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Article

Jeanne-Marie Jackson

Though the two fields have rarely been put in conversation, African philosophy and African fiction share a set of foundational concerns. These include the relation of the individual to the community; the significance of culture to unseating exclusively Western universalisms; and the tension between “lived” and a priori claims to truth against a background of political and epistemological decolonization. In addition to this substantive thematic core, both fields have also been shaped by an acute and even anguished degree of self-definitional questioning. What is “African” about African philosophy, or about the African novel? And inversely, what is fundamental to philosophy or the novel as such? Orality has served in both fields as a means of gauging the relative knowledge value afforded experience, on the one hand, and ideas’ formal contestation, on the other. While strong advocates of orality as a distinguishing feature of African intellectual production have extolled its collective dimensions, critics have been wary of its potential for cultural reductiveness and essentialism. Textuality, some argue, is an epistemological orientation that exceeds the literal practice of writing, and need not be viewed as a historical development at odds with African knowledge traditions. A number of influential African philosophers have homed in on the related problem of individualism in an effort to differentiate philosophical from social-scientific claims. This makes African philosophy an ideal interlocutor for African novel studies, which has sought in its own right to reconcile the form’s historical premium on the individual with African social contexts. While countless African novels from the mid-20th century to the early 21st century represent the challenge of negotiating between collective and individual as well as oral and textual elements, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s masterwork Kintu is an exemplary study in how the subgenre of the “philosophical novel” can narrativize the interaction of different African knowledge paradigms. In its staging of an oral, embodied system of knowledge alongside a textualized, meta-epistemological one, it invites the reader’s mutual evaluation of each vis-à-vis the other.

Article

Cheryl Lousley

Ecocriticism describes and confronts the socially uneven encounters and entanglements of earthly living. As a political mode of literary and cultural analysis, it aims to understand and intervene in the destruction and diminishment of living worlds. A core premise is that environmental crises have social, cultural, affective, imaginative, and material dimensions. Although ranging in its critical engagements across historical periods, cultural texts, and cultural formations, ecocriticism focuses on the aesthetic modes, social meanings, contexts, genealogies, and counterpoints of cultural practices that contribute to ecological ruination and resilience. These include myths about frontiers, progress, and human mastery over animality and nature; capitalist modes of valuing, devaluing, and radically transforming lifeworlds; and biopolitical and racialized inequalities in health, risk, development, and disposability. Ecocriticism also involves broad theoretical engagement with discursive formations and semiotic significations, including the interrogation of crisis frameworks and apocalyptic representations, considering their histories, scales, and temporalities, while also asking how any particular socioecological arrangement comes to count as a matter of concern, for whom, and in which contexts. The concept of nature is a long-standing theoretical topic in ecocriticism. While nature may seem, rather straightforwardly, to be the domain environmentalism seeks to protect, it is a concept on which hinge crucial and contested claims about ontology (the nature of something, such as assertions about human nature as an inherent, often determining set of shared qualities) and epistemology (how we know what is real, such as the scientific practices through which credible assertions can be made that the planetary climate is changing), claims whose modern authority has rested on positioning nature as a domain outside culture. While structuralist and poststructuralist theorists have destabilized the binary opposition of nature to culture, the political and epistemological imperative to engage with nature as simultaneously material and semiotic has spawned an array of theoretical developments, from Donna Haraway’s cyborg figure and other “natureculture” assemblages to new materialisms. Meanwhile, nature circulates as a commodity form and spectacle animating digital, film, and television screens as well as many other consumer products and experiences. Cultural studies approaches to ecocriticism raise questions about the relationships of visual, narrative, and sound representations to economic power, media technologies, and the material and social ecologies through which they are produced and which they form and transform.

Article

Verena Erlenbusch-Anderson and Amy Nigh

In the everyday sense of the term, genealogy describes the study of ancestry and the tracing of a pedigree. As such, genealogy serves to follow the element in question to a singular origin which constitutes its source and guarantees its value. As a philosophical notion, however, genealogy is opposed to such tracing of a pedigree and instead describes the interrupted descent of a custom, practice, or idea, locates its multiple beginnings, and excavates the conditions under which it emerged. In this technical sense of the term, genealogy is a form of historico-philosophical analysis that mobilizes empirical material to uncover historically specific conditions under which the object under examination was able to emerge. Genealogy thus reverses customary explanations of objects of cultural history, according to which these objects are either necessary end points of historical development or results caused by some anthropological principle. Instead, genealogy reconstructs the history of their objectification—that is, of their contingent formation as an object of concern and intervention. Phenomena that are typically assumed to be the causes of certain practices, institutions, laws, norms, and so on are here revealed as effects of the very things they were thought to cause. The problems with which genealogy is concerned are historical formations that rely on and simultaneously make possible forms of knowledge, norms of behavior, and modes of being a subject. While the invention of genealogy in its technico-philosophical sense is usually attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault, a genealogy of genealogy itself reveals its numerous beginnings in a wide range of discourses and practices that constitute its conditions of possibility.

