What is Explication de Texte? – Literary Terms 101?

explication de texte: “The detailed analysis, or “close reading,” of a passage of verse or prose… a method of teaching literature in French secondary schools. Such explication seeks to make meaning clear through a painstaking examination and explanation of style, language, relationship of part to whole, and use of symbolism.” – The NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms

My Take on Explication de Texte

So, this is basically hardcore literary theory or literary criticism for obsessors or borderline masochists? Perhaps, but I think nerds like us may find it fun. However, it does suck some of the fun out for me because explication de texte focuses more on the literal aspect of a poem or a piece of prose rather than the figurative aspect. This definitely takes me back to my undergrad days studying literary theory, but my favorite forms of literary criticism were deconstructionism and psychological analysis. New Critcism…is something I don’t think I paid much attention to. Britiannica’s definition of New Criticsm is: post-World War I school of Anglo-American literary critical theory that insisted on the intrinsic value of a work of art and focused attention on the individual work alone as an independent unit of meaning. It was opposed to the critical practice of bringing historical or biographical data to bear on the interpretation of a work. (Britiannica).

I know explication de texte basically comes off to me as a very painful book report, but I’d like to hear what you think. Have you done it before? Technically, I have in many papers, but I don’t think I’ve reached the extensiveness this definition implies. I do think you can gain a stimulating understanding of the text itself in its autonomy, but chopping out the essence of the author, their history and life basically, completely out of the criticism seems…cold. Whenever I read something and the author hooks me in, I want to know who the author is, what their life is like, and more. My current example would be Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. After reading halfway through the book, I couldn’t resist listening to a couple of her interviews. I’m also reading her novel The Secret History simultaneously.

If there’s a book you’ve taken the time to break down before explication de texte style, but you want to find an edition of it that’s rare and beautiful, go to abebooks.com. I bet you anything they have it and it looks gorgeous.

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