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What Is Literary Theory;Why It Is So Important For Literature

Literary theory elaborates some principles for  to analyze the literary works. It also includes the study of the laws that determine the development of the various aspects of artistic-literary creation, laws related to the development of different genres, literary language, versification, and argument.

What Is Literary Theory;Why It Is So Important For Literature

Theory’ can be defined as a new mode of knowledge in postmodern methods of interpreting aesthetic and cultural works. The distinction between theory and criticism results when the critic analyzes the formal object of interpretation by referring to the underlying semiotic and cultural processes in which the object (or “text”) is situated. In the United States, the emergence of “literary theory” (which also included a theory of criticism) was prefigured by Rene Wellek and Austin Warren who, in Theory of Literature (1942), argued that every literary-critical practice must presuppose a theory of literature, even if this is narrowly defined as a set of critical terms or preliminary concepts that condition the act of interpretation.

History Of Literary Theory;

After the advent of poststructuralism in France and the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, this methodol¬ ogy has dominated in such a way that earlier methods of formalist criticism and literary history now appear as naive, positivist, or patently ideological. This epistemological shift was first announced in Barthes’s work of the early 1970s (for example, “From Work to Text,” “The Death of the Author”) in which the guiding question is no longer “what does it mean?” but rather, “how does it work or function?” As Barthes writes in his seminal definition of the structuralist approach to inter¬ pretation, “the goal of the structuralist activity; whether reflexive or poetic, is to reconstruct an ‘object’ in such a way as to manifest thereby the rules of functioning (the ‘functions’) of this object”

Against the background of the formal unity of the literary text and the coherence of the critical representation of the elements of literature (including genre, literary’ history, and authorial intention as the ultimate referent of the work’s meaning), Barthes and other poststructuralists sought to reveal the discontinuous and contradictory nature of literary representation by analyzing the multiple “codes” that inform the 226 literary theory work. As a consequence, poststructuralist theories of literature often departed from the traditional role of literary’ criticism, the interpretation of individual works and authors, and instead began to investigate the nature of literary discourse and the systems that comprise it.

Literary Theory And Postmodernism.

In postmodernism, the evolution of literary theory can be roughly divided according to two dominant impulses. According to the first, the primary goal of theory was to break with the idea of totality. Proponents of this view understood structure as a notion without  determinant subject, and often privileged the function of literature itself as an artificial or highly reflexive form of representation by which language itself is unmasked as historically and ideologically motivated. The second impulse is comprised by those theorists and critics who saw this destructive or rhetorical approach to the language, including the historical of institutions and culture, as only a first stage to the discovery of another totality which had been repressed or alienated in the margins of historical representation. At the close of his influential essay “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences,” Jacques Derrida announces both these impulses – which he calls the two dominant “interpretations of interpretation” – as the fundamental problematic which form the ultimate horizon of a postmodernism episteme.

In The Postmodern Condition (1984), Jean-Franpois Lyotard argued the relationship between post¬ modernism and experimentation as the condition for a renewal and revitalization of earlier avant- garde and modernist projects of culture. According to Lyotard, theory is tested (or legitimated) by the consistency and coherence of its discourse; the proper medium of experimentation in the human sciences is discourse and, more specifically, narra¬ tive (Lyotard 1984).

This could account for the peculiar temporal or historical rhythm of certain theories which, for a period of time, gain prominence as a manner of description (such as reader-response theories, deconstruction, and new historicism) which persist through a period as an authoritative description of the literary process, but which over an ensuing period are gradually changed through experimentation by -which the theory is tested and debated. In this context, certain theories such as reader-response and deconstruction must be differentiated from others such as Marxism and psychoanalysis. Foucault, in his seminal essay “What is an Author?” addressed this distinction as the difference between what he called a theory and a mode of discourse.

However, this distinction could illustrate the historical importance of the language of Marxism and psychoanalysis which has so far withstood subsequent experimentation. There remains something of an “unconscious” or “sub-structure” which is a properly theoretical knowledge and which, at the same time, is still a valid hypothesis to designate or explain the genetic element of cultural, psycholo¬ gical, political and historical causality.

Hence, the proper object of theory is totality which is not an empirical object and, therefore, cannot be grasped in a comprehensive representation or “world-view” ( Weltanschauung ); rather, specific objects will be represented in relation to a determinant totality which constitutes the speculative or philosophical basis of all theoretical knowledge. Thus, rather than judging its consistency with an external object, theoretical knowledge concerns an object that is not simple datum, but radier a structure or process, that cannot be verified in the traditional sense (such as Freud’s theory of the unconscious).

In other words, the consistency of truth in theory is the internal coherence of the theoretical discourse itself, whose referent is not outside or opposed to its representation, but rather becomes the description of a genetic system, or structure, which can account for seemingly remote phenomena. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan redefined the Freudian concept of the Unconscious as being “like a language,” he established a working hypothesis which also privileged the field of language and speech as the place where a coherent theory of the “Symbolic” could be constructed to account for diverse “effects” that occur in social, cultural, and political processes.

In turn, this method was adopted by the French Marxist theorist Louis Althusser, who applied the Lacanian theory of the Symbolic to the field of economic and political causality. The importance of these two events for literature and literary theory was a certain method in which structures one finds in literary and cultural texts could be analyzed with a view to the relationship literature studies 227 between cultural production and the underlying or primary structures of politics, economy, ideology, and history.

In The Political Unconscious (1981), Fredric Jameson extended Althusser’s critique of “ex¬ pressive causality” (that is, mechanical or allegory materialist interpretation) in a manner that had great import for cultural and literary analysis. For Althusser, the notion of structure should not be conceived as an extrinsic essence outside its effects, its relations, or its forms; therefore, interpretation must not proceed allegorically, which would simply translate one level of the text into another by a “code” that would function as a “master-narrative” (Lyotard 1984), or what Roland Barthes had earlier called a “meta-language” (Barthes 1972).

Instead, he re-defined the notion of a structure that is immanent in its effects, or as being “merely a specific combination of its own peculiar elements” (Althusser 1969: 34). As a result of this re¬ definition, no local or regional structure, including language, can assume the role of a “meta¬ language” in interpreting other regions of the social symbolic.

Applying Althusser’s definition of “structural causality,” Jameson names the properly speculative or hypothetical operation of theoretical knowledge as mediation, “as the invention of a set of terms, the strategic choice of a particular code or language, such that the same terminology can be used to analyze and articulate two distinct types of objects or ‘texts,’ or two very different levels of reality” (Jameson 1981: 89).

Thus, following the Frankfurt School’s critique of the disciplinary character of knowledge in bourgeois society as the product of alienation or reification, Jameson argues that the speculative dimension of theoretical knowledge is “strategic,” and theory itself is a device (or “methodological fiction”) invented by the analyst provisionally and politically to represent a “totality” which has not undergone fragmentation into specialized or compartmentalized regions of social and cultural life.

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