A literary movement that started in the late 1920s and 1930s and originated in reaction to traditional criticism that new critics saw as largely concerned with matters extraneous to the text, e.g., with the biography or psychology of the author or the work’s relationship to literary history. New Criticism proposed that a work of literary art should be regarded as autonomous, and so should not be judged by reference to considerations beyond itself. A poem consists less of a series of referential and verifiable statements about the ‘real’ world beyond it, than of the presentation and sophisticated organization of a set of complex experiences in a verbal form (Hawkes, pp. 150-151). Major figures of New Criticism include I. A. Richards, T. S. Eliot, Cleanth Brooks, David Daiches, William Empson, Murray Krieger, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, F. R. Leavis, Robert Penn Warren, W. K. Wimsatt, R. P. Blackmur, Rene Wellek, Ausin Warren, and Ivor Winters.
A form of criticism based largely on the works of C. G. Jung (YOONG) and Joseph Campbell (and myth itself). Some of the school’s major figures include Robert Graves, Francis Fergusson, Philip Wheelwright, Leslie Fiedler, Northrop Frye, Maud Bodkin, and G. Wilson Knight. These critics view the genres and individual plot patterns of literature, including highly sophisticated and realistic works, as recurrences of certain archetypes and essential mythic formulae. Archetypes, according to Jung, are “primordial images”; the “psychic residue” of repeated types of experience in the lives of very ancient ancestors which are inherited in the “collective unconscious” of the human race and are expressed in myths, religion, dreams, and private fantasies, as well as in the works of literature (Abrams, p. 10, 112). Some common examples of archetypes include water, sun, moon, colors, circles, the Great Mother, Wise Old Man, etc. In terms of archetypal criticism, the color white might be associated with innocence or could signify death or the supernatural.
The application of specific psychological principles (particularly those of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan [zhawk lawk-KAWN]) to the study of literature. Psychoanalytic criticism may focus on the writer’s psyche, the study of the creative process, the study of psychological types and principles present within works of literature, or the effects of literature upon its readers (Wellek and Warren, p. 81). In addition to Freud and Lacan, major figures include Shoshona Felman, Jane Gallop, Norman Holland, George Klein, Elizabeth Wright, Frederick Hoffman, and, Simon Lesser.
A sociological approach to literature that viewed works of literature or art as the products of historical forces that can be analyzed by looking at the material conditions in which they were formed. In Marxist ideology, what we often classify as a world view (such as the Victorian age) is actually the articulations of the dominant class. Marxism generally focuses on the clash between the dominant and repressed classes in any given age and also may encourage art to imitate what is often termed an “objective” reality.
Contemporary Marxism is much broader in its focus, and views art as simultaneously reflective and autonomous to the age in which it was produced. The Frankfurt School is also associated with Marxism (Abrams, p. 178, Childers and Hentzi, pp. 175-179). Major figures include Karl Marx, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams, Louis Althusser (ALT-whos-sair), Walter Benjamin (ben-yeh-MEEN), Antonio Gramsci (GRAWM-shee), Georg Lukacs (lou-KOTCH), and Friedrich Engels, Theordor Adorno (a-DOR-no), Edward Ahern, Gilles Deleuze (DAY-looz) and Felix Guattari (GUAT-eh-ree
Literally, postcolonialism refers to the period following the decline of colonialism, e.g., the end or lessening of domination by European empires. Although the term postcolonialism generally refers to the period after colonialism, the distinction is not always made. In its use as a critical approach, postcolonialism refers to “a collection of theoretical and critical strategies used to examine the culture (literature, politics, history, and so forth) of former colonies of the European empires, and their relation to the rest of the world” (Makaryk 155 – see General Resources below). Among the many challenges facing postcolonial writers are the attempt both to resurrect their culture and to combat preconceptions about their culture. Edward Said, for example, uses the word Orientalism to describe the discourse about the East constructed by the West. Major figures include Edward Said (sah-EED), Homi Bhabha (bah-bah), Frantz Fanon (fah-NAWN), Gayatri Spivak, Chinua Achebe (ah-CHAY-bay) , Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie, Jamaica Kincaid, and Buchi Emecheta
Existentialism is a philosophy (promoted especially by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus) that views each person as an isolated being who is cast into an alien universe, and conceives the world as possessing no inherent human truth, value, or meaning. A person’s life, then, as it moves from the nothingness from which it came toward the nothingness where it must end, defines an existence which is both anguished and absurd (Guerin). In a world without sense, all choices are possible, a situation which Sartre viewed as human beings central dilemma: “Man [woman] is condemned to be free.” In contrast to atheist existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard theorized that belief in God (given that we are provided with no proof or assurance) required a conscious choice or “leap of faith.” The major figures include Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre (sart or SAR-treh), Albert Camus (kah-MUE or ka-MOO) , Simone de Beauvoir (bohv-WAHR) , Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers (YASS-pers), and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (mer-LOH pawn-TEE).
Structuralism is a way of thinking about the world which is predominantly concerned with the perceptions and description of structures. At its simplest, structuralism claims that the nature of every element in any given situation has no significance by itself, and in fact is determined by all the other elements involved in that situation. The full significance of any entity cannot be perceived unless and until it is integrated into the structure of which it forms a part (Hawkes, p. 11). Structuralists believe that all human activity is constructed, not natural or “essential.” Consequently, it is the systems of organization that are important (what we do is always a matter of selection within a given construct). By this formulation, “any activity, from the actions of a narrative to not eating one’s peas with a knife, takes place within a system of differences and has meaning only in its relation to other possible activities within that system, not to some meaning that emanates from nature or the divine” (Childers & Hentzi, p. 286.). Major figures include Claude Lévi-Strauss (LAY-vee-strows), A. J. Greimas (GREE-mahs), Jonathan Culler, Roland Barthes (bart), Ferdinand de Saussure (soh-SURR or soh-ZHOR), Roman Jakobson (YAH-keb-sen), Vladimir Propp, and Terence Hawkes.
Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction
Post-Structuralism (which is often used synonymously with Deconstruction or Postmodernism) is a reaction to structuralism and works against seeing language as a stable, closed system. “It is a shift from seeing the poem or novel as a closed entity, equipped with definite meanings which it is the critic’s task to decipher, to seeing literature as irreducibly plural, an endless play of signifiers which can never be finally nailed down to a single center, essence, or meaning” (Eagleton 120 – see reference below under “General References”). Jacques Derrida’s (dair-ree-DAH) paper on “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (delivered in 1966) proved particularly influential in the creation of post-structuralism. Derrida argued against, in essence, the notion of a knowable center (the Western ideal of logocentrism), a structure that could organize the differential play of language or thought but somehow remain immune to the same “play” it depicts (Abrams, 258-9).
Derrida’s critique of structuralism also heralded the advent of deconstruction that–like post-structuralism–critiques the notion of “origin” built into structuralism. In negative terms, deconstruction–particularly as articulated by Derrida–has often come to be interpreted as “anything goes” since nothing has any real meaning or truth. More positively, it may posited that Derrida, like Paul de Man (de-MAHN) and other post-structuralists, really asks for rigor, that is, a type of interpretation that is constantly and ruthlessly self-conscious and on guard. Similarly, Christopher Norris (in “What’s Wrong with Postmodernism?”) launches a cogent argument against simplistic attacks of Derrida’s theories:
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