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Author-oriented approaches

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  1. Context-oriented approaches
  2. Text-oriented approaches



Reread and reflect. Review your writing.

An effective literary analysis…

· is written in the present tense;

· has a well-defined purpose;

· provides precise definitions of the terms used;

· identifies clearly the title and author of the literary text;

· uses author’s background to substantiate interpretation;

· provides a short summary of the important plot events (the whole story should not be told or irrelevant details repeated);

· gives a clear presentation of the theses (states the central problem of the text and establishes the author’s approach), consisted and coherent argumentation;

· ties the background information to the problem;

· clarifies the meaning of the text and reveals how the text operates;

· provides textual evidence for interpretation in advances and shows how the evidence supports the interpretation;

· cites supporting quotations;

· provides symbolic interpretation;

· concludes by tying the ideas in the essay together;

· takes into account any plausible alternative interpretations and any contradictory evidence;

· gives the precise bibliography.


Modern literary theory has taken up many ideas from philosophy, psychology, sociology, linguistics, and cultural theory. It uses a number of general methods as well as special ones characteristic of a particular school / trend (neocritical method of close reading) or suggested by one school and then incorporated by the others (method of intertextual analysis).

The approaches to studying literature can be grouped in the following way:

· author-oriented (biographical, psychoanalytic, hermeneutic, cognitive) that consider the history of the literary work creation, the author’s biography, his/her conscious intention, and the unconscious;

· context-oriented (typological, cultural and historical approach, sociological approach, mythological criticism, Marxism, cultural materialism, New Historicism, Reconstructing Historicism, feminism, post-colonial studies, ecocriticism) that consider the interrelation of the text and the context(the system of cultural practices);

· text-oriented (New Criticism, formalism, structuralism, semiotics) that ignore extra-textual influences and focus on inter-textual processes;

· reader-oriented (reader response theory) that consider a work of literature as the result of the text-reader contact.

Psychological and psychoanalytic approaches (V. Woolf, H. Read, F. Lucas, D.H. Lawrence, I. Richards, J. Krutch, M. Bowie, B. Simon, Theodor Reik, Wilhelm Stekel, Ernest Jones, Marie Bonaparte) are based on the assumption that fiction shows human emotions and it is preconditioned by the psyche of its creator. The critics use Karl Jung’s, Jacques Lacan’s and Otto Rank’s ideas as well as I. Richards’s theory of emotive creation. Psychological criticism makes use of the achievements in experimental psychology (behaviorism, the theory of instincts, etc.).

Psychoanalysis emerges specifically from a therapeutic technique which the Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud developed for the treatment of hysteria and neurosis at the end of the XIX century. It ventured into the study of literary works insisting that creative writings are the product of unconscious processes. Psychoanalytical method considers the work of literature to be derived from the author’s complexes and anxieties, sexual frustrations and repressions (attachment to the mother, penis envy, ambivalence towards the father, narcissism, anxiety of castration, Oedipus complex, Electra complex, etc.), it traces the erotic motif, relates the symbols and themes to the creator’s life. Freud’s model of the human psyche consists of three areas, the superego(consciousness), which contains the social and cultural norms, the id(unconscious), which harbours the drives, and the rational ego(conscious), which tries to mediate between social norms and individual drives. While Freud did not ignore the conscious creation of art, he was more interested in the way unconscious reveals itself in complex images. The transposition of Freudian ideas into concepts in linguistics and philosophy underlies all of Lacan’s work exploring the link between unconscious mechanisms, language, and rhetoric. Post-structuralist Lacan described the processes of condensation and replacement as following the patterns of metaphor and metonymy. According to Lacan, the child’s development has two stages: a mirror one (identification with the mother’s image) and the one that gives the notion of the symbolic order and is associated with the father. Feminists reproach psychoanalysis of phallocentrism.

Psychological approach adopts primarily biographical method(Saint-Boeve) tracing the relation of the work with the wide spectrum of the writer’s personality. The method is based on recording facts about the author’s life and times, identifying the parallels between the author’s life and work, describing the ways imagination transforms experience.

Hermeneutic approach (Friedrich Schleiermacher, Wilhelm Dilthey, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, F. Cermode, E.D. Hirsh, Andrés Ortíz-Osés, Bernard Lonegran, Karl-Otto Apel) is aimed at working out the hidden meaning of the text. Hermeneutics is the theory of interpretation. In XVIII-XIX centuries the context for such issues was predominantly religious (correct interpretation of the Bible). Hermeneutics deals with the influence of the new historical and social environment on the text reception, with the conventions of the time and the author’s free will. The text is considered the bearer of the meaning that can be traced by studying the author’s life and language. This approach is also context-oriented.

Cognitive literary criticism (Mark Turner, Roger Schank, Robert Abelson) represents a recent attempt on the part of scholars to bring literary studies into dialogue with the new sciences of mind and brain in order to understand subjectivity, agency, consciousness, language, and psychological development behind the work of literature.

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