English | Critical Practices
L371 | 6826 | Joan Linton

Joan Linton

6826 - 11:15a-12:05p MWF (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

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.

The 16th century poet Sir Philip Sidney argued that poetry does not
merely teach and delight, but in doing so moves the audience “to do
that which they know and to desire to know.” The Romantic poet Percy
Bysshe Shelley proclaimed that “poets are the unacknowledged
legislators of the world.” In the 20th century, Wallace Stevens
wrote that poetry is the “supreme fiction” and that the imagination
is “the necessary angel” in our everyday encounter with
the “pressures of reality.” What shall our century say about the
role of literature and the arts in the world, or those of the critic
and the theorist?

In what ways might literary genres and cultural forms (epic,
romance, novel, painting, film, theater) constitute “forms of
responsibility” (Roland Barthes)? Responsibility to what, and whom,
and to what end? How do we “read” those forms of responsibility?
What demands do texts and artists make of their audiences—or what
games do they play with us? How do we devise a means to
responsibility that is adequate to these demands? What expectations
do we bring to texts, how do they shape our aesthetic experience and
vice versa?  How do we read and respond to a “culturally different
text” (Gayatri Spivak)? What cultural and historical understanding
comes with our task as readers and citizens, inhabiting both a
fictive world and our everyday world? In what ways might texts from
the English past speak to issues of the global present?

In addressing these questions, this course introduces students to
some of the theories and critical genealogies that have shaped the
field of English Studies, and aims to help each student develop the
knowledge and skills necessary to become a critically responsible
reader of literature and culture. In doing so, we will examine
individual theories and approaches both to test their strengths and
limits of application to the literary and cultural texts we read.
Thus while most English courses focus primarily on literary works,
this course explores questions fundamental to all critical practice.
Beginning with what roles literary texts and writers have in
society, we will turn to what literary texts and theories can tell
us about ourselves, our world, our history, our received ideas
about “the way things are,” or about other subjects and other
worlds. In the process, we will consider how we might position
ourselves with respect to the text, to theory, to our world in order
to become critically responsive readers, developing as we go the
cultural and historical understandings necessary. We will learn to
examine the critical choices we make and the implication of those
choices—how they predispose our reception of texts. Finally, we will
learn to create conversations between theories and the literary and
cultural texts we read, and explore the ways these texts, too,
theorize the world and address us as agents in history.

In addition to reading all assigned readings and participating in
class discussions, students will be expected to complete several
short writing (both in and out of class) designed to help them
develop the skills to engage with critical and theoretical writings,
challenging the ideas presented and allowing them to challenge our
thinking. Students will also participate in a group project in which
they bring these ideas into conversation with literary texts and
cultural issues by coming up with the necessary cultural and
historical knowledge. In a research essay each student will develop
his/her own critical practice in applying, building on, and even
refining the critical/ theoretical approaches.

Texts may include:
Hans Bertens, Literary Theory: The Basics
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly
William Shakespeare, King Lear
Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, Omnium Gatherum

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
In addition, critical and theoretical readings will be available
from the course’s Oncourse website.