L371 4905 CRITICAL PRACTICES
Ed Comentale

11:15a-12:30p TR (30 students) 3 cr., A&H. Open to English majors only.

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.

TOPIC: “Critical Theory and the Coen Brothers”

Welcome to the trippy world of postmodern critical analysis, where history has already ended, the nation is a construct, language doesn’t communicate, and you dream about what you do not want. L371 is a big ol’ shaggy dog of a course that serves as an introduction to these extremely difficult and often competing critical practices as they are used to describe not only poetry and prose, but also films, newspapers, human bodies, Fascists, cleaning products, cars, and sandwiches. Students are asked to sort out and evaluate the competing demands of Marxist critique, Freudian analysis, poststructuralism, and cultural studies, to understand and apply systems that are best characterized by their intellectual complexity, political aggressiveness, and simple psychological obsessiveness. In this version of the course, we will do our best to grasp the basic content of these disparate approaches, but we will also try to capture some of the excitement and urgency of their methods. To those ends, we will avoid conceptual tidiness and settle for an ambling, carnivalesque approach– moving quickly, perhaps madly, through these disparate critical worlds, reveling when we can, packing up and moving on when we want to. To add to the fun, our critical readings will be structured in synch with the filmmaking career of the Coen Brothers, finding in the madness of the former the methods of the latter. Each critical unit will conclude with big-screen viewings, allowing us to explore, for example, commodity fetishism through the hula hoops of The Hudsucker Proxy, oedipal crises in the crippled fathers of The Big Lebowski, discourse theory in the broken contracts of Fargo and Irreconcilable Differences. For sure, our discussions will be as difficult and as rewarding as those films – at once frustrating, demanding, whimsical, and alluring. Please come prepared for a bit of pleasurable confusion.

Readings will include work by Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan, Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Raymond Williams, Dick Hebdige, Judith Butler, Susan Faludi, Paul Gilroy, etc. Students will be required to hand in several short papers (definitions, critiques, summaries) and one long paper.