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Critical Encounters: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents

Critical Encounters: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents

by Deborah Appleman

Contemporary theory holds that there is no such thing as an innocent value-free reading. Instead, each of us has a viewpoint invested with presuppositions about ‘reality’ and about ourselves, whether we are conscious of it or not. People who deny having a critical stance, who claim they are responding “naturally” or being “completely objective” do not know themselves.

- Stanton, Literary Theories in Praxis, p. 2

Literary theory functioned in my life as a prism, which I could turn to refract different spectral patterns of language use in a text, as one does daylight. Turn the prism this way, and one pattern emerges; turn it that way and another pattern configures.

-Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

For knowledge isn’t just something we acquire; it’s something we are or hope to become. Knowledge is what constitutes our relationship to ourselves and to our world, for it is the lens through which we view ourselves and our world. Change the lens and you change both the view and the viewer. This principle is what makes knowledge at once so frightening and so liberating, so painful and so utterly, utterly joyful.

Lois Tyson, 1999

The main reason for studying theory at the same time as literature is that it forces you to deal consciously with the problem of ideologies...There are many truths and the one you will find depends partly on the ideology you start with. [Studying theory] means you can take your own part in the struggles for power between different ideologies. It helps you to discover elements of your own ideology, and understand why you hold certain values unconsciously. It means no authority can impose a truth on you in a dogmatic way--and if some authority does try, you can challenge that truth in a powerful way, by asking what ideology it is based on... Theory is subversive because it puts authority in question.

- Bonnycastle, In Search of Authority, p. 34

To read the world is to notice... to understand... and to interpret... the world around us needs all the lenses and to use them is to respond to the world itself.

- Jenny, Grade 12

...literary theory can handle Bob Dylan just as well as John Milton.

-Terry Eagleton