At about the time during college when you pass the basics and start studying the super specifics, you realize that it’s not just ehat you study but how you analyze. There are a myriad of critical theories and about a dozen super critics and philosophers for each one. Just about every field and area has their own particular forsm of analysis and English likes to take from just about everything. From the end of your BA through the entirety of your PhD, if you go that far, you will end up taking several classes that provide a sample of just about every critical theory around with the purpose of familiarizing and getting you interested into further research. Much like my tactics at an all you can eat buffet, I try to get a bite our of everything available and end up overstuffed after getting more than those around me. If you have had the opportunity to see me engorge myself or try and explain my research interests, you have witnessed my attempts at making a smorgasboard be logical and digestable. I’m the first to admit that sanity is a bit of a hindrance to understanding the method to my madness, especially in writing. A third of my reading lists consist of critical theories and whatnot. Let me see if I can explain it here in a way that at least tries to make sense.
Because I’m the comics person, the first theory worth talking about and the one I most often have to defend is Comics Studies. FYI, yes, that’s the proper term. Now comic books as we know them started in the early 20th Century. Comics have been taking a lot of slack accross the years as to whether or not they are considered “art” and if they are worthy of academic study.Two guys, who both started as cartoonists, are the ones that spearheaded the movement to make comics more than just superheroes and joke books. Will Eisner, who created The Spirit (they made a movie a few years ago, avoid it) wrote Sequential Art, which took a real serious look as to how drawing style and writing can make for a completely reading experience than anything else, in a good way. Scott McCloud, creator ofZot! (actually pretty good but not nearly as famous as the thing I’m studying) wroteUnderstanding Comics which really breaks down every aspect possible of comics and just makes you feel really smart about the whole thing. Definitely a must read for pretty much everyone, and if you ever even think about writing about comics, prepare to quote both of these guys like crazy.
Other theories I use:
Narratology: Started by Tzvetan Todorov, part of Structuralism. I use Todorov and Gerald Prince, heavy hitters in the field to basically explain the importance of maintaining narrative continuity. My love of tvtropes.org gets placed here and I call it “postcontemporary narratology”. Haven’t been called out on it yet but man is that site awesome.
Textual Criticism: Mostly gets used to explain distinctions between the editions of a particular text. Textual purity vs authorial intent is a big deal here. I adapt both camps into serial fiction through some pretty crazy combos. Basically, while in serial format, it’s the intended text when finally compiled and in print then it’s authoritative, both end up with different but equally important reading experiences but only one of them has a time lmit to really get. George Thomas Tanselle, Peter Sillingsburg, and John Bryant definitely some of my favorite authors in the area.
Media Specific Analysis: AKA Media Studies, often gets subdivided into each own medium, like film studies, tv studies, etc. The contrast between digital and analog/traditional print and what one can do over another is a big deal. N. Katherine Hayles definitely one of the big names that everyone quotes and for good reason. Another good read is Hamlet in the Holodeck by I forget whom but man that one really pushes the envelope on interative texts. If I want to study serial fiction in all forms then media specific analysis has to be applied for just about everything.
Reader Reception Theory: Honestly need to find some more specific people on this one. Stanley Fish talks about reading communiteis that help construct the meaning of a text. Since serials have that moment in between installments, reader reception can actually affect narrative production, or even if new installments will be made/published. This field is still pretty new but definitely worth adding to my crazy alchemical concoction.