Jump to content

Critical Theory Reading List


Recommended Posts

Hello friends,

I am looking for suggestions of authors/articles/books that explore different areas of critical theory. I love theory, and would therefore really appreciate any and all proposals. And even if theory isn't your thing, I'm sure a majority of you have had some sort of experience with it, if only through researching your own field of interest.

So anyway, any suggestions for theory readings? I am particularly interested in performance studies, disability theory, identity politics, diaspora politics, feminist theory, linguistic theory, Marxist theory...okay, let's be honest, I'm interested in it all. So please, help me form a Spring/Summer reading list!

My first suggestion: On Photography by Susan Sontag. I'm reading it now and really enjoying it. It was written in the 70s so lots has changed in the field of photography, but I think she provides a very profound foundation for understanding the influence that cameras/photographers/photographs have had on constructing culture. Plus, her theories are made all the more interesting when applied to comtemporary photography and global technology.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Terry Eagleton's, Literary Theory: an Introduction,is always a good place to start--in gives a comprehensive overview of the history of critical theory in brief discussions of the biggest contributors to literary schools of thought.

As far as feminist theory, I'm really not big into feminism, but I just read Gilbert & Gubar's Madwoman in the Attic, and it was an interesting to consider some of the 19th century roots from which feminist approaches have unfolded. I must say, the Victorians were also not as "Victorian" as we often think, and G&G do a fine job of subtly hinting that women were actually at times trying to subvert their patriarchal confines in literary attempts rather than bend to them. I am hugely into aestheticism right now, and Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde propose mindboggling ways to interact with art that also bring up a strongly anti-feminist polemic (which is why I read Madwoman, to see the other side of the argument).

I read a really cool article on linguistic theory that attempts to show how the American english dialogue is largely imbued with markers of time and money to express ourselves, though I can't remember what it was called...so I'm sure that isn't very helpful. Maybe a Google search could point you in the right direction? Deborah Tannen is also someone to look at who considers the linguistic differences in communication between men and women (now that I am writing all this out, I realize I actually have had a lot of experience with feminist perspectives despite my distaste of them haha).

Hegel and Derrida (Of Grammatology) are also favorites of mine, and everyone should probably become familiar with the main tenets of Freud and Lacan as applied to literary theory at some point--I had one class where we deconstructed (Derrida) Poe's The Purloined Letter through the power/agency/position (Lacan) of the different hands that the letter fell into given their gender (Freud), and that was perplexing to say the least.

T.S. Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent and The Perfect Critic outline his take on a New Critical approach, and his Ulysses, Order, and Myth is an example of its application to a text.

....those are just some of the works that have left lasting impressions on me in the past year or so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also love Of Grammatology. So much. "Structure, Sign, & Play" is also a good place to start with Derrida; it's significantly shorter, for one, and a bit more accessible, imo.

Judith Butler's On Bodies is great; the final chapter is an especially good essay.

Jasbir Puar, who's at Rutgers, wrote Terrorist Assemblages, and it was one of the greatest things I've ever read. Definitely some of the best theory to come out in recent years (not that I'm familiar with all new theory; the book is just that amazing).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've got a copy of the big daddy: the Norton Anthology of Critical Theory. While I haven't nearly skimmed the surface of that monster, if you're focused on theory, that might be a good pickup. Lately I've been interested in pragmatism: Sontag, Rorty and Knapp and Michaels have been on my reading list in the last couple weeks.

Otherwise, I'm getting ready to rewatch Paul Fry's class on the subject. I'm waiting until I get accepted somewhere until I start, however. It's my little way of not fully committing every last ounce of free time I have to this dream. The online course, however, is very good: http://oyc.yale.edu/english/introduction-to-theory-of-literature/content/sessions/lecture01.html

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've got a copy of the big daddy: the Norton Anthology of Critical Theory. While I haven't nearly skimmed the surface of that monster, if you're focused on theory, that might be a good pickup.

Oh, this is a great idea! I have this, and I found it so very helpful. Each theorist is introduced with a little bio that summarizes the main arguments of their main theoretical work. It really helps to provide some solid footing before tackling some of the more complicated stuff.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Eagleton's "Literary Theory" isn't a bad place to start, but if you're interested in critical theory as such you can really do no better to start with Marx (quickly followed by Freud), as his critique of political economy really forms the bedrock for social theory sui generis. Buffet-style anthologies are good (especially as primers with an expressly historical overview), but an interest "in it all" requires, in my view, digging into the thing itself.

