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Robert McRuer

Disability studies is an interdisciplinary mode of inquiry that flourished beginning in the late 20th century. Disability studies challenges the singularity of dominant models of disability, particularly the medical model that would reduce disability to diagnosis, loss, or lack, and that would insist on cure as the only viable approach to apprehending disability. Disability studies pluralizes ways of thinking about disability, and bodily, mental, or behavioral atypicality in general; it simultaneously questions the ways in which able-bodiedness has been made to appear natural and universal. Disability studies is an analytic that attends to how disability and ability are represented in language and in a wide range of cultural texts, and it is particularly attuned to the ways in which power relations in a culture of normalization have generally subordinated disabled people, particularly in capitalist systems that demand productive and efficient laborers. Disability studies is actively intersectional, drawing on feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and other analytics to consider how gender, race, sexuality, and disability are co-constitutive, always implicated in each other. Crip theory has emerged as a particular mode of doing disability studies that draws on the pride and defiance of crip culture, art, and activism, with crip itself marking both a reclamation of a term designed to wound or demean and as a marker of the fact that bodies and minds do not fit neatly within or beneath a historical able-bodied/disabled binary. “To crip,” as a critical process, entails recognizing how certain bodily and mental experiences have been made pathological, deviant, or perverse and how such experiences have subsequently been marginalized or invisibilized. Queer of color critique, which is arguably at the absolute center of the project of queer theory, shares a great deal with crip theory, as it consistently points outward to the relations of power that constitute and reconstitute the social. Queer of color critique focuses on processes of racialization and gendering that make certain groups perverse or pathological. Although the ways in which this queer of color project overlaps significantly with disability studies and crip theory have not always been acknowledged, vibrant modes of crip of color critique have emerged in the 21st century, making explicit the connections.


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.



Octavio González and Todd G. Nordgren

The definitional limits of the term queer have been under conceptual, political, and ethical dispute since its reclamation from its pejorative meaning during the early AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s. Reflecting activist recuperation, queer became a means to inspire and propel a coalitional politics oriented toward nonconformity and anti-normativity among diverse sexualities and across divisions of gender. Concomitantly, queer theory arose in academia as a way to expand upon and break what some scholars saw as the restrictive disciplinary boundaries of gay and lesbian studies, which were explicitly grounded in post–Stonewall identity politics. The term’s radical potential derives in part from its grammatical fluidity, as it operates as noun, adjective, and verb—combining action, identification, and effect into a single word. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, queer of color critique drew upon a different genealogy, beyond the postmodern rupture inaugurated by Michel Foucault’s work on sexuality and “biopower,” by foregrounding black and women of color feminisms, critical race studies, and postcolonial studies in order to analyze the intersections of race, nationality, coloniality, class, sex, and gender with a Foucauldian understanding of sexuality as a privileged mode of modern power– knowledge. Queer of color critique inspired and was mirrored in investigations of the analytic boundaries of the term, often defined as a binary distinction between a minoritizing and universalizing definition of queer.


Julie Thompson Klein

The relationship of interdisciplinarity and literary theory is marked by the boundary work of competing practices deemed inside and outside of the discipline, conflicting claims of specialization and generality, and shifting representations of the concept of interdisciplinarity. The line between text and context has been a recurring point of debate, amplified by tensions between traditional practices and new approaches. The earliest warrants for interdisciplinarity included a synoptic view of knowledge and the social and moral purpose of literary education. Even after institutionalization of the modern system of disciplinarity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, advocates upheld related claims. Other interests, though, were also apparent, including the practice of borrowing from social sciences, the synchronic paradigm of periodization, interart criticism, and the work of polymaths who posited a broad view of culture. Guides to practice published by the Modern Language Association from the late 1960s through the early 1980s reinforced the power of intrinsic criticism. Yet, as new interests beyond formalist criticism took root, representation of interdisciplinarity changed. The 1992 guide was marked by a heterogeneity of movements that broadened the scope of literary study while shifting theorization of interdisciplinarity in literary studies from earlier warrants to critique and historical, political, and sociological turns in scholarship. Transdisciplinary and transnational redrawings of boundaries are extending the scope of both interdisciplinarity and literary theory. Counter to popular characterization of movements rising and falling, hybrid methodologies combine older and newer approaches, such as combining close readings of texts or deconstructionist analysis with questions of gender or power. Relations of literary studies with other disciplines and interdisciplinary fields also exhibit a growing momentum for intersectionality apparent in the 2007 guide to practice.