Article

Since 1990, “life writing” has become a frequently used covering term for the familiar genres of biography, autobiography, memoir, diaries, letters, and many other forms of life narrative. Initially adopted as a critical intervention informed by post-structuralist, postmodernist, postcolonial, and especially feminist theory of the 1970s and 1980s, the term also refers to the study of life representation beyond the traditional literary and historical focus on verbal texts, encompassing not only other media—film, graphic narratives, online technologies, performance—but also research in other disciplines—psychology, anthropology, ethnic and Indigenous studies, political science, sociology, education, medicine, and any other field that records, observes, or evaluates lives. While many critics and theorists still place their work within the realms of autobiography or biography, and others find life writing as a discipline either too ideologically driven, or still too confining conceptually, there is no question that life representation, primarily through narrative, is an important consideration for scholars engaged in virtually any field dealing with the nature and actions of human beings, or anything that lives.

Article

Thomas H. Ford and Joe Hughes

Rhetoric was—or is, and the uncertainty here is to the point—an unstable but hegemonic assemblage of categories, practices, doctrines, and institutions that endured from classical antiquity through to modernity. Rhetoric underwent radical transformations over this period of nearly three thousand years, entering into complex relationships with its discursive and educational others, including literature, philosophy, theology, and science. Rhetoric has variously been the pragmatic art of verbal action; the teachable (and so saleable) skill of persuasive speaking; an elite training in literary forms and genres inherited from ancient Rome and Greece; a set of protocols governing textual production and reception; the antiquarian collection of ornate and artificial modes of phraseology; a transcendent spirit of linguistic articulation and creation; and a branch of instruction in professional communication. This article presents five scenes—sometimes more tightly focused, sometimes more diffuse—drawn from the long history of rhetoric: a moment of rhetoric’s inception, in Syracuse in 466 bce; of its Christianization, in Milan, 387; of linguistic productivity, in Cambridge, 1511; of rhetorical transcendence, in Basel in 1872; and of social composition, in Minneapolis, 1968. In each of these moments, rhetoric’s conceptual, discursive, and institutional relations with literature were transfigured. They were scenes in which rhetoric was retied, so to speak, into a series of new knots with literature and philosophy. Other scenes and other itineraries would no doubt generate different stories—other knottings of rhetoric and its others.

Article

Chettiarthodi Rajendran

Traditional Sanskrit literary theory has always tried to distinguish kāvya,a term often translated as poetry, but actually subsuming all creative literature including prose romance, biography, and drama, from other linguistic expressions like treatises of knowledge systems (śāstra) and narratives (ākhyāna). Though the treatises related to the topic were written in Sanskrit, they addressed Prakrit poetry also, and Sanskrit drama was always multilingual. Literary theorists of India have speculated on a variety of topics related to the nature, aims, genre, and constituent elements of literature, the equipments necessary for a poet, various levels of meaning, and the nature of aesthetic response. In their attempt to distinguish kāvya from other linguistic expressions, they have also formulated various concepts like poetic figures, stylistic features, suggestiveness, aesthetic emotion, propriety, and the like that they deem to be exclusive to poetry. Indian theorists took into account both the creative and receptive aspects of literature and the notion of the ideal reader is inherent in the discussions of poetry. Literary theory also armed itself with the insights it received from philosophical systems in dealing with the problems related to verbal cognition and aesthetic experience. The Kāvyālaṅkāra of Bhāmaha (6th century), the Kāvyādarśa of Daṇḍin (7th century), the Kāvyālaṅkārasārasamgraha of Udbhaṭa (8th century), the Kāvyālaṅkāasūtravṛtti ofVāmana (8th century),the Kāvyālaṅkāra of Rudraṭa (9th century), the Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana (9th century), the Kāvyamīmāmsā of Rājaśekhara (10th century), Vakroktijīvita of Kuntaka (10th century), the Locana commentary on Dhvanyāloka and theAbhinavabhāratī commentary on Nāṭyaśāstra of Abhinavagupta (11th century), the Vyaktiviveka of Mahimabhaṭṭa (11th century), the Kāvyaprakāśa of Mammaṭa (11th century), the Sāhityadarpaṇa of Viśvanātha (14th century), the Sarasvatīkaṇṭābharaṇa and Śṛṅgāraprakāśa of Bhoja (11th century),the Citramīmāmsā of Appayya Dīkṣita (16th–17th century), and the Rasagaṅgādhara Jagannātha Paṇḍita (17th century) are some of the seminal works in Indian literary theory.

