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Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #4)

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  2,305 Ratings  ·  180 Reviews
What is literary theory? Is there a relationship between literature and culture? These are some of questions addressed by Jonathan Culler in this new edition of his highly popular Very Short Introduction. Culler, an extremely lucid commentator and much admired in the field of literary theory, uses easy-to-grasp examples as he outlines the ideas behind schools of criticism ...more
Paperback, 165 pages
Published July 28th 2011 by Oxford University Press (first published 1997)
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Paul Bryant
Apr 07, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: litcrit
La Rochefoucault said that no one would ever have thought of being in love if they hadn’t read about it in books. I don’t believe that, do you?

No. Not true at all.

But that’s not what we’re here to discuss.

So -, it’s been said before and I’ll say it again

LITERARY THEORY – huuuagh! What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin.

Theory is a body of thinking and writing whose limits are exceedingly hard to define.

Theory is works that succeed in challenging and reorienting thinking in fields other than t
Riku Sayuj

Endangered Theory!

Culler sets out trying to define literature and theory, but soon degenerates into a comparison of literary studies and culture studies. In fact except for Foucault and Derrida no literary theorists are given more than a couple of paragraphs worth of space. Towards the close we are introduced to a type of ‘theory’ and shown how it developed over time, to give a flavor of how theories evolve by transforming themselves. This was an interesting exercise. And it ends with what I fel
Feb 18, 2009 Aaron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was my first in the "Very Short Introduction" series, and I picked one in a field where I had a little bit of background. Where I went to college it was impossible to take a humanities class and not have someone mention Foucault or Althusser. The school newspaper once ran an article "The Next Person Who Says 'Derrida' Gets Dropkicked". Reading this book, I couldn't help but wish I had it back then, for while every professor loved to spout critical theory, the acting assumption was that ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #4), Jonathan Culler
عنوان: تئوری ادبی ؛ نویسنده: جاناتان کالر؛ مترجم: حسین شیخ الاسلامی؛ تهران، افق، 1389، در ده و 160 ص، مصور، شابک: 9789647369013؛
نخستین بار با عنوان: نظریه ی ادبی؛ نشر مرکز، مترجم: فرزانه طاهری، در سال 1382، در ؟ ص
Karl Steel
I loved that Culler organized the work thematically rather than by critical schools. Given that many of the best theorists overlap in many fields--is Judith Butler a psychoanalyst or feminist? is Althusser a structuralist or Marxist? and what is Foucault?--I think Culler's approach best represents how theory actually works. After all, poststructuralism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis tend to do much the same thing in a theoretical context: they all call 'the natural' (of language, of the state and ...more
Among the Very Short Introductions, I count this one as one of the best entries. It’s nice to see Jonathan Culler take the task seriously, and not merely as an excuse to write an essay on a select area of the subject (Catriona Kelly’s ‘Russian Literature’ entry comes to mind), but to actually put together an engaging overview of the field’s major themes and divisions. Culler is obviously very comfortable in the topic, and he reads in the way that makes me think his lectures (at Cornell, from wha ...more
Nov 19, 2012 Jihm rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Take it in increments. It covers the broadest topics of literary theory in a very thorough treatment that makes it cumbersome at times. Wisely, the author chose to write short chapters. I could see turning to this book to gather launch points for future literature papers.

However, the author seems to have the wrong audience in mind. The vocabulary and sentence structure is rather stilted and the prose reads more like a philosophical treatise than an introductory text. Had I been a freshman in an
Jul 17, 2012 Biggles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to know whether this book is a comprehensive introduction to literary theory, as it's the first whole book I've read on the subject. My motivation was to better understand the literary theoretic ideas being used in software studies and game studies papers I read. Besides that, I always enjoyed English lit at school and I figured it would be nice to say hi again.

The book has its flaws, including indulging in the pompous habit (with which I had already become familiar) of placing literar
Mar 18, 2010 Tyler rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This summary of trends in higher level criticism of literature sets aside the basics to focus on what’s sometimes called the postmodern critique. That’s to say, it gives readers an introduction to the many modern perspectives by which they might evaluate a literary work: the Marxist critique, the feminist critique, the Freudian critique and so on.

