Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

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Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

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Literary Theory


by: J. Culler

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This book examines some of the questions such as What is literary theory? Is there a relationship between literature and culture? What is literature, and does it matter -- is it important? The autor goes into such theories as the nature of language and meaning, and whether literature is a form of self-expression or a method of appeal to an audience. Concise yet thorough, Literary Theory also outlines the ideas behind a number of different schools: deconstruction, semiotics, postcolonial theory, and structuralism, among others. From topics such as literature and social identity to poetry, poetics, and rhetoric, this text is a superb guide for the reader interested in the importance of literature and the debates surrounding it.


The author opts not to delve into explications of myriad approaches (Marxism, Feminism, et al) or their hybridizations (Marxist-Feminist, among others), although there are very succint statements dealing with each, both along the way, and in the appendix. Instead, the author discusses, in very basic and understandable terms, the issues that 'theory' is concerned with; to wit, 'literature,' 'culture,' 'language,' and 'identity,' primarily. He uses examples that pretty much anyone can understand, filtering in, from time to time, foundational concepts of theorists like Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, and others.

Possibly the best thing this volume is the language the author uses. In conversational, even colloquial prose, and using very simple kinds of examples, the author manages to demystify a normally forbidding subject matter. By taking this kind of approach, theory becomes something useful and engaging. A possible limitation of this volume is that with all the discussion of 'subject' and 'identity,' there is virtually no discussion of the 'other.' While the author does address this topic by way of queer theory, feminism, and briefly, post-colonialism toward the end of the work itself, the concepts of the 'other' and 'othering' are not introduced as such, which the reader may have found useful.

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