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Archetypal criticism Marxism

Author Media
Bakhtin Circle Metatext, metadiscourse
Catharsis Mimesis
Cognitive poetics Model of communication
Comparative literature Nation, nationalism and literature
Criticism New criticism
Cultural studies New historicism
Deconstruction and poststructuralism Philology
Discourse Positivism
Ecocriticism Postcolonial theory, postcolonial studies
Empathy Prague school
Epic theatre Production and distribution
Feminist criticism and gender studies Psychoanalytical approaches
Genre Public interlocuteur / public milieu / grand public
Hermeneutics Reader-oriented theories
History of literary studies Rhetoric
Ideology critique Russian formalism
Implied author Science
Implied reader Science and literary studies
Inspiration Semiotics
Institutions in/and literary studies Structuralism
Intertextuality Style and stylistics
Language of science Text
Liberal humanism Utile dulci
Literary history


Jung = pupil of Freud  he created his own school of psychoanalysis: unconscious = more than just sexual  supra-
individual = a collective memory common to all humans.
Collective unconscious = recurrence of certain universal themes or symbols  archetypes  one of the most basic =
In literary theory: great art = supra-individual ↔ art of second-rate = concerned with the writer’s private life and
psychological situation  great artists can liberate us from our petty individualities  bring us in touch with
Humanity  canon = repository of fundamental human wisdom eliciting universal responses with an enormous
emotional strength.
Archetypal criticism/myth criticism = study of the great literary texts in terms of their archetypal resonances 
rather popular in Britain and the States during the period of the New Criticism  Maud Bodkin, Northrop Frye.
This type of criticism is also rooted in a strong interest in folk culture // Romanticism  early 20th century: new
academic disciplines such as anthropology and ethnology ↔ Western cult of rationality and progress James


Author = producer of a literary work  in Roman Jakobson’s model of communication, author = sender of the
message. According to the genre, there are many variants of the term author. The word ‘writer’ is often used
interchangeably  written literary communication = default situation.
There are authors with a pseudonym, anonymous author and ghost-writer.
Biographically oriented forms of criticism


Much criticism has a biographical orientation  what can the work teach you about the author as a person or what
can the person’s life teach you about the work?  Romantic concept + XIX c.: literary history turned to the writer’s
life and its immediate environment (positivism).
Biography = a literary genre  grey zone between literature and metaliterary discourse  Plutarch, Dr Johnson,
James Boswell...
Psychological and psychoanalytical studies of literature = the work and the inner life of the writer illuminate each
other  psychobiography of famous writers = using their literary output to reconstruct the author’s deepest
psychological conflicts and obsessions + using knowledge of the author’s psychological life to illuminate their work.
Copyright and plagiarism = legal notions based on the concept of authorship  intellectual property.
In the common-sense understanding, background or context of the text = writer’s personality  artistic self-
expression  author = real personal presence with a specific intention or message  readers will feel tempted to
equate the main voice in the text with the writer.
Limitations of the concept
Author and text = source-effect relationship.
Text can also be a mask hiding the real person or an escape from a certain reality. Very often, too, authors just do not
know exactly what they are doing.
Author’s authority became prominent when the Romantic Movement introduced notions such as creativity, genius,
originality, etc. ↔ imitation (walking in the footsteps of great authors). Middle-Ages + other semi-literate or oral
cultures, literature = collective process/common heritage  anonymous.
Today, publishing houses ≈ co-authorship  impact on the literary text at every stage of its production (title, lay
out...) + copy-editing.
Collaborative or team-writing  co-authorship is clearly advertised.
Emergence of the individual authorship can be linked with the liberal ideology of modern capitalism 
individualistic notions of the subject  criticised by left-wing critics.
Exorcising the author from literary studies
New Criticism = one of the theoretical movements that strongly stressed the autonomous nature of the literary work
of art from the 1920s onwards  intentional fallacy = it is a fallacy to interpret or evaluate a work in terms of its
author and his/her intentions  meaning is in the text.
Narratology (the study of stories and their textual manifestations) strongly insisted on text’s self-sufficiency 
certain narratological concepts were developed to remove the author from the narrative text and to describe his/her
presence in its mere fictional effect  author ≠ narrator.
Poststructuralism pronounced the ‘death of the author’  the unity of artistic design and the meaning of a text =
illusory qualities that readers attribute to it  textual meaning always comes from readers, not from the writer.
For poststructuralism the traditional emphasis on the author-text connection = strategy to replace the reality of free
and plural textual meanings by a false sense of semantic stability and interpretative security  to contain the
freedom of interpretive response  the task of finding the ‘correct’ explanation = the critics  they have been
trained by the academic institutions within its norms and values.
Authorship = ideological  it strengthen the idea of individual experience being the touchstone of all reality +
mechanism controlling the reading of texts  Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault.
But in recent years, the author-centred or biographical approach seems to have been making something of a



Movement of literary criticism centred around the Russian theoretician Mikhail Bakhtin  Problems of
Dostoevsky’s Poetics and Rabelais and His World.
The group started meeting in the early 1920s  time of mounting tension between the Russian formalists and
Marxist literary theory  attempt to bring about a rapprochement between the two.
Political repression  Bakhtin circle is disintegrated and Bakhtin arrested in 1929 on suspicions of secret
participation in the underground Russian Orthodox Church  six years of exile and then low profile  in the 60s
(end of the Stalinist period) his admirers were amazed to find that he was still alive.
Dialogue = central to his thought  dialogical criticism or dialogics.
Dialogue = no word can be neutral socially  no utterance is free from the speaker’s background and intentions, or
from the interlocutor’s presence and expected response  every utterance = strictly unique  pragmatic context and
social interplay.
↔ Saussurean structuralism  he sidelines the concrete use of language and reduces language to an abstract system
of symbols and rules which exists and generates meaning on its own.
Bakhtin ↔ monologism  tries to achieve hegemony over other discourses by silencing them  a single version of
the truth imposed by the speaker.
The polyphonic novel and carnival
Polyphonic novel = a genre where free play is given to the dialogical interaction between consciousnesses 
different voices have a real validity, integrity and freedom of expression, enabling them to interact with each other in
dialogical fashion  true confrontation of different opinions, values and discourses.
Carnival = in his PhD thesis on Rabelais and His World  how popular culture at the grassroots level develops a
joyfully subversive counter-culture characterised by uncontrolled excess and a reversal of official hierarchies.
Carnival is important to Bakhtin because it challenges the monological authority of High Culture. Bakhtin shows
how literature in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance was increasingly carnivalised in a liberating process
leading to the modern novel.
BUT Bakhtin overestimated the subversive or anti-authoritarian power of carnival  once the period of licensed
excess is over, repression takes over again  instrument that confirms the existing power relations.
Bakhtin’s work remained largely unknown in his own country until the late 50s and was translated for the West in
the 70s  Julia Kristeva based her notion of intertextuality on dialogics and spread his ideas  now: object of a
genuine academic cult.
Theoreticians coming from various political and theoretical backgrounds show different ways of appropriating the
ideas of Bakhtin  it confirms Bakhtin’s intuition that every text produces a plenitude of meanings which stem from
social interaction  liberal humanist or Christian, poststructuralist critics, Marxist critics...


Plato: poetry has no place in the ‘good society’  why?

1. True reality = ideas of things, of which individual objects are only reflections or imitations  poetry
imitates those individual objects  imitation of imitation  too far from the ultimate reality = the world
of unchanging eternal and universal ideas.
2. Poetry is harmful because it nourishes and strengthens the feelings and impairs the reason.


Aristotle: tragedy has a therapeutic value  catharsis = the play enables the spectator to be relieved of these
unwanted emotions  he/she will leave the theatre in a mood of profound serenity and happiness.
Certain modern psychotherapeutic methods use literature as a way to help patients cope with their situation.


= recent theory of literature  texts derive their aesthetic effect from the special way in which they use the human
mental apparatus.
Cognitive poetics // reader-oriented theories  mind’s contribution to the reading process.
Cognitive poetics // linguistics and its cognitive turn  language and thought phenomena (metaphor, metonymy,


= study of literature in a cross-cultural perspective  literature is studies as something that is likely to transcend
linguistic, cultural, ethnic, national and other borderlines.
Comparative literature // literary history: to zoom in on individual national traditions.
Comparative literature // literary theory  field of application for theorists.
Method and scope of application
In principle, anything can be compared  lays the differences and similarities. Two literary phenomena can be
compared + tertium comparationis = descriptive category (the quality that two things which are being compared may
have in common)  the choice of tertium comparationis will determine the outcome of the comparison.
Genetic relationship = X has played a constitutive role in the production of Y  influence.
Typological relationship = X has had no effect on the production of Y, but both can be said to belong to a
comparable type of phenomena  coincidence or X and Y have originated under unrelated but similar constraints (=
Genetic relationships can be studied from the angle of either the origin (study of writer’s reception) or the receiving
end of the process (source criticism) or both.
Research themes:
• Sources, influences and affinities
• Themes, myths, archetypes and motifs
• Genres and forms
• Movements, schools and periods
• Comparison of the arts
• National images  imagology
Comparative literature today
The work that is done in postcolonial theory translation studies, intertextuality or reception study = contribution to
comparative literature even if their practitioners are rarely keen to this idea. Why?
1. The separate and labelled investigation of such international contacts might create the false impression that a
non-comparative study of literature is still an option today.
2. To distance themselves from the former generations of comparatists  restricted to a respectful study of the
international canon of Western literature.



Criticism = vague and ambiguous broadest sense: ‘serious’ form of metaliterary discourse, regardless of its level
of conceptual abstraction, social setting and purpose  literary critic can designate anyone.
But very often, literary criticism = study of individual texts or of small groups of texts; these are analysed and
interpreted, and often also evaluated  literary criticism ≠ literary history, comparative literature and literary theory.
C.J. Van Rees: sociological perspective  3 types of literary criticism: journalistic, essayistic and academic  a
Masterpiece has to pass through these three filters to achieve this status.
Common characteristics of the three types of criticism
All forms of criticism play a key part in the entire process of literary communication  impact on the production,
the distribution and the reception.
All forms of criticism have the same functions:
1. Which texts are to be accepted as legitimate forms of literature
2. To which rank a work is entitled in the hierarchy of literary works
3. Which kind of critical discourse represents an adequate response to literature
All critical statements are based on an a priori norm-governed conception of literature  academic criticism is not
more objective or scientific than the other two  same institution = literary criticism.
In which way are the three types different (and complementary)?
The three types differ in their legitimising competence  different amount and kind of authority.
Different positions on the timeline of literary evolution and canonisation processes:
• Journalistic reviewers: new publications by contemporary authors
• Essayistic and academic critics: reconsidering the merits of older texts (distance and hindsight)
Different scopes:
• Journalistic reviewers: the entire contemporary output of literary publishing houses  in reality, impossible
 a first selection of works to be discussed (reputation of the author or the publishing house)
• Essayistic and academic reviewers: shorter list of works that have already survived an earlier selection
Other related differences:
• Journalistic reviews: shorter, more widely accessible, less sophisticated in theoretical terms  less social
prestige + less durable
• Essayistic and academic reviews: allegedly more scientific  catalogued for later reference
Historical evolution
Literary criticism is subject to local variation and historical change  two new media phenomena:
1. Online reviewing and ratings: ‘democratic’ form of reviewing giving ‘ordinary’ readers a chance to express
themselves  BUT: risk of fake reviews.
2. Literary programmes on television telling huge audiences what to read and how to read it.
These media-based forms of reviewing = often commercially driven  no watertight distinction between literary
criticism and the marketing of literature.



= a recent rapidly growing cross-disciplinary field which investigates the production, distribution and reception of all
kinds of cultural goods and practices in the modern industrial world. It usually focuses its attention on how the
meanings and values attached to them result from power mechanisms in the given cultural context. Different degrees
of emphasis can be given to the power of those who produce the goods and to those who receive them.
Cultural studies encompasses literary studies but rejects the canon (left-wing approach)  canon = stronghold of
conservatism and elite culture  against literary studies?
Objects of cultural study = more comprehensive than literary studies  all that are seen as cultural ‘texts’ or
‘discourses’  BUT analysed with the methods of recent literary studies  much continuity.
• Structuralists such as Roland Barthes (late 50s): applied the structuralist and semiotic models to all sorts of
• Marxist literary theory: research into working-class culture, mass media and subcultures
• Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (1964)


Originated in France in the late 60s and extremely influential in literary theory.
= both continuity and fundamental critique of structuralism:
• = : Proceeds from Saussure’s basic principle that language is a system of negative, differential relationships
• ≠: meanings are always elusive and indeterminate  no scientific aspirations.
Deconstruction: difference
Deconstruction = a way of reading texts which emphasises the instability of all meanings.
Différance = mot-valise from Jacques Derrida  the two main senses of différer in French: to be different and to
postpone, to delay  idea that Saussure’s differential definition of meaning leads to an uncontrollable chain of
signification that can never come to rest.
Signifier is objectively present but the meaning is in a perpetual state of flux  ≠ Saussure: the relations between
signifier and signified are arbitrary; signifier and signified = an inseparable unit within the sign.
The metaphysics of presence (Derrida)
Most discourse in our Western tradition represses the free play of linguistic differences  language always refers to
a solid prelinguistic foundation on which it can be made to rest = metaphysics of presence  the belief that facts,
knowledge and truths are objectively and positively ‘present’ in reality and can be known and expressed through
Such presences = illusions  no reality or presence is available to us other than what is mediated by language and
language depends entirely n absences. The naming of tings depends on negative (differential) relationships within
Our Obsession with presence explains why we favour speech over writing  speech = manifestly relatable to the
speaker and validated by his or her presence; writing = visibly removed from the mind of the producer  more
For Derrida: meanings remain slippery even when pronounced in front of you  written language is preferred: not
creating false impressions.
Deconstruction as reading texts against the grain
Deconstruction ≠ a theory or an analytical method  = subversive readings of philosophical and literary texts +
deconstructive criticism always offers itself to further deconstruction.


