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636 Syllabus
David Richter
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English 636 E6W3 Professor David Richter

Literary Criticism Spring 2011


Required Text: David H. Richter, The Critical Tradition (Third Edition: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 2006; note the edition; the dust jacket is RED). The book has been ordered from the QC Bookstore, and I've seen a batch of copies where they ought to be.

Schedule TBA: What follows is the schedule from a previous version of the course.

Week I: Introduction to the course. An orientation lecture on the varieties of literary criticism from antiquity through the nineteenth century. Please read as background a.s.a.p. the General Introduction to the textbook and Wayne C. Booth: "Pluralism and Its Rivals" (786).

Week 2: Twentieth Century Formalism: New Criticism
Cleanth Brooks: "Irony as a Principle of Structure" (758)
T.S. Eliot: "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (498)
Wimsatt and Beardsley: "The Intentional Fallacy" (749)
William Empson: Epilogue to Seven Types of Ambiguity (736)

Week 3: Twentieth Century Formalism II:
Russian Formalism; Chicago Formalism\

Victor Shklovsky: "Art as Technique" (717)
Yuri Tynyanov: "On Literary Evolution" (727)
Mikhail Bakhtin: "Discourse in the Novel" and "Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics" (527)
R.S. Crane: Toward a More Adequate Criticism of Poetic Structure (766)
James Phelan: "Narrative as Rhetoric" (796)


Week 4: Structuralism and Semiotics
Ferdinand de Saussure: "The Nature of the Linguistic Sign" (832)
Claude Levi-Strauss: "The Structural Study of Myth" (836)
Jonathan Culler: "Literary Competence" (854)
Umberto Eco: "The Myth of Superman" (866)

Week 5 Deconstruction
Jacques Derrida: "Structure, Sign and Play" (878)
Roland Barthes: "From Work to Text" (901)
Paul de Man: "Semiology and Rhetoric" (906)

Week 6: Reader-Response Theory
Stanley Fish: "Interpreting the Variorum" (977)
Wolfgang Iser: "The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach" (956)
Peter Rabinowitz: "Before Reading" (998)

Week 7: Psychoanalytic Theory I: Freud and Jung
Sigmund Freud: "Creative Writers and Daydreaming" (483)
Carl Gustav Jung: "On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry" (506)
Sigmund Freud: "The Theme of the Three Caskets" (488)
Northrop Frye: "The Archetypes of Literature" (643)

Week 8: Psychoanalytic Criticism II: Lacan and Neo-Freudianism
Jacques Lacan: "The Mirror Stage" and "The Meaning of the Phallus" (handouts)
Slavoj Zizek: "Courtly Love, or Woman as Thing" (handouts)
Peter Brooks: "Freud's Masterplot" (1033)
Laura Mulvey: "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1445)

Week 9: Marxist Theory
Karl Marx: "Consciousness derived from Material Conditions" (388)
Karl Marx: "On Greek Art in Its Time" (392)
Walter Benjamin: "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1106)
Raymond Williams: From Marxism and Literature

Week 10: Neo-Marxism
Terry Eagleton: "Categories for Materialist Criticism" (1142)
Fredric Jameson: From The Political Unconscious (1172)
Jurgen Habermas: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1189)

Week 11: New Historicism and Cultural Studies
Michel Foucault: "Las Meninas" (1222)
Clifford Geertz: "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" (1254)
Stephen Greenblatt: Introduction to The Power of Forms (1293) and "King Lear and Harsnett's Devil-Fiction" (1295)
Pierre Bourdieu: "The Market of Symbolic Goods" (1232)
Edward Said: Introduction to Orientalism (1279)

Week 12: Feminism
Virginia Woolf: "Shakespeare's Sister" (551) and "Austen--Bronte--Eliot" (554)
Simone de Beauvoir: Myths: Of Women in Five Authors (638)
Elaine Showalter: "Toward a Feminist Poetics" (1375)
Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar: "Infection in the Sentence" (1361)

Week 13: Gender Studies and Queer Theory
Helene Cixous: "The Laugh of the Medusa" (1454)
Luce Irigaray: "That Sex Which Is Not One" (1467)
Michel Foucault: From Introduction to the History of Sexuality (1472)
Eve Sedgwick: From Epistemology of the Closet (1482)
Judith Butler: "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" (1514)

Week 14: The Canon and the Culture Wars
Nina Baym: "Melodramas of Beset Manhood" (1540)
Barbara Herrnstein Smith: "Contingencies of Value" (1552)
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: "Writing, 'Race,' and the Difference it Makes" (1576)
John Guillory: "Cultural Capital" (1589)

Week 15: Final Examination.