Article

Graham Harman

Speculation does not refer to anything like a unified school of literary criticism; nor is it one of the terms commonly employed by critics. Nonetheless, there have already been at least two important appeals to speculation in early 21st-century philosophical approaches to literature. One of them is speculative realism, including the variant of this school propounded by Quentin Meillassoux and known as speculative materialism. Another is Tom Eyers’s speculative formalism, as developed in his book of the same title. Whereas Meillassoux is concerned with the mathematizability of literary texts, Eyers is focused on moments of self-reflexive paradox.

Article

Sublime  

Ian Balfour

The sublime as an aesthetic category has an extraordinarily discontinuous history in Western criticism and theory, though the phenomena it points to in art and nature are without historical limit, or virtually so. The sublime as a concept and phenomenon is harder to define than many aesthetic concepts, partly because of its content and partly because of the absence of a definition in the first great surviving text on the subject, Longinus’s On the Sublime. The sublime is inflected differently in the major theorists: in Longinus it produces ecstasy or transport in the reader or listener; in Burke its main ingredient is terror (but supplemented by infinity and obscurity); and in Kant’s bifurcated system of the mathematical and dynamic sublime, the former entails a cognitive overload, a breakdown of the imagination, and the ability to represent, whereas in the latter, the subject, after first being threatened, virtually, by powerful nature outside her or him, turns inward to discover a power of reason able to think beyond the realm of the senses. Many theorists testify to the effect of transcendence or exaltation of the self on the far side of a disturbing, disorienting experience that at least momentarily suspends or even annihilates the self. A great deal in the theoretical-critical texts turns on the force of singularly impressive examples, which may or may not exceed the designs of the theoretical axioms they are meant to exemplify. Examples of sublimity are by no means limited to nature and art but spill over into numerous domains of cultural and social life. The singular force of the individual examples, it is argued, nonetheless tends to work out similarly in certain genres conducive to the sublime (epic, tragedy) but somewhat differently from one genre to another. The heyday of the theory and critical engagement with the sublime lasts, in Western Europe and a little beyond, from the late 17th century to the early 19th century. But it does not simply go away, with sublime aesthetic production and critical reflection on the sublime present in the likes of Baudelaire, Nietzsche, and—to Adorno’s mind—in the art of modernism generally, in its critical swerve from the canons of what had counted as beauty. The sublime flourished as a topic in theory of criticism of the poststructuralist era, in figures such as Lyotard and Paul de Man but also in Fredric Jameson’s analysis of the cultural logic of late capitalism. The then current drive to critique the principle and some protocols of representation found an almost tailor-made topic in Enlightenment and Romantic theory of the sublime where, within philosophy, representation had been rendered problematic in robust fashion.

Article

Zara Dinnen

Virtual identities stand in for a user or player in a virtual environment; they are social media profiles; digital subjects—of human and nonhuman agency. Virtual identities are often imagined as something distinct from the “self” of the user of digital media but technically and existentially they determine the ways a user navigates life online. Virtual identities, then, might also be a category that captures the ways identity itself is virtual; a force of existence that determines how subjects can orient themselves in the world. The questions of what virtual identities are, how they operate, and the kinds of material expression of personhood they afford and signify has been taken up in scholarship across the last thirty years from a variety of disciplines including computer sciences, critical race studies, game studies, gender and sexuality studies, literary studies, new media studies, social sciences, science and technology studies, and visual culture studies. As an imminent figure in early 21st-century life, virtual identities might describe subjects who exist in global digital media networks but who do not necessarily profit from their participation and labor, or who are not always visible. Despite the virtuality of virtual identities, their partial and fragmentary status, they exist as a technology by which to fix identity to an embodied subject—via facial recognition, or biometric scanning, or the coaxing and collection of personal data. The study of virtual identities remains an ongoing and significant task.

Article

T. Hugh Crawford

Actor-network theory (ANT) is a methodology developed in the 1980s by scholars working primarily in the sociology of science and technology. It is a novel approach as it attempts to redefine actors not so much as willful or intentional agents but instead as any entity—human or nonhuman—that in some way influences or perturbs the activity of a techno-social system. Most effective when examining limited systems such as ship navigation, electrical network failures, and the like, ANT resists large generalizations and categories, including the very notion of the “social” which, according to actor-network theorists, is never an explanation but instead is that which must be explained. Well into the 21st century, practitioners have both embraced and critiqued ANT, but it remains a useful form of inquiry.