The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007


Note. Terms that designate a movement or major trend covered in “The Scope of Literary Theory” (e.g., Poststructuralism, Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, and so on) are not included in this glossary. Terms in small caps within the definitions below have their own entries. As elsewhere in this Guide, boldface indicates that additional discussions of the theorist in question can be found in “Key Figures in Literary Theory.” The index will direct readers to further discussion of many of these terms as well as to those terms of a highly specialized nature (e.g., those found in psychoanalytic theory).

AESTHETIC THEORY, AESTHETICS. Generally, these terms refer to theories of artistic value, production, and judgment. Theories of aesthetics began with Aristotle's Poetics, and most philosophers to follow him have written on the subject. The Enlightenment aesthetics of writers like Edmund Burke and Immanual Kant identify beauty and the sublime as the two chief aesthetic responses. A Kantian tradition in aesthetics predominated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In recent years, Postmodernists like Jean-Frangois Lyotard have championed an aesthetics that locates the sublime experience in “perpetual negation,” the unrepresentable difference of language and pure figurality.

AESTHETICISM. Typically used to designate a movement, associated with Charles Baudelaire, Theophile Gautier and Oscar Wilde, aestheticism celebrates “art for art's sake.” It privileges beauty above all things and insists on the AUTONOMY of art. Within the aesthete movement there coexisted a trend towards decadence, which regards the perverse and the decayed, the malformed and merely natural, as themselves objects of beauty. Both aestheticism and decadence are retreats from

realism and naturalism and from the sentimental moralizing attendant upon both. See AESTHETIC THEORY.

AGENCY. The power of a human SUBJECT to exert his or her will in the social world. To have agency is to have social power; to lack it is to be ignored or subjugated by others who possess it. Typically, agency is associated with the subject of Western discourses and historical agency is perhaps the most important form. To acquire agency outside of or in conflict with these discourses is considered by many to be a political, even an insurrectionary act. See PERFORMANCE.

ALIENATION. A multifaceted term, with wide currency in literary and cultural theory. The general concept stems from the Marxist notion that workers cannot enjoy the fruits of their labor and are thus alienated from the objective world they help to create. In many cases, this term is used with a psychological emphasis and denotes experiences of anomie, disconnection, and isolation.

AMBIVALENCE. This term derives from Psychoanalysis and refers to the unstable nature of IDENTITY when the norms governing sexual choice do not function predictably. in general, it refers to the failure of language or DISCOURSE to settle on a single definitive meaning. Rhetorically, ambivalence resembles irony, which marks a gap between a thing said and a thing done or between intention and effect. Cf. TOTALITY and UNIVERSALISM.

APORIA. From the Greek, a-byssos, without depth or bottom. Typically, this term refers to textual instances of doubt or uncertainty about meaning, an unsolvable puzzle, a gap or ellipsis. Many poststructuralists hold that language itself, by virtue of its quality of DIFFERENCE, is aporetic.

ARCHAEOLOGY. Associated with Michel Foucault, archaeology refers to a SYNCHRONIC mode of DISCOURSE ANLAYSIS that eschews conventional historical methodologies and focuses on ruptures and discontinuities in order to come to an understanding of the emergence of statements and events within DISCURSIVE FORMATIONS. A crucial function of archaeology is the interrogation of documents and the status of the historical “event.” Cf. the diachronic method of GENEALOGY.

AUTONOMY, AUTONOMOUS, AUTONOMIZATION. These terms refer to the possibility of grounding subjectivity or aesthetic production beyond the influence of social, political, and cultural forces. The bourgeois SUBJECT is often described as autonomous in this sense. Some theorists speak of a process of autonomization by which the illusion of autonomy is maintained in both theory and practice.

BASE/SUPERSTRUCTURE. In classical Marxism, base refers to the modes of production, while superstructure refers to the aggregate of social, cultural, political, and commercial institutions and practices that are supported by the base. The precise nature of the relationship varies from school to school within Marxism. A mechanistic relationship would yield a predictable superstructure, which is clearly not the case. Post-Marxist theories of structural causality are concerned with IDEOLOGICAL determinations within the superstructure itself rather than with direct expressions of economic forces deriving from the base. See CULTURAL MATERIALISM and HISTORICAL DETERMINISM.

CANON. A term used to designate an authoritative body of work in a given field. It emerged from religious studies where it refers to a law or system of laws as well as to the selection of texts that make up the Holy Scriptures (the “sacred canon”). In literary studies, the term canon is used to designate the most important texts in a particular literary tradition. In recent years, the very idea of a literary canon has been called into question, in part because it is thought to exclude women and ethnic minorities. The so-called “canon wars” of the 1980s and '90s were a sign of deep cultural division, especially in the US and Britain. CARNIVALESQUE. Associated with the work of M. M. Bakhtin, the car- nivalesque designates a subversion of social norms in ritual spectacles, comic overturnings, and scatological representations. Linked to the early Christian notion of carnival, a time of feasting and merriment before the sacrifices of Lent.

COLONIAL DISCOURSE. A discursive form of DOMINATION. Colonial discourse consists of all those texts, documents, art works, and other means of expression that relate directly and indirectly to colonial rule. Colonial discourse is the object of certain forms of discourse analysis, for example ORIENTALISM. See also MIMICRY.

COLONIALISM. Colonialism is the process whereby imperial states acquire new territories and exploit them for land, raw materials, and human labor. Administered colonies like india were in large part driven by commerce in native produce, but they were also major centers of imperial power. The colonial bureaucracy was large and offered advancement to Europeans, but it also created the need for native civil servants. By contrast, settler colonies involve the extensive settlement of Europeans, either through the establishment of penal colonies, as in Australia, or the appropriation of arable land, as in Ireland, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa. DECOLONIZATION is a period of intense social contradiction and conflict that typically ends in an anti-colonial resistance and the creation of independent nations. NEOCOLONIALISM refers to the continuation of European exploitation of former colonies and implies, on the part of those colonies, either economic helplessness or collusion. Due to its geographical and cultural proximity to the center of empire, Ireland is sometimes called a metrocolony. See METROPOLITAN CULTURE.


COMMODITY, COMMODIFICATION. Terms developed in Marxist theory that refer to the process by which the products of human labor are transformed into what Marx called the “mysterious” concept of the commodity. The commodity is an object produced from nature but one bearing the “stamp” of a social relation (i.e., relations of use and exchange) that severs the commodity once and for all from the body of the producer.

CONSTELLATION. A mode of philosophical reflection in which the SUBJECT arranges the experiences of multiple perceptions (texts, ideas, phenomena) in such a way that draws out a general idea or truth. A constellation is subjective in the sense that it is not a function of the quality of the experiences, but of the critic's understanding of their true idea. It is also provisional: it might reveal an idea.



CULTURAL MATERIALISM. A mode of analysis that focuses on how ideas, beliefs, and IDEOLOGIES are formed by material conditions, by constraints imposed by social, cultural, and political policies and forces. Cultural materialism holds that social and cultural artifacts are sites of ideological conflict; in such artifacts, the reader can discern the figural expression of social contradictions. it is grounded in the Marxist theory of materialism according to which the modes of production and material conditions are chiefly responsible for determining social, cultural, and political institutions and practices. See BASE/SUPER- STRUCTURE and DIALECTIC.

CULTURAL POETICS, POETICS OF CULTURE. Often used to describe the methodologies of cultural criticism in New Historicism and textualist anthropology. Sometimes referred to as poetics of culture, this perspective calls into question the objectivity or scientific status that anthropology and other disciplines claim for their representations. It argues that all representations of culture are determined by the same linguistic constraints and freedoms that govern aesthetic discourse.



DIACHRONY/SYNCHRONY. Diachrony is a temporal progression moving in sequence, typically chronologically, within a system. Cf. synchrony, a spatial dimension extending in all possible directions from any single point; it thus designates the totality of a system. The former tends to be associated with traditional history and the logic of causality, the latter with atemporal or spatial representations that do not heed causality, sequence, or priority.

DIALECTICS, DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM. These terms refer both to a kind of process and to a mode of analysis. The former goes back to Plato and the Socratic dialogues, in which logical propositions are formulated through the give-and-take of discussion. Hegel made famous the idea of an interplay between thesis and antithesis that yielded a new synthesis, while Marx put this idea into materialist terms when he theorized a dialectical struggle between classes that yielded a classless society. A dialectical materialist mode of analysis concentrates on the process of class struggle and its social, economic, and political effects. A dialectical logic underwrites most varieties of cultural materialism. See NEGATION.

DIALOGISM. The dynamic totality of linguistic possibilities that condition individual utterances within social or cultural discourses. Dialo- gized discourse is open to multiple historical and social contexts, a condition M. M. Bakhtin called HETEROGLOSSIA.


DIFFERENCE, DIFFERANCE. A principle according to which language makes meaning by virtue of the difference between signs within a system rather than the similarity between a sign and its external referent. Difference in this sense evolved from Jacques Derrida's notion of differance, which combines the meanings “to defer” and “to differ.” It has come to have a general application in the study of gender, sexuality, race, and other topics. See SIGN and PLAY.

