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ENGL 3200 Readings in Theory

unknown classical painting, renaissance era

Catalog Description

Pre- or co-requisite: ENGL 2900. Readings in major theoretical texts reflecting variously the periods and movements central to literary critical thought, aesthetics, and theory.   

Course Description

ENGL 3200 Readings in Theory is one of the six core Readings courses in the English undergraduate degree program. The core Readings courses provide majors with awareness of the concepts, histories, and theories central to the study of literature and language, and thus serve as “gateway” courses to 4000-level electives. ENGL 3200 introduces students to literary and cultural theory and to some of the key problems and questions that have animated theoretical discussion of the place, role, and nature of literature, artistic expression, and other discursive practices from ancient times to the present. Why do human beings make art and why are they audiences for art? What is literature and can we distinguish it from other kinds of writing? Is aesthetic experience possible and if so how is it different from other kinds of experience? How is art produced? How can it be understood? How does it express and intervene in political, cultural, and ideological contexts?  What institutional frameworks determine its meaning and value?  How do literature and art constitute human subjectivity and its limits? 

Readings in philosophy, history, literary and cultural criticism, linguistics theory and social, psychological, cultural, and political theory suggest the continuing interest in and importance of these questions. Progress is measured, variously, in written work, exams and other projects.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary-critical terms and concepts
  • identify major critical and theoretical questions and debates that have shaped the history of critical theory and literary criticism
  • demonstrate an understanding of the key theoretical issues that inform recent theory and criticism
  • compare and contrast different theoretical positions by identifying the basic assumptions and values that inform those positions
  • develop cogent, incisive, and well-written arguments that analyze and compare the claims, assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses of critical and theoretical arguments

By actively participating in this course, students will

  • develop their skills as critical readers—particularly close reading, making connections within a literary work, and generating thought-provoking questions—through active reading and guided class preparation
  • develop their skills at presenting questions and ideas verbally, and at responding to those of others, through seminar-style class discussions
  • develop their skills as critical writers about language and literature through writing assignments and essay exams

Course Outline

Course content might be organized in a number of ways. Included are two common models for organizing a theory survey course.  Authors to be read will be variable and the summaries below merely gesture toward more dynamic possibilities.

1.  Chronological Structure

Part 1.     Classical Foundations: Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Longinus

Part 2.     Medieval to Neoclassical: Dante, Sidney, Boileau, Dryden, Johnson

Part 3.     Romantic to Modernism: Kant, Schlegel, Coleridge, Arnold, Pater, Eliot

Part 4.     Formalism, Structuralism, and Deconstruction: Saussure, Barthes, Derrida, Johnson

Part 5.     Materialist Approaches: Althusser, Bakhtin, Marx, Williams, Woolf

Part 6.     Psychoanalytic Theory:  Freud, Lacan, Žižek

Part 7.     Postcolonial, Race, and Gender Studies: Bhabha, Gates, Sedgwick, Said

Part 8.     Contemporary Critical Cultural Theory:  Butler, Berlant, Haraway

2.  Approaches Structure

Weeks 1-3—Form: What controls the form of a work of art? What role does tradition play?  What is the specificity of literary language?

Weeks 4-7—Mimesis: What is the relationship between literature and the world it represents?

Weeks 8-11—Expression: What is a poet? How are authorship and readership constructed? What is literature?

Weeks 12-15—Experience: How do audiences experience literature? How is literary value defined?

About the Banner: "Las Meninas" (1656) by Diego Velasquez (image from,_by_Velazquez.jpg)