One could do much worse than Capital Vol 1, but I think Lukacs's History and Class Consciousness is probably an easier start, especially for those of us with an interest in the development of Frankfurt School aesthetic and social theory. Wherever one starts, I feel he or she will inevitably need to learn this material; I made my way there from Foucault and have been much happier, personally! Gail Ruben might also be a good point of departure, given your specific interests.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm excited to see someone else interested in Performance Studies! Check out David Bevington's Murder Most Foul, which I am enjoying right now. Also, David Kastan's Shakespeare After Theory is an interesting read so far. Obviously I'm a little bent toward the bard, but I would really like to read more about contemporary works as well. I'm particularly interested in identity creation, i.e. how a writer, director and actor create in different ways with the same text. Anyone have good recommendations?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

do some history of philosophy (descartes, spinoza, leibniz, berkeley, hume, kant, etc). i hear derrida from literary folks all the time, but only to find that they haven't read most of the things he's writing about. OG seems like a pointless read at best if you haven't spent some time with heidegger, saussure, levi strauss, and rousseau (or at least with one of them; i feel that a good understanding of derrida requires some knowledge of the kind of discourse within which he's attempting to work.)

also, there's some far more 'literary' derrida out there that's more interesting than the usual stuff, e.g. Glas or The Truth in Painting.

sorry if i seem like i'm attacking the derrida recommendations above - OG is great, just overplayed, and probably overplayed for the wrong reasons. if anything is indicative of the 'reification of deconstruction', it's the preponderance of that book on the shelves of lit folks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jasbir Puar, who's at Rutgers, wrote Terrorist Assemblages, and it was one of the greatest things I've ever read. Definitely some of the best theory to come out in recent years (not that I'm familiar with all new theory; the book is just that amazing).

Yeah, this was great -- really recommend checking it out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks and Wretched of the Earth are both interesting on race and colonialism. I also suggest some Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text and Walter Benjamin "Theses on the Philosophy of History,” “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” if you haven't already read them both. I'd also check out Aime Cesaire's Discourse on Colonialism. And then the Frankfurt School--it does help to read up on Adorno and Horkeimer, “The Concept of Enlightenment, “ The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in The Dialectic of Enlightenment even if you think they're a little out there (they can be really productive). One of my favorites is Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation).” And then of course there's Foucault (especially important in terms of identity politics), and I also like Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle. And for feminism, I suggest the work of Andrea Smith, Chandra Mohanty, Puar (mentioned above) and the Bridge books (Bridge Called My Back, Bridge We Call Home). And check out Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic too (diaspora, performance).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've got a copy of the big daddy: the Norton Anthology of Critical Theory. While I haven't nearly skimmed the surface of that monster, if you're focused on theory, that might be a good pickup. Lately I've been interested in pragmatism: Sontag, Rorty and Knapp and Michaels have been on my reading list in the last couple weeks.

Otherwise, I'm getting ready to rewatch Paul Fry's class on the subject. I'm waiting until I get accepted somewhere until I start, however. It's my little way of not fully committing every last ounce of free time I have to this dream. The online course, however, is very good: http://oyc.yale.edu/.../lecture01.html

I'm listening to the Fry lectures at work today - thanks for the tip.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So many great recommendations. Thanks everyone!

Any suggestions for space/place theory?

I don't know if these are really the best way in to space and place, but they're where I started:

de Certau's The Practice of Everyday Life

Lefebvre's The Production of Space

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

Adding to the suggestions above, The Disability Studies Reader can be a good place to start for disability studies. Also, Crip Theory.

If you are interested in looking at journals, GLQ had an issue on disability and queer theory, edited by Robert McRuer & Abby Wilkerson (the former edited Crip Theory. Both worth looking into)... There is also always the Disability Studies Quarterly, which covers a range of perspectives and modalities.

I do a lot of work in this area & queer theory (mostly relating to psychiatry), so feel free to message me if you are looking for more. Have fun :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To the original poster, if you want to supplement Sontag, DEFINITELY get a hold of Barthes's Camera Lucida. I encountered it in 2 art history courses before my lit theory seminar, and it all fit together well in the long run. A good supplement to Benjamin's "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."

To supplement the second post, I'd also supplement Madwoman with Spivak's later reflections on Jane Eyre and related texts. I use both in a Brit Lit course I teach to provide multiple views of the novel.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Performance Studies: Richard Schechner has an overview called Performance Studies. He also looks at the different theories surrounding its creation, since he was one who codified performance studies as it is seen today. It's a good jumping off point to then go into all the other many facets. I particularly like Joseph Roach's work within this field.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with everyone who mentioned Jasbir Puar; she was the keynote at our department graduate conference held today, and I'm in awe. Terrorist Assemblages is fantastic, and her new work also is great. Wendy Hesford is also brilliant; her new book Spectacular Rhetorics is phenomenal.

I have to mention How We Became Posthuman by Katherine Hayles and Simulation and Simulacra by Baudrillard. For those who are science inclined, Karen Barad's Meeting the Universe Halfway is a great reading of materiality and meaning from a feminist quantum physicist perspective.

And now I must dive back into Hayles to finish up at least 1 thesis chapter.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use