp. (I repeat, these are my own definitions, unless otherwise cited.) How I wish I could make this list a timeline instead, but no resource is available online so far, one complete with year figures. (I am certainly coveting that Terry Eagleton book.) Aestheticism - Literature should be (emotionally) moving to have an "aesthetic value." American Pragmatism and other American approaches - Literature may be read in terms of its practical value. Archetypal/Mythic - Literature is but the continuing chronicle (or repeated narrative) of mythic models (i.e,. archetypes learned by our species through the "collective unconscious" (Jung)) in various incarnations. Autobiographical Theory - A work may be seen as autobiographical in nature and hence highly subjective, i.e., lacking objectivity. Avant-Garde/Surrealism/Dadaism - Literature is meant to shock; for this purpose, it may be absurd, surreal, nihilistic, meaningless, and/or random. Cognitive Cultural Studies - Literature may be reducible into the mysterious and expansive working of the neurons in the brain of a given author writing from his/her own cultural milieu. Cultural Studies - Literature is judged according to its role or use (from practical to profound) in the daily life of a given culture. Comparative Literature - As the term implies, literature may be compared and/or contrasted, i.e., read side by side similar works in other languages or cultures, for it (or its significance) to be appreciated fully.

Darwinian - Readings may be done using Charles Darwin's glasses: through the theories of evolution and natural selection. Deconstruction (see also Postmodernism) - A more specific term thanPostmodernism, it means a text may be closely read in terms of how the author's words and ideas prove to be ultimately vague due to the resulting contradictions/inconsistencies/dissonance. Eco-criticism - A work may be viewed in terms of the ecological soundness (or lack thereof) of the place or the beliefs and ideas of its characters. Existentialism - Literature is but the search for meaning and truth as a source of solace in a world without both. Formalism (see New Criticism) - Literature may be appreciated/interpreted and judged/evaluated purely in terms of its grammar, style, and use of literary devices, i.e., without regard for the author's biography (personal/historical background). Gender/Feminism - Literature may be reinterpreted as a battle of the sexes, or a reaction to or result of oppressive patriarchy or male chauvinism. Genre Criticism - Literature may be judged in terms of its strength as a literary genre (short story, novel, poem, etc.). German Hermeneutics and Philology - See Phenomenology and Hermeneutics Historicism/Traditional - A work should be read in conjunction with the author's biography and psychology and his/her oeuvre's position in (or in relation to) the whole of literary canon/history. Marxism - Literature is but a reflection of the unendingly irreconcilable and ongoing class struggle (ruling class vs proletariat) in society or the working class's dream of a way out of oppression or dream of realizing their own version of Utopia. Modernism - An umbrella term to cover all literary movements beyond or after theTraditional. New Criticism - A reaction to Tradition, it espouses the thought that a work may be interpreted or judged purely from what is apparent in the text; it has no consideration of what is outside the text or the author's biographical context. New Historicism/Cultural Poetics - A reaction against New Criticism, it brings back the role of backgrounders/history in viewing a work but with a far more suspicious view of history, the narration of which it views with much skepticism.

Phenomenology and Hermeneutics - Literature is to be read not for pleasure but for revelation (insight?); for this purpose, it is to be analyzed as a sum of its parts and as parts of a unified whole. Postcolonialism - Literature is but a reflection of national/ethnic struggles against the invading imperialist. Postmodernism - A (negative) reaction to Modernism, it means a text may be reinterpreted, with the reader being skeptical of the ways it has been interpreted before. Poststructuralism (related to Deconstruction and Postmodernism) - A reaction against Structuralism, it means a text may be interpreted beyond the text, i.e., beyond its construction within a given culture. Psychoanalysis - The text can be read as an author's unresolved issues in life, resulting in his/her neurosis evident in the work. Queer Theory - The text may be read in terms of the author's struggle with his (insecure or confused) gender identity. Reader Response - Literature may be judged according to how the reader perceives it, instead of what the author intends. Russian Formalism/Prague Linguistic Circle/Linguistic Criticism/Dialogism Literature is "a special class of language, a poetical language as opposed to ordinary language" From: http://www.kristisiegel.com/theory.htm#russian Structuralism and Semiotics - A work may be interpreted in terms of its definite position in the cultural structure it was written in. Or, A work may be read in terms of its component signs or cultural symbols. Travel Theory - A work may be read as a travelog, each setting a travel destination in place and time with all its attractions or points of interest, in comparison with other travel destinations.