Benha University Faculty of ArtsEnglish Department : 4th Grade Compiled by : Muhammad Sabry Abd-ElHady
What do we mean by literary criticism?• Literary criticism is the evaluation, analysis and interpretation of a piece of literature. That is the technical, academic explanation. Essentially, it is a means of describing how a piece of literature moves the reader. There are several literary criticism theories, dating back from 360 B.C .to the present, with just a few of the major modern ones. For all its shortcomings, literary criticism still provides the poet with the tools for self-evaluation and self-improvement. It introduces work of periods and cultures different in theme and treatment.• Literary criticism comes in various shapes and aims. At best it poses searching questions of the writer, and insists that he understands how the arts, the sciences and philosophy have different but coexisting concepts of truth and meaning. Art in the end cannot be divorced from contemporary life, and that consideration leads on to literary theory.•
Literary theory• Literary theory in a strict sense is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for analyzing literature. However, literary scholarship since the 19th century often includes—in addition to, or even instead of literary theory in the strict sense—considerations of intellectual history, moral philosophy, social prophecy, and other interdisciplinary themes which are of relevance to the way humans interpret meaning In humanities in modern academia, the latter style of scholarship is an outgrowth of critical theory and is often called simply "theory.” As a consequence, the word "theory" has become an umbrella term for a variety of scholarly approaches to reading texts. Many of these approaches are informed by various strands of Continental philosophy and sociology.
Here • What are the approaches of criticism?Traditional approachNew Criticism/Formalism Deconstruction TheoryCultural approachPsychological approach Eco-CriticismFeminism AnthropologicalStructuralismMarxism BiographicalReader-Response Criticism NarratologicalPost-Colonial CriticismNew Historicism Semiotics
Traditional approach• Though perhaps Edwardian in style, this approach — essentially one of trying to broaden understanding and appreciation — is still used in general surveys of English literature. There is usually some information on the writer and his times, and a little illustration, but no close analysis of the individual work or its aims.• Traditional criticism would like to reflect upon the way a literary text deals with ethical issues of human behaviour, the moral question also in its social angularities. It also explores the philosophical function of literature i.e. how it looks at the human condition, questions of mortality, psychic and social processes, the human temperament and so on. Important critics in this tradition will be Bradley, the Shakespeare- stalwart, F.R.Leavis, the Marxists critics--Raymond Williams and so on.• The traditional criticism approach examines you examine how the author’s life, his/her biographical information, contemporary times and effect of his life circumstances on his inspiration and their reflection in his works.
Formalism• Formalism is a school of literary criticism and literary theory having mainly to do with structural purposes of a particular text.• This approach regards literature as “a unique form of human knowledge that needs to be examined on its own terms.” All the elements necessary for understanding the work are contained within the work itself. Of particular interest to the formalist critic are the elements of form—style, structure, tone, imagery, etc.— that are found within the text. A primary goal for formalist critics is to determine how such elements work together with the text’s content to shape its effects upon readers.• The formalist approach: literary analysis: what the work means (theme) and how it conveys its meaning (style); the relation of theme to style. Good work is one that is interesting because it conveys meaning in an interesting way, an intriguing way to say the "same old thing" (Pope: "True wit is Nature to advantage dressed. . .")
Formalism• New Criticism arose in opposition to biographical or vaguely impressionistic approaches• It sought to establish literary studies as an objective discipline• Its desire to reveal organic unity in complex texts may be historically determined, reflective of early 20th century critics seeking a lost order or in conflict with an increasingly fragmented society• Assumptions Texts possess meaning in and of themselves; therefore, analyses should emphasize intrinsic meaning over extrinsic meaning (verbal sense over significance in E.D. Hirschs view)• The best readers are those who look most closely at the text and are familiar with literary conventions and have an ample command of the language• Meaning within the text is context-bound. This means that readers must be ready to show how the parts of the text relate to form a whole.• The test of excellence in literature: the extent to which the work manifests organic unity• The best interpretations are those which seek out ambiguities in the text and then resolve these ambiguities as a part of demonstrating the organic unity of the text
Cultural approach• In combating old definitions of what constitutes culture, of course, cultural critics sometimes end up combating old definitions of what constitutes the literary canon, that is, the once-agreed- upon honor roll of Great Books. They tend to do so, however, neither by adding books (and movies and television sitcoms) to the old list of texts that every "culturally literate" person should supposedly know, nor by substituting for it some kind of Counterculture Canon. Rather, they tend to combat the canon by critiquing the very idea of canon. Cultural critics want to get us away from thinking about certain works as the "best" ones produced by a given culture (and therefore as the novels that best represent American culture). They seek to be more descriptive and less evaluative, more interested in relating than rating cultural products and events.
