Cover

Contents

Preface

1 Formalism

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Formalist Critical Analysis

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

2 Structuralism

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Structuralist Analysis

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

3 Historical Criticism

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Historical Analysis

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

4 Psychoanalysis and Psychology

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Psychological Analysis

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

5 Marxism and Political Criticism

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Marxist Analysis

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

6 Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Deconstructive Analysis

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

7 Gender Criticism

Major Works

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Gender Analysis

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

8 Ethnic, Post-Colonial, and Transnational Criticism

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Post-Colonial and Ethnic Analysis

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

9 Scientific Criticism

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Scientific Criticism

Things to Look for in Literary and Cultural Texts

10 Film Studies

Major Works

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Film Analysis

Things to Look for in Film Texts

11 Cultural Studies

Major Texts

Major Ideas

Major Terms

Summary and Discussion

Examples of Cultural Analysis

Things to Look for in Cultural Texts

Summary: Theory for Beginners

1 Culture is nature

2 Words make things

3 We know what we know

4 Learn Arabic

5 Reality is a fabrication

6 Not all stories are true

7 Power is belief

8 You are not who you think you are

9 You have to learn to be yourself

10 Capitalism is bad for you

11 Effects are sometimes causes

12 Identity is difference – and is therefore contingent

13 We all live in the past

14 The world is all there is

15 Nature is culture

Plates

Index

Image

For Nathaniel

Preface

An Introduction to Critical Analysis

Criticism is the analysis of human cultural life. What science does to physical life criticism does to cultural life. It takes it apart and studies it and figures out why it works the way it does.

Such analysis ranges from the techniques used to make cultural artifacts such as novels, movies, music, and paintings to the ideas contained in such artifacts, the world out of which they arise, and their implications in our lives.

The specific region of culture that criticism analyzes is stitched into a larger cultural web that includes money, language, mathematics, engineering, commerce, digital computing, religion, and law. Without such culture in the larger sense, there would be no human life on earth. It is our most important creation as humans. It allows us to manipulate things without laying our hands on them, and it allows us to make the world work by using symbols or signs such as currency and words rather than hammers and levers.

The region of human culture that criticism addresses, the culture of plays, movies, novels, poems, public discourse, and songs, has an important function within that larger culture. It directs human thought, feeling, and belief in ways that help maintain human physical existence. It reinforces norms that guide behavior, and it remakes old assumptions about how we should behave that have lost their adaptive usefulness. Cultural artifacts promote ideas that motivate action and they provide moral instruction. They are teachers, ministers, advertisers, politicians, and parents all in one. They help us manage our lives by providing us with useful examples of how to live. Culture in this sense is akin to biochemistry. It does not do the actual work of life, but without the instructions it provides, that work could not occur.

The arts, including poems, novels, and plays, were invented at the same moment in human history as large-scale communities because the arts spread norms, and norms ensured that we humans could live together cooperatively. They allowed us to transcend our animal nature, which mandates violence and mutual predation for the sake of survival. To get beyond that stage of human existence, humans had to develop new cognitive powers, and one of the crucial powers was the ability to hold ideas and images in one’s mind independently of things we perceive in the world. That kind of thinking ability led to the invention of religion; it made writing possible (seeing ideas in marks on a page); and it worked to invent laws based on ideal principles of justice. It also made norms possible, unwritten rules that were passed on through speech of various kinds such as oral tales and plays, as well as religious teaching and school instruction. Another name for the new cognitive ability that made cooperative civilized communities possible is imagination.

Cooperation is essential to human civilization because it makes larger human communities possible. Those communities were first enabled by changes in human cognition that made it possible for humans to use signs and to infuse objects with ideas. Strokes on paper became numbers that facilitated trade; signs in the marketplace became laws that were instructions for living properly; and certain ritual acts became embodiments of a regulating principle in human life – “God’s commandments” – that made people behave in ways useful to the survival of the community.

With what we call “meaning” – the association of ideas with things – was born the human ability to create large-scale civilizations. Large-scale human communities could only exist if all people held the same ideas of right and wrong in their minds. And religion, which might be called the first major human art form, provided such unanimity. It consisted of a mix of theater, fictional narrative, painting, and song. With time, actual theater supplanted it, and with even more time, modern cultural forms such as novels and movies took over the task of providing positive images of norms distinguishing right from wrong that sustain cooperative human communities still. The Great Gatsby teaches, among other things, that excess wealth is dangerous and destructive of human relations. It promotes a norm of moderate behavior.

As human civilization has developed over the past several millennia, culture has moved from unanimous meanings and beliefs that were largely religious in character to meanings that are multiple, complex, and contingent. Culture has become a realm where norms are debated as much as promoted. Societies held together by one religion are increasingly supplanted by ones in which multiple stories contend regarding what is true and good. As a result, the critical analysis of culture requires a variety of critical approaches. You will encounter them in this book.