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GRE Literature


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A philosophical attitude pervading much of modern drama and fiction, which underlines the isolation and alienation that human beings experience, having been thrown into what absurdists see as a godless universe devoid of any religious, spiritual, or meta
An antiromantic term describing the desired distance between the subjective reality of the individual who undergoes experiences and the objective reality of the art that dramatizes experiences through its impersonal form. The term may also be used to des
Aesthetic distance
A late nineteenth century movement whose characteristic slogan, "art for art's sake," stresses the uselessness of art and divorces aesthetics from any moral, social, political, or practical concerns. The work of art is viewed as being isolated
A term used by Stanley Fish to describe the necessary reliance of the critic upon his or her affective responses to stylistic elements in the text. According to Fish, the literary text is not formally self-sufficient; it is created in part by the interpr
Affective stylistics
A term used by W K. Wimsatt and M. C. Beardsley to describe the "confusion between the poem and its result (what it is and what it does)." According to them, the critic should regard a poetic structure as formally self-sufficient and not commit
Affective fallacy
Of or relating to the interpretation of allegory, a form of stable symbolism and extended metaphor such that there is a one-to-one correspondence between concrete text and abstract subtext. The characters, events, and setting on the literal level of the
Allegorical Interpretation
A nonpejorative term for the capacity of language to sustain multiple meanings. Also called plurisignation or polysemy, ambiguity arises from what William Empson calls "any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to
A term used by Harold Bloom to describe the overriding sense of belatedness that creative writers feel when they confront the rich plenitude of a literary tradition that seems to leave little room for novelty. According to Bloom, strong writers make lite
Anxiety of influence
A term used by deconstructionists to describe the point of impasse or undecidability to which reading a text necessarily gives rise. Because all texts undo or dismantle the philosophical system to which they adhere by revealing its rhetorical nature, all
See Practical criticism.
Explication de texte
A form of criticism which is based on the psychology of Carl Jung, who argues that there are two levels of the unconscious: the personal, which comprises repressed memories that are part of an individual's psyche, and the archetypal, which comprises the
Archetypal criticism
A term used by classical, Renaissance, and neoclassical critics (Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, John Dryden, and others) to describe a unified work that displays correctness and good taste and that has the right proportions of decorum (the mutual appropriate
A structuralist term used to describe the differential nature of any signifying system. Binary oppositions are not facts or substances that have detectable positive qualities, but relational elements that are detectable only by virtue of their difference
Binary oppositions
An authorized or accepted list of books. In modem parlance, the literary canon comprehends the privileged texts, classics, or great books which are thought to belong permanently on university reading lists. Recent theory -- especially feminist, Marxist,
A term used by Mikhail Bakhtin to describe the "joyful relativity" and "vitality" of the novel, which, unlike the lyric poem, incorporates a rich variety and multiplicity of styles, points of view, and voices. The "polyphonic&quo
Carnival / carnivalesque
An Aristotelian term for the purgative or purifying effect that the imitation of victimage in tragedy has upon an audience. According to Aristotle, a tragedy is a dramatic form "with incidents arousing pity and fear wherewith to accomplish the catha
See Neo-Aristotelianism.
Chicago School
An early form of humanism in England dedicated to the revival of classical culture -- the life, thought, language, and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. Although opposed to Scholasticism, medieval asceticism, and abuses in the Church, Christian huma
Christian humanism
Of or relating to Roman Jakobson's model of the process of communication (reproduced below).
The important implication of Jakobson's theory is that meaning does not reside in the message per se; it is part of the total act of communication, not a s
Communication theory
The first part of Noam Chomsky's distinction between "what the speaker of a language knows implicitly . . . his competence and what he does . . . his performance." Linguistic competence refers to native speakers' tacit mastery or internalized k
A phenomenological term used by Roman Ingarden to describe the process whereby the reader fills in the gaps in the structure of a work by rendering concrete and determinate its "places of indeterminacy." According to Ingarden, the reader has to
A form of reader-response theory associated with the works of Hans Robert Jauss and Wolfgang Iser, both of whom are faculty members at the University of Constance, Germany. Both a reception aesthetic and a reception history, this theory examines how read
Constance School of Reception Aesthetics:
See Speech act theory.
Illocutionary act
A form of criticism which views the literary text as a self-contained verbal structure. Akin to the New_Criticism, contextualism holds that a work of art generates self-referential meanings within its own internal and autonomous context. Its proponents i
Contextual criticism
A method of reading and theory of language that seeks to subvert, dismantle, and destroy any notion that a text or signifying system has any boundaries, margins, coherence, unity, determinate meaning, truth, or identity. Unlike structuralism, which privi
A term used by classical, Renaissance, and neoclassical critics (Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, John Dryden, and others) to describe the mutual appropriateness of genre, style, action, subject matter, and character. For example, a high style is fit and prope
A term used by Noam Chomsky, who argues that grammatically well-formed utterances in a language conceal a bipartite structure consisting, on the one hand, of a visible or "surface structure" -- the structure of the actual sentence uttered -- an
Deep structure
A term used by the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky to describe the capacity of art to counter the deadening effect of habit and convention by investing the familiar with strangeness and thereby deautomatizing perception. Defamiliarization is not simpl
A term used by classical, Renaissance, and neoclassical critics (Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, John Dryden, and others) to describe the pleasure and entertainment that artistic imitation affords. The idea of instruction with pleasure -- utile et dulce -- wa
A term describing a mode of analysis that undertakes to construct the historical evolution of a system of thought or language. The synchronic, by contrast, undertakes to describe the system as an existing whole without respect to its history. Structural
A Marxist term for the kind of criticism that explores the causal connections between the content or form of literature at a given historical moment and the economic, social, and ideological factors that shape and determine that content or form. Work and
Dialectical criticism
A term used by Mikhail Bakhtin to describe how a literary work may incorporate a rich variety and multiplicity of voices, styles, and points of view. Unlike a monological text, which depends on the centrality of a single authoritative voice, the dialogic
A statement, narration, or description devoid of explanation, conclusion, or judgment
A term coined by Jacques Derrida to describe the difference, differing, deferring, and deferral of meaning to which any signifying system gives rise. Because language is composed of differences rather than positive terms, the free play of signifiers is l
See Semiotics.
Formal and orderly speech or writing. In the writings of Michel Foucault, discourse is construed as the whole mass of texts that belongs to a single "discursive formation." Foucault argues that discursive hierarchies are established by a set of
A deconstructionist term coined by Jacques Derrida to describe the necessary indeterminacy of meaning. Since any signifying system is but a system of differences without any positive terms, meaning is disseminated rather than conveyed. It disperses itsel
A term used by T. S. Eliot to describe the disjunction of thought and feeling that he perceives in English literature from the seventeenth century onward. For writers such as John Donne, Eliot argues, a thought was an experience; it was integrated with e
Dissociation of sensibility
See Unities.
Three unities
A structuralist and poststructuralist term for the social institution of writing. On this view, literature is simply a mode of writing, a signifying system of codes and conventions that operates within the larger sphere of écriture. (See also Deconstruc
See Empathy.
One-half of I. A. Richards's dichotomous view of linguistic functions. Richards makes a qualitative distinction between scientific or referential discourse, which corresponds to external reality, and poetic or emotive discourse, which is internally coher
Emotive language
A translation of Hermann Lotze's term Einfühlung (literally, "feeling into"). It describes a person's projective capacity to identify imaginatively with and to participate in the feelings and situations evoked by a work of art. More generally,
A term used by Michel Foucault to describe a heterogeneous and discontinuous epistemological field which is not to be understood as a cultural totality. It is an unmasterable web of historical ideas, social practices, power relations, and discursive form
See Hermeneutics.
A philosophical, religious, and literary term, emerging from World War II, for a group of attitudes surrounding the pivotal notion that existence precedes essence. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, "man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.&quo
A movement in art, drama, and literature which sought to objectify and "express" inner experience by rejecting canons of realism and representation. As a literary movement, expressionism flourished in the German theater of the 1920s and concret
Terms used by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to distinguish mechanical and organic processes of literary creation. Fancy, the inferior mental faculty, works according to a mechanistic principle of the association of ideas and merely reproduces and recombines th
Fancy and imagination
A criticism advocating equal rights for women in a political, economic, social, psychological, personal, and aesthetic sense. On the thematic level, the feminist reader should identify with female characters and their concerns. The object is to provide a
Feminist criticism
An aesthetic effect achieved by giving pronounced but uncustomary prominence to a technique or convention normally relegated to the background. By "baring the device," literature exposes its autonomy and literariness. (See also Formalism.)
An application of the linguistic model to literature, associated in the early part of this century with the Moscow and Prague Linguistic Circles. According to the precepts of Russian Formalism, content is the "motivation" of form, and the liter
See Allegorical interpretation.
Fourfold meaning
A school of German Marxists -- Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, and others -- which views modernist writers such as Marcel Proust and Samuel Beckett not as reactionary exemplars of the diseased subjectivism and antihistorical myopia of l
Frankfurt School
A school of phenomenological critics, the original members of which were associated with the University of Geneva. These "critics of consciousness" -- Georges Poulet, Marcel Raymond, Albert Begum, J. Hillis Miller, and others -- argue that the
Geneva School
A term used to describe types or categorizations of literature: tragedy, comedy, epic, lyric, pastoral, novel, short story, biography, essay, and so forth. Prior to the nineteenth century, it was assumed that the laws of genre were fixed and stable and t
A term used by Jacques Derrida to describe a science of the written sign as an entity in itself. Antiphonocentric (that is, refusing to privilege speech over writing) and antilogocentric (that is, refusing to look for a "presence," or "ult
A term which, in its broadest sense, describes the interpretation of meanings -- explication, analysis, commentary. Originally applied to the interpretation of the Bible, hermeneutics comprised valid readings plus exegesis -- commentary on how the meanin
The purview or vista of a text or reader, the set of historically, psychologically, and culturally conditioned assumptions or conventions that are implicit either in the verbal meaning of a text or in the interpretive strategy of a reader. (See also Herm
Horizon of expectation
A man-centered rather than a god-centered view of the universe. In the Renaissance, Humanism devoted itself to the revival of classical culture: the life, thought, language, and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. A reaction against the divine concern
See Formalism.
Russian Formalism
Reification, the construal of a conceptual entity as a real existent.
Charles Sanders Peirce's term for a sign that functions by means of sharing resemblances with what it signifies. Portraits or maps, for example, are natural resemblances rather than arbitrary and conventional signs. (See also Semiotics.)
A theory which holds that only mental states are knowable, the modern applications of which originate with Immanuel Kant. According to Kant, the world conforms to the categories of the mind, not vice versa. Against empiricism -- the view that all knowled
A set of beliefs, attitudes, values, and ideas that characterizes the consciousness of a class at a given historical moment. This set is determined by social, economic, and historical factors. According to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, any ideological
See Fancy and imagination.
A school of poetry prominent in Great Britain and North America between 1909 and 1918. According to T. E. Hulme, poetry should eliminate excess verbiage and concentrate on the absolutely accurate presentation of a concrete and precise image. The objectiv
See Mimesis.
A term used by Wolfgang Iser to describe a hypothetical reader of a text. The implied reader "embodies all those predispositions necessary for a literary work to exercise its effect -- predispositions laid down, not by an empirical outside reality,
Implied reader
A kind of criticism that tries to convey what the critic subjectively feels and thinks about a work of art.
Impressionistic criticism:
A deconstructionist term for the necessary lack of fixed or stable meanings in any signifying system.
This is a prototype titlepage for the "Glossary of Literary Theory." Its entries are indexed by:
An index of Primary Entries.
See Anxiety of influence.
