The Best 20 Literary Theories of All Time
From Plato and Aristotle to Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, literary theory has always tried to make sense of our relationship with literature. These theories reveal unexpected insights about the power of language, reading, and writing. In this article, we explore the 20 best literary theories of all time.
Formalism – represented by Roman Jakobson and Viktor Shklovsky – puts emphasis on the form and structure of literary texts rather than the content. Structured and functional oppositions between form and content, language and sign, author and reader are some of the critical concerns formalists explore.
Marxist literary theory investigates the socio-economic relationships implied by literary texts. It is particularly interested in the way literary constructs contribute to class inequality and oppression. Raymond Williams and Terry Eagleton are notable Marxist theorists.
Psychological dimensions such as repression, desire, and the unconscious are of interest in the school of Psychoanalysis, particularly running under the umbrella of ‘Freudian’ or Lacanian model. Jacques Lacan is an crucial contributor to this psychological theory when it comes to its application to these themes in Literature.
Feminist theories of literature deal with how literetary demeanours both create and reproduce the absurd inequalities between genders. Disability, Sexuality, gender performativity, class, race are few critical questions addressed by feminist literary theories like those put forth by Simone de Beauvoir, bell hooks ,etc.
Structuralism attempts to decipher the fundamental symbolic structures by analysing signs, myth, and language. This schools studies text at the level binary oppostions like language and consciousness or nature and culture by understanding it through literary manifestations like story, plot , etc. Prominent theorists are at Helsinki School of Structuralism.
6. Reader-Response Theory
Reader-Response Theory, developed by Wolfgang Iser, Stanley Fish and Edmund Crewe, centres on how the reader creates meaning through the reading experience. Perception, feeling and meanings engaged by the the text can be likened to subjective activities that different groups of readers may perceive differently.
Poststructuralism critiques conventional fixed value systems of meaning by essentially emphasising the gaps in the interconnected nature of subjects or ideas. Jacques Derrida has contributed significantly to this perspective at giving this trait direction.
8. New Criticism
New Criticism necessitates the close reading of a literary text. It underlines patterns of meaning and interprets that art is an autonomous object of study that is the author’s origial resultant artistic expression independent of conflicts stemming from economy, politics or the society. Prominent scholar associated with this tradition is I.A.Richards.
9. narrative theory
This emphasizes the importance of narrative as a medium of sense-making and understanding the world around us, analyzing narration as a means to embody stories which happen in space and time. Munich Semigroup, and F. K. Stanzel were early propagators of this school.
10. Deconstruction Theory
Deconstruction assenting that language embeds unique blind spots in stable subjects, leading to ‘disruptive’ interpretations. Text must be a site guaranteed decentering, and because of that Geoffrey Hartmann and J. H. Miller are important to theorists of deconstruction.
11. Queer Theory
Propounds the innate ambystery of sex and gender from the constrictions of set definitions , and explore ambiguity and resistance it poses to to generalized heteronormative linearity when it comes to literature. Queering the subject of what is general has been written about greatly by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick as relevantly added to this theorization.
Postcolonial theory heavily underlines the influences of the historical fragmentary basis supplied in histories of colonialism and anti-colonial struggles portrayed in textual elements. Discarding normative regional conceptions, subaltern voices have been envisioned quite overwhelmingly by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Edward Said among others.
Trans feminism sides with transgender individuals showing sensitivity over their cultural freedom by manifesting content regarding gender transition and being identified by a two sex system ideologies. Emi Kentus and Susan Stryker’s lucid dialogues on this topic is considered as significant addition on this matter.
14. Cultutral Studies
Cultural Studies concentrates mainly on ‘real’ practices, specific to cultural institutions and artefacts that are supposed to influence existential formation at large as a disciplier , appreciative the necessary will to go from relatively put together objects to unyoking language and those attending power dynamics bound in it.
Ecocriticism, also known as its namesak, focuses on ecological problems proliferating and becoming organic in our neo-created modernity. The concept of porosity upon drawing attention to nultiple intersections between natural features and literary construction placed environment at the forefront of literary texts.
16. Genre Theory
It is on various structural attributes that a larger project of looking at whole libaries could be one departure, and the theory of genre is precisely interesting to do this by categorizing and making sense of the broad genres – novels, poetry,sci-fi,not treating them independently but viewing through looser lenses. Of note, Polish scholar Louis Cazamian recieved attention for his works in respecting genre-specific aspects.
Sammy Mamis important to add-on to this theory)
Underpins critique of academic thinking as know-it-all aesthetic superiority yet strives for dertailing any such generalisation suffered through ‘one language politik’ of broader fantsies, catering to, vaguely intellectual, the high cultures of Hollywood.
18. Reception theory
Seeing the reader situated beautifully in dialogical spaces, this direction asks the most significant series of questions: Must literature, and innovation suffice to only be wholly a precursor of subjective reactions from an equally critically suited audience? How does historical frameworks direct momentums with human context?, etc. suggested by Hans Robert Jauss.
19. intentional fallacy
(Sammy Mamic: Important here as well)
Rejecting the speculative and domain-linked series of critical retorts challenging an author-focussed criticism initial to understanding prosaic patterns means the author descibed possibly undermined proper process whereby people start around articulated themes, thereby delegating them originally.
20. Performance Theory
Mediating between hereness versus whereness, this direction posits how movement, actors, staging all impact speech, setting up even newer axes for a further critique of genre varieties, fiction, otherwise stage-dominant traditions that perform serve to attribute to character motivations .Erving Goffman when it comes to identifying meta-theorisation made significant additions to this domain.
These critical theories give unique outlooks on analyzing literary forms that help inquiry about humanities in general. Thus, think about experiencing, adorning them as potential methods adaptable to each literary works.