L371 16307 CRITICAL PRACTICES
Laura Shackelford

11:15a-12:05p MWF (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

PREREQUISITE: L202 with grade of C- or better. NOTE: The English Department will strickly enforce this prerequisite. Students who have not completed L202 with a grade of C- or better will have their registration administratively cancelled.

Literary criticism is “always situated” or “worldly,” to use the literary critic, Edward Said’s terms for the embedded, historically, culturally, and socially specific character of critical practice. At the same time, since its emergence in the 19th century and over the course of its development in the 20th and early 21st centuries, literary criticism has conceived, engaged and, at times, disengaged that “worldliness” in significantly different ways. In this course, we will consider the social and political contexts and consequences of these different reading practices, paying close attention to the political, social, economic, and cultural values entailed in the reading, production, and transmission of literature. The course will address two central questions: 1) What function has literary criticism played, not only as an institution charged with diffusing “higher” standards of culture, but alternately as a means of struggle over the meaning of culture? and 2) What is literature? How have the reading practices theorized and promoted by different strains of literary criticism worked to define and re-define the category of literature, its functions, and the character of the literary (among other cultural texts)?

In the first half of the course, we will examine the beginnings of literary criticism in the 19th century and track the major transformations in literary criticism leading up to the contemporary moment. In the second half of the course, we will increase our focus to consider four key critical projects, Feminism and Gender Studies, Marxism, Post-Colonial and Ethnic Studies, and Cultural Studies, in greater detail. In particular, we will consider the different assumptions about culture and its reproduction that inform these critical projects (including a careful consideration of the different temporal and spatial assumptions that inhere in their conceptualizations of culture).

The course is structured around our careful reading, interrogation, and discussion of key works of literary criticism. Due to the difficulty of the critical essays, we will devote significant time to deciphering and unpacking the readings, while also situating them within a broader historical, social, and political context. In addition, we will actively read “against the grain” of these works by asking into both what they address and what they obscure or overlook and by thinking through their claims. In this regard, we will not only be reading, but also practicing literary theory as we aspire to undo - through a questioning of the most basic, commonsensical assumptions about reading, literature, culture, and their relations to the world – what you thought you knew about literary criticism and literature. We will also, on occasion, reflect on these reading practices in relation to literary texts such as Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, and Bharati Muhkerjee’s novel, The Holder of the World, and cultural texts such as the film, Dancer in the Dark, and a museum catalog for an exhibition of photos titled, The Family of Man. There will be regular, short writing assignments to encourage thorough reading of, reflection on, and response to, the critical essays. I will ask you to draw on these to initiate class discussion over the course of the semester. The major assignments for the course will include one short paper (3-5 pages), one longer paper (6-8 pages), and a final exam.

Required Texts:
Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction
Catherine Belsey's Critical Practice
Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye
Bharati Muhkerjee's The Holder of the World
*Selected articles on e-reserve