A term used by classical, Renaissance, and neoclassical critics (Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, John Dryden, and others) to describe the utility, edification, and education that artistic imitation affords. The idea of instruction with pleasure -- utile et du
A hermeneutical term for the willed verbal meaning of an author, in principle determinate and in principle understandable. Verbal intention is not a psychological phenomenon but a linguistic one. It comprises conventions and norms that the author explici
Intention / intentionality
A term used by William K. Wimsatt and M. C. Beardsley to describe the error of interpreting a work in terms of its author's professed intention in creating it. Unless intentions are realized and implied by the autonomous verbal structure itself, they are
Intentional fallacy
A phenomenological term used to describe something which is accessible to two or more subjects. Intersubjectivity implies an objectivity somewhere and attempts to heal the cleavage between the subject and its world. Structuralists push the idea further,
A term used by Julia Kristeva to describe the preexisting body of discourse that makes an individual text intelligible. Every text is a response to and an interpretation of other texts, and it can be read only in relation to them. The meaning of a text i
Recognition of the difference between real and apparent meaning. Verbal irony is a rhetorical trope wherein "x" is uttered and "not x" is meant, as when Mark Anthony says that Brutus is an honorable man. Dramatic irony occurs when cha
See Linguistics and literary theory, Structuralism.
See Phenomenology.
The revolution in modern linguistics consists in regarding language synchronically rather than diachronically. Classical philology undertakes to construct a historical evolution of a system of language, focusing on the study of linguistic change over a p
Linguistics and literary theory:
A term used by Jacques Derrida to describe the bias of Western philosophy toward a metaphysics of presence, an order of being, meaning, truth, reference, reason, or logic conceived as independent of language. (See also Deconstruction.)
A term used by Jacques Derrida to describe the undoing of any attempt to impose closure or boundaries upon a text. Deconstruction's concentration on the seemingly marginal or inessential aspects of a text seeks to subvert the distinctions between margina
Criticism based on the historical, economic, and sociological theory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. According to Marxism, the consciousness of a given class at a given historical moment derives from modes of material production. The set of beliefs, v
Marxist criticism
A term used by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to describe the form that results when fancy, a mental faculty that works according to a mechanistic association of ideas, imposes a prefabricated or predetermined pattern upon a work of art. (See also Organic form.
Mechanic form:
A criticism of criticism, the goal of which is to scrutinize systematically the terminology, logic, and structure that undergird critical and theoretical discourse in general or any particular mode of such discourse.
A language used to describe and analyze the codes, conventions, and structures of another language.
Roman Jakobson's terms for the two axes of language. The vertical or metaphoric axis concerns the relations between an individual word in a sentence and other, similar words that might be substituted for it. Like metaphor, the vertical axis works accordi
Metonymy / metaphor
An Aristotelian term for imitation, the idea that art imitates nature, that it is a realistic depiction of life, natural objects, and human action
A term used by Harold Bloom to describe the process by which strong writers misread or misinterpret their literary predecessors so as to clear imaginative space for themselves. According to Bloom, every poem is a misprision or misconstrual of a hypotheti
A term used to describe the characteristic aspects of literature and art between World War I and World War II. Influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche's annunciation of the death of God Karl Marx's view of consciousness as a product of sociohistorical factors,
See Dialogism.
See Prague Linguistic Circle.
Moscow Linguistic Circle
See Archetypal criticism.
Myth criticism
An offshoot of structuralism which seeks to apply the linguistic model to the analysis of narrative. Its enabling distinction is between story (the "actual" chronological sequence of events) and discourse (the order in which those events are pr
A term used by Emile Zola to describe the application of the clinical method of empirical science to all of life. According to naturalistic philosophy, heredity and environment influence and determine human motivation and behavior. Thus, if a writer wish
A term used by classical, Renaissance, and neoclassical writers (Horace, Sir Philip Sidney, John Dryden, and others) to describe what art should seek to imitate and to represent realistically -- namely, the external world and the action and life of human
A view of literature and criticism propagated by the Chicago School -- Ronald S. Crane, Elder Olson, Richard McKeon, Wayne Booth, and others -- which takes a pluralistic attitude toward the history of literature and seeks to view literary works and criti
A term used to describe the classicism that dominated English literature from the Restoration to the late eighteenth century. Modeling itself on the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, neoclassicism exalts the virtues of proportion, unity, harmony, gr
An offshoot of Platonism propagated by Plotinus and others, which sees beauty, truth, and goodness as emanating from the One or Absolute.
