LIST OF CRITICAL TERMS AND DEFINITIONS
The following glossary of critical and theoretical terms does not
pretend to be complete. I have not included words traditionally
associated with literary theory (symbol, metaphor, genre, etc.),
unless they have a special relevance to recent theory. On the
other hand, I have included a number of common words widely used
in recent theory (agenda, project, complicitous, etc.). I also
have not attempted to define whole theories, such as
deconstruction or new historicism; for such terms, reference
should be made to other handbooks or summaries of critical
theories. In some cases I have provided quotes, usually as
examples of the words being used. I welcome any corrections or
additions or examples of use: these may be given to me on disk or
sent by e-mail to Mhayward@grove.iup.edu. Many people have made
helpful suggestions: my thanks. There are certainly errors here
as well, for which I apologize, but I hope these will be
corrected as this list evolves. The list of terms may be searched
by means of the search command, /.
June 22, 1995
ABSENCE A felt lack of a particular quality,
particularly as that quality is called to
mind by other values in the text. In
deconstruction, the gap that is left after
the meanings implied in the text are
ABSOLUTIST Having a strictly defined sense of values
that are not open to question.
ADVERSARIAL A controversy in which two sides are opposed
with opposite and irreconcilable differences.
AESTHETIC DISTANCE A term from Hans Robert Jauss's reception
theory designating the distance between the
reader's expectations about a work (from the
horizon of expectations) and the work's
actual ability to fulfill these expectations.
AFFILIATION Having a connection, especially between two
AGENCY The power by which a particular individual,
group, or text could act, or the mode or
means of action.
AGENDA A program or plan for using one's theory to
arrive at a particular pre-determined
conclusion, usually for purposes that are
seen as political. Critics have agendas for
AGON Contestatory or conflictual.
AHISTORICAL Denoting universal or ideal qualities; the
idea that a literary work transcends or
exists outside of its historical context. A
formalist reading attempts to be ahistorical.
ALEATORY Depending on chance or having a random
ANALEPTIC Restorative or stimulating.
ANTI-COLONIAL Writing which attempts to resist the forces
ANTIHEGEMONIC A force of resistance to a dominant ideology
or power, with an attempt to weaken or call
into question that power.
ANTISYSTEMIC In opposition to a particular system or
APORIA A moment of undecidability in a text
(Lentricchia); a kind of gap in the meaning,
particularly as a part of deconstruction.
APPARATUS The methodological structure of a particular
APPROPRIATION Taking something over and using it for one's
own ends, particularly when one theory takes
over parts of another theory.
ARCHITECTONIC Relating to the scientific systemization of
knowledge; relating to architecture. "All
the values of actual life and culture are
arranged around the basic architectonic
points of the actual world of the performed
act or deed" (Bakhtin, 54).
ART A signification system in which an audience
is expected to evaluate and respond to
individual works (structures, constructions)
according to a formal set of criteria
determined within the system. This
signification system (aesthetics) is bound
within and interdependent with other systems
(culture, language, etc.), but at the same
time contains its own logic, axioms,
hypotheses, definitions, terms, etc., which
go to make up the set of criteria used
(though the criteria may change according to
time, culture, viewer, and so on). A "work
of art" is an object, structure, or concept
that an artist, critic, or any person
choosing to operate from within this
aesthetic signification system chooses to
evaluate or respond to according to the
principles operating within the system,
making the object, structure, or concept a
subject of the aesthetic response.
AUTHORITY Having control or power or assumed or real
AUTOELIC Bringing oneself forth.
AXIOMATICS General principles or initial hypotheses,
self-evident or universally recognized
BINARY OPPOSITION A dialectical relation in which there are two
units: a thing and its opposite or its
negative. The two opposing forces are
binaries. In Hegelian dialectics, a force
may generate an opposite or negative.
BOUNDARY That set of points which a theory marks out
for itself as the extreme limit of its
discursive reach or the sum total of the
negative oppositions that are generated by
qualities that lie at the center of the
theory; see also margins and centers.
CANONIZE To make a work of art part of a set of good
or pure or worthy works that everyone should
react to as being good or worth knowing
CARNIVALESQUE Contravening expected social, ideological,
and traditional norms using different voices
as a subversive move (from Bakhtinian
CARNIVALIZATION From Bakhtinian dialogics, a linking, within
a discourse, such as a novel, of different,
disparate qualities, such as the sacred and
the profane, the high and the low, formal and
informal, and so on.
