I have been teaching a Theories of Literature class in the Department of English Studies at the University of Strathclyde for more than ten years now, and for the bulk of that period I have used David Lodge's two anthologies - 20th Century Literary Criticism (Longman, 1972) and Modern Criticism and Theory (Longman, 1988). In combination, and with no serious rivals at first, these two collections of essays covered most of the important critical and theoretical essays of the twentieth century. The great strength of both books was the organisation and editorial apparatus, which allowed teachers and students to see how theory is organised into different 'schools' that interact with one another. The first collection enabled students to realise that critical and theoretical reflection on literature was not solely a recent phenomenon. Indeed, the inclusion of Abrams' 'Orientation of Critical Theories' demonstrated that literary theory had a history going back to Plato and gave students a framework with which to think about the orientations of more recent theory. Despite its provenance in 1972, there are still essays in 20th Century Literary Criticism that I would like my students to have encountered: essays on 'New Criticism' by Eliot, Richards, Brooks, Wimsatt and Beardsley, Ransom, Wellek, and Schorer; Trilling's wonderful essay on Freud; Sartre's reader response theory; and the Marxist 'debate' on realism and modernism between Lukács and Williams. All this made the collection a useful companion to Modern Criticism and Theory, whose selections of essays on structuralism, post structuralism and reader-response theory enabled me to put together a reasonable course on literary theory. Yet it has to be said that the newer collection was not adequate without its older companion. There were several weaknesses. While it was good to have the essay from Shklovsky, Russian Formalism was too important to be represented by just one essay. The essays chosen for the other sections were idiosyncratic and often pitched too high for undergraduates. It was always difficult to select essays from the sections on 'Deconstruction', 'Psychoanalysis', or 'Politics, Ideology, Cultural History' that served to introduce or represent these theoretical orientations, while the section on 'Feminism' was wholly inadequate. Just as seriously, the combined cost of the two collections was becoming prohibitive for undergraduates whose financial situation was worsening year by year.
Longman's decision to publish a second edition of Modern Criticism and Theory gave them the chance to sort out some of these problems. Ideally, the best essays from Lodge's two collections could have been combined into one anthology, with the weak sections strengthened by more appropriate and representative essays and with the whole collection brought up-to-date with essays representing developments over the last ten years or so. As it is, although the new edition, updated by Nigel Wood (Longman, 2000), does strengthen some of the weaker sections of the first edition, it is largely a disappointment. Those of us who wish students to realise that literary theory has a history prior to structuralism would still need to ask students to buy both anthologies (at a combined cost of £42.00 this is asking too much). In terms of content, the new edition of Modern Criticism and Theory does not solve all the problems of the first. Indeed, in some respects it has made matters worse. I cannot understand the decision to replace Shklovsky's 'Art as Technique' with Benjamin's 'The Storyteller' and hence to excise Russian Formalism from the story of modern literary theory. The removal of Genette's 'Structuralism and Literary Criticism' seriously weakens the structuralist section. The loss of essays by Belsey and McCabe from the 'Politics, Ideology, Cultural History' section is less regrettable, especially since the new material - essays by Baudrillard, Irigaray, Schweickart, Sedgwick, Spivak, Greenblatt, and McGann - strengthens the 'Politics, Ideology, Cultural History' and 'Feminism' sections. Furthermore, Schweikart's feminist take on reader-response theory adds a nice twist to the 'Reader-response' section.
And yet, after having used the new edition of Modern Criticism and Theory last year, I'm casting around for a new anthology. The question of cost is a decisive factor here, but so too is the fact that the new edition only offers thirty-two essays and extracts and still leaves gaps in the story and history of literary theory. I want my students to encounter Russian Formalism and New Criticism as well as the theoretical schools represented in Modern Criticism and Theory. I also want them to be able to make better sense of deconstructive, psychoanalytic and politically orientated literary theory than is made possible by the selections offered here. I'd like my students to be able to read some Freud and Marx, for a start, along with some essays that serve to introduce Freudian and Marxist literary theory in a way appropriate to undergraduates in English departments. Part of the problem with Modern Criticism and Theory is that it is not clear who its readers are. Some sections and extracts are appropriate for undergraduates new to literary theory, while others are at a more advanced level (Wood admits that the additions to the new edition are 'texts that I have enjoyed discussing with postgraduates' [p.xv]). A further problem, for me, is that some of the new material represents a shift away from literary theory towards what is often called 'theory' but might be labelled 'cultural theory'. Even though Spivak's 'Feminism and Critical Theory' does discuss literature, she admits that she is 'less patient with literary texts today' and is clearly more animated by the crimes of international capital in the third world (p.489). I have no objection to this in itself, or to 'theory' in the more general sense. But I am looking for an anthology of literary theory that will stimulate my undergraduate students to think in theoretically informed ways about literature. That is the institutional role of the class I teach, and that is what I want to achieve.
But finding a new, value-for-money, anthology that meets the aims and objectives of my course is not so easy. The most impressive anthology on the market at the moment is Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, eds, Literary Theory: An Anthology (Blackwell, 1998). Yet closer examination reveals that this is not really an anthology of literary theory at all. True, it begins with an impressive section on what it calls 'Formalisms' that includes good material from Russian Formalism and New Criticism. Yet from then on literary theory is hardly to be found. There is no section on reader-response theory. The section on structuralism is woefully inadequate - no Barthes, no Genette, indeed, no structuralist literary theory at all. Revealingly, while the section on 'Historicisms' is entirely devoted to literary theory, it is also the shortest section in the anthology. The psychoanalysis section is generous and begins usefully with selections from Freud, but consists entirely of psychoanalytic theory rather than psychoanalytic literary theory. The Marxism section contains extracts from Marx and ends with an item about worker abuses in Nike's factories in Vietnam, but there is hardly any Marxist literary theory here. Similarly, the post-structuralist section begins with Nietzsche but never gets round to offering any deconstructive literary theory or criticism. Out of thirteen selections in the Feminist section, only three deal with literature. The eleven selections in the Gender and Queer Studies section include just two essays on literature. The percentage is better in the Ethnic and Post-coloniality section, but the anthology ends indicatively with a Cultural Studies section that culminates with an analysis of Madonna. Literary Theory: An Anthology consists of a generous selection of essays and extracts that often goes back to the founding figures of various 'schools' and adds up to over a thousand pages. It is also generously priced at £16.99. It thus wins out over the second edition of Modern Criticism and Theory in several respects. But it is not an anthology of literary theory. I'd be hard-pressed to construct a coherent course on theories of literature out of it.
I am thus left looking forward to seeing the forthcoming Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, a hugely generous anthology that spans the history of literary theory from Plato to the present and sets literary theory alongside the founding documents of what we might call general theory (Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, etc) and alongside the various cultural and political theories that so dominate Rivkin and Ryan's anthology. With this anthology I could easily construct a Theories of Literature course to suit my aims and objectives, but also know that my students could use it to follow up a wide range of other theoretical and intellectual concerns. Alongside this anthology, we will soon have the Oxford Anthology of Literary Theory - an equally ambitious anthology that will begin the stories of literary theory (and theory) in the aesthetic writings of Burke and Hume. Perhaps the search for an ideal anthology of literary theory will soon be over. But this will be so only if the publishers are able to price these forthcoming collections at a cost that will be affordable to today's students.