A term applied to the criticism written by John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate. R. P. Blackmur, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and others as well as to the seminal ideas of T. S. Eliot, I. A. Richards, and William Empson. A reaction against the old critic
New Criticism
A mode of analysis that sees history as a form of writing, discourse, or language. This new historicism abandons any notion of history as an imitation of events in the world or a reflection of external reality. Instead, it regards history as a species of
New historicism
An American movement (1910-1933) associated with Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More. A reaction against the increasing hegemony of science, the new humanism urged a return to liberal education and objected to the specialization to which science and techn
New humanism
term used by T. S. Eliot in the 1919 essay "Hamlet and His Problems." According to Eliot, "the only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a cha
Objective correlative:
A term used to describe a kind of criticism that views the aesthetic object as autonomous and self-contained. Because a work of art contains its purpose within itself (is, in Eliot's phrase, autotelic), analysis and assessment of it can take place only w
Objective criticism
Criticism predating the New Criticism and bringing extrinsic criteria to bear on the analysis of literature. Refusing to recognize the autonomy of art, such criticism sees literature as authorial self-expression (Romanticism) or critical sell-expression
Old criticism
A term used by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to describe the form that results when imagination -- a superior mental faculty that "dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate" -- generates a work of art. According to Coleridge, organic form
Organic form
The former is a term used by Thomas Kuhn to describe the dominant ontological model that enjoys hegemony in a scientific community at a given historical moment. According to Kuhn, a paradigm is either a particular conceptual model, theory, or mode of exp
Paradigm / paradigmatic
A statement that initially seems to be illogical or self-contradictory yet eventually proves to embody a complex truth. In the New Criticism, the term is extended to embrace any complexity of language that sustains multiple meanings and deviates from the
A term used by John Ruskin to decry the ascription of human attributes, traits, feelings, and so forth to nonhuman objects. Such ascriptions, he argues, "produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things." The term is also use
Pathetic fallacy
A system of "presuppositionless" philosophy developed by Edmund Husserl, who sought to investigate the pure data of human consciousness -- its Lebenswelt, or "lived world." According to Husserl's key concept of intentionality, conscio
The privileging of speech over writing, the view that writing is secondary or derivative, that it is dependent or parasitic upon speech. According to Jacques Derrida, phonocentrism is at the heart of the metaphysics of presence, the logocentrism that per
Roland Barthes's distinction between the texte de plaisir (pleasure) and the texte du jouissance (bliss, ecstasy, orgasm). The former refers to the "readable" traditional novel, the latter to the "unreadable" modern novel. The traditi
Pleasure / bliss
A term used by Mikhail Bakhtin to describe a dialogical text which, unlike a monological text, does not depend on the centrality of a single authoritative voice. Such a text incorporates a rich plurality and multiplicity of voices, styles, and points of
Polyphonic novel
Critical theory that uses the concepts of Saussurian linguistics (sign, signifier, signified, langue, parole, and so forth) and the structuralist application of these terms to the study of literature as a system of signs for the purposes of subverting or
A pivotal concept in Michel Foucault's analyses of historical systems of institutional and discursive practices. According to Foucault, knowledge is governed by power relations; truth relies on institutional support, and disciplines constitute a system o
Applied criticism; explication de texte; the analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of particular works and writings. In the New Criticism, practical criticism involves the close reading of individual texts with particular attention to their intrinsic
Practical criticism:
An offshoot of the Moscow Linguistic Circle, members of which included Boris Eikhenbaum, Viktor Shklovsky, and Roman Jakobson. When Formalist criticism was suppressed by the Russian government in the early 1930s, Jakobson emigrated to Czechoslovakia and
Prague Linguistic Circle:
A Marxist term used to describe the unity of theory and practice, the aim of Marxism being not only to understand the world but also to change it. (See also Marxist criticism.)