DISCOURSE. Refers primarily to SIGNIFYING SYSTEMS, typically linguistic, within the limits of a particular field of study or knowledge (e.g., medical discourse, literary discourse). For some formalist theorists, discourse signifies a linguistic system constituting a dynamic totality. Michel Foucault has proposed the idea of the DISCURSIVE FORMATION, a term which refers to the aggregate of statements made about a given idea (madness, sexuality, punishment). Discourse analysis is a mode of interpretation that stresses the textual and linguistic expression of social and cultural power within such formations. See COLONIAL DISCOURSE, MASTER NARRATIVE, ORIENTALISM, and SOCIAL FIELD.


DISCURSIVE FORMATION. Associated with the work of Michel Foucault, this term refers to a field of statements and textual “events” that reflect relations of social and cultural power. Many such formations are structured hierarchically and reinforce established traditions and dominant IDEOLOGIES. They are characterized also by the creation of rules of exclusion and, to this extent, are self-regulating systems. The unity or coherence of discursive formations is dependent not on the unity or coherence of particular ideas but rather on their emergence and transformation within the formation. Discursive practices are those textual and linguistic enunciations that enforce these rules in specific, disciplined fashion. They can, however, be exploited for subversive purposes, as in COLONIAL MIMICRY and in Foucault's own analytical methods, ARCHAEOLOGY and GENEALOGY. See DISCOURSE and SOCIAL FIELD.

DOMINATION. In Marxist theory, this term refers to a social condition in which power is exerted over others by material (i.e., military or police) force. Cf. HEGEMONY, which is a non-coercive form of social control.

ECRITURE FEMININE. A form of strategic ESSENTIALISM, which revalues women's bodies and identities outside of hegemonic discursive practices. It is an acknowledgment of the body as the mystical or spiritual ground for a specifically female essence, and thus as the origin and legitimation of a new form of writing. Literally, “feminine writing,” it is typically translated, “writing the body.”

ESSENCE, ESSENTIAL, ESSENTIALISM. The essence of a thing is what is inherent, indivisible, immutable about it, what it must possess in order to be a thing. It is the chief assumption behind biologistic theories of race and gender and it drives certain theories of literature and culture that rest on moral and ethical premises. such theories are often referred to as essentialist. Opposed concepts include SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM and ECRITURE FEMININE.


GENEALOGY. A mode of historical analysis devised by Friedrich Nietzsche and later used by Michel Foucault to chart the DIACHRONIC emergence of specific concepts and forms of knowledge (punishment, sexuality, mental health) through institutional practices. It is concerned not with natural or divine origins or with chronological, sequential, or causal development over time but rather with the specific points of emergence or transformation or interpretation of POWER. In Foucault's thought, genealogy represents a turn away from discourse towards power and the subject of power. It is to some degree a refinement of the SYNCHRONIC method known as ARCHAEOLOGY.

GLOBALIZATION. A term that encompasses a number of theories concerning the international extension of political, technological, and economic capital, in association with a form of cultural imperialism that seeks a UNIVERSALIZED consumer culture. A globalized economy or a global culture is one in which difference is minimized and standardization the norm.

HABITUS. Associated with Pierre Bourdieu, habitus refers to a social practice, the construction of a subjectivity within the rules and limits of a SOCIAL FIELD. These rules and limits are not arbitrary or externally applied but are rather the result of the aggregate of practices, habits, beliefs, and general knowledge that individuals acquire living in specific social environments. The ability successfully to manipulate habitus guarantees the individual social distinction.

HEGEMONY. The process by which the IDEOLOGY of dominant classes exerts control through social, political, and cultural institutions. Ideological hegemony is a form of non-coercive social control achieved through consensus rather than through direct and material coercion

(e.g., military and police force). That this hegemony is achieved without force does not mean that it is thus benign. Counter-hegemony refers to attempts to critique or dismantle hegemonic power. See DOMINATION and IDEOLOGY.

HETEROGLOSSIA. A condition of language, determined by DIALOGISM, that is open to multiple historical and social determinations. Associated with M. M. Bakhtin, this term typically refers to the linguistic stratification of discourses characterized by the inclusion of diverse dialects, ideolects, jargons, and other speech forms.

HISTORICAL DETERMINISM. A theory of history that holds that all human events are affected in material ways by the economic sphere of society (i.e., the modes of production in classical Marxism). History is therefore the history of determinations made by productive forces. Of course, such determinations are complex, especially in advanced industrial societies. For “post-Marxists,” the most important determinations occur at the superstructural level (i.e., media, social and cultural institutions, ideologies); for them, the relationship is not deterministic or mechanistic but HEGEMONIC. Overdetermination refers to an intensification of class contradictions which can lead (as Lenin said of Russia) to revolution. See BASE/SUPERSTRUCTURE and NEGATION.

