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The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2004
Theory, so called, is vast and complex and historical and contradictory. This volume is brief and clear and present oriented and structural. That the field and its survey are incommensurate is necessary, but the user should be aware of these limitations. The entries are clear and non-dogmatic but they must betray the liabilities of summary: concise average readings that hide problems, relations, and other voices. At root, modern theory is not intelligible without philosophical contexts that go to the pre-socratics, but that cannot appear here. Some choices of inclusion and exclusion seem odd: a separate entry for Orwell and none for Deleuze, for instance. But on the whole, this book is useful and well done.
I bought it which is my highest rec.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
I'm going back into a Masters Program and plan to teach English for a living. Already this book has proved to be a valuable resource when surveying various schools of criticism. The cross-referenced index is a bit confusing, but this is a nice book that you may want to sit down with and read for awhile anyway. I've found some wonderful items in here, and it's fun to flip through, looking for previously unknown literary schools that may catch my interest. It's a great reference book, but also a compelling source of information and direction. I laid out the bucks for this book because I know it will be a handy reference for the next thirty years. Already it's directed me to some outside reading that has proved quite profitable. I'll keep this guide close by as long as I am a student of Literature.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2011
I own the first edition of this book, and wouldn't be without it as I pursue my deepening interest in theory and criticism. It covers the very broad range of topics and disciplines that comprise and contribute to this field in short but in-depth essays rather than brief "encyclopedic" entries. I will note that these essays are generally aimed at the specialist who is already acquainted with basic facts and issues pertaining to a topic, and the entries are therefore often beyond the range of what the beginning student will be looking for in his/her novice explorations (and for which other references should be consulted).

As an example of how substantial and "chewy" these essays can be, I'll quote from the entry on the Frankfurt School (written for the first edition by Vincent P. Pecora, who begins a discussion of "five motifs running through critical theory" in this way):

"(The first motif) was the reinterpretation of Marxian social science in light of the growing discrepancies between dialectical materialism as theory and as practice. This meant the rejection of any simple totalization of history, of more mechanical relations of reflection between cultural superstructure and economic base, and of the proletariat as the necessary subject-object of historical progress (see especially the early Horkheimer and Pollock here). While class struggle was never denied, it lost its place of centrality amid the larger pressures of monopolization and rationalization. Such a perspective also entailed arguments, such as those between Pollock and Neumann in the 1940s, over the specific relation of capitalism to Nazism..."

This excerpt doesn't reflect either a general writing style or opacity of content for the Guide as a whole, but it's a fair sample of what the editorial approach elicits: The aim is not only (and sometimes not at all) to provide a basic or "entry-to-topic" level of information, but to present short, expert essays by specialists on those topics--and in many cases, all but the most well-informed reader may strain to follow discussions that presume a sophisticated level of prior acquaintance and knowledge.

I'll also note that non-expert users of this reference should almost always find valuable background, context, and information on significant issues and controversies related to the individual critics, movements, epochs, and topics discussed. But such users will probably also want to have access to more basic guides and introductions to terms and topics as they explore the Hopkins essays.

As one other reviewer notes, this is a reference that will reward its owner for many years, and that thought is borne out by the fact that 10 years elapsed between the first and second editions--an indication of the Guide's scholarly approach and intended shelf life among its academic users.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2000
Provides a consise, and yet sufficiently nuanced and complex, summary of theoretical schools, practitioners, terms, and trends. Hefty and yet readable reference material -- cross-indexed with more thorough bibliographies for each entry.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 2013
This is an expensive book, but if you love literature and want to add depth to your affair, break your budget and buy it. I spent several days completely absorbed in it. I suspect you will too. If not, you can always use it for weight lifting.
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