CATACHRESIS An improper use of words or misapplied term;
a "metaphor without an adequate literal
CATHECT To concentrate psychic energy on a particular
person, thing, or idea.
CLOSURE A completion, a bringing together of open or
unreconciled themes, ideas, and images in a
CODED A process in which a set of meanings may be
inscribed or written within a text or
discourse, though such meanings may not by
obvious or visible at first.
COMMODITY A Marxist conception that a thing or a person
or an idea may be turned into an object of
commercial exchange and thus subject to the
rules of capitalism. "Turning art into a
commodity leads to a valorization of concepts
that insists [sic] on its form as closed, on
its aspect as finished or polished product. .
. . True art resists commodification by
resisting this closure" (Godzich 44).
COMPLICITOUS Being a partner in some wrong-doing.
CONFIGURATION A pattern of images, ideas, or meanings.
CONJUNCTURAL Occurring together.
CONTAINMENT A process by which a potentially resistive or
confrontational or contestatory statement or
meaning is weakened or held in by other
CONTEXT The environment in which a discourse or a
section of a discourse occurs.
CONTINGENCY A pattern or set of meanings which limits or
controls another meaning pattern.
CONTRAPUNTAL Finding alternative viewpoints, used to
describe the critical approach of Edward Said
(and others): "Said, in other words, offers
a set of alternatives and at the same time
legitimates the most attractive alternative
of all ■ for intellectuals: the image of the
non-dogmatic critic, who has not succumbed to
hermeticism, unstoppably generating
alternative images of intellectuals,
intellectual practice, and the social order ■
images whose value is determined
competitively in a battle for authority"
CONVERSATION A dialogic relationship in a discourse
between two or more speakers.
CRISIS A point at which a paradigm or other
structure might seem to break down.
CRISIS MANAGEMENT Using a number of different techniques and
approaches in order to solve a particular
problem in a literary text.
CRITIQUE A statement of critical evaluation.
CULTURAL REPRESENTATION The creation of an image of a culture
contains elements of key features of that
CULTURAL PRODUCTION The concept that a work of art is a product
particular culture at a particular time, and
is influenced by such factors as publication
variables (price, market, editorial
policies), review policies, audience
awareness and expectations, etc.
DECENTER To undermine the usual hierarchy of a
dominant system by showing that its center
may hold only a relative, not a fixed point,
or that the center may be exchanged with a
place on the margins.
DECOLONIZATION The attempt to cleanse a particular culture
or its cultural productions of the influence
of a colonial culture.
DEDIFFERENTIATION The loss of a specialized form.
DEFAMILIARIZATION The process which occurs to make a previously
known and accepted image, meaning, or idea
seem strange and unsuitable, to lose its
DEFER To put off assigning meaning or value to an
item or concept until a larger framework or
system is completed. As in deconstruction
the larger framework is never completely
fixed, there will an ongoing deference of
meaning. Deference is conjoined, by Derrida,
with difference to create the concept of
différance, a constant play of meaning that
never reaches closure.
DEHISTORICIZE To deny that ideas and beliefs are "specific
to a particular time, place, or social group"
DEIXIS Indicating or pointing; deictic. "Deixis is
the linguistic mechanism that permits the
articulation of all of these distinctions
between the here and the there, the now and
the then, the we and the you. It establishes
the existence of an 'out there' that is not
an 'over here,' and thus it is fundamental to
the critical enterprise" (Godzich 166).
DELEGITIMATION To question or negate the legitimacy of a
particular position, usually by questioning
or contesting its underlying assumptions.
DENATURALIZE To make something which seems natural and
universal strange or incoherent by exposing
its devices, to defamiliarize.
DEPLOY To use, as one might use parts of a theory.
DEVALUATE To undervalue or lessen the value of a
particular text or theoretical position.
DIALECTIC The development which arises from the
resolution of contradictions inherent in a
particular aspect of reality (Hegel).