Deidre Lynch

The notion that theoretical inquiry and the love of literature are at odds is a tenacious one, likewise the related account of the theorist as heartless killjoy. This article, however, challenges the notion that theory is necessarily down on love. It surveys the several strains of theory that since the turn of the 21st century have made it possible for practitioners of theory to acknowledge more readily that concept-driven intellectual work inevitably has an affective undertow. But it also looks further back, to the late 18th-century origins of the literary studies discipline, so as to understand why the love question cannot be confined to the sphere of amateurism but instead hovers persistently around what literature professors do in their classrooms: what does that persistence say about the place of ethical and affective norms in the discipline’s intellectual enterprise? And just why and how does aesthetic receptivity get defined as “love” in the first place?



Stephen Watt

“Reading” is one of the most provocative terms in literary theory, in part because it connotes both an activity and a product: on the one hand, an effort to comprehend a text or object of knowledge, and on the other, a more formal response. Both senses of the term originate in the premise that literary and other cultural texts—including performances, scripted or not—require a more deliberative parsing than weather reports and recipes, or sentences like “rain is expected today” and “add one cup of flour.” At the same time, reading serves as an explanatory trope across various sites of 21st-century culture; in a tennis match, players “read” the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents and strategize accordingly; a cab driver “reads” a GPS when plotting an efficient route to convey a passenger. But an engagement with literary and cultural texts is a different matter. In its former sense as a set of protocols or procedures, reading resides at the center of disciplinary debates as newly formed schools, theories, or methods rise to challenge dominant notions of understanding literature, film, painting, and other forms. Frequently, these debates focus on tensions between binary oppositions (real or presumed): casual versus professional reading (or fast vs. slow), surface reading versus symptomatic reading, close reading versus distant reading, and others. Like the term “reading,” readers are variously described as “informed,” “ideal,” “implied,” and more. In some theoretical formulations, they are anticipated by texts; in others, readers produce or complete them by filling lacunae or conducting other tasks. Complicating matters further, reading also exists in close proximity to several other terms with which it is often associated: interpretation, criticism, and critique. Issues of “textuality” introduce yet another factor in disagreements about the priorities of critical reading, as notions of a relatively autonomous or closed work or object have been supplanted by a focus on both historical context and a work’s “intertextuality,” or its inevitable relationship to, even quotation of, other texts. In the latter sense of a reading as an intellectual or scholarly product, more variables inform definitions. Every reading of a text, as Paul Ricouer describes, “takes place within a community, a tradition, or a living current of thought.” The term “reading” is complicated not only because of the thing studied but also because of both the historically grounded human subject undertaking the activity and the disciplinary expectations shaping and delimiting the interpretations they produce. And, in the 21st century, technologies and practices have emerged to revise these conversations, including machine learning, computational modeling, and digital textuality.


Lilith Acadia

Queer theory describes a network of critiques emerging from a legacy of activism and looking ahead to utopian futures. The analytical tools queer theory provides as a mode of close reading and critique makes it a relevant contemporary approach to literary theory. Beyond reading for queer characters and desires in texts, queer theory is a tool for seeing below the superficial, and supporting unconventional readings that deconstruct normative assumptions. The activist roots of queer theory in the 1969 Stonewall Riots places drag, trans issues, class, race, violence, gender, and sexuality at the heart of queer theorizing. Subsequent work engages topics such as temporality, ecology, geography, and diaspora through the analysis of culture and politics, but also literature, film, music, and other media. Queer theory attends to both the rhetorical power of language and the broader structures of knowledge formulation. As feminist epistemology asks whose knowledge matters and who creates knowledge, queer theory asks whether knowledge matters and whether naturalized knowledge is constructed. Textual or discursive construction of knowledge is a key theoretical approach of queer theory with important implications for literature. Queer theory embraces a multidisciplinary and diverse set of influences, methodologies, questions, and formats. The critiques can be applied to help deconstruct naturalized epistemic frameworks around topics notably including, language, gender, sexuality, history, the subject, universality, the environment, animals, borders, space, time, norms, ideals, reproduction, utopia, love, the home, the nation, and power. Queer theory empowers novel readings of the world, and worldly readings of the novel, opening up new ways of viewing life and text.



