Since the mid twentieth century, the rise of structuralist methodology in literary theory has created seismic shifts opening up the study of text to cultural study and assisting in the development of other theories such as poststructuralism, feminism and postcolonialism. Structuralism challenged the idea of a politically detached study of text, epitomised in the then dominant new/practical criticism approaches. It reinforced the challenge to the tradition of the Leavisite canon already under attack with feminist writers, and encouraged the development of other critical theories which have radically influenced the study of literature today. Traditional literary criticism would be seen as inadequate for many later thinkers such as Eagleton (cited in Pope, 2002, p. 87) who would call it a "recipe for political inertia."
This essay will give a brief history of the development of literary theory in order to show how the study of literature came to be thought of as something which could be removed from political or cultural context, detached in a sense from its relationship with power. It will argue that the rise of structuralism and other critical theories in recent decades has convincingly challenged this idea that there can be any sort of politically disinterested approach to the study of literature. Text, in its many forms, is inextricably involved with power, as captured in that old saying: The pen is mightier than the sword. It is the way in which the knowledge and mores of the culture are transmitted, transformed and even subverted.
The Good Book(s)
For much of its early history in the West, literary expression was controlled by the Church, and principa...
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Lye, J.Some Elements of Structuralism and its Application to Literary Theory. Retrieved 25/3/2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.se.unisa.edu.au/vc/59-structuralism.html
Lyotard, J. (1984). The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Mineapolis: Minnesota University Press.
McCormick, K., Waller, G., & Flower, L. (1987). Reading Texts: Reading, Responding, Writing. Massachussetts: D.C. Heath and Company.
Pope, R. (2002). The English Studies Book (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Selden, R., & Widdowson, P. (1993). A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (3rd ed.). London and New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Simms, M. (2003). Introduction to Written Texts Eng00400: Study Guide. Lismore: Southern Cross University.
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