L371 1971 WELLS
Introduction to Criticism

1:00p-2:15p TR (30) 3 cr.

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

This course will be organized around several key questions that have occupied students of literature for the better part of the last century. What is an author? What is “literature,” and what is its relationship to “culture”? What is a text? Where does the meaning of a text lie? Is meaning intrinsic, or does it exist on the outside of the text (with the author’s intent, the reader’s response, the cultural context of the work, the silences and unasked questions embedded in the language itself)? What constitutes a text’s relevant contexts, and how much can we learn about a text when we consider it as, say, an historical document or a window into its author’s psychology?

We will read several essays in this course that take up these questions directly and several more in which they’re implicit. Through them we will think about the interpretive act itself—how and why we do what we do as English majors. We will also encounter through them a number of different critical methodologies and movements (including, perhaps, formalism and the New Criticism, structuralism and semiotics, deconstruction, feminism, Marxism and cultural materialism, the New Historicism, cultural studies, and postcolonial theory) and examine where they intersect and where they diverge. We will learn, in other words, that interpretation has a history; we will discuss whether it has a politics and, indeed, a purpose.

We will ground our discussions by reading a few (probably three) primary texts. One will likely be a heavyweight from the canon of English literature—something along the lines of Hamlet or King Lear. Another will probably be a work of American literature familiar to many students from their high school English courses—perhaps The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, The Scarlet Letter, or Catcher In the Rye. A third will likely be less familiar, allowing us to raise questions about canon politics and the nature of the literary.

Required work will likely include several short response papers; one longer paper on a primary text; a group inquiry project into a particular methodology; and vigorous participation in class discussions.