The aesthetics of the brotherhood founded in 1848 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in reaction against the conventionality and academicism of contemporary painting. The Pre-Raphaelites advocated a return to the simplicity and piety of Italian painting before Ra
A term used by Jacques Derrida to describe the logocentric bias of Western metaphysics toward an order of being, meaning, truth, reference, reason, or logic conceived as independent of language, as a presence that stands outside discourse. (See also Deco
Presence, metaphysics of
See Emotive language.
Of or relating to the psychological ideas of Sigmund Freud. From Freud's standpoint, literature is seen as the wish fulfillment or fantasy gratification of desires denied by the reality principle or prohibited by moral codes. These unconscious libidinal
Psychoanalytic theory
The systematic examination of the aspects of the text that arouse, shape, and guide a reader's response. According to reader-response criticism, the reader is a producer rather than a consumer of meanings. Reader-response criticism, however, does not den
Reader-response criticism
A literary movement of the nineteenth century which sought to represent human experience and society in a way that seems true to life. The term may be extended to refer to any literature that aims for verisimilitude. (See also Naturalism.)
A form of reader-response theory that focuses on the reception of a text, both on an individual and on a historical basis. Reception aesthetics examines how readers realize the potentials of a text; reception history examines how readings change over the
Reception theory
The process by which a text's system of linguistic and literary codes and conventions is naturalized by its readers, who mistakenly assume that a text refers to the real world. According to structuralism, such naturalization or recuperation is fundamenta
The object in the external world to which a sign may or may not point. As a signifier, "cat" must be differentiated from all other signifiers which are similar ("bat," "cab" and so forth); as a signified, it must be linked w
Reference / referent
The construal of a conceptual entity as a real existent. (See also Marxist criticism.)
The idea that literature reflects a reality outside itself and that its function is to imitate that external realm of society, history, nature, action, and life.
From Aristotle (in Poetics and Rhetoric) to the present day, the art of persuading an audience (and, by extension, a reading audience), traditionally by means of oratorical (later, literary) devices used to emotional as well as intellectual effect: empha
A term used by Wayne Booth to describe the kind of criticism that regards fiction as the art of communicating with readers. According to Booth, such criticism focuses on the rhetorical resources available to a writer as that writer tries, consciously or
Rhetorical criticism
A movement of the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth century that exalts individualism over collectivism, revolutionism over conservatism, innovation over tradition, imagination over reason, and spontaneity over constraint. According to romantici
The study of the meanings of words and word combinations in phrases and sentences. (See also Linguistics and literary theory.)
Semiotics holds that all linguistic and social phenomena are texts, and the object is to reveal the underlying codes and conventions that make them meaningful. Claude Levi-Strauss applies semiotics to cultural anthropology; Jacques Lacan applies it to Fr
A term used to describe literature of the eighteenth century which exalts emotionalism over rationalism. According to the School of Sensibility, feelings are more reliable guides to truth and conduct than are principles and abstractions. Against the theo
Sensibility, literature of:
A term used to describe any emotional response that is excessive and disproportionate to its impetus or occasion. It also refers to the eighteenth century idea that human beings are essentially benevolent, devoid of Original Sin and basic depravity. The
Terms used by Ferdinand de Saussure. The linguistic sign, Saussure contends, is composed of the union between a signifier (an acoustic image which differentiates the sign from all others) and a signified (a concept or meaning). Affirming the relationship
Sign / signification / signified / signifier
A term used by Marxists to describe literature that accurately depicts and reflects class conflict, that demonstrates the rectitude of the proletarian cause, and that exposes ideological mystification. At its crudest and most propagandistic, Socialist Re
Socialist Realism
See Marxist criticism.