It would be nice if I could still cover criticism from Plato to the present but contemporary theory needs to be covered in greater detail. The current syllabus restricts itself to the modes of critical theory most in use today: formalism, semiotics, deconstruction, reader response, psychoanalysis, Marxism, cultural studies, feminism, gender studies / queer theory, and issues of the canon. We shall consider both theory and practical applications. The course aims to help the student both read and write in contemporary discourse about literature.

The entire reading list for the course, aside from the recommended readings and the specialized reading that will be required by your term essay, comes to 6-700 pages. Unfortunately, this does not mean that you can do your course reading on the subway. Some of the assigned essays are difficult, and you may have to read them two or three times before you understand them. Furthermore, the readings show an extraordinary range of method, both within and between categories. The best way of keeping things straight will be to take notes on the reading, and to participate in the class discussions. Let me recommend the following procedures as an aid to better understanding and longer retention:

1. Take advantage of the textbook's apparatus, including the introductory essays (which "place" the writers within their groups), the bibliographies for further reading, and the index, which allows you to quickly cross-reference terms used differently by the various theorists.

2. Instead of listing the clever things a critic says, try to understand what issue s/he is addressing. In other words, if this is the answer, then what was the question?

3. Isolate the principal terms the critic uses, and locate their definitions--if they are  

explicitly defined--or try to reconstruct their definitions if only defined through context.

4. Ask yourself what general unstated assumptions about the nature of literature and about the critic's task underlies the essay.

5. Try to get a fix on the critic's method or mode of reasoning. Is s/he a lumper or a splitter. Does s/he think that all studies are to be approached in more or less the same way, or does subject-matter dictate methodology? What is "really real"? Is everything "discourse" or is there something deeper than the way we talk about things.

6. Mark down questions that occur to you. Note problematic passages you don't understand; speculate on the application of theories to imaginative works; note seeming inconsistencies or apparent self-contradictions within the essays; note discrepancies between the critic's views on literature and your own intuitive ideas. Mark passages in the text that you think need further explication in class.


Class Discussion

My classes tend to be relatively informal. My "lectures" on formalism through the culture wars are in your book as the introductory essays to each section. If I've changed my mind or understand something better than when I wrote, I'll let you know, but otherwise I think your time is too valuable for me to just repeat myself. I like to use class time to help students read the text, to clear up questions, problems, contradictions, sometimes to explain the context of a given essay or how critics later changed their minds.... Student questions are very important. I hear both dumb questions and smart questions. Smart questions are designed to show the instructor how smart you are; dumb questions are generated by real curiosity or confusion. Never be afraid to ask dumb questions in my class. And let me know if the informality gets beyond what you can tolerate.

Here is a short list of texts that I'm going to assume you all know, so that we can talk about the theoretical readings in their light:

Shakespeare: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Twelfth Night, The Tempest

Wordsworth: "Tintern Abbey," "She Dwelt Among th' Untrodden Ways"

Coleridge: "Kubla Khan"

Austen: Pride and Prejudice, Emma

Keats: "Ode to a Nightingale"

Dickens: Great Expectations

Tennyson: "Ulysses"

Browning: "My Last Duchess"

Dickinson: "A narrow fellow in the grass," "My life had stood, a loaded gun"

Eliot: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Joyce: "Araby," Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby, "The Rich Boy"

Term Paper

One term essay of 15-24 pages, applying THREE modes of literary theory to a single short work of literature (a poem or a short story, say). Let me repeat: that's ONE work, THREE modes. The focal text is to be cleared with me in advance. I reserve the right to veto texts I don't want to read or that bore me, as well as ones I just don't think will stand up to the kind of scrutiny you will be giving. Pick your text because you genuinely enjoy it (you better: you'll be encountering it over and over) and not because you think it will deconstruct well or fit in with some other theory you're interested in.

Turn in the paper in three stages so I can give you feedback that will let you rethink and revise before turning in the final paper. Give me a draft of one reading on October 7, a draft of another reading on November 10, and the final paper on the last day of class, December 8. Please get these in on time. If you miss the first deadline, don't just turn it in the next week; turn in both parts I and II on November 8.

Suggestions to stay interested and keep me reading: do very different sorts of reading such as (1) A formal, structural or semiotic reading (2) a psychoanalytic reading (3) a Marxist or feminist reading. Theoretically you could do three different formalist approaches, though, if you're sure you can keep them straight. A word to the wise about "reader response": this is a term that has a different meaning in the Education Department. Remember that we're doing English here.

There will be a final examination covering the required readings. I will pass out a previous final in plenty of time for you to panic over it, and it will be given either as a takehome or an in-class exam (the class can choose collectively).

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