The Rise of Literary Theory
Intervene. O descend as a dove or
A furious papa or a mild engineer but descend.
W. H. Auden, “Spain 1937”
The historical life of ideas is typically one of recurrence. Ideas from one era are revived and revised for a new generation of thinkers. It is a variation of the causal variety of history in which we find “one damn thing after another.” This could certainly be said about the history of literary theory when looked at in terms of the development of strategies of reading and interpreting literary and cultural texts. As the twentieth century unfolded, literary theory took on a momentum that might be called progressive, each movement or trend building on the blind spots and logical flaws in those that had come before. There was also a good deal of innovation, with literary theories entering the academy and public discourse with all of the excitement and possibility of the genuinely new. As is the case with most historical narratives, the history of literary theory is complicated by the simultaneous development of theoretical movements, schools, trends, and fashions, sometimes interacting with, sometimes contesting each other. There were fruitful collaborations among theorists as well as many HYBRID configurations, some the result of serendipitous synthesis, others the outcome of uneasy truces and strategic coalition-building. This network of creative and conflicting relations gives vivid intellectual life to specific historical epochs: the Modernist era of the 1920s and '30s, the Poststructuralist “turn” in the 1960s and early '70s, the rise of HISTORICISM in the last decades of the century. In such epochs, innovative thinkers and writers redefined
decisively the intellectual mission, the academic relevance, and the characteristic methods of literary theory.
This short history of literary theory in the twentieth century will try to do justice both to the general picture of historical development throughout the century as well as to the complexities of specific epochs within it. It will show that there was a marked tendency towards ideological and historicist forms of theory, especially after the Second World War, that appears to coincide, on the one hand, with democratization of universities in Britain and the US and, on the other hand, with the linked processes of globalization and postcolonial emancipation. Along with this dominant historicist orientation, there is another that emphasizes the analysis of formal structures and language. The relation between the two resembles a historical DIALECTIC, a struggle between two incommensurate theoretical perspectives. What the history of literary theory tells us, however, is a much more complicated and pluralistic but in the end no less fruitful story. For literary theory has come to resemble less the dialectical interplay of two formidable orthodoxies than a multitude of alternative methods, coexisting in a vast and growing formation.
As with any historical overview, this one offers a general picture that inevitably gives short shrift to some developments within the history of individual theories. Moreover, such an overview cannot hope to convey adequately the simultaneity of theoretical developments or the convergence and imbrication of theories within a given epoch. For in-depth treatment of the various theories, movements, and trends herein discussed, the reader is advised to consult the texts listed at the end of this section under the heading “Suggestions for Further Reading.”
Early Influences on Literary Theory
Literary theory has its roots in classical Greece, in Plato's ideas on mimesis, in Aristotle's Poetics, which established classical definitions of tragedy and distinguished poetry from history, and in Longinus (or, as he is now known, Pseudo-Longinus), whose theory of the sublime, in which language is recognized as a powerful means of transporting the
mind of the listener, had a profound effect on aesthetic theory well into the nineteenth century. The period from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries produced a number of important treatises on literary art. Sir Philip Sidney's Defence of Poesie (1595) was instrumental in establishing the importance of the literary artist as an “inventor” or “maker,” while John Dryden, in his Essay on Dramatic Poesy (1668), followed the lead of Pierre Corneille, whose Of the Three Unities of Action, Time, and Place (1660) established the principles of a neoclassical theory of drama. English neoclassicism reached its height in Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism (1711). The emergence of modern AESTHETIC THEORY in the late eighteenth century, in works like Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), came at the cost of neoclassical didacticism and established the importance of sensation and imagination in artistic judgment. Some years later, Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment (1790) moved away from the English empirical tradition represented by Burke and established the importance of cognition in aesthetic judgments. For Kant, aesthetic judgments, which are a “freer” form of ordinary cognition, are grounded in an a priori principle of taste governed by “common sense.” The aesthetic judgment of the beautiful is disinterested, universal, and necessary; such judgments present the beautiful object as possessing “purposiveness without purpose” (that is, they appear to have a purpose, but one that cannot be identified). The aesthetic judgment of the sublime, on the other hand, involves the judgment not of an object but of the relationship between an object's overwhelming size or force and the ability of reason to invoke a concept of “absolute freedom” or “absolute totality” that assimilates the object. From this process a feeling of intense aesthetic pleasure ensues. Friedrich Schiller's consideration of aesthetics, On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), followed an essentially Kantian line, linking the aesthetic comprehension of the world to the idea of the AUTONOMOUS and harmonious SUBJECT (which the German Enlightenment called Bildung).
This Kantian tradition exerted a tremendous influence on English Romanticism, which in its turn inaugurated a tradition of critical reflection on literature and culture that has influenced much of twentiethcentury literary theory. one of the chief “conductors” of German aesthetic theory was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose Biographia Literaria (1817) successfully translated German aesthetics into English terms. The division of imagination into primary and secondary modes and the
distinction between imagination and fancy are two of the most famous propositions in that volume, and both are grounded in the aesthetics of Kant, Schiller, and Friedrich Schelling. Coleridge's unique contribution to English literary theory is precisely his role as a cultural translator at a time when England was in danger of losing sight of intellectual developments on the Continent. Frank Lentricchia indicates his continuing relevance when he speaks of the “neo-Coleridgean mainstream of modern theoretical criticism” (215).
William Wordsworth, like many English Romantics, followed Schiller in emphasizing the importance of aesthetic “play” in aesthetic production. He also followed Schiller in distinguishing between naive and sentimental poetry, the latter characterized by reflection and skeptical self-consciousness, the former by “natural genius” and spontaneous, unselfconsciousness. His preface to Lyrical Ballads (co-authored by Wordsworth and Coleridge, 1800) expounds on the nature and function of literary art and the role of the artist in society; it also rejects neoclassical theories of poetic practice and turns to the “natural genius” of the “rustic” man as a model for the poet's aesthetic sensibility. It is a strategy that W. B. Yeats used a century later. A more radical statement of poetic sensitivity at the time was John Keats's “negative capability,” a notoriously slippery concept that sought to describe an imaginative absorption in the world outside of oneself, a capacity for surrendering one's personality in the contemplation of an object. It is the opposite of the “egotistical sublime,” Keats's term for Wordsworth's poetics. Percy Bysshe Shelley, in Defense of Poetry (1821), redefined the egotistical sublime as a form of divine rapture. “Poetry,” he writes, “is indeed something divine.”
The poet and critic Matthew Arnold was the chief inheritor of the Romantic tradition of literary theory and criticism. The decline in the stabilizing influence of the church and the increasing threat of social and political anarchy led Arnold to argue that literature could provide moral and spiritual guidance for a new secular society. This argument was not new in European intellectual circles. Johann von Goethe, Schiller, and Wilhelm von Humboldt, among many others, had virtually created the modern sense of culture as a harmonious and principled manifold of artistic, social, spiritual, and even political impulses and practices. Arnold's influential Culture and Anarchy considers the threat to culture of an increasingly anarchic secular society. His solution was a humanistic education designed specifically to appeal to the burgeoning and
restive working classes and a Schillerian vision of criticism that advocated the “disinterested love of a free play of the mind on all subjects, for its own sake” (Arnold 270). He was an important early influence on the efforts of the British government to institute adult education for the working and lower classes and to provide higher educational opportunities for women. However, the redemptive qualities that Arnold discerned in the study of literature tended to lose their importance as English studies came to serve the pragmatic social function of providing a basis of cultural literacy and of forestalling potential social unrest.
The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw a number of alternative voices to Arnold's that emphasized either the social responsibilities of art or, conversely, art's freedom from the social sphere. John Ruskin, from 1869 the Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford, was a central figure in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters and poets and an inspiration to young students who were attracted to his social commitments and fanciful, prophetic style of writing. He was a strong influence on William Morris, the socialist founder of The Firm, an artist and artisan cooperative, and, later, a friend and mentor to both Oscar Wilde and Yeats. Walter Pater, an Oxford professor who made his reputation as an art historian and critic, had a powerful effect on young artists and writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Pater's Studies in the Renaissance, especially its brief, stirring conclusion extolling the virtues of AESTHETICISM (with its rallying cry of “art for art's sake”), was part of an avant-garde movement in England that included the Pre-Raphaelites, A. C. Swinburne, and the aesthete dandies clustered around Wilde.
Late-nineteenth-century aestheticism was in part a rejection of Kant's insistence on cognition in aesthetic judgment, but in other ways it clung to Kantian ideas, specifically concerning beauty and the sublime. Friedrich Nietzsche, another important influence on literary artists and, later, literary criticism, had a similarly conflicted relationship with Kant. His vision of the subject who creates new values was clearly a departure from the Kantian subject bound to reason and the “categorical imperative” (moral law as a function of reason). At the same time, the aesthetic and moral dimensions of his GENEALOGICAL method owe a good deal to a critique of Kantian aesthetics, especially the sublime. (On genealogy, see pp. 129-30, 160.) In the end, Nietzsche's affirmation of Life and the “will to power” went beyond Kantian terms to celebrate a new form of the sublime, one no longer answerable to reason, a “Dionysian world of
the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world of the twofold voluptuous delight, my ’beyond good and evil,' without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal” (550).
In one form or another, more or less aggressively, an aesthetics of the sublime dominated the writing offin de siecle aesthetes and continued to dominate throughout the Modernist period, though Structuralism and New Critical formalism introduced new models of aesthetic judgment in literature beginning in the 1920s. New aesthetic models, many indebted to Nietzsche, accompanied the proliferation of literary theories after the 1960s. It is to this long and complex history that I now turn.
Modernist Trends in Literary Theory, 1890 through the 1940s
Modernist literary criticism and theory emerged in distinct phases: an early prewar and wartime phase, 1890-1918; a second inter-war phase, 1919-1939; and, overlapping this second phase, a third phase, 1930s- 1940s, which marked the rise, in the US and Britain, of professional academic critics. In the first phase, through the First World War, writers and artists were eager to set themselves apart from their Victorian predecessors and Edwardian contemporaries. Arnold's influence was still strong, especially with regard to the values attached to literary art. His criterion of “high seriousness” and his conception of the literary tradition (with its authoritative “touchstones”) can be discerned at the foundation of many neohumanist critics and reviewers at the turn of the century, including such diverse talents as Irving Babbitt, G. K. Chesterton, and Edmund Gosse.
