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Understanding of Literature Due to Several Approaches

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Traditional Approaches

Literature did not begin being studied in classes in the 1920s. The first approach to appear was the traditional approach. This may be seen as the “old” historicism in contrast to the post-modern new historicism. Historical criticism is common in the traditional approach and is often biographical in nature. These historical approaches test mimetic accuracy and show the limitations of historical interpretation. Another common route of the traditional approach is analyzing allusions from one work to another, called a source study. Literary study became less about the author and history as works began to stand on their own for meaning and critical study steered towards textual analysis in “new” criticism, called formalism, but textual and source study remained constant. However, later approaches will return to historical study. The traditional approach presented literature as a web of symbols and tropes that reappear throughout. There are some limitations associated with the traditional approach though. The historical studies are seen as outdated and far from reach. The philosophical approach are criticized for only looking to a moral and not viewing writing as art.

Textual Scholarship

Textual scholarship focuses on the authentic text, or what the author had intended the work to be. Readers wrongly assume that the form of a work they read is the original, as most are textual variants rich with emendation. Textual criticism is responsible for the purest forms of published writings, one of the greatest contributions of the traditional approach. Textual criticism also follows how a piece of literature develops over time. Textual critics are concerned with accidentals such as spelling, punctuation, capitalization, italicization and paragraphing, but also skills like literary history, bibliography, paleography, and typography. These critics also look to substantives to evaluate the text. There is a debate of the scientific contribution of textual critics. Keywords may consist of dialect, vernacular, prose, and diction among other literary terms.

Genre

It was once assumed that readers could know much about a work itself by knowing the genre. The labels of novel, short story, drama, parody and other provides reader an insight to the idea in the work they will read. Different genres have varying methodologies and should be recognized. Such as in dramas and epics, the sentiments of catharsis, tragedy, and hubris are often associated. Though this study has subsided since the 19th century, romance and lyrics works were still categorized and genre critics have reappeared in recent critical reviews. This criticism was created not to classify works, but instead to look into traditions of the era. Keywords may be mood, tragic hero, focal character, or any name of a genre.

Source Study

Though the approach for source study does not have a widely accepted name attached, but is associated with the origins of a work. Separately from textual scholarship, source study looks at where the references and ideas in a piece of writings came from and the allusions to other works that appear. Manuscripts are analyzed in this approach and can link one author to another to scene the genesis of ideas and influences. Keywords may be reference, manuscript, or allusion.

Historical/Biographical

Historical and biographical approaches continue to be present in the study of literature. This approach looks into the life of the author and the social and political environment surrounding the author when the work was written. The context that a historical or biographical approach lends to a work gives the reader a greater understanding of the purpose of the writing and the mindset of the author as all writers write with an inherent bias. This approach is applied to characters in novels and even to poems. For example, any war occurring at the time of a writing, political shift, publicized court case, and even the experiences of the author must be considered in studying a piece of writing. The insight this study gives a critic is crucial to organic understanding. Keywords may be representation, imagery, and antagonist.

Moral/Philosophical

The moral and philosophical approach dates back to the classical time period as Plato himself used this approach. A moral and philosophical approach views a work as having a higher meaning than what is specifically written on the page. Discussion of moral superiority and aesthetic considerations often take place in a moral or philosophical review. Critics who use this approach concern themselves with what the piece is teaching to readers and what the author intended by sharing their work with others. Keywords may be theme, moral, figurative language, symbolic, and allegory.

Formalism

Formalism finds individuality in the specific appreciation of form. Formalism begins with a close reading of the word choices an author makes, looking to the denotative and connotative implications and etymologies of the words as we have done in the Oxford English Dictionary. The approach then goes on to view the formal structure of the poem and the relationships between lines and words. The structure the text creates becomes the tone of the writing. Formalism may also look at juxtaposition. This approach births more ambiguity as the reader interprets individually. Formalism goes on to analyze the patterns of symbols, the appearance of allusion, irony, and metaphors. The formalist approach may be labeled easily as words such as structure, shape, interplay, interrelationships, contexts, repeated details, denouement, rhythm, and rhyme are often found in formalist critic’s writing. In its earliest stages, formalism was named the New Criticism, teaching writing as an object of art. To study the object, you must first observe how it looks, or organic form. The Romantic Movement in Europe spurred interest in the form of literature with the idea of imagination and a preoccupation with the relationship between the whole and the parts. This New Criticism consisted of distinct characteristics. Eliot was influential in the idea of the objective correlative, or what emotion is brought about by words. He also endorsed metaphysical poets who blended states of mind and feeling in one. This criticism was prevalent in the 1950s and noted for its sharp form. As a reaction against the New Criticism, critics formulated reader-response theory. Formalism allows any extremely subjective and relative interpretation based on reader biases, so reader- response critics deemed readers as the most crucial element of a work. The reader plays a role in creating a text and that without a reader, the text does not exist. The reader-response critics saw formalist critics as narrow and elitist, while formalist critics believed reader where the affective fallacy of literature. From there, reception theory formed which analyzed responses to literature as a sign of public acceptance of the work. Associated with this, the term “horizon of expectation” meant to read publicly. The last shift in formalism was in Stanley Fish’s idea of effective stylistics. Fish argued that writing was not stagnant, but that meaning should also not be pulled out of a text and taught. Instead, meaning is what occurs in the reader during their own mental negotiations in reading. Regardless of the differences in these movements, all of formalism focuses on texture, images, symbols, allegories, fallacy, the reliability of the speaker, point of view, irony, and paradox. All of these would be keywords associated with the formalist approach. The limitations formalist criticism faces is that it is only applicable to lyric literature and that there is more to be appreciated than simply the meaning of the work.

