Help me find an essay on structuralist (?) literary theory
June 8, 2010 8:16 PM   Subscribe

Help me find an essay on structuralist (?) critical/literary theory that I read in a class long ago.

The essay, which I think was written from a structuralist point of view, discussed the transformation of human thought from specifics to generalities. The author explains that numbers used to always refer to actual objects, and it took a while for civilization to get the hang of discussing numbers as abstract concepts. The same applies to laws of physics, where we had to make a leap from thinking of gravity as some property inherent in the objects drawn toward each other, to gravity as a universal law that is built into the fabric of things.

The upshot is that a similar leap must be made in literature; we must go from thinking of novels etc. as things in themselves to seeing them as works that illuminate universal aesthetic principles.

I suspect that it may have been by Matthew Arnold, but I'm not sure. Also, I think that the same volume may have contained a structuralist analysis of Disneyland, although that was by a different author. However, that is only a possibility... there were two books assigned for the class, and it may have been in the other one.

The class was "literary theory after 1800." I have contacted the professor, who doesn't remember the essay (it was about 17 years ago).
posted by bingo to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The essay doesn't ring a bell, but this sounds like a class that would have used Hazard Adams's Critical Theory since Plato as a text.

Maybe check there?
posted by felix betachat at 9:37 PM on June 8, 2010

Fredric Jameson – The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism?
posted by avocet at 9:40 PM on June 8, 2010

Response by poster: felix betachat: That was definitely one of the two books in the class. So it may be in there... wish there was a cheaper way for me to get hold of it... I will check my local library.

avocet: Thanks for the suggestion, but I don't think that's it.
posted by bingo at 9:19 AM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: I found it. The essay is called "The Function Of Criticism At The Present Time," by Northrop Frye. If anyone is curious, it's available online here, in a revised version titled "Polemical Introduction."
posted by bingo at 1:30 PM on June 9, 2010

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