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Flashcards in Critical concepts Deck (44)
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affective fallacy and intentional fallacy

coined by Wimsatt and Beardsley in 'The Verbal Icon'

  1. the common error in poetry criticism were you focus too much on your own feelings when reading the poem, than the text itself and analysing how it works.
    • of course a poem cannot be totally seperated from a reader's response, but the focus should be with the text
  2. the error of interpreting a text in the light of what you believe to be the author's aim
    1. misleading as it diverts attention away from the text itself, and moved to external matters such as the author's personal life or state of mind
    2. you have to concentrate on the work itself and discuss the effect rather than identifying the author's intention



a work which has a meaning behind the surface meaning (e.g. you can read the surface story of a hero's adventures, but the text can have a general significance as an allegory of Christian's journey through life/....)

  • most medieval literature is allegorical, underlying meaning being religious (because an allegory always shows the everyday world as an imperfect reflection of the divine world and so there is always an awareness of a deeper meaning behind the superficial world)
  • allegorical story in prose/poetry/medieval morality plays often a quest narrative of someone's journey through life as a mythic story works well to talk about universal facts and forces
  • although we are aware of the underlying religious order, our focus is on the challenges of the hero/heroine indicating the gap between reality/divine world
  • 17th C Western Europe: allegorical way of thinking gone through shift towards more secular world. Allegory became a way of perceiving life and a mode writers employed (and not about the gap anymore religious/secular, think about Animal Farm)



a passing reference to a person, place or event beyond the obvious subject matter of a text 


a reference within a text to another literary work

(e.g. love poem that includes a phrase from Shakespeare's Othello to enhance or complicate a text)


difference between allegory and symbolism

  1. allegory: fixed meaning behind the surface meaning and we are sure what the precise meaning is as we are meant to see the underlying meaning through the text 
  2. symbolism: elusive meaning behind the surface meaning and cannot be translated into other terms



deliberate quoting from or parodying other texts

similar to allusion, but more explicit so that we become aware of the textuality of the work, of its status as fiction

plays with the notion of new work replacing the old, how texts draw upon other texts to reorder the old menaings or invent new ones



when words have several meanings, they become ambiguous and make us uncertain what is meant

central in poetry as different views can be taken of what certain words mean in a poem, and poetry deals with this exact complexity of experience as a theme

reductive, simple interpretation of a poem has to make room for language full of conflicting, ambiguous meanings



a term taken from Greek rhetoric 

traditionally used as a figure of speech in which a speaker or character deliberates on an irresolvable question

(e.g. Hamlet's to be or not to be)

deconstructive critics also view it aporia as a point where we are faced with the gap between what a text wishes to say and what it is constrained to say (focus on indeterminacy of language always being in flow)  



a basic model from which copies are made

typical archetypes:

  • a story of death and rebirth
  • a story of a journey through life
  • a story that deals with a search for the father

being aware of archetypical patterns:

  • it helps us to see the informing concerns of literature, how similar problems are to return again and again
  • if we are aware of the pattern, we can then look at how individual writers add to the basic pattern in order to make their work different


 binary opposition

refers to two mutually exclusive terms such as left/right, man/women, nature/culture


structuralists: argue that these oppositions are basic to all cultural phenomena, but that meaning itself also functions this way (i.e. we only know the meaning of the word 'left' through its contrast with the word 'right')

+ the oppositions are hierarchal (men above women) which feminist critic has deconstructed!


deconstructionist critics: meaning is not oppositional, terms like nature and culture are not external from each other, pure or single. There's always a trace of the other term in them.

They emphasise the plurality of differences (// ambiguity) and undo binary oppositions.


(e.g. struggle between Romans and Goths in story = structuralists say there is an opposition between Roman nobility vs. Gothic Barbarity -- deconstructionists points out the way in which these invade each other and how each show traces of the other so that there is no difference between nobility and barbarity anymore)



  1. originally refers to the list of books in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament which were accepteed by church authorities as genuine and having divine authority
    • books outside the canon are called apocrypha
    • difference between Protestant and Catholic churches as to which writings are apocryphal
  2. literature two meanings
    1. narrow: apply it to works (e.g. Shakespeare canon, which means a canon consisting of those works accepted as genuinly written by Shakespeare)
    2. wider: those authors who by tradition or consensus are considered as major or great, 'the classics'
  3. F.R. Leavis, Cambridge critic who restricted canon to four authors, major influence on British uni
  4. 1970s modern critical theory, feminist and poststructuralist criticism = canon reflected and reinforced a certain view of culture and society (male, white, educated, heterosexual, European)
  5. led to several alternative canons (womens, black, gay canons), widening of the canon itself so that it becomes an ever changing, unfixed body, universities mix up there authors too


dialogic and polyphonic

dialogic: utterances that imply a situation of dialogue or are directed to a listener

polyphonic: made up of several voices, whenever we speak we use words and phrases from other conversations; carrying traces from it 

