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Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed…
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Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed

by Mary Klages

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Probably the first of several such books I'll be reading in the next few weeks, since next semester I'm teaching my first graduate-level Intro to Theory Course, and I'd like to know how such things are done, given that I don't have great memories of my own Intro courses.

It's not that bad. Although its choices are sometimes idiosyncratic--in the "Ideology and Discourse" chapter, many pages devoted to Bakhtin, and only a few for Foucault (which, given the relative importance of the two thinkers, should be reversed); in the review of the history of criticism, no entry for Kant!--and although she grossly distorts the critical legacy of the Middle Ages (and the origin of close reading, which wouldn't exist without Rabbinic exegesis), it's a model of clarity. Her explanation of Cixous and Irigaray is particularly clear (although it would have been good to have Spivak or hooks in a chapter on feminism).

That said, it's very rare that Klages descends into linking these various critical schools with interpretation. Examples are a prerequisite for this kind of overview, especially given its audience. Moreover, it would have been useful to anticipate the objections of the more thoughtful, savvy students, who might find psychoanalytic narratives ludicrous and also wonder about their truth value in comparison to cognitive science and psychiatry. Certainly the long discussion of Freud and Lacan in particular could have benefited from explaining what any of this has to do with literature. I know, but students won't.

Now, it may well be that Continuum simply didn't allow Klages the space she needed to make this a very useful book. She knows the stuff, and I'm sure she's a fine teacher. And she provides a great set of notes on theoretical schools to which I'll be directing my students all semester; but there's no way I'll assign this book. I'll direct students to it as a reference; however, I just don't think this book, at least not without a lot of supplemental work, will answer their questions about how this all relates to literature. ( )
  karl.steel | Apr 2, 2013 |
Bravo, Klages! A little bit kindergarten, naturally, but I'm pretty sure just about every human or even just about every grad student's theory-comprehension needs are pretty well served by this slim, lime-green little number (outside areas of specialization, of course). And like, it reads so fast and you understand every word. And there's even little insights in amidst the refreshers: like, I never really thought about how far bricolage goes toward redeeming Derrida, because most of his (now largely extinct, but let it pass) acolytes are so busy harping about logocentrism. Could have used a bit more encyclopiddity - Kristeva? Zizek? Eagleton, yo? De Man, or are we just going to pretend he didn't exist now so as to not throw the discipline into disrepute? But whatever happens in the final Deleuze and Guattari section, be it joke, dig, or copyediting error, is SO funny and this book is a good egg. ( )
1 vote MeditationesMartini | Sep 21, 2008 |
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"This Guide provides an advanced introduction to literary theory from basic information and orientation for the uninformed leading on to more sophisticated readings. It engages directly with the difficulty many students find intimidating, asking 'What is 'Literary Theory''? and offering a clear, concise, accessible guide to the major theories and theorists, including: humanism; structuralism; poststructuralism; psychoanalytic approaches; feminist approaches; queer theory; ideology and discourse; new historicism; race and postcolonialism; postmodernism. The final chapter points to new directions in literary and cultural theory." -- Publisher's website.… (more)

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