Introduction to Theory of Literature

Video Lectures

Displaying all 26 video lectures.
Lecture 1
Introduction
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Introduction


Overview:



In this first lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the course's title in three parts. The relationship between theory and philosophy, the question of what literature is and does, and what constitutes an introduction are interrogated. The professor then situates the emergence of literary theory in the history of modern criticism and, through an analysis of major thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, provides antecedents for twentieth-century theoretical developments.

Lecture 2
Introduction (cont.)
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Introduction (cont.)


Overview:



In this second introductory lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the interrelation of skepticism and determinism. The nature of discourse and the related issue of discursivity is read through two modern works, Anton Chekov's Cherry Orchard and Henry James' The Ambassadors. Exemplary critical focus on literary authority is located in Michel Foucault's "What Is an Author" and Roland Barthes' "The Death of the Author," both of which are read with an emphasis on their historical contexts. Objections to the approach and conclusions of the two theorists are examined, particularly in light of the rise of cultural studies.



Reading assignment:



Foucault, Michel. "What Is an Author?" In The Critical Tradition, pp. 904-14



Barthes, Roland. "The Death of the Author." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 874-77

Lecture 3
Ways In and Out of the Hermeneutic Circle
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Ways In and Out of the Hermeneutic Circle

Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry examines acts of reading and interpretation by way of the theory of hermeneutics. The origins of hermeneutic thought are traced through Western literature. The mechanics of hermeneutics, including the idea of a hermeneutic circle, are explored in detail with reference to the works of Hans-George Gadamer, Martin Heidegger, and E. D. Hirsch. Particular attention is paid to the emergence of concepts of "historicism" and "historicality" and their relation to hermeneutic theory.



Reading assignment:



Gadamer, Hans-Georg. "The Elevation of the Historicality of Understanding to the Status of Hermeneutic Principle." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 721-37
Lecture 4
Configurative Reading
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Configurative Reading


Overview:



The discussion of Gadamer and Hirsch continues in this lecture, which further examines the relationship between reading and interpretation. Through a comparative analysis of these theorists, Professor Paul Fry explores the difference between meaning and significance, the relationship between understanding and paraphrasing, and the nature of the gap between the reader and the text. Through Wolfgang Iser's essay, "The Reading Process," the nature of textual expectation and surprise, and the theory of their universal importance in narrative, is explained. The lecture concludes by considering the fundamental, inescapable role that hermeneutic premises play in canon formation.



Reading assignment:



Iser, Wolfgang. "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1002-14

Lecture 5
The Idea of the Autonomous Artwork
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The Idea of the Autonomous Artwork


Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the origins of formalist literary criticism. Considerable attention is paid to the rise and subsequent popularity of the New Critics and their preferred site of literary exploration, the "poem." The idea of autonomous art is explored in the writings of, among others, Kant, Coleridge, and Wilde. Using the work of Wimsatt and Beardsley, the lecture concludes with an examination of acceptable categories of evidence in New Criticism.



Reading assignment:




Wimsatt, William K. and Monroe Beardsley. "The Intentional Fallacy." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 811-18

Lecture 6
The New Criticism and Other Western Formalisms
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The New Criticism and Other Western Formalisms




Overview:



In this second lecture on formalism, Professor Paul Fry begins by exploring the implications of Wimsatt and Beardsley's theory of literary interpretation by applying them to Yeats's "Lapis Lazuli." He then maps the development of Anglo-American formalism from Modernist literature to the American and British academies. Some time is spent examining the similarities and differences between the works of I. A. Richards and his protegé, William Empson. The lecture finally turns to a discussion of Cleanth Brooks's conception of unity.



Reading assignment:



Richards, Ivor A. and Monroe Beardsley. "Principles of Literary Criticism." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 764-73



Empson, William. Seven Types of Ambiguity. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1966, pp. 16-19



Brooks, Cleanth. "Irony as a Principle of Structure." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 799-806

Lecture 7
Russian Formalism
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Russian Formalism


Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the works of major Russian formalists reviewed in an essay by Boris Eikhenbaum. He begins by distinguishing Russian formalism from hermeneutics. Eikhenbaum's dependency on core ideas of Marxist and Darwinian philosophies of struggle and evolution is explained. Formalism's scientific language and methodical aspirations are discussed. Crucial formalist distinctions between plot and story, practical and poetic language, and literature and literariness are clarified.



Reading assignment:



Eikhenbaum, Boris. "The Theory of the 'Formal Method.'" In Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965, pp. 99-141



Brooks, Cleanth. "Irony as a Principle of Structure." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 799-806

Lecture 8
Semiotics and Structuralism
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Semiotics and Structuralism


Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the semiotics movement through the work of its founding theorist, Ferdinand de Saussure. The relationship of semiotics to hermeneutics, New Criticism, and Russian formalism is considered. Key semiotic binaries--such as langue and parole, signifier and signified, and synchrony and diachrony--are explored. Considerable time is spent applying semiotics theory to the example of a "red light" in a variety of semiotic contexts.



Reading assignment:



Levi-Strauss, Claude. "The Structural Study of Myth." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 860-68



Suggested: Barthes, Roland. "The Structuralist Activity." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 775-84

Lecture 9
Linguistics and Literature
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Linguistics and Literature


Overview:



In this lecture on the work of Roman Jakobson, Professor Paul Fry continues his discussion of synchrony and diachrony. The relationships among formalism, semiotics, and linguistics are explored. Claude Levi-Strauss's structural interpretation of the Oedipus myth is discussed in some detail. In order to differentiate Jakobson's poetic functions, Professor Fry analyzes the sentence "It is raining" from six perspectives. Significant attention is paid to the use of diagrams in literary linguistic theory.



Reading assignment:



Jakobson, Roman. "Linguistics and Poetics." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 871-74



Jakobson, Roman. "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances." In Studies on Child Language and Aphasia. The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1971, pp. 67-73

Lecture 10
Deconstruction I
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Deconstruction I


Overview:



In this lecture on Derrida and the origins of deconstruction, Professor Paul Fry explores two central Derridian works: "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences" and "Différance." Derrida's critique of structuralism and semiotics, particularly the work of Levi-Strauss and Saussure, is articulated. Deconstruction's central assertions that language is by nature arbitrary and that meaning is indeterminate are examined. Key concepts, such as the nature of the text, discourse, différance, and supplementarity are explored.



Reading assignment:



Derrida, Jacques. "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" and "Différance." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 915-25 and pp. 932-39

Lecture 11
Deconstruction II
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Deconstruction II


Overview:



In this second lecture on deconstruction, Professor Paul Fry concludes his consideration of Derrida and begins to explore the work of Paul de Man. Derrida's affinity for and departure from Levi-Strauss's distinction between nature and culture are outlined. De Man's relationship with Derrida, their similarities and differences--particularly de Man's insistence on "self-deconstruction" and his reliance on Jakobson--are discussed. The difference between rhetoric and grammar, particularly the rhetoricization of grammar and the grammaticization of rhetoric, is elucidated through de Man's own examples taken from "All in the Family," Yeats's "Among School Children," and the novels of Proust.



Reading assignment:



De Man, Paul. "Semiology and Rhetoric." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 882-92

Lecture 12
Freud and Fiction
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Freud and Fiction


Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry turns his attention to the relationship between authorship and the psyche. Freud's meditations on the fundamental drives governing human behavior are read through the lens of literary critic Peter Brooks. The origins of Freud's work on the "pleasure principle" and his subsequent revision of it are charted, and the immediate and constant influence of Freudian thought on literary production is asserted. Brooks' contributions to literary theory are explored: particularly the coupling of multiple Freudian principles, including the pleasure principle and the death wish, and their application to narrative structures. At the lecture's conclusion, the professor returns to the children's story, Tony the Tow Truck, to suggest the universality of Brooks's argument.



Reading assignment:



Brooks, Peter. "Freud's Masterplot" and "The Dream-Work." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 500-08 and pp. 882-92

Lecture 13
Jacques Lacan in Theory
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Jacques Lacan in Theory


Overview:



In this lecture on psychoanalytic criticism, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Jacques Lacan. Lacan's interest in Freud and distaste for post-Freudian "ego psychologists" are briefly mentioned, and his clinical work on "the mirror stage" is discussed in depth. The relationship in Lacanian thought, between metaphor and metonymy is explored through the image of the point de capiton. The correlation between language and the unconscious, and the distinction between desire and need, are also explained, with reference to Hugo's "Boaz Asleep."



Reading assignment:



Lacan, Jacques. "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1129-48

Lecture 14
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Influence


Overview:



In this lecture on the psyche in literary theory, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of T. S. Eliot and Harold Bloom, specifically their studies of tradition and individualism. Related and divergent perspectives on tradition, innovation, conservatism, and self-effacement are traced throughout Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and Bloom's "A Meditation upon Priority." Particular emphasis is placed on the process by which poets struggle with the literary legacies of their precursors. The relationship of Bloom's thinking, in particular, to Freud's Oedipus complex is duly noted. The lecture draws heavily from the works of Pope, Borges, Joyce, Homer, Wordsworth, Longinus, and Milton.



Reading assignment:



Eliot, T. S. "Tradition and the Individual Talent." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 537-41



Bloom, Harold. "A Meditation upon Priority." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1156-60

Lecture 15
The Postmodern Psyche
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The Postmodern Psyche


Overview:



In this lecture on the postmodern psyche, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and Slavoj Žižek. The notion of the "postmodern" is defined through the use of examples in the visual arts and architecture. Deleuze and Guattari's theory of "rhizomatic" thinking and their intellectual debts are elucidated. Žižek's film criticism, focused on the relation between desire and need, is explored in connection with Lacan.



Reading assignment:



Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. "Introduction: Rhizome." In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987



Žižek, Slavoj. "Courtly Love." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1181-97

Lecture 16
The Social Permeability of Reader and Text
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The Social Permeability of Reader and Text


Overview:



In this first lecture on the theory of literature in social contexts, Professor Paul Fry examines the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Hans Robert Jauss. The relation of their writing to formalist theory and the work of Barthes and Foucault is articulated. The dimensions of Bakhtin's heteroglossia, along with the idea of common language, are explored in detail through a close reading of the first sentence of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice. Jauss's study of the history of reception is explicated with reference to Borges's "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" and the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees.



Reading assignment:



Jauss, Hans Robert. "Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 981-88



Bakhtin, Mikhail. "Heteroglossia in the Novel." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 588-93

Lecture 17
The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory
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The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory


Overview:



This first lecture on social theories of art and artistic production examines the Frankfurt School. The theoretical writings of Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin are explored in historical and political contexts, including Marxism, socialist realism, and late capitalism. The concept of mechanical reproduction, specifically the relationship between labor and art, is explained at some length. Adorno's opposition to this argument, and his own position, are explained. The lecture concludes with a discussion of Benjamin's perspective on the use of distraction and shock in the process of aesthetic revelation.



Reading assignment:




Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1233-48



Horkheimer, Max and Theodor Adorno. "The Culture Industry." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1255-62

Lecture 18
The Political Unconscious
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The Political Unconscious


Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores Fredric Jameson's seminal work, The Political Unconscious, as an outcropping of Marxist literary criticism and structural theory. Texts such as Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" and Shakespeare's seventy-third sonnet are examined in the context of Jameson's three horizons of underlying interpretive frameworks--the political, the social, and the historical, each carefully explained. The extent to which those frameworks permeate individual thought is addressed in a discussion of Jameson's concept of the "ideologeme." The theorist's work is juxtaposed with the writings of Bakhtin and Levi-Strauss. The lecture concludes by revisiting the children's story Tony the Tow Truck, upon which Jameson's theory of literature is mapped.



Reading assignment:



Jameson, Fredric. "The Political Unconscious." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1291-1306

Lecture 19
The New Historicism
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The New Historicism


Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry examines the work of two seminal New Historicists, Stephen Greenblatt and Jerome McGann. The origins of New Historicism in Early Modern literary studies are explored, and New Historicism's common strategies, preferred evidence, and literary sites are explored. Greenblatt's reliance on Foucault is juxtaposed with McGann's use of Bakhtin. The lecture concludes with an extensive consideration of the project of editing of Keats's poetry in light of New Historicist concerns.



Reading assignment:



Greenblatt, Stephen. "The Power of Forms." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1443-45



McGann, Jerome J. "Keats and Historical Method." In The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988

Lecture 20
The Classical Feminist Tradition
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The Classical Feminist Tradition


Overview:



In this lecture on feminist criticism, Professor Paul Fry uses Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own as a lens to and commentary on the flourishing of feminist criticism in the twentieth century. The structure and rhetoric of A Room of One's Own is extensively analyzed, as are its core considerations of female novelists such as Austen, Eliot, and the Brontës. The works of major feminist critics, such as Ann Douglas, Mary Ellman, Kate Millett, Elaine Showalter, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, are mentioned. The logocentric approach to gender theory, specifically the task of defining female language as something different and separate from male language, is considered alongside Woolf's own endorsement of literary and intellectual androgyny.



