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on 8 July 2005
This is a short, largely jargon-free guide to literary theory, which explores the field not by school of criticism (formalism, post-structuralism, etc.), but rather by theme. This is a good approach, although it arguably leaves the reader with a slightly hazy sense of the particular theoretical contributions of people like Foucault and Barthes. But Culler writes very clearly, and this is a good starting point for exploring this area, although it would perhaps best be used in conjunction with a book like Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory or Raman Selden's Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory.
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on 3 April 2013
I'm sure I'm going to have owned three copies of this book in a very short space of time. The first copy I gave away to a stranger on the tube after he had been reading it over my shoulder between London Bridge and West Ham - a good read! He nudged me by way of starting a conversation about the book. Giving it to him was not difficult because replacing it would be a financial triviality and also I knew by then that what I was sharing was well worth the act of giving it away. I'll buy a third copy soon - sure I'll be giving away again soon.

The introductory chapter will leave your tongue hanging and if your a budding poststructuralist it will also begin to drip. Culler uses examples from Foucault and Derrida to illustrate how literary theory can be perpendicular to the literature it critiques. It is probably no coincidence that both exemplars are poststructuralist in nature, Culler mentions that they both are but does not dwell on it. Indeed much of the theory presented in the book is poststructural in nature but Culler spares you the details. For most readers this may be fine as the book is about Literary Theory after all.

After a very good introductory chapter the book settles down into covering the basic issues such as what is literature and how would we know it if we saw it. Literary components such a narrative, hermeneutics and poetics are explored and a rather good discussion around structural versus poststructural readings of texts {though of course not presented as such} is carried on under a subheading 'Meaning, intention, and context' {p66}. The differences and the similarities between cultural studies and literary studies is also explored. The book covers the basics well.

The pace though only really does pick back up when poststructuralism is again directly approached towards the end of the book. A good example of this is when Culler illustrates that the apparent constative utterance at a birth of 'Its a boy' can in fact be performative - it is part of the process of constituting that new person according to sex. In another example Culler rehearses that by making the individual the centre, novels '..construct an ideology of individual identity whose neglect of larger social issues critics should question' {p113}. As an added bonus Culler throws something interesting into the agency/discourse cauldron - but why let me spoil it for you?

A gem.
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VINE VOICEon 22 January 2006
The fact that literary theory is often referred to as just 'theory' should alert the newcomer to its amorphous and unfocused nature. It is no longer concerned just with literature, but with every aspect of culture and experience. It is a theory of theories, a post-modernist stocktaking of the western intellectual tradition.
Culler traces several paths through this boundless philosophical landscape. Seven such paths actually, exploring aspects of language, identity and meaning. These constitute as gentle an introduction as is possible. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a better guide than Culler, with his clear and elegant style and his breadth of knowledge. Although this is not a conventional school-by-school primer, there is a section at the end briefly summarizing the major schools, from Russian Formalism to Queer Theory (yes, you heard right). The author advises that you can read these summaries before, after, or during the main text. I recommend leaving them until after, when they will be a lot more meaningful. Otherwise, they might frighten you off from reading the text itself.
The illustrations consist of a half-dozen or so vaguely relevant cartoons. I suppose, as this series is illustrated, OUP felt obliged to include something, even if the text had no need of it. More positively, this book is blessedly free of the typos that normally bedevil the series.
If you wish to 'dip your toe in the water' of literary theory (and be warned, it is a maelstrom) Culler's book is the perfect place to do it.
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on 30 April 2009
This has been the first book I've read on literary theory, and I've enjoyed it. It explains quite clearly the various questions you should ask yourself when you're facing a text, as well as a reasonably up-to-date status of literary criticism and cultural studies.

Unfortunately, the various currents (marxism, structuralism, new criticism, feminism, etc) are described only in an appendix at the end. This makes it harder to link the currents to the historical contexts in which they appeared and to the literary debates they were mainly involved. In these respects, the title ("A very short introduction ...") is unquestionably appropriate.
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on 5 October 1999
Culler makes the subject of Lit. theory interesting, after generations who had to endure Gavin Ross's laborious essays on criticism this is of welcome relief. A fantastic read and as textbooks go it is stunning.
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on 18 March 2007
This is an enjoyable and very clear introduction to what can often be a rather obscure domain. I can warmly recommend it to anyone who's reading this!
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on 25 May 2007
If only every book in the Very Short Introduction-series was written as lucidly as this volume I would buy them all without hesitation.

The author does a miraculous job of sorting out the maze of the field of Litterary Science which has argurably been to eager in its choice of theory for the past 50-60 years. After reading this volume, however, you will have an adequate overview of the field and it will be within your possession to choose amongst the theories which interest you.

Highly recommended!
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on 23 February 2016
No idea. Got bored reading the introduction and put it on a shelf to digest itself for awhile, but it was still unpalitable.

If you're going to read it, do it drunk woth a spliff - it may sink in more than eyeball depth.
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on 2 December 2000
The thematic approach of this book is very effective. Issues are discussed without waffle, or ego. Overall a must for anyone studying English.
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on 14 September 2014
Very brief book, just an introduction like it says but I would have liked more information, nevertheless it did help me get a excellent grade at university level.
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