10th Grade English                                                                    Mr. Fusco

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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