Irish Literature Terms


Absurdism is a philosophy, usually translated into different art forms, that holds that any attempt to understand the universe will fail.  
Aestheticism: Art for art’s sake, rather than for any exterior motive, such as utilitarianism.  
Allegory: A work that has a literal meaning and a subtext that is symbolic, used particularly as a way of commenting about political or moral ideas or people.  
Allusion: Reference to something else, such as another work of literature.  
Antagonist: The protagonist’s or hero’s principal enemy.  
Anthropomorphism: Giving human-like thinking and talking abilities to non-humans.  
Bathos: Going beyond pathos so that the result is ludicrous.  
Burlesque: Using a manner which jars with the matter in a work to satirize a subject or literature. It can come in a variety of styles – parody, mock epic, travesty.  
Canon of literature: The essential list of authors in a particular culture, such as English, that critics, teachers and scholars recognize as major and whose works have been deemed classics. The term stems from the Greek word ‘kanon‘ – measuring rod – and it was applied to the books that religious leaders deemed to be genuine in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.  
Celtic Revival: Irish literature’s very productive period from the late 19th century to the 1939 death of William Butler Yeats. Also called Irish Literary Renaissance.  
Comedy of manners: Humorously depicting the behavior of a particular type of person, such as the middle class, suburbanite.  

Cultural materialism
: Emphasizing the importance of the time and place of the writing and reading of a work.  
Deconstruction: The same text may be interpreted in a huge number of ways dependent on how specific readers and writers interpret language. There can never be any fixed meaning. It is an idea central to post-structuralism. 
Existentialism: Philosophy holding that we live in a meaningless dangerous universe where each individual must be responsible for her or his existence.  
Feminist criticism: Aims to balance out the perceived male dominated society and literature. Post-structuralism is a basic tenet because it holds that the use of inherited language reinforces male dominance.  
Jacobean: English literature during James I reign from 1603 to 1625.  
Marxist criticism: After Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels’ (1820-1895), approach that holds that literature must be looked at in the context it was produced, particularly the economic and political context.  
Modernist: European and American arts movement lasting from the 19th century through to the 20th century, probably reaching its height in the 1920s. It broke with previous conventions, experimented and used various styles, including avantgarde and existentialism. See:James Joyce 
Neo-classicism: Literature between the mid 17th century and late 18th century, such as Laurence Sterne.  
Post-colonial: Relating to literature from the former colonies.  
Postmodernism: Anti-conventional in the way of modernism, but echoing the all-encompassing doubts of the post-war post-Holocaust period, such as relating to nuclear or environmental disasters.  
Post-structuralism: Following from structuralism, but holding that everything an author writes can only be understood in the context of his or her social, historical, political culture.  
Realism: Insight into psychology, factual accuracy and or dealing with proletariat struggles.  
Romanticism: Period of literature in Europe from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century emphasizing emotions and imagination rather than the rationalism that had gone before.  
Stream of consciousness: An attempt to recreate in words a person’s free, natural thought processes. See Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Joyce’s Ulysses.  
Structuralism: Approach that holds that all text must be considered as part of a system of language because it comprises codes, conventions and signs. Originating in the 1960s this approach has been superseded by post-structuralism.  
Surrealism: Aiming to show the processes of the unconscious mind by going beyond the real.  
Symbolism: The use of literary symbols to portray ideas and plot. 

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