David T Holmberg
Contemporary criticism and theory and its background in the New Criticism, structuralism, and phenomenology.
This course will focus on the major developments and directions of contemporary criticism and theory of the twentieth century. We will be taking the title of this class literally, and so this will be very much a “history” of these traditions; consequently, we will not only be interested in what these theorists are arguing, but also in asking questions relating to how these theories emerged out of specific historical contexts. For example, what kinds of questions are they asking, and why might these questions be relevant to the historical moment in which these theorists were writing? In other words, in addition to asking what these major movements can tell us about literature, we will also be investigating what these movements can tell us about the way we think about literature and how these theoretical frameworks are themselves historically produced. In this sense, we will be reading theory as itself a kind of literature, one that can be historicized and analyzed in order to tell us something more broadly about human experience.
We will cover the major schools, movements, and “isms” of contemporary literary theory, including formalism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, structuralism, poststructuralism, deconstructionism, feminism, gender studies, queer theory, postcolonialism, race and ethnicity studies, and new historicism, although due to the complexity of the texts and the brevity of the quarter, we will likely spend more time with some of these movements than others as we sketch the critical traditions of the last one hundred years. I say “sketch” rather than some more determined, decisive verb because I think it is important to emphasize, at the outset, the fuzzy, equivocal nature of literary theory, which is both its allure and its challenge. Our readings will consequently consist of many difficult and challenging theoretical texts, which we will work through as class in order to attempt to demystify and to make useful for literary study.
Grading will likely consist of, in addition to a midterm and final paper, some combination of short papers, group presentations, weekly online discussion board postings, quizzes, and in-class activities.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading