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Article

Epic  

Herbert Tucker

An enumeration of generic qualities will define epic less helpfully than will an assessment of its behaviors. Among major literary kinds, epic offers the most long-standing and globally distributed evidence of the human habit of thinking by means of narrative. What it cherishes is the common good; what it ponders are the behaviors and values that forward or threaten collective welfare. What it reckons are the stakes of heroic risk that any living culture must hazard in order to prosper, by negotiating core identities with margins and adjusting settled customs to emergent opportunities; and it roots all these in the transmission of a tale that commands perennial attention on their account. Such dialectics underlie epic’s favorite narrative templates, the master plots of strife, quest, and foundation; and they find expression in such conventions as the in medias res opening and suspended closure; the epic invocation, ancestral underworld, superhuman machinery, and encyclopedic simile; the genre’s formal gravitation towards verse artifice and the lexical and syntactic mingling of old with new language. The genre steadfastly highlights the human condition and prospect, defining these along a scale of higher and lower being, along a timeline correlating history with prophecy, and along cultural coordinates where the familiar and the exotic take each other’s measure.

Article

Fictionality  

Simona Zetterberg-Nielsen and Henrik Zetterberg-Nielsen

Fictionality is a term used in various fields within and beyond literary theory, from speech act theory through the theory of fictional worlds, to theories of “as if.” It is often equated with the genre of the novel. However, as a consequence of the rhetorical theory of fictionality developed from the early 21st century, the concept has gained ground as an autonomous communicative device, independent of its relation to any genre. Theories of fictionality have been developed (1) prior to the establishment of fiction as a genre, with Plato, Aristotle, Philip Sidney, and Pierre Daniel Huet; (2) with the establishment of fiction by Blankenburg and some of the first novelists, such as Daniel Defoe and Horace Walpole; (3) after the establishment of the novel, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hans Vaihinger, John Searle, Kendall Walton, Dorrit Cohn, Richard Walsh, and others. From the 1990s, the debates on fictionality have centered on questions of whether fictionality is best described in terms of semantic, syntactic, or pragmatic approaches. This includes discussions about possible signposts of fictionality, encouraged by the semantic and syntactic approaches, and about how to define the concept of fictionality, as either a question of text internal features as argued by the semantic and syntactic theorists, or as a question of contextual assumptions, as held by the pragmatists. Regarding fictionality as a rhetorical resource, among many other resources in communication at large, has a number of consequences for the study of fictionality and for literary theory in general. First, it contributes the insight that literature is similar to other acts of communication. Second, overtly invented stories do not have to follow the rules of non-invented communication. Third, a rhetorical approach to fictionality makes visible the ways in which fiction interacts with and affects reality, in concrete, yet complicated ways.

Article

Grotesque  

Rune Graulund

Defining the grotesque in a concise and objective manner is notoriously difficult. When researching the term for his classic study On the Grotesque: Strategies of Contradiction in Art and Literature (1982), Geoffrey Galt Harpham observed that the grotesque is hard to pin down because it is defined as being in opposition to something rather than possessing any defining quality in and of itself. Any attempt to identify specific grotesque characteristics outside of a specific context is therefore challenging for two reasons. First, because the grotesque is that which transgresses and challenges what is considered normal, bounded, and stable, meaning that one of the few universal and fundamental qualities of the grotesque is that it is abnormal, unbounded, and unstable. Second, since even the most rigid norms and boundaries shift over time, that which is defined in terms of opposition and transgression will naturally change as well, meaning that the term grotesque meant very different things in different historical eras. For instance, as Olli Lagerspetz points out in A Philosophy of Dust (2018), while 16th-century aristocrats in France may routinely have received guests while sitting on their night stools, similar behavior exhibited today would surely be interpreted not only as out of the ordinary, but as grotesque. Likewise, perceptions of the normal and the abnormal vary widely even within the same time period, depending on one’s class, gender, race, profession, sexual orientation, cultural background, and so on.

Article

Modern Manuscripts  

Dirk Van Hulle

The study of modern manuscripts to examine writing processes is termed “genetic criticism.” A current trend that is sometimes overdramatized as “the archival turn” is a result of renewed interest in this discipline, which has a long tradition situated at the intersection between modern book history, bibliography, textual criticism, and scholarly editing. Handwritten documents are called “modern” manuscripts to distinguish them from medieval or even older manuscripts. Whereas most extant medieval manuscripts are scribal copies and fit into a context of textual circulation and dissemination, modern manuscripts are usually autographs for private use. Traditionally, the watershed between older and “modern” manuscripts is situated around the middle of the 18th century, coinciding with the rise of the so-called Geniezeit, the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period in which the notion of “genius” became fashionable. Authors such as Goethe carefully preserved their manuscripts. This new interest in authors’ manuscripts can be part of the “genius” ideology: since a draft was regarded as the trace of a thought process, a manuscript was the tangible evidence of capital-G “Genius” at work. But this division between modern and older manuscripts needs to be nuanced, for there are of course autograph manuscripts with cancellations and revisions from earlier periods, which are equally interesting for manuscript research. Genetic criticism studies the dynamics of creative processes, discerning a difference between the part of the genesis that takes place in the author’s private environment and the continuation of that genesis after the work has become public. But the genesis is often not a linear development “before” and “after” publication; rather, it can be conceptualized by means of a triangular model. The three corners of that model are endogenesis (the “inside” of a writing process, the writing of drafts), exogenesis (the relation to external sources of inspiration), and epigenesis (the continuation of the genesis and revision after publication). At any point in the genesis there is the possibility that exogenetic material may color the endo- or the epigenesis. In the digital age, archival literary documents are no longer coterminous with a material object. But that does not mean the end of genetic criticism. On the contrary, an exciting future lies ahead. Born-digital works require new methods of analysis, including digital forensics, computer-assisted collation, and new forms of distant reading. The challenge is to connect to methods of digital text analysis by finding ways to enable macroanalysis across versions.