An early and influential alternative to this late-Victorian tradition was provided by the aesthetes gathered around Pater and Wilde in the 1880s and '90s. In a series of lecture tours and critical essays, Wilde challenged the dominant Arnoldean critical tradition. His collected early essays, Intentions (1891), redefined the critic as a creative force, whose authority derived not from tradition, as Arnold believed, but from the power and variety of subjective experience. Taking his cue from Pater, Wilde believed that the critic's own impressions were the foundation of criticism. Against Arnold's claim that the critic's responsibility is to see an
object as it really is, Wilde counters, in “The Critic as Artist,” that the “primary aim of the critic is to see the object as in itself it really is not’’ (144). Whereas Arnold constructed a theory in which criticism served an important, if secondary, role with respect to artistic creation, Wilde insists on the fundamentally creative nature of criticism: “[T]he critic reproduces the work that he criticizes in a mode that is never imitative, and part of whose charm may really consist in the rejection of resemblance, and shows us in this way not merely the meaning but also the mystery of Beauty, and, by transforming each art into literature, solves once for all the problem of Art's unity” (149). Wilde's emphasis on beauty and art “for its own sake” and on the creative nature of criticism characterized early Modernist AESTHETICISM.
Modernism was a dynamic international movement, emerging in different forms in the US, Ireland, Britain, and the Continent. Early Modernists were primarily concerned with the “problem” of being human in a world in which the conventions of language, truth, morality, and religion were eroded or eroding, the targets of critical and artistic skepticism. In the run-up to the First World War, the “Men of 1914” - preeminently, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, T. E. Hulme, Wyndham Lewis - announced a decisive break with the aesthetic and literary conventions of their late- Victorian and Edwardian predecessors. Though innovative artists, most of the early Modernists (and many who followed) were cultural conservatives who condemned mass culture and democracy and mourned the passing of integrated, organic societies where fine art and artistic vision had a high social value and authority. Hulme, along with Eliot, called for a new classicism in poetry, while Pound and Lewis promoted the imagist and Vorticist movements. in the literary and plastic arts, Vorti- cism used juxtaposition and association to represent the “vortex,” a point at which disparate times and places return and intersect with each other in the present. Though these movements did not survive the war, an emphasis on the single sharp image and on a flexible, recursive sense of the past continued to characterize poetry through the 1920s.
The second phase of Modernist criticism coincides with the emergence of the so-called High Modernism, which in one respect designates a certain peak of innovation and experimentation in style, narrative, and language. High Modernist aesthetics privileged SUBJECTIVITY, language, allusion, and allegory over the early Modernist penchant for objectivity, image, impressionism, and symbol; High Modernist texts typically
featured non-linear and non-causal forms, stream of consciousness point of view, unreliable narration, and expressive form. The alienation and anomie depicted in Pound's “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” Eliot's The Waste Land, and Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway can to some degree be traced to the transformations of social and cultural life that followed the war. To some degree the achievements of High Modernism signaled the dynamism of a movement that was constantly building on previous innovations and seeking ever newer forms of artistic expression. For example, early Modernist fiction had been preoccupied with individual psychology (driven to some extent by greater interest in Psychoanalysis). Joseph Conrad and Henry James wrote prefaces to their work that developed some of the earliest theories of how modern novelistic narrative functions. Conrad's preface to The Nigger of the “Narcissus” advocates a form of narrative impressionism that relies on temperament and “magic suggestiveness,” that assumes as foundational the absolute subjectivity of the artist and the uniqueness of the work of art. James's prefaces explored the theoretical possibilities of point of view, unreliable narration, and the interior monologue style. Their work provided the building blocks for projects as varied as Percy Lubbock's The Craft of Fiction (1924) and E. M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel (1927). In the inter-war years, the quality of narrative consciousness itself was the chief focus of interest. Novelists sought to go as far beyond realism, even psychological realism, as possible, often experimenting with non-realistic modes of representation. High Modernist prose amplifies and fractures the impressionistic tendencies of early writers like James and Conrad; their psychological realism is radicalized to a stream of consciousness style. From James's unrelenting interiority to Joyce's “odyssey of styles,” to William Faulkner's shifting narrative tableaux, experiments in point of view and narrative structure reached further and further into the hidden resources of both human psychology and language.
We see a similar development in the poetry of the inter-war years: the “speaking subjects” we can still discern in early Eliot and Pound, in Yeats's bardic singers, become the august personae of such monuments to High Modernist poetry as The Waste Land and Pound's Cantos. The associational or “pastiche” style of High Modernism (with its mixing of rhetorical and generic idioms) not only suppressed the personality of the creator, it fractured personality at the level of “speaker” as well. There is no singular personality generating the content of The Waste Land or
Cantos; it is an arrangement of utterances, perhaps “ventriloquized” by a single voice, but arranged quite deliberately to create new lyrical and narrative effects. The High Modernist poem (and, in some cases, novel) used style in deliberate and deliberately innovative ways; it was often the most significant variable in the text's meaning. As Gwendolyn says, in Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest: “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.” Neither Gwendolyn nor Wilde is joking. For Modernists generally, artistic style was not an affectation; it was the responsibility, not lightly taken on, of the individual who maintained a living connection with an artistic tradition.
A good deal of High Modernist criticism appeared in the “little magazines,” the most prominent of which were The Criterion, The Dial, The Little Review, The English Review, The Freewoman/Egoist, Poetry, The Masses, and transition. These magazines were published in London, New York, Chicago, and Paris. In Ireland, Yeats, under the auspices of the Abbey Theatre, edited Beltaine and Samhain, journals dedicated to issues concerning theater in Ireland at the turn of the century. Eliot's journal, Criterion (which began publication in 1922), was long running and influential. Pound's early essays and reviews, especially early writings on Vorticism, were widely published in the “little magazines” and had a significant impact on other writers, especially Yeats and Eliot, in the 1910s and '20s. Eliot's critical essays, beginning just after the war, became a standard, not only because of their insights and judgments but also because of their style. His “Tradition and Individual Talent,” which has since been widely anthologized, stands as an emblematic critical work of High Modernism. Eliot saw the literary tradition as an evolving and transforming CANON. He believed that the past, in the form of a literary tradition, informed and enlivened the present and that individual writers of talent became a part of and transformed that tradition if they could create “the new (the really new) work of art” (5).
In many of his critical essays, Eliot hinted at an alternative view of tradition, one that was not supported by a Hegelian or progressivist theory of history. For many early Modernists, history was neither TELEOLOGICAL (as Hegel believed) nor always tending towards the betterment of human life (as the progressivists believed) but cyclical. They wrote as if past times could revisit the present and create a “vortex” of pliable, recursive, simultaneous moments. This new perspective on time and history attempted to make a virtue of the “dissociated sensibility” that
Eliot believed had “set in” in the seventeenth century. The classical rigors of Imagism and Vorticism provided a hedge against dissociation, which makes it impossible to “devour any kind of experience” (247).
Another important source of Modernist innovation, in both creative and critical writing, was the Bloomsbury group. Loosely centered around Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and E. M. Forster, the group adopted the ethical philosophy of G. E. Moore, which placed a high value on personal friendships and conversation and fostered a critical sensibility characterized by refined taste, nuanced judgments, and an openness to experimentation and innovation. Woolf's reviews and critical essays were influential throughout the 1920s and '30s. Her widely-read “Modern Fiction” made the distinction between “materialist” writers (e.g., Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy, and H. G. Wells) and “spiritual” writers (e.g., Joyce and, presumably, Woolf herself). Woolf clearly preferred the latter style of writing, which for her was dedicated to representing life “as it really is” - not “a series of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged” but “a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from beginning of consciousness to the end” (Woolf 160). Woolf was one of many women writers in the Modernist period who gained strength and inspiration from the suffragette movement. To this extent, Modernist literary criticism contributed to the first phase of modern feminist criticism.
The Modernist era of literary criticism also saw the emergence of Formalism, which followed on the pioneering work of the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure. Saussure created a framework of structural linguistics that was later adapted to the uses of a wide range of disciplines, from anthropology and folklore studies, to sociology and textual studies. His Course in General Linguistics (1916) taught that language was grounded in the structural differences of phonemes, very basic sound units, rather than in the mimetic relation of the sign to an external referent. Unlike the nineteenth-century philologists, who were interested in the history of languages, Saussure was concerned with the way that language functioned as a system. He posited a distinction between the systematic nature of language (langue) and the specific instances of usage within the system ( parole). A structuralist understanding of language, according to which universal forms were found to govern the seemingly endless variety and mutability of languages, dialects, argots, and jargons, thus depended on the interrelation of specific instances within a given system
rather than on a referential relation to the external world. In the decades following the publication of Saussure's Course, a number of leading European theorists expanded the potentialities of a structuralist approach to language. (On Saussure, see 181-4.) The most prominent early figures were Vladimir Propp, Roman Jakobson, and Viktor Shklovsky. Jakobson was associated with the Moscow Linguistic Circle and the Prague Linguistic Circle from 1915 to the 1930s. His theories of language, especially of the metaphoric and metonymic poles of literary discourse, were to have a profound impact on other formalists and structuralists as well as on the poststructuralist movement of the 1960s and '70s. Propp used formalist methods to analyze folktales and derive a typology of narrative structures that was to prove instrumental in establishing a structuralist theory of narrative. His work was also important for the structuralist semiotician A. J. Greimas and the structuralist anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Viktor Shklovsky, like Jakobson associated with the Moscow Circle, produced a quite different theory of narrative in his Theory of Prose (1925). Of particular note is the concept of estrangement or defamiliarization, a technique whereby naturalized or cliched language usages and literary conventions are “laid bare.” Estrangement permits a reevaluation of literary language and the world it purports to represent. Like so many other formalists, Shklovsky conducted his intellectual life on the periphery of the Communist Party. He was an exile in Berlin for a while after the First World War (at one time in hiding at Jakobson's house), one of many Social Revolutionaries to evade arrest by the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s. His resistance to the Party line on matters of aesthetics led to intense criticism from Marxist literary critics, but he eventually capitulated to Marxism, signaled by the publication of A Monument to Scientific Error in 1930.
The third phase of Modernist literary criticism coincided with the rise of Formalism. The dominant mode of formalist criticism in the US and Britain in the 1920s and '30s was the New Criticism. But whereas Formalism grew out of the science of linguistics and provided a theoretical basis for innovation in a wide variety of other disciplines, the New Criticism emerged out of poetry and poetics as a set of interpretive strategies that did not have a wide impact outside literary studies. There was always something patrician, even elitist, about the New Criticism, the legacy of the great Modernist poet-critics, whose highly refined, mandarin sensibilities were behind much artistic and critical innovation in the inter-war
years. By the 1930s, Modernist literature and criticism were staples in mainstream journals, including Eliot's Criterion, the Nation and Athenaeum (two early journals consolidated in 1931), Vanity Fair, the Times Literary Supplement and, beginning in 1932, Scrutiny. F. R. Leavis and his wife, Q. D. Leavis, were the intellectual center of Scrutiny, which emphasized the moral and ethical dimensions of literature. Another critical voice was that of Edmund Wilson, whose Axel’s Castle (1931) and The Wound and the Bow (1941) treated the innovative texts of the High Modernist era with a seriousness and professional attentiveness that was often lacking in the mainstream literary establishment. His work was widely read and provided an alternative to the New critics who were to dominate criticism and theory for the next thirty years.
The rise of English departments in the opening decades of the twentieth century, especially in the US, helped to create the social conditions that enabled the rise of the professionally-trained academic critic. The New Criticism, which privileged the kind of esoteric and erudite poetry that invited close reading and that was eminently suited both to the teacher in the classroom and to the professional critic, was crucial to this development. it encompassed a variety of interpretative methods that shared certain key elements, the most important of which was the notion of the literary work as AUTONOMOUS and self-contained - a “verbal icon,” as W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley famously put it. i. A. Richards' Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), one of the first works to employ the New Critical method, explored the psychology of reading and the relationship between emotional responses to literature and the values that literature articulates. Literature records experiences, and it is the critic's job to be able to evaluate those experiences as they are expressed in literary form. Richard’s comment in the Preface - “A book is a machine to think with” (1) - neatly sums up both the autonomous self-sufficiency of the literary text and the mechanistic nature of the reading process. An appendix on T. S. Eliot's poetry added to the second edition (1926) testifies to the prestige that the poet enjoyed as a motive force in the New Criticism. Richards speaks of the difficulty of Eliot's poetry and asserts that the various elements of his work “are united by the accord, contrast, and interaction of their emotional effects”: “The value lies in the unified response which this interaction creates in the right reader” (290). The ideal of unity and the assumption that a “right” kind of reader of such poetry actually exists reflects the abiding values of the New Criticism.
Richards' second book, Practical Criticism (1929), continued this program of criticism, with an emphasis on controlled studies of reading and evaluation and an empirical form of literary scholarship better suited (or so Richards thought) to the modern research university.
Academic critics in the US propelled New Critical techniques of close reading to the forefront of pedagogy and scholarship. Cleanth Brooks, William Empson, and Wimsatt and Beardsley developed methods of close reading that sought to describe the internal dynamics and the range of signification in literary (typically poetic) works that stressed irony, PARADOX, ambiguity, and other rhetorical features. A literary text was more or less “well-wrought,” autonomous, and self-regulating. New Critical formalism extended to the study of the novel as well. Leavis, in The Great Tradition (1948), found that such Modernist writers as Joyce lacked the kind of formal integrity and unity that he found in the realist tradition of George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and, somewhat grudgingly, Charles Dickens and D. H. Lawrence. Alternatives to this view of the novel form - for example, Edmund Wilson's more sympathetic judgments of Joyce's Ulysses and other Modernist experiments in symbolic narrative - sought to enlarge the focus of New Criticism beyond issues of form and tradition. But Leavis's influence defined powerful limits within which thinking about the novel remained stalled, until Ian Watt's still-influential The Rise of the Novel (1957) inaugurated a historicist theory of the novel.
Another aspect of the New Criticism, one that underscores the pedagogical importance of the new modes of interpretation, was the creation of college textbooks focusing on poetry and fiction. Brooks and Robert Penn Warren edited a number of popular textbooks - including Understanding Poetry: An Anthology for College Students (1938) and Understanding Fiction (1959) - in which the new modes of interpretation were made available as practical tools for the classroom. It is hard to underestimate both the CANON-forming impetus behind the New Criticism and the extent to which it transformed the nature of scholarship and teaching. And while the importance of close reading in the New Critical style in scholarly writing begin to wane in the 1960s, with the advent of Structuralism and Poststructuralism, it remained dominant in the classroom for much longer - indeed, many instructors in the twenty-first century, especially in undergraduate classrooms, continue to rely on New Critical methodologies.
Social and Political Theory from the 1930s to the 1960s
The same professionalization, the same drive for methodological rigor and argumentative nuance, that characterizes New Criticism and Formalism can also be seen in the development of social theory. One of the most significant early figures was the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs who was a vocal critic of the Modernist novel and a champion of “critical realism.” In 1920, after the failure of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and in exile, Lukacs published Theory of the Novel, a study strongly influenced by Hegel's dialectical method and Marx's sociology. He regards the novel as a “problematic” genre: “The novel is the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given, in which the immanence of meaning in life has become a problem, yet which still thinks in terms of totality” (56). TOTALITY, as Lukacs uses it here, refers to idealist conceptions of perfect unity and fullness.
The same problems that preoccupied Lukacs also determined the nature and direction of the new social theory that emerged in the 1920s and '30s from the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, founded by Felix Weil and incorporated into Frankfurt University in 1923 under the directorship of Carl Grunsberg, who made Marxism its theoretical basis. Max Horkheimer became director in 1930 and continued the emphasis on Marxist studies of society and culture. The rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany forced a relocation of the Institute, many of whose members where Jewish, first to Geneva in 1933 and then to California in 1935. These geopolitical developments were largely responsible for the shift, in the late 1930s and '40s, from an interest in economics and the modes of production to an interest in the SUPERSTRUCTURAL side of social development, with a strong emphasis on ideology critique. This shift was discernible as well in the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who was active in the Italian Communist Party throughout the 1920s, until he was arrested in 1926 by Mussolini's fascist government under the “Exceptional Laws.” He remained in prison, working on his Prison Notebooks until his death in 1937. From his prison vantage point, without reference books and under censorship, Gramsci meditated on the structure of complex capitalist societies and concluded that dominant social classes exercise power primarily through HEGEMONY, through modes of indirect and “spontaneous” consensus; DOMINATION was the power in
reserve, authorized by the State, for those “moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed” (12). (On Gramsci, see 110-11.)
Gramsci's theory of the superstructure as a domain divided between “civil society” and “political society” - between “private” realms of hegemonic connection and a State that uses domination to crush resistance - was similar to theories put forward by Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse. Hork- heimer was interested in a Marxist analysis of culture that stressed sociological methods, while Adorno and Benjamin were more interested in the analysis of philosophy, literature, film, music, and other cultural productions. Marcuse, like Horkheimer, was involved in sociological studies, but his work on Freudian psychoanalysis underscored the importance of psychology in the study of social formations and institutions. Their common theoretical project was the systematic investigation of MODERNITY, mass and commodity culture, authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, and capitalist ideology. Horkheimer's and Adorno's collaboration on Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) is one of the signal achievements of the Frankfurt school. This text is a wide-ranging analysis of the “culture industry” - Adorno's term for the concentrated efforts of media corporations to convert cultural productions into COMMODITIES - and other features of modern society (including anti-Semitism). Adorno wrote extensively on philosophy, aesthetics, music, and literature, as did Benjamin, whose friendship with Adorno constituted an informal collaboration. Benjamin was not an official member of the Institute and did not embrace conventional Marxism and social science methodologies, though he was in agreement with the Institute's general aim of analyzing culture. He produced thoughtful and provocative materialist analyses of literature, philosophy, film, and social phenomena like the Parisian arcades. He was far more willing to see the potential for positive social transformation in the technologies of culture that for Adorno were the engines of an increasingly demoralizing and dehumanizing State. In the early years of the Second World War, Benjamin tried to escape from Europe, only to find himself held up at the Spanish frontier. certain that Hitler's Gestapo was on his trail, he committed suicide on September 26, 1940. This event underscores the utter alienation of the intellectual in totalitarian regimes, where the options were absolute conformity, exile, or death.
The Frankfurt Institute was able to relocate in Frankfurt in 1953 and Adorno and Horkheimer became co-directors in 1955. With Adorno's death in 1969 and Horkheimer's in 1973, the first generation of critical theorists came to an end, though Marcuse would remain influential throughout the 1960s and early '70s as an intellectual mentor of anti-war activists in Europe and the US. Beginning in the 1960s, Jurgen Habermas emerged as the leading figure of a new generation of critical theorists. He was far more critical of Marxist theory than the earlier generation, and consequently his work on the public sphere concentrates not on the struggle between social classes or on the inevitability of a proletarian revolution but on the authority behind political and cultural discourses and institutions and how they achieve and maintain legitimacy. For Habermas, the crucial issue was the legitimation crisis of late modernity. New forms of legitimacy had to be found that would account for both the AUTONOMY of social groups and their interconnectedness within a larger social framework. Habermas and his student, Seyla Benhabib, were the key figures in the Frankfurt school tradition from the 1980s. They advocated forms of social TOTALITY and consensus, which Habermas termed “communicative action,” that would, theoretically at least, resolve legitimation crises. In an important early essay, he invoked Max Weber's analysis of modernity and emphasized the developments that led to the creation of autonomous social spheres for science, morality, and aesthetics. He decried the “negation of culture” that some social theorists had promoted as a way to resolve contradictions in the social sphere as a whole. But locating the problems of the social totality in the sphere of aesthetics detracts attention from problems in the other spheres and from problems that arise when the spheres function as a single, social totality. This project of cultural renewal would bring the sphere of aesthetics back into contact with those of morality and science, thus achieving a condition of totality in which modern culture could connect to everyday life. As Habermas put it, in a rejoinder to Postmodernists, the “project of modernity has not yet been fulfilled” (12). (On this debate, see pp. 38-9, 69-70.)
There are some points of overlap between Critical Theory and Postcolonial theory, which began to attain its disciplinary shape in the 1950s, drawing on the same works of Hegel and Marx that served as the foundation for mainstream European social theory. Early theorists committed to nationalism and anti-colonial resistance drew for ideological
sustenance on a Marxian critique of IMPERIALISM. The key figures in this early phase were Albert Memmi and Frantz Fanon, men who occupied complex positions in colonial societies that inspired literary and theoretical works now widely regarded as the foundations of Postcolonial theory. Albert Memmi, a Tunisian Jew, was a novelist and social theorist; his major theoretical work, The Colonizer and the Colonized, was published in 1957 in the midst of the anti-colonial struggles in Tunisia and Algeria. one of the chief virtues of this book is its dialectical analysis of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Fanon, born in Martinique, was trained as a psychiatrist and spent considerable time examining combatants in Algeria during the nationalist insurgency against France in the 1950s. Before he was assigned to the Psychiatry Department at the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria, he published one of his most important works, Black Skin, White Masks, which dealt with the problems of a black man living in a “whitened” world. In The Wretched of the Earth (1961), he argued that the task of anti-colonial struggle was to “reintroduce mankind into the world, the whole of mankind” (106). No longer would the colonized have to suffer the indignity of being “submen,” an indignity that arose from the central contradiction of colonialism: “Laying claim to and denying the human condition at the same time” (20). It is significant that The Wretched of the Earth, like Memmi's The Colonizer and the Colonized, was introduced to European intellectual communities by Jean-Paul Sartre, who wrote prefaces for both. In part because of this association with European radical politics, The Wretched of the Earth had a wide-ranging impact, influencing not only anti-colonial resistance but also the Black Power movements in the US in the 1960s.
