General Critical Concepts

Posted on 04/06 by bruceholl

ML&L 3342
Critical Concepts
Dr. Bruce Holl, Trinity University

“As a rule, an allegory is a story in verse or prose with a double meaning: a primary or surface meaning; and a secondary or under-the-surface meaning. It is a story, therefore, that can be read, understood and interpreted at two levels (and in some cases at three or four levels.”
J. A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977)

"As a literary term this word has come to denote a fairly elaborate figurative device of a fanciful kind which often incorporates metaphor, simile, hyperbole or oxymoron […] and which is intended to surprise or delight by its wit and ingenuity. The pleasure we get from many conceits is intellectual rather than sensuous."
J. A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977)

"The surrealists attempted to express in art and literature the workings of the unconscious mind and to synthesize these workings in the conscious mind. The surrealist allows his works to develop non-logically (rather than illogically) so that the results represent the operations of the unconscious." J. A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977)

“A figure of speech in which one thing is described in terms of another. The basic figure in poetry. A comparison is usually implicit; whereas in simile […] it is explicit.”
J. A. Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977)

Ostranenie [strangification, enstrangement]
“The purpose of art […] is to lead us to knowledge of a thing through the organ of sight instead of recognition […] After being perceived several times, objects acquire the status of ‘recognition.’ An object appears before us. We know it’s there but we don’t see it, and for that reason we can say nothing about it. The removal of this object from the sphere of automatized perception is accomplished in art by a variety of means.”
Viktor Shklovsky, Theory of Prose, trans. Benjamin Sher (Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1990)

“A general and wide-ranging term which is applied to literature, art, philosophy, architecture, fiction, and cultural and literary criticism, among others. Postmodernism is largely a reaction to the assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. In essence, it stems from a recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality. For this reason, postmodernism is highly skeptical of explanations which claim to be valid for all groups, cultures, traditions, or races, and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one's own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.

“Postmodernism is ‘post’ because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody - a characteristic of the so-called ‘modern’ mind […] .”
“Faith and Reason” (PBS)

“Let us start with something very simple and say that realism is ‘the objective representation of contemporary social reality […] It rejects the fantastic, the fairy-tale-like, the allegorical and the symbolic, the highly stylized, the purely abstract and decorative. It means that we want no myth, no Maerchen, no world of dreams. It implies also a rejection of the improbable, of pure chance, and of extraordinary events […] The term ‘reality’ is also a term of inclusion: the ugly, the revolting, the low are legitimate subjects of art. Taboo subjects such as sex and dying (love and death were always allowed) are now admitted into art.”
Rene Wellek, Concepts of Criticism (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1963).