مكتبة الاشرفيه 

Home
Arabic
Urdu 
English
Updates
Other Languages
Links
Friday Sermons
Contact

 

poetics of INTERLOCUTION:
an online dialectic between LITERARY theory & ISLAMIC texts

 

The Major Theories
Applying Literary Theory to Islamic Texts
Muslim Literary/Critical Thinkers


what is literary THEORY?

Answering this question, Richard Rorty explains, “Beginning in the days of Goethe and Macaulay and Carlyle and Emerson [nineteenth century], a new kind of writing has developed which is neither the evaluation of the relative merits of literary production, nor intellectual history, nor moral philosophy, nor social prophecy, but all of these mingled together in a new genre.”

 

Call it a “new genre” of writing—or just Derrida, Bakhtin, or Butler—“theory” has attracted a lot of attention. The fact that the terms “literary theory” and “critical theory” are sometimes interchangeable and sometimes signifying two separate signifieds which in turn become further signs does not help to clarify what actually is “theory”? To begin with, and to make things easier, we do, however, need some sort of workable idea of “theory.” Here, I present Jonathan Culler’s four emerging points when one applies “theory” to “theory”:

1.     Theory is interdisciplinary—discourse with effects outside an original discipline.

2.     Theory is analytical and speculative—an attempt to work out what is involved in what we call sex or language or writing or meaning or the subject.

3.     Theory is a critique of common sense, of concepts taken as natural.

4.     Theory is reflexive, thinking about thinking, enquiry into the categories we use in making sense of things, in literature an din other discursive practices.[1]

 

In a more technical sense of the phrase, “literary theory” refers to the rigorous, critical set of principles that might assist the reader’s interpretive act—when he or she approaches a work of art or the text (by “text” is meant a work of literature, specifically from the three overarching types: novels/prose, poetry, and drama/plays). This is further extended to interpreting the more modern media as well, such as film and online writing. All of these literary/artistic modes are in fact expression of language. The real ambition of “theory” is therefore analyzing, thinking about, reflecting on, and arriving at a critical understanding of our labyrinthine relationship with language. “Theory” is therefore not restricted to literature, but in its broadest outreach, it attempts to decipher and illuminate the very nomothetic questions of existence (ontology), knowledge (epistemology), and ethics. Contemporary literary theory, as exemplified by the works of thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, is thus traditional study of literature and philosophy in an entirely, radical new guise.

 

Contemporary literary theory continues to address these perennial concerns but with a new spirit, with a refreshed zeal for thinking the unthought and saying the unsaid. It draws toward itself all of the disciplines/themes/topics/issues from fields way beyond “the humanities”: Aesthetics, Religion, the individual, Economics, authenticity, Culture, Anthropology, Politics, Philosophy, ethnography, the body, authorship, Semitism & Anti-Semitism, tradition, criticism, Renaissance studies, Morality, Architecture, information, gender & sexuality, sociometricity, the visual, Film studies, the Enlightenment, computers, History, memory, the Empire, ideology & hegemony, socialization, Science, Feminism, the erotic, Medieval studies, Linguistics, colonialism & imperialism, agency & action, revolt, dialogue, emotion, language, technology, narrative, the Avant-Garde, the exotic, the phallus, Ethics, the event, Logic, the past-present-&-future, Psychology, immigration & migration, the psyche, utopias & dystopias, the Revolution, Being & being, love, liberalism, Music, the “self” and the “other,” intellectuals and anti-intellectuals, aporias, representation and realism, rhetoric, identity, Sexuality, Gender, nationhood & the vernacular, women’s studies, and “theory” has it such that the list is endless. “Theory” thus takes upon itself a complete analysis of everything, and the theorist aspires to engage with everything out there. “Theory” rigorousness thus makes it subject to a great deal of critique and ridicule from some within English studies and many from other disciplines. As Culler has pointed out, “A good deal of the hostility to theory no doubt comes from the fact that to admit the importance of theory is to make an open-ended commitment, to leave yourself in a position where there are always important things you don’t know. But this is the condition of life itself.”[2]


 

                [1] Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 14-15.                 

                [2] Culler, Literary Theory, 16.