The other major theoretical trend to take root in this post-war period was Cultural Studies. In the early years, Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams brought materialist and sociological methods of analysis to bear on the study of culture. Williams, who focused on links between literature and culture as well as on the new modes of mass communication that were transforming the very nature of culture, best represents the Marxian influence in Cultural Studies. His Culture and Society: 17801950 (1958) inaugurated a tradition of British cultural Marxism informed by sociology and anthropology, while his Communications (1962) was instrumental in defining new the disciplines of communications and media studies. (On Williams, see pp. 72-4.) The foundation, in 1964, of
the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham was pivotal in establishing the field initially in Britain. In this first phase of Cultural Studies (a second phase in the US would begin to emerge in the 1980s), theorists were primarily interested in literary and cultural traditions, new technologies, and marginal social groups. Hoggart's work on literacy and Stuart Hall's on politics and the police exemplify the sociological tenor of early work in British Cultural Studies. Some theorists, notably Williams, were strongly influenced by CULTURAL MATERIALISM, which emphasizes the influence of economic conditions on social and cultural works and practices.
The Poststructuralist Turn, 1966 through the 1980s
Poststructuralism grew out of developments in Structuralism, which had reached a culmination in 1958 with Levi-Strauss's Structural Anthropology (1958). Levi-Strauss's anthropology, which brought together cultural observation and structuralist analysis, was a clear divergence from the theories of functionalism and cultural diffusion that had dominated the field since the turn of the century. The idea that myth and kinship patterns could be studied as coherent and stable signifying systems and that these systems operated in a similar fashion in diverse societies had a galvanizing effect on Roland Barthes, whose early work, from Mythologies (1957) to “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative” (1966), was indebted to Levi-Strauss. Barthes' work is significant not only for what it accomplished within the Structuralist movement but also for how quickly and decisively it turned away from Structuralist conventions. By 1970, S/Z, a study of a short story by Balzac, marked Barthes' transition to a poststructuralist understanding of how narrative works and indicated the productive potential of the contradictions, gaps, and APORIAS found in texts from a wide variety of fields.
Another remarkable indication of this turn from structuralist to poststructuralist thought was a symposium, “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man,” held under the auspices of the Johns Hopkins University Humanities Center in October, 1966 (the proceedings were published in 1970 as The Structuralist Controversy). Among those participating were Rene Girard, Georges Poulet, Tzvetan Todorov, Jean
Hyppolite, Barthes, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida. Among the papers was Derrida's “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” which was to have a transformative effect on literary criticism and theory in the US. The essay was a tour de force critique of the “concept of centered structure” (“Structure” 279) and an analysis of the concept of PLAY, Derrida's term for the decentering capabilities of language and texts. (On Derrida, see pp. 79-82, 154-5.) The participants in the symposium, especially Barthes, Lacan, and Derrida, staked out new domains of theoretical inquiry grounded in a critique of Saussurean Structuralism. This poststructuralist “turn” changed utterly the way literary theory constituted itself and its objects of analysis.
All of this took place at a time, the late 1960s and early '70s, when many theoretical schools and trends were coming to the realization that the cherished assumptions of Western culture were neither natural nor universally valid. in many ways, Poststructuralism coincides with Postmodernism, though the two terms are not synonymous. While Postmodernism is concerned primarily with a critique of MODERNITY and a repudiation of aesthetic Modernism, Poststructuralism is committed to the ongoing critique of Structuralism and the development of new theories of language, TEXTUALITY, and SUBJECTIVITY. Like Postmodernism and Postcolonialism, Poststructuralism does have a historical valence - it emerges in the 1960s during the peak period of Structuralism and effectively supplanted it - but the main point of Poststructuralism is not that it comes after Structuralism but that it puts Structuralism to the test.
The Saussurean idea that language is formed not in the relation of word to thing but in the relation between words led to provocative new ways of looking at literary texts. For poststructuralists, meaning lies precisely in the slippage between SIGNIFIER and SIGNIFIED, in the gap or space or DIFFERENCE between them. Deconstruction, the name given to the analytical method Derrida favored, focuses on how difference renders texts internally unstable and self-contradictory. Derrida used deconstructionist methods to examine a wide variety of social and cultural texts. Though it has acquired the reputation for being ahistorical and uninterested in social and political questions, poststructuralist strategies have proven quite useful in the analysis of race, gender, ideology, and history. Derrida, for example, used Deconstruction to critique the system of apartheid in South Africa, while Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Chakra- vorty Spivak used Poststructuralist methods to interrogate colonial
discourses. Finally, Foucault's work on the nature of social institutions (the clinic, the madhouse, and the prison) had a tremendous impact on the politicization of theory. Indeed, after 1968, his political commitments became a model for the “engaged” theorist, both in Europe and the US. His many interviews on politics and social power have provided the inspiration for many intellectuals who wished to combine Poststructuralist theory with radical politics.
As I have suggested, these theoretical trends were not restricted to France. The Johns Hopkins symposium in 1966 was a historical watershed, for it marked the point at which “French theory” became accessible to US audiences. By the mid-1970s, with the publication of the English translation of Derrida's Of Grammatology (1976), Poststructuralism had become the dominant theoretical trend in US universities. The leading edge of this theoretical avant-garde was a group of US theorists in French and comparative literature departments who developed distinctive varieties of deconstructionist critique, in some cases derived from the work of Derrida. This group, the so-called Yale Deconstructionists, consisted of J. Hillis Miller, Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, Barbara Johnson, and Harold Bloom. Beginning in the early 1970s, with de Man's Blindness and Insight (1971), US deconstruction focused new attention on interpretation and stressed the value of philosophy (especially Nietzsche's) in the formation of literary theory. Miller's essays at this time emphasized the labyrinthine qualities of textuality and reading. He concentrated on the canonical figures of English and American literature, with a strong emphasis on nineteenth-century English novelists. Miller's work amounted to the most significant reconsideration of the English novel tradition since Leavis's Great Tradition in 1948. Hartman and Bloom were involved in a similar project of rehabilitating Romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth and Shelley. (Though often included as part of the Yale group, Bloom's work was idiosyncratic, lacking that common background in European phenomenology and linguistics that the major Deconstructionists shared.) Barbara Johnson's work pioneered the application of Derridean theory to problems in Feminism and African American literature and points up the crucial role played by Feminist theory in the poststructuralist era.
Poststructuralism and Deconstruction had an obvious appeal to Feminism. Beginning with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), Feminism was dedicated to the critique of gender and sexual difference. De
Beauvoir articulated in philosophical terms some of the same issues raised by Virginia Woolf and other early feminists, and she was to enjoy tremendous influence in the 1960s and '70s, at a time when US and French feminists took this groundbreaking work as the starting point for their own critiques of masculinist, LOGOCENTRIC discourses. De Beauvoir's work inaugurated a second wave of Feminism concerned with civil rights, social equality, and the critique of patriarchy. The first crest of that wave occurred in the US, where three major works appeared within seven years - Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963), Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1970), and Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970) - and they set the stage for the feminist revolution that, for many US observers, was inseparable from the sexual revolution. The chief concerns of these feminists - equal rights in the workplace, representation in literature and politics, sexual freedom - index the social and political climate of the times. By the end of the 1970s, Feminism had become a powerful force in US universities and intellectual circles. Elaine Showalter, Sandra Gilbert, and Susan Gubar wrote pioneering works in feminist literary history and created models of feminist literary theory and criticism that were widely adapted and productively modified.
In contrast to US feminism, French feminism was at this time oriented towards philosophy, linguistics, psychoanalysis, and politics. Developments in psychoanalysis were fundamental for poststructuralists generally and for feminists in particular. French Feminism, which included preeminently Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous, and Julia Kristeva, was aptly described by Toril Moi as the “child of the student revolt of May 1968” (93), when anti-war and anti-government protests nearly shut down Paris. Cixous' “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975) and Irigaray's Speculum of the Other Woman (1974) were critical challenges to patriarchal and masculinist discourse, particularly Psychoanalysis and philosophy. This new French feminism was strongly connected to the main lines of development in poststructuralist thought, although dissent from some of the key elements of that thought was characteristic of the field. Kriste- va's work blended the methodologies of linguistics, SEMIOTICS, Lacanian Psychoanalysis, and Bakhtinian Formalism to create what she called “semanalysis.” Kristeva, along with Cixous, pioneered a style of ECRI- TURE FEMININE (women's writing, writing the body). For the most part, cixous conformed closely to the assumptions and methodologies of Derridean Deconstruction and Lacanian psychoanalysis, as did irigaray,
though both were critical of Freud's and Lacan's writings on femininity. Irigaray's Speculum, which includes a lucid and incisive critique of Freud's discourse on female sexuality, led to her dismissal from Lacan's Ecole freudienne de Paris. Lacan's action was emblematic not only of the embattled state of French psychoanalysis in the mid-1970s but also of the increasing independence of Feminism from a masculinist, patriarchal intellectual culture. This independence was reinforced when Cixous established, in 1974, the Centre d'Etudes Feminines at the University of Paris VIII. (On French Feminism, see pp. 97-9, 156-9.)
The 1960s and '70s also saw the expansion of narrative theory, beginning with a formalist phase that was to have a long-lasting influence. As noted above, Barthes published his landmark essay, “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative,” in 1966. In the same year, Gerard Genette began publishing Figures (1966-72), portions of which were published in the US as Narrative Discourse (1980). Mieke Bal and Tzvetan Todorov developed their own theories of narrative structure, much influenced by A. J. Greimas's semiotics and the theories of DIALOGISM and HETEROGLOSSIA put forward by M. M. Bakhtin. The US theorist Seymour Chapman, borrowing terms from Russian Formalism and building on the work of Christian Metz in France, developed a theory of narrative that he applied to both fiction and film. New work was also going forward on the theory of the novel, building on the foundation laid by James and Conrad. Wayne Booth's Rhetoric of Fiction, for example, offered a rhetorical typology of the novel, some aspects of which - the reliable narrator and the implied narrator - are still in wide use today. By the late 1970s a substantial new trend emerged that concentrated on contemporary or Postmodern fiction. Robert Scholes and Linda Hutch- eon developed theories of FABULATION and METAFICTION, respectively, and argued that Postmodern fiction tended to comment on and thema- tize its own linguistic and narrative practices. The impulse towards more open-ended theories of novelistic narrative - a reaction, more or less directly, to Booth's rhetorical theory - was quickened by the publication of Bakhtin's Dialogic Imagination, which introduced a new element of political critique to the study of the novel, one later pursued by critics like D. H. Miller and R. Brandon Kershner.