DIALOGICS A system of literary analysis developed by
Mikhail Bakhtin emphasizing that meaning
develops from the interplay of different
voices in the text ■ polyvalence. Dialogical
voices in a novel represent multiple and
DIEGESIS "The spatial and temporal universe in which a
story unfolds, the linguistic actualization
of linguistic structures" (Riffaterre).
DIFFERENCE The idea, from deconstruction, that the
meaning of a term derives primarily from the
differences between it and other terms.
DISCOURSE The actual use of language between particular
human subjects for the production of specific
effects (Eagleton 9).
DISCURSIVE Related to the particular discourse in which
the element under study is found.
DISCURSIVE SPACE The area in which a discourse takes place,
bounded by actual space or by an ideological
DISINTERESTEDNESS The concept that a work of art can proceed to
give pleasure without seeming to speak to any
particular ideological or cultural
DISPLACEMENT The substitution of one set of theories or
ideas by another set, in distinction to a
development or evolution of ideas.
DOMAIN The area in which a particular discourse may
DOMINANCE The control that one particular ideology or
set of meanings may have over other
ideologies or ways of thinking.
DYSTOPIC An anti-utopic vision, in which the future is
seen only in negative terms ■ often used to
comment on unfavorable qualities in
ÉCRITURE FÉMININE The new language of the female Other which
deliberately ruptures binary systems of
synchronic and diachronic oppression.
EFFACE To erase or to make one unaware of a thing.
ELITE One group that is assumed to have higher
powers of intelligence, cultural awareness,
EMERGING Coming forth, generally after a period of
EMPLOTMENT The creation of a narrative plot.
EMPOWERMENT The gaining of economic, political, or
cultural power by a group or individual
ENABLEMENT Finding the power to express or develop a
ENGAGE To come into contact with for the purpose of
changing, challenging, or otherwise altering
a set of ideas or principles that might
previously have been in control.
ENUNCIATIVE Spoken or pronounced publicly.
EPISTEMOLOGY The study of ways of knowing, the theory of
the nature and limits of knowledge. "What
gives this model such persuasive power is its
way of translating spatial or perceptual
metaphors into a semblance of epistemological
rigor" (Norris, 37).
ESSENTIALIST The idea that ideas, words, or meanings have
an actual reality which may be discovered.
ETHNICIST A reading or placement of ideas into a
specific ethnic context.
EXCHANGE The concept that there is a transference
between two subjects or a subject and an
object of some value.
EXHAUSTION The end result of studying for a Ph.D. in
literature; the point at which a particular
literary genre or critical theory has found
all possible explorations for its purposes.
EXPRESSIVIST The theory that a work of art is the direct
expression of qualities in the mind or
imagination of the artist and bears marks of
his or her personality, intentions, feelings,
FETISHIZED To create a sense that a material object, an
idea, a person, an institution, a work of
art, etc., may have magical or extraordinary
FORMALIST A system of theory which emphasizes that
meanings are found directly in the text, with
little input from the reader, and little hope
of finding there traces of the author or the
GAPS Points in a text or discourse in which there
is a silence ■ something unsaid which might
be inserted by the reader ■ or in which two
ideas are juxtaposed but not connected.
GENDERING Assigning a gender specificity to a
particular element of culture or pattern of
behavior or theme, idea, or image.
GENEALOGY An attempt to trace the history of an idea by
looking at the role of that idea in a
culture, the ways it influences other
cultural forms, and the traces that it
GROUNDED Based upon a set of theories or principles.
GYNESIS The French feminist theory that looks to
undermine dualism in thought and culture,
believing that the Other, the female, must be
resituated not in opposition but within, to
open the unconscious (Alice Jardine), destroy
polarity and balance, and explore new thought
modes employing chaos, flux, playfulness,
jouissance (Mellor). Anglo-Americans
critique French feminists as apolitical;
French feminists see Anglo-Americans as co-
opted by the repressive structures they fight
GYNOCRITICISM The Anglo-American feminist theory that women
read and write differently than men because
of their biological differences and the
cultural construction of gender, and the
critic is to define the differences located
in biographical experiences and cultural
ideologies the condition the behavior and
modes of discourse open to women (Showalter).
It finds anger at patriarchal oppression but
positive values in the community,
cooperation, self-sacrifice, and care, and it
has a definite political agenda (Mellors).
