Jonathan Culler “Theory” and “Narrative” from Literary Theory: a very short introduction (Oxford University Press, 1997)


Def. “It is not the theory of anything in particular, nor a comprehensive theory of things in general. Sometimes theory seems less an account of anything than an activity – something you do or don’t do.” (1)

Literary theory: “the systematic account of the nature of literature and of the methods for analysing it” (1)

Theory as “speculation” (2); employs work in other fields to further understand literature; interdisciplinary at its core, i.e. history, philosophy, economics, linguistics, etc.

Richard Rorty’s definition: ‘a new kind of writing has developed which is neither the evaluation of the relative maerits of literary productions, nor intellectual history, nor moral philosophy, nor social prophecy, but all of these mingled together in a new genre” (from Consequences of Pragmatism ; qtd. in Culler 3)

“Works that become ‘theory’ offer accounts others can use about meaning, nature and culture, the functioning of the psyche, the relations of public to private experience and of larger historical forces to individual experience.” (4)

*Takes a very specific approach (1980s deconstruction): that theory “disputes” common sense; makes us rethink things that we take for granted

Brief discussion of Foucault (who made us consider the ways in which knowledge is both made and made to serve power without revealing that it does so pp. 8) and Derrida (who made us consider the ways in which language always falls short of its desire to “supplement meaning” and yet exists as the only way to even approach meaning; always already incomplete and so generative of the search for more meaning through language; no reality outside of language 12)