Theory Literature

There still is a lively debate at the margins of literature and the commerce around it about theories of literature. Even if the best of years of theories about literature have passed, in 2024 we see several revivals of theoretical perspectives on literature. Travelling in Europe we celebrate, for example, the 100 years of Belgian and international surrealism in Brussels. The French artist and theorist André Breton was preparing in his thoughts the art and literature of surrealist inspiration. Of course, we think of Magritte as one of the eminent figures of the painted surrealism. Franz Kafka, who died relatively young in 1924, was the author in the spirit of the surrealist movement. The powerful impact of literary theory and theory of art to form communities of practice have had lasting effects, which fascinates large audiences in 2024. Exhibitions across Europe reflect the importance of these art movements to understand European culture, inspirations and aspirations.
Not least through this revival of the surrealist artists in the broadest sense we are returning to a more theory-driven view of literature a bit like 100 years ago. I find it remarkable to read in “Le Monde Livre” of 2024-4-12 the article on “Défense de la théorie” by Tiphaine Smoyault (p.8 see quote below) with a comment on the book by Florent Coste on the usefulness of a theory of literature to understand the world around us. Reworking of language is the contemporary concern of literature: pluri-linguistic experiences, re-discovering oral performances, irony in language and digging into archives are the major strands of contemporary literature. Theory of literature reflects on the past and allows to synthesize the present. For some it also enables to project into the near future of what is going to be published. In any case the theory of literature provides orientation in a huge ocean of published oeuvres. Writing or painting with ideas ahead of your time has been a painful experience for most of these artists. Some artists or authors are lucky to become famous during their lifetime, but lots have struggled for years or never learned that their contributions advanced humanity for more than a hundred years.