Deconstruction takes the text to pieces in order to unmask the illusory quality of traditional readings as well as the
rhetorical manipulation that is involved in creating the illusion  dismantling the text’s supposed coherence 
concentrating on the text’s hidden silences, loose ends and unresolved paradoxes = aporias.
Texts cannot create the illusions of coherence and presence without symbolic force or violence:
• Texts tend to subject the endless range of possible differences and oppositions in language to a single
dominant binary opposition  essential in giving a sense of coherence
• Texts force the two terms of the binary opposition into a hierarchy which defines one term positively and the
other negatively.
Such hierarchical binary oppositions result from a massive repression of other potential relationships in language.
Deconstruction ≠ analysing texts ≠ well-defined method  playful dialogical encounter which celebrates plurality
and indeterminacy of meaning, demonstrates the free play of language.
• Derrida, Paul de Man (States), J. Hillis Miller (States)
Is deconstruction anything more than a very clever (elitism) but ultimately pointless intellectual game?
Criticism: deconstruction’s scepticism and relativism = nihilism and destruction  lack of effective political and
ethical commitment (other more important problems)  Deconstruction was then thought to be an updated version
of the New Criticism emphasising the gaps, fissures and contradictions that make the complexities of meaning
problematic and uncontrollable.
Feminist criticism and gender studies, postcolonial studies, cultural studies and new historicism = stronger political
commitment but share certain poststructuralist attitudes with deconstruction:
• A mistrust of Western civilisation and its traditional humanist values and beliefs
• A mistrust of any system that claims totally coherence and stability
• A mistrust of the rationality and empiricism of scientific research
• Critical reading as a way to expose a text’s hidden axioms, hesitations and contradictions.
Influenced psychoanalysis, history, Marxism and ideology critique.


= a way of using language in response to a given pragmatic context and historical situation  language in concrete
use in its multiple determination.


= recent form of literary criticism which focuses on the relations between literature and the broad biological context
within which all cultural expressions necessarily lie embedded.
Central issue: how nature with its biodiversity is represented in texts of different types and genres  alienation
between culture and nature? Profound unity of nature and culture?  Ethical urgency.
Driven by the political agenda of the ecological movement + the literary agenda  many ecocritics want to revalue
and revive the tradition of nature writing (prominent feature of the Romantics)  Henry David Thoreau, Ralph
Waldo Emerson and William Wordsworth  more specifically practised in North America, Australia and South
1990s: the movement started to gather a real momentum  ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the
Environment) + courses in universities  BUT not one of the major critical schools.


// ecolinguistics =
1. It studies how language relates to nature  critical analysis of how our social reality is based on ideologies
which are shaped and mediated by language and which imply a major menace to biodiversity.
2. It is concerned with the ‘biodiversity’ of language itself  ecolinguists = defenders of dialects and minority
languages ↔ English of globalisation.


Equivalent of Einfühlung  direct emotional involvement and identification: you experience what the artist or the
characters experience, you feel what they feel  = S.T. Coleridge’s expression ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.
Empathy ↔ Contemplation:
Empathy Contemplation
emotional involvement dispassionate observation
directness distance
identification reflexivity
Most texts tend to combine these two typical attitudes; BUT one of the two is usually predominant.
The psychological distance between reader and work can be controlled by the writer following certain narrative
protagonist-narrator omniscient narrator
(homodiegetic) (overt, heterodiegetic)
internal focalisation external focalisation
scenic presentation disrupted chronology
The first set = empathy  creation of suspense ↔ second set = inhibits identification  critical
contemplation  Metafiction.
• Inherent rhetorical dimension of story-telling  the reader is manipulated into certain types of responses.
Sometimes the expected response of the reader even becomes a central issue in the definition of a genre or an
aesthetic theory  catharsis of Aristotle ↔ epic theatre of Brecht and its alienation effect.


Epic theatre < Bertolt Brecht  mid 20s: Brecht became interested in applying Marxism to the theatre and
developed the epic theatre. 1933: he fled from the Nazi Germany and came back after WWII.
Epic theatre ↔ Aristotelian theatre of illusion  alienation effects  distance between the performance and the
audience  no empathy  spectator = observer and critical judge.
A-effect = acting style, songs, episodic structure, posters and slides and the use of a narrator.
Aim = to teach the audience to think and to shock or enrage them into revolutionary action against social injustices
 illusion and emotion confuse the mind and prevent clear thinking  critical understanding = first step towards
social action.
The political orientation is what distinguishes the alienation effect from the notion of defamiliarisation (Russian



Feminist literary criticism < women’s movement = a counter-movement challenging mainstream Western culture
from the 60s onwards  feminism = identity group + anti-authoritarian campaign.
Feminism = improving the lot of women  encouraged individual changes of attitude and political reforms =
political activism + intellectual work.
Earlier examples: the suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th century + Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir.
Now: many of the goals of 60s-70s have been achieved in West  BUT various subtle cultural mechanisms preserve
the traditional power of men  these mechanisms operate through language and other semiotic systems  feminism
continues to develop  language and literature = at the heart of feminist criticism.
A basic distinction, leading to gender studies
Sex ≠ gender  sex = biological differences which determine us as either male or female; sex-distinction is in
principle binary and static.
Gender = culturally-construed differences which distinguish us as feminine or masculine question of socio-cultural
roles, attitudes and expectations (not innate) + distinction is not binary  combination is possible.
Effect of ideology to collapse the distinction between sex and gender  men have to behave like men and women
like women because these are behaviours assumed to be part of their inborn nature  natural and universal
justification for the cultural gender roles.
Gender studies = a kind of offshoot of feminism  concerns of feminism + equal critical attention to the masculine
gender  questioning the gender dualism.
Queer studies = one of the driving forces behind gender studies.
Feminism (and gender studies) in literary criticism
= Critical attitude towards writing and reading practices that somehow privilege masculine experience while
pretending to represent universal human experience. Some of the options:
Rewriting literary history to undo the effects of woman’s systematic exclusion  women in the past were usually
barred from a successful literary career or they had to confine themselves to either low-prestige popular genres or to
personalised text-types or to literary translation (requiring supposedly female virtues such as patience, submission
and faithfulness)  no women were admitted to the Great Tradition of English literature prior to the twentieth
century (= canon) + a few exceptions of nineteenth century poets and novelists.
Studying representations of women in male-authored works  on individual works and writers  men are presented
as having a self-defined consciousness and purposefulness; women = defined by male need and categories, fixed
stereotypes  male protagonist’s helper, opponent or victim.
Studying the role of the reader in the creation of gender stereotypes  reader-oriented critique.
Criticising patriarchal language and investing more woman-friendly discourses  language is sometimes sexist 
they promote the use of gender-neutral forms = politically correct language.
Other feminists opt for the radical policy of exploring and developing une écriture feminine which suits woman
peculiar nature and needs ↔ patriarchal language.
• Dilemma: distinct collective identity for women or breaking down gender divisions?
Women’s movement = most momentous social process of the twentieth century  nowadays, feminist criticism =
powerful force  Kate Millet, Germaine Greer, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva and Gayatri C.
Feminist criticism is now more diversified  feminists have allied themselves with different methodologies:
Marxism, postcolonial theory, deconstruction, psychoanalysis.



= a ‘kind’ or ‘category’ of literary works and the group of texts that share its features.
Classification of texts = very old  Plato and Aristotle developed a theory of genre  BUT never developed into an
autonomous subdiscipline or into a theoretical paradigm  as many genre theories as there are literary theories.
A typology of the three basic genres
Three main genres: dramatic, lyrical and the epic (narrative) (+ didactic literature)  Criteria of Julius Petersen:
• Situation of discourse: monologue vs. dialogue
• Mode of representation: showing vs. telling
• Temporality: situation vs. action

• Dramatic= dialogical showing of an action

• Epic = monological telling of an action
• Lyrical = monological showing of a situation
= basis for more fine-grained taxonomy  other subdivisions.
Petersen’s model has its limitations  incomplete: overlooks the possible relevance of other criteria
 too rigid: fails to accommodate various hybrid genres
 it suggests that a genre theory can be universal and timeless  BUT genre
are in constant evolution = the evolution of literature itself.
A flexible concept of genre
Not all texts show the expected characteristics of the genre with equal prominence  degrees of typicality: most
genres have fuzzy borders and show some degree of overlap with neighbouring genres.
A genre = a specific configuration of certain characteristics which is relatively stable as a concept in the minds of
text users at a certain point in history  a name (unites the various features and anchors them in our cultural
memory) + a standard set of models (concrete substance to an abstract concept)  metatextual comments by critics,
literary historians, teachers, poets, etc. often validate a genre and formulate its characteristics.
The characteristics whose combination defines a genre may range from formal to content-related and to pragmatic
aspects: material form, use of media, style, structure, representational mode, audience, function effect, etc.
Functions of genres
Whenever we enter into communication, we shall at once try to identify the genre that is being used or going to be
used (in literary and non-literary communication)  genre = essential mechanism regulating all communication 
the way the text is representing reality and influencing it, how the participants are networked and by what means all
of this is happening  learning the culture’s repertoire of genres = process of socialisation.
The conventions of literature will steer both the production and the reception of literary texts  the conventions of a
genre provide the writer with a matrix = an empty but text-producing structure  generic norms.
The reader will recognise the paratextual and textual signals situating the text within a certain genre  appropriate
readerly attitude + specific set of expectations (satisfied or not).
Genres = very practical  help us to cope with the enormous masses of texts  classification helps to master
complex realities  in a bookshop, in the publishing industry, etc.
From genre to genre-system
Genres are connected  they are always perceived against the background of other genres  intertextuality.


Genre theory also addresses the multiple and dynamic interactions between genres and their changing positions 
dynamic positions may exist between ‘high’ and ‘low’ genres, ‘innovating’ and ‘conservative’ genres.
Genres study the interplay between literary and non-literary genres.
Genres study the social stratification of the genre system  how genres are socially embedded.
Genre system can be rigid: genres are clearly defined in a strongly hierarchical structures, and writers are not allowed
to deviate from the rules by creating hybrid texts  no genre-bending nor genre-blending  Neoclassical literature
 Yury Lotman called this aesthetics of identity: the main literary norm lies in the identical preservation of tradition.
Romantic literary theory: genres were seen as obstacles to spontaneous and natural self-expression  genre system
is more flexible  Lotman called it aesthetics of opposition: artistic non-conformism and deviation from the
established rules and categories become the norm.


< Search for the correct interpretation of the Bible  = science, theory, technique or art of interpretation.
< Hermes = messenger of the gods  decoding the enigmatic messages of the gods to mortals.
Biblical interpretation
Hermeneutics < long-standing tradition of thought and debate about how the Scriptures should be understood 
methods for understanding the divine text ‘correctly’  biblical exegesis.
Different models for Biblical interpretation were put forward:

sensus the literal or historical meaning

literalis what happened ‘in fact’

sensus symbolic meanings; e.g. how the Old Testament

allegoricus prefigures the New Testament

sensus sensus how the Biblical text can serve as a moral

spiritualis moralis guideline in our everyday lives

sensus how the Biblical text refers to the Last Judgment

anagogicus and to the eternal life of the Soul after death

It is believed that even a number of secular works (e.g. Dante, Chaucer) were composed to be read with these
interpretive distinctions in mind.
The Humanistic movement, Reformation and the Enlightenment had a profound impact on the interpretation of the
Bible by shifting the attention to the text themselves and their reliability, their linguistic meanings and their
immediate historical contexts.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834)
= Protestant theologian who redefined Hermeneutics by developing a general theory about the process of
understanding any kind of text  interpretation = subjective and historical  interpretation = bridging the distance
between the subjectivity of the author and the subjectivity of the reader + overcoming the historical and cultural
distance separating the text and its interpretation.
He developed the hermeneutical circle; one of the central issue in hermeneutics  to understand a text, we need to
understand every component words, and thus the wider context of the sentence, and thus the whole text + the
historical context of the author and of the interpreter  Wilhelm Dilthey argued that individual cultural events have
to be understood in relation to the entire Zeitgeist of the period, and vice versa.


