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Literary Theory

Achebe and English

“The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use.” Chinua Achebe. Writer and critic Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) is here commenting on the fate of his writing in a “world language” such as English, rather than in a language native to Nigeria, where he was born. Achebe […]

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Literary Theory

Modernism and Concealed Surfaces

“Profundity must be concealed. Where? On the surface.” Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), an Austrian modernist writer, is here remarking on a central modernist principle. The idea is that profound truths are no longer to be thought of as hidden or revealed (or hidden-in-order-to-be-revealed), as many religions or philosophies will have it. For […]

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Literary Theory

Jamesian

“You after all then now don’t?” Henry James (The Sacred Fount). Henry James (1843-1916) is notorious for writing things like “What could he have done, after all, in her lifetime, without giving them both, as it were, away?” which comes from his short story, “The Beast in the Jungle.”Reading James can be extremely frustrating at […]

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Literary Theory

Brooks and Poetic Language

“But the poet has no one term. Even if he had a polysyllabic technical term, the term would not provide the solution for his problem.” Cleanth Brooks. Cleanth Brooks (1906-1994), a major figure in American New Criticism, here explains that ambiguity, paradox, tension, and connotation are all central to poetic language. The specific poet in […]

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Literary Theory

Blanchot and Poverty

What is irritating about poverty is that it is visible, and anyone who sees it thinks: You see, I’m being accused; who is attacking me? Blanchot. The quotation above is from Maurice Blanchot’s story, “The Madness of the Day” (“La Folie du jour”), translated by Lydia Davis (The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction and Literary […]