Part 1: Exercise

Reading, Literature, and Interpretation: Defining Our Theoretical Frameworks

1)     Based on your peer’s written response to our last class’s assignment, what basic definitions or classifications emerge for the following categories (these may be directly stated in the student’s writing, but more often than not implied):

“Text”                                                               “Good” literature                             “Bad” literature





















Thinking about the thinking

“Critical theory, in short, is simply thinking about thinking”

Robert Dale Parker, How to Interpret Literature


2)     What presuppositions surface in your peer’s answers that indicate his or her preferences, premises, assumptions, as well as past training perhaps in critical reading methodology?













Turn over to whole-group discussion – note a diversity of responses, contesting ideas.

David Richter: “Theory is the sort of talk we talk when we have lost our consensus. When nothing ‘goes without saying.’” Falling Into Theory

Whether you are aware of it or not, our class is already “in theory.”




Part 2: Exercise

Pretend an entirely new and unknown creature has been discovered.  You can assume the creature is alive. It has never been seen by human eyes until now. How specifically do you study it? What information or data would you look at, or like to know/obtain in order to study this creature effectively?


Open-class discussion





 The Connection:

We find similar routes of inquiry as we study literature: Note also, Bressler page 15

Figure  1: The Text





Synopsis Point: What can we take away from this? (see bullets 1-3 in Bressler’s text, page 17)

·         Our own criteria for evaluating, analyzing, and judging literature “concretizes an array of human values” and assumptions (Bressler 14).

·         Thus, all reading and interpretation is theoretically informed, conscious or not. Theory is inherent in every view toward literature. (See Parker, 2)

Even the most resistant reader makes theoretical decisions about what kinds of texts to value most, how to read and study literature, where to go to get a complete “examination of a text’s total artistic situation” or expression (Bressler 15): the text, culture, author, reader – all the above? We make theoretical decisions all the time that seem so “obvious,” so self-evident, that they’re not always recognized as theoretical or as decisions.

·         Remember, then, literary theory assumes there is “no such thing as an innocent reading of a text…” Our responses – to what literature “is” and what it does (or should do) – are “at the heart of literary theory” (Bressler 17).

·        Theory is interdisciplinary  (See Parker, 3).

·        It is relevant. It connects to the world around us and helps us understand things like art and aesthetics, politics, the environment, music, movies, identity, etc. (See Parker 3).

·         Important Terms

o   Literary criticism: “interpretation and insightful commentary” (Robert Dale Parker, page 3).

o   Literary Theory: interpretive models for how to interpret literature (See Parker, pages 3-5).

Ř  Both overlap, however, for theory includes criticism and criticism draws from theory.