1- Literary Theory Lecture one

Literary Theory
Lecture one:
The Rise of Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Syllabus
• This course provides a thorough knowledge of
contemporary literary theories.
• It also gives a comprehensive knowledge of the practical
applications of each theory.
• It draws on the influence of these schools on Arabic
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Syllabus
• Course Objectives:
Introducing different 20th century literary theories.
Introducing representative texts and critics.
Comparing and contrasting different schools of theory.
Demonstrating the influence of these schools on Arabic
 Focusing on the practical aspect of these schools.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Syllabus
• Course Topics:
The Scope of Literary Theory.
Formalism and Structuralism
New Historicism/ Cultural Poetics.
​Postcolonial Studies
Arabic Criticism
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Syllabus
• Reading Lists:
Bressler, Charles. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and
Practice. Pearson Education, 2011.
Castle, Gregory. The Literary Theory Handbook. John Wiley & Sons
Habib, Mohammed. Literary Criticism from Plato to the Present: An
Introduction. Wiley Blackwell (2011).
Klages, Mary. Key Terms in Literary Theory. Continuum, 2012.
Middeke, Martin, et al. English and American Studies: Theory and
Practice. Springer-Verlag, 2012.
.1998 ،‫ عالم المعرفة‬.‫ من البنيوية إلى التفكيك‬:‫ المرايا المحدبة‬.‫ عبدالعزيز‬،‫حمودة‬
.2004 ،‫ عالم المعرفة‬.‫ الخروج من التيه‬.‫ عبدالعزيز‬،‫حمودة‬
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Syllabus
• Assessment:
Presentations --------------------------------- 20 points.
Mid-Term Exam ------------------------------ 20 points
Term Paper* ------------------------------------ 20 points.
Final Exam ------------------------------------- 40 points
 Notice: in writing term paper, students have to avoid
Plagiarism since it is strictly forbidden. In case of
plagiarism, the student will be counted a failure.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Syllabus
• Class and Time Management:
Each Session will be divided into three parts;
Each part is one hour.
The first part of the session is dedicated to the student groups to give
presentations on the topic discussed. Each Presentation is 15 minutes long.
The second part of the session is dedicated to the teacher who gives a
presentation on the topic discussed.
The third part of the session is dedicated for each student to write a
summary of the topic discussed.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Shifting Paradigms
• Literary theory is not straightforward or causal.
• There are three modes of historical change of literary theory:
– Innovative mode: existing literary ideas are combined to form a new theory
(for example, Marxist deconstruction).
– Inventive mode: new areas of study emerge to form a new theory (for
example, cognitive studies);
– Renovative mode: prior theoretical ideas are given new dimensions or
perspectives. (for example, New Historicism)
• These three modes occur simultaneously, not chronologically.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Shifting Paradigms
• Three key orientations/schools of literary theory can be identified:
– The Modernist Theories (1920s – 1930s)
– The Postmodernist or High Theories (1960s – 1970s)
– The Posthumanist Theories (1990s)
• These orientations have profound implications for literary theory
in the twentieth century.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Shifting Paradigms
• The modernists seek to “represent” authentic human experience;
• The postmodernists radically “doubt” the possibility of literary
representation of authenticity and humanity.
• The posthumanists seek to move beyond the idea of the
subject/object representation from the human perspective to that of
the non-human.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Early Developments
• Literary theory has its roots in Greek and Roman philosophy.
– Plato’s ideas on mimesis
– Aristotle’s Poetics
– Longinus’s On the Sublime which marked the beginning of aesthetic theory
by its emphasis on the ideas of “the beautiful” and “the sublime”.
• During Renaissance, Sir Philip Sidney, in Apologie for Poetrie
(1595) established the poet as an “inventor” or “maker”.
• During the Neoclassical Age:
– John Dryden, in his Essay on Dramatic Poesy (1668), established the
principles of a neoclassical theory of drama.
– Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism (1711), articulates a view of the critic
who aspires toward the perfection by following the guidelines of those who
have come before.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Early Developments
• Romanticism inaugurated a tradition of critical reflection on
literature and culture.
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Biographia Literaria (1817)
imagination into primary and secondary with the former as “the living
Power and prime Agent of all human Perception” and the latter as an “echo”
of this primary form
– William Wordsworth’s The preface to Lyrical Ballads rejects neoclassical
theories of poetic practice and turns to the “natural genius” of the “rustic”
man as a model for the poet’s aesthetic sensibility. For Wordsworth, the
poem is the product of “emotion recollected in tranquillity.”
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Early Developments
• During the Victorian Age,
– Matthew Arnold believed that poetry, indeed all of literature, could serve an
important social function.
– In Culture and Anarchy (1869) Arnold sees that criticism is the pursuit of
“the best that is known and thought in the world”.
– Walter Pater argues for art for art’s sake
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Modernism
• Until the modern period, most of the great Western philosophers
have been logocentric in their thinking.
• Logo-centrists consider meaning to emanate finally from some
logos or originary source that is pure and undefiled (Plato’s
 This logos is known as the absolute self or transcendent ego.
 The best art is that which most fully realizes the logos.
 The final function of art is to point back to meaning.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Modernism
• Logocentrism generally expresses itself through binaries.
 A binary is a set of two related terms, in which the first term (which is
perceived to be closer to the logos) is privileged over the second.
 Indeed, the second term is often seen as a falling away from the first.
 The most famous (and most defining) binary is found in Plato, where the
idea (or form) is always given precedence over the image (or mimesis) of
this idea.
 Other binaries include: soul/body, logos (word, logic, speech)/praxis (act,
conscious/unconscious, essence/existence, genius/art, rational/emotional,
 In general, that which is closer to perfection, to the eternal, to that which is
unchanging, is privileged over that which alters or decays.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Modernism
 Feminist critics accuse logocentrism of being patriarchal and add the
following binaries: male/female, white/non-white, Western/non-Western,
 Binaries may also be viewed in spatial terms, with the first term acting as
the centre and the second as the margin.
 In general, Platonists think vertically; Aristotelians think horizontally.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Modernism
• There are four fathers of modernism (Freud, Darwin, Marx, and
• They disrupted logo-centric thought and thus set in motion the
modernist paradigm shift.
• Freud and Darwin disrupted these age-old binaries by juxtaposing
the centre and margin in a process known as decentring.
Before Freud, the conscious mind was privileged over the unconscious.
Freud inverted this established binary, positing the unconscious mind as
the true source (or origin) of conscious thought.
Before Freud, mental “normalcy” was placed at the centre of society, and
neurotics were marginalized both culturally and institutionally.
Freud decentred this view, positing neurosis as the norm through which
society and humanity should be viewed.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Modernism
• A similar inversion, or decentring, occurs in Darwinian evolution.
 The physical (as opposed to spiritual) side of man is brought to the centre.
 Humanity is seen to proceed not downward (outward) from spirit
(God/Logos) but upward from matter (animal).
 Modernists believed in evolution not in creation.
• More radical decentring was effected by Marx and Nietzsche.
• Marx (as both an atheist and a materialist) denied the real
existence of anything beyond the physical.
 For Marx, the base (or structure) of society is the economic means and
modes of production upon which rests the social, political, and intellectual
 Ideology, art, even consciousness itself are determined by economic forces
and can never be independent of them.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
Literary Theory: Modernism
• Nietzsche broke down the old logocentric faith in the possibility of
 In “Truth and Falsity in an Ultramoral Sense, he denies the existence of any
logos or form.
 In this essay, Nietzsche argues that Truth is, finally, an illusion that man
constructed and then forgot that he had constructed it.
 For Nietzsche, there is no truth apart from what man creates.
 Finally, even God is a man-made truth; therefore, not only is God dead,
but so are all supernatural, transcendent ideas and realities, whether those
ideas and realities are theological, philosophical, or aesthetic.
Lecture One: Literary Theory
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