The new interest in interpretation at this time was in part linked to developments in hermeneutics, especially innovations regarding the reader and the reading process. The hermeneutical tradition of the nine
teenth century, associated with Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey, was dedicated to understanding the state of mind of a consciousness distant in time or space. Though hermeneutics of this sort was often associated with sacred texts, by the late nineteenth century its importance for secular literature was becoming increasingly apparent. The conceptual leap involved in fathoming another's consciousness is a nearly mystical experience between the self and the alien OTHER, an experience that unifies subject and object in a single conscious intention. Early in the century, with the work of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, a phenomenological hermeneutics emerged that shifted attention away from an alien consciousness inscribed in a text to a pure realm ofbeing in which the text could be understood as a present experience. Hans Georg Gadamer, a student of Heidegger's writing at mid-century, was the leading theorist of this new hermeneutical tradition. For Gadamer, the text was not something that lay on the far side of a temporal gap but rather something that could be understood within the “horizon” of the present moment, a moment in which interpretation is grounded not in the historical difference of texts but in the “historicality” of the interpreter.
Reader-Response theory brought some of the theoretical rigor of hermeneutics to bear on the pragmatics of reading. Some of the earliest work in this field was done in the 1930s by the phenomenologist Roman Ingarden, and it was this work that later inspired Umberto Eco and Wolfgang Iser. Iser's The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (1978) created the foundation for a theory of reading that explained how texts are constructed or completed by the active response of the reader to the challenges issued by them. In the US, Stanley Fish introduced the concept of “affective stylistics,” which was grounded in the reader's response to and construction of the literary text. His most popular and influential work, Is There a Text in This Class? (1980), combined the aesthetic dimension of Hans Robert Jauss's reception theory with an interest in the way that academic and other social institutions created “interpretive communities” that could account both for shared reading experiences among diverse individuals and for divergent interpretations of the same text.
While new theories began to emerge in the 1970s, more traditional theoretical approaches to literature enjoyed a resurgence of interest. One of the most important of these revitalized theories was Marxism, especially as it was reinterpreted by Fredric Jameson and Louis Althusser.
These theorists had clearly learned much from Gramsci, who was less interested in the economistic analysis of the modes of production than in IDEOLOGY critique. The new emphasis on politics and culture and their role in the formation and maintenance of what Althusser calls “ideological state apparatuses” led to a theoretical discourse that was both politically relevant and sharply attuned to the complexities of social life in POSTMODERNITY. However, as Graeme Turner has noted, the so-called “Gramscian turn” towards the study of ideology and HEGEMONY limited the capacity “to theorize the forms of political conflict and relations specific to the functioning of particular cultural technologies.” The “cultural technologies” of the late twentieth century required analytical models not constrained by Marxist materialism, even Gramsci's and Althusser's nuanced versions of it. These models often relied on Foucault's work on power in order to expand the critical potential of Marxist critique so that theorists might “work with” ideology rather than “write it off” as a producer of false consciousness (Turner 31).
Jameson's own work ranged from the DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM of the early works through Political Unconscious (1981) to the critique of Postmodernism in the 1980s and '90s. His career has shown how a Marxist theorist could adapt to changing theoretical environments and become one of the leading theorists of Postmodernism. Like Louis Althusser's poststructuralist Marxism, which paved the way for a new generation of “post-Marxist” theorists, Jameson's writings on postmodernity retained a strong commitment to Marxism at the same time that they acknowledged fundamental changes in both society and social critique. By emphasizing ideology, determination, and hegemony, postMarxists were better able to analyze the complex relations of power at the superstructural (broadly, cultural) level where dominant ideologies achieve hegemony and where radical politics take a stance of resistance. His work continued throughout the 1990s to explore the potential of post-Marxist social and cultural analysis. If the volume of essays edited by R. L. Rutsky and Bradley J. Macdonald, Strategies for Theory: From Marx to Madonna (2003), is any indication, the future direction of postMarxist theory is both continuous with its nineteenth-century origins and divergent from them in its attention to the most evanescent of super- structural phenomena.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, a debate took place in the pages of scholarly journals between Critical Theorists and Marxists who were
committed to the idea of theoretical and social TOTALITIES and Postmodernists who rejected models of totality for theories of dispersion, simulation, incommensurability, and chaos. Postmodernists were generally united in their stand against MASTER NARRATIVES that sought to explain, legitimize, and perpetuate universal truth, historical destiny, Providence, evolution, and a host of other ideals. Lyotard's Postmodern Condition (1979) is a powerful critique of such narratives and their legitimation of knowledge. It argues that the grand narratives of the Enlightenment had become delegitimated and replaced by language games and a “pragmatics of knowledge” (61). Jameson, in his foreword to The Postmodern Condition, finds this view problematic because it leaves no productive role for the kind of historicist critique crucial to Marxist theory. He suggests that master narratives were driven underground, so to speak, and formed part of a “political unconscious” that could be detected in the close analysis of literary and social texts. Jurgen Habermas more forcefully countered Lyotard's critique with his advocacy of a form of “communicative action” that kept theory engaged with historical conditions and political action and that offered at the same time a reasonable hope for social unity. in opposing the perceived anti-historical tendencies of Postmodernism, Habermas and Jameson were instrumental in creating the intellectual conditions for the dominance of historicist theories in the 1980s. (On the Lyotard-Habermas debate, see pp. 69-70.) The work of Steve Connor, especially Postmodernist Culture (1989), John McGowan, and Steven Best challenged those critics of Postmodernism who saw it as unhistorical and nihilistic or who believed that it lacked the potential for progressive social critique. They also extended the warrant of Postmodernism, which, by the early 1990s, could boast of being, as Connor put it, a general “theory of the contemporary.”
“Always Historicize!”: Historicism and Cultural Critique from the 1980s
The growth of theory since the 1970s has created a mind-boggling variety of approaches to social and cultural texts, and this variety itself presents a problem to many students and teachers who want to achieve
a greater awareness of the theoretical nature of their intellectual labors. Equally troubling are the conceptual difficulties that theory present. Perceived as unduly erudite, arcane, obscure, and jargon-ridden, theory is regarded by many readers as far removed from the realities of both the university and society at large. In his essay “Traveling Theory,” Edward Said raises some important questions about the proliferation of theory and its critical and social relevance:
What happens to [theory] when, in different circumstances and for new reasons, it is used again and, in still more different circumstances, again? What can this tell us about theory itself - its limits, its possibilities, its inherent problems - and what can it suggest to us about the relationship between theory and criticism, on the one hand, and society and culture on the other? The pertinence of these questions will be apparent at a time when theoretical activity seems both intense and eclectic, when the relationship between social reality and a dominant yet hermetic critical discourse seems hard to determine, and when, for all of these reasons … it is futile to prescribe theoretical programs for contemporary criticism. (230)
One response to this crisis was the rise of historicist discourses, including a resurgent CULTURAL MATERIALISM, that rejected the often abstruse methods and nomenclature of Poststructuralism, especially Deconstruction, which relied on complex concepts and strategies drawn from philosophy and linguistics. Literary and cultural analysis from a materialist standpoint presupposes that the SUBJECT is neither stable nor AUTONOMOUS, but the subject of social, cultural, and historical forces. Negotiating among these forces, consciously performing the various functions of the subject (and subjectivity), constitutes what for many is the Postmodern subject.
In 1981, Fredric Jameson, one of the most influential Marxist critics in the US, declared, “Always historicize!” For Jameson, this meant that the critic of culture must examine the material, social, and political DETERMINATIONS that constitute every historical moment. He was recommending that readers and critics practice what Marxist theorists had been doing all along. As I have already indicated, the 1970s saw the rise of Gramscian and Althusserian modes of historical analysis that had redefined the way that Marxists, as well as a host of other historicist critics, looked at society and culture. Jameson's exhortation was another
moment of redefinition. Amid Postmodernist attacks on history, he was exhorting us to think of history all the time. The New Historicism, which started to emerge at this time, made similar exhortations. Stephen Greenblatt, who was influenced by Marxism and Poststructuralist theories of TEXTUALITY, developed a popular New Historicist mode of analysis that has had a strong presence in literary studies, but especially in Renaissance studies, where Greenblatt's own work is situated. The mainspring of New Historicist thought in the 1980s was the journal Representations, co-edited by Greenblatt. Greenblatt's most important early work, Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980), developed a mode of reading literary texts that relied on contextualizing them within a context (or “archive”) of other (typically “non-literary”) texts. This “thick” historical description of the discourse environment in which the literary text in question is produced and first consumed constitutes a CULTURAL POETICS, one that owes a great deal to the TEXTUALIST anthropology of Clifford Geertz. (On Greenblatt, see pp. 130-1.) The other major theorists in the early years were catherine Gallagher, whose interests included feminism and American left-wing radicalism, Louis Montrose, whose essays throughout the 1980s insisted on the dialectical interplay between textual formalism and historical context, and Jonathan Goldberg, whose work focused on the importance of sexual identities, especially queer identities, and opened up a whole new terrain for Renaissance scholars. The New Historicism was not solely concerned with Renaissance literature, however. Early on, we find important works in US literature and culture. For example, Walter Benn Michaels, in The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism (1987), employed new historicist methodologies to examine the intersection of economics and literary representation.
Many Marxist critics reject New Historicism and its textualist strategies of interpretation and take a CULTURAL MATERIALIST position less interested in the textual quality of history than in the impact of material social forces on people and institutions. cultural materialism offers a dialectical critique of the relationship between social and economic forces and cultural production. important figures in the British tradition include Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, whose work carries on a tradition of materialist analysis that goes back at least to the cultural histories of Raymond Williams and E. P. Thompson. In the US, the materialist analyses by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese drew the attention of literary scholars to new historical evidence
concerning slavery and other social problems in the US. Their Fruits of Merchant Capital: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism (1983) was a landmark work that considered hitherto marginalized and excluded subjects and social groups as meaningful historical agents. By the 1990s, Jameson's “Always historicize!” had ceased to be a radical call to arms and had become instead a theoretical ORTHODOXY.
