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 surveys the major trends in critical theory and literary criticism since 1900. We won’t simply run through a list of key terms and concepts; we’ll also historicize, compare, and where appropriate synthesize the continually evolving strands of modern theoretical discourse. We’ll trace the periodization of major movements—from structuralism to post-structuralism, for instance—and we’ll also consider the limits of that kind of categorization for capturing the overlaps and intersections among discourses, such as neo-Marxism and feminism, or psychoanalysis and critical race theory. While we can’t conduct an exhaustive review, we will focus on some of the most persistent concerns in theoretical and literary critical conversations—from subjectivity to power, from representation to interpretation—so that you’ll be well prepared to contribute to these conversations’ continued twists and turns in the present and future. Moreover, the latter part of the course will focus on new and emerging theoretical fields like ecocriticism, new materialism, and disability studies, so we can gain a sense not only of theory then but also of theory now.