Preface to the 2019 Edition
Welcome to Critical Theory! We know that this field probably seems daunting, but now that you’re here, we’re here to help you get more comfortable with concepts such as ideology, constructivism, and the uncanny, to name a few. This handbook is a student-built guide that explains and exemplifies different literary theories. Written in accessible language with modern-day examples, this handbook seeks to make literary theory more manageable.
This handbook is a blend between a traditional textbook and an experimental anthology. It includes a range of pieces that show students grappling with the concepts themselves. Moreover, it’s free and organized according to the theories presented in the syllabus.
Throughout this course, we grappled with challenging questions: What is the purpose of literary studies and why does it matter? What does it mean to read and analyze a text critically? How do literary and cultural representations construct, reproduce, or resist particular discourses and subjects–gendered, racial, or postcolonial? While focusing on these questions, we became masters of critical theory in our everyday lives.
Drawing on examples such as Harry Potter or Aladdin, texts that are already familiar to many of us, the pieces in this handbook help to clarify theoretical concepts. They also reveal that critical theory is all around us all of the time. The more time that you spend in this class, the clearer that will become. This course will force you to dive deeper into complex thoughts you never knew you had. It will also help you see the interconnectedness to all of these theories, how they all seep into each other, and how each one can be applied to real-life scenarios. If upperclassman have scared you about taking this class, take heed; this class can be hard work, but the pay-off is real. You will genuinely feel smarter after you take this course. Trust us, it’s a great feeling.
Learning theory paves so many paths for different ways of thinking. This handbooks represents a collaboration of many different individuals coming together to both learn and teach theory. The essays included cover many different, essential theoretical movements such as different critical race theory, feminism, psychoanalysis, ideology, the uncanny, among others. By learning critical theory, you will have a better understanding of the reasons why society functions as it does. We hope that this public open-access resource, with its ever-growing plethora of student-authored theoretical essays, facilitates peer learning and mitigates theory anxiety.
By reading your peers’ interpretations of the class concepts, you will come closer to forming your own. These interpretations, including those you will come up with yourself, will always be malleable. After you understand this, you will also come to realize that malleability is what is so beautiful about critical theory.