HEGEMONY The way a governing power wins consent to its
rule from those it subjugates, or the ways it
coerces those it rules (Eagleton citing
Gramsci 112). Having complete control over a
system or a structure. A hegemonic discourse
is a language that orders and organize the
things that it talks about.
HERMENEUTICS The study of interpretation and systems of
interpretation. "Hence the seductive power
of any theory that promises to reconcile
these disjunct dimensions, to provide an all-
embracing hermeneutic model" (Norris 39).
HETEROGLOSSIA Having many written or spoken voices; the
intertextuality of different discourses under
the main ideology of the work.
HISTORICAL MOMENT A point in a particular culture at a
particular time when one or more than one
forces may be seen empowered or dominant.
HISTORICITY Finding a historical occasion for a
particular ideology or event.
HOLISTIC Having to do with the whole meaning, work,
HOMOLOGOUS Having the same value, structure, or
HORIZON OF EXPECTATION From Hans Robert Jauss's reception
(Rezeptionasthetik), the "sum total of
reactions, prejudgments, and verbal and other
behavior that greet a work upon its
appearance" (Godzich, 40-41).
HYPOGRAM A semantic or other pattern which calls
attention to itself.
HYPOTAXIS A dependent or subordinate relationship of
clauses or ideas.
IDEOLOGY A pattern of beliefs held by a group of
people, usually assumed to be the dominant
group, which beliefs may or may not have a
basis in reality, may or may not be
questioned by those who hold the beliefs, and
may or may not be propagated as "truths"
through representation or misrepresentation.
According to Althusser, ideology is "the
imaginary relationship of individuals to
their real conditions of existence" but at
the same time, "an ideology always exists in
an apparatus, and its practice, or
practices." Thus, "What is represented in
ideology is therefore not the system of the
real relations which govern the existence of
individuals, but the imaginary relation of
those individuals to the real relations in
which they live." For Lukacs, the "true
bearers of ideology in art are the very
forms, rather than abstractable content, of
the work itself" (Eagleton).
IDIOLECT One's individual mode of speaking.
INDETERMINACY The idea that within a text, there are
meanings that cannot be determined;
indeterminacy may focus more on the text,
undecidability on the reader.
INFRASTRUCTURES Structures within the body of the text,
discourse, or ideology that are specific to
it and serve to organize it and direct its
INSCRIBE To write, either physically or
metaphorically, especially with reference to
theories such as deconstruction which are
concerned with emphasizing the distinct
nature of the act of writing.
INSCRIPTION The "non-cognitive, material dimension of
language at the level of the letter, 'prior'
even, say, to its phenomenal presence in the
syllable or the word" (de Man). "Art, then,
is for Adorno at the inscription of social
conflicts, unfree and subject to ideological
control" (Godzich 43).
INSTITUTION A formally or informally organized unit
within society that has as its purpose the
accomplishment of a given set of goals or
objectives. Institutions tend to run on
their own inertia even when the goals are
accomplished or changed. "This is the
decisive proposition for modernity: language
is the originally instituting institution; it
provides the framework within which the
practice of the subject will be that of a
self-positing of the Self in language"
INTERPELLATE To question formally, or to cause within the
reader formal questioning and interaction
with a text. "All ideology hails or
interpellates concrete individuals as
concrete subjects, by the functioning of the
category of the subject" (Althusser).
INTERPRETATIVE COMMUNITY That body within a larger culture or
community which shares a set of assumptions,
terminologies, reading strategies, and
ideologies, who are assumed to be reading a
text in more or less the same ways with the
same results, or for whom the text was
assumed to be written, with the assumption
that they would read the text in a
particular, more or less fixed way.
INTERROGATION A questioning of the methods and assumptions
of a theory.
INTERSUBJECTIVITY The idea that individuals always exist in a
relationship with other individuals, with the
medium of language as mediating their
relationships. "For Kant, the fact that the
individual could not experience the object as
it was in itself required the postulation of
another dimension among individuals:
intersubjectivity" (Godzich, 46).
ITERABILITY Repeatability; capable of or performing
LEGITIMATION "The process by which a ruling power comes to
secure from its subjects at least tacit
consent to its authority" (Eagleton 54).
