Introduction to Criticism

2:30p-3:45p 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 has two aims: first, to reflect on the project of "literary criticism" as such. What function(s)--cultural, political, social, or economic--does (has) literary criticism perform (ed)? What is "literature" and to what extent has it (or can it) exist independently of criticism? In the first section of the course, therefore, we will consider the emergence of "literature" in the 19th century from the much broader and varied domain of "letters," focusing on the relation between literature, nationalism, the increasing division of public from private life, and the ethics of capitalist accumulation. At the same time, we will trace the emergence of literary studies as a specialized arena of criticism. In this regard, we will pay particular attention to the emergence of the New Criticism. Our reading in this section will also limn some of the challenges to the Anglo-American New Criticism posed by continental European (structuralist and post-structuralist) theory.

The first section of the course thus aims to fill in with broad strokes some of the central transformations and turning points in the historical development of "literary criticism." Our work in the first section should help to situate the three specific critical projects we will investigate in the remainder of the class: in order, feminist criticism, marxist criticism, and post-colonial criticism. We will explore the assumptions about culture and its reproduction that inform these different critical ventures, as well as the particular delimitation of "literary" study that follows from these assumptions. My choice to sample three such explicitly politicized critical ventures is, of course, deliberate: it is based on the conviction that all criticism (of whatever stripe) takes place at the juncture where reading turns political B where reading (in truth, never a simply private or solitary pursuit) addresses power.

In addition to active participation in this discussion-based class, work for the course will likely include two short (3 page) essays, one longer (6 page) essay, and a final exam.

Readings will include Catherine Belsey's Critical Practice, as well as a diverse array of short essays, excerpts from longer critical works, and a small selection of touchstone literary texts.