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Introduction to Theory of Literature with Professor Paul H. Fry


1. Introduction

In this first lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the course's title in three parts. The relationship between theory and philosophy, the question of what literature is and does, and what constitutes an introduction are interrogated. 

2. Introduction (cont.)

In this second introductory lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the interrelation of skepticism and determinism. The nature of discourse and the related issue of discursivity is read through two modern works, Anton Chekov's Cherry Orchard and Henry James' The Ambassadors. 

3. Ways In and Out of the Hermeneutic Circle

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry examines acts of reading and interpretation by way of the theory of hermeneutics. The origins of hermeneutic thought are traced through Western literature. 

4. Configurative Reading

The discussion of Gadamer and Hirsch continues in this lecture, which further examines the relationship between reading and interpretation. Through a comparative analysis of these theorists, Professor Paul Fry explores the difference between meaning and significance, the relationship between understanding and paraphrasing, and the nature of the gap between the reader and the text. 

5. The Idea of the Autonomous Artwork

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the origins of formalist literary criticism. Considerable attention is paid to the rise and subsequent popularity of the New Critics and their preferred site of literary exploration, the "poem." The idea of autonomous art is explored in the writings of, among others, Kant, Coleridge, and Wilde. 

TRANSCRIPT for Lectures 1-5


In the mirror box


6. The New Criticism and Other Western Formalisms

In this second lecture on formalism, Professor Paul Fry begins by exploring the implications of Wimsatt and Beardsley's theory of literary interpretation by applying them to Yeats's "Lapis Lazuli." He then maps the development of Anglo-American formalism from Modernist literature to the American and British academies. 

7. Russian Formalism

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the works of major Russian formalists reviewed in an essay by Boris Eikhenbaum. He begins by distinguishing Russian formalism from hermeneutics. Eikhenbaum's dependency on core ideas of Marxist and Darwinian philosophies of struggle and evolution is explained. Formalism's scientific language and methodical aspirations are discussed. Crucial formalist distinctions between plot and story, practical and poetic language, and literature and literariness are clarified.

8. Semiotics and Structuralism

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores the semiotics movement through the work of its founding theorist, Ferdinand de Saussure. The relationship of semiotics to hermeneutics, New Criticism, and Russian formalism is considered. Key semiotic binaries--such as langue and parole, signifier and signified, and synchrony and diachrony--are explored. Considerable time is spent applying semiotics theory to the example of a "red light" in a variety of semiotic contexts. 

9. Linguistics and Literature

In this lecture on the work of Roman Jakobson, Professor Paul Fry continues his discussion of synchrony and diachrony. The relationships among formalism, semiotics, and linguistics are explored. Claude Levi-Strauss's structural interpretation of the Oedipus myth is discussed in some detail. In order to differentiate Jakobson's poetic functions, Professor Fry analyzes the sentence "It is raining" from six perspectives. Significant attention is paid to the use of diagrams in literary linguistic theory.

10. Deconstruction I

In this lecture on Derrida and the origins of deconstruction, Professor Paul Fry explores two central Derridian works: "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences" and "Différance." Derrida's critique of structuralism and semiotics, particularly the work of Levi-Strauss and Saussure, is articulated. 

Transcripts Lectures 6-10


11. Deconstruction II

In this second lecture on deconstruction, Professor Paul Fry concludes his consideration of Derrida and begins to explore the work of Paul de Man. Derrida's affinity for and departure from Levi-Strauss's distinction between nature and culture are outlined. De Man's relationship with Derrida, their similarities and differences--particularly de Man's insistence on "self-deconstruction" and his reliance on Jakobson--are discussed. The difference between rhetoric and grammar, particularly the rhetoricization of grammar and the grammaticization of rhetoric, is elucidated through de Man's own examples taken from "All in the Family," Yeats's "Among School Children," and the novels of Proust.

12. Freud and Fiction

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry turns his attention to the relationship between authorship and the psyche. Freud's meditations on the fundamental drives governing human behavior are read through the lens of literary critic Peter Brooks. The origins of Freud's work on the "pleasure principle" and his subsequent revision of it are charted, and the immediate and constant influence of Freudian thought on literary production is asserted. Brooks' contributions to literary theory are explored: particularly the coupling of multiple Freudian principles, including the pleasure principle and the death wish, and their application to narrative structures. At the lecture's conclusion, the professor returns to the children's story, Tony the Tow Truck, to suggest the universality of Brooks's argument.

13. Jacques Lacan in Theory

In this lecture on psychoanalytic criticism, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Jacques Lacan. Lacan's interest in Freud and distaste for post-Freudian "ego psychologists" are briefly mentioned, and his clinical work on "the mirror stage" is discussed in depth. The relationship in Lacanian thought, between metaphor and metonymy is explored through the image of the point de capiton. The correlation between language and the unconscious, and the distinction between desire and need, are also explained, with reference to Hugo's "Boaz Asleep."

14. Influence

In this lecture on the psyche in literary theory, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of T. S. Eliot and Harold Bloom, specifically their studies of tradition and individualism. Related and divergent perspectives on tradition, innovation, conservatism, and self-effacement are traced throughout Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and Bloom's "A Meditation upon Priority." Particular emphasis is placed on the process by which poets struggle with the literary legacies of their precursors. The relationship of Bloom's thinking, in particular, to Freud's Oedipus complex is duly noted. The lecture draws heavily from the works of Pope, Borges, Joyce, Homer, Wordsworth, Longinus, and Milton.