LIBERAL HUMANISM A concept from the Enlightenment that
proposes that individualism is of a high
value and that rationalism and reason will
provide a means to work out problems.
LOCALIZED Confined to a particular area, said of a
culture or an interpretation.
LOCATE To situate, to place a particular idea within
a particular context.
LOGOCENTRISM A theory or proposition that language is at
the center of all things; a kind of extreme
nominalism. "To treat logocentrism as an
epoch, in the wake of Heidigger and
Nietzsche, is to still hold out for a
possibility of undeceived language" (Godzich,
MAGISTERIAL Used pejoratively: Assuming the role as a
master; having inside knowledge. "Said or
any other magisterial intellectual modifies
and perpetuates one central component of
humanism: the sublime role of the leading ■
even if adversarial ■ intellectual whose work
is able both to shake the order of forces and
make possible a new accommodation" (Bove,
MARGINAL Existing at the edges of an authoritatively
or hegemonically defined structure,
institution, or culture, either by choice (as
from a desire to resist the structure or
institution) or not, as when the institution
or culture consigns individuals or groups to
the edges, with correspondingly fewer rewards
from the dominant group.
MARGINALIZATION The process of putting an individual or a
group at the margins and denying them access
to the main benefits that the dominant group
has under its control.
MEDIATING Creating a relationship between two
individuals, groups, texts, etc., with the
purpose of gaining something new by this
MEDIATION The outcome of the act of creating a
relationship between two different things
where no relationship might normally exist.
Mediation creates a flow of meaning between
METALEPSIS A reversal.
METONYMY The use of a part to represent the whole
(eg., I saw two skirts coming down the
street). This is compared to metaphor, which
finds an identity between two unlike objects.
Metonymy is seen to be a mark of the novel,
especially the realistic novel, and metaphor
a mark of poetry.
MISE EN ABYME "A mini-narrative encapsulating the narrative
that contains it, a specularity, a mirroring
of text by subtext reminiscent of the
Romantic conceit of the oak tree potential
within the acorn" (Riffaterre).
MISE EN SCENE The stage space in which the action of a play
or a movie takes place, together with the
properties within that space; the physical
environment of the play or movie.
MISPRISION Misapprehension or misreading. Often used in
MISREADING Bloom says that all readings are misreadings:
a recognition that when you read a text there
is always an interaction between you and the
text which will affect you and the your
interpretation. Strong misreadings open
bold, new interpretations; weak misreadings
only serve to capture and canonize the text
in limited structures.
MOMENT A key point within the text which a critic
can isolate as a center for interpretive
activity; the moment is related to the type
of theoretical approach. "What matters most,
in Adorn's view, is that each individual
analysis bring out the fundamentally critical
moment in the artefact, whereby it stands in
opposition to, and negates, the order and
ideology of its society" (Godzich 44).
MONOLOGICAL Having one single voice, or representing one
single ideological stance or perspective,
often used in opposition to the Bakhtinian
dialogical. In a monological form, all the
characters' voices are subordinated to the
voice of the author.
MOVES The process of applying critical or
theoretical procedures or methods to a text
in order to further the process of the
MYSTIFICATION By looking at a text in a deconstructive way,
you may turn a certainty into an uncertainty.
This opens a space in the text and
recuperates the text for the reader.
NARRATIVE MOMENT That point in a narrative when a number of
issues and events take a major turn or change
or find momentary or complete closure.
NARRATIVE SPACE The setting or physical context in which the
work takes place. The narrative space may or
may not coincide with the actual space that
the writer may claim for the story (eg.,
Dickens's London in David Copperfield may be
different than the actual London).
NARRATIVIZE To turn something into a narrative ■
especially to take an historical event (the
Gulf War) and treat it as an unfolding story
(cops vs. robbers).
NATURALIZATION Making something purely fictional or mystical
seem real ■ in opposition to denaturalization
or defamiliarization, in which the real is
made to seem unreal or exceptional.
NEGOTIATION A relationship that is worked out between a
reader and a text or characters within a
text, in which meaning (especially) is not
imposed by one on the other, but arises from
NEUTRALIZE To take a critical argument that makes a
strong assertion and undermine it by showing
that the premises of the argument are
NOMINALIST A philosophical idea beginning in the late
Middle Ages that believes names are merely
conventional ■ something everyone agrees on ■
and not indicative of any higher reality
behind the names. This is in distinction to
Realism, Platonism or Idealism, which assumes
that there is a reality, especially a higher
reality, connected with names. Nominalism is
to Realism as Materialism is to Idealism.