Article

Pornography  

April Alliston

Sexually explicit images are among the oldest known representational artifacts, and yet none of these were ever understood as “pornography” until the word and concept began to emerge in Western European languages during the 19th century. At that time, it was used equally to refer to written texts and visual representations. The word has since entered into much more widespread usage, often referring to any and all sexually explicit material, more often to material that appears specifically designed “to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings” (Oxford English Dictionary). Since the popularization of internet pornography in the late 20th century, the term has even come to be applied to any image considered to emphasize the pleasure and seduction of the viewer over realistic representation (as in “food porn,” “real estate porn,” etc.). Many attempts have been made to define pornography more specifically, but little consensus has been achieved. Courts of law have generally avoided defining the word “pornography,” preferring to categorize sexually explicit or arousing representations in terms of “obscenity.” Feminist scholars have disagreed on the definition of pornography to the extent that the conflict became known as the “Porn Wars” of the last several decades of the 20th century. Sexually explicit or sexually stimulating representations can elicit powerful emotional responses that vary widely, and they are inextricable from questions of social power. Thus, the very act of defining pornography is implicated in political struggles over some of the most fundamental issues of human life: gender, sexuality, social equality, and the nature and power of representations. There remains no general or stable agreement concerning what it is, what effects it may have, or even whether it exists at all.

Article

Psychoanalytic Theory  

Marshall Alcorn

Although Freud’s key claims regarding unconscious processes are pervasive in psychoanalytic theory, psychoanalysis is not a singular unified system. Early originating frameworks have evolved to adapt to changing clinical practices. In Britain, Freud’s work was complicated by the work of Klein, and later by the British Object Relations school, and still later by the inclusion of empirical research from John Bowlby’s attachment theory. In France and Latin America, Lacan gained dominance; in the United States, early work in “ego psychology” was supplemented by Kohutian “self-psychology” and later by “relational psychoanalysis.” In the academy, the work of Slavoj Zizek, synthesizing Lacanian and Marxist theory, has had wide influence. All these perspectives offer different accounts of the legacies of the past in their impact on unconscious expression. Early applications of psychoanalysis to literature were concerned with the origins of creativity and the neurotic conditions of literary characters or authors. Subsequent interests have focused on the nature of literary language and the dynamics of readerly engagements. In the early 21st century, use of psychoanalysis as an analytic tool follows the model of a conversation. The goal is not to apply a theory to a text to illustrate a psychoanalytic truth but to tease out the “unsaid” of a text or set of texts. Psychoanalysis in literary engagements, as in clinical engagements, is not about establishing a truth; instead it is used in “dialogue” with another discourse to discover implicit or unacknowledged dimensions of that articulation. The diversity of psychoanalytic schools and concepts allows scholars to give attention to wide-ranging interests: to the grip of ideology on subject, to the unconscious thematics of authors, to the symptomatic conditions of culture. Popular subjects for the psychoanalytic study of literature or film are psychic conflict, suffering, anxiety, enjoyment, the uncanny, and the repressed. Following World War II, the Frankfurt school synthesized Freud with Marxist thought, laying out enduring parameters for the psychoanalytic study of social processes. Adorno and Horkheimer sought to understand totalitarian character and mass culture and explored literature as a response to ideological enlistment. Recent work by “the Lacanian Left” in political theory explores libidinal and affective dimensions of discourse. “Psychosocial studies” scholars in Britain utilize psychoanalytic principles to gain more complex information from interviews and social research designs. Contemporary work in neuropsychoanalysis develops empirical evidence to document psychoanalytic processes in the organizational patterns of the brain, particularly in the dynamics of dreaming, memory, and nonconscious behavior. All these newly emerging engagements with psychoanalytic thought offer opportunities for contemporary research.

Article

Rhythm  

Laura Marcus

The topic of rhythm in literary theory draws both on discussions of poetry and prose and on much broader currents of thought in the natural sciences and philosophy. In Western thought, rhythm was a central focus of attention in ancient Greece, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when theorists and practitioners of literature and the other arts often referred back to classical models. This is also the case in more recent theorizing of rhythm in the context of everyday life in advanced modern or, as some would say, postmodern societies. Nietzsche, who constantly circled around the term and with frequent direct and metaphorical references to dance, is in many ways the central figure in these discussions. He was massively influential after his death in 1900, both in Germany and more widely, for example, in Britain and North America, and he was taken up again, along with Heidegger, in much French thought after World War 2. Contemporary debates around rhythm and its relation to meter continue to refer to classical Greece, and in Chinese and Indian thought there is a similar continuity of attention to issues of rhythm.

Article

Song  

Stephanie Burt and Jenn Lewin

Ideas about song, and actual songs, inform literary works in ways that go back to classical and to biblical antiquity. Set apart from non-musical language, song can indicate proximity to the divine, intense emotion, or distance from the everyday. At least from the early modern period, actual songs compete with idealized songs in a body of lyric poetry where song is sometimes scheme and sometimes trope. Songs and singers in novels can do the work of plot and of character, sometimes isolating songwriter or singer, and sometimes linking them to a milieu beyond what readers are shown. Accounts of song as poetry’s inferior, as its other, or as its unreachable ideal—while historically prominent—do not consider the variety of literary uses in English that songs—historically attested and fictional; popular, vernacular, and “classical”— continue to find.