15. The Postmodern Psyche

In this lecture on the postmodern psyche, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari and Slavoj Žižek. The notion of the "postmodern" is defined through the use of examples in the visual arts and architecture. Deleuze and Guattari's theory of "rhizomatic" thinking and their intellectual debts are elucidated. Žižek's film criticism, focused on the relation between desire and need, is explored in connection with Lacan.

16. The Social Permeability of Reader and Text

In this first lecture on the theory of literature in social contexts, Professor Paul Fry examines the work of Mikhail Bakhtin and Hans Robert Jauss. The relation of their writing to formalist theory and the work of Barthes and Foucault is articulated. The dimensions of Bakhtin's heteroglossia, along with the idea of common language, are explored in detail through a close reading of the first sentence of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice. Jauss's study of the history of reception is explicated with reference to Borges's "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" and the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees.

17. The Frankfurt School of Critical Theory

This first lecture on social theories of art and artistic production examines the Frankfurt School. The theoretical writings of Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin are explored in historical and political contexts, including Marxism, socialist realism, and late capitalism. The concept of mechanical reproduction, specifically the relationship between labor and art, is explained at some length. Adorno's opposition to this argument, and his own position, are explained. The lecture concludes with a discussion of Benjamin's perspective on the use of distraction and shock in the process of aesthetic revelation.

Transcripts Lectures 11 - 17


18. The Political Unconscious

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry explores Fredric Jameson's seminal work, The Political Unconscious, as an outcropping of Marxist literary criticism and structural theory. Texts such as Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" and Shakespeare's seventy-third sonnet are examined in the context of Jameson's three horizons of underlying interpretive frameworks--the political, the social, and the historical, each carefully explained. The extent to which those frameworks permeate individual thought is addressed in a discussion of Jameson's concept of the "ideologeme." The theorist's work is juxtaposed with the writings of Bakhtin and Levi-Strauss. The lecture concludes by revisiting the children's story Tony the Tow Truck, upon which Jameson's theory of literature is mapped.

19. The New Historicism

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry examines the work of two seminal New Historicists, Stephen Greenblatt and Jerome McGann. The origins of New Historicism in Early Modern literary studies are explored, and New Historicism's common strategies, preferred evidence, and literary sites are explored. Greenblatt's reliance on Foucault is juxtaposed with McGann's use of Bakhtin. The lecture concludes with an extensive consideration of the project of editing of Keats's poetry in light of New Historicist concerns.

20. The Classical Feminist Tradition

In this lecture on feminist criticism, Professor Paul Fry uses Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own as a lens to and commentary on the flourishing of feminist criticism in the twentieth century. The structure and rhetoric of A Room of One's Own is extensively analyzed, as are its core considerations of female novelists such as Austen, Eliot, and the Brontës. The works of major feminist critics, such as Ann Douglas, Mary Ellman, Kate Millett, Elaine Showalter, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, are mentioned. The logocentric approach to gender theory, specifically the task of defining female language as something different and separate from male language, is considered alongside Woolf's own endorsement of literary and intellectual androgyny.

21. African-American Criticism

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry examines trends in African-American criticism through the lens of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Toni Morrison. A brief history of African-American literature and criticism is undertaken, and the relationship of both to feminist theory is explicated.

22. Post-Colonial Criticism

In this lecture on post-colonial theory, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Edward Said and Homi K. Bhabha. The complicated origins, definitions, and limitations of the term "post-colonial" are outlined. Elaine Showalter's theory of the phasic development of female literary identity is applied to the expression of post-colonial identities. Crucial terms such as ambivalence, hybridity, and double consciousness are explained. The relationship between Bhabha's concept of sly civility and Gates's "signifyin'" is discussed, along with the reliance of both on semiotics.

23. Queer Theory and Gender Performativity

In this lecture on queer theory, Professor Paul Fry explores the work of Judith Butler in relation to Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality. Differences in terminology and methods are discussed, including Butler's emphasis on performance and Foucault's reliance on formulations such as "power-knowledge" and "the deployment of alliance."

24. The Institutional Construction of Literary Study

In this lecture on critical identities, Professor Fry examines the work of Stanley Fish and John Guillory. The lecture begins by examining Tony the Tow Truck as a site for the emergence of literary identities, then brings the course's use of the children's story under scrutiny through the lens of Fish. T

25. The End of Theory?; Neo-Pragmatism

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry takes on Knapp and Michaels's influential article, "Against Theory." The historical context of the piece is given and key aspects of the theorists' critical orientations, specifically their neo-pragmatism, are defined. 

26. Reflections; Who Doesn't Hate Theory Now?

In this final lecture on literary theory, Professor Paul Fry revisits the relationship between language and speech, language and intention, and language and communication.


 Transcripts Lectures 18 - 26


Each lecture consists of 2 parts: the 1st part is from 60 to100 MB, the 2nd part is from 20 to 60 MB.


Lectures 6-26 in the MIRROR box

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