Deconstruction can be seen as an extreme form
NORMATIVE Making something conform to external norms or
standards or patterns, as a normative reading
of a work is a canonical reading. "It
[writing] opposes principles of
classification and is against normative rules
upheld by so many institutions that live off
them without any qualms" (Godzich 26).
NUANCE To make a thing more complex, more finely
tuned according to the standards and methods
of a theory. "Jauss's response was more
nuanced and addressed criticism from both
sides . . . " (Godzich 42).
OBJECTIFICATION "The moment of empathizing is always followed
by the moment of objectification, that is, a
placing outside oneself of the individuality
understood through empathizing, a separating
of it from oneself, a return into oneself"
OCCASION A moment for critical or theoretical inquiry.
ONTOLOGY The study of ultimate being and universal
truths. "The question does not make any
sense, for it presupposes an ontological
answer" (Godzich 28).
OPACIFICATION Making something that seemed clear opaque or
cloudy. "It [theory which seeks difference]
attempts to render visible all the language
that has been erased by the imperatives of
transparency, thus becoming a labor of
opacification, of restoring opacity where it
has been glossed over" (Godzich 26).
OPPOSITIONAL Attempting to resist a dominant theory or
practice, as in an oppositional pedagogy.
For Foucault, even the "leading oppositional
discourses, Marxism and psychoanalysis, do
not constitute break within the history of
power, but . . . completions of
impulses . . . already pervading culture"
OTHER A notion from the psychology of Jacques Lacan
that we project negative feelings or fears
from within ourselves onto our images of
other people, creating a view of that other
person or group of people as being totally
opposite to ourselves.
PARABASIS "A gesture of address that suddenly confronts
the audience of a representation with the
framework of its performance"; "the author's
intrusion that disrupts the fictional
illusion" (de Man). Schlegel defines irony
as "permanent parabasis."
PARADIGM The way a discipline studies its subject,
including methods, theories, facts,
hypotheses, instrumentation, standards,
systems of knowledge production and
dissemination, and so on. "This essay . . .
examines a paradigmatic shift in the nature
of pleasure and its consequences for our
conception of art that occurred between the
Enlightenment and Romanticism" (Godzich 49).
PARADIGMATIC Relationships between words based on
similarities in sound, meaning, and so on, as
compared to syntagmatic relations based on
PARALEPTIC Calling attention to a thing by stating its
omission, for example, "not to mention his
rudeness" (which is thereby mentioned and
PARATAXIS The coordinate relationship of clauses or
ideas that do not have connectives.
PATRIARCHAL Having to do with the idea that males
dominate in society.
PERFORMATIVE Language which attempts to get something
done, as opposed to constative language
PHENOMENAL Existing in reality, directly apprehendable
by sense. The phenomenal aspects of language
are its sound and apparent formal structure.
POLYSEMOUS Having many meanings; a layered text with
many levels of meaning is polysemous ■ and
there may be intertextual interweavings of
meaning. "With respect to the conceptual
system which establishes the organic unity of
the text, the discovery textual polysemy
takes on the form of an irruption which is
unexplainable" (Godzich, 178).
POST-ANTI-COLONIAL Theories which recognize the limits of anti-
POSTCOLONIAL After a period of colonization. Postcolonial
literature is written when a colony achieves
POSTMODERN A trend in modern art in which the creator
de-emphasizes the mimetic and defamiliarizes
the traditional generic forms. The work of
art calls attention to itself as artificially
constructed and claims itself to be a work of
art and only a work of art ■ without denying
that art may have a function as social
comment. Often the structural seams of the
work are left visible and even highlighted
and commented upon (in architecture, the
first postmodern form, structural supports
may not be hidden; a novelist may comment on
the plot being created). Postmodern (Po Mo)
works often re-use earlier forms of the
genre, but do not try to integrate them with
one another; rather, they are dealt with
POSTURE A particular critical or theoretical stand.
PRACTICE The employment of theory.
