Bennett, Tony. Formalism and Marxism. Routledge, 2003.
In the United States, Marxist literary criticism was most important during the Great Depression in the 1930s, especially during the era of the Popular Front up to the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. Unlike formalists, Marxists were less concerned about the formal devices, construction style and structure of art and literature as opposed to its social and economic context and political relevance (3). Many of the major writers of the 1930s had a strong affinity for Marxism, socialism and Communism, including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, John Steinbeck and John Dos Passos. This was the heyday of Socialist Realism, proletarian literature and glorification of the lower classes in their struggles against capitalism and fascism. Marxist did not regard art and literature as abstract, neutral or purely autonomous, but as a reflection of the social and economic system in which they were created. Writers and artists were always influenced by this system and if they were on the Left should be committed to active participation in social change, Marxist criticism focused on "understanding the formal processes through which literary text work upon and transform dominant ideological forms," in this case the revolution that would overthrow capitalism and individualism, replacing them with socialism and collectivism (7). From this point-of-view, most 19th Century writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman has been individualistic and middle class, or even representatives of the Southern aristocracy like Edgar Allan Poe, but these literary forms would become obsolete after the socialist revolution. Marxists were therefore far more concerned with the political message of art and literature than questions of style, aesthetics or even individual talent. In the Cold War, however, most of them abandoned their previous commitments to Communism or admiration for the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist 'experiment'.
Leitch, Vincent B. American Literary Criticism from the Thirties to the Eighties. Columbia University Press, 1988.
Formalists are strongly opposed to treating literature as part of philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, biography or economics. They place primary emphasis on the analysis of the text itself and its individual merit as a work or art rather than within some broader social, economic or cultural context. The quality of a literary or artistic piece stands or falls in its own right, even though all the opponents of formalism have always condemned this approach as 'art for art's sake' or a retreat from reality into idealism, fantasy or private, personal worlds. In U.S. history, the formalism of the New Critics was the mainstream of literary criticism in the 1940s and 1950s, led by literary figures like John Crowe Ransom and T.S. Eliot and journals such as The Criterion and the Southern Review (24). Eventually, it became a "carefully refined dogmatic method" used in most American high schools and universities, and unlike any other school of literary criticism actually turned into the established mainstream of how to read, write and think about art and literature. In part, this was politically convenient during a period of Cold War and domestic repression under McCarthyism, when dissent was silenced or purged from the larger society and Marxist, Freudian, Feminist or Historicist thought was viewed with suspicion. Formalists rejected all of these and concentrated on plot, symbols, metaphors, style, and structure. As well as "close reading of individual works" (26). Many formalists were also deeply conservative and uncomfortable with modern, urban society in general, as well as science and industry. They ensured that "source and background studies…played the smallest possible role in interpretation," and also ignored the response of readers past and present to the work, thus separating literature from "its producers and consumers" (28).
Plain, Gill and Susan Sellers (eds). A History of Feminist Literary Criticism. Cambridge, 2007.
Feminist literary criticism is most concerned with the lives and experiences of women, both as writers who were often marginalized and ignored by mainstream literature, and as victims of patriarchal societies who have been confined to the domestic sphere for most of history. Men have not only subordinated women but also controlled education and defined which writers would and would not be included in the literary canon, and this is true even in modern, urban societies. Women have traditionally lacked political and economic power, and also been subjected to rape, violence and domestic abuse. If they rebelled against this systematic oppression, they were often labeled witches, lunatics and unnatural or 'unsexed'. Even in contemporary art and literature "images of women harmful to the health and welfare of both women and men continue to proliferate" (339). Asian, African and Hispanic women have often been ignored in history and their writings banished to obscurity, although Adrienne Rich and Alice Walker have played important roles in recovering all these 'lost' and forgotten works. Virginia Wolfe denounced the "tyranny of the patriarchal state" during her time, and this still exists in its pure form in many parts of the world (340). Feminist criticism is therefore an activist movement rather than a purely academic one, attempting to change the condition of marginalization, poverty and inequality in which the majority of women still endure in most of the world, from Africa to Asia to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It also works to locate and revive the work of past female writers like Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the United States and other Western countries.
Roland, Alan. Dreams and Drama: Psychoanalytic Criticism, Creativity and the Artist. Wesleyan University Press, 2003.
Psychoanalytic literary criticism experienced its heyday in the classical Freudian and Jungian era from the 1920s to the 1950s, although it still exists today in modified form. It no longer treats artistic and literary works as examples of "applied psychoanalysis," which "more often than not leads to a reductionistic dead end," but rather in an interdisciplinary manner (1). Freudianism has been in decline since the 1970s, along with its exclusive focus on instinctual, unconscious drives in conflict with the society and the superego. Today the emphasis is more on relational and interpersonal therapies that borrow from more than one model, and the main journal of literary criticism is the rather obscure Psychoanalytic Review. One important facet of this school of criticism focuses on the creative and imaginative processes and the relationship between artists and their work, and a "new conceptualization of an artistic self that needs particular kinds of self objects and transformational objects for its development, functioning and maintenance" (3). Dreams are also important in the creative process, in which symbols are metaphors that "only exist in incipient or incomplete form" are materialized and brought to consciousness (4). These already exist as components of the psyche, but in traditional psychoanalysis were regarded as underdeveloped primary processes that were considered inferior to the secondary processes "based on modernist, Western philosophical assumptions" (5). In the arts and literature, however, both of these processes are integrated, in the form of hidden emotions, desires, anxieties and body-images brought forth into conscious awareness. Psychoanalytic criticism also examines specific historical eras and cultures in order to understand the broader psychological meanings that are present in the work, such as narcissism, psychopathy, alienation, and the general relationship of characters to their society and environment.
Ryan, Michael. Literary Theory: A Practical Introduction. Oxford, 1999.
Historicism was the most important school of literary criticism up to the 1940s, when formalism and the New Criticism become dominant in the United States. Unlike formalism, meaning, context and subject matter are all as important as style, structure, harmony and balance in any work or art or literature. Historicists study "the links, explicit as well as covert, between literature and topical events," as well as the "worldviews" or particular times and places presented in the settings of literary works (128). Formalists rejected or minimized any analysis of historical contexts in literature in favor of textual analysis, but in the 1980s and 1990s historicism revived. New historicists such as Louis Montrose, Stephen Greenblatt and D.A. Miller led this revival, influenced by post-structuralism with a view of history not simply as a given set of dates, places and empirical facts but one that emphasized "the role of representation and discourse in social life" (129). This New Historicism as a form of discourse analysis understood that there were many competing narratives in any given historical era, from those of the elites attempting to assert hegemonic power to the marginalized, oppressed and alienated who opposed them. Historicists take it as a given that works of literature represent the diverse beliefs, customs and social and cultural practices of the periods in which they were written. These are connected to "status hierarchies, resistances, and conflicts in the culture," which can only be understood through historical research rather than considering the texts in isolation. For example, a Shakespeare play might be considered in light of the Protestant Reformation, witchcraft trials, the rise of absolute monarchy and the conflicts between aristocrats and commoners, or a character like King Lear could be compared to the real-life King James I (131).…