Materialism

Marxism

The idea of life being materialistic and socially driven by economics was begun by Karl Marx who believed that a socialist future would arrive when the proletariat (working class) would revolt and defeat the bourgeoisie (class that owns the wealth) based on the dialectic of historical evidence/examples. He viewed spiritual expressions as a culture’s ideology to support the needs of the dominant class. His main argument was that the division of labor between the proletariat and buorgeoise as well as labor and capital would ultimately lead to capitalism’s collapse in favor of socialism wherein the proletariat would finally reap the direct products of their labor.

Leon Trotsky was influenced by Marxism and held that mimesis (imitation) in literature should give us a “slice of life” without commenting on it. On the other hand, Georg Lukacs said authors must take pains to portray not the slice of life but the forces that act on society to bring about social change. He thought modernism was too fragmented and was too focused on form and technique. It sacrificed the content of his beloved social realism. He also attacked naturalists for presenting characters as being simply trapped in a social order.

Antonio Gramsci criticized the central Marxist notion of economic determinism and drew a distinction between government and culture. He argued that the proletariat had not revolted due to hegemony (how dominant groups maintain their power) does not dominate through violence or coercion, but by subtly winning the consent of the masses (people think they are making their own decision but marketing and advertising has already decided for them).

Frederic Jameson, leading American Marxist critic, focused on the psychological aspect of Marxism (the political unconscious). Point of view and subject position were important to him. He thought formalism was wrong because art is not free of historical and political influence. Postmodernism was weak in his opinion because modernism degenerated into playfulness with no serious political orientation.

Other key terms: exchange value, commodity fetish, reification, determinism, cultural capital

British Cultural Materialism

In the 1950s an influential group of British intellectuals began analyzing Marxist texts, arguing that culture belongs to working class and elite and that there is no stable cultural center in a society. Feminism was also very important to cultural materialists.

New Historicism

This approach looks for surprising coincidences and correlations between literature and history to see how they resemble each other (“The text is historical and history is a text.”) They view both literature and history as narratives of power and exchange.

Ecocriticism

Ecocriticism is the study of ecological concepts in literature, and its advocates are environmental activists. Ecofeminism notes the patriarchal system found in ecology and argues that there are parallels between how the environment and women are treated.

Literary Darwinism

Using natural selection as a basis, this approach argues that the human mind is constructed to think in stories and that literature, like human behavior, can be best interpreted by reference to its evolutionary features which often focus on “selective mating, kin preference, adaptability, childrearing competition for resources, cooperation” amongst others. Darwinists answer the question of “Why does literature continue to exist?” by studying sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, genetics, ect.

Literature and Linguistics

Structuralism and Poststructuralism

Structuralism focuses on structures in language, or systems of relationships, which assigns signs (such as words) or items (fashion, automobiles, the mall) to identities and meanings which show how we think. Philosophy and linguistics are key in this approach.

Notable under this approach:

The Linguistic Model- Ferdinand de Saussure distinguished between la langue (language possessed by the community) and la parole (application of language in either speaking or writing in which words and significance are linked). French Structuralism followed these ideas and thought that the text was a message requiring a “code” to read it, such as symbolic or cultural codes.

Levi-Strauss came up with the paradigmatic approach which attempts to find “embedded” structures in a text that seem to evade a conscious or rational arrangement of the author (called binary oppositions).

Deconstruction- states that the linguistics of a text is always changing, and therefore they can only provide provisional meanings (words often have more than one meaning for different people or different cultures).