PRAXIS Employing theory and critical methods in a
particular way. The indissolubility of
action and significance (Eagleton re Marx
PRIVILEGED Given a higher value than would be granted in
the normal course of events; assigning a high
value within a particular critical or
theoretical or ideological system. "What is
at issue here is the high valuation of
artistic creativity vested in privileged
poetic tropes, especially metaphor and
symbol" (Norris, 28).
PROBLEMATIC "A particular organization of categories
which at any given historical moment
constitutes the limits of what we are able to
utter and conceive" (Eagleton 137).
PROBLEMATIZE To concentrate on an issue or point or moment
in a text which seems to be easily resolved
and show that it is not easily resolved.
PROSOPOPEIA Impersonation of an imagined or removed
PRODUCTION The cultural, historical, and physical
elements that create a text's material being
in the world.
PROJECT The methods and intentions of a particular
critic or theorist.
READING A process of interpretation in which all
parts of a text are made to fit one pattern.
RECEPTION The way a reader or a group of readers
receive a particular text, including the
reasons for their reactions to it and the way
it affects readers.
RECONTEXTUALIZATION After a thing is taken out of a particular
context, putting it into a new context in
order to reinterpret it.
RECUPERATIVE Recovering or remaking something that was
previously disregarded seem new and
important. "Echo can thus be transformed
from a symptom of loss into the force of
recuperation ■ but always on the
understanding that recuperation does not look
backward but advances cumulatively" (Godzich
REFLEXIVE Something which turns back on itself
REGISTER In discourse theory, the way diction, syntax,
and other linguistic features go to create a
particular tone or feel or intention for a
part of a text.
REPRODUCE To recreate in a text the dominant forces in
RESISTANCE A force which is put in opposition to a
dominant force, by direct or indirect means.
It might be claimed that direct resistance
(as in a dialectic) is co-opted by the
system, since the system defines the forms
which resistance might take. "This
resistance [of theory to a system] is not
determined by a negation. It results from a
calculated distanciation from identity"
RETERRITORIALIZATION To put a thing back into its territory.
ROOM The area in which critical or theoretical
discourse can operate.
RUPTURE A moment in a text when there are
irreconcilable meanings or events that cannot
be brought together into a smooth meaning.
SELF-REFLEXIVITY Referring to itself and awareness of itself,
usually said of a text which calls attention
to itself as a text. Postmodern work is
SIGNIFICATION The process of connecting a meaning with a
particular sign, usually a word.
SIGNIFIED The object or idea that is purported to be
represented by a particular sign. In one
what, the signified can be seen as the object
or thing itself; in another way, it could be
that space that is created in terms of
difference from other signifieds.
SIGNIFIER The sign, such as a spoken or written word,
which is taken to represent a particular
signified, or object or idea.
SILENCE An emptiness that occurs when a text refuses,
as a result of a conscious or unconscious,
purposeful or non-purposeful decision by the
creator of the text to mention a particular
object or quality, but when there are
elements in the text that force us to
recognize that that particular thing is not
being mentioned. An excellent example of
SITUATE To place a text or theory or idea within a
particular context, and to examine it from
that point of view.
SOLIPSISM The theory that the self can be aware of
nothing but its own experience.
SPACE The bounded area in which something takes
place, such as a narrative space, a critical
space, usually referring to a place in which
the boundaries are purposefully set by the
artist, critic, or theorist.
SPECIALISM The confinement of a theory or critical
analysis to one particular set of procedures or one particular point of view.
STANCE The position one adopts vis a vis a
particular issue or topic under discussion or
STRATEGIES Methodological tactics for dealing with a
particular critical or theoretical problem or
SUBALTERN Having a lower rank or position, especially
in terms of existing in a role of being
dominated or subject to authority, as being a
woman or a member of a colonized or
previously colonized nation.
SUBJECT According to Althusser, an individual is
always a reaction to and in an ideology:
"there is no ideology except by the subject
and for subjects," while we all "are always
already subjects." The ideology
"interpellates individuals as subjects" and
at the same the individual himself or herself
always exists only in the subject, and thus
"individuals are always-already subjects."
SUBJECT-CONSTITUTING A discourse in which the topic of the
the person speaking or the person spoken to
is created by that discourse.
