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Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction [Paperback]

Jonathan Culler
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Paperback, Oct. 1 1997 --  
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Oct. 1 1997 019285318X 978-0192853189
What is Literary Theory? Is there a relationship between literature and culture? In fact, what is Literature, and does it matter? These are the sorts of questions addressed by Jonathan Culler in a book which steers a clear path through a subject often perceived to be complex and impenetrable. It offers discerning insights into theories about the nature of language and meaning, whether literature is a form of self-expression or a method of appeal to an audience, and outlines the ideas behind a number of different schools: deconstruction, semiotics, postcolonial theory, and structuralism amongst them.

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"An excellent idea, these Very Short Introductions; a new concept from OUP."--The Guardian


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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars helpful to me Oct. 12 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I have been reading Culler's more comprehensive books on Structuralism and Deconstruction. I was having trouble reading these, so I stopped and read this, along with the other "Very Short Introduction" on Poststructuralism (not by Culler.)
I am finishing up "On Deconstruction" and it has been very smooth sailing, thanks to this book.
If you are not a beginner, this book probably isn't necessary, but if you are, it might be useful
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Yes, the book does aim to answer questions about the nature of literature and theory rather than approach them from a school-by-school philosophical/ideological orientation. Some English student in a rush who just wants an elucidation of the major critical schools will find Culler's approach oblique and might want to find a different book to read. Culler's book is easy to read, fun, clear, yet it touches briefly on a lot of heavy ideas that are explained in plain language for beginners. I appreciate that he doesn't seem to privilege any one ideology but lets the reader make up his own mind; this is the sign of a mature educator. Other reviewers of this little gem have overlooked what is perhaps the most valuable part: the "Citations and Further Reading" section in the back. This helpful annotated bibliography is loaded with references to journals and books that are linked to each chapter topic. It gives specific page numbers where to locate the relevant information so you don't waste time searching. Believe me: this is great. If you are facing something like Derrida's Of Grammatology or de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics for the first time, it can be pretty intimidating. These valuable references make Culler's litle book the perfect self-study guide with the primary texts. The only disappointment I have is that this book does not teach the reader how to apply the information he reads here to other texts; for example, the reader isn't taught steps on how to "deconstruct" a text. But there are other books that already do that like Steven Lynn's Texts in Context or Critical Theory Today by Lois Tyson and many others that are equally good. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars A useful map of the landscape Feb. 1 2004
Format:Paperback
First, if you have ever speculated that "theory" is primarily posturing by intellectuals with too much time on their hands in an attempt to justify their fringe political/social views, this book will probably confirm that belief for you. Further, if you have ever suspected that the arcane jargon created by "theory" practitioners is little more than obfuscation to ensure that their more outrageous pronouncements will be immune from refutation by intelligent but uninitiated outsiders, this book will do little to dissuade you. Nonetheless, if you want an approachable explication of what "theory" is all about, this is the book for you. Professor Culler does not argue the case for a particular school of thought, but explains (eschewing jargon when possible) the underlying currents of thought that drive literary analysis today. He starts by explaining the inextricable connection of literature theory to cultural studies and proceeds to explore the ramifications of that marriage. He then examines how literature theory attempts to answer questions about the nature of self, language, and meaning. To ensure that no single movement is given precedence, short descriptions of the tenets of the various schools are relegated to an appendix. The sheer number of approaches listed is breathtaking -- Russian Formalism, New Criticism, Phenomenology, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction, Feminist Theory, Psychoanalysis, Marxism, New Historicism/Cultural Materialism, Post-Colonial Theory, Minority Discourse, and Queer Theory. So, if you simply want to know what all the "fuss" is about, or if you want to embark on a more serious study, start here.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Spasmodically insightful. Sept. 10 2003
Format:Paperback
Once again, Culler shows that he can explain theory in a manner that is relatively accessible to the neophyte yet likely to go down well with his peers. All the same, the final effect is less than satisfying. As thoughtful as the seven meditations on theory and language are, they don't have sufficient cohesion to make much of an impression (let alone a memorable one) on a reader fresh to theory. One wishes the author had paid more attention to the historical periods of theory and the revisions of successive generations, if only to clarify key distinctions. Or that this commentary (like many other recent explanations of literary theory) did not pass by archetypal criticism, which may be reductive and out of fashion in the academy but for many younger readers offers an edifying and useful approach. Instead, he manages to touch on Foucault, Derrida, and Lacan in the introductory chapter and devotes later chapters to discussions about J. L. Austin and performative language along with a section about Judith Butler.
The Appendix, which provides a summary of various schools and methodologies, is written in unhelpful, "humanless" prose, as unaware of an audience as it is deaf to voice (certainly this isn't what Barthes had in mind when he sacrificed the author to the life of the text).
In short (or in this case, the very very short of it), there are some good things to be gleaned from this little text (especially if an instructor wishes to use it for "departure points"), but I'm afraid it's too arbitrary, personal, and eccentric to be of great service in the undergraduate classroom.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A Very Skimpy Introduction
This book takes an unusual approach to introducing literary theory. Instead of surveying movements, periods and/or philosophers, Jonathan D. Read more
Published on Sept. 14 2002 by Virginia Lore
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential guide to PoMo Theory
Jonathan Culler's work is a fine exposition on the wrok of some of the twentieth centuries most provoctive philosophical and literary theorists. Read more
Published on June 24 2002 by mrgrieves08
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant little book
This is an excellent text for students new to literary theory, but even the more experienced readers should be delighted by it. Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2002 by Steven Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars Demystifying Theory
Let me just start off by saying that Professor Culler's "Very Short Introduction to Theory" should be read by every undergraduate English Lit student as they start their... Read more
Published on Sept. 27 2001 by mp
4.0 out of 5 stars Everyone needs to start someplace
Professor Culler brings a very complicated subject to life in this brief introduction. He explains the approaches to the subject while keeping the personalities, that make it... Read more
Published on June 10 2001 by "jwhatch"
4.0 out of 5 stars A very short intro, for sure!
This very short introduction to literary theory would be perfect for undergraduate studies. Although the author approaches the problem of too much theory causing fear in... Read more
Published on April 22 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars At the heart of the matter.
Moreover, what really impressed me in this book is, the fact that the writer avoids falling back on a series of taxonimical chapters, with categories and historical trivia, and... Read more
Published on March 9 2001 by "gosibro"
4.0 out of 5 stars short and sweet
Literary theory is a pretty imposing topic, and it's especially imposing to people like myself who don't have a liberal arts education. Read more
Published on June 8 2000 by "regehr"
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