= Moving back and forth between ‘parts’ and ‘whole’ at various levels  understanding of texts and authorial
intentions  later interpreters could even get to know authors better than themselves (distance).
Wilhelm Dilthey
He extended hermeneutics to the understanding of all human artefacts and cultural behaviour  human sciences.
Literary texts and other cultural expressions cannot be explained by the natural sciences  through the process of
interpretation  anti-positivistic theory (Methodenstreit).
Later developments
 Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur  modern philosophy: profound influence on theories
about interpretation and reception from the 60s onwards (reader-oriented theories).
A growing scepticism about the possibility if a definitive understanding of a text  this awareness of indeterminacy
led to the language-based philosophy of Jacques Derrida.


Same problems as those that literary historians are having to cope with  they have to select data and try to make
sense of them.
Some questions arise from the relative vagueness of the notion of literary theory  only the most notorious theory?
Only the one produced in an academic setting? Only literary theories?...
Other questions follow from the difficulty of limiting our object in space  only European-American theories? How
do we deal with the spread of theories?
Other questions follow from the difficulty of limiting our object in time  when do we start? How do we subdivide
history into periods?
The historical data have to be combined into meaningful narrative sequences  how to make it a narrative? One
narrative sequence or a succession of distinct narrative sequences? Which model to use? Why not non-narrative?
The historian’s selection and combination of data will unavoidably be influenced by theory and ideology  explicit
or implicit theory about literature and history.
The history of literature and the history of literary studies
Histories of literary studies can in turn again be situated at the object-level, giving rise to histories of histories of
literary studies, and so forth and so on.
There are certain areas where the history of literature and the history of literary studies seem to touch or overlap.
The options of this coursebook
In space: theories belonging to the dominant Western tradition + a little of the Slavonic area + postcolonial theory.
Only theories which have originated or functioned in an academic context.
Chronologically: when literary criticism abandoned the public sphere to become professionalised in newly
established academic settings  second half of the 19th century onwards.


Ideology = a concept of the early 19th century < Marxism  now widely used in many disciplines.
Mainstream Marxism
Definition of ideology from Marx and Engels: indirect expression (level of the superstructure) of the economic and
political system of a culture (its base)  ideology = disguising the real power relations in society  Engels called it
a ‘false consciousness’ = a view of reality which distorts or conceals social oppression and exploitation in the interest
of those who are in power and are benefiting most from the given situation  function of an ideology: to naturalise


and maintain the dominant position of one class over other groups by making everybody believe that they share the
interests of the dominant class.
Later interpretations
Now: ideology = a worldview – a set of representations, beliefs and values – that shape our thoughts and our
understanding of the world  what we see and fail to see, how we understand it, how we value it and how we feel
about it  gives a group a social identity and serves its interests.
All social groups have an ideology  there is no true, non-ideological view but different ideologies which may
coexist in a society  even science is not immune to ideology.
Ideologies may become hegemonic  successful in creating the illusion of universality and common interest and
thus in the manufacturing of consent.
Ideologies may pretend to be natural and logical  impossible to disagree with.
We begin to absorb ideology from the early childhood onwards in the socialisation process; we do not choose an
ideology  Louis Althusser theory  ideology = common sense that we learn when we acquire language and that
makes us into the unique subject that we are.
Louis Althusser: ideology is more than just an abstract set of ‘ideas’  also exists in what he calls the ideological
state apparatus: the family, the church, the legal system, the education system, trade unions, the media and literature
 outside the control of the State (↔ repressive state apparatus: armed forces and the police)  BUT they play a
crucial role in transmitting the official ideology.
Ideology and literature
Traditional Marxist approach to literature: literature = one of the social practices where ideologies are produced and
reproduced. In various forms:
• Showing how literary works embody a certain ideology
• Showing how a careful reading reveals the problems and contradictions inherent in ideologies
• Showing how only the greatest artists succeed in transcending or resisting ideology  they unmask the
ideology of their time and manage to present a non-ideological account of reality.
Marxism approach ↔ today: all discourse is ideological. Two new research themes:
• Studying the text as a site where ideologies exist side by side and enter into a dialogue or conflict (Bakhtin)
• Studying the institutional power mechanisms of literature.
Ideologies manifest themselves in many different genres and media  influential concept in cultural studies.
Ideology critique has become a powerful tool in various politically committed poststructuralist paradigms.


< W.C. Booth (literary criticism and Narratology)  = the image of the author as it seems to be contained implicitly
in a literary text  the idea or image that the reader forms of the author on the basis of the text  between author
and narrator.
Implied author ≠ real author  one author can project different images; a few writers can be the mental picture of
just one person.
Implied author ≠ narrator  implied author has no direct voice: he is inferred from the whole text  multiple
narrators, homodiegetic narrators and unreliable narrators.
= awareness of some individual presence standing behind the literary work of art giving the text unity of purpose and
human interest  ‘real’ author is outside the study of texts  intentional fallacy of the New Criticism.



< Wolfgang Iser in the early 70s  = the abstract reader which every text creates for itself  the way in which the
text ‘pre-programmes’ the activity of reading.
// implied author  not to be confused with the reader as a biographical person.


= the creative force that initiates and sustains the production of new ideas, texts, works of art, etc.  great
Two basic theories concerning the origin of inspiration:
• Inspiration as an external force: many Greek and Latin writers believed that inspiration was of divine origin
 it was the visitation or action of the muses  writers invoked the muses.
In the Christian tradition, inspiration has often been associated with the Holy Spirit.
• Inspiration as inner force: genius or imagination of the artist.
Psychoanalysis suggested that the unconscious or subconscious = source of all the creative activity.
Some writers try to induce or to boost inspiration  writer’s block  recourse to opium, alcohol or other substances
allegedly unblocking their creative energy; or they have formed personal routines to get into a creative frame of
Inspiration and perspiration
Writing requires inspiration + conscious control, good craftsmanship and hard work.
Mind = black box  fairly little is known about artistic creation as a mental process  genetic studies look at
successive working papers, drafts, variants and versions of a text to reconstruct the sequences of choices and
decisions resulting in the final product.
Artistic creation = dynamic negotiation between unconscious and conscious energies  unconscious provides the
raw materials and the conscious consists in organising these raw materials by refining and completing them and by
harmonising them according to certain artistic Norms and genre-related expectations.
It is impossible to generalise about the exact proportion of the inspiration and the perspiration it takes to produce a
literary work  depends on the literary conception that prevails:
• Poeta vates: the poet is a divinely gifted prophet or seer, a visionary driven or possessed by the mysterious
force of inspiration
• Poeta faber: the poet is a maker or craftsman; technique, skill and conscious thought should always be in
• (poeta doctus: the poet strives for erudition and intellectual sophistication)
Neoclassical period: poeta faber; Romantic poetics: poeta vates.


In the past: research in the humanities = carried out on a purely personal basis  unpaid hobby of the higher classes
(leisure + money to travel, buy books and study).
Nowadays: research in the humanities = done at universities and related institutes ≠ research in positive and applied
sciences  carried out in laboratories and research centres owned by the industry, sometimes in association with the


Research in the humanities at universities because of a collective division of the labour within society  society
considers the advancement of knowledge to have a considerable importance  creates institutions + gives them the
legal competence, the symbolic power and the money.
How universities operate institutionally:
• Mission: research, teaching and service to the community
• Funding received by the State
• External and legal framework + internal statutory framework, which regulates decision-making in a
hierarchical power structure  ± democratic, with a limited amount of power being entrusted to students
• Academic members enjoy academic freedom  freedom to research and teach without external interference
 BUT the managerial notion of quality-control has entered the universities (inspection, assessment and
• Awareness of external assessments + increasing competition on the job market  increase in the academic
Other institutional structures:
• Newsletters and scholarly journals
• Publishers
• International conference circuit
• Scholarly associations, etc.
Literary studies in most cases belong to the university’s Arts faculty  co existing with other disciplines.
Literary studies have their own institutionally based subdivisions  coming under pressure.
Historical change and the inertia of institutions
Institutions develop with our worldview, values and aspirations  BUT institutions have their own kind of inertia 
they are slow and reluctant to respond to such changes in mentality.
Literature changes too  impact on the institutional life: new structures in the more flexible sectors of academia 
BUT universities are conservative bodies  changes in strictly academic structures are much more difficult to bring
Institutional changes may affect the relationship with neighbouring disciplines  this may ultimately imply the need
to re-negotiate established academic borderlines between disciplines.


< Julia Kristeva in the late 60s (poststructuralist and psychoanalytical critic) < Bakhtin’s dialogical philosophy of
Intertextuality = never-ending dialogue which always goes on explicitly or implicitly between a given text and other
literary and non-literary texts that exist outside it  intertextuality cares little for chronology.
Generic intertextuality = reference to genre  a text has to refer to other texts and genres; otherwise it would be
unintelligible nonsense.
Specific intertextuality = phenomena such as translation, quotation, parody, plagiarism, etc.  features or material
that can be traced back to another individual text  covers the various genetic relationships (comparatists).
Forms of specific intertextuality
They can be classified in terms of the following three criteria:
• Positive vs. polemical  appreciative attitude (e.g. imitation) or a dismissive one (e.g. parody)


• Intralingual vs. interlingual vs. intersemiotic  within the same language? Crossing the linguistic
borderlines? Use of a different semiotic system?
• Repetitio (the text is copied and pasted in another context) vs. adiectio (sth new is added to the text) vs.
detractio (sth is left out of the text) vs. transmutatio (the text has the same elements but in a different
arrangement) vs. immutatio (one element replaces another).
Historical dimension of intertextuality: it is by embracing certain models and traditions and by rejecting others that
the text inserts itself into the literary system and contributes to its further development  intertextuality in the
Western literary history:
• Middle Ages, Renaissance and Neoclassical = imitation
• From the Romantic age onwards = originality
• Modernism and postmodernism = originality + quotation
Theoretical implications in a poststructuralist perspective
In the context of deconstruction and poststructuralism: intertextuality can be used to challenge our traditional notion
of the text  individual text loses its unity and cohesion  its meaning get dispersed or dissolved in an endless
maze of references in which the interpreter is bound to get lost.


= a variety of English  sometimes called ‘academic English’  typical features:

• Technical terms  to name specific theoretical concepts (terminology = specialised neologistic vocabulary;
jargon = derogatory sense)
• Formalisation  economy and precision of expression through the use of symbols, formulae, diagrams,
charts, etc.
• Elevated and impersonal register  symbolising the seriousness of the scientific enterprise and the speaker’s
claimed impartiality and objectivity
• Textual conventions codified in the form of a style sheet
These features should serve the precision and the efficient communication  emphasis on the referential content of
the scientist’s message ↔ literary language: emphasis on the message itself + expressive, conative, etc. functions
strongly present.
Hazardous to venture a general and universal theory about what the language of literature should be + some scientific
discourse fails to display the qualities of precision, clarity, etc. scientific communication is often hampered by:
• The absence of a recognised and universally applied terminology, resulting in a conceptual muddle
• The presence of scientistic rhetoric  incorporation of the external features of scientific communication to
give a more scientific aspect to the publication  = academese.
English = vehicle for international research // Latin as lingua franca.
The terminology of literary studies
Terminological problem: unstoppable proliferation if technical terms in literary studies  they can encapsulate an
interesting new concept or serve no real function.
Often literary terms are also words in the general vocabulary  BUT the general and the specialist usages of the
term sometimes show subtle differences in denotation (the referential meaning of the word) and/or connotation (the
positive or negative appreciation expressed through the word)  many terms are polysemous or vague.
Several dictionaries of literary terms are on the market or may be found online to help students find their way in the
terminological maze.



= vague name  philosophy of life or ideology which places the individual at the centre of reality  while the
individual self cannot avoid engaging with the changing circumstances of history, it cannot be reduced to them: the
subject ultimately keeps its autonomy and freedom, thus accepting a transhistorical quality  we are able to improve
ourselves and the world around us.
Associated with Mathew Arnould and E.M. Forster + pervasively present in our Western civilisation.
Liberal humanism believes in democracy, dialogue, education, reason and progress; it is concerned with values such
as tolerance, decency and human kindness  BUT ↔ Structuralists, Marxists and poststructuralists  liberal
humanism is insufficiently aware of all the factors and mechanisms over which the subject has no control  its
worldview is under-theorised and over-optimistic  out of touch with the real world.


= study of literary phenomena as belonging to a diachronic series.

