In accordance with our meta agreement to have topic challenges and a later meta agreement to have topic challenges lasting for two months and overlapping by one month, it is time to announce the December 2020–January 2021 topic challenge.
Based on the number of votes (7 upvotes, 2 downvotes), the last topic challenge of 2020 and the first of 2021 will be our first ever non-fiction challenge:
What's a topic challenge?
See the meta posts linked above, and also this main meta post.
In short, during December 2020 and January 2021 you are invited to try to read one or both of the two introductions to literary theory described below and ask questions about them.
Participation is not obligatory in any sense, and questions on other works are more than welcome during these months too; they just won't count as part of this topic challenge.
How can I take part?
By getting hold of the one (or both) of the suggested introductions to literary theory and asking good questions about topics or issues discussed in it (or them). Questions about these works should be tagged with theory. If the question is about a specific passage, you should add tags for the author and title of the relevant book. We'll keep a list of all such questions in an answer to this meta post.
Many questions on this site are about the fictional world created by a work of literature. Examples include the following:
- Was Simon's hideout later used by Ralph?
- Why doesn't Winston ask Mr Charrington about life before the Revolution?
- In the middle part of The Fellowship of the Ring, how did Strider find and interpret that rock message supposedly from Gandalf?
When we focus on the fictional world inside a book, we tend to ignore the literary work as a work of art, which is a very different perspective. One way of changing this perspective is by adding a bit of theory to the game. To many, "literary theory" sounds scarier than it should. If you read literature to expand your mind or change the way you look at the world (or both), literary theory does this on steroids.
For this reason, I am proposing a reading challenge based on two introductions to literary theory:
- Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler (Oxford University Press, 1997, second edition 2011),
- Literary Theory: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton (Wiley, 1983, revised edition 1996, 2011).
Why these two books? Both are highly readable and accessible to people who have no degree in literature. Both explain early on why theory is valuable. (In fact, after reading these books, you should understand why you never actually read without a theory.)
But why not just one of them? Well, both books take a very different approach. Culler's book talks about the types of issues that theory deals with, but discusses the individual movements and schools only in a six-page appendix (in the 1997 edition). Eagleton offers excellently readable introductions to major theoretical movements, thereby providing an excellent complement to Culler's book.
Another reason for the choice of these two books is that I wanted to propose books that I had enjoyed reading myself, which cannot be said of every book of literary theory or criticism that I have read in the past (either as a literature student or later on).
Note: Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory can be found an Archive.org. Jonathan Culler's Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction can be borrowed on Archive.org.
- Vote for the next topic challenge (January–February 2021), or propose your own!