HISTORICISM. A view of history and historiography according to which social, cultural, philosophical, and religious values have meaning only when grasped as part of the historical moment in which they arise. For some philosophers of history, it refers to the laws of development that characterize historical processes. in some cases, as in Marxist historicism, history is understood as functioning according to a theory of DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM.

HOMOSOCIAL DESIRE. This concept emerged out of the work of Gayle Rubin and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. It designates a social relationship in which a woman, real or figurative, serves as a conduit for the desire, social or sexual, of two men. To varying degrees, the desire of men for other men is thus sublimated and recast as the competition between men for a woman. Women thus become tokens in an exchange that really has nothing to do with them. At a certain extreme, homosocial desire can manifest itself as homophobia.

HYBRIDITY, HYBRIDIZATION. A term associated with Postcolonial Studies, where it is used to describe the multitude of subject positions and identities in colonial and, especially, postcolonial societies. Homi

Bhabha describes it as an “affect” of COLONIAL MIMICRY, in which the subject is doubled in a transgressive rewriting of colonial discourse. It can also result from immigration and migration, especially the form known as diaspora, in which large numbers of a people are dispersed across wide geographical areas. Examples include the jewish diasporas throughout history, the African diaspora that began with the slave trade, and the Irish diaspora that followed the famine of the 1840s. Diasporic identities are those formed along multiple geographical locations, the result of slavery, exile, expulsion, or emigration. These identities may be formed and nourished in enclaves or they may develop along cosmopolitan, multi-racial, and multilingual lines. Hybridity thus refers to a pluralized identity, open to contingency and change, to linguistic, ethnic, and racial merger. Creole is often used to indicate a racially hybrid people (for example, the cajuns of Louisiana), but this is a potentially misleading term in Postcolonial and Ethnic studies. The word creole has a long and complex history. in the caribbean colonies, it came to refer to any person, native, African, or European, who had been born (or “seasoned”) in the region. In linguistics, it is used to describe a new indigenous language formed by mixing several other languages. Creolization, whether it refers to the process of acclimation to a foreign environment or to linguistic, ethnic and racial mixing, constitutes a common form of hybrid social and cultural development.

IDEALIZE, IDEALIZATION. A practice in which something (an object, place, concept, or person) is represented in its most highly evolved and perfected (ideal) form. Idealization is a form of symbolic representation, whereby the ideal of a thing is substituted for the thing itself. Idealizations are often invested with a value that has little to do with the thing represented, as when an emergent nation symbolizes its sovereignty as a stylized and perfected woman. A related term comes from Psychoanalysis; the ego-ideal is what one thinks oneself to be: the ideal form of oneself. Idealizations generally are fantasy constructions, but they can have a profound impact on personal, social, and cultural life.

IDENTITY. A term that traditionally has designated the distinct and stable “personality” or “character” of an individual, both as it is conceived by others in social environments and as it is conceived by the individual herself. Identity is often spoken of in terms of its SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION or its gender and sexual determinations. Important for many theorists is the relationship between identity and IDEOLOGY. Selfidentity refers to the awareness of one's own identity as a stable and singular entity. in metaphysical philosophy, it refers to the possibility of a thing according perfectly with its idea, of the sublation of difference within absolute sameness. Nonidentity is a term from DIALECTICS that refers to the opposite pole of identity; in dialectical operations, nonidentity is subsumed into the construction of identity. see PRESENCE and NEGATION.


IDEOLOGY. In Marxist theory, a set of beliefs, laws, statutes, principles, practices, and traditions proclaimed by a dominant class in order to rule other classes. Some theorists believe that ideology is an “unscientific” point of view, a form of “false consciousness” because it obscures the reality of historical processes. But ideology can also refer to any set of beliefs, laws, statutes, and the like; thus, we can speak of “working-class ideology” or “socialist ideology.” some theorists hold that ideology is precisely the process of representing ideas and beliefs in SIGNIFYING SYSTEMS, of making meaning in a social context. Louis Althusser’s influential conception emphasizes the idea of ideological state apparatuses (e.g., bureaucracies, schools, universities, the police and military) and the production of ideology as an all-encompassing social demand on individuals. See BASE/SUPERSTRUCTURE.