The central paradox of historiography = its object of study is no longer there  reconstructing the past on the basis
of the evidences or documents left behind.
 There is not a single correct method for literary history  many choices have to be made with respect to the
selection of data and the organisation of these data  swayed by factors of a pragmatic, theoretical and ideological
The selection of data (corpus definition)
First problem: the vagueness in terms such as literature or literary phenomena  traditional literary history tended to
equate literature with great authors and their major works (= canon)  BUT there are many more literary
• Non-canonised writers and works
• Literary tradition: works or writers from the past that are still being read, reprinted, etc.
• Literary imports
• Readers: their social status, their habits, preferences, etc.
• Linguistic and literary codes
• Criticism and literary theory
• Literary institutions
• Relations of literary discourses with various non-literary discourses
An all-encompassing literary history would show so much overlap with other types of history, it would more seem
like a general history  narrowing down the scope  double dilemma:
• Intrinsic vs. extrinsic: how far should we go in contextualising the texts of the past?
• Canonised vs. non-canonised
Second problem: how to define the corpus in space? What exactly do we mean by the very concept ‘English
literature’?  The historian can resort to different criteria: the linguistic one, the geographical one, the political
one...  impossible to tell the full story.
Various nationalisms throughout the world are trying to strengthen the correlations between the possible criteria.


Globalisation is weakening the correlations between the various possible divisions. The greater mobility should be
understood in both physical and intellectual terms  stronger than nationalisms  denationalisation  literary
history ≈ comparative literature.
Third problem: the material has to be delimited in time  various parameters may be taken as relevant: biography,
politics, first publications, etc.
History is a continuous process  sudden changes will always take place against the background of other
phenomena which remain more or less constant.
Whichever decision is taken, it is bound to contain an element of arbitrariness.
The combination of data (narratives, meaningful sequences)
A real history involves some form of narrativity  telling a story (actors, events, place and time) in which the
individual components derive their full meaning from their position in a sequence that shows at least some
chronological progression and causal coherence  involves a part of interpretative creativity  BUT there standard
storylines, e.g. the biological model and the conflict model.
Narrativity depends on the historian’s theory of history and indirectly on his/her conception of reality:
• 19th and early 20th century: positivistic tradition  historians wrote all-inclusive and fully integrated literary
histories on their own
• Postmodern times: historians subdivide their history into a number of shorter independent narratives.
Very often literary histories contain extended passages of criticism and literary evaluation.
Pragmatism, theory and ideology as major constraints
Historians are guided by four inter-related types of considerations:
• Pragmatic considerations: for whom is the history intended and what is the historian’s primary objective?
• Theory of literature: what is the historian’s theory of literature and culture?
• Theory of history: what is the historian’s theory of historiography?
• Ideology: what’s the historian’s ideology?
 So many different histories of literature  historians are permanently adjusting and revising our understanding of
the past  never-ending process  more about constructing than re-constructing the past?


Karl Marx = German political, economic and philosophical theorist  collaboration with Friedrich Engels.
His influence on modern history = enormous  1917 Russian Revolution + others  till early 90s, a large part of
the world was governed by political regimes of Marxist inspiration.
He never developed a systematic aesthetic theory  only left remarks on the subject  his materialist conception of
reality was the starting point of Marxist literary theory and cultural criticism in the 20 th century  Marxist analytical
concepts and models have continued to inspire left-wing literary and cultural critics.
General characteristics
Traditional Marxism could be described as being:
• Political: it aims for the transformation of reality (revolutionary action)
• Materialist: consciousness (ideas, morality, religion...) is directly or in more complex cays dependent on
material reality (man’s needs and economic activity as a way to satisfy them)
• Teleological: history has an inner dynamic giving it coherence and driving it forward towards the
emancipation of the working classes and ultimately to the new golden age of the classless society.


Following Marx, there are two levels in any society: the base and the superstructure  base = type of economy +
type of social relationships; superstructure = social consciousness or ideology, which includes law, politics, religion,
morality, art, the media, education, etc.
It is the socio-economic base which ultimately determines the superstructure  BUT Marx was not clear about the
exact extent and nature of this determination  a rigidly mechanical one-way process (superstructure = reflexion of
the base)? A dynamic two-way interaction?
From Lenin onwards: the more flexible two-way model (one-way model = vulgar Marxism)  in cultural theory,
this proved necessary for two reasons:
• Socio-economic evolution and artistic evolution rare develop along parallel lines  underdeveloped
societies or periods of social chaos can still generate work of the highest artistic excellence
• Marxists would have to give up the idea of trying to educate the people in the spirit of socialism.
Two famous exponents: Lucács and Brecht
Georg Lucács = orthodox Marxism in literary criticism  he developed the reflection theory = mimetic literary
theory  all art somehow reflects reality  BUT only the greatest artists succeed in creating a total vision of reality
 the best genre = realist novel  writers created characters that were types  characters that embody an essential
truth about a whole society  BUT he rejected the naturalistic novel: too much details without penetrating behind
the surface of reality.
Lucács ↔ Modernist experimental writing  formal experimental shifted the attention from content to technique 
≈ official Soviet cultural policy  political violence against writers who practised it and critics such as the Russian
formalists who favoured it.
Bertolt Brecht rejected the reflection model, the orthodox preference for the realist novel and the denunciation of
avant-garde writing  his epic theatre = formal experiment achieving the aims of Marxism  the A-effect =
politically motivated version of the Russian formalists’ defamiliarisation.
// Walter Benjamin (German-Jewish philosopher and critic).
The Frankfurt School
= an independently funded research foundation within the university of Frankfurt; it was founded in 1923 but forced
to emigrate to the U.S.A. with the rise of Hitler  After WWII some members stayed in the USA and others came
back to Frankfurt  important members: Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor W. Adorno and Walter
The main objective = developing a critical theory of culture and society  based and oriented towards social reform
along Marxist lines  produced works in sociology, aesthetics and literary studies.
Late 50s: many British neo-Marxists were inspired by the Frankfurt School and called themselves critical theorists.
Marxist literary and cultural theory today
The post-war history of Marxist literary criticism has shown further diversification and variation (// the concept of
Left-wing academics and intellectuals are in most cases willing to question Marx’s most basic tenets:
• Political: they are still opponents of capitalism and committed to the cause of greater social justice but they
do not ignore the historical lesson that Communism has brought intellectual oppression, totalitarianism,
economic stagnation and environmental disaster with it.
• Materialist: they no longer espouse the base-superstructure model as such (they continue to explore the
interplay between culture, economics, politics, power and ideology)
• Teleological: more open and relativistic understanding of history.


Legacy of Marxist literary and cultural theory = enormous  its ethically based commitment to social change and its
critique of capitalism + its awareness of hidden power of mechanisms and of the social, economic and ideological
dimensions of culture.


Literary texts have a physical or material existence  the process and the means of their transmission = media.
Oral communication was for many centuries the standard form of literary communication (still the case today in
certain cultures).
Written communication = books, journals, hand-written literature, etc.  manuscript tradition ≠ print media 
printing was introduced in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance; and only in the 19th century it started for
good with the evolution of print technology.
Electronic communication: from WWI onwards, new media have found various literary applications and since the
90s new digital technologies are revolutionising the way texts are produced, distributed and used.
Power relationships and questions of representation
The use of a particular medium has a profound impact on the communicative act:
• Each medium will tend to develop typical ways of networking producers, intermediaries and consumers of
the text  each has a specific role and a specific power relationships
• Each medium will have its own way of representing what the text is supposed to be about.
Relevant criteria to describe and compare media: time frame, space, extent, quantitative proportions,
individualisation, interactivity, gate controls, multimedia and recording.
The role of the mass media has attracted the attention of sociologists because of the enormous power they have 
wielded by the State or subject of the free market.
Marxist critics: institutions such as the media can be mobilised to propagate ideologies for the sake of social
engineering and indoctrination.
Writers and readers do not share the same immediate context or cultures  cultural distance  in space and/or time
 may be conscious or unconscious  hermeneutics studied it + deconstruction and its debate about ‘mediated’
nature of writing and ‘directedness’ of speaking  all meanings depend on language and language is always elusive
and slippery.
The use of media plays an important part in the way we categorise cultural phenomena and in the way such
phenomena are studied and taught at university  BUT narratologists and cultural studies are willing to make
abstraction of the criterion of the medium used.


Metatext = a text that refers back to another text  chronological and logical relation  the Metatext comes after
the text it is about and this text is the object of the Metatext  metaliterary discourse = a discourse about literary
There are many types of metaliterary discourse.
Literature and writing about literature: shifting borderlines
Writers themselves may find interest in producing metaliterary discourse  about their work or others’  in
paratexts or writers’ diaries, notebooks, essays, etc.
We could say that literary texts always imply some kind of metatext  explicitly (e.g. a parody) or implicitly 
implicitly: simply by embracing a certain style or the conventions of a genre, the writer makes a favourable kind of
comment on that style or genre.


We could even say that texts become their own metatexts by commenting on themselves an by sporting an element
of literary self-awareness  the technique of mise en abyme  one character, storyline, situation, etc in the work
mirrors or duplicates another character, storyline, situation, etc.  mirror effect.
20th century: literary art has tended to be more self-reflective  Metafiction.
Novelists may end up commenting on literary scholars  David Lodge: his novels are set on a university campus or
in the international scene of conferences = campus novel  the line between literary discourse and metaliterary
discourse = far from being fixed or unproblematic.
Functions and requirements of metaliterary discourses
Impossible to rank the whole range of possible metaliterary discourses in terms of how ‘adequate’ or ‘valid’ or
‘legitimate’ they are  it all depends on the context  different methodologies and terminologies.
What are the requirements that metaliterary discourse has to meet to be acceptable in the academic context?  They
have to have some sort of ‘scientific’ quality about them  what is science? Is a scientific study of cultural
phenomena possible?


Mimesis = imitation ≠ imitatio (influence of a writer on another)  mimesis = the imitative relationship between the
text and the reality it stands for.
Should art be an imitation of reality or does the true nature of art lie in creation, the creation of a new reality? 
Many answers depending on what is meant by reality  Plato and Aristotle.
Plato: true reality = ideas of things, of which individual objects are only reflections or imitations  poetry imitates
those individual objects  imitation of imitation  too far from the ultimate reality = the world of unchanging
eternal and universal ideas.
Aristotle: the essence of reality is an intrinsic part of reality itself  the artist must do much more than passively
reflect characters or situations from real life in the manner of a mirror to render these deeper truths  they have to
carefully select elements from reality and combine them in the plot that artists can bring out the essential nature of
some part of reality  to unveil general truths about reality  creativity + mimesis  literature tells truthful lies.
Plato’s and Aristotle’s theories of mimesis = great influence till the Romantics who rejected mimesis and counted on
the poet’s creative genius (inspiration)  BUT mimesis emerged again with Realism and Naturalism + Marxist
literary theory.


Roman Jakobson was first a Russian formalist  he moved to the States and became a structuralist and stylistician
 model of communication in “Linguistics and Poetics (1960):


(referential function)

sender MESSAGE
→ → (pragmatic or conative
(expressive function) (poetic function)
(phatic function)

(metalingual function)

Different functions are usually co-present in the same utterance  hierarchical relations (which function is
dominant?)  we need a wider context.
Poetic function: the message will draw the attention to itself. In literature, the poetic function will be dominant by
Jakobson’s theory has its limitation too: it gives an idealised view of the complex realities of communication  it
has even been accused of showing an ideological bias: it portrays the senders as being free from external influence
and in full control of communicative processes + it tends to give a rather static definition of literature  the
specificity of literature is ultimately a matter of objective linguistic structure.


Many nations and nationalisms  hard to give a definition  O.E.D.: nation = a distinct race or people,
characterised by common descent, language, or history, usually organised as a separate political state and occupying
a definite territory + nationalism = devotion to one’s nation; a policy of national independence.
 4 hypotheses many historians and sociologists today would agree on:
1. Nation = concept of social identity  it may coexist peacefully of conflictingly with other social identities.
2. Nations = historical constructs rather than unchanging essences  they exist in the minds of people in the
form of value-laden representations of the world  they typically find expression in linguistic and cultural
behaviour and in the creation of institutions.
3. Interplay between national identities and the state (institution)  national feelings may precede the creation
of a state and a state may create national feelings  national attachments usually originate first in the
intellectual classes.
4. Media = crucial role in these processes  enable group attachments to be channelled or even engineered
more efficiently.
Origin, identity, language
Common origin = members of a nation share the same history, common experiences and memories of a glorious past
 mission of a community today: to build a new future together on the basis of its past achievements.
Same roots  same true nature  this common identity may be defined in positive terms (what it stands for) and in
negative terms (what it rejects)  a certain degree of unity and conformity  erasure of inner differences and
suppression of local identities  an autonomous territory and political sovereignty or self-determination.
A standardised common language: it facilitates the practical administration and government + it shapes common
perceptions, understandings and valuations of the world + a symbolic marker of the group’s collective identity.
Nationalism and literature


Literature (and canon) = important in the processes of nation-building  canonised authors = expert users of the
common language and icons of its excellence  their works embody the nation’s common identity through positive
self-affirmation and rejecting other’s works as outsiders.
Correlation between the rise of nationalisms and the various national literary canons  the authors and the
mechanisms of patronage, the system of literary criticism and the education system from the 19th century onwards.
19th century: heyday of nationalism in Europe  birth of the various national philologies  reconstructing the
nation’s literary origins, confirming their antiquity and authenticity.
Teaching system inculcates such beliefs  one of its instruments = anthology  selects and configures the ‘best’
literary pieces of the past  perpetuates a national literary patrimony.
The practices of studying and teaching literature often follow the nationalistic model  partial blindness to wider
international contexts and to literary facts that are not of a national importance  comparative literature: the
international perspective has indeed occasionally been used to serve a national agenda.


