Critical Theory can be compared to "Mont Blanc" in Book VI of Wordsworth's Prelude - an imposing and challenging monolith which seems insurmountable at first, but which can nonetheless leave one rather disappointed after mastering it. This guide to Critical Theory will attempt to counter both of the problems: the difficulty of the terminology and ideology associated with it, and the problems in relating this Theory to our reading of literature. We will look at the various schools of thought which gather together under the handy portmanteau of Critical Theory. We will look at the key figures of each movement, so that the names of Derrida, Barthes, Lacan and Cixous become as familiar as Dickens, Swift, Austen and Tolstoy. The key aim of this guide, however, is to allow the reader to use the theories - whether structuralism, post- colonialism or feminism (to name but a few) - to enhance and improve their understanding and enjoyment of literature.

Critical Theory has now become a somewhat negative term, used to describe the over- complicated and reductive nit picking of theorists which reached its nadir in the mid- 1980s. This guide will attempt something of a rehabilitation in taking Theory back to its origins. Initially, it was a way of understanding the way that literature works. It must be remembered that many of the key Theoretical texts were written in French, a language whose make up precludes the simple definitions afforded by Anglo Saxon- derived writing. This is why texts by writers such as Derrida and Baudrillard seem initially so confusing, so full of polysyllabic nonsense. When translating from the French, these guides will aim to convey the sense of what the Theorists are trying to get across, rather than providing a literal translation. Your enjoyment of literature will benefit considerably through an understanding the various schools of Literary Theory. Whilst nothing will substitute reading the texts in their original form, this guide will arm the reader with the necessary information to be able to approach them with a degree of confidence not possible when first faced with sentences such as: "Reading... cannot legitimately transgress the text toward something other than it... or toward a signified outside the text whose content could take place, could have taken place, outside of language, that is to say, in the sense that we give here to that word, outside of writing in general..." (Derrida, Of Grammatology).

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