The Novel After Theory

The Novel After Theory

by Judith Ryan


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Novels began to incorporate literary theory in unexpected ways in the late twentieth century. Through allusion, parody, or implicit critique, theory formed an additional strand in fiction that raised questions about the nature of authorship and the practice of writing. Studying this phenomenon provides fresh insight into the recent development of the novel and the persistence of modern theory beyond the period of its greatest success. In this book, Judith Ryan opens these questions to a range of readers, drawing them into debates over the value of theory.

Ryan investigates what prompted fiction writers to incorporate and respond to theory nearly thirty years ago. Designed for readers unfamiliar with the complexities of theory, Ryan's book introduces the discipline's major trends and controversies and notes the salient ideas of a carefully selected set of individual thinkers. Ryan follows novelists' adaptation to and engagement with arguments drawn from theory as they translate abstract ideas into language, structure, and fictional strategy. At the core of her book is a fascinating microstudy of French poststructuralism in its dialogue with narrative fiction.

Investigating theories of textuality, psychology, and society in the work of Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, J. M. Coetzee, Margaret Atwood, W. G. Sebald, and Umberto Eco, as well as Monika Maron, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Durgaas, Marilynne Robinson, David Foster Wallace, and Christa Wolf, Ryan identifies subtle negotiations between author and theory and the richness this dynamic adds to texts. Resetting the way we think and learn about literature, her book reads current literary theory while uniquely tracing its shaping of a genre.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231157421
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 12/13/2011
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Judith Ryan is the Robert K. and Dale J. Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Harvard University. Her publications include Rilke, Modernism, and Poetic Tradition and The Vanishing Subject: Early Psychology and Literary Modernism, and, as coeditor, A New History of German Literature.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Knowing Theory
Part 1: Theories of Textuality
1. The Death of the Author
2. Structure, Sign, and Play
Part 2: Psychological Theories
3. The Mirror Stage
4. Women's Time
Part 3: Theories of Society
5. Systems of Constraint
6. Simulacra and Simulation
7. Lines of Flight
Conclusion: Talking Back to Theory

What People are Saying About This

J. Hillis Miller

A brilliantly lucid, learned, and readable book demonstrating persuasively the inherence of high theory in a wide range of 'postmodern' novels. The work of De Man, Derrida, Lacan, Kristeva, Foucault, Baudrillard, Deleuze, and Guattari is shown in convincing detail to have instigated both the form and theme of novels by Swift, DeLillo, Pynchon, Kristeva, Coetzee, and many others.

Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel - Pericles Lewis

This compelling and highly readable study shows how a wide range of major novelists of the last fifty years have engaged with theory and thus how theory has transformed the practice of novel writing. Judith Ryan, a distinguished scholar of modern German and comparative literature, turns her critical gaze to contemporary literature in French, German, and English. She shows how two generations of novelists, educated in university literature departments and cognizant of debates about 'the death of the author,' the arbitrariness of the signifier, and the 'power/knowledge' continuum, took up these theories in their own works, often to rebut them, and how their novels-far from being dry theoretical manifestos-gained in subtlety and literary value as a result of the exchange. This is a fine work of literary criticism—showing that not only the novel but criticism too is alive and well after theory.

Stanley Corngold

The Novel After Theory is a brilliant project, expertly accomplished. With clarity, erudition, and intellectual verve, Judith Ryan shows how recent major novels flesh out the main articles of the literary theory dominant in the last fifty years. The result is a heightened appreciation of theory in its pure state and the fiction by which it is enriched and which it in turn enriches.

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