Dialogics- Mikhail Bakhtin saw all language as “addressed” to someone and presumed that the derived meaning does not depend on its structure as a system but on the relationship between the two people addressing each other. Key words include polemic, humanistic, polyphonic discourse, and chronotope.

Psychological

This approach provides insight into the thematic and symbolic mysteries of a work of literature by seeking the possible motives behind an author’s work in order to guess at the author’s and characters’ psychological conflicts. This approach tends to completely miss out on aesthetic appreciation and limit the interpretation of the text itself. The idea of enhancement in this approach as it bases itself off of many other approaches. The psychological approach dates back to Aristotle and is nothing new to our era. This approach was at one point was associated with shocking terms such as anal eroticism, phallic symbol, and Oedipal complex. Since, these terms no longer have shock value. Sexual imagery is often analyzed in this sort of approach.

Key points:

  1. Freud’s Theories- The mind is divided into the id (unconscious desire/pleasure), ego (conscious sense of self/reality) and superego (learned rules and customs/morality).
  2. Phallic and Yonic symbols/male and female genital symbols
  3. Oedipus Complex- son’s strong feelings and attachment to mother and subsequent struggle with the father.
  4. Jacques Lacan- Realm of the Mother, the “Imaginary” and source of creativity, and Realm of the Father, representing symbolic order and language source.

Mythological and Archetypal

Mythological approaches tend to seek out the parts of literature which evoke a dramatic reaction from people universally. How do certain works become “classics” while other works are forgotten? These critics attempt to define these symbols which lead to influence on our cultural behavior. Sometimes myths are not just fictional remnants of the Greeks and Romans! This approach may also look to archetypal patterns. This approach has a deep connection to the psychological approach. Mythological and archetypal can look to myths, motifs, ideologies and symbols for analysis, often observing the images the author creates in their writing. This approach has unique opportunities for literary study, but has a few downsides. Critics may tend to disagree in universal patterns that archetypal critics discuss. Furthermore, critics stray away from this approach and steer towards more defined areas of study to lack ambiguity.

Notable points:

  1. Archetypes- reoccurring patterns of imagery found in multiple mythologies (sun, water, colors, circles, serpents, numbers, trees, gardens, deserts).
  2. Archetypal Woman- awesome mother, horrible mother, or soul mate
  3. Wise Old Man- helps hero achieve goal
  4. Demon lover- represents the devil
  5. Tickster
  6. Creation, Immortality, Hero
  7. Genres: spring/comedy, summer/romance, fall/tragedy, winter/irony

Feminism and Gender Studies

Though there exists incredible speculation as to the definition of feminism, feminist study in literature is concerned with the marginalization of women in their patriarchal culture. Similarly to the Marxist approach, feminist criticism is highly political. Recently, feminist criticism has shifted from only women’s interests to education, civil rights, reaction to war, urbanization, and openness of sexuality. Feminist criticism leads to the movements of ethnic studies, queer theory, and postcolonial study, or identity politics. These critics relied heavily on observation of male-centered beliefs, otherness, and hegemony. Each of the three waves of feminism had its own sort of criticism. The first wave feminists bore the right to vote and practice use of birth control, establishing that women were also human beings instead of property. The second wave of feminism followed WWI, gearing its way towards equal rights in social, political, legal, and economic spheres. Common phrases indicating second wave feminism are cultural feminism, where women are more nurturing than men and difference feminism where women established themselves as better and even superior to men. The third wave of feminism came in the 1990s and represented women off all minority groups. Some female critics in feminist studies use a psychoanalytic approach, though Freud is not one that feminists admire. The psychoanalytical literary study of feminism brings subtexts to light and strives for deeper understanding. Myth criticism also takes place in feminist study as feminist myth critics look to archetypal female figures like the Virgin Mary and goddesses. Feminists of color rejected the Western literary canon that favored men and included African American women. Marxist and Materialist feminisms focused on social constructions and attacked classist values of capitalist societies. Another sect of feminist study is feminist film study which had the unique ability to communicate feminist issues. Outside of the feminist critical approach is the study of gender itself. Both feminist and gender studies criticizes society’s creating of binaries in gender, sexuality, race, and more. Within these are subsets of lesbian and queer critics, notable for looking at alterity and vernacular idioms. Key words used in the feminist and gender critic’s approach include binary, sexuality, patriarchy, femininity, and masculinity. The limitations of this approach include the high opposition to the tenets of this literature such as separate male and female language. This area of study will continue to face long-held beliefs but also provides education to its readers.

