Karl Popper and Literary Theory

Critical Rationalism as a Philosophy of Literature


Author: Thomas Trzyna
Karl Popper’s philosophy of science, with its focus on falsifiability and critical rationalism, provides a firm foundation for a theory of literary interpretation that avoids the pitfalls of many contemporary theories. Building on the work of Popper, John Eccles, Imre Lakatos, Ernst Gombrich, Louise DeSalvo and James Battersby, this study outlines the approach, sets it in a theoretical context, and applies the theory to challenging works by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea, Jean Toomer, Shakespeare, Henry Fielding, J-M.G. LeClézio, J.M. Coetzee, Jonathan Littell, Patrick Modiano, Albert Schweitzer, Popper’s protégé William Warren Bartley III and the Gospel of Mark. The book concludes with a set of general principles for understanding literature as a mode of investigation in what Popper called the unended quest.

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Thomas Trzyna, Ph.D. (1977) University of Washington, taught at The Ohio State University and Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Le Clézio's Spiritual Quest (2012), many books, and scholarly articles on aesthetics and French, British and American literature.
Table of Contents



1. A Theoretical Framework
2. Applying a Popperian Framework
3. Deconstruction, Pragmatic Pluralism, Comprehensively Critical Rationalism: The Critical Theory of James Battersby
4. Reading Jean Toomer’s Karintha
5. Henry Fielding and the Problem of Forgiveness
6. Le Clézio, Levinas, Popper and the Problem of Parmenides
7. J.M. Coetzee and The Childhood of Jesus
8. “Like a Sea of Wax:” The Problem of Timon of Athens
9. The Eumenides: We Suffer into Truth
10. The Limits of the Theory: The Gospel of Mark and the Ineffable
11. Patrick Modiano and the Bucket: A Note

Conclusion: How Does Literature Work?

Those interested in Karl Popper, critical rationalism, literary theory, Imre Lakatos, Albert Schweitzer, contemporary French literature and post-colonial literature, Le Clézio, Coetzee, Jonathan Littell and Holocaust literature, and Enlightenment philosophy.