IMAGINARY, SYMBOLIC, REAL. Orders of reality proposed by Jacques Lacan. The Symbolic designates the realm of law, language, reason, metaphysics, the PHALLUS, and so on. The Imaginary is the order of fantasy, of pre-oedipal merger (mother and child bond) and lack of differentiation, JOUISSANCE, DIFFERENCE. Some theorists argue that the Imaginary is, in fundamental ways, a misrecognition of the Symbolic. The Real designates what cannot be designated, what cannot be thought or known via the symbolic or the imaginary. But its persistence, as in the Freudian unconscious, can be felt as symptoms in the symbolic and, more effectively, the imaginary order.

IMPERIALISM. If COLONIALISM refers to the administration of foreign territories, imperialism refers to the social and political objectives of colonialism and the economic and political consequences of competition with other European states. it also specifies a phase of capitalist

development in which markets and labor shift to peripheral territories. Imperialism also designates a complex matrix of cultural codes and practices grounded in the social, political, and economic realities of colonialism. Neoimperialism designates the continuation of these codes and practices after the imperial era, a situation which leaves the postcolony in a familiar state of dependency. Often used interchangeably with NEOCOLONIALISM.

INTERTEXTUALITY. A theory of textual reference which holds that the relationship between texts within and between DISCURSIVE FORMATIONS is partly determined by citations and allusions. For M. M. Bakhtin, intertextuality is the inevitable result of DIALOGIZED HETERO- GLOSSIA, of languages stratified and coded with a multitude of dialects, jargons, and other speech forms. Building on Bakhtin, other theorists have linked stratified and dialogized language to the desiring subject (the reader, the writer). still others have regard intertextuality as a form of auto-critique, of discourse policing itself, of plagiarism, cannibalism, and other forms of consumption. This term should not be confused with influence or standard forms of scholarly reference, for they imply a level of intentionality not typically associated with intertextuality.

JOUISSANCE. Often associated with sexual pleasure and death, jouissance (from the French jouir, to enjoy) refers to the unknown and inexpressible aspects of unconscious experience and desire. In Jacques Lacan's terms, it is the IMAGINARY mis-recognition of the SYMBOLIC in which intense pleasures are decoupled from the “law of the signifier.” Jouissance is therefore that which is not known, that which is beyond knowledge, beyond the SUBJECT of knowledge.

LOGOCENTRISM. This term refers to the primacy, in Western cultures, of logos (literarily, “word”), specifically of discourses characterized by reason, logic, and rationality. Often modified as PHALLOGOCENTRISM to emphasize the underlying patriarchal and masculinist authority of such discourses.

MANICHEANISM. In its ancient Persian religious context, Manicheanism refers to the division of the world into good and evil forces that battle for the possession of humanity. in literary and cultural theory, it

designates a binary relation of power characterized by ESSENTIAL difference (e.g., primitive/civilized, male/female, nature/culture), polarization, and inequality. Abdul JanMohamed coined the term “Manichean allegory” to express the relations of power between colonizer and colonized.

MASTER NARRATIVE. Popularized by Jean-Frangois Lyotard, this term refers to the authoritative or foundational narratives of Western societies, specifically the narratives of emancipation and knowledge. Such narratives serve to legitimate the power of dominant social classes; their failure results in a process Lyotard calls delegimitation. The term is commonly used to refer to any dominant discourse, but especially those that lend themselves to narrative treatment (e.g., Homeric return, Christian Providence, Hegelian world Spirit, Marxist class struggle). See DISCOURSE.


METADISCOURSE. Any discourse that comments upon or governs another discourse. For example, meta-linguistics would refer to a technical discourse that reflected upon the way linguistics is discussed and its findings presented. See METAFICTION.

METAFICTION. A quality of Postmodern fiction whereby narrative reflects upon its own status as fictional. It can take the form of structural self-reflection (Linda Hutcheon's “narcissistic narrative”) or a “laying bare” of the devices by which novelists traditionally achieve their effects. A related term is Robert Schole's fabulation, which refers to the complex patterns and arrangements of language and image often found in Postmodern and contemporary fiction. See METADISCOURSE.


METROPOLITAN CULTURE. Typically used to refer to an imperial capital (e.g., New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam) and is used in contrast to a COLONY or periphery. A metrocolony is a large, and largely urban, colony in close proximity to the metropolitan center. Ireland is a classic example. See COLONIALISM.

MIMESIS. A theory of representation according to which an object is faithfully imitated or copied, with mirror-like accuracy. Literary realism in its conventional mode is often referred to as mimetic in that it creates the illusion in language of a faithful reflection of the world.

