52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant little book
This is an excellent text for students new to literary theory, but even the more experienced readers should be delighted by it. Rather than simply making an historical tour through various schools of thought, Culler relegates that to a useful appendix and instead focuses on key questions and concepts, beginning with 'What is Theory?' and 'What is Literature?' - two very...
Published on February 9, 2002 by Steven Reynolds
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wrong title
Literary theory is a vastly forbidding topic for anyone to describe, especially in a modest sized text as one of the Very Short Introduction series. In LITERARY THEORY, Jonathan Culler, the much published deconstructionist, attempts to write a basic text for the novice. To judge the extent that he`succeeds, one must assume that the reader is your typical undergraduate...
Published on August 3, 2008 by Martin Asiner
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52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant little book,
This is an excellent text for students new to literary theory, but even the more experienced readers should be delighted by it. Rather than simply making an historical tour through various schools of thought, Culler relegates that to a useful appendix and instead focuses on key questions and concepts, beginning with 'What is Theory?' and 'What is Literature?' - two very good questions which are too rarely asked. He then explores various focuses of literary studies, such as meaning, poetics, narrative and identity. Culler's great skill here is to summarize without simplifying; to make refreshingly plain what other writers seem to delight in rendering obscure. (His cogent analysis of the intersection between literature and cultural studies in Chapter 3 is the clearest and most insightful I've ever read.) Intelligently structured, full of useful examples, and often employing a wryly humorous tone, Culler makes literary theory interesting, inspiring and above all accessible - something any student will undoubtedly appreciate.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, an explanation!,
I studied literary theory at University for several years, but in all that time I never once heard a professor explain the basic framework that theory operates under. Thank somebody at Oxford University Press and J Culler for finally doing it! Now I can go back with some idea of what it is everyone is assuming I already know.
There are quite a few instances where the author uses terms generally reserved for academic conversation. However, the book is neither trite, nor pandering, nor condescending. It simply explains the basic idea of how literary theory works and what it strives to achieve.
If I ever make to past my doctoral thesis and into an actual teaching sitch, I'd think about using this book with freshmen as a way of introducing theory in an unitimidating way.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars short and sweet,
Literary theory is a pretty imposing topic, and it's especially imposing to people like myself who don't have a liberal arts education. So, I was really happy to find Culler's introduction to literary theory. Rather than hiding behind a taxonomy of the various schools of thought, he discusses and attempts to answer some difficult questions: What is theory? What is literature? Why might we care about the answers to these questions? My take on this book is that Culler has successfully managed to convey some of the difficult and interesting challenges of theory to uninitiated readers without dumbing down the subject too much. Recommended.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A useful map of the landscape,
First, if you have ever speculated that "theory" is primarily posturing by intellectuals with too much time on their hands in an attempt to justify their fringe political/social views, this book will probably confirm that belief for you. Further, if you have ever suspected that the arcane jargon created by "theory" practitioners is little more than obfuscation to ensure that their more outrageous pronouncements will be immune from refutation by intelligent but uninitiated outsiders, this book will do little to dissuade you. Nonetheless, if you want an approachable explication of what "theory" is all about, this is the book for you. Professor Culler does not argue the case for a particular school of thought, but explains (eschewing jargon when possible) the underlying currents of thought that drive literary analysis today. He starts by explaining the inextricable connection of literature theory to cultural studies and proceeds to explore the ramifications of that marriage. He then examines how literature theory attempts to answer questions about the nature of self, language, and meaning. To ensure that no single movement is given precedence, short descriptions of the tenets of the various schools are relegated to an appendix. The sheer number of approaches listed is breathtaking -- Russian Formalism, New Criticism, Phenomenology, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction, Feminist Theory, Psychoanalysis, Marxism, New Historicism/Cultural Materialism, Post-Colonial Theory, Minority Discourse, and Queer Theory. So, if you simply want to know what all the "fuss" is about, or if you want to embark on a more serious study, start here.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent intro,
Jonathan Culler has done a marvelous job writing exactly what the title promises. Unlike some of the Short Intro books (like the Foucault one), Culler understands that the people reading the book are novices at literary theory and need to be walked through the concepts but not in a condescending way. Part of the problem with having major scholars write short introductions to their field is that they know too much and it is often hard for them to remember how little everyone else knows. But Culler is a rare author who does not seem to have this problem at all. He never lost me.
My favorite thing about this book is the first section which talks about theory in general, and answers the question, "What is theory?" If you've been confused about all the theory terms you've heard, deconstruction, Foucault, Derrida, postmodernism etc. etc. etc., and if you feel like you don't understand all the categories of theory, and don't understand how literary theory interacts with other types of theory and who all the major thinkers are in this whole movement, then this book, like none I've ever seen, will set you straight.
The rest of the book is great too, though I question the marginalization of the discussion about the different schools of theory by sticking them all in the appendix. Why not give them their own chapter?
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an accessible and helpful self-study guide for beginners,
Yes, the book does aim to answer questions about the nature of literature and theory rather than approach them from a school-by-school philosophical/ideological orientation. Some English student in a rush who just wants an elucidation of the major critical schools will find Culler's approach oblique and might want to find a different book to read. Culler's book is easy to read, fun, clear, yet it touches briefly on a lot of heavy ideas that are explained in plain language for beginners. I appreciate that he doesn't seem to privilege any one ideology but lets the reader make up his own mind; this is the sign of a mature educator. Other reviewers of this little gem have overlooked what is perhaps the most valuable part: the "Citations and Further Reading" section in the back. This helpful annotated bibliography is loaded with references to journals and books that are linked to each chapter topic. It gives specific page numbers where to locate the relevant information so you don't waste time searching. Believe me: this is great. If you are facing something like Derrida's Of Grammatology or de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics for the first time, it can be pretty intimidating. These valuable references make Culler's little book the perfect self-study guide with the primary texts. The only disappointment I have is that this book does not teach the reader how to apply the information he reads here to other texts; for example, the reader isn't taught steps on how to "deconstruct" a text. But there are other books that already do that like Steven Lynn's Texts in Context or Critical Theory Today by Lois Tyson and many others that are equally good. If you still want an institutional history of criticism or an explication of its schools, Culler recommends many books in the appendix in the back, among them Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction ("a tendentious but very lively account"), Peter Barry's Beginning Theory: An Introducion to Literary and Cultural Theory ("a useful 'school'-oriented textbook"), Richard Harland's Superstructuralism ("broad and lively introductory survey"), Green and LeBihan's Critical Theory and Practice ("cleverly fuses the survey by school with approach by topic"). Culler's Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction is definitely not the only book a beginner will want to read on literary theory, but it is a great place to start. I rate it a strong four stars.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At the heart of the matter.,
Moreover, what really impressed me in this book is, the fact that the writer avoids falling back on a series of taxonimical chapters, with categories and historical trivia, and attempts to go to the heart of the matter by offering a synthesis of theories whilst at the same time presenting the key concerns of the whole cannon of theory. In short, this is not a book about dry, solidified academic knoweledge, nor a list of names of theorists and theories useful for one to flaunt over dinner conversations, but rather an initiation to a way of thinking and questioning norms and modes of operation with respect to literature, life, reality, meaning and so on and so forth. The authors writing style is clear and accesible, although it is not easy since books on complex issues are not meant to be easy but dense and rewarding if read attentively. Do read this book, and with an opened mind, if you can find it. Thanks to amazon for the space and to you for your time.
