by Paul Stuewe
GIVEN THE VIGOUR andvariety of the area it surveys, , edited by Irena R. Makaryk Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory:Approaches, Scholars, Terms (University of Toronto, 656 pages, $39.95 paper), very sensibly abjures completeness andaims only to "suggest something of the immense scope of currenttheoretical approaches." This its 170 contributors certainly do, and inthe process clarify many a problematic concept while occasionally running afoulof some roughish intellectual weather.
Entries are organized by"Approaches," "Scholars," and "Terms," and areconscientiously cross-referenced. The absence of an index I however,means that anything not given a separate entry must be searched for underlikely-seeming headings. As a result, readers interested in irony orJacques Derrida can very easily find the corresponding entries, whereas thoseseeking information about displacement or Gerald Graff, say, have a much moredifficult task awaiting them.
Standards ofaccuracy and comprehensibility are generally high. Victor Shea`s treatments ofthe "New Historicism" and "Jonathan Culler," to cite twoexamples among many, ably represent the kind of knowledgeable, literatediscourse that is often on display here. A few of the entries, including thoseon discourse analysis theory, the Frankfurt School, and narratology, fail tocome completely to grips with their subjects, and there are others that takeoblique approaches -- considering essentialism only in a feministcontext, sneaking thematic criticism in through the back door of a discussionof the "Poetics of Expressivencss" -- that render themless than satisfactory. One must also endure periodic bursts of criticaljargon, as when Margaret Atwoods Surfacing is characterizedas an attempt "to inscribe a polyphonic discourse that reflects thesplitting of the feminine subject" -- something that many ofits readers will have noted in somewhat less pretentious terms.
By and large, however,the Encyclopedia is a useful and rewardingaddition to the literary reference shelf, and with some revision and periodic updatingcould well become one of the standard works in what is becoming an increasinglycrowded field.