MIMICRY. A concept pioneered by Frantz Fanon, who argued that colonized people, forced to abandon traditional notions of selfhood and national identity, learn to mimic their colonial masters. Homi Bhabha modified the concept to emphasize its critical and productive potential. COLONIAL MIMICRY entails an act of subverting COLONIAL DISCOURSE by exploiting the AMBIVALENCE at its heart, its unstable, contradictory, nonidentical potentiality. It results in HYBRID IDENTITIES. The term mimicry now broadly refers to acts of appropriation that result in the SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION or PERFORMANCE of identity. The term is frequently used in a more general sense to designate any sort of critical parody.


MODERNITY. Refers to a period after the decline of feudalism in which we see the rise of secular science, technology, and rational philosophy. it embraces the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the nineteenth-century Age of progress, and the triumphs of the early twentieth century. it is grounded in secularism, humanism, and an openness to innovation in all spheres. Key features of modernity include industrial capitalism, the nation-state, the development of governmental bureaucracies, the development and refinement of educational systems, and the emergence of the SUBJECT as sovereign and self-identical. Modernization refers to the material processes that ensure scientific and technological advancement. it refers also to a condition of rapid and pervasive social and cultural development. Postmodernity, in historical terms, begins with or shortly after the Second World War. It is at the same time a general critique of modernity and the articulation of radically new ways of seeing and knowing the world. Technology plays a decisive role in many theories of postmodernity. on Modernism, see “The Rise of Literary Theory,” pp. 21-4; on Postmodernism, see “The Scope of Literary Theory,” pp. 144-53.

NEGATION. In DIALECTICS, a process by which the negative term of a logical process is sublated in the other, positive term, thus creating a new term that will logically attract its own negation. in logic and philosophy, this is known as negation of the negation. The process of negation is a necessary and constitutive one for all syntheses; it does not designate the absence of elements. This form of negation should not be confused with “negative” in the mathematical sense of subtraction or in the moral/ethic sense of “not good.” The term determinate negation refers to the process by which negation determines the outcome of the dialectical interplay. Negative dialectics seeks to subvert the classical negation of the negation by seeking its preservation as the non-iden- tical outside the limits of dialectical sublation. See DIALECTICS, HISTORICAL DETERMINISM.





ONTOLOGY. The study of the nature of being, often associated with a belief in PRESENCE, in the absolute fullness of things, absolute SELF-IDENTITY.

ORIENTALISM. Associated with the work of Edward Said, this term refers to the authoritative discourses on the East (or orient) produced by the West (or Occident). These discourses include historical, linguistic, philological, and literary works and operate on latent and manifest levels. See DISCOURSE and COLONIAL DISCOURSE.

ORTHODOXY. Rooted in the concept doxa, which means “opinion,” orthodoxy has come to mean definitive or established truth, typically that of an institutional authority (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church). Heterodoxy indicates a deviance from “true opinion,” while paradox refers to a situation in which contrary opinions appear to be true at the same time. In logic, a paradox is a contradictory statement. The New Criticism privileged paradox as one of the chief elements of poetry.

OTHER, OTHERNESS. Term in widespread use that designate a variety of positions opposed to the same or the self-same. In Poststructuralism, the other refers to the negative pole of a dialectic, that which is sublated to fulfill the destiny of the positive term. It also refers to the difference in language or to the structure of a speech act or text in which there is a receiver of a statement. Ethical philosophy treats the other in a similar fashion, as the receiver of actions and attitudes. From Lacanian psychoanalysis, we get the sense of the other as the unconscious (other) which speaks through instances of otherness generated by gender difference (other). For example, the “woman as other” refers to a situation in which a woman becomes a mere surface from which the male subject receives back his own vision of himself, which is generated from the unconscious (Other). Postcolonial theorists, influenced by Psychoanalysis, have developed theories of the other based on racial, ethnic, and cultural difference.


PARADIGMATIC/SYNTAGMATIC. Paradigmatic refers to the aggregate of relations among elements in a given SYNCHRONIC system. Syntagmatic refers to the combinations and relations of elements within DIACHRONIC sequences (e.g., sentences, narratives).


PATRIARCHY. A social formation in which the father, or a father figure, is the supreme authority. More commonly, the term refers to complex societies in which social and cultural institutions are created and ruled by men, and in which women are accorded inferior or secondary status. Patriarchal societies are legitimated and sustained by political, psychological, and philosophical conceptions of the superiority of the PHALLUS and male subjectivity.

PERFORMANCE, PERFORMATIVITY. These terms refer to a specific form of SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM, the idea that IDENTITY is a function of the performance of gender and sexuality. Judith Butler usefully distinguishes between performance (the enactment of normative gender and sexual roles) and performativity (the subversion of these roles in a critical restaging of identity). See AGENCY.

PHALLUS, PHALLOGOCENTRISM. Phallus refers to the abstract idea of male or PATRIARCHAL power. Phallocentrism refers to masculine and patriarchal foundations of western thought. A common variant, phallogocentrism, emphasizes that language and reason (logos) are implicated in a phallic economy of knowledge and power. see LOGOCENTRISM.

PLAY. In Deconstruction, play refers to the relationships of DIFFERENCE that obtain within linguistic systems. Without a stable center in such systems, and without a predictable relationship between SIGNIFIER and SIGNIFIED, the signifying elements of the system (i.e., the signifiers) enter into play, free of any MIMETIC or referential connection to the external world. Play occurs by virtue of the arbitrary relationship between words and what they signify; we can never be sure, therefore, that our discourse refers to what we think it does. Opposed to the free play of the signifier, is the idea of pure PRESENCE.



POWER. A term used by Michel Foucault and those influenced by him to refer to the expression of social and cultural forces (energy, libido) in the form of discourse and discursive formations. A notoriously ambiguous term, power (or “power/knowledge”) can mean many things. It is analogous to IDEOLOGICAL HEGEMONY, but is generally depicted as indeterminate and diffuse, closer to Nietzsche's will to power, a non-hierarchical expression of “dynamic quanta.” The roots and locations of power are amorphous, unpredictable, rhizomatic (like crabgrass). some critics argue that Foucauldian and Nietzschean conceptions of power constitute new forms of metaphysical absolutism.

PRESENCE. A philosophical concept that refers to Being as such, to the essence of a thing, to the present material reality of objects but also a transcendental reality (or Being), outside the realm of signifiers. These conceptions of presence provide the foundation for science, morality, aesthetics, religion, even language itself. Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionist project was inaugurated with a critique of presence as a stable reference in linguistic and philosophical statements. Cf. PLAY.

PRIMITIVISM. A form of COLONIAL DISCOURSE dependent upon a MANICHEAN distinction between civilization and savagery. It derives from scientific, historical, anthropological, philological, sociological, and imaginative texts whose common denominator is a vision of primitive peoples as childlike, feminine, irrational, superstitious, violent, garrulous, and genetically inferior. As part of the ideological structure of colonialism, primitivism played an important role in establishing the inhumanity of non-Western peoples, thus making it easier to subjugate, exploit, and exterminate them. interest in primitivism was an important part of Modernist literature and art. See COLONIALISM and ORIENTALISM.

PROBLEMATIC. Strictly speaking, this term refers to a delimited set of social or textual phenomena - contradictions or gaps in logic, sudden discontinuities or juxtapositions, inequalities or asymmetries - that, when taken together, suggest an opportunity for critical intervention. it is often used in less specialized ways as a synonym for the more prosaic “problem.”


REIFICATION. In Marxist theory, reification refers to a process by which social practices are converted into abstractions and objectified, thus distorting the real nature of social conditions and forestalling the development of class consciousness. In this sense, see COMMODIFICATION. It is often regarded as a form of depersonalization. In logic, it is used to refer to a process by which abstractions are treated as if they were concrete material realities.



SEMIOLOGY, SEMIOTICS. Both terms refer to the science of signs and signification. Semiotics is associated with the work of Charles Sanders peirce and emphasizes reference and representation, while semiology is associated with the work of Ferdinand de Saussure and emphasizes difference. The terms are often used interchangeably, though the more common term in continental European theory is semiotics. some poststructuralist theorists (like Julia Kristeva) use it in tandem with other theoretical models to craft innovative, non-conventional strategies for analyzing signifying systems.


SIGN, SIGNIFIER, SIGNIFIED. In Saussurean linguistics, signifier refers to a word or sound-image within a linguistic system and signified refers to a concept that the signifier designates. Taken together, the two elements constitute a sign, which is itself arbitrary in its relation to external reality. A signifying system is one in which signs, linguistic or otherwise, constitute a single formation in which rules of enunciation and exclusion define the limits of the system. Transcendental signifier is the name given by some critics to a metaphysical Sign (e.g., God, Reason, the PHALLUS) that legitimates specific signifying systems (e.g., metaphysical philosophy, psychoanalysis) .


SIMULACRA, SIMULATION. Associated with the work of Jean Baudril- lard, these terms refer to the idea that “signs of the real” substitute for reality. The “orders of simulation” extend from simple mimetic copies (i.e., exact representations of an external referent) to copies that have no referent at all, that create the illusion of reference and, thus, of reality.

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM. An epistemological theory according to which material forces emanating from social and cultural institutions construct individual IDENTITY and SUBJECTIVITY. It stands in opposition to ESSENTIALISM, which assumes that race, gender, and other features of identity are innate, non-contingent, beyond the influence of material social forces. To construct an identity, personal or national, is a matter of making choices from a wide array of models and combining choices in startling ways. This is most evident in the sphere of gender and sexual identity. See ECRITURE FEMININE.

SOCIAL FIELD. As used by Pierre Bourdieu this term refers to two forms of “social hierarchization”: one that encompasses the modes of material and ideological domination while another encompasses cultural and symbolic production, which has its own forms of domination. Cf. DISCURSIVE FORMATION and HABITUS.

SOCIAL FORMATION. A social formation is the product of a specific mode of production (BASE) and the class relations that compose and sustain it. it is thus characterized by relations of ideological and material DOMINATION. See BASE/SUPERSTRUCTURE.

SUBALTERN, SUBALTERN SUBJECT. These terms refer to social groups - e.g., migrants, shantytown dwellers, displaced tribes, refugees, untouchable castes, the homeless - that either do not possess or are prevented from possessing class consciousness and who are in any case prevented from mobilizing as organized groups. in this limited sense, subalternity refers to many but not all strata of colonized peoples. Antonio Gramsci introduced the current critical meaning, but the term is grounded in the idea of subject races, a term put forward by Lord Cromer in 1907 to refer to non-European peoples. The colonialist frame of reference that envisioned subaltern races could do so only because it was supported by a MANICHEAN IDEOLOGY of racial DIFFERENCE. See SUBJECT.

SUBJECT, SUBJECTIVITY. These terms typically refer to Western traditions of citizenship, selfhood, and consciousness. The subject of modern Western societies is often referred to as the subject of knowledge (i.e., of a specific epistemological framework) or the universal subject and is regarded as autonomous, sovereign, and self-determining. Many theorists challenge these characteristics when they become normative, regulative, or repressive. For them, the subject is at the mercy of social forces that determine it, more or less completely. Subjectivity is the condition of being a subject, specifically the condition of self-identity (i.e., self-awareness), and the ability not only to recognize oneself as a subject (agent or citizen) but also to regulate one’s actions accordingly. To be capable of conscious action and social and historical AGENCY, the subject must occupy a recognizable and legitimate subject position within a specific social context. See SUBALTERN.


SUPPLEMENT, SUPPLEMENTATION. In the special sense given it by Jacques Derrida, this term refers to the ambivalence of language understood both as an addition to the full PRESENCE of the world of objects and as a substitute for that presence which is thus deferred indefinitely in the free PLAY of SIGNS as supplements.



TELOS, TELEOLOGY. Telos means end or termination. Teleology is typically used with reference to a form of HISTORICAL DETERMINISM in which the end-point of history justifies and legitimizes in advance the means of attaining it.

TERRITORIALIZATION. Associated with the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, territorialization refers to the demarcation of social and cultural spaces by principles of law and rationality (i.e., the SYMBOLIC). To deterritorialize is to remove these demarcations, while to reterritorialize is to inscribe new demarcations in place of the old. These processes are associated with the imposition of dominant ideologies, especially fascism and colonialism.

TEXTUALISM, TEXTUALITY. In literary theory, a text is not simply a book. It is rather a complex, unstable, and unpredictable site, where a number of operations take place: the reader’s engagement with the author’s words, the PLAY of DIFFERENCES in the language apart from any authorial (or readerly) intent, the INTERTEXTUAL connections with other texts, the DETERMINATIONS of social and cultural

institutions and traditions. Textuality refers to this multivalent aspect of texts, to this quality of playfulness and instability. Textualism, especially in fields like history and anthropology, refers to the process by which one's consciousness of the world is mediated by written texts. TOTALITY, TOTALIZE. Totality refers to a structural concept of perfect unity, inclusion, or completeness. In philosophy, it refers to the fullness of a concept. To totalize is to represent a complex entity or unfinished process as if it were a complete and unified object. Because totalizing visions always come at the expense of other visions, to totalize is, paradoxically, to exclude. in classical Marxism, totality refers to the aggregate of social relations that constitute a SOCIAL FORMATION. For analytic purposes, a theory of totality is required to give social contradictions their true meaning. See UNIVERSALITY.



UNIVERSALITY. A term that refers to the general or absolute existence of an idea (e.g., humanism, liberalism, democracy, white supremacy). Universality emerged in the early Enlightenment as way to describe mathematical, logical, and ethical absolutes. Especially important was the idea of universal values, which were in fact the values of a few elevated to general status. in this sense, universalist thinking is, paradoxically, provincial. Some theorists have developed contingent universals that serve to galvanize support for specific strategic ends. See SUBJECT and TOTALITY.