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9 Complicated Literary Movements Explained Simply

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Wikimedia Commons

Books can be complicated, and the culture surrounding literature and its various theories and ideas can even trip up Ph.Ds and Gaddis-quoting Brooklynites.

Sometimes, though, you need a little straight-talk to understand why your favorite author keeps getting described as having been decontextualized, which makes these particular statements by critics and writers on various literary concepts incredibly illuminating.

1. MODERNISM

“Make it new!”
— A phrase attributed to Ezra Pound that he in fact lifted from a 17th-century B.C. Chinese text, which in itself is a pretty good summary of modernism

2. POSTMODERNISM

[Describing the postmodern era:]
“On the one hand, there’s sort of an embarrassment of riches for young writers now. Most of the old cinctures and constraints that used to exist—censorship of content is a blatant example—have been driven off the field. Writers today can do more or less whatever we want. But on the other hand, since everybody can do pretty much whatever they want, without boundaries to define them or constraints to struggle against, you get this continual avant-garde rush forward without anyone bothering to speculate on the destination, the 'goal' of the forward rush.”
— David Foster Wallace (above) in conversation with Larry McCaffery in The Review of Contemporary Fiction

3. STRUCTURALISM

“Structuralism is a theory of humankind in which all elements of human culture, including literature, are thought to be parts of a system of signs. Critic Robert Scholes has described structuralism as a reaction to '"modernist" alienation and despair.’… Roland Barthes, among others, sought to recover literature and even language from the isolation in which they had been studied and to show that the laws that govern them govern all signs, from road signs to articles of clothing.”
— Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms

4. DECONSTRUCTION

“I’ve already in a way started to respond to your question about deconstruction, because one of the gestures of deconstruction is to not naturalize what isn’t natural—to not assume that what is conditioned by history, institutions, or society is natural.”
— Jacques Derrida speaking on his own indefinable theory of deconstruction, which is often discussed in terms of what it is not rather than what it is

5. SURREALISM

…A method “by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought.'”
— Andre Breton, the father of surrealism, in his First Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924

6. DADA

“Dada Means Nothing.”
— Tristan Tzara in the Dada Manifesto, 1918. He doesn’t mean it has no meaning, but rather that it means “nothing,” i.e. the opposite of something; Dada was created as a rejection of the logic and reason that its artists believe led to World War I

7. AESTHETICISM

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. … Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
— Oscar Wilde in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

8. MAGICAL REALISM

“Surrealism runs through the streets.”
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez

9. HYSTERICAL REALISM

“Hysterical realism is not exactly magical realism, but magical realism's next stop. It is characterised by a fear of silence. This kind of realism is a perpetual motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity.”
— James Wood, describing the work of Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, and others

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Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
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Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

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