= American critical movement characterised by its very close discussion of the verbal structures of literary texts;
from the 30s to the 60s  Cleanth Brooks, John Crowe Ransom, W. K. Wimsatt, René Wellek and Austin Warren.
Theory of literature by Wellek and Warren = sometimes regarded as the movement’s ultimate theoretical statement
but the book is too wide-ranging.
Some of the forerunners and chief influences of the New Criticism from the early 20s onwards were English  very
popular as a method in British universities  also called practical criticism or the method is called close reading.
In Germany: Werkinterpretation; in France: explication de texte  ≈ New Criticism’s emphasis on the intrinsic
analysis of individual texts  // Russian formalists during the 20s.
General characteristics
One recurrent feature: they strongly insisted on the uniqueness and autonomy of the individual literary work  ↔
historical scholarship and ↔ Marxist criticism  the process of abstracting the individual work from its contexts and
influences follow 3 central concepts:
• Intentional fallacy: a serious misjudgement, to interpret or evaluate a work by reference to the intention of its
• Affective fallacy: error to interpret or evaluate a work in terms of the success it has in producing a certain
effect on the reader.
• The heresy of paraphrase: form and content in a literary work constitute an organic unity  heresy to try and
separate the ideas of a work from their formulation.
• Text’s autonomy by severing its bonds with author, reader and critic.
A great literary text = an artistically controlled unity which emerges out of the complex interactions of its various
components  attention had to be given to the aspects of language such as symbols, metaphors, denotations and
connotations of words, and their integration into thematic oppositions and networks of images.
New Criticism had no affinities with linguistics  anti-theoretical stance  they only had some poorly concepts
such as tension, ambiguity, paradox, irony, imagery or symbol  their absence of systematization can be held
against them or seen as what makes the richness and ingenuity of their close readings possible.
The approach of the New Critics has been argued to be quite objective.


 BUT their approach was rather selective: it was a theory tailored to fit the kind of literature that they favoured 
they confined themselves to the analysis of lyrical poetry and sometimes drama or narrative fiction (but rarely) 
preference for poetry that cultivated intellectual and emotional complexity  Metaphysical poetry and Modernist
 BUT they underestimated the role of the reader  ↔ reader-oriented theories which argued that meanings depend
on the reading activity and specific conditions of the text’s reception.
 BUT they show ideological involvement  it emerged shortly after WWI = Western civilisation was facing a
crisis of its values  New Criticism = ideological response to this situation reassuring prospect of order and
stability  a sort of sanctuary or escape from the doubts and divisions of everyday life.
The boom of English studies explain the huge success of New Criticism  masses of students coming from diverse
educational, intellectual and social backgrounds  attractive pedagogical tool since no prior instruction in theory,
philosophy or history was required.
The method of close reading continued to thrive in classrooms long after the New Criticism had been overtaken by
theory  still visible today in research and teaching + survived in deconstruction.


= a fairly recent critical paradigm showing strong Marxist influences; it originated in the USA and is primarily
concerned with the past  best known historicists (e.g. Stephen Greenblatt) = Renaissance scholars +
New historicism has been one of leading paradigms in Shakespeare studies from the 80s onwards.
The British equivalent = cultural materialism  < cultural studies and Marxism (materialism).
New historicists show an acute awareness of the historian’s own problematic involvement in the process of
reconstructing the past.
They also give much greater attention to the disturbing effects of power and ideology  one of the key questions has
been the dialectical relationship between subversion (emancipation from the official power structures) and
containment (social control of authority).


= traditional discipline which is interested in the history and comparison of languages > Modern linguistics even
though early linguists of the 20th century such as Ferdinand de Saussure would have been more aware of the rupture
and rivalry with traditional philology than of any sense of continuity.
It started as a kind of by-product of Western imperialism  late 18th-century language lovers and travellers such as
William Jones became familiar with Sanskrit and other Asian languages and were struck by the systematic nature of
certain similarities with Western languages.
19th century: strong impetus from the Romantic Movement and the nationalist ambitions in Europe  interest in the
past and in the national past especially  national philologies < classical philology.
Historical study of language // study of written (great) texts from the past  it required linguistic knowledge
Text edition, the study of literature and the study of language = still part of an integrated effort. Second half of the
19th century: the new epistemological and sociological model of positivism caused literary history to emancipate
itself from the historical study of language but it was a slow process.
Early decades of the 20th century: linguists and literary scholars claimed the intellectual and institutional
independence for their respective disciplines.
The name philology continued to be used internationally in the 20 th century to designate certain academic
programmes, but this nomenclature seems to be progressively abandoned.



Nowadays, positivism = a general attitude (≠ paradigm or method)  negative appreciation: the positivistic thinker
has a narrow and naively optimistic belief in the neutrality of observation and in the objectivity of scientific
< 19th century: neutral  distinct philosophy of science and the methodology derived from it  < Auguste Comte 
he argued that the history of human thinking had evolved through three stages: the religious, the metaphysical and
the scientific.
1850-1900: it became the dominant paradigm.
General characteristics
There is no fundamental difference between knowledge of natural and psychological objects  the researcher has to
collect the empirical evidence and then start looking for relations between the facts and for the general laws
discoverable from them (induction). In literary studies:
• Institutional recognition of literary research as a scientifically valid branch.
• The emphasis on observable facts inspired huge and rigorously conducted fact-finding operations and a
variety of philological projects  it helps to account for a boom in literary history and textual scholarship.
• Researchers were systematically looking for chronological and causal connections between the empirical
data  establishment of correlations between a work (effects) and the various factors that supposedly
produced it (causes)  these genetic explanations often had a mechanical nature (determinism).
• The more intrinsic aspects of literature which are less perceptible and describable in empirical terms tended
to be overlooked.
For Hippolyte Taine in “Histoire de la littérature anglaise », a literary text is ultimately the combined result of three
formative forces:
• Moment: the situation at a particular time of a nation or a race
• Milieu: social or other circumstances that confirm or modify inherited dispositions
• Race: innate and hereditary dispositions common to the writer’s race.
Literature can be explained by the types of causes summed up in these 3 factors  literary scholarship must aim for
the causal explanation of texts in terms of these 3 factors.
The positivist paradigm was important in helping to establish literary research as a rigorous and professional
discipline that deserved a place in the Western academic world + the work done in collecting, editing and
clarifying historical texts and data = professional and standard  still valuable today.
But positivism was challenged by the defenders of the hermeneutical approach  radical distinction between the
natural sciences and the human sciences.
The heirs of positivism today are still striving for maximum objectivity, methodological rigour and empirical validity
 BUT they have abandoned determinism and epistemological optimism.
Today, positivism = negative appreciation for the poststructuralist opponents.


= Critical movement from the 80s onwards which investigates and tries to find an answer to the cultural effects of
European colonisation and Western imperialism worldwide  how the West controlled non-Western cultures


through stereotypes and identities  it is engaged in the quest for self-determination and self-definition of formerly
colonised societies and individuals.
1945-1965: most colonies and dependencies gained formal independence as sovereign nation-states  BUT
discursive and ideological mechanisms of colonialism do not have disappeared  postcolonial should not be
understood in strictly chronological terms.
Postcolonial theory is developing in Western universities  want to give a voice to scholars from the Third World
 BUT they can only be recognised via Western channels and the successful ones are hired by Western universities
 Edward W. Said, Gayatri Ch. Spivak and Homi K. Bhabha.
Edward W. Said = one of the founders of the movement  his book Orientalism = critical examination of the
enormous tradition of Western representations of the Islamic world  Through literary and non-literary texts, he
explains how the Orient is really a construction of Western discourses  to justify their domination on Arab people
+ to help the West define itself by showing how the East is ‘other’  he extended this type of analysis to other
cultures afterwards.
A radically broader scope
A major effect = it has broadened the scope of literary studies and English Studies  English literature is replaced
by ‘literatures in English’  the literary canon of English literature is challenged or rejected:
• Revaluation of literary work written in the former colonies  settler colonies and invaded colonies 
written and oral, in a native language or in Creole  same for the Celtic literary tradition of Ireland, Wales
and Scotland.
• Colonial policies have resulted in massive waves of migration  the mother country = multi-ethnic 
development of a postcolonial literary tradition in the West too.
• Greater openness to new genres traditionally having a semi-literary or non-literary status  // cultural
Ideology critique, political action
Postcolonial theorists aim to change our understanding of the past and to influence its present and future
consequences  aspects a postcolonial critique will centre on:
• Eurocentrism: the collective belief that Europe is the centre of the globe
• Reduction: the use of simplistic classifications and stereotypes that all individuals have to fit  blindness to
the true complexity and richness of non-Western cultures.
• Colonial gaze: our sense of superiority, fascination and fear when we look down on non-Western cultures 
their difference = enigma and threat.
Postcolonial theoreticians have joined postcolonial subjects and writers in their search for an identity or a voice of
their own.
Négritude = a pan-nationalist movement in 1930-60  it called on all people of African descent to forge a collective
black identity and to reclaim their own past as a source of unity and pride  it hoped to find an original African
essence  BUT Africa was not a paradise before colonisation and it is useless to deny the facts and effects of
colonisation  it has some kind of impact on their present self-definition.
It is more realistic to construct a positive sense of self by making productive use of the linguistic and cultural
diversity that is the unavoidable legacy of the colonial past  it drives to experiment with hybrid cultural forms
combining indigenous traditions with imperial traditions  = something postcolonial.
This may happen at the level of genre  e.g. mix of the novel with the local story-telling traditions.


This may happen at the level of linguistics  use of the coloniser’s language to widen the public but blending it with
phrases, loanword, idioms, proverbs, accents or rhythms from the local vernacular  harmful for Western purist, but
widely used by postcolonial theorists  enrichment of human society.
An important feature of postcolonial theory = its theoretical eclecticism  many elements and models from different
paradigms or disciplines.
Postcolonial theory may be seen as a continuation of Commonwealth Literature which had developed in the 60s 
BUT there was still the same hierarchy (Britain  Commonwealth) and it remained a niche interest within the
Its sudden rise into prominence in the 90s = a reflection of two trends: triumphs of non-European writers + rapid
internationalisation of Western cultures  both are likely to continue in the future  postcolonial studies is more
than a passing academic fashion.
Postcolonial theory makes us think again about fundamental problems and is urging us to reconsider the agenda of at
least two subdisciplines: literary history and comparative literature.


It was founded in 1926  it organised regular meetings, produced an impressive range of publications and invited
many prominent European scholars and philosophers to give and discuss papers  1939: Nazis occupied
Czechoslovakia and closed all universities  the group continued its activity in private homes and apartments +
some key members went to America  end of WWII till 1948: productive spell  1948: Communists gained
control and suppressed the group’s activities.
Major works in linguistics and literary studies  Roman Jakobson, Nikolai Trubetzkoy, Jan Mukarovsky and René
Jakobson and Trubetzkoy wrote important papers in the field of phonology and morphology which became
internationally know and contributed significantly to the foundation of the European tradition.
Backgrounds: structuralism, formalism, philosophy
Its members were deeply influenced by Saussurean structuralism  BUT they disagreed with Saussure in one
important respect: diachronic and synchronic perspectives mutually inform each other  they are impossible to
separate in the final analysis.
They also continued, developed and systematised the work of the Russian formalists  Jakobson had been the
president of the Moscow Linguistic Circle (Russian formalism) before becoming one of the co-founders and Vice-
President of the Prague School  he had moved to Czechoslovakia in 1920 to complete his studies and obtain his
PhD  20s: several other Russian formalists were invited over to give papers in Prague or even to become members
of the Circle  repression in the USRR.
Other influences: German philosophy and aesthetics.
A functional approach
Main difference between Russian formalism and Prague structuralism = Prague scholars put a greater emphasis on
function than on form  BUT this focus on function was already present in the work of Russian formalists such as
Functionalism: Roman Jakobson’s argument that a language utterance can fulfil a range of different functions 
expressive, conative, referential, metalingual, poetic and phatic functions  model of communication = their
possible combinations and interactions.
Jan Mukarovsky’s distinction between two levels of analysis:


• The artefact: the material dimension of a literary work or of another work of art  work of art = fixed and
unchanging entities  non intrinsic meaning, value or function
• The aesthetic object: when the artefact is concretised in the consciousness of the readers, the material may
give rise to an aesthetic object, i.e. a real sign possessing aesthetic qualities.
Any artefact can have various functions which are historically variable depending on a set of norms and expectations
 each culture and period defines the sphere of art differently  art must always be studied in its multiple and
dynamic relations with non-art.
< Tynyanov: Mukarovsky regarded the text as a kind of system characterised by foregrounding  interplay between
elements that are foregrounded and others that are relegated to the background of the reader’s reception.
The Prague School restated the theories of late Russian formalism mixed with other influences  broader semiotic
theory: literary art + theatre semiotics, film studies, etc.  Soviet semiotics of Yury Lotman: the continuity between
the Prague School and modern semiotics is visible.
Scholars such as Mukarovsky (the reader concretises the text by turning it into an aesthetic object) influenced the
reader-oriented theories of the 60s-70s that put the reader at the centre of their models + influenced the
modern cognitive poetics.
Prague Scholars made important progress in linguistic theory internationally  Roman Jakobson and his brilliant
career in America  a strong boost to Anglo-American stylistics.
Many of the Prague publications in the aesthetic field became available in English in the 60s-70s thanks to the
structuralist movement  poststructuralism tended to lump them together as forms of formalism.