Readers also get a brief introduction to various schools of what’s broadly called “theory,” an endeavor characterized by its multi-disciplinary applic
Apr 17, 2008 Steven rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-theory
I just skimmed this one. Pretty basic lit theory 101 stuff, although quite different from my theory text as an undergraduate (Wellek and Warren, Theory of Literature). Its chief virtue being all the rhetorical questions Culler asks; if you listed them out they would be a catalog of eternal debates, questions Aristotle thought he answered, yet we argue about them just as viciously today. Culler’s chapter on narrative is tight, a good summation of issues theorists like Bal have devoted hundreds of ...more
Sara Kate
Sep 27, 2009 Sara Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written for the intelligent lay or scholarly reader who knows nothing, this book provides a concise and compelling introduction to some of the major questions with which literary theory grapples. I found particularly illuminating Culler's discussion of how theory is often used as a form of intimidation (i.e., "How can you *possibly* think talk about X topic if you haven't read Y piece of theory?") and of how, once this petty jostling is put to the side, theory can be an extremely useful tool in ...more
I finished this book a few months ago but forgot to write a review.

Like most of the volumes in Oxford's 'Very Short Introduction' series, Culler covers most of the big ideas within Literary Theory. He also includes an Appendix with summaries of the major theoretical schools and movements. For those who are interested in Lit Theory but don't know where to begin, this short intro will give you enough of a head start to further your investigations....
Feb 25, 2011 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful overview of literary theory, which sidesteps the usual presentation by schools of thought in favor of a discussion of what literature is, and what questions theory seeks to answer. Culler himself is a structuralist, which comes through in his discussion of semiotics, but the rest of the book is presented so fairly that it's difficult to pick up any bias in his presentation.

This is an excellent introduction that makes the reader hungry for more theory and criticism.
Jackson Cyril
Introduces the reader to the great questions that animate literary theorists today, but does claim to introduce readers to the dominant 'schools', for which I will be approaching other books-- some of which are suggested by Culler in the very important "further reading" section these small books provide.
To all lit students out there, with love.
Alejandro Orradre
Un ensayo corto en el que Jonathan Culler intenta dar su particular visión acerca del estudio de la literatura a lo largo de los últimos siglos. Plantea algunas presuntas interesantes cuyas respuestas quedan, sin embargo, dispersas por culpa de unas explicaciones algo largas y tediosas. Otras cuestiones directamente derivan en nuevas preguntas sin respuesta aparente.

Siendo una lectura interesante, Breve introducción a la teoría literaria no aportará una especial resolución a los grandes temas de
M. Ashraf
Feb 09, 2016 M. Ashraf rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vsi
We start with two questions; What is theory? and What is Literature?
This introduction is better organised than the previous shorts I read, it lays a good overview on the subject and though it is not my cup of tea it was an interesting read. It introduced to many theorist and some of their work:Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser...
Different interpretations of the same work; how to choose, what determine the meaning, intention and context?
Rhetoric and Poetry. Different kinds of Narr
Adrian Astur Alvarez
This is a fantastic li'l Lit Theory book. It is short, but rather than superficially skimming the surface of as many theoretical schools as possible, Culler takes a more interesting (and page appropriate) approach by encountering those different schools through an exploration of lit theory's practical concerns. You get chapters like "What is Theory?" and "Language, Meaning, and Interpretation," and as a result of his method, you actually do end up coming across some of the main lines of thinking ...more
Mr Buchanan
Aug 22, 2009 Mr Buchanan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like others, I also dug this thematic approach over a more general schools-based survey as a way to introduce theory. I liked the fact that this approach gave me a feel for theory as a 'do' as much as an 'is'. By the end, I felt as if I could try to think using the principles of theory (a mistrust of 'common sense' and the 'natural' as being socially/culturally constructed) without necessarily really knowing a lot of positions in detail.

I was also pleased to see that Culler didn't completely en
Apr 28, 2013 Jeff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Oxford University Press did an interesting thing with these tiny books that introduce intrepid readers to a variety of any possible subject: from The European Union to Molecules to Jazz to Mandela; the idea being to enlighten the future Jack-of-all-trades to an introductory lesson in any given discipline. I cannot vouch for the others, but the book here on Literary Theory is very user unfriendly, and does not offer a perspective into the discourse that an average reader could appreciate.

I have
Apr 16, 2013 Sara rated it really liked it
Very short, very concise book about literary theory. I knew nothing about literary theory until I read this book. It gave some good summaries of deconstuction and structuralism, constative and performative sentences, for example. Some of the chapters made more sense to me than others. I was reading this in conjunction with The Marriage Plot as Madeleine takes some literary theory and semiotics classes.

