Literary Theory: a Critical Introduction

Instructor: Rebecca Ariel Porte
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

What is literature? And what kinds of meanings, uses, values, histories, and philosophical positions do we attach to literature in the act of reading it? Literary theory, the diverse body of thought that addresses these fundamental questions, has pursued a stunning array of methods in its attempts to understand how literature works. This course, a selective introduction to literary theory, concentrates on just a few: psychoanalytic theory, Marxist theory, postcolonial theory, and queer and feminist theory.

Two canonical novellas will serve as primary texts for the class: Henry James’s The Aspern Papersand Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener. We’re also likely to encounter poetry by John Donne, Charles Baudelaire, Bertolt Brecht, Elizabeth Bishop, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank O’Hara, Derek Walcott, and Mahmoud Darwish, among others. As the course progresses, we will ask not only what literature is—and how it gets constructed differently as a category at different historical points—but also what literary theory is. How and why should we interpret literature? Is there an ethics of reading? Is genre a meaningful category? What is the legacy of various critical turns as they manifest in literary theory, including the New Criticism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, structuralism, poststructuralism, ideology critique, and affect theory? And what, ultimately, is literature for? Theorists who may interest us include Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Elizabeth Hardwick, C.L.R. James, Fredric Jameson, Barbara Johnson, Melanie Klein, György Lukács, Pierre Macherey, Fred Moten, Karl Marx, Sianne Ngai, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Edward Said, Hortense J. Spillers, Gayatri Spivak, Jean Starobinski, and Raymond Williams.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 04 — March 25, 2024
4 weeks


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