Reading assignment:



Woolf, Virginia. "Austen-Brontë-Eliot" and "The Androgynous Vision." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 602-10



Kolodny, Annette. "Dancing through the Minefield." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1550-62

Lecture 21
African-American Criticism
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African-American Criticism


Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry examines trends in African-American criticism through the lens of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Toni Morrison. A brief history of African-American literature and criticism is undertaken, and the relationship of both to feminist theory is explicated. The problems in cultural and identity studies of essentialism, "the identity queue," expropriation, and biology are surveyed, with particular attention paid to the work of Michael Cooke and Morrison's reading of Huckleberry Finn. At the lecture's conclusion, the tense relationship between African-American studies and New Critical assumptions are explored with reference to Robert Penn Warren's poem, "Pondy Woods."



Reading assignment:



Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. "Writing, 'Race,' and the Difference It Makes." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1891-1902



Morrison, Toni. "Playing in the Dark." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1791-1800

Lecture 22
Post-Colonial Criticism
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Post-Colonial Criticism


Overview:



In this lecture on post-colonial theory, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Edward Said and Homi K. Bhabha. The complicated origins, definitions, and limitations of the term "post-colonial" are outlined. Elaine Showalter's theory of the phasic development of female literary identity is applied to the expression of post-colonial identities. Crucial terms such as ambivalence, hybridity, and double consciousness are explained. The relationship between Bhabha's concept of sly civility and Gates's "signifyin'" is discussed, along with the reliance of both on semiotics.



Reading assignment:



Said, Edward. "Introduction to Orientalism." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1801-13



Bhabha, Homi K. "Signs Taken for Wonders." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1875-99

Lecture 23
Queer Theory and Gender Performativity
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Queer Theory and Gender Performativity


Overview:



In this lecture on queer theory, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Judith Butler in relation to Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality. Differences in terminology and methods are discussed, including Butler's emphasis on performance and Foucault's reliance on formulations such as "power-knowledge" and "the deployment of alliance." Butler's fixation with ontology is explored with reference to Levi-Strauss's concept of the raw and the cooked. At the lecture's conclusion, Butler's interrogation of identity politics is compared with that of post-colonial and African-American theorists.



Reading assignment:



Foucault, Michel. "The History of Sexuality." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1627-36



Butler, Judith. "Imitation and Gender Insubordination." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1707-18

Lecture 24
The Institutional Construction of Literary Study
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The Institutional Construction of Literary Study


Overview:



In this lecture on critical identities, Professor Fry examines the work of Stanley Fish and John Guillory. The lecture begins by examining Tony the Tow Truck as a site for the emergence of literary identities, then brings the course's use of the children's story under scrutiny through the lens of Fish. The evolution of Fish's theory of interpretive communities is traced chronologically through his publications and examined in close-up in Milton's Paradise Lost. John Guillory's work on interpretive communities and the culture wars leads to a discussion of the Western canon and multiculturalism.



Reading assignment:



Fish, Stanley. "How to Recognize a Poem When You See One." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1023-30



Guillory, John. "Cultural Capital." In The Critical Tradition, pp. 1472-83

Lecture 25
The End of Theory?; Neo-Pragmatism
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The End of Theory?; Neo-Pragmatism


Overview:



In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry takes on Knapp and Michaels's influential article, "Against Theory." The historical context of the piece is given and key aspects of the theorists' critical orientations, specifically their neo-pragmatism, are defined. A lengthy discussion of the relationships between, on the one hand, intention and meaning and, on the other hand, language and speech follows with reference to Saussure, deconstruction, and Russian formalism. Knapp and Michaels's use of Wordsworth's "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal" to explore the limits of meaning and intention is examined in depth. Ultimately, the case is made, using issues subject to dispute in Knapp and Michaels, that theory is a useful and necessary tool in literary studies.



Reading assignment:



Knapp, Steven and Walter Benn Michaels. "Against Theory." In Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Journals, 1985

Lecture 26
Reflections; Who Doesn't Hate Theory Now?
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Reflections; Who Doesn't Hate Theory Now?

Overview:



In this final lecture on literary theory, Professor Paul Fry revisits the relationship between language and speech, language and intention, and language and communication. Over the course of this discussion, he retrospectively defines theory as a means of establishing the extent to which "it is legitimate to be suspicious of communication." Along the way, he reconnects with New Criticism, Jakobson, Bakhtin, Saussure, de Man, Fish, and Knapp and Michaels. Through an analysis of epitaphs and a final tour through Tony the Tow Truck, he underscores the central role of language in the variety of literary theories presented in the course.