I'd like to know more, this book was a little TOO concise but it was the one available at the l
Dec 26, 2015 Sujan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book tries to show the line where literature and various theories merge. To me the book's greatest success is that it has proven quite convincingly the sole privilege of literature to shape the human consciousness, the sense and scope of ethics, and the interpretations of social issues. It was such at least up to the previous century. As now we have entered into a fully digitised age, I am afraid literature has almost lost its previously unbridled power to shape human destiny.

The book, thou
A rather uneven treatment of the topic. Within just a few pages the book alternates between incredibly elementary concepts (thanks but I know what the word 'plot' means) to far more esoteric subjects which the author assumes the reader is already acquainted with and these bits were actually quite helpful if you happen to know what the fuck the author is saying.

I'm not sure who the ideal reader is supposed to be, someone already somewhat familiar with lit theory but who has yet to learn what narr
Joseph Staten
Jan 04, 2011 Joseph Staten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Indispensable. I so, so wish I had read this as a freshman or sophomore, when I had barely even heard of capital-T Theory, much less knew anything about it. But even after graduating, I learned a huge amount from it. So incredibly lucidly written, and witty, and well-informed. The whole Very Short Introduction series is fantastic, but this is easily the best work I've come across. For anyone with even the slightest interest in theory, or poetry, or literature, or life as a human being. Seriously ...more
Nov 11, 2010 April rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a gem of a little book. It summed up everything I needed in a way Barry could not. I think if you take both books together you have a fairly complete background of literary theory, or so I am currently assuming. I'll keep you posted on that, but I feel like I can keep up with my graduate classes fairly well now so that says something I think.

On maybe a slightly superficial note?? The cartoons rocked! :D
Pooya Kiani
باب کار خود من بود، یعنی یه کسی که نه صفرِ صفره، نه نظریه پردازه نه اصن براش صرف نظریه پردازی مهمه. کسی که میخواد یه نظاممندیای بین شیرتوشیر احساس ادبیش وارد شه گهگاه. اصلا ساده نبود و اصلا هم مترجم سرسری نگرفته بود ترجمه رو. دست خانوم طاهری رو باید بوسید. لذت اصلی رو از فصل دوم و آخرِ فصل آخر بردم. جایی که به نقدِ منتقدِ رادیکال، اونم نه آشکار، می پردازه. اگر درد ادبیات دارید حتما این کتاب رو بخونید. ...more
Informative, but very dry. Best part was the appendix where Culler defined different schools of theory (structuralist, new historicist, etc).

My copy is from the first printing, which was 20 years ago. Probably due for an update, especially as regards gender theory/LGBTQ studies, if that hasn't happened already.
Dec 30, 2011 W rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: textbooks
I had another edition and I have to tell you, this book is useless. It can't even serve as a paperweight. It tells you that you can never know anything and goes about explaining nothing in the most roundabout manner. You'll regret wasting your money on this. I know I did. So did my entire class. No joke. My professor was so shocked by the class' response that she stopped using it.
Oct 15, 2014 Kyle rated it really liked it
Shelves: phd-studies
A myriad of theories that build upon each other organically, hard to pin down which ones prevail when. Obviously all is now, especially with the recent legislation in the United States in relation to Culler's comments on queer theory and gender. All important to keep on reading novels to connect to human thought.
Sara Baalbaki
An extremely useful book for understanding literary theory, but it's quite dense at times. It provides an overview of the different kinds of literary theory by discussing major themes that connect all the different types of schools instead of separating them into "formalism" "poststructuralism" etc. He explains everything well, but doesn't give his opinion on the matter, which I would have liked.
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Culler's Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature won the James Russell Lowell Prize from the Modern Language Association of America in 1976 for an outstanding book of criticism. Structuralist Poetics was one of the first introductions to the French structuralist movement available in English.

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“Communication depends on the basic convention that participants are cooperating with one another and that, therefore, what one person says to the other is likely to be relevant.” 0 likes
“Theory is driven by the impossible desire to step outside your own thought, both to place it and to understand it, and also by a desire for change – this is a possible desire – both in the world your thought engages and in the ways of your own thought, which always could be sharper, more knowledgeable and capacious, more self-reflecting.” 0 likes
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