(Bakhtin argues that all utterances are both)




occurs when we are faced with two or more meanings that cannot be reconciled or resolved

(different from ambiguity in that ambiguity denotes the richness of the texts, contradiction points to incoherences or divisions in a text creating instability)

contradiction often used when looking at the politics or ideology of a text (e.g. Jane Eyre is a contradictory text as it both challenges and supports contemporary social ideas about gender and class)


Derrida's deconstructionalist thought

he sees a constant sliding between meanings and a plurality of differences in which opposites have traces of each other

(// Saussure with signified/signifié (actual tree) and signifier/signifiant (word used to refer to that tree: boom, tree, un arbre, etc.)




a literary convention is a feature of a text which is found in a large number of texts

(e.g. there are many poems written in sonnet form, thus a sonnet is a conventional form of poetry - length is conventional, conventions of change of direction occurs in a sonnet, rhyme scheme of sonnet has one of two conventional patterns, subject matter often conventional, etc.)


conventions of form and subject are found in all literary work, but interesting is how an author makes his work distinctive within these conventions



a work dealing with a moral, religious or political theme

(most of medieval literature is therefore didactic because it attemts to explain the mysteries of Christianity)


empathy and sympathy

  1. empathy: means 'feeling into', becoming totally absorbed in and physically participating in an object
  2. sympathy: means 'feeling with' the emotions and state of mind of a character in a play (e.g. through a soliloquy were the hero adresses us alone on stage)
  3. when reading a play or novel we often find ourselves sympathetically involved with the characters, whilst maintaining a degree of critical detachment 


form and content

content is what is said in a literary work

form is how/the way in which it is said


formal analysis = discuss the relationship between the content and its form, these are inseperable and talking about the overall structure and the imagery used is only useful when linked back to the content and how it adds to that.



the beliefs, concepts, ways of thinking, ideals and values that shape our thoughts and which we use to explain or understand the world

ideology could also mean the system of beliefs or ideas of an economic or political system

(each time often has their own ideology, i.e. Middle Ages' ideology was that of humans as fallen through the sin of Adam and Eve)



irony (4)

  1. way of writing in which what is meant is contrary to what the words appear to say
  2. thus always a gap between how things seem and how complicated they really are
  3. common in satiric writing (Pope, Dryden, Swift) where it is used to ridicule the follies of the world or to indicate that the writer is aware that a single interpretation of reality is inadequate
  4. novels and plays use irony to show the inadequacy of the character's view to understand events (dramatic or situational irony


ironic persona

  1. invented narrator who is smug, self-confident or foolish
  2. narrator expresses all manner of foolish social ideas and prejudices
  3. author and reader both look down on the narrator's folly as his excessive manner makes his views suspect


situational irony

irony that depends upon a discrepancy between how characters see a situation and the true nature of the situation

makes clear how an individual perception of truth is never adequate through the gap between how one person sees it and how someone else sees it


dramatic irony

when the audience/reader knows more than the characters on the stage or in the novel know

similar to other kinds of irony, the character's perception of the facts is inadequate and events are always too complicated for the individual to understan



  • a figure of speech in which one thing is described in terms of another to make the idea presented more vivid and to connect different areas of experience (esp. with conceits in metaphysical poetry)

distinction between the subject (or tenors) of the metaphors and the figurative terms (or vehicles) which describe them as something else

e.g. a sea of troubles

  • troubles (subject)
  • a sea (figurative term)



similar to a metaphor, but whereas a metaphor identifies one thing with another, a simile contains the notion of similarity by using the words 'like' or 'as' 

(e.g. wafer thin = metaphor)

(e.g. as thin as a rake = simile)



when something challenges our normal way of thinking about things, restructuring our perceptions (e.g. through metaphors as these enable connections between similar/dissimilar things)


metonymy and difference with metaphor

  1. a figure of speech in which the name of an attribute of a thing, replaces the thing itself (i.e. the crown for the monarchy, the roof for the house) 
  2. a metaphor establishes connections between different areas of experience
  3. with a metonymy there already is a connection between the ideas (crown - monarchy)




theme of a work is the large idea or concept it is dealing with, the general experience or subject that link all the details of a text together (love, death, evil, happiness)



smaller than a theme = a type of incident or image that occurs frequently in texts (i.e. the carpe diem motif, fugeur/flaneur motif, etc.)


Focalizer - Narrator difference

  1. The focalizer is the perceiving instance
  2. The narrator is the verbal expression

These can coincide, but this is not necessary. You can have a person telling his story and perceiving (feeling, smelling, thinking) things.

But you can also have an omniscient narrator who tells a story and overlooks everything, whilst the focalizer is someone else.