Methodology


While Candlewycke does not endorse any single critical method or exegesis over any other it is useful to understand the various theories underpinning literary studies, how they relate to the author and text and how they underscore past and current trends in literary thought. This list was compiled of the commonly accepted schools of literary criticism and their methodologies along with a brief description with an eye towards assisting the student, researcher, scholar or the curious minded aficionado in better understanding  the subject matter.  This is by no means an exhaustive list but is intended to serve as an introduction to the diverse methods used when considering, evaluating, reviewing or interpreting children’s literature as well as the hermeneutics (the study of interpretation itself) of children’s literature and fairy tale studies. When considering children’s literature, which can be intensely personal there is a tendency to look with a slant towards confirmation bias, which is putting your own thoughts, views and ideas into the text rather than letting the text and through it the author speak for in their own voice. There is nothing wrong with this if the topic is of a personal nature or if the goal to is show the personal relevancy of the source material but Candlewycke strives to go deeper.  Most importantly Candlewycke seeks to stand against the narrow, insulating opinions of academia that have for too long been the sole arbiters of criticism and opinion in regards to literature and to

Aestheticism: Often associated with Romanticism. It

Aestheticism: Often associated with Romanticism. It is the focus on the aesthetic value of the material.

Pragmatism: Focuses on the concept that a literary motif is true if the text reveals itself to be true. This often proves rather limiting and is usually employed as a philosophical method to add nuance to criticism rather than as a point of criticism itself.

Cognitive: Employees the philosophy of the mind and cognitive attributes to study literature. Often mingles with psychoanalysis.

Cultural: Emphasizes the role of literature in everyday life.

Comparative: Studies one text by comparing it with one or more other texts which may be related or non-related.

Darwinian: studies literature through the lens of evolution and natural science.

Deconstructionism: Intense scrutiny on key concepts within a given text with the aim of deciphering paradoxes which make the text unknowable and thus deconstructed.

Gender: The study of Literature as it relates to masculine, feminine or neutral gender related qualities. Feminism tends to dominate this method criticism leaving the field of masculine studies woefully underappreciated.

Formalism: Focuses on the actual form the text takes and the meaning inherent within that form.

Hermeneutics: focuses on the theory of interpretation itself over the interpretation of a particular text. Hermeneutics is most popular with religious studies but has uses that are often overlooked in the study of children’s literature and folk and fairy tales.

Philology: The study of language, speech and the written word as expressions of meaning.

Marxist: studies the role of class distinction and conflict. George MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie is one example where Marxist criticism could easily apply.

Modernism: Studies a given text as it relates to “modern” social values, ideas, systems of thought and criticism. Modernism is a broad school of thought but tends to focus on areas that arose during the 19th and early 20th centuries that were considered socially and politically progressive.

Post-Modernism: is a tendency in contemporary culture characterized by the rejection of objective truth and global cultural awareness. It emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations; in particular it attacks the use of sharp classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial.

New Criticism: Text Centric methods which rejects extra-textual sources. Popular from the 1920’s to the 1960’s and is considered to belong to Formalism.

New Historicism: Examines literature in its historical context and seeks to understand history through Literature.

Post-Colonialism: Studies the role of colonialism in literature and the effect colonial expansion has on societies, individuals, politics and other related areas of interest. The writing which emerged in Africa after the end of Apartheid is one example. Uncle Tom’s Cabin could also be one example as it focuses on the issue of slavery which was an integral component of colonialism. However the term itself is most often used to refer to the late 19th and early 20th century period of global colonial expansion.

Post- Structuralism: This is a catch all term which has never been fully defined but is often used to differentiate from structuralism.

Psychoanalytic: Explores the role of the conscious and unconscious mind in literature including the author, reader and characters in the text.

Reader Response: Focus on the reader rather than the author or text. Often mingles with psychoanalysis but can be employed to further refine almost any other method of criticism.

Structuralism: the study of literature as understood to be constructed of many parts.

Textualsim: focus on the actual text. Unlike Formalism it is less concerned with the form of the text than it is with the actual substance of the text and what the text is trying to say.

Transcendentalist:  A branch of Reader Response criticism that focuses on the study of literature as a vehicle for creative expression and on the ability of a given text to alter the perceptions of the reader, to illuminate and motivate as well as to illustrate deeper meaning. Magical realism can be studied under this light.

Semiotic: The study of the signs and symbols embedded within a literary text. For example, the meaning behind Tootles shooting down the Wendy Bird and the symbolism  of the Wendy House in J. M. Barries Peter Pan and Wendy; The meaning behind why the “other mother” wanted to replace th eyes of Coraline with button in Neil Gaimans novel for children Coraline. This study includes not only the meaning behind the symbols but  also the inquiry into the symbols themselves and how they affect the reader ie; How does the symbolism  of the crown and scepter in “Where the Wild things are” influence the readers understanding of the story, or  does the specific choice of words used by Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Webb” impact the reader in different ways than other possible word choices. Semiotics seeks to delve deeper  than the simple symbolic idea of a  sign representing a thing  or  idea and undertakes to determine why that sign or symbol is employed, in what ways the signs differ from the thing or idea being referenced and how they influence our understanding  of what is being referenced and in turn how it contributes to a  more full understanding  of the text. Umberto Eco jokingly suggests that semiotics is a discipline for studying everything which can be used in order to lie.  An attribute especially fitting for children’s literature. Understanding the Semiotic Triad is useful.

The object is the thing itself… The sign  or symbol  represents our  concept of the object based on how we perceive it to be. That concept in turn relates to the actual object via our experience of it. The object then relates to the sign or symbol based on pre-determined conventions which are used to represent the object symbolically.  The sign is dependant on three components.

1: Syntactic: The recognition of the sign as being a reference to an object.  Otherwise the sign itself becomes disassociated with the object.

2: Semantic: The comprehension of the signs meaning  . Once we know we are looking at a sign we must them determine what the sign is telling us.

3: Pragmatic: The interpretation of the relevance which the sign holds in respect to the object. Once we discover the meaning of the sign we must determine if the sign accurately reflects, modifies, or negates our perception of the object while still reflecting the inherent nature of the object itself.

KEY TERMS:

Bildungsroman: The coming of age story

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