Literary theory is the academic study of literature, providing analysis of the written word. As study, literary theory can be traced back as far as Aristotle's Poetics, perhaps the earliest form of literary criticism in the Western tradition. However, modern literary theory dates to the 1950s, when the pioneering work of European linguists finally influenced American academics.
In the United States, literary theory reached a pinnacle of popularity in the decades between 1960 and 1990, when it was held to be the cutting edge of humanities academics. Some form of literary theory became influential across the curricula, although some tended to criticize it for its dependence upon obscure and difficult texts. Several different schools of literary theory emerged, including:
- The New Critics
- Marxist schools of thought
- American Pragmatism
Key to the understanding of literary theory is the question, what is literature? While most individuals would be able to provide a very basic and simple answer for such a straightforward query, literary theory became highly criticized for its esoteric approach towards attempting to redefine what is a text. Some scholars went as far as attempting to define events and fashion as texts, although most people tend to reject such deconstructionism and rely on standard definitions of books the traditional literary canon, both fiction and nonfiction.