• myth

    Myth

    Myth – A myth is simply a story told over and over and over again by a group of people. Generally, we use “myth” to connote an ancient, sacred narrative (the rape of Prosperine to generate seasonality, the striking of the heavenly spear into the Pacific to create Japan), not just any story. This is [...]

  • naturalism

    Realism and Naturalism

    Realism and Naturalism – In prose that we term realist (small R), the style of expression is “realistic,” meaning “as things actually happen,” not exaggerated for emotional effect. A real story, with real people, drives the power of the text. The style of content is that of a “real” story, in which a true-to-life seeming [...]

  • pomo

    Postmodernism

    Postmodernism – Just as modernity is the period after the Middle Ages, so is postmodernity the period of modernity after modernity’s global (but incomplete) ascendancy—after the exhaustion of the modern and its turn toward severe self-awareness. Generally, we talk about postmodernity as beginning after World War II. The style or movement in art, thought, and [...]

  • whitewhale

    Melancholy and Moby-Dick

    Melancholy and Moby-Dick – AKA, a psychological and highly quotational meditation on the sad, the saturnine, and the furious. Freud defined the term melancholy in its modern sense: …Melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that [...]

  • skull

    Horror versus Terror

    Horror versus Terror – These are the two major divisions of literary, cinematic, or otherwise artistic (representational, strategic) fear. Fear is—along with joy, sadness, anger, and anxiety—one of the most basic human emotions. While anxiety occurs without an external stimulus, fear occurs when we perceive a threat or feel pain. Fear in the brain engenders [...]

  • lobster

    Différance

    Différance: Reflex and Double Articulation – The concept  of “différance” was coined by philosopher Jacques Derrida. He came to it by way of a lineage of reflexive thinkers beginning with Nietzsche, the thinker who’s so reflexive, he posits that even emptiness, death, the abyss, gazes back. (And calls the world to itself: Abyssus abyssum invocat.) [...]

  • machine

    Ambiguity (Narrative, Symbolic)

    Ambiguity (Narrative, Symbolic): Transcendence, Transcendent, Transcendent Signified versus Immanence, Immanent, Immanent Signified – This short exercise in literary theory/philosophy works best if you have drawing implements and a few minutes to think… [Draw picture on board of a box, huge, full of junk. Label "Moby-Dick."] [Draw picture on board of a small, gift-wrapped box, beautiful, [...]

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Structuralism

Structuralism - In literary criticism, structuralism links various texts via a big idea about the elements and narrative shapes that are common among them. For example, one structure common to most (but not all) fiction is “a protagonist goes through some type of emotional change.” We can examine how the protagonist varies across genres and styles while [...]

bookreading

Text

Text – A group of signs. In literary and other types of criticism, a text can be a book (a group of written signs), a film (a group of cinematically recorded images and sounds—visual and auditory signs), or even a set of sculptures (think of braille; think of the pieces on a chessboard read as [...]

Protagonist

Protagonist – The model (proto, as in prototype) for our emotions (agon, as in agony). The protagonist is not necessarily the most interesting character, the most likeable character, or the character with whom we spend the most time—though very often she is all of these things. In Benito Cereno, however, the protagonist (the person we [...]

Pathetic Fallacy

Pathetic Fallacy – The fallacy (wrong-thought) that the world changes when you change; that when you are sad, it rains outside; when you are happy, the rabbits chirp and the sun smiles and everyone sings. Often tied to mood, this is a major tactic of musicals and of Romantic literature, though it is usually toned [...]

Symbol, short version

Symbol, short version – A symbol is a sign or group of signs with an agreed upon allegorical meaning. At it’s most basic, a symbol is an image or other element in a story that represents more than itself. For example, “United States of America” literally means “a late capitalist North American democracy/empire inhabited by [...]

darwin

Modernity, Modernism

Modernity, Modernism – For many historians, the period known as modernity begins in the mid-seventeenth century, with the Enlightenment. The style of art known as Modernism (notice the “-ism”), sometimes specified as High Modernism, comes at the end of the nineteenth century, with Pound in poetry, Joyce and Woolf (and the earlier Kleist) in prose, and Manet, [...]

Mood

Mood – The emotional atmosphere of the fiction. Permeates all levels of prose and is distinct from tone (which pertains only to the narratorial voice). Mood may change as a story moves forward. In Steven Millhauser’s “Mermaid Fever,” the mood changes from expectant (a la the night before Generic Winter Gift-Giving Holiday) to joyous (discovery [...]

Modal Verbs

Modal Verbs – You may have never learned the rules regarding modal verbs—can, could, will, would, etc. The rules are simple: If your essay or story is in the present, you “can” do something. If your essay or story is set in the past, then, at that point in your life, you “could” or “would” have done something. There [...]

Metaphor (All Types) and Archetype

Metaphor (All Types) and Archetype - Metaphor, in general, is our ability to see similarities between at first unrelated things, be they people, places, ideas, objects, cultures, actions—whatever. Metaphorical language is symbolic, in that such language asks us to be able to read one thing and think of some other thing. There are various levels of metaphor. The simile is [...]

whitewhale

Melancholy and Moby-Dick

Melancholy and Moby-Dick – AKA, a psychological and highly quotational meditation on the sad, the saturnine, and the furious. Freud defined the term melancholy in its modern sense: …Melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that [...]

arthur

Legend

Legend – A legend is a folk tale based upon a historical incident. Legends are not fantastic, but they may stretch the limits of our understanding of history. Tales of miracle-workers are legends, for example, as is the improbable career of King Arthur. Tangherlini defines a legend as: A short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly ecotypified [...]

MacGuffin

MacGuffin – An object or datum that the protagonist (and often also the antagonist) wants very much or cares very much about—even though we the readers don’t care about it at all. The letter in “The Purloined Letter” is the classic example.

Immanence

Immanence – Wikipedia has an article on this, and the first paragraph of it is pretty much how I read “immanence” in philosophy in general, if “divine” is changed to “real/Being/truth.” I think this article misunderstands the whole issue, however, restricting a search for an immanent/material basis for everything into a mere theological debate. But, hey, it’s a [...]