Emmett Stinson

Although scholars generally agree that satire cannot be defined in a categorical or exhaustive way, there is a consensus regarding its major features: satire is a mode, rather than a genre; it attacks historically specific targets, who are real; it is an intentional and purposeful literary form; its targets deserve ridicule on the basis of their behavior; and satire is both humorous and critical by its nature. The specificity and negativity of satire are what separates it from comedy, which tends to ridicule general types of people in ways that are ultimately redemptive. Satire is also rhetorically complex, and its critiques have a convoluted or indirect relation to the views of the author. Satire’s long history, which is not straightforwardly linear, means that it is impossible to catalogue all of the views on it from antiquity through to modernity. Modern criticism on satire, however, is easier to summarize and has often made use of ancient satirical traditions for its own purposes—especially because many early modern theorists of satire were also satirists. In particular, modern satire has generated an internal dichotomy between a rhetorical tradition of satire associated with Juvenal, and an ethical tradition associated with Horace. Most criticism of satire from the 20th century onward repeats and re-inscribes this binary in various ways. The Yale school of critics applied key insights from the New Critics to offer a rhetorical approach to satire. The Chicago school focused on the historical nature of satirical references but still presented a broadly formalist account of satire. Early 21st century criticism has moved between a rhetorical approach inflected by poststructural theory and a historicism grounded in archival research, empiricism, and period studies. Both of these approaches, however, have continued to internally reproduce a division between satire’s aesthetic qualities and its ethical or instrumental qualities. Finally, there is also a tradition of Menippean satire that differs markedly in character from traditional satire studies. While criticism of Menippean satire tends to foreground the aesthetic potential of satire over and above ethics, it also often focuses on many works that are arguably not really satirical in nature.


Mark Byron

Textual studies describes a range of fields and methodologies that evaluate how texts are constituted both physically and conceptually, document how they are preserved, copied, and circulated, and propose ways in which they might be edited to minimize error and maximize the text’s integrity. The vast temporal reach of the history of textuality—from oral traditions spanning thousands of years and written forms dating from the 4th millenium bce to printed and digital text forms—is matched by its geographical range covering every linguistic community around the globe. Methods of evaluating material text-bearing documents and the reliability of their written or printed content stem from antiquity, often paying closest attention to sacred texts as well as to legal documents and literary works that helped form linguistic and social group identity. With the incarnation of the printing press in the early modern West, the rapid reproduction of text matter in large quantities had the effect of corrupting many texts with printing errors as well as providing the technical means of correcting such errors more cheaply and quickly than in the preceding scribal culture. From the 18th century, techniques of textual criticism were developed to attempt systematic correction of textual error, again with an emphasis on scriptural and classical texts. This “golden age of philology” slowly widened its range to consider such foundational medieval texts as Dante’s Commedia as well as, in time, modern vernacular literature. The technique of stemmatic analysis—the establishment of family relationships between existing documents of a text—provided the means for scholars to choose between copies of a work in the pursuit of accuracy. In the absence of original documents (manuscripts in the hand of Aristotle or the four Evangelists, for example) the choice between existing versions of a text were often made eclectically—that is, drawing on multiple versions—and thus were subject to such considerations as the historic range and geographical diffusion of documents, the systematic identification of common scribal errors, and matters of translation. As the study of modern languages and literatures consolidated into modern university departments in the later 19th century, new techniques emerged with the aim of providing reliable literary texts free from obvious error. This aim had in common with the preceding philological tradition the belief that what a text means—discovered in the practice of hermeneutics—was contingent on what the text states—established by an accurate textual record that eliminates error by means of textual criticism. The methods of textual criticism took several paths through the 20th century: the Anglophone tradition centered on editing Shakespeare’s works by drawing on the earliest available documents—the printed Quartos and Folios—developing into the Greg–Bowers–Tanselle copy-text “tradition” which was then deployed as a method by which to edit later texts. The status of variants in modern literary works with multiple authorial manuscripts—not to mention the existence of competing versions of several of Shakespeare’s plays—complicated matters sufficiently that editors looked to alternate editorial models. Genetic editorial methods draw in part on German editorial techniques, collating all existing manuscripts and printed texts of a work in order to provide a record of its composition process, including epigenetic processes following publication. The French methods of critique génétique also place the documentary record at the center, where the dossier is given priority over any one printed edition, and poststructuralist theory is used to examine the process of “textual invention.” The inherently social aspects of textual production—the author’s interaction with agents, censors, publishers, and printers and the way these interactions shape the content and presentation of the text—have reconceived how textual authority and variation are understood in the social and economic contexts of publication. And, finally, the advent of digital publication platforms has given rise to new developments in the presentation of textual editions and manuscript documents, displacing copy-text editing in some fields such as modernism studies in favor of genetic or synoptic models of composition and textual production.