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Literary Theory

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  3,298 ratings  ·  274 reviews
What is literary theory? Is there a relationship between literature and culture? In fact, what is literature…and does it matter? These are the kinds of questions Jonathan Culler addresses, and he illuminates a subject often perceived as impenetrable. In addition to outlining the ideas behind various schools (including deconstruction, semiotics, structuralism, and post-colo ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published October 6th 2009 by Sterling (first published 1997)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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 ·  3,298 ratings  ·  274 reviews

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Ahmad Sharabiani
Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #4), Jonathan Culler
What is literary theory? Is there a relationship between literature and culture? In fact, what is literature, and does it matter? These questions and more are addressed in Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, a book which steers a clear path through a subject which is often perceived to be complex and impenetrable. Jonathan Culler, an extremely lucid commentator and much admired in the field of litera
Paul Bryant
Apr 07, 2013 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
Mattia Ravasi
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Three Very Short Introductions to Literary Criticism

Derrida, Althusser and Foucault don't get any clearer than this.
Feb 18, 2009 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
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
I've never taken any literature classes beyond the high-school level, and this book reminded me why.

I mean, it's well-written and informative. But ugh.
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite the bird's eye view.
I really appreciated the beginning of this book: what is theory? What is literature? What is the relationship between literary theory and cultural studies?
The chapters of this book all take on important intriguing topics in relation to literary theory, introducing many aspects at once as well as many thinkers and ideas anyone should be aware of.

I preferred the method employed here to simply presenting schools and movements (which was what I expected).
This works as an e
Nov 19, 2012 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
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
Katia N
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: very-short-intro
I've recently discovered Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction" books and find them very helpful and really well written. That is assuming one does not know much about the subject of course.

This one is particularly enjoyable. It starts with discussing what is the theory within the context of humanities; moves towards the overlap between the literary theory and the cultural studies; talks a bit about the linguistics within the context of literature and then moves on towards the types of the literar
Jafar Isbarov
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-english
Theory, then, offers not a set of solutions but the prospect of further thought. It calls for commitment to the work of reading, of challenging presuppositions, of questioning the assumptions on which you proceed.

Having read 4 books from this series, I am convinced that there is little an author can do within 100 pages to introduce a topic. Indeed, perhaps, we should not expect to get overall idea of the subject from an introductory text. The best we can hope for is a perspective, a glimpse int
Jul 17, 2012 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
“How to rate this book”? I suppose I should rate it based on the pleasure it brought me because who am I to judge this insanely full little book?

For the most part, I often said out loud and to no one in particular (but most often to my 17 month old daughter), “What the... what are we (and I mean, he, the author) talking about here?”

My mind needed some time to process the many (and sometimes only one) majorly convoluted train-of-thoughts instigated by this writer’s (Culler’s) theory-laced quest
Samir Rawas Sarayji
A good and brief introduction to literary theory. It tries to cover the scope of the field as superficially as possible. The result is more like a dictionary of terminology and schools of thought really, rather than any form of comprehensive methodology or system. So, as a first introductory text to the field, it is fine.

Mar 18, 2010 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
Steve Wiggins
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Literary theory can be daunting for a person who's never studied "theory." Culler makes that point early on in this little gem of a book. Literary, witty, and insightful, this short tome takes the sting out of modern literary theory without sparing the reader the promised introduction to it. Literary theory is quite complex, and Culler acknowledges that it drives some readers away. The mistake is to think that it also in some way casts a shadow over literature itself.

There's a lot packed into th
Apr 17, 2008 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
Apr 28, 2013 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
Sara Kate
Sep 27, 2009 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
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 nar
Feb 25, 2011 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.
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....
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.
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely fascinating book. What is theory? What is literature? How can we read literature in such a way as to understand it both in its context and as an individual text? I have been really interested in literary theory for a while now and this book was readable, direct and clear. Completely recommend to anyone with a beginner's interest in theory, or just to anyone who likes reading!

"Literature is a paradoxical institution because to create literature is to write according to existing form
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If I'd taken the amount of time I spent complaining about this and just read it instead, I would be writing this review a week earlier. However, it is at least half this book's fault that I complained so much, so here we are: me, with my interest in literary theory lying in pieces, about to write a superficial and ignorant review; and this book, having failed in its task to thrill me about its subject matter.

To be fair, this started off quite well. The introduction and first few chapters were fu
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, theory
It does at the end what it's meant to do but really makes you work for it. Could've been much more coherent. However, I guess that's not that inappropriate considering the topic.
M. Ashraf
Feb 09, 2016 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
Mr Buchanan
Aug 22, 2009 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
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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.

Culler’s contribution to the Very Short Introductions series, Literar

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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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