Psychological approach• Using the theories of a particular psychoanalytic thinker (Freud, Adler, Jung, Lacan), these critics see the text as if it were a kind of dream. This means that the text hides, represses its real content behind manifest content. Dream work involves (Freud) condensation, displacement. The interpreter must make his or her way through the literal level to the symbolic import, the meaning the writer cannot say overtly because it would be too painful. As one critic puts it, "a psychological criticism notices patterns of language beneath the surface and understands the verbal play as if the text were a patient recalling more than she/he realizes." (Schwarz 116)• Such a critic may:• See the text as an expression of the secret, repressed life of its author, explaining the textual features as symbolic of psychological struggles in the writer. This was popular before 1950 and is termed psychobiography. Such a critic more often used Freudian theory as a theoretical templates.• Look not to the author but to characters in the text, applying psychoanalytical theory to explain their hidden motives or psychological makeup. Such a critic might use theoretical templates such as Freudian, Adlerian, Lacanian psychoanalysis, among others.• Look at ways in which specific readers reveal their own obsessions, neuroses, etc. as they read a particular text. Hollands Five Readers Reading exemplifies this approach. This would be an example in which Reader-Response (subjective type) critics use psychoanalysis in their interpretations.
Feminism• Feminist Criticism analyzes text through the lens of how women have historically been portrayed in literature. It examines the political, social and economic subjugation of women in society. It further looks at how the characters, the dialogue, the events and resolution of a piece of literature can serve to either reinforce or challenge stereotypical representations of women.• Feminist Criticism examine works by and about women. Gender Criticism evolved out of feminism to address issues of masculinity/femininity as binaries, sexual orientation, heterosexism, and differences in sexes. Both are political activities concerned with fair representation and treatment of people. A critic using Feminist Studies or Gender Studies (sometimes also known as Queer Studies) might ask, "How is gender constructed or deconstructed in this text? Is the view of the text gendered or sexist?"• Feminist criticism is concerned with the impact of gender on writing and reading. It usually begins with a critique of patriarchal culture. It is concerned with the place of female writers in the cannon. Finally, it includes a search for a feminine theory or approach to texts. Feminist criticism is political and often revisionist. Feminists often argue that male fears are portrayed through female characters. They may argue that gender determines everything, or just the opposite: that all gender differences are imposed by society, and gender determines nothing.
Structuralism• The structural critical analysis studies symmetry, trends and patterns for a particular society or for a societal comparative analysis. of various societies. underlying patterns of symmetry which are held to be common to all societies. Corroboration is drawn from sociology and anthropology, and the study techniques categorize and evaluate the work in larger context rather than assessing its quality alone.• Structuralism: Structuralists view literature as a system of signs. They try to make plain the organizational codes that they believe regulate all literature. The most famous practitioner is Michael Foucault.
Marxism• Marxism is concerned with labor practices, class theories, and economics, especially as concerned with the struggles of the poor and oppressed. A Marxist might ask, "How are classes stratified/defined in this text? Does this text reflect an economic ideology? What is the attitude toward labor furthered by this text?“• In case of the Marxist critical analysis, poetry is analyzed on the basis of its political correctness and calls for mention of support for workers against capitalist exploitation and perils of free market perils.
Reader-Response Criticism• Reader-Response Criticism is about interpreting a piece of literature not solely on the merits of the piece of literature but rather as an interaction between the reader and the piece of literature. The readers reaction, how the piece affects the reader, is taken into consideration when interpreting a piece. Essentially what this theory means is that the text itself has meaning and the interaction between the reader and the text also carries meaning. The interpretation in Reader-Response Criticism lies between the intersection of these two sets of meaning when evaluating a text.• Reader-Response Criticism: Studies the interaction of reader with text, holding the text as incomplete until it is read. This critical approach can be, and often is, combined with other approaches (such as Psychoanalytical and Historical) but challenges the self- contained focus of New Criticism or the claim of meaninglessness embraced by Post-Structuralism.
Post-Colonial Criticism• Post-Colonial Criticism examines works written by colonial powers and its subjects. Post-Colonial Criticism considers many lenses through which to evaluate a piece---including politics, power, culture, language and religion. A seminal piece often used in teaching this theory is Chinua Achebes "Things Fall Apart," about his native Nigerias experience of colonialism. This theory fleshes out what it means to be colonized on a social level, and even more closely, on an individual level, exploring how colonialism shapes and affects identity.
New Historicism• For New Historicists, a piece of literature is shaped by the time period in which it was written and thus must be examined and interpreted in the context of that time period. This theory attempts to tie the characters, events and language in a piece of literature to events from the time period in which it was written. It also looks at mainstream and marginalized populations as well as traditional and subversive discourses of the era when interpreting a text. New Historicists also take into consideration political and cultural events that the author lived through. All of these various pieces, along with the time period the piece of literature is set in, are part of the interpretation process for New Historicists.• (New) Historicism: May approach a text from numerous perspectives, but all perspectives tend to reflect a concern with the period in which a text is produced and/or read (including contemporary work). No "history" can be truly objective or comprehensive because history is constantly written and rewritten; however, studying the historical context of a work, particularly in contrast with that in which it is read, can illuminate our biases and hopefully enable us to understand the text (and the culture, context, ourselves) better. New Historicism is concerned with relating the idea of a text to other key concepts: culture, discourse, ideology, the self, and history. New Historicists examine intersections of text, reader, and history and with a special emphasis on literature as a cultural text. New Historicists also examine the relationship of literature to the power structures of society.
