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10th Grade English Mr. Fusco SCHOOLS OF LITERARY CRITICISM – A (very) Brief Overview of Critical Lenses Neoclassicism - proclaimed literature as being central to culture, and entrusted the poet and the author with preservation of a long literary tradition. The birth of Renaissance criticism was in 1498, with the recovery of classic texts, most notably, Giorgio Valla's Latin translation of Aristotle's Poetics. The work of Aristotle, especially Poetics, was the most important influence upon literary criticism until the latter eighteenth century. Aestheticisim – During the Romantic Era, Aesthetics or esthetics (also spelled æsthetics) gained popularity as a way of looking at art. It is commonly known as the study of sensory or sensori- emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste. More broadly, scholars in the field define aesthetics as "critical reflection on art, culture and nature." Aesthetics studies new ways of seeing and of perceiving the world. Archetypal Criticism – Views a text as being in “conversation” with the texts, traditions, mythologies, and religions of the past. Carl Jung stated that there’s a “collective unconscious” tradition of storytelling, that certain forms, motifs, and tropes are passed down almost as though through our genetic code. Popularized by Joseph Campbell, who studied how the same archetypes (Hero, Shadow, Mentor, etc.) and story details (“The Hero’s Journey”) appear in texts all over the world. Historical Criticism – States that literature is important because it helps us understand a particular literary era, and an understanding of history is important in understanding any given text. A critic employing the Historical Critical Lens would be concerned with the era’s shaping of the story and also what the story says about that era. Feminist Criticism – Developing from the Feminist movements of the Twentieth Century, Feminist Criticism is concerned with the politics of women's authorship and the representation of women's condition within literature, as well as how genders interact with one another in a story. The Feminist Critic is concerned with what the story has to say about power dynamics between the genders. Feminist critics often approach a text as an artifact that tells the reader something about gender relations within their society. Marxist Criticism – Influenced by the political/economic writings of Karl Marx, Marxist Literary Criticism is concerned with how class conflict and the power structures of society influence the reading of a text, and how that text is commenting on the author’s or reader’s own culture or society. Biographical Criticism – States that the author is central to the work, and we can derive meaning about the work from the author’s background. Psychoanalytic Criticism – Inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalytic critics also believe that the author is central to the work, but believes that we can derive information about the author from details in the text. For example, the fact that Edgar Allan Poe continuously writes about people being trapped or walled-up might tell us something about Poe’s mental state. Structuralism - Structuralism is a theory that concentrates completely on the text, bringing nothing else to it. It depends, in large part, on linguistic theory, so it is difficult to do without some background. On the most basic level, however, structuralism investigates the kinds of patterns that are built up and broken down within a text and uses them to get at an interpretation of that text. For example, in Our Town each act begins with the Stage Manager providing factual information, moves toward the introduction of a "standard" concern in life, makes that concern seem insignificant, and then uses a character to comment on, or moralize on, that concern. This pattern indicates that the play is not actually the slow movement through the lives of some standard characters but a satire of the basic and ridiculous things with which humans consistently concern themselves. The New Criticism – Like in Structuralism, the New Critics of the mid-20th Century (T.S. Eliot, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom) believed that a text should be self-contained, and our reading of the text should not involve any knowledge about the author’s life and era – nor assumptions about the author’s mental state – but only close readings of the text itself. Unlike Structuralism, though, the New Criticism deals not with the structure of the text but with the details of plot and character, and is closer in spirit to Aestheticism than Structuralism, which is far more rigid and structured. Deconstruction – Made famous by the philosopher/critic Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction is a way of approaching literature that looks to break down presumed systems of understanding a text, usually attacking the idea that any text fits neatly into a system of organization or binary oppositions. Deconstructionist critics argue that an attempted interpretation of a text would break down over time, and that no interpretation could ever be complete or universal. Post-Structuralism – Like Deconstruction, Post-Structuralist ways of thinking state that any text has an infinite number of “meanings” and interpretations, but post-structuralism posits that interpretation relies on the reader. Since we all have different ideas and life experiences, we all will have a different reading of a text – and since the way that people as a group think about things change, the meanings of texts can also change in society. Unlike Deconstruction, Post-Structuralist critics would most likely not insist that textual interpretations break down. NOTE: The “structuralist” of “post-structuralist” refers not to Structuralist Literary theory, but, rather, the belief that art and culture have some kind of universal structure.
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