In Peter Barry’s book entitled he discusses what he perceives the future of literary theory will be like in the “Theory after Theory” chapter. While he is discussing his ideas about future literary theory, he maintains the theories that have been learned and discussed through literature. Barry states that he “mentioned the common feeling… that the real business of literary theory was already over”. Barry claims that literary theory did not fade or become unimportant, rather it transformed into new kinds of theory that adopted ideas from previous theories.
Four theories that are discussed in this chapter are Presentism, New Aestheticism, Cognitive Poetics, and Posthumanism.
The first theory that is notable to discuss is called presentism. Presentism is “an approach to literature which is oriented towards the text’s meaning in the present, as opposed to ‘historicist’ approaches oriented to meanings in the past”. The ‘presentist’ literary critic will investigate the “present in the past” due to their inability to recover the past.
This inability to recover literary texts in the past causes readers and critics to struggle to find a work’s true identity. Presentism provides a way of criticizing literary works that attempt to evoke present concerns that promote the reading of past literature to discover meanings it may not have had for its original audience.
New aestheticism is an idea that “emphasizes the specificity and particularity of the literary text”. Furthermore, Barry claims that this theory seeks dialogue within the work itself along with recognizing the text as an “ongoing debate.
” This “debate” idea is interesting because this debate could arise in the dictions of the text along with the readers. The idea of the readers debating the text is paralleled with reader response theory that there is no such thing as a “fixed” text; the reader almost acts as a second author while questioning the meaning in the text. These debates will differ among readers because of differing points of views and sets of assumptions that each reader possesses.
Cognitive Poetics is a “method of reading literature which combines linguistics and psychology… for better understanding basic cognitive practices”. This theory appears to be the most scientific in comparison to the previous literary theories. Cognitive Poetics is an interesting theory to ponder because it internalizes the “process for which the human mind is uniquely equipped… to suppose that studying language will help explain how the mind works”. This theory also parallels to Pscyhoanalytic Criticism because both theories attempt to understand the processes within the mind to better understand literary texts.
Finally, Posthumanism’s “nature… deconstructs boundaries between self and another”. This theory criticizes the foundational suppositions of humanism while examining the questions of historical ideas concerning human nature. These ideas challenge human subjectivity and their environment, which is highlighted within literary texts. A posthumanist would seek to understand the philosophical perspective of how change occurs in the text and in the world.