Literary Theory - Schools of Literary Theory

Schools of Literary Theory

Listed below are some of the most commonly identified schools of literary theory, along with their major authors. In many cases, such as those of the historian and philosopher Michel Foucault and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, the authors were not primarily literary critics, but their work has been broadly influential in literary theory.

  • Aestheticism – often associated with Romanticism, a philosophy defining aesthetic value as the primary goal in understanding literature. This includes both literary critics who have tried to understand and/or identify aesthetic values and those like Oscar Wilde who have stressed art for art's sake.
  • American pragmatism and other American approaches
    • Harold Bloom, Stanley Fish, Richard Rorty
  • Cognitive Cultural Studies – applies research in cognitive neuroscience, cognitive evolutionary psychology and anthropology, and philosophy of mind to the study of literature and culture
    • Frederick Luis Aldama, Mary Thomas Crane, Nancy Easterlin, William Flesch, David Herman, Suzanne Keen, Patrick Colm Hogan, Alan Richardson, Ellen Spolsky, Blakey Vermeule, Lisa Zunshine
  • Cultural studies – emphasizes the role of literature in everyday life
    • Raymond Williams, Dick Hebdige, and Stuart Hall (British Cultural Studies); Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno; Michel de Certeau; also Paul Gilroy, John Guillory
  • Darwinian literary studies – situates literature in the context of evolution and natural selection
  • Deconstruction – a strategy of close reading that elicits the ways that key terms and concepts may be paradoxical or self-undermining, rendering their meaning undecidable
    • Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Gayatri Spivak, Avital Ronell
  • Gender (see feminist literary criticism) – which emphasizes themes of gender relations
    • Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Hélène Cixous, Elaine Showalter
  • Formalism - a school of literary criticism and literary theory having mainly to do with structural purposes of a particular text
  • German hermeneutics and philology
    • Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Erich Auerbach
  • Marxism (see Marxist literary criticism) – which emphasizes themes of class conflict
    • Georg Lukács, Valentin Voloshinov, Raymond Williams, Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin
  • Modernism
  • New Criticism – looks at literary works on the basis of what is written, and not at the goals of the author or biographical issues
    • W. K. Wimsatt, F. R. Leavis, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren
  • New Historicism – which examines the work through its historical context and seeks to understand cultural and intellectual history through literature
    • Stephen Greenblatt, Louis Montrose, Jonathan Goldberg, H. Aram Veeser
  • Postcolonialism – focuses on the influences of colonialism in literature, especially regarding the historical conflict resulting from the exploitation of less developed countries and indigenous peoples by Western nations
    • Edward Said, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Homi Bhabha and Declan Kiberd
  • Postmodernism – criticism of the conditions present in the twentieth century, often with concern for those viewed as social deviants or the Other
  • Post-structuralism – a catch-all term for various theoretical approaches (such as deconstruction) that criticize or go beyond Structuralism's aspirations to create a rational science of culture by extrapolating the model of linguistics to other discursive and aesthetic formations
    • Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva
  • Psychoanalysis (see psychoanalytic literary criticism) – explores the role of consciousnesses and the unconscious in literature including that of the author, reader, and characters in the text
    • Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Harold Bloom, Slavoj Žižek, Viktor Tausk
  • Queer theory – examines, questions, and criticizes the role of gender identity and sexuality in literature
    • Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Michel Foucault
  • Reader-response criticism – focuses upon the active response of the reader to a text
    • Louise Rosenblatt, Wolfgang Iser, Norman Holland, Hans-Robert Jauss, Stuart Hall
  • Russian formalism
    • Victor Shklovsky, Vladimir Propp
  • Structuralism and semiotics (see semiotic literary criticism) – examines the universal underlying structures in a text, the linguistic units in a text and how the author conveys meaning through any structures
    • Ferdinand de Saussure, Roman Jakobson, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Mikhail Bakhtin, Jurij Lotman, Antti Aarne, Jacques Ehrmann, Northrop Frye and morphology of folklore
  • Eco-criticism – explores cultural connections and human relationships to the natural world
  • Other theorists: Robert Graves, Alamgir Hashmi, John Sutherland, Leslie Fiedler, Kenneth Burke, Paul Bénichou, Barbara Johnson

The concept of emergence has been applied to the theory of literature and art, history, linguistics, cognitive sciences, etc. by the teachings of Jean-Marie Grassin et the University of Limoges(v. esp.: J. Fontanille, B. Westphal, J. Vion-Dury, éds. L'Émergence -- Poétique de l'Émergence, en réponse aux travaux de Jean-Marie Grassin, Bern, Berlin, etc., 2011; and: the article "Emergence" in the International Dictionary of Literary Terms (DITL).

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