The historicist orientation in literary studies was accompanied by an expansion of its geographical ambit. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the new field of Postcolonial Studies - though “new” is not quite accurate, since theoretical work on the phenomenon of postcolonialism had been going on since at least the 1950s. What renovated the field was Said's Orientalism (1978). Drawing on Foucault's theories of DISCOURSE and POWER and Nietzsche's theories of critical history and genealogy, Said analyzed a vast structure of knowledge and mythology emanating from the West (or occident) that had, for at least two hundred years, determined how the West conceived of the East (or orient). The “cultural strength” of the West led to an assumption “that the orient and everything in it was, if not patently inferior to, then in need of corrective study by the West” (41). Some theorists have criticized Said for not representing the reverse process - representations of the West produced by colonial and postcolonial intellectuals and artists - but just this kind of work had been produced by the theorists of the 1950s, as well as by others in the 1960s and '70s, including Aime Cesaire and C. L. R. James writing in the caribbean and Wole Soyinka and chinua Achebe writing in Nigeria. In part as a reaction to Said's work, a number of important new figures began to emerge, and in them we can discern a coherent field of study taking shape. South Asian theorists took the lead in the early 1980s. Ashis Nandy's The Intimate Enemy (1983) and the early work of the Subaltern Studies Group, especially that of Ranajit Guha, revealed both the nature of the effects of colonialism in India and the outlines of a nativist and revisionist historical discourse that could serve as an alternative to colonialist and nationalist MASTER NARRATIVES. Influential essays by Partha Chatterjee, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Homi Bhabha appeared in the mid-1980s. These theorists brought to Postcolonial Studies the insights of Feminism, Deconstruction, and Psychoanalysis, and showed how such theories could be used for progressive political ends. The postcolonial critique of Western Feminism that we see in the
work of Spivak, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, and Sara Suleri was instrumental in making Feminism more responsive to the problems of nonWestern women.
Although South Asian theorists in some ways dominated the field, especially in the US and England, there was significant work going on all over the world. From the mid-1980s, important work appeared by Peter Hulme and Antonio Benitez-Rojo on the encounters between European explorers and indigenous peoples in the Caribbean. Achebe's and Soyinka's work was followed by a new generation of African philosophers and theorists, including preeminently Kwame Anthony Appiah and V. Y. Mudimbe. Former and current British Commonwealth countries - especially Australia, whose colonial development was complicated by the penal colonies established in the eighteenth century - have their own peculiar postcolonial conditions. Work by Helen Tiffin, Bob Hodge, and Vijay Mishra has been especially important since 1990 for drawing our attention to the problems faced by Aboriginal peoples and to the impact of large-scale immigration and SETTLER COLONIZATION. In a similar manner, Irish studies has forged its own brand of postcolonial inquiry which emphasizes Ireland's character as a METROCOLONY and its long history of intimate mismanagement by the British Parliament and the Anglo-Irish ruling class. Because of its close proximity to the center of Empire, Ireland experienced colonialism in a unique fashion. In this regard, it resembled India, where the English language and English political and cultural traditions had become entrenched after centuries of colonial administration. As Luke Gibbons, Declan Kiberd, and other theorists have pointed out, Ireland's metrocolonial status did not immunize it against the problems faced by other colonial and postcolonial territories.
All of the above-mentioned theorists were attempting, in an era dominated by theory rooted in European and US intellectual traditions, to promulgate alternatives that could respond to the special situations that had arisen in the former colonies and that also could contribute to a greater understanding of the role postcolonial nations played within an increasingly globalized political framework. We might regard this as the legacy of Fanon, who argued that “National consciousness, which is not nationalism, is the only thing that will give us an international dimension” (247). Taken together, the work in the 1980s and '90s reflects the special problems faced by postcolonial nations as they
overcame the difficulties of DECOLONIZATION (which for many of these nations began in the 1950s and '60s) and confronted the pressing difficulties of establishing new national traditions and international relations. one of the possibly unintended consequences of these developments is that many postcolonial theorists now have positions at prestigious US and European universities, where they have become valuable members of a new global intelligentsia.
Some of the same developments that we see in Postcolonial Studies - especially the new emphasis on non-Western and non-traditional social groups - were occurring in other fields as well, notably in British Cultural Studies, which in the 1980s began to look more closely at the complex interrelations between postcolonial and METROPOLITAN cultures. The mainstream tradition of British Cultural Studies at this time - represented in the influential reader, Culture, Ideology and Social Process (1981), edited by Tony Bennett and others - was primarily concerned with a critique of IDEOLOGICAL HEGEMONY, which took the form of a critique of cultural representations, and with the analysis of counter- hegemonic alternatives proffered by immigrant groups, popular media, and subcultures. Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979), for example, concentrates on the fracturing of social groups into increasingly smaller subgroups. Hebdige looked closely at the social and cultural significance of popular media and challenged traditional hierarchies of high and low culture in the arts. But this was not an insular British affair, for Hebdige's work with subcultures, and the way that social status is negotiated within them, bears a disciplinary kinship to that of Pierre Bourdieu. The latter's Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979) argued that the determining power in the SOCIAL FIELD is HABITUS, the “socialized subjectivity” of an active agent in the world whose dispositions (skills and competences acquired in a given social field) are the mark of social status and distinction. The limits and rules that structure the social field, in which the social agent achieves distinction, are neither arbitrary nor external but are constituted by the aggregate of successful social experiences (or “moves”) that constitute the field. The limits of the habitus and the social field are not unlike Foucault's “historical a priori,” the governing limits of a DISCURSIVE FORMATION, which Foucault links to the “archive,” a “general system of the formation and transformation of statements” as well as the “law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as
unique events” (127, 129). (On historical a prioris, see 159.) Like Clifford Geertz, whose Interpretation of Cultures (1973) pioneered textualist ethnography, Bourdieu was interested in how cultures represent themselves, how they use dance, ritual, and other practices to establish and communicate hierarchies of status and ranks of distinction.
From the 1950s, US Cultural Studies was mainly concerned with historical and political analysis, though Geertz's work in the 1970s adumbrated one form Cultural Studies would take in the 1980s, when textualist anthropology would produce its first set text, Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (1986), edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus. In other respects, US Cultural Studies began to resemble its British counterpart. The study of so-called popular or mass cultural formations and artifacts in both the US and Britain became widespread from the 1980s, leading to serious academic projects focusing on rock and roll, fashion, genre fiction, and subcultures. Many of these new Cultural Studies theorists, in the US and Britain, were interested in problems of Gender and Sexuality. Angela McRobbie and Janice Radway, for example, combined textualism and Feminism in nuanced readings of popular music and literature, youth culture, and middle-class literary tastes. Work on film theory by Teresa de Lauretis and Laura Mulvey revealed the gendered dynamics of representation, particularly the gaze that is doubly represented in film, once by the film maker whose gaze constructs or composes human actors as objects in a visual medium and again by the audience member whose own gaze reduplicates the film maker's but can also criticize it, especially if the audience member is a woman reflecting on the gaze required of her by a male film maker. Donna Haraway sought the same gendered dynamics in nature and made some controversial claims in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (1991), a book that sought at bottom to redefine the relationship between culture and nature. In the late 1990s, the study of “material culture” - especially the areas of consumer product design and collecting - stressed the fundamental importance of consumerism and thereby expanded the theoretical warrant of Cultural Studies. one of the latest and most innovative trends in Cultural Studies is the project of digital humanities, which entails the use of computer technologies in the study of a broad array of disciplines. Applications in literary studies include stylistic and linguistic analysis, electronic editing, thematic research, cognitive stylistics, speculative computing, and “robotic poetics.”
The new emphasis on culture and history in the 1980s and '90s was accompanied by a concern with the SUBJECT and SUBJECTIVITY. These concepts were addressed from a number of perspectives. Historicist and cultural theorists tended to emphasize context and situation, framing social and historical problems in terms of subjects hitherto ignored: slaves, ethnic and religious minorities, workers, women, children, prisoners, the disabled, and so on. The critique of the subject took on a new complexion with the resurgence of Psychoanalysis in the 1980s, following upon the English translation of Jacques Lacan’s Ecrits (1977). Lacan claimed to be promoting a “return to Freud,” who had been all but eclipsed in the academy by feminist critique and other models of psychotherapy. As it turned out, returning to Freud meant unveiling whole new vistas that Freud had glimpsed but lacked the theoretical tools to explain. The most important insight Lacan derived from his return was that the unconscious was structured like a language; Freud himself had suggested as much in The Interpretation of Dreams, when he argued that dreams function by condensing and displacing images. Lacan, drawing on Saussure's work, went further and declared that the unconscious, in dreams for example, operates through the play of signifiers, much as language does. The most important implication of this insight was that unconscious operations were fundamentally linguistic and that language could be said to penetrate to the very basis of human existence. He also posited orders of human experience, which he described as the Symbolic (law and language), the imaginary (fantasy), and the Real (unmediated material existence). Lacanian psychoanalysis provides a means to chart the formation of subjectivity in its traversal of these orders. (On Lacan, see pp. 158-9, 168-71.)
it is difficult to overestimate the extent of Lacan's influence at this time. His ideas can be found in French and US Feminism, in theories of Gender and Sexuality, in the Critical Theory of Slavoj Zizek and Ernesto Laclau, and in the study of literature and culture, from Homer to Hitchcock. Homi Bhabha drew on Lacan's work in order to describe the peculiar nature of the postcolonial subject, while de Lauretis and Mulvey stressed Lacan's notion of the gaze in order to develop a Feminist theory of film and visual culture. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s AntiOedipus (1977), which emerged in part as a critique of Lacan's seminars, challenged the dominant themes of Psychoanalysis - especially the Oedipus complex - and replaced the Freudian concept of desire as lack
with a new conception of desiring machines that produce intensities and flows of libido that course through systems (“bodies without organs”) creating effects no longer grounded in the repressive logic of Oedipus (or, for that matter, Lacan's Symbolic order).
