In the glory days of high modernist formalism it was anathema to speak about the content of a work of art. Those days are gone, and critical practice now is largely thematic practice. A focus on the themes of literature informs feminist, new historicist, ethnic, and even second-generation deconstructionist approaches. However, such practice is not always recognized. The specter of theoretically impoverished positivism still haunts thematic analysis, making it the approach to literature that dare not speak its name. This volume brings together for the first time an international group of writers, critics, and theoreticians who have thought deeply about this issue.
How can we determine the theme of a given text? May the focus on form be the theme of a certain moment? Can the motif be understood as a formal category? What operations permit us to say that three or four texts constitute variants of the same theme? The contributors challenge the conventional dismissal of “merely” thematic approaches and offer the reader different ways of tackling the issue of what a piece of writing is “about.”
The work here comes out of such diverse intellectual traditions as Russian film theory, French phenomenology, Foucault, narratology, the Frankfurt School, intellectual history (Geistesgeschichte), psychoanalytic criticism, linguistics, ideological criticism, Proppian folklore studies, and computerized plot summary models. In addition to a collection of aphorisms from Plato to Robert Coover and a group of general and theoretical essays, this volume contains examples of practical engagement with such topics as literary history, Shakespeare, autumn poetry, anti-Semitism, fading colors, bachelors, Richard Wagner, and the Mexican Revolution. No comparable volume exists.
This interdisciplinary collection sets the most advanced poetic and ideological approaches side-by-side to resolve the ancient conflict between formalism and the study of content. As a corollary, Sollors’ anthology seeks to sweep away or at least rehabilitate the theoretically impoverished notion-hunting of certain feminists, many new historicists, and race/class/gender critics, to say nothing of second-generation Derrideans… The distinguished contributors…definitely place thematic criticism back on the agenda, and, at the same time, call for a higher level of humanistic discourse.
This study of thematics opens up afresh the problems of literary theory… It also might be an impetus to re-examine the history of postmodernist theory which has co-opted one aspect of thematics in response to modernism but appears to have blithefully ignored what remains problematic.
This collection of essays on thematic criticism, edited by Werner Sollors, can be considered among the most successful and useful examples of the genre… The Return of Thematic Criticism gives a new turn to, and offers new points of observation on, a critical debate that has reached a phase of general confusion and has entered some blind alleys. It should stimulate a broad discussion of international scope, given the importance of the subject and the numbers of centers of research interested in it. The book can also be of notable help to scholars and students, for it can give new theoretical awareness to those who are engaged in some form of thematic criticism without having a theoretical awareness of what they do and without being bothered to consider the methodological problems involved.
This is a judicious, wide-ranging study.
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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