For literary communication to be possible, there has to be a real or a virtual ‘point’ where text producers and text
receivers meet  the channel in Jakobson’s model of communication.
A medium is more than just a neutral ‘conduit’ through which communication passes without being affected 
Marshall McLuhan (media studies): “the medium is the message”.
Aspects of the book industry: publishing
Literary institutions may act like a filter by deciding whether there will be literary communication and/or by
influencing its exact modes at every step  roles and tasks of the publishing houses in the literary process:
• Constructing a visible corporate identity within the literary field
• Commissioning or attracting new manuscripts
• Having projects refereed by external experts
• Style editing
• Typesetting, cover design and illustrations
• Marketing, promotion
• Distribution
• Applying for the book’s ISBN identification
• Managing copyright-related matters
These tasks may be carried out by the in-house staff or subcontracted to specialised firms.
Publishing houses = commercial enterprises  a good publisher needs business abilities and a refined literary taste
 a book = a commercial commodity and a work of art.


Commercial pressures = strong  smaller publishers have disappeared  huge multinational publishing groups.
Aspects of the book industry: three zones of literary activity
Two types of markets: quality books + popular market  most publishers will specialise in one of the markets:
High end of the literary market ... Low end of the literary market

elite literature: canon and aspiring young writers ... popular genres: romances, sci-fi,
western, pornography...
outlets: bookshops, Internet, book clubs ... outlets: supermarkets, kiosks, newsagents

reviews, criticism ... no reviews

included in permanent library collections; listed and ... ‘disposable’ material intended for immediate
catalogued for later use and reference consumption

This distinction is very far from being absolute  there is a huge middle zone between the two extremes of
canonised works and outright ‘pulp’ or ‘trash’.
Large publishing houses often bring out books for different audiences  they often use different imprints = a kind of
brand name under which the publisher has decided to market a coherent selection of its catalogue.
There is an important part of literary activity which exists outside the traditional continuum  the large and mostly
invisible mass of writings of people who are trying but have not yet managed to get published, or of those who are
not even interested in reaching the literary market.
It is often in this unofficial context that talented young writers take their first steps and that literary evolutions and
revolutions may find their origin in the form of tentative experiments.
Modern computer technology and the Internet = opportunities for this unofficial type of publication  possible at a
minimum cost to produce visually creative and attractive, professional texts + to reach out the Internet community of
literature lovers.
More and more established writers are now experimenting with forms of online publishing  the line between the
different zones may be in the process of being redrawn.


< Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)  in his writings and those of his followers and later commentators, psychoanalysis
has gone through a remarkable process of diversification and sophistication  BUT what is constant: certain
unconscious energies shape our personalities and behaviour.
Freud originally conceived his theory as a therapy for psychic disorders ↔ traditionally: mental disease had a purely
physiological basis  Nowadays: psychoanalysis = a highly developed discipline with profound philosophical
implications which has pervaded just about every field in the human sciences  BUT there are fierce debates
between the believers and the non-believers who think Freud was a poor scientist.
Many psychoanalysts have taken a strong interest in language and literature + many literary critics have been
interested in psychoanalysis in their search for a better understanding of authors, creative processes, texts and readers
 < intuition that literary experiences produce, or result from, some special psychological state or disposition.
The breakthrough of Freudianism coincided with the various Modernist movements in the early 20 th century 
influences on the surrealist movement or in the works of James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and other authors.


Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

“Psychoanalysis explores what happens when primordial desire gets directed into social goals, when bodily needs
become subject to the mould of culture” (Wright)  conflict from birth onwards between body and society:
infant  society

narcissistic desire rules and roles

(symbolised by the father figure)

private sphere public sphere

(erogenous zones of the body) (family, school, nation...)

determined by biological needs determined by society’s needs

(nutrition, excretion, procreation...) (responsibilities, skills...)

Libido and sexuality = terms to denote the whole domain of experience that is governed by the principle of desire 
= vital force ≠ common understanding of sexuality  the latter = reduction of the libidinous experience to those
forms and functions most compatible with society’s needs and aims.
Psychoanalysis studies man in terms of the conflict between desire and society  particular importance to the
childhood, when the conflict is particularly acute  the child learns to repress the libidinal energy (repression) and
to desexualize it and using it for acceptable social purposes (sublimation).
Oedipus complex < the tragic story of Oedipus dramatized by Sophocles  the male child has an instinct-driven
sexual attraction to the mother and he is jealous of the father, who is seen as the rival  perhaps he even has secret
fantasies of killing him  BUT the father = source of all authority  capable of castrating the boy  such a
punishment happened to girls who have no penis  the fear of castration ultimately leads the boy to give up his
attachment to the mother and to start identifying with the father.
Feminists have accused Freud of phallocentrism and misogyny  he has not developed a model for girls and has
seen women as incomplete men  some feminists have developed their own psychoanalytical models on the basis of
Lacan’s more flexible theory.
The principle of desire remains active in adulthood  = a dynamic process  consider the presence in adult’s lives
• The development of compromise formations which enable certain drives to be fulfilled partially and/or
symbolically, i.e. in a socially acceptable manner
• Symptoms such as Freudian slips and other Fehlleistungen
• Mental disorder which reveals a more serious mismatch between bodily desire and society.
Freud wrote an extremely influential study on “The Interpretation of Dreams”  dream = compromise formation
which can tell us most about the hidden workings of our mind  dreams provide an imaginary wish-fulfilment
during sleep, when conscious control is low  BUT censorship mechanisms still manipulate the content of the
dream in order to transform it into a more acceptable representation  distinction between the manifest content of
the dream and its latent content  the manifest content = more available; the latent content has to be reconstructed
 the essence of dreaming consists in the dream-work, i.e. combination of operations which transform the
underlying raw material into the dream  two important mechanisms of the dream work:


• Condensation: superimposition of different elements, so that one and the same dream sequence can be
simultaneous representation of different ideas or unconscious wishes.
• Displacement: the associate shift from one thing to something else.
Two further operations to make the dream more acceptable:
• Symbolism: the replacement of a latent element by another element on the basis of some similarity and/or
• Secondary revision: the various elements that go into the dream are rearranged and edited to form a more
plausible or coherent narrative.
 Dynamic conflict between the unconscious and the forces of repression.
Literary work = a compromise formation for writers and readers  it provides a form of wish-fulfilment without
overstepping the boundaries of what is socially acceptable.
It seems that Freud had a rather low opinion of writers and readers  they would appear to be half-neurotic
daydreamers suffering from a disturbed or obsessed mind and resorting to fictional representations to come to terms
with infantile fixations and wishes  BUT he was perfectly aware of the conscious activity and the technical skills
that are necessary  for a literary text to be able to function as a compromise formation, it has to possess aesthetic or
intellectual qualities = to provide forepleasure  forepleasure justifies the partial fulfilment of repressed wishes.
Freud’s study of the joke explains how a good joke has to display true wit and technical skill to generate
Jacques Lacan (1901-1981)
= the most influential post-Freudian psychoanalyst  his main achievement has been to rethink Freud in terms of the
modern structuralist linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson.
The individual subject uses language as a collective instrument to organise itself and to create roles, categories,
identities, positions for the individual to fit into  feminism and recent brands of Marxism and postcolonial theory
have investigated how conceptions of gender, social class, race or nation are created and transmitted unconsciously
through language and thus become part of our personality as we learn language and so enter society.
Language shapes the child as a speaking subject and it shapes the child’s way of seeing the world + languages
creates the subject’s alienation from all the other  = by interacting linguistically with and about others, the child
acquires a sense of self  saying ‘I’ implies our discovery of the radical separation from the people and the things
that the ‘I’ is not  world is characterised by difference and separation + we discover that the relations between the
people around us are strongly gendered.
Language creates unconscious desire, which is a vague but deep-felt urge to restore the lost wholeness and union
(with world)  this search can only happen through language, which is our only means of reaching out to the outside
world  hopeless, but the unconscious never gives up  apparent when we look at language in action: words
always mean something more and something else than what we intended them to mean, because, behind the seeming
stability of their forms, the unconscious keeps groping for what may lie beyond their socially accepted meaning 
meanings can endlessly be interpreted as having further metaphorical or metonymical extensions  // Jakobson’s
research on metaphor and metonymy + Freud’s ideas about condensation and displacement.
// poststructuralism in the 1970s.


The French scholar Robert Escarpit distinguishes between 3 groups of text receives from a sociological viewpoint:
• Le public interlocuteur: the few individual(s) for whom the work was written and published in the first place


• Le public milieu: the larger community of readers which will recognize the text as being relevant to their
experience insofar it expressed a shared culture (same cultural milieu)
• Le grand public: the heterogeneous and theoretically endless group of potential readers from different
cultures or periods who have no real cultural affinities with the text but who will through an act of ‘trahison
créatrice’ reread the text in such a way that it will become meaningful to them.
Literary texts have an enormous semiotic potential  it preserves its meaningfulness for wider and increasingly
anonymous audiences  the crucial question: this semiotic potential is an intrinsic property of the text, or just an
effect of the reading strategies with which literary texts are approached.


= the person who mentally assimilates a text and realises its semiotic potential  the addressee or the receiver.
Readers usually remain anonymous  exceptions: the writers themselves and the literary critics.
Literary theoreticians often use the term ‘reader’ in a more specific or more abstract sense  e.g. the narratee or the
implied reader.
Theorists also use the term to denote some ideal concept which has no immediate counterpart in empirical reality 
e.g. the average reader (a hypothetical construct which embodies the knowledge, skills, habits, etc. believed to be
representative of a given reading community) or the ideal reader (a hypothetical construct which possesses the
knowledge and interpretive competence needed to respond to the writer’s intentions and to arrive at a full
understanding and aesthetic appreciation of the text).


The reader’s presence and participation had a place in literary theorising until the 19th century in concepts such as
catharsis, utile dulci, classical rhetoric or Bible interpretation.
Within the discipline of literary studies as a whole, especially outside the German-language area, the reception of the
text usually remained a side interest  the emphasis was either on the text itself (e.g. New Criticism) or on its
production (e.g. positivism, Marxism, psychoanalytical approaches).
Why?  the first generations of academics saw questions of reading and interpretation as a Pandora’s box  it
would have introduced a subjective dimension when they were trying to earn their scientific credentials  according
to deconstruction: subjectivism and relativism = ideological roots.
The return of the reader in the 1960s
The 60s saw the return of the reader  different theories were developed arguing that texts and textual meanings do
not exist without readers  the reader is the active producer of textual meaning.
Greater willingness to positively embrace the subjective dimension of literary communication  Thomas Kuhn and
others were radically questioning the objectivity of science + deconstruction and poststructuralism were about to
question the foundations of Western rationality.
Wolfgang Iser’s Wirkungsästhetik (theory of aesthetic response)
= professor of English and Comparative literature at the university of Constance in Germany  he was one of the
leaders of the Konstanzer Schule.
His theory is principally concerned with the ‘dialogue’ between reader and text  made possible by the text’s
objective structure, while deriving its dynamic from the reader’s search for consistency.
The text has an objective structure  BUT it is more or less incomplete: the text has Leerstellen  the readers must
use their imagination to fill these  = dialogue  a literary text = a set of directions for the reader to follow 
implied reader.