Questions of the subject and subjectivity became central to French Feminism in the 1980s, though as Toril Moi points out in her widely-read Sexual/Textual Politics (1985), US feminists were slow in following suit. It did not take long for US feminists like Jane Flax, Jane Gallop, Alice Jardine, and Barbara Johnson to develop sophisticated new theories informed by Lacanian psychoanalysis and Deconstruction. Of crucial importance was the consideration of the SUBJECT in terms of SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM, according to which gender and sexuality are regarded not as essential aspects of individual identity but rather as constructions of social and cultural power. Foucault’s theories of discourse and power and Judith Butler's work on PERFORMATIVITY have been especially influential in developing constructionist theories of identity that seek to avoid the ESSENTIALISM of traditional sexual and gender roles. Performative strategies grew out of a desire to move beyond the essentialist notions of the subject that, to varying degrees, still dominated much theoretical discourse. In part a result of poststructuralist critiques of the subject, performativity grounds gender and sexual identity in the personal choices made by men and women in concrete social situations. Butler's Gender Trouble (1990) followed de Beauvoir's The Second Sex in proffering a constructionist thesis of female identity. In addition to questioning the essentialist notion that a single “common identity” can apply to all women, she also argued that there is no common oppressor, no “universal or hegemonic structure of patriarchy or masculine domination” (3). Her chief concerns were to challenge the fixity and masculine character of the social and legal subject and to expose the compulsory nature of social regulations that determine gender identity.
Butler's Gender Trouble was followed in 1993 by Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex,” which continued her critique of gender, with an emphasis on the material body. This development was not new for Feminism. As I have indicated already, it was an abiding concern for Iri- garay, Cixous, and other French feminists who were often accused of essentialism, of claiming that a woman's body was the indivisible and irrefutable core of female identity and self-expression. In Butler’s work,
and that of Susan Bordo and Elizabeth Grosz, the body was recognized as the site of complex social, cultural, and political inscriptions. This turn towards the politicized and inscribed body in Feminism also had some precedent in the work of African American Feminism. Prominent in this regard was Barbara Smith, who published, in 1977, what was arguably the first important work on black Feminism, Toward a Black Feminist Criticism, and bell hooks, whose work from the mid-1980s was at the forefront of a third wave of Feminism that emphasized the experiences of women of color, both in the West and in a variety of postcolonial locations. Just as Moi's Sexual/Textual Politics criticized US feminists for their lack of class analysis and their philosophical naivete, hooks' Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984) called on Feminism to broaden its horizons and consider the circumstances of women of color and the role of race in the PROBLEMATICS of identity, gender, and sexual violence. By the turn of the twenty-first century, Feminism had become a global discourse, one that had overcome many of its own limitations by becoming more open to the myriad experiences of women from all walks of life.
As Feminism gained prominence in the 1980s, questions of Gender and Sexuality were posed in ways that were often provocative but always innovative and refreshing. The new interest in gender and sexual identities was propelled by Butler’s theories of performance and performativ- ity. From the mid-1970s, with Monique Wittig's The Lesbian Body (1975) and the essays and poetry of Adrienne Rich, greater attention was being paid to lesbian sexuality, a trend that accelerated in the mid-1990s with work by de Lauretis, Judith Roof, Laura Doan, and Lynda Hart. indeed, it is possible to argue that the feminist critique of gender and sexuality made possible the explosive interest in male homoeroticism and homosexuality inaugurated by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s pioneering study, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985). This volume drew on theories of “triangular desire” put forward by Rene Girard and Gayle Rubin, in which women mediate the desire of men. In the literary contexts explored by Sedgwick, HOMOSOCIAL DESIRE is a form of displacement. Desire between men, which could threaten to become eroticized, even genitalized (that is, result in sexual activity), was thus displaced onto a relationship in which a woman serves as the common object of desire. (On homosocial desire, see 105-6.) Sedgwick's second book, Epistemology of the Closet (1990), and Jonathan Dollimore’s
Sexual Dissidence (1991) explored further the problems of male homosexuality and helped to establish the foundations of queer theory.
The new ideas concerning language, the subject, and the social construction of identity - ideas that transformed so much literary and cultural theory in the 1980s and '90s - were instrumental in transforming Ethnic Studies. One of the most significant works in African American studies at this time, Henry Louis Gates’s The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988), explores the complex and dialectical interplay of native traditions, like the “signifying monkey” motif found in African and early slave literatures, and how native traditions intersect with poststructuralist theories of language and signification. To some extent Gates's work, and that of his mentor, Houston Baker, is indebted to the pioneering work of W. E. B. Du Bois who, in 1903, put forward the idea of “double consciousness. This was a provocative idea, one that emphasized not only a consciousness of racial DIFFERENCE but also a sense of radical internal division, a sense of “two-ness” that Du Bois understood in terms of a doubling of the soul, of the struggle to be human in America. If Gates offered a way to syncretize Western and African approaches to literary theory, the Afrocentrism of Martin Bernal and Molefi K. Asante advocated the reinstatement of Africa and African culture at the center of Western cultural and intellectual history. Bernal's Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (1987) and Asante's The Afrocentric Idea (1987) were radical and controversial revisions of history that had a profound impact on the constitution of African American programs in the US. Cornel West, one of the leading advocates of multiculturalism, though more moderate in his approach than Asante, was perhaps more effective in his appeal to a nonacademic audience. In 1992, Gates and Kwame Anthony Appiah released Encarta Africana (first published 1998). Published by Microsoft, this electronic resource, the first of its kind on such a large scale, not only marked a pivotal moment in scholarly publishing but also announced, in no uncertain terms, that the African American experience would not be marginalized by its own radical discourse. Rather than advocate a separatist or multiculturalist agenda, Gates and Appiah situated African American theory and criticism within the broader context of Western discourse. In a sense, they found a middle ground between the Afrocentrism of Asante and the multiculturalism of West.
in a parallel development to the rise of African American studies, Chicano/a studies emerged in the late 1960s as part of a movement, initially centered in California and Texas, that included strikes and boycotts initiated by Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers. in the wake of this political activism came a vibrant theoretical and critical movement. Gloria Anzaldua's foundational Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987) introduced students and scholars to a new perspective on the Feminism of women of color and was one of the first works to focus on the impact of borders on the formation of ethnic identities. Ramon Saldivar's Chicano Narrative (1990) focused on Chicano experience in the US Southwest as it is explored dialectically in narrative fictions. As with other movements concerned to reveal the social and political foundations of literary productions, Chicano literature explores the links between politics and art. “Especially with the beginning of Chicano social activism in the 1960s,” Saldivar writes, “narrative could root itself in the concrete social interests of historical and contemporary events” (24). Though in some important ways connected to the Anglo-American societies against which they struggled, Chicano writers remained profoundly connected to their “other” homeland. Like African American studies, Chicano/a studies was in the avant-garde when it came to theorizing race, ethnicity, and cultural difference. Cherrie Moraga, Sonia Saldivar-Hull, and others have diversified the theoretical base of Chicano/a studies with work on the legal system, Feminism, bicultural experience, and the status of race in the twenty-first century. This ongoing project suggests the complexity of problems still facing US theorists of race and ethnic identity in the context of POSTMODERNITY.
Like Chicano/a studies, Native American studies has had a long history of resistance to the social and cultural institutions responsible for the decimation and displacement of native peoples. For example, Vine Deloria, in Custer Died for Your Sins (1969), critiqued the anthropological representation and social repression of native peoples. The next year, Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee offered a revisionist history of Native Americans. Subsequent work, mostly in the late 1980s and 1990s, contextualized Native American experience within the broader framework of cultural diversity in the US and created greater awareness of native intellectual thought. Of special importance from the 1980s was the work of Gerald Vizenor who combined a deep knowledge of native literatures with an interest in Western theoretical discourse,
including the concerns of Poststructuralism and Postmodernism. Native American studies, like Chicano/a studies, had become, by the 1990s, deeply invested cultural Studies and Postcolonial theory, which could be used to explore the form and social function of native literatures. Vizenor was involved in this endeavor, as was Arnold Krupat, whose Ethnocriticism (1991) was part of the “writing cultures” movement associated with James clifford and George Marcus. This movement, which stressed the problems of Western anthropology and the potential of indigenous alternatives, had a vital impact on studies of US ethnic literatures and cultures. Krupat's Red Matters: Native American Studies (2002) and Elvira Pulitano’s Toward a Native American Critical Theory (2003) consolidated the gains made in the 1990s and indicate the direction of Native American studies in the twenty-first century.
The movements i have been discussing are characterized by a strong HISTORICIST orientation, but there is another significant element that links them together: theorizing DIFFERENCE. Of course the desire to theorize difference - including cultural, ethnic, sexual, gender, and other forms of difference - has its roots in the general concept of linguistic difference that emerged in the work of poststructuralist theorists beginning in the 1960s. But it is plain that for these new theorists, difference is a function of specific social, cultural, and historical contexts. it is important to emphasize that the historicization of difference does not constitute a departure from or break with Poststructuralism; on the contrary, it testifies to the continued relevance of poststructuralist innovations. It also gives further evidence of the tendency towards HYBRIDIZATION at all levels of theoretical discourse.
Theory at the Fin de Siecle
in the last decade of the twentieth century, the general trend towards HISTORICISM continued, with new developments in Postmodern theory, Feminism, and critical Theory. chief among these developments was the critical rehabilitation of certain categories - specifically the SUBJECT and UNIVERSALITY - that could be deployed in the service of social and cultural transformation. Feminism at the fin de siecle played a leading role in forming a critical theory of Postmodernism. From the early
1990s, Butler, Seyla Benhabib, and Drucilla Cornell began to use Critical Theory in conjunction with Feminist critique to address social and political issues concerning women. Postcolonial Feminism, especially in the work of Spivak and Mohanty, continued at this time to call into question the politics of postcolonial nations in which women continue to suffer under patriarchal rule. Vital to the feminist critique of POSTMODERNITY was Mary Joe Frug's Postmodern Legal Feminism (1992), which challenged masculinist assumptions underwriting the subject of legal discourse. Her groundbreaking work was developed by Jennifer Wicke and Barbara Johnson who addressed problems of gender, identity, and social justice. According to Wicke, Feminism needed “to catch up to a reality we barely have a name for, the Postmodern situation of a theory of identity that seeks to overcome the limitations of fixed, immutable, and hierarchical identities, with a feminism still involved in a straightforward identity politics” (33). The critical questioning of fundamental aspects of social life - the legal status of women, the ethics of reproduction, intellectual and aesthetic life, class and racial identity - continue to be the focus of a Postmodern Feminist theory that does not lose track of the subject of identity politics.
