ENGLISH 390 - Topics in Literary Criticism and Theory
Fall 2022, Section 001 - The Theory Mess
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
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How should we define literature? Is there something special about literary language? Does theorizing literature require a theory of language? And what have race, sexuality, class, and gender got to do with literature? This course will attempt to answer these questions by considering the variety of critical practices that go under the name of "theory.”

The rise of critical theory in the twentieth-century had a significant impact on the assumptions and methods of literary study as an academic discipline in the Humanities. To some, this was a positive development in literary studies, producing much-needed attention to the ideological beliefs and positions of authors and readers. To others, this theoretical turn was detrimental to the discipline because it took the focus away from literary works themselves and onto broader linguistic, social, and political matters. Today, it is even claimed that we have moved beyond theory to a new (old?) understanding of the purpose and value of literature.

The course will be divided into three parts. In the first part, Foundations, we will examine the major schools of theory that have influenced the discipline of literature: namely, formalism, structuralism, Marxism and psychoanalysis, and feminism. In the second part, Extensions, we will consider three key revisions to and critiques of the major schools that were marked as “post,” that is, post-structuralism, post-modernism, and post-colonialism. In the third part, Relocations, we will explore the impact of identity politics and critical race theory on literary analysis by focusing on influential interventions by women and persons of color.


ENGLISH 390 - Topics in Literary Criticism and Theory
Schedule Listing
001 (REC)
 In Person
MW 2:30PM - 4:00PM

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