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wrong title,
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Literary theory is a vastly forbidding topic for anyone to describe, especially in a modest sized text as one of the Very Short Introduction series. In LITERARY THEORY, Jonathan Culler, the much published deconstructionist, attempts to write a basic text for the novice. To judge the extent that he`succeeds, one must assume that the reader is your typical undergraduate English major who has heard of the mind numbing complexities of Theory and wishes to read a Cliff's notes type introduction prior to the first day of class. The question is this: If this student thoroughly digests Culler's text and no other, will he be ready for the mystifyingly arcane linguistic tsunami of Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, et al that awaits him? The answer, sadly, is no. The primary problem is that Culler has written the wrong book, or at least should have retitled it as Your First College Course in Literature: A Very Short Introduction. Far too much of LITERARY THEORY covers ground that is normally trod in Introduction to Lit 101. Out of the eight chapters supposedly about schools of critical theory, Culler zeroes in on the definition of literature, its relation to Cultural Studies, rhetoric, narrative, performative language, and identity and the subject--all matters of high import but not what is normally thought of as Theory. It is only at the concluding appendix that Culler delves into the various schools of critical theory--and even here he gives them short shrift with superficial definition and no way how to use them to view texts under differing schools of thought. The highly praising blurb on the very first page by Patricia Waugh indicates this problem: She lauds Culler for his politic "avoidance of the usual plod through schools and approaches" that in her mind is no problem at all. But for the rank novice, this plod is essential. LITERARY THEORY, then ironically enough is a handy text indeed for covering what it does cover, but as for fulfilling the promise of its title, this novice may finish the first day of class and wonder why he does not grasp the finer points of the Lacanian Other.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential guide to PoMo Theory,
Jonathan Culler's work is a fine exposition on the wrok of some of the twentieth centuries most provoctive philosophical and literary theorists. In well researched and clear chapters, Culler takes the reader on a guided tour of Postmodern theory-- which grew out of or is a response to russian formalism, phenomenology, new criticism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction,feminist theory, new histroricism, post-colonial theory, and minority discourses--beginning with the a discussion of the idea of "theory" and its importance and application to academic study today.
Using a highly stylized prose voice Culler succeeds greatly in expressing the nuance and deepth of this most controversial philosophical movement. Rather one is a student of Foucault, Derrida, de Saussure, or literary theory in general this book is an invaluable guide to the basics of these complex collection of ideas.
In this work Culler expands upon the importance of literature and by extension the close study of it as he recognizes the interconnectivty implicit between individual life and the literature that is produced as an attempt to explain its meaning. In Culler's view literature and the study of same is every bit as important as the study of history and religion as all aim to promulgate a "true" narrative of human experience, which some do better than others. Literary Theory, if for no other reason, is an important resource simply because it brings this idea to the fore and urges the reader into a more open and receptive posture in relation to the "reading" of any meaningful text, be it a novel, a symphony, a ballet, a painting or even a newspaper, which can only lead to a more infused understanding of the purpose of art and humanities necessary relation to it.
Reading this slim volume will save you hours of struggle with the difficult texts and ideas, that this book is definitely not meant to replace, but only supplement, rather it be Foucault's "History of Sexuality" and "Discipline and Punish"; Derrida's notion of "play" and deconstruction, de Saussure's "la parole" or the diverse body of work that first found its inspiration in these ideas, which are essential to understanding the raging debates in academia today.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wish i read this earlier,
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I have a Master's degree in Literature and when it came time for my requisite literary theory courses, they were taught in the driest, most pretentious, disconnected from reality way possible. So much so that I decided that the academic study of literature was for people who wished to escape reality and deny their responsibility as citizens of a troubled populace. This small book reaffirmed my love for the study of literature, albeit years after my life has taken other turns. Cullers, rather than simply defining and describing the different schools of literary criticism (which was what I bought the book expecting), approaches the material with the questions of "what does it mean to read?" and "what makes literature distinct from other forms of expression?" With a historical perspective and an ear for how people have used rhetoric and literary devices over time, this is a short, but fascinating explanation of why the study of literature is relevant. Perhaps there are better, more comprehensive books out there, but until I read those, this one is worth 5 stars!
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Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan D. Culler (Paperback - June 15, 2000)
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