English | Critical Practices
L371 | 12591 | Ivan Kreilkamp

Ivan Kreilkamp

12591 - 2:30p-3:45p TR (30 students) 3 cr., A&H

TOPIC:  "The Ends of Interpretation"

This course is intended to help you become a smarter, better-
informed, and more original critic, analyst, and interpreter: of
literature and writing, but also of film, t.v. shows,
advertisements, and pop songs.  We’ll be studying the history of
criticism, hermeneutics, and interpretation, focusing primarily on
the 20th century but including some crucial earlier predecessors.
Our focus will be less on literary criticism of specific texts, more
on broadly theoretical writings on a range of major questions and
topics.  We’ll be asking such questions as: Who and what determines
meaning (authors? readers? historical context?)?  What are the
limits or boundaries of interpretation?  How do tastes and
preferences bear upon analysis?  How do gender, ethnicity, or
historical position contribute to meaning and interpretation of
texts?  Is interpretation of a given text ever “correct” or

The course will be organized around a series of “modules” or
clusters of readings drawn primarily from the Norton Anthology of
Criticism and Theory and each organized around a particular topic,
issue, or approach.  Some likely possibilities (final decisions not
yet determined) include:

-Signs and Language: Ferdinand de Saussure on signs, J.L Austin on
performative utterances, Claude Levi-Strauss and Jacques Derrida on
writing, Julia Kristeva on poetic language

-Taste and Aesthetics: David Hume “On the Standard of Taste,” Edmund
Burke on the sublime and the beautiful, Pierre Bourdieu on taste and
distinction; Carl Wilson’s recent book about Celine Dion, Let's Talk
About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste;

-Interpretation: Gerald Bruns on Biblical hermeneutics; Sigmund
Freud on the interpretation of dreams;

-Gender and Sexuality: Michel Foucault on the history of sexuality,
Laura Mulvey on Hollywood film and the gaze; Judith Butler on gender
and performance;

-Intention, Authorship, and Canons: Wimsatt & Beardsley’s “The
Intentional Fallacy,” Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes on authors,
Henry Louis Gates on the black literary canon;

- Popular Culture and the Popular: Mikhail Bakhtin on dialogism,
Walter Benjamin, “the Work of Art in the Age of its Technical
Reproducibility,” Frantz Fanon on national culture, Horkheimer and
Adorno on the culture industry;

-the Modern and the Postmodern: Charles Baudelaire and Jurgen
Habermas on modernity, Fredric Jameson on postmodernism, Jean
Baudrillard on simulacra;

These readings will, I think, change the way you think about
literature, art, interpretation, and criticism; they will also be
challenging and sometimes difficult, requiring serious attention, re-
reading, and reflection.

We’ll be using one novella and two films as central test cases:
Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and
Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.  Additional test cases will be
provided by pop music throughout the semester (Eminem, Madonna, Lady
Gaga); also the sample-heavy music of Girl Talk with Good Copy Bad
Copy, a documentary about copyright law.

Assignments will likely include two midterms and a final exam,
several short papers and response papers, and a longer final project
(which will allow you to apply some of our critical/theoretical
readings to literature, film, or pop cultural objects outside the
course readings, if you wish, and may also have a ‘creative’