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Critical Theory and the Novel



To try to draw together the broad constellation of practices known as “theory” and the loose aggregate of conventions constituting the genre of the novel is a complex business, but critical theory helped to shape the work of novelists since 1960, just as it helped to reshape a sense of the canonical histories of the novel as a genre. From the late 1960s, there was a pervasive rethinking of the very foundations and conditions of thought across all the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. In this sense, the theoretical turn was general, but its manifestations and objects were diverse, varying in important ways from discipline to discipline, and from one cultural and national context to another. But as with the broader “theoretical turn” of the 1960s, the literary or critical theory that flourished across departments of Anglo-American letters represented a revolt against positivist and empiricist assumptions in criticism. For poststructuralism, neo-Marxism, psychoanalysis, and narrative theory were all depth models of knowledge that sought a reorientation toward the a priori as the search for underlying formal relations that might provide the conditions for grasping and expressing the phenomena of the world and of human experience. First, with the technical linguistics of Chomsky and, thereafter, with the more easily assimilable linguistics of Saussure, structuralism ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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