SUBLATE "In Hegelian dialectics, negativity is the
movement of the concept toward its 'other,'
and a necessary stage in the passage to
Aufhebung, the overcoming or sublation of the
initial concept" (Godzich, 44-45).
SUBSTANTIALIST Based on the assumption that there is a true
reality or identity to the thing being
discussed, such as a universalist or realist
SUBVERT To undermine fixed or unquestioned
assumptions usually associated with a
particular ideology. "There are, according
to de Man, rhetorical forces at work in this
passage which effectively resist and subvert
that claim" (Norris, 50).
SURFACE The words themselves that make up a text,
together with their prosaic, everyday
SUTURE A point in the text at which two divergent
meanings may be joined together.
SYNTAGMATIC Relationships between words which occur by
virtue of the syntactic context of the words,
as compared to paradigmatic relations (other
words that are like that word).
TACTIC The employment of a critical or theoretical
procedure to accomplish one part of a larger
TELEOLOGICAL Finding within natural processes evidence of
a purpose related to the structure of the
TEXT A combination of operations within a work
resulting in continuous, creative,
constructive activities, that could be
influenced by many stands.
TRACE A kind of clue showing the presence of an
idea, even when its actual appearance cannot
be seen. "In our effort to define things, we
look for origins
TRANSCENDENTAL Reaching beyond the everyday world to an
assumed higher reality.
TRANSFORMATIVE The act or process that occurs to change the
whole being of a subject to an Other which
might or might not be a part of this subject.
TRANSHISTORICAL Meanings or elements of a culture which are
said to be beyond the influence of the
particular time and place in which they may
be found; universal or essential.
TROPE The use of an artistic construction of a
typical form, such as metaphor, simile, or
UNDECIDABILITY The idea that within a work there may be
meanings that cannot be resolved either
within the work or within the reader, whether
by means of reason and logic, historical
analysis, critical method, or subjective
interpretation. Compare indeterminacy.
UNGROUNDED Not based on a particular theoretical
UNIVERSALIZATION The idea that ideas and ideals may be true
for all people at all times.
UTTERANCE "A link in the chain of speech communication,
which cannot be broken off from the preceding
links that determine it both from within and
without giving rise within it to unmediated
responsive reactions and dialogic
reverberations" (Bakhtin). According to
Bakhtin, "the utterance is constructed while
taking into account possible responsive
reactions for whose sake, in essence, it is
VALORIZE To treat a thing as being of higher worth
than it might otherwise deserve, generally
not because of valuable qualities in the
thing itself, but rather because it serves
some other agenda.
VERISIMILITUDE Seeming to be "true to life" or lifelike.
According to Riffaterre, fictional
verisimilitude can take two forms: a
"conformity with ideological models" or
"consecution rather than in the mimesis
superimposed on it" ■ a kind of motivation in
the "visible coherence in the sequence of
causes and effects." They assume "two
[parallel] signifying chains" that create the
narrative and descriptive sequences. "The
former privileges the mimesis, a sign system
seemingly based on the referentiality of its
components" ■ ie, words refer. "The latter
privileges the narrative sequentiality that
is entirely within the text's boundaries."
But R. argues that "exterior referentiality
is but an illusion" in that "verbal
representations in the text refer to verbal
givens borrowed from the sociolect" and that
these exist in the text, explicitly or
implicitly "as presuppositions." "Thus the
narrative sequence and its diegetic
implementation (the mimesis) are both
intratextual, since both are derivations from
a given that selects simultaneously the
abstract structure that serves as a model for
the narrative sequence and the representation
that will first actualize that structure and
make it visible and readable. The reader can
neither perceive nor decode the one without
the other, since the narrative structural
invariant must be actualized, and it is the
diegetic sequence that performs this function
by transforming it into coherent variants."
VICTIMIZATION The result of an act of oppression by a
dominant culture or ideology. In traditional
terms, the dominant group is at the center,
the victims are marginalized. In current
theories, the victims become the center, the
dominant forces marginalized.
VOICE The idea of a speaking consciousness.
VOLITIONAL INTERDEPENDENCE Decisions are never completely free
or determined but rather rest upon an
interconnected set of factors, none of which
are, themselves, solely determinant (Murphy).