Literary Theory: An Introductionby Terry Eagleton Published 01 Jan 1996
|Literary Theory: An Introduction.pdf|
Download Literary Theory: An Introduction (2014) PDF ePub eBook
- 1. Register a free 1 month Trial Account.
- 2. Download as many books as you like.
- 3. Cancel the membership at any time if not satisfied.
Written in 1982, this work appeared, as Professor Eagleton explains, at the watershed of two very different decades. It could not anticipate what was to come after, neither could it grasp what had happened in literary theory in the light of where it was to lead.
"Literary Theory: An Introduction" Reviews
A very important work for me personally. What Eagleton accomplishes here is remarkable.
The body of the work is an introduction to literary criticism that goes, more or less, school-by-school according to when they came into being and grew to be popular. Eagleton is a master both at explaining the theories in terms of their formal structures and historicizing. This book contains some of the shortest yet most detailed introductions I know to the most difficult of thinkers: Derrida, Freud, Lacan, Kristeva, Heidegger, Husserl, Gadamer, and others. The ones on Freud, Derrida, and Lacan are particularly strong. And, as I said, Eagleton's engagement with these thinkers never loses sight of the historical and sociological: he sees the literary criticism, and the literature, of a historical moment as being bound in essential ways with contemporary social and political problems.
But it is not the body of the work that I love most; I was influenced most profoundly by the "Introduction," subtitled "What Is Literature?," and the "Conclusion," subtitled "Political Criticism." These two chapters are nothing short of stunning.
In the first, "Introduction: What Is Literature?," which sets a dynamic stage for everything else in the book, Eagleton argues that we must realize that, literally, what counts as literature at a given moment is determined by outside -- that is, social and political -- forces. In other words, he lays out the theory, explained above, according to which he interprets the history of literary criticism. And he takes things to their logical conclusions: there is no thing-in-itself, the essence of which we could know, he says, designated by the term "literature." When we study literature, we cannot hope to find anything about "the fixed being of things." Comparing "literature" to the word "weed" - what plants do we pick when we say we are "picking 'weeds'"? - he says that both terms can at most only "tell us about the role of a text or a thistle in a social context, its relations with and differences from its surroundings, the ways it behaves, the purposes it may be put to and the human practices clustered around it." It's powerful stuff.
"Conclusion: Political Criticism," is probably the text that convinced me of the truth of that old phrase -- or is it a speculative proposition? -- "everything is political." We might say that this is Eagleton's much longer version of Marx's Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach. I will try to trace some of it.
First, Eagleton situates contemporary literary criticism historically. He says:
"As I write [the book was first published in 1983:], it is estimated that the world contains over 60,000 nuclear warheads.... The approximate cost of these weapons is 500 billion dollars a year, or 1.3 billion dollars per day. Five per cent of this sum - 25 billion dollars - could drastically, fundamentally alleviate the problems of the poverty-stricken Third World."
Yet he does not leave it there. He returns to the topic of literary criticism, convicting it of a certain insignificance in the face of these affairs. He continues:
"Anyone who believed that literary theory was more important than such matters would no doubt be considered somewhat eccentric, but perhaps only a little less eccentric than those who consider than the two topics might be somehow related."
Eagleton then makes a compelling argument that literary theorists must debate politics if they are even to do literary theory properly today. His point is not that literary theory needs to become political, though -- not exactly. "There is, in fact, no need to drag politics into literary theory," he says; "as with South African sport, it has been there from the beginning." Rather, he says, concluding one of the book's major "subplots," the manner in which the tradition in literary theory has ignored politics politics, setting it in a separate domain with one meta-narrative or another, is in itself political. He then goes on to make that more concrete, insisting that what he calls the "liberal humanist" position -- a position, and a common one, characterized by tothe wishy washy belief that literature "teaches 'values'" or "makes you a 'better person'" in some abstract way -- is not enough. Literature and literary theory have futures only insomuch as they seek to engage with the political, carefully defined by Eagleton as "no more than the way we organize our social life together, and the power-relations which this involves."
This piece effected a decisive change in my thought; I was forced to realize that I could not escape from politics to theory; if theory itself terminated in politics, then I had to turn to politics in my own way, too.
Most highly recommended.
I picked up this book expecting to learn a little bit about each major school of literary theory, and I wasn't disappointed. The book is a much easier read than some of the authors it references, and (I hope) may be useful in understanding those authors.
Eagleton says he would prefer to call it the "Theory of Discourse" rather than "Literary Theory" -- it's really the theory of human speech, communication, discussion, and rhetoric, in all forms. As such, it includes thinkers who studied linguistics (Saussure), but also psychoanalysis as language (Lacan), discourse as a means of economic control (Marx), language as it pertains to sexual roles (Lacan, Kristeva), and so on. The selection still seems a bit arbitrary to me -- haven't there been interesting linguistic theories since Saussure? But I think this is a quirk of the field, not of the book.
Eagleton seems to present most authors fairly, as if he wants you to seriously consider that author's position. Then, amusingly enough, he will attempt to tear the author to shreds so he can go on to the next author. I didn't find his rants to be particularly profound or convincing. Thankfully he spends far more time illustrating each author's points than he spends beating them up.
If you are one of those near-sighted, pedantic, theory-addicted lit-geeks (like myself, thank you) and you tire of trying to 'splain to folks the various -isms that spin out of the ivory tower and splat into the public square (who woulda thought that the word "deconstruct" would one day make regular appearances in Entertainment Weakly(sic)? "Not I" says this "I.") then this is THE book to pass out as a nice quick primer to strangers at the airport or, better yet, the one or two people who will still talk to you about books.
The coolest thing about this survey/overview is that as Eagleton goes through each of the lit-crit "movements" or "schools" he also makes a persuasive case for them. This makes the book engaging almost like a novel can be in that there is some drama as he leads the reader into one school, makes the reader think "Hmm, I like these ideas and would like to subscribe to the newsletter" before he then pulls at a few threads and then demonstrates what critics of that approach actually did, showing up its flaws and questionable assumptions and stuff, before Eagleton goes on to show what was reassembled from that mess into a new trend of thought which he gives the whole pitch for, before doing that again.
Yes, I know what you are thinking; your exact thoughts right now are "But wait, isn't he reifying the idea of intellectual 'evolution' by imposing a progress-narrative myth over disparate communities of cultural discourse as if they are elements within a linear strand of causally-connected events?"
And as one of the esteemed UK Gucci Marxists he should know better, right? But ya gotta start somewhere and for a book so brief he does an amazing job at pressing compact profiles onto the page with a minimum of distortion and enough impact to shut up people you know who say stupid shit like "Deconstruction is about how nothing means anything, right?" Now, I know some folx may balk at the idea of reading a "marxist," and that is a completely understandable and quite-to-be-expected reaction for capitalist bast people who daily struggle with seeing the world through a false consciousness (titter) but I don't think it colors his sketches in any meaningful way and certainly shouldn't impede understanding of his summaries of all these different critical approaches.
Now what approaches/schools/movements/factions/discourse-communities are these? Well let's see what we got here... you gotcher basic history of "English" as a proper subject for study in the first damn place and how shockingly tardy was its acceptance as a serious thang, then ya gotcher pre-New Criticism unpleasantness, 'course then ya gotcher actual New Criticism unpleasantness, then ya gotcher phenomenology guys and that whole debate about the in-your-head "in here" vs that whole "out there" deal and where the hell you put "intent" with all that, then ya gotcher sciency formalists, what with their semiotix and structuralism which you're really gonna wanna take a look at if ya like your categories and diagrams. Then ya gotcher deal where the previous machine turned on itself and got all AI on its own ass with the post-structuralists, then you can take a break on the couch with your psychoanalytic session. When you wake up and you realize you're almost done and you wonder "what about rhetoric?" he goes all rhet alright by blending that through feminism(s) and other political criticism(z).
And yes it's mostly a nice surface-scratching tour but if anyone wants to dig deeper his bibliography is phat.
I cannot be too upset with Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction since the book accurately reflects literary theory's preoccupation with almost everything except literature. This hostility continues to today. Because of some of the confusion in this book, some parts are not even right and other parts are not even wrong. To take an example, Eagleton criticizes phenomenology for presenting an inadequate strategy to deal with literary works. This criticism, addressed especially at Edmund Husserl, the founder and major proponent of phenomenology, would have come as a surprise to Husserl because Husserl never espoused a literary theory. Surely what he had to say about human beings would, if it is true, have some implications for literature, but in the remote and trivial sense that discoveries in psychology would help define the parameters by which a character might be judged plausible in a literary work. Eagleton meanders about so-called literary strategies throughout much of the book. For example, Eagleton writes on p. 154: "It is clear that the child in this state [i.e. its early infancy:] is not even prospectively a citizen who could be relied upon to do a hard day's work. It is anarchic, sadistic, aggressive, self-involved and remorselessly pleasure-seeking, under the sway of what Freud calls the pleasure principle; nor does it have any respect for differences of gender." Setting aside whether any of these empirical claims are true, a decent question to ask would be: What does this have to do with literature?
Eagleton admits, in his final chapter, that he is openly hostile to literature and would prefer, rather, a view toward cultural studies. This position, however, is just a decision to abandon the study of literature. His concern, and some other people's concerns who work in literature departments, is that 'literature' is too parochial. But all 'literature' is is an evaluative term for a loose assemblage of works, both poetry and prose, that people have deemed influential, brilliant, or essential to understanding particular civilizations or human nature in general. If Eagleton et al. disagrees with the works in particular that have been classified as literature, then he and others should contest some of the works. For the other works with which these professors do find value, what would be reasonable is to study these works in the myriad ways one could study them: for example, a literary critic could come to understand the biography of the person who wrote the work; learn about the historical content in which the work was written; discover the work's reception over the years; study the form and/or content of the work; reveal the social or political implications of the work for its own time, for our time, or for any time; and relay this information to academic circles and concerned general audiences, all with an eye on how the collected data help us understand literature, a particular civilization, and human nature. Why this mighty task is not sufficient for Eagleton, I do not understand. To want to expand the study is to do analysis in some other field, and so my advice to Eagleton et al. who have qualms with how 'parochial' literature seems, these professors could, if they are more interested in social, political, or economic theory anyway, return to school to teach sociology, political science, or economics.
چه قدرررر طول کشید!
به زودی در این مکان ریویو نصب میشود.
This book seems to serve three functions. First, it's a reasonable introduction to twentieth century literary theory, not including new historicism. Eagleton doesn't seem to have bothered to read much of the new criticism or the poetry associated with it (for instance, he says The Waste Land "intimates that fertility cults hold the clue to the salvation of the West"), and reads a bit too much English class structure into American life. But he's quite good on reception theory, structuralism and post-structuralism (although he's far too kind to Derrida, and far, far too kind to Kristeva).
Second, it's an exercise in 'Marxism' of the most idiotic kind, which believes that anyone who holds an ideal (e.g., a harmonious society) and reads literature is just "submitting to the political status quo." For someone so keen on bringing politics into things, it's odd that Eagleton spends so little time thinking about the ways that reading literature as an image of harmony and so on might best be considered expressions of *yearning for* rather than *belief in* a harmonious society.
Third, it's a shining example of what literary writing really should be like: polemical, cut and thrust, no nonsense attacks on one hand; rigid statements of faith and belief on the other. You'll know what Mr Eagleton stood for in the '80s once you've read about three pages of this. We're taught today not to say anything that anyone might disagree with- not only is that no fun, it's no way to advance any discussion. This book is seriously, seriously flawed, but I'd much rather re-read it than the essays collected in Cambridge's 'History of Literary Criticism' any day.
Finally, I wonder how Terry feels about his constant attacks on religion in this book. Some might say he was just trying to fit into the radical, epater '80s, no?