Literary Criticism

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Liberal Humanism

- the general term used to describe the most traditional and "common sense" approach to the study of literature

"liberal" because it claims to be free of any particular social or political viewpoint for interpretation (a literary text can be understood alone) 

- "humanism" because it assumes there is a common and unchanging human nature that is relevant to all people (regardless of time/place) 

Central Ideas: 

  • language is an accurate way of recording reality and experience 
  • all people share a common human nature with common human values that are essential/unchanging 
  • a literary text enriches our lives and promotes universal human values 
  • a literary text does not require prior knowledge of historical context, literary context or author biography to understand its independant intention
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Marxist

- the political philosophy out of which ideas of communism were derived. 

- criticises individualistic aquisition of material resources (i.e capitalism) 

- promotes a classless society based on shared ownership and social responsibility 

Some key ideas: 

  • bourgeois - the higher classes of society that own the means to production
  • proletariat - the lower classes that operate the means of production 
  • class struggle - those who own resources and industry exploit and abuse those who operate the functioning of resources and industry 
  • reification - the dehumanisation of human beings into human resources 
  • ideology - the cultural values promoted by a given society 
  • hegemony - the social situation in which an ideology is made so prevelant that it feels "normal" and "natural" when it is actually created and controlled by social powers
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Psychoanalytic

- a form of psychotherapy that aims to cure mental disorders by investigating the interaction of the conscious mind with the unconscious mind. 

Some key ideas include: 

  • the conscious mind - our aware, calculating, decision making selves with which we attempt to control our lives
  • the unconcious mind - our instinctual, emotional, animal selves of which we are not fully aware and which actually controls our lives 
  • repression - moving unresolved issues from the conscious mind to the unconscious 
  • projection - a form of repression wherein one attributes aspects of one's own personality onto someone else
  • displacement - a form of repression wherein one substitutes a person, object or event with something symbolically similar
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Feminist

- the social and political perspective that explores issues of women's historical inequality in the majority of human cultures. 

Some key ideas: 

  • female/male - a biological designation defined by genetics and morphology 
  • feminine/masculine - or gender - a cultural designation created and reinforced by society through conditioning or socialisation
  • patriarchy - "father-rule" - the term used to describe social and political systems that are dominated by the logic and attitudes of men
  • phallocentrism - the thinking process by which patriarchy is established and reinforced. Phallus = symbol of power and influence 
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Gay and Lesbian Criticism (Queer Theory)

- centralises sexual orientation as a fundamental category of analysis and is a direct response to the ideological and institutional attitudes of heterosexual normality and privilege. 

Some key ideas: 

  • sexuality - like gender, is a social construct and can be shaped and altered by culture and personal experience. It is also a spectrum far more complex that the simple binary of homosexual versus heterosexual. 
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Structuralism

- the belief that things cannot be understood in isolation and can only be understood within the contexts of the larger systems or structures of which they are a part of 

Key Ideas: 

  • the meaning of a word cannot be defined in isolation and is categorised by that word's relationship with other words and the rules of language in which it belongs
  • the meaning of a word is established by usage and convention 
  • ultimately, our use and commitment to language constitutes and shapes our experiences and provides a common structure for understanding reality
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