ENGL602 - Critical Theory and Literary Criticism

An introduction to critical theory and literary criticism, with an overview of major movements (including formalism, structuralism and poststructuralism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, and feminism). Designed to help graduate students assess the various ways of approaching and writing about literature.

This course is designed to foster fluency in contemporary “critical theory”—that is, in the widely influential set of methods for studying literature and culture. Our goal is not just to run through a list of key terms and concepts, but more ambitiously to historicize, compare, and where appropriate synthesize the continually evolving strands of modern theoretical discourse. These ambitions do not mean that we will conduct an exhaustive review; a course such as this one could not hope to adopt such a goal. Rather, by focusing on some of the most persistent topics in theoretical conversations, we will be well-prepared to contribute to their continued twists and turns in the present and future. These topics include fundamental issues such as representation, subjectivity, power, and interpretation, and have been approached in such contemporary concepts as globalization, biopower, affect, and more. By the end of the semester, we’ll have both a sense of the different ways in which critical work can be organized (through periodization into, for example, structuralism and poststructuralism, or modernism and postmodernism), as well as the limits of that kind of categorization for capturing the overlaps and intersections among discourses (like marxism and feminism, or minority discourse and psychoanalytic criticism).