Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 8 (July-Sept 1984) p. 61.


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The Changing Text

Kumkum Sangari

LITERARY criticism has made immense territorial gains in the past three decades. It has at the same time put to severe question the category of'literature' itself. The study of what was known as literature has spilled into the study of cultural documents (oral narratives, folklore, fairytale, popular genres, media forms, the neglected writing of women, blacks, working class, ethnic groups) and 'non-literary' texts (political, philosophical, historical, scientific). The major critical trends which have in different ways legitimized the broadening of the field are the structuralist, the feminist, the marxist, and the poststructuralist Produced by cultural developments which span the century, often intertwining at the roots, and despite different political affiliations, they have been movements of dissent against the entrenched orthodoxy of British, American and French universities since the sixties. This oppositional role as well as the controversial status of'methodology' in a larger ideological debate have combined to reconstitute literary criticism as a political act The thrust of this opposition has been to reveal the biases within aesthetic criteria which make up accepted notions of 'literariness' and 'greatness', and to dismantle the methods and institutions through which canons and hierarchies are made and maintained. It is not merely the recognition of the cen-trality of literature to any theory of culture, and vice versa, which had led to the growth of critical theory. The wide appropriation of literature by 'other disciplines, as a space where in to conduct pressing debates on the nature of language, of reality, of the construction of subjectivity, gender and ideology, of the relation between art and the material conditions in which it is embedded, has sharpened the need to reformulate conventional notions of the literary text.

Journal of Arts and Ideas 61


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