Sociological criticism
In contrast to the assumptions of structuralism (a theory that privileges langue, the system, over parole, the speech act), speech act theory holds that the investigation of structure always presupposes something about meanings, language use, and extrali
Speech act theory
Formalist, structuralist, and semiotic terms used to distinguish the "actual" chronological sequences of events in a work of fiction (story) from the order and manner in which those events are presented to the reader (discourse). (See also Form
Story / discourse
A theory of literature that focuses on the codes and conventions that undergird all discourse and on the system of language as a functioning totality. This system Ferdinand de Saussure calls langue, "the whole set of linguistic habits which allow an
A mode of analyzing literature that focuses on aspects of form rather than aspects of content and that may be used to determine the distinctive features of a literary work, an author, or a particular literary period. Al the phonological level, such analy
Term used by Noam Chomsky in his theory of generative-transformational grammar to distinguish the structure of a particular speech act (parole) from the "deep structure" or "base component" of the system of language that generates it.
Surface structure
A revolutionary approach to artistic and literary creation whose emergence as an identifiable movement coincided with the publication of André Breton's Manifest du surréalisme (1924). Influenced by the Symbolism of Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud
A term used by Charles Sanders Peirce to describe the sign proper, wherein the relation between signifier and signified is entirely arbitrary and conventional. Unlike the icon, the symbol bears no natural resemblance to what it signifies, and unlike the
Symbol / symbolization
A literary movement encompassing the work of a group of writers working in France in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a group which included Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, Paul Valéry, Arthur Rimbaud, and others. Accor
A feeling for others; an identification with the interests and fortunes of another human being, a character in literature, or any animate or inanimate object which one's imagination endows with human attributes. This alliance or identification stops shor
A term describing a mode of analysis that undertakes to describe a system of thought or language as an existing whole without respect to its history, its diachronic development over a long period of time. Saussurian linguistics, for example, studies lang
Linguistic terms used to describe the linear or horizontal axis of language, the relations among words arranged sequentially to produce meaningful utterances, the rules and norms governing the production of these utterances. (See also Linguistics and lit
Syntagm / syntagmatic
A linguistic term used to describe the study of the ways in which words are arranged sequentially to produce grammatical units such as phrases, clauses, and sentences. (See also Linguistics and literary theory.)
A group of French intellectuals -- Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Jean-Joseph Goux, and others -- who were associated with Philippe Seller's avant-garde review Tel Quel.
Tel Quel group
A formalist term for the work of art conceived as an autonomous verbal object, a self-enclosed universe of discourse.
The gathering together and collating of all the variant versions of a given text in order to arrive at an authoritative text, the one which most accurately reflects the intentions of the author.
Textual criticism
Écriture, the social institution of writing, a heterogeneous collection of texts that interanimate one other (intertextuality) and that cannot be studied as autonomous objects. Textuality is an all-embracing term for the idea that the world itself is no
A term used by Jacques Derrida to describe the residue of all non-present meanings, written marks, or sounds. Because language is a system of differences without any positive terms, features are identifiable only by the absence of other features. (See al
A figure of speech, the use of a word or phrase which deviates from the norm.
A mode of biblical exegesis initiated by Saint Paul. According to typological or figural interpretation, persons and events in the Old Testament (called types, or figurae) are viewed as foreshadowings of similar persons or events in the New Testament: Ab
Typological interpretation
Action, place, and time, the latter two added to Aristotle's unity of action by Italian and French critics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Aristotle described tragedy as "an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a cert
Aspects of literature which make it appeal to readers across history: the basic emotions, thoughts, attitudes, and values that are endemic to the human situation irrespective of time and place. The term "concrete universal" refers to the idea t
The promotion, enhancement, or privileging of some key aspect of literary or theoretical analysis. For example, the New Critics valorize the autonomous literary object, whereas deconstructionists valorize the limitless free play of the system of signs
A group of deconstructionist critics -- Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller, Harold Bloom, and Geoffrey Hartman -- who teach or taught at Yale University. (See also Deconstruction.)
Yale School

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