Monday, September 5, 2011

Theory Overlap Between Leitch and Burke

In Introduction to Theory and Criticism, Leitch presents theories of literary criticism in a fairly historically methodical way. This system stands starkly in contrast to Burke's more interpretive view of criticism as a social symbol of the critic, along with any other user of language as a means to influence. In Literature as Equipment for Living, Burke begins by calling his approach a "sociological criticism of literature"(Burke 293), which is very unlike Leitch who dives right in to the very beginning of historical theory with the evaluation of theorists ranging anywhere from Plato to Freud. While the two authors initially attack theory in very different ways, there are numerous occasions when their ideas overlap and the two pieces play off each other to give readers a better personal concept of theory.
In Burke's piece, there is a discussion of proverbs and their function as proof of literature, albeit a diluted form, being extremely influential and necessary. These proverbs transition well into the argument that literature and its criticism is not based on a generation or time period, but rather is contemporaneous, a theory modified from Sprengler (Burke 301). This suggests that critical theory is situational, and not exclusive to certain time periods. Burke writes, "For instance, if modern New York is much like decadent Rome, then we are "contemporaneous" with decadent Rome, or with some corresponding decadent city among the Mayas,etc. It is in this sense that situations are "timeless"(Burke 301-302). Here we see the basis for forming strategies of theory and ways of interpreting the way we theorize.
It is this perspective through which Leitch ends his argument, an interesting choice that is historically accurate but contradictory to his schema of categorizing theory. The final category in Leitch's introduction posits the theories created under cultural studies. This category lends well to Burke's argument in that it does a good job of stepping back from the logarithm of a historical timeline to consider the social implications and the possibility that perhaps every generation or era of thought go through the same processes of criticism, utilizing the same strategies with only the influence of certain situations acting as an agent of change. Leitch writes, "This complex view of subjectivity applies to the author, not just the critic: authored texts by definition contain unconscious and socially symptomatic materials unique to specific times, places, and persons. It is thus no surprise that cultural studies and formalist literary criticism are seen as diametrically opposed"(Leitch 32). Cultural studies explores both the author and the effect of the author. While the author is naturally specified to a given time, situations and implications are chronic and repeated throughout history, and through this we can see the overlap between the ideas of Burke and Leitch.

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