Questions about the possibility of social activism and identity politics became increasingly important in a post-Cold War era in which Lyotard's “Postmodern condition” had leapt from the domain of esoteric science and technology to the mainstream of social life. The 1990s saw a number of theorists working across theoretical disciplines in an attempt to understand complex new developments, including the paradoxical coexistence of globalization and the resurgence of nationalism and the equally paradoxical desire to approach these new social and political realities with recourse to theoretical concepts and strategies belonging to another, simpler era. This trend is evident in the increased interest in the Enlightenment and MODERNITY. Adorno and Habermas had long held conflicting views about the Enlightenment and its effects on late modernity - Adorno was highly skeptical of the benign force of reason, while Habermas held that reason was crucial for gaining social consensus - and saw their work as part of a larger critique of the Enlightenment. By the last decade of the century, modernity and the Enlightenment were once again subjects of critical conflict and debate. A variety of theorists, including Perry Anderson, Charles Taylor, Anthony J. Cascardi, and Anthony Giddens, weighed in on the character and consequences of
modernity. A strong consensus has emerged, among many theorists, that Enlightenment philosophers (especially Kant and Hegel) still exert a considerable influence on Postmodernist thinking. Fredric Jameson, in A Singular Modernity (2002), alludes to the paradox of this situation when he argues that the contemporary (so-called Postmodern) world is a fundamentally modern one.
The impulse to revise received notions of MODERNITY and to call into question the fundamental difference between it and POSTMODERNITY is seconded by a renascent Critical Theory, strongly influenced by Feminist Theory and by Althusserian and Gramscian reconsiderations of Marx. Of particular note was the renewed focus on Kant and Hegel, whose conceptions of universality and TOTALITY were submitted to an essentially Postmodernist critique; one of the results of this critical operation was that these concepts were made available in new ways for the analysis of gender, sexuality, the subject, the State, and political action. Butler, along with Slavoj Zizek and Ernesto Laclau, exemplified this trend, often called “postfoundationalism,” in an important volume of essays, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (2000), which draws on post-Marxism, Feminism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis to argue for forms of “provisional totality” and “contingent universality” that could ground collective political action. What is truly striking is the willingness on the part of these theorists to rethink Kantian and Hegelian concepts as provisional and performative within a specific framework of social critique. Thus, Zizek can claim that “Kantian formalism and radical historicism are not really opposites, but two sides of the same coin” (Butler et al. 111). This willingness to see continuities across the historical field - continuities that hitherto had seemed impossible - characterizes a theoretical perspective at once unrelentingly critical and persuasively constructive.
No history of literary theory can hope to give a full account of the rich and varied developments that in this section have been sketched in only the broadest strokes. What is inevitably left out is a sense of the complexity of individual theories and the relationships between and among them
that have produced innumerable hybrid configurations. The remaining sections of this Guide offer the reader some sense of these complexities.
One of the arguments made throughout this section is that literary theory in the twentieth century developed along two main pathways: one that emphasized language, linguistic difference, and formalism and another that emphasized historicism, ideology, and the determining influence of social and cultural forces. From one perspective it appears that one pathway or another has dominated the course of theory in any given epoch; however, from another perspective, both pathways appear interdependent. This is nowhere more evident than in the account of theory in the last quarter of the twentieth century, an epoch during which formalism and historicism interacted and imbricated with one another, producing exciting new combinations and raising new and controversial questions about the subject, language, identity, textuality, race, gender, and a host of other topics. If anything remains constant in this variegated history, it is the impulse to understand how literary and cultural texts create meaning and how we, as readers, can understand the value and variety of being human.
Arnold, Matthew. “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.” In Lectures and Essays in Criticism. Vol. 3 of Complete Prose Works. Ed. R. H. Super. 11 vols. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960-77. 258-85.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.
---- , Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Zizek. Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. London and New York: Verso, 2000.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Vintage Books/Library of America, 1990.
Derrida, Jacques. “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Humanities.” In Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. 278-93.
Eliot, T. S. Selected Essays, 1917-1932. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1932.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Constance Farrington. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1963.
Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. 1969, 1971. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon, 1972.
Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Ed. and Trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers, 1971.
Habermas, Jurgen. “Modernity versus Postmodernity.” New German Critique 22 (Spring 1981): 15-18.
Lentricchia, Frank. After the New Criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Lukacs, Georg. The Theory of the Novel. 1920. Trans. Anna Bostock. Cambridge, MA: M.i.T. Press, 1971.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Post-Modern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.
Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge, 1985, 2002.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. New York: vintage, 1968.
Richards, I. A. Principles of Literary Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace; London: K. Paul Trench, Trubner, 1924, 1926.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. 1979. London: Penguin, 1985.
---- . “Traveling Theory.” In The World, the Text and the Critic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983. 226-47.
Saldivar, Ramon. Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
Turner, Graeme. British Cultural Studies. London; New York: Routledge,
Wicke, Jennifer. “Postmodern identities and the Politics of the (Legal) Subject.” in Feminism and Postmodernism. Eds. Margaret Ferguson and Jennifer Wicke. Durham: Duke University Press, 1994. 10-33.
Wilde, Oscar. Intentions: The Decay of Lying, Pen, Pencil and Poison, The Critic as Artist, The Truth of Masks. New York: Brentano's, 1905.
Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Essays of Virginia Woolf. Vol. VI192528. Ed. Andrew McNeillie. London: Hogarth Press, 1986. 157-65.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY
The following texts are concerned primarily with the history of literary theory. Readers interested in general studies of theory should consult the short list at the end of “The Rise of Literary Theory” and the individual sections of “The Scope of Literary Theory.”
Baldic, Chris. Criticism and Literary Theory 1890 to the Present. London and New York: Longman, 1996.
The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. 9 vols. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989-2001.
Cassedy, Steven. Flight from Eden: The Origins of Modern Literary Criticism and Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
Dosse, Francois. History of Structuralism. 2 vols. Trans. Deborah Glassman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Lentricchia, Frank. After the New Criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Graff, Gerald. Professing Literature: An Institutional History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Wellek, Rene. A History of Modern Criticism. 8 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955-92.
Wimsatt, William K., and Cleanth Brooks. Literary Criticism: A Short History. 2 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957, 1978.
Major contributions to literary theory by Romantic writers
Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin flourish as cultural and literary critics
Modernist era; important theoretical works by W. B. Yeats, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and others; flourishing of “little magazines”
oscar Wilde publishes Intentions, essays on literature and literary theory
W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
Wyndham Lewis begins publishing Blast
Moscow Linguistic Circle and the Prague Linguistic Circle flourish
Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics
Bakhtin Circle, St. Petersburg
Georg Lukacs, Theory of the Novel
T. S. Eliot begins publishing Criterion institute of Social Research, incorporated into University of Frankfurt
Percy Lubbock, The Craft of Fiction
i. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism
Viktor Shklovsky, Theory of Prose
E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale
M. M. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Edmund Wilson, Axel’s Castle
F. R. Leavis and Q. D. Leavis begin publishing Scrutiny Cleanth Brooks, Modern Poetry and the Tradition
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment
William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity
F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Cleanth Brooks, The Well-Wrought Urn
Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged
Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero
W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley, The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, co-directors of the Institute of Social Research
Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization
Roman Jakobson and Morris Halle, Fundamentals of Language
ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel
Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized
Roland Barthes, Mythologies
Raymond Williams, Culture and Society: 1780-1950
Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
Founding of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham
Roland Barthes, “introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative”
Symposium, “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man,” Johns Hopkins University Humanities Center Wayne Booth, Rhetoric of Fiction
Jacques Lacan, Ecrits
Kenneth Burke, Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life,
Literature and Method
72 Gerard Genette, Figures
Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, Of Grammatology Walter Benjamin, Illuminations
Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language
Vine Deloria, Custer Died for Your Sins
Kate Millet, Sexual Politics
Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch
Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight
Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
Ihab Hassan, The Dismemberment of Orpheus: Toward a Postmodern Literature
Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman
Helene Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”
Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
Monique Wittig, The Lesbian Body
J. Hillis Miller, “Ariadne's Thread: Repetition and the Narrative Line”
Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing
Terry Eagleton, Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory
84 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality
Roland Barthes, Image-Music-Text
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Tzvetan Todorov, The Poetics of Prose
Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response
Edward Said, Orientalism
Robert Scholes, Fabulation and Metafiction
Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition
Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination
Linda Hutcheon, Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafi ctional Paradox
Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class?
Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning
Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism
Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art
Jane Tompkins, Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism
M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (composed 1930s and '40s)
Barbara Johnson, The Critical Difference: Essays on the Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading
Jurgen Habermas, “Modernity versus Postmodernity”
Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a
Socially Symbolic Act
J. Hillis Miller, Fiction and Repetition
Shoshana Felman, Literature and Psychoanalysis
Jacques Lacan, Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ecole Freudienne
Gerald Prince, Narratology: The Form and Functioning of Narrative
Jane Gallop, Feminism and Psychoanalysis: The Daughter’s Seduction
Jean Baudrillard, Simulations
Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction
Louis Montrose, “Of Gentlemen and Shepherds: The Politics of Elizabethan Pastoral Form”
bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire
Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics
Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory Peter Hulme, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797
Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction
Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization
Molefi K. Asante, The Afrocentric Idea
Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”
Henry Louis Gates, The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism
Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures
Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet
Ramon Saldivar, Chicano Narrative: The Dialectics of Difference
Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women
Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence
Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott, Feminists Theorize the Political
Mary Joe Frug, Postmodern Legal Feminism
Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture
Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”
Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture
Ann McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest
Robert Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race
Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland
Stuart Hall, Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies
Henry Louis Gates and Kwame Anthony Appiah, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African American Experience
Sonia Saldivar-Hull, Feminism on the Border: Chicana Gender Politics and Literature
Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek and Ernesto Laclau, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left
Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture
Arnold Krupat, Red Matters: Native American Studies
Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity
THE SCOPE OF LITERARY THEORY
To die for one’s theological opinions
is the worst use a man can make of his life;
but to die for a literary theory!
It seemed impossible.
Oscar Wilde, Intentions
Each entry in this section is a general introduction to a theoretical field. Key ideas, themes, issues, concepts, and arguments are surveyed, with illustrative quotations from major works. Bold-face type throughout is an indication that a relevant biography exists in “Key Figures in Literary Theory.” Parenthetical notes are used to alert the reader to relevant discussions elsewhere in the Guide. At the end of each entry, readers will find a short note directing them to another part of this section for further study. For additional titles, see “Recommendations for Further Reading.”
Pursuing these cross-references will provide a better sense of the variety and complexity of individual theories as well as the potentiality for combining them. While this section is organized according to discrete theories, theoretical practice is often characterized by hybrid approaches that combine one or more of these theories. Whenever possible, I will note the kinds of hybrid formations that are commonly found. See “The Rise of Literary Theory” for additional discussions of these formations.