What is Literary Criticism?
What is literary criticism and why does it matter? This course is an introduction to major questions and debates about how to value, interpret, and understand literature and criticism alike. What does it mean to criticize? How does literary criticism differ from literary theory—and to what extent are they aligned? What are the stakes, intellectually, culturally, and politically, of criticism today?
This class is an exploration of the form, function, and broad importance of what we call literary criticism. To ground our discussion, we will trace, selectively, the long history of approaches to a single hyper-canonical text: Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Each of our four sessions will set the play against a different set of critical essays with an emphasis on modern and contemporary reception and on methods of criticism more generally. Our investigation of criticism will include a wide array of critics and theorists. Some likely figures are A.C. Bradley, Stanley Cavell, T.S. Eliot, Edelman, William Empson, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Karl Marx, Fred Moten, Sianne Ngai, Edward Said, and Elaine Showalter. Among our central questions will be these: What is criticism good for? How is it different from literary theory? What role does criticism play in developing accounts of the worth of literature? How do different debates about criteria of value—aesthetic, ethical, political—get worked out in contests about what and how to read? What is the role of the critic? What kinds of publics does criticism imagine? How should we understand the complex history of literary criticism and its role in forming or changing literary canon?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
September 16 — October 07, 2020