ENGLISH 390 - Topics in Literary Criticism and Theory
Fall 2023, 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
See additional student enrollment and course instructor information to guide you in your decision making.


Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:
Start/End Date:
Full Term 8/28/23 - 12/6/23 (see other Sections below)
NOTE: Drop/Add deadlines are dependent on the class meeting dates and will differ for full term versus partial term offerings.
For information on drop/add deadlines, see the Office of the Registrar and search Registration Deadlines.


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 offer answers to these questions by considering the variety of critical practices that go under the name of "theory.”

The course will be divided into three parts, which are intended to map the landscape of critical theory. In the first part, Foundations, we will examine the major schools of theory that have influenced the discipline of literature: namely, formalism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, marxism, 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 (and especially issues of privilege and social justice) by focusing on influential interventions by women and people of color.

The aim of the course is to survey the major schools of critical theory and assess their impact on the study of literature. To this end, you will learn:

  • To analyze the foundational texts of critical theory.
  • To explain the stakes of the arguments and the fault-lines therein.
  • To apply theory as a method for making analytical judgements of various sorts.
  • To identify and account for your own critical position.

This course satisfies the following CURRENT English major/minor requirement: Identity & Difference

This course satisfies the following NEW English major/minor requirements: Foundations & Methods 300/400-level, Regions: Americas, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Regions: Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, Time: Contemporary/Modern

Course Requirements:

The course requires active involvement in lectures and discussions, completion of a portfolio of assignments, including annotations, reading blogs, short essays (2-3 pages), and a final position paper or project (8-10 pages). You will also have the option to do presentations and peer reviews to increase your grade points. No mid-term, no final exam.

Intended Audience:

The course is intended for students who have taken at least two English courses. It is open to undergraduates across all departments and programs, including LSA, the Honors Program, the Residential College, and students in music, theater, dance, architecture, art and design.


ENGLISH 390 - Topics in Literary Criticism and Theory
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
 In Person
MW 2:30PM - 4:00PM
8/28/23 - 12/6/23

Textbooks/Other Materials

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