Reading = a temporal process  the whole text can never be perceived at the same time  we have a moving
viewpoint which travels along inside the text.
The dynamics of reading involves the permanent formation, assessment and revision of retrospective and prospective
hypotheses  remembered interpretations of passages read earlier as well as previously formed expectations always
have to be reassessed and possibly revised from the viewpoint of the newly discovered information.
The literary value of a text is proportional to its indeterminacy  2 extreme positions:
• Popular texts that are written to a formula: there is hardly any interaction since reading such texts is for the
greatest part an act of passive consumption
• Experimental and hermetic literature: clues or instructions are too few and far between for the reader to make
much sense of them  no interaction.
He rejects these two extremes  though he favours texts with many Leerstellen  the capacity for involving readers
in a creative dialogue is a fundamental characteristic of great literature.
Hans-Robert Jauss’s Rezeptionsästhetik (reception theory)
= a professor of French literature at the university of Constance + co-member of the Constance School.
His work can be seen as complementary to Iser’s: it highlights the broader historical dimension of the reader’s
Through repeated exposure readers may get used to texts which were formerly experimental + conventional texts
may acquire new indeterminacies for another group of readers  the level of indeterminacy of a text is not
necessarily constant.
The horizon of expectations enables to conceptualise such historical changes  horizon of expectations = the set of
expectations that a reader brings to a text  these expectations result from the reader’s cultural background, more
specifically his/her knowledge of a genre and its conventions  the horizon of expectations is historically variable:
the relation between text and reader constantly changes as we travel through time and space.
A great piece of art = it takes the reader by surprise and break through the horizon of expectations  it depends on
its deviation from the standard norms and conventions and on its capacity to shift the horizon of expectations.
He wanted to redefine literary history by concentrating on the reactions of readers by analysing all kinds of metatexts
from the given periods.
Norbert Groeben’s empirical reader research
= the best-known representative of a group of German scholars who have tried to reinvent reception theory on a more
objective and empirical basis through a systematic application of certain methods popular in the natural and social
Groeben and his colleagues ↔ the work of the Constance School  Groeben believes that literary research should
look at real readers and their responses to texts  the researcher should take on board the various parameters that
can make a difference to these responses.
Groeben wants literary studies to develop as a true science ↔ hermeneutics to which Iser and Jauss belong.
Different techniques may be used involving test subjects and experimental situations: questionnaires, talk-aloud
protocols and the cloze-procedure.
The results are processed statistically to measure the relative importance of the variables investigated.
This empirical line of research is little known outside the German-language area  its critics have condemned it as a
vestige of naive positivism and scientism.
Stanley Fish’s affective stylistics
= founding father of reader-response criticism in the States  he called his theory “affective stylistics” as a
polemical move directed against the New Critics and their dogma of the affective fallacy.


First, // Iser: reading is a temporal dynamic process, largely directed by the objective structure of the text.
Then: it is not the text that shapes the reader, but the reader that shapes the text.
Then, his most famous concept: the reader is not a fully independent agent but a member of an interpretive
community  it refers to a group of readers with shared norms, values and expectations  readings = good when
they accepted as such by the given community.


= the discipline which concerns itself with the art of elegant and persuasive communication  initially it
concentrated only on effective public speaking, this was required by the political forums in Athens and later in Rome
 later, it extended to the field of written discourse.
It shows interest in the formal technicalities of language  notorious for its elaborate classifications of rhetorical
figures, styles and argumentative structures  its orientation remain functional: the choice of appropriate linguistics
and structural devices is based on a careful consideration of the entire discursive situation and the central question is
that of the pragmatic effect produced.
Rules and recommendations were formulated with respect to:
inventio the finding of relevant materials and topics;
dispositio the arrangement of ideas and arguments in a specific structure;
elocutio the appropriate wording ( style ) or formulation;
memoria mnemonic techniques;
actio the delivery of the speech (intonation, gestures, etc.).

Historical sketch
Rhetorical treatises were written by Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian and others. Especially since Horace the distinction
between poetics and rhetoric became somewhat blurred since poems were also seen in terms of the effect they
produced on readers.
One of the basic linguistic sciences in the Middle Ages: presence in the 7 Artes Liberales (the arts that a free man
ought to master).
The pedagogical system of the liberal arts continued during Renaissance and the Neoclassical  many universities
appointed a Professor for Rhetoric.
19th century = decline of classical rhetoric  Romantic literary theory saw literature as a unique expression of a
unique personality or experience + the classical learning were challenged by the various modern philologies and by
the pressure towards more modern and scientific theories of language.
20th century = revival of rhetoric in its classical form with insights from modern linguistics and which attempt to
address today’s communication needs  a whole language industry has developed within and outside academia.
Rhetoric and manipulation: ethical concerns
The opponents of rhetoric raise ethical concerns about it  rhetoric, like any weapon, is a very dangerous thing in
the hands of people with dishonest motives  many centuries ago Socrates and Plato already condemned rhetoric as
a source of falsehoods (↔ philosophy).
Persuasive techniques can be used to conceal or distort the facts but the defence against rhetorical manipulation is
not to ban it but to make the end-users of messages aware of the possibility of rhetorical manipulation and to teach
them some of the typical tricks that ‘hidden persuaders’ may want to play on them.



= a movement of literary criticism and theory which emerged in Russia before the 1917 Revolution till 1930.
Formalist = pejorative < Marxist opponents because of their lack of attention for the social and ideological
dimension of literary art  it became neutral  BUT today, it is again pejorative  scholars who show a lack of
political commitment.
Two centres, twin ambition
• The Moscow Linguistic Circle: founded in 1915, consisted in linguists who were also interested in the verbal
art  they were well acquainted with the latest developments in international linguistics (Saussure) 
Roman Jakobson
• The Society for the Study of Poetic Language aka. OPOYAZ: founded in Petrograd in 1916, most members
had a background in literary history  Viktor Shklovsky, Yury Tynyanov.
The movement was short-lived  Jakobson left Moscow in 1920 + in the 20s formalism was under attack from
Marxist critics  1930: Shklovsky publicly abandoned his formalist views and became a defender of the Soviet
orthodoxy of socialist realism.
The formalists shared:
• The ambition to raise literary studies to the level of a real and independent science by defining its object and
own methods
• The view that the literary work of art is a unique and quite autonomous aesthetic reality.
Early formalist positions: Shklovsky
Jakobson: “the subject of literary scholarship is not literature in its totality but literariness”  what is it that makes a
literary text into a literary text?
The literariness of texts results from the application on neutral ‘material’ of artistic ‘devices’ which produce an effect
of defamiliarisation  the material = the non-aesthetic raw matter; devices = the aesthetic techniques that transform
this neutral material into a work of art  material vs. devices replaced the content vs. form  in poetry: material =
language; devices = metaphor, rhythm, phonetic, etc.
In narrative fiction: material vs. devices = fabula vs. siuzhet  fabula = a sequence of events arranged according to
chronological and causal logic; siuzhet = the artistic rearrangement of the events in the narrative text, involving a
different chronological order, the disappearance of causal logic, the addition of digressions and structural
complications  // story vs. text  formalists favoured texts in which devices operate in a complicating way 
Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy”.
In poetry too, taste for self-conscious formal experiment: Russian futurist poetry  BUT most literature has a more
conventional nature  not lending itself to a Shklovskyan type of analysis.
Shklovsky’s defamiliarisation = the use of devices makes the text difficult, so that the reader’s attention is drawn to
the text itself and to its unfamiliar representation of reality  awareness of language and reality with a de-
automatised perception of what is normally taken for granted  // alienation effect.
Late Russian formalism: Tynyanov
= evolution of the first formalist thought along more functional lines.
Tynyanov stresses the importance of seeing the text as a structure or system: whether a textual element or structure
will have a defamiliarising effect or confirm our automatic perceptions not only depends on that element itself, but
also on its relative position in the configuration of all the elements and structures in the text  certain elements will
be foregrounded as opposed to the subservient elements which remain automatised.
An element or structure which functions as a device may after some time through repeated application lose its
defamiliarising capacity  literary history can be seen as an ongoing conflict between textual principles that rise


from a conventional status to a foregrounded one, until being pushed into the background again  neither the
literary analysis of an individual work nor the construction of literary theory can do without the historical dimension.
Russian formalism // New Criticism:
• The attempt to redefine literary studies in opposition to the prevailing extrinsic theories of literature
• The emphasis on the autonomy and specificity of literary art with special attention given to the nature of
literary language
• A preference for Modernist literature.
 Left-wing critics tend to group them under the name ‘formalism’  BUT there are differences:
• The Russian formalists’ more systematic approach  their ambition to build a rigorous and comprehensive
theory drawing on modern linguistics
• Russian formalists’ stronger interest in narrative
• Russian formalism’s stronger awareness of diachrony (literary history) and its greater potential for
transcending the opposition between exclusively intrinsic and extrinsic approaches.
The impact of formalism on modern literary theory was belated and often indirect, but has nonetheless been of
massive importance:
• Belated: formalism was discovered very late in the West  Wellek and Warren’s influential textbook
“Theory of Literature” gives a brief account of formalist theory but the texts were not always available in
English  no lasting effect + in 1965 Todorov published an anthology “Théorie de la literature. Textes
des formalistes russes”
• Indirect: many of its key ideas lived on in the work of the Prague School and the Bakhtin Circle +
Todorov became one of the leaders of 60s Parisian structuralism, infusing it with many ideas of formalism.


Epistemology = studies the problems of human knowledge  2 related subfields: methodology and logic 
philosophers of sciences try to define the specificity of scientific knowledge  they often address the ethical and
linguistic questions raised by the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
The scientific or unscientific character of a study or theory becomes an urgent issue for scientists when rival theories
or individuals are competing for credibility, prestige and funding + when scientific theories find themselves at the
heart of a social, ethical or ideological debate.
Renaissance: beginning of the modern empirical science  Francis Bacon, Galileo  Bacon is sometimes regarded
as the 1st philosopher of science  the use of empirical observation and formal experiments = the only way to
advance our knowledge about the world  philosophy of science = never-ending revision and controversy.
19th century: massive expansion of scientific knowledge  positivism ↔ hermeneutics.
Basic concepts and the views of Karl Popper
The aim of science = developing theories which can describe and explain reality  we expect reality to show a
certain regularity  these regularities may be an effect of causality  deterministic view: whenever a certain causal
factors occurs, a certain effect will follow (cause-effect relations)  more modest model: the effects will occur more
often when the causes are present than when the causes are absent.
 This provides an explanation for regularities already found in reality + enables us to make predictions about what
is likely to happen in the future  BUT the complexity of most phenomena in the world limits the possible degrees
of understanding and predictability.


Empirical evidence can never be used to prove or verify something  we may disprove or falsify a general theory
but absolute proof is something that is logically impossible  we would have to document every single instance of
the phenomena in question, even the future ones.
Empirical evidence can be used via:
• Induction: the interference from particular to universal expectation  induction plays an important role in
the building of hypotheses and theories.
• Deduction: one works from one theory to observation  we empirically check the hypothetical conclusion of
a general theory.
All scientific knowledge has a hypothetical character  a theory which has survived several attempts at falsification
does not acquire a definitive status  BUT a theory which has been falsified should not be forgotten  it stimulated
investigation + it illustrates the paths that future research should not pursue in the same manner  scientists should
know about each other’s works and about the history of research  collaborative dimension.
Testing hypotheses can be done in three ways:
• By assessing their internal logical consistency: if a theory is logically flawed, it can be discarded and needs to
be corrected
• Observation + experiments = empirical testing  observation of reality as a set of conditions artificially
created and controlled by researchers with the purpose of reducing or eliminating the effect of all variables
they are no interested in.
Thomas Kuhn’s concept of the scientific paradigm
Some further complications spoil the image of science learning from past failures and adjusting its hypothetical
First: observation if likely to be selective  we cannot help focusing on certain phenomena, areas, aspects... in
accordance with the expectations and presuppositions that are prompted by our theory  insufficient attention to the
phenomena or aspects which belong to the blind spot of our theory, or which are inconsistent with.
Moreover: our understanding of the observed phenomena involves an act of interpretation  the phenomena do not
analyse themselves, the researcher has to understand it  he does this with the help of theory s/he already possessed
prior to observation  ↔ positivistic concept of science.
A paradigm = the entire framework of concepts, definitions and methods which are by the members of a research
community during a particular period in the history of a discipline  during the pre-paradigmatic period: there is no
consensus yet about the fundamental orientation of the discipline  once a paradigm is firmly established, it will
provide a basis for research without being questioned itself  when too many problems and doubts arouse, the
discipline enters a period of crisis and has to find a new consensus  most disciplines have known different
successive paradigms in their history.
Competing paradigms may co-exist at the same time  no exchange between the representatives of these paradigms
because their arguments are based on different presuppositions.
 Serious damage to the mechanism of falsification: a scientist A will try disprove the theory of B on the basis of
his/her presuppositions  scientist B will hold the arguments as irrelevant because they are based on axiomatic
principles that s/he disagrees with.


Many people think research in humanities and in positive sciences are different.