Cultural Studies

The term “culture” has various meanings and connotations, therefore making cultural studies more of a set of practices than an approach. Cultural studies consist of questions, issues, and tendencies of groups. This approach premiered in reaction to the cultural turmoil of the United States 1960s and is linked to all other approaches that study community division and alterity. Cultural critics have an agenda remove stratification between cultures, literary texts, and other discourses. Like the feminisms and gender approach, psychoanalytic theory is applied in cultural studies. Cultural studies appear in the majority of the approaches previously discussed, but this focuses most on US ethnic studies and post-modern culture. However, there are four overarching goals of cultural studies. First, culture transcends any particular disciple. Second, culture is political. Third, Culture denies any elitism in society. Finally, Cultural studies look not only at work, but at means of production. Cultural studies are subjective and engage in humanism. Cultural studies are limited in that by talking about diversity and minorities, this study can be seen illegitimate and blindly connecting objects with deeper connections than they call for.

US Ethnic Studies

Ethnic studies in the United States in particular are rich. From the 1960s on, there were numerous civil rights movements and demonstrations that impacted change on the US. In this criticism, race begins to become an idea and no longer a term of classification. Questions such as if ethnicity is the only separate culture came about. The sentiment of being “the Other” is celebrated and brought into the mainstream. The United States specifically had multitudes of ethnic writers. African-American writers embraced naturalism and literary modernism. Black culture was elevated by use of dialect in many of these writings. Latino and Hispanic writers analyze code-switching, a phenomena of identity occurring on borders. These Latino and Hispanic authors created their own archetypes in the United States, shifting American literature to be the literature of the Americas. Native American literature often was autobiographical and spoke through metaphors. Native American literature is limited because of the oral nature of their storytelling though. Asian-American writers addressed the feeling of alienation in the United States, dominated mostly by women.

Postmodernism and Popular Culture

Modernism rejected the aesthetics associated with morality, using techniques such as point of view, steam-of-consciousness writing, narratives, pastiche and metafictive texts. Postmodernism built off of these ideas but introduced fragmentation and ambiguity. This approach often appears as skeptical of classical notions of identity and truth. Postmodernism was no more than a style of culture that blurs art and everyday experiences. This postmodern approach also stresses historical context and how expectations change over time, rejecting dualism and reductionism. Popular culture analysis also falls under postmodernism. There are four ways to study popular culture: production analysis, textual analysis, audience analysis, and historical analysis. However, sometimes popular culture analysis can overwhelm a work and forever change an author’s intent.

Postcolonial Studies

Postcolonialism most often refers to the historical shifts after colonialism declined. Postcolonial writing can be seen from third world writers having a unique vantage of colonialism and the effects thereafter. In our age, we are unable to digress back to understand the precolonial state of mind and cannot see the current neocolonial domination occurring. These critics focus on European colonization of the Americas and are mostly the phenomena of white people colonizing races of color. This approach is not restricted to simple political and historical approaches, but the thoughts that went into social development. It was postcolonial studies specifically that sparked interest in spatial, geographical, and ecofeminist studies. One cornerstone of postcolonial study is orientalism, viewing differences in what we term the East and the West. Similarly, Postcolonialism addresses the internalized racism stemming from orientalism that leads to neocolonialism. The emerging relations between differing ethnicities were termed hybridity and are a dialogic model of false binaries. Mimicry also recurs in this literature as colonized peoples often assimilate by adopting the culture, clothing, habits, and more of their colonizers. However, postcolonial studies do not only occur on the basis of European colonization of the Americas. This study is applied to areas around the world, especially diasporic texts, giving viewpoints of those in foreign nations. Postcolonial feminism also rose in literature, often deeming women as the subproletarian of the third world. More recent critics in this area see Postcolonialism as a way to view the world from another side and understand exactly why, but also seeks blame and influence in developing nations. Instead of having a single approach, Postcolonialism compares cultural values next to each other and views the world as an ever-changing environment to be observed. Spatial theory birthed itself to study human constructions not only of physical but mental space as an evolution of postcolonial study and the creation of social maps. Keywords may include third world, colonization, assimilation, culture, foreign, and influence. Limitations of postcolonial study are that the aesthetic properties of literature simply cannot compare in pursuit of political solutions and therefore should not be studied.

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Understanding Of Literature Due To Several Approaches. (2019, August 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/understanding-of-literature-due-to-several-approaches/
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Understanding Of Literature Due To Several Approaches. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/understanding-of-literature-due-to-several-approaches/> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2022].
Understanding Of Literature Due To Several Approaches [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Aug 28 [cited 2022 Sept 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/understanding-of-literature-due-to-several-approaches/
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