Books / Uncategorized / Writing Advice

literary theory and criticism

As a writer, it’s all very interesting to be able to brag about Baudrillard, Cixous, Bhabha, Spivak, or any other fancy-panter out there. But is it actually helpful to your writing to know about literary theories and criticisms?

I’ve been exposed to lots of new and confusing ideas at uni, most of it going in one ear and out the other by the time the semester is through. I’ve retained a little, but not nearly enough as others in my classes who can actually say they’re a ‘fan of Foucault’ (well, I’m a big fan of Anne Rice. Does that count for anything?).

It may be interesting to learn about (although not as much fun to read), but in terms of creativity, I don’t know if my stories and poems are any better off for having studied all these people.

Which leaves me wondering, was there any point?

I don’t read a text thinking, “Oh, look how postmodern he’s being!”, or “That character is very Derridean”. And I don’t write a story with simulacrum or the subaltern or humanism in mind. I’m just not that kind of reader/writer.

And maybe that’s a good thing after 4 years of being told to analyse analyse analyse.

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4 thoughts on “literary theory and criticism

  1. Critics and theorists are analytic; creative writers are syncretic. I know exactly what you mean about Foucault et al. Interesting to read and cogitate over but their ideas have nothing remotely to do with how great books are written or, for that matter, read (outside of academia).

    • You’re right that they are two very different things, but I don’t know whether they can be definitively separated.

      A lot of theory and criticism is based on social/cultural/political response, as are a lot of books. I’m sure there are plenty of writers who do look to theories of gender and sexuality when writing books based around certain ideologies or that are pushing a certain agenda. I personally don’t think of myself as consciously writing in response to anything (even though I probably am), which is why I don’t think the theorist study helped my creative work.

      Mostly I’m just curious to know how many writers do look to theories and criticism to inform them ideologically and technically, and how many just write.

  2. I’m a member of NBCC, write criticism and reviews for media, and have written several books as well (fiction, poetry). My take on it is that while serious writers read and absorb the theorists on one level, that all has little bearing on the initial creative process (which is akin to “play” and resides primarily in the subconscious), but in the revision stages of a work these ideas may receive some consideration. All IMHO, of course.

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