Many even think that science is a term that cannot be applied to literature  both cultural and material can be
studied, but the nature of these two types of object is different and asks for its own methodology + they do not lead
to the same forms of knowledge.
Wilhelm Dilthey: one of the founders of hermeneutics  human sciences can never be reduced to rational
explanation (↔ natural sciences)  they deal with documents which embody concrete life-experiences of individuals
(Erlebnisse)  it depends on complex interrelations of thought, emotion and intentionality  understanding
(Verstehen) rather than explanation (Erklären).
Many modern philosophers of science have argued against this rigid distinction  nature sciences often involve
intuition, introspection and subjectivity + use of rigorous empirical methods has long demonstrated its value in the
human sciences  the distinction in relative terms: problems which are essentially common to all types of
knowledge may be more acute and visible in some disciplines and areas of research than in others.
A science of literature?
Serious epistemological problems:
• Many literary phenomena exist as a mental reality in the minds of writers and readers only  no direct
observation is possible.
• Access to data is scattered and incomplete when we look at literary phenomena from a historical angle  the
authors, their readers and others involved in literary communication of the past are no longer there (e.g. oral
cultures of the past).
• Results in literary communication are the outcome of an infinite multitude of complexly related variables 
idiosyncratic and self-contained phenomena  explanatory hypotheses are not really possible.
• The researcher is entangled in the object of study  we continue to be members of a linguistics, literary and
cultural community  the leap from the object-level to the meta-level of scientific description is impossible.
Several schools of thought have implicitly or overtly abandoned the scientific model and rejected its empirical and
rational aspirations to embrace the hermeneutical model  deconstruction and poststructuralism go even further by
emphasising the instability of the very subject (plurality of meanings)  in either case, the philosophical orientation
and the great epistemological scepticism are prominent features (↔ scientism, positivism, formalism...).
 BUT there are many scholars who continue believing in the viability of literary studies as an objectively based
empirical discipline  they accept that objectivity is a utopian ideal, but one which is still worth striving for  they
developed methods which can help reduce this subjectivity  stronger affinities with sociological, psychological or
linguistics research than with philosophy.


= the theory of science of signs and sign systems  ≠ semantics (study of linguistic meaning)  semiology is
traditionally restricted to the Saussurean semiotics.
Almost anything can be a sign, or become one  interdisciplinary science  there are the uses of natural language +
several other non-verbal sign systems  some of the signs are produced unconsciously  there is even semiotics of
the animals.
Ferdinand de Saussure
Two founding fathers who almost simultaneously (but independently of each other) laid the foundations for a theory
of signs: Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure.
For Saussure, language is one sign system among other systems in culture  linguistics is not a fully autonomous
science, but a branch of semiology  BUT he gives linguistics a central position because language has an almost
purely conventional or arbitrary nature.


Charles Sanders Peirce

He made a distinction between three classes of signs, defined in terms of the relationship between the sign and its
• Icon: there are similarities or shared features between the sign and its referent, e.g. a picture (indicating a
person or a thing)  different degrees of iconicity.
• Index: there are relations of physical proximity or causality between the sign and its referent, e.g. thunder
(indicating a storm)
• Symbol: there is no motivation whatever for the linkage of sign and referent, so that the use of the sign
depends entirely on convention, e.g. the words of a language.
In Saussure’s linguistics, too, the various kinds and degrees of motivation constitute a very important theme.
Semiosis = the never-ending process of the production and interpretation of signs  we are permanently producing
and interpreting signs, and these interpretations can in their turn be regarded as new signs to interpret  endless
chain of signs.
The work of Peirce was complex and is not yet fully understood  BUT Saussure’s work directly or indirectly
pervaded the larger part of Western literary theory  the history of his influence coincides with the history of
structuralism  decline from the 70s onwards ↔ semiotics used to be a magic buzz-word.
The best known contemporary semiotician = Umberto Eco (Peircean school) + Yury Lotman (but less famous), who
is the central figure of Soviet Semiotics.


= a school of thought or a method of inquiry which is associated with the linguistic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure
 BUT from the 50s onwards it spread to many other disciplines such as anthropology, literary studies,
psychoanalysis, etc.  based on 2 principles:
• The meanings conveyed by a language are generated by that language’s own underlying network of
structural relationships
• By reconstructing this network of meaning-production relations it is possible to study language in an
objective and scientific way.
Structuralism develops the idea that phenomena should not be investigated by taking them into pieces and then
naming and classifying their isolated components (atomistic approach), but by looking for the interdependence
between those components  not radically new, but structuralism used this basic idea as the platform for a
scientifically ambitious research programme for linguistics and later for other branches in the social sciences.
Heyday: 60s  BUT certain problems appeared: structuralists became sceptical about their objectivity  if
everything depends on everything else in the linguistic system, this causes meanings to slip and slide in an
unstoppable destabilising process which eventually compromises the structuralist’s own analysis  the shift which
defines poststructuralism.
Central concepts
Saussure’s main work « Cours de linguistique générale » = posthumously published by his students; = his notes +
notes of his students.
A sign = an entity consisting of a signifier and a signified  these 2 aspects can be distinguished for the sake of
analysis but they belong together inseparably.
There is no direct relationship between the sign and the extralinguistic referent  the matching of words and things
= purely arbitrary, i.e. a matter of shared convention in the speech community.


Exceptions: onomatopoeia  motivated relationship of some kind between sign and referent.
Other cases: relative motivation  in compound words, the word is motivated by an obvious logic in the real world
 relative motivation is a historically variable category  sound changes cause the disappearance of the traces of
the logic in the word and it thus becomes again arbitrary.
Language can be meaningful because it is a complex self-regulating structure in which everything is interrelated  a
word cannot generate meaning on its own, but only insofar as that sign entertains certain differential relations with
other signs of the linguistic structure.
Syntagmatic relations = the linear sequence in which individual signs are embedded  the linear ordering of words
in a sentence  visible to the eye = in presentia.
Paradigmatic relationships = the relations between the selected signs and the multitude of signs that were
significantly not selected  in absentia.
 complex network of relations which remain hidden behind the signs that ultimately appear in the syntagm  it is
only in wordplay or poetry that such paradigmatic relations are thrown into prominence  // Jakobson’s definition of
the poetic function.
Langue = conventional, arbitrary system of meaning-producing structures which leads an abstract and largely
unconscious existence in the minds of people who know it and use it; parole = the individual, concrete utterances
which are generated and understood by means of this pre-existing abstract system  we must clearly distinguish
between the abstract system and the concrete uses that it underlies  the abstract system should be studied.
This abstract system should be studied in a synchronic way (↔ diachronic which dominant in the 19th century)  the
language under study must be frozen at a particular point in its evolution in order to describe how it is organized at
that particular single moment  etymology does not help in explaining the complex mechanisms that make that
word into a meaningful sign for language users today, most of whom are ignorant of etymology anyway.
From the 50s onwards, scholars began to assume that non-verbal cultural phenomena, too, can be studied in terms of
highly structured signifying systems  culture came to be seen as language-like systems of signs, whose
‘vocabulary’ and ‘grammar’ we have to try and reconstruct.
Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that anthropologists should stop collecting isolated data in positivistic fashion  they
should look at cultural phenomena in trying to reconstruct the underlying system of rules (langue) which regulates
the specific cultural practices (parole) that they have observed in the field.
Saussure had himself anticipated the later extensions of semiology.
Structuralism and semiotics are often regarded as 2 synonymous names for the same project: the objective
description of signifying practices in culture.
Structuralism and literary studies
Saussure influenced directly or indirectly many post-war theories, but the breakthrough of the structuralist method is
associated with the structuralist vogue in Paris in the 60s and 70s  structuralist ideas spread to English and
American universities and provoked fierce conflicts.
French structuralism concentrated on narrative fiction  powerful boost to Narratology  (Narratology) Gérard
Genette, A.J. Greimas and Tzetan Todorov; (Parisian structuralism demonstrating the shift towards deconstruction
and poststructuralism) Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva and Jacques Derrida; (English-speaking area)
Jonathan Culler.
Some effects that structuralism has had on literary studies:
• Linguistics: it strengthens the ties between linguistics and literary studies  boost to modern stylistics  <
Roman Jakobson + Russian formalists
• Textual structure: much attention is given to the internal structural organization of literary texts


• Literary and cultural codes: efforts are made to build the general ‘grammar’ of the codes and sign system in
culture which enable individual texts to become a meaningful sign
• Theory rather than history: rather than studying the particular, historical circumstances of cultural
phenomena (parole), it tends to look for the abstract ‘langue’ which underlies the concrete facts  many
structuralists believe that the structural organization of language reflects the biological structure of the mind
 no need of history as minds are innate and universal  Generative Grammar of Noam Chomsky
• Anti-humanism, erosion of the human subject: it is language which dominates the subject and not the other
way round  the subject is a product of language and culture
• An anti-elitist and inclusive concept of culture: popular culture became as valid an object of study as elite
culture  structuralism has contributed to the decentring of the traditional literary canon.
Structuralism continues to be very much present in today’s debates.


Stylistics = a development of rhetoric, namely elocution, which deals with the verbal formulation of one’s ideas 
style = the manner of linguistic expression: how one says whatever it is that one says.
 We can separate what is said from how it is said  BUT many literary critics argue that every change of wording
will inevitably entail a change of meaning  semanticisation of form  // New Critic’s heresy of paraphrase.
Stylistics can best be seen as the analysis of texts in terms of their linguistic features  stylistic features are
traditionally analysed at the following levels:
• Lexis: word choice, collocation, metaphor, metonymy...
• Grammar: length of sentences, paratactic style vs. hypotactic style...
• Sound: prosody, sound repetitions...
Recent stylisticians have followed modern linguistics in its growing readiness to move beyond the sentence-rank and
to take on board the pragmatic, sociolinguistic and functional dimensions of language.
Stylistic variation
Many authors have a recognisable ‘personal’ style which makes it possible for the experienced reader to identify
their work  = stylistic fingerprinting  can be helpful in the detection of authorship  BUT recognisable styles
may also correlate with other factors:
• Author, work: Shakespearean style, biblical style, Ciceronian style...
• Period tradition: metaphysical style, baroque style, classical style...
• Genre, text-type: scientific style, legal style, journalese…
• Medium: written, spoken, telegraphese…
Every text has a style.
Conflicting perspectives
< Classical rhetoric  BUT modern stylistics owes its present status to the rapid development of linguistics in the
20th century  structuralism in the 60s  Charles Bally (student of Saussure, he became one of the earliest and most
influential stylistician), Roman Jakobson (he tried to fully integrate linguistics and literary studies)  stylisticians
today often work within a cognitive framework.
Structuralism and linguistics gave stylistics its high scientific ambitions  to describe literature in an objective way
through the application of the rigorously descriptive and scientific categories of formalised linguistics  alternative
to traditional literary interpretation which is too vague, subjective and impressionist.


↔ Poststructuralism  they argued that a detailed inventory of a text’s linguistic features will never amount to a real
interpretation, understanding or appreciation of that text.


Text = polysemous and vague  some possible uses of the term:

• For text edition: the verbal material that is the author’s original work (↔ textual apparatus or editorial
• For semiotics: any sign can be called a text, and especially more complex signs such as a photograph, a
musical score...
• For text linguistics and stylistics: a string of sentences which form a unity both semantically and by the use
of anaphora, discourse organisers and other cohesive devices
• For narratology: the concrete surface presentation in word and/or image of an underlying narrative content.
The concept of text is genre-neutral: we use the term ‘text’ to not specify the genre of the text  helpful when we
describe works that do not fit neatly into a genre.
In it most general literary sense, a ‘text’ could be defined as an individually defined or definable unit of discourse 
the term usually carries the following associations with it:
• Linearity: a text is a string of words and/or sentences, to be read in a one-way sequential process which
progressively unfolds the text’s full meaning
• Autonomy: the text is seen as a distinct unity on the basis of:
• Its inner structural relationships, which give it the coherence the reader is expecting by virtue of the relevant
genre conventions, and which give it a sense of completeness.
• The use of conventional signs which mark the borderlines between the text and the extra-textual reality
which surrounds it
• Intentionality: seen as expressing the author’s personality or serving his/her objectives  it drives its
meaning, authenticity and interest from the validating presence of the writer’s consciousness.
Challenging the traditional text concept
The traditional concept of the text has recently been questioned by several critical schools; most fundamentally by
deconstruction  the mechanism of linguistic difference and the idea of intertextuality  it strips the text most basic
• Linearity: overtaken by the notion of the palimpsest: many other texts are simultaneously co-present,
creating a multi-dimensional textual space
• Autonomy: the so-called unity of the text dissolves in the multitude of other texts that it depends on
• Intentionality: if the meanings of the text are dispersed, it makes no sense to attribute them to the individual
writer’s intentionality.
Hypertext and related text technologies:
• Linearity: the presence of hypertext links and the software’s various index and search functions invite the
reader to meander through and beyond the text.
• Autonomy: the masses of intertextual links tempt readers to surf away from the core material.
• Intentionality: all writing becomes more collective and therefore more anonymous.
Intertextuality is becoming a regular feature of our everyday reading and writing routines.



Horace ponders the social function of the poet in his Ars Poetica: the best poets not only have to entertain and please,
but they should also make themselves useful by offering guidance and instruction to the reader = utile dulci  what
matters is not only what a literary text is but also what it does to its readers.
This view blurred the line between the poetics and the rhetoric  from Horace till at least the end of the Neoclassical
period, the poem was considered in terms of how it uses certain artistic means to produce certain effects on the
There have been many historical variations in the relative weight that writers and critics have attached to Horace’s
two functions of literature, delighting and instructing.