- Paperback: 152 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (June 15, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 019285383X
- ISBN-13: 978-0192853837
- Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.5 x 4.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 72 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,171,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction New Ed Edition
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`It is impossible to imagine a clearer treatment of the subject, or one that is, within the given limits of length, more comprehensive. Culler has always been remarkable for his expository skills, and here he has found exactly the right method and tone for his purposes.' Sir Frank Kermode
About the Author
Jonathan Culler is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cornell University and a leading figure in the world of literary theory. Praised by Frank Kermode for his "remarkable expository skills," his publications include seminal works on deconstruction and semiology as well as studies of individual authors.
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Culler is clearly fascinated by it and supportive of it, but he realizes its hegemonic tendencies, which is particularly interesting for an intellectual movement which is centered around the effacing of cultural hegemony. He notes, e.g., that Theory consciously reduces our study of literature (we still read Shakespeare, but Beaumont and Fletcher, Ben Jonson, Thomas Kyd, et al. not so much). He recognizes and acknowledges the politicization that is never far from the surface in the work of Theory’s practitioners. He does not go so far as to say (with Theory’s critics) that Theory’s attack on the enlightenment and its norms is a way of salvaging socialism; since socialism’s fortunes in the real world are stained with blood, the truth claims of the enlightenment empiricism which records those processes are systematically undercut. He does not point out the antinomianism which frequently characterizes Theory; E.D. Hirsch, e.g., has described it as ‘cognitive atheism’.
Most important, he is far more optimistic about Theory’s future than current practice would suggest. Louis Menand, e.g., has charted the tendencies in postwar literary study and has seen us now move past Theory’s better days. At the micro level the student interest in Theory has waned immensely, though its political dimensions continue to influence their practices. At my institution the number of prospective graduate students expressing an interest in specializing in Theory has dwindled to a small trickle. The contrast between current realities and the days in which Theory’s advocates argued for a complete displacement of traditional literary study has passed.
Bottom line: Culler’s introduction is now, primarily, a historical document, but it is a very good one, one that not only identifies the players and their ‘schools’ (acknowledging that the outlines of such entities are often vague). He even includes some clever and instructive cartoons (without noting, in passing, that Theory’s practices are often conducive to such representations). The writing is very lucid, in contrast to the often opaque and convoluted writing of the Theorists themselves.
In sum, this is an excellent short introduction to the subject, one of the best in this series.
Aside from that, the book is a great read. Chapter 2 alone--"What is Literature and Why Does if Matter?"--is worth the purchase. If this paperback came with a pair of readers, I'd give it 5 stars. If there's a hardcover version, I hope it has a larger format, the content is more than worth the consideration.
This sort of thing is not for everybody, I understand. And, others have criticized that this book does a fine job of introducing "theory" but does almost nothing to explore various major "schools" of theory. I'm fine with that; I got all I needed right here, and I have a solid enough foundation to move on should I choose to.
The author, Culler, is a great writer; his Introduction to Roland Barthes book was fabulous too. It was my search for other works by Culler that lead me to this.