Deconstruction Theory• Deconstruction Theory is about shifting the center of a piece from the author outward, to the reader and the pieces deeper meaning for society. It removes the author as the authoritative voice on a piece to those reading and interpreting the piece. In this vein, it has much in common with Reader-Response Criticism. Where this theory differs from other theories is that it looks at a very unique aspect of a text---it analyzes what was left out of a text and how that influences the piece as much as what was actually written into a piece.• This approach assumes that language does not refer to any external reality. It can assert several, contradictory interpretations of one text. Deconstructionists make interpretations based on the political or social implications of language rather than examining an authors intention. Jacques Derrida was the founder of this school of criticism.
Eco-Criticism• Ecocriticism is the study of literature and environment from an interdisciplinary point of view where all sciences come together to analyze the environment and brainstorm possible solutions for the correction of the contemporary environmental situation. Ecocriticism was officially heralded by the publication of two seminal works,[ both published in the mid-1990s: The Ecocriticism Reader, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, and The Environmental Imagination, by Lawrence Buell.• In the United States, eco-criticism is often associated with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE),[ which hosts biennial meetings for scholars who deal with environmental matters in literature. ASLE publishes a journal—Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE)—in which current American scholarship can be found.• Ecocriticism is an intentionally broad approach that is known by a number of other designations, including "green (cultural) studies", "ecopoetics", and "environmental literary criticism".• Eco-criticism as an academic discipline began in earnest in the 1990s, although its roots go back to the late 1970s. Because it is a new area of study, scholars are still engaged in defining the scope and aims of the subject. Cheryll Glotfelty, one of the pioneers in the field, has defined eco-criticism as “the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment,” and Laurence Buell says that this study must be “conducted in a spirit of commitment to environmentalist praxis.” David Mazel declares it is the analysis of literature “as though nature mattered.” This study, it is argued, cannot be performed without a keen understanding of the environmental crises of modern times and thus must inform personal and political actions; it is, in a sense, a form of activism. Many critics also emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of the enquiry, which is informed by ecological science, politics, ethics, womens studies, Native American studies, and history, among other academic fields. The term “eco-criticism” was coined in 1978 by William Rueckert in his essay “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism.” Interest in the study of nature writing and with reading literature with a focus on “green” issues grew through the 1980s, and by the early 1990s eco-criticism had emerged as a recognizable discipline within literature departments of American universities.
Anthropological• Tends to focus on aspects of everyday life in various cultures (i.e. folklore, ritual, celebrations, traditions). You might ask, "What is the everyday social function of this text? How has it been transmitted (orally/written)? Does it reflect• Central Sociological/Anthropological Questions:• What sort of society does the author describe? (How is it set up? What rules are there? What happens to people who break them? Who enforces the rules?)• What does the writer seem to like or dislike about this society?• What changes do you think the writer would like to make in the society? And how can you tell?• What sorts of pressures does the society put on its members? How do the members respond to this pressure?• folk culture?"
Biographical• Relates the authors life and thoughts to her works. As these tend to reflect the period in which she lived, biographical criticism may be an important aspect of the (New) Historical approach (see below). The biographical approach allows one to better understand elements within a work, as well as to relate works to authorial intention and audience. You might ask, "How does the text reflect the authors life? Is this text an extension of the authors position on issues in the authors life?"• Biographical criticism has two weaknesses that should be avoided. First, avoid equating the works content with the authors life (or the character with the author); they are not necessarily the same. Second, avoid less-than-credible sources of information, particularly works that tend to be highly speculative or controversial unless verified by several sources. (Some of the recent biographies on Thomas Jefferson might serve as an example of this pitfall.)
Narratological• Concerns itself with the structure of narrative-- how events are constructed and through what point of view. You might ask, "How is the narrative of this work (fiction, poetry, film) pieced together? Who or what is narrating?" This considers the narrator not necessarily as a person, but more as a window through which one sees a constructed reality. This can range from someone telling a tale to a seemingly objective camera: "To what extent is the narrative mediated?"
Semiotics• Critiques the use of language, preferably in texts that comment on the nature of language (see Structuralism). To the semiotician, language is an arbitrary but shared system of assigned meanings. You might ask, "How does this text critique language? Does it break the rules of language usage? Why?" Or if the text doesnt seem to comment on its own language, "How does the language used reflect an unawareness of language as an ideological tool?"
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