Andrew J. Meyer
Contemporary criticism and theory and its background in the New Criticism, structuralism, and phenomenology.
This course will trace some central developments in literary criticism and theory over the course of the twentieth century. We will open by spending time exploring what, exactly, literary criticism is and does, not to mention the fuzzier “theory.” However nuanced the definitions of criticism we come up with, one of the primary concerns of criticism and theory—and so of this course—is the nature of the relationship between texts and worlds.
The course will move through the primary critical developments, likely (but not certain) to include formalism, New Criticism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, structuralism, post-structuralism, new historicism, deconstruction, post-colonialism, and, as we approach the present, gender and queer theory, and, finally, ecocriticism. Our approach should reveal departures as well as points of contact between these traditions, as each has a different, but sometimes overlapping set of questions regarding what a thinker or a reader ought to pay attention to when reading a text or cultural object. We will explore the premise that how we pay attention, and the values and assumptions that inform that attention, have a lot to do with how we understand the world in which we live and the powers we have to change it.
Work for the course will consist primarily of heavy reading and discussion, as theoretical texts tend to be dense and some of the concepts difficult. Students will be responsible for routine responses to issues in the texts and discussions, one exam, one essay, and a presentation. Reading quizzes may punctuate the workload. Specific readings will announced as ready, taken from a big textbook (The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism) and a smaller volume (Critical Practice, by Catherine Belsey). Some supplementary readings will be made available online.
Student learning goals
Understand and describe the primary developments of literary theory and criticism in the 20th Century and into the present.
Understand how theory & criticism engage and affect the relationship between cultural "texts" and realities.
Develop ways of thinking and habits of mind that help one apply theoretical and/or critical thinking to textual analysis.
Understand, situate, and question one's own reading practices in theoretical and critical contexts.
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading