Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory / Edition 2

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"Beginning theory has been helping students navigate through the thickets of literary and cultural theory for well over a decade now. This new and expanded third edition continues to offer students and readers the best one-volume introduction to the field." The bewildering variety of approaches, theorists and technical language is lucidly and expertly unravelled. Unlike many books which assume certain positions about the critics and the theories they represent, Peter Barry allows readers to develop their own ideas once first principles and concepts have been grasped.
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Editorial Reviews

An accessible yet non-simplistic guide to 11 major types of theoretical thought encountered in university courses on literary and cultural theory, from liberal humanism to lesbian/gay criticism to postcolonial criticism and stylistics. Each chapter describes the central tenets of the approach, discusses what each type of critic does, provides examples, poses study questions to the reader, and provides a selected reading list. 5x8". Distributed by St. Martin's Press. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
From the Publisher
"Always reassuringly urbane, and often witty...Barry's book remains important, especially as a work of mediation between those who would innately be inclined to 'take' or 'leave' theory." — Martin Blocksidge, The Use of English: The English Association Journal for Teacher of English, 01/03/2012
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780719062681
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Publication date: 9/7/2002
  • Series: Beginnings Series
  • Edition description: Second Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.06 (w) x 7.65 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Barry is Professor of English at the University of Aberystwyth

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Theory before 'theory' - liberal humanism 11

2 Structuralism 38

3 Post-structuralism and deconstruction 59

4 Postmodernism 78

5 Psychoanalytic criticism 92

6 Feminist criticism 116

7 Lesbian/gay criticism 134

8 Marxist criticism 150

9 New historicism and cultural materialism 166

10 Postcolonial criticism 185

11 Stylistics 196

12 Narratology 214

13 Ecocriticism 239

14 Literary theory - a history in ten events 262

15 Theory after 'Theory' 287

Appendices 318

App. 1 Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Oval Portrait' 318

App. 2 Dylan Thomas, 'A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London' 321

App. 3 William Cowper, 'The Castaway' 322

Where do we go from here? Further reading 325

Index 331

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2003

    The Song Remains the Same

    Every student of literature or writing should read this book. Barry handles the subject matter expertly, taking the beginner on a guided tour of the battlefield that is literary theory. Literary theory is divided along such ambiguous lines that even grasping the fundamentals of disparate theories is difficult. Barry takes the edge off theory fear. I appreciated his manner of structuring each topic--dipping just below the surface to expose the rudimentary nature of the various theories made the basic concepts easier to understand. Barry also reveals the history of criticism in an easy to follow way. Tracing criticism¿s track from Aristotle forward is a difficult task he simplifies for the student. His five points for theory on page 36 summed up the whole of what theory attempts to unravel: pervasive politics, constitutive language, provisional truth, contingent meaning, and the myth of human nature. This tells me that theory attempts to make sense of life as described in literature. I thought it most confusing and interesting that Barry aligns post-structuralism with philosophical skepticism. Personally, I would align Elizabethan literature with skepticism, especially Shakespeare¿s work. I also thought it confusing to posit deconstruction as a branch of post-structuralism. I had thought of deconstruction as a theoretical concept in its own right, standing alone or perhaps running parallel with post-modernism. Barry makes an excellent case for the opposite. New historicism seems to be a play on Foucault¿s archeology of knowledge. Perhaps it should be called Foucaultian theory. Cultural materialism seems to want to say that knowledge can¿t be attained unless attained through cultural materialism. The divisiveness of the various theories¿something Barry perhaps didn¿t intend to point out¿stands out. The differences among theorists and theories seem a bit like a catalogue of music videos made by different directors of the same song by the same artist. All the directors film an interpretation that leaves the viewer feeling a different musician has been created along with the video. Most times, I find music video ruins the song for me, because I often find that seeing the artist through the eyes of the director ruins my own interpretation of the art. Songs and texts have no absolute state, no absolute meaning. Both take on a life of their own in the imagination. It¿s rather sad to over-analyze art rather than experience it. Somehow, theorizing destroys art¿s magic the same way music videos destroy music. The text never errs; it¿s the theorist who takes a different viewpoint¿ the song remains the same.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 24, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Barry = Fantastic

    Peter Barry is brilliant. He outlines recent literary theories and gives the reader detailed descriptions of what a critic in the theory looks for in a text. For anyone beginning to study literary theory - Barry is your man.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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