An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory by Nicholas Royle, Andrew Bennett

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By Nicholas Royle, Andrew Bennett

This publication offers the main serious ideas in literary stories at the present time, warding off the jargonistic, summary nature of a lot `theory'. The authors discover the most important concerns in modern feedback and conception by means of focusing heavily on various texts, from Chaucer to Achebe and from Milton to Morrison. 

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The jurisdiction of ‘authorial intention’ falters here: what is not meant can still (in another sense) be meant. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt you’ can always mean ‘I did’. Correspondingly, it is important to acknowledge some of the implications of twentieth-century linguistics (Saussure, Chomsky, Pinker) as regards this question of the author and his or her authority. Rather than say that the author is in control of the language that he or she uses, we might consider the idea that the language is as much in control of the author.

It is not a theme which a writer uses or which a text possesses. The uncanny is not something simply present like an object in a painting. It is, rather, an effect. In this respect it has to do with how we read or interpret (interestingly, it makes no difference here whether we are talking about something in a book or something in the so-called outside world). In other words, the uncanny has to do, most of all, with effects of reading, with the experience of the reader. The uncanny is not so much in the text we are reading: rather, it is like a foreign body within ourselves.

In accordance with this, Brecht’s concern is to demonstrate that the ‘real’ is not something that is simply a given: it is not something definite and immutable, but is constructed through human perception, language, beliefs and assumptions, and consequently it is something that can be changed. In Brechtian terms, the alienating or defamiliarizing power of drama – and art and literature more generally – lies in its capacity to transform us and the world around us. In this chapter we shall argue that these ideas about the power of art to disturb, defamiliarize or shake our beliefs and assumptions are intimately bound up with the uncanny.

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