A. Required Text:
Vincent B. Leitch, ed., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Norton, 2001.
B. Course Requirements:
(1) two papers [minimum of 800 words each; one unit each]; topics and deadlines to be announced in class; at least one of these papers should apply a chosen theory to a particular literary text approved by the instructor;
(2) two class presentations (half a unit each);
(3) a journal [3 units] in which students are to write regularly. You should write write at least one page (double-spaced type) for each text, answering either a question from this syllabus or a question of your own construction. The journal will be submitted in the penultimate week; each entry should be dated and typed. Students will be asked to read aloud from their journals in several classes;
(4) a final exam [2 units], Tuesday, May 6, 6-9 p.m.
(5) the quality of class participation counts for two units;
(6) anyone missing a reading or writing assignment, for whatever reason, should see me as soon as possible.
C. Weekly Class Assignments:
I. CLASSICAL LITERARY THEORY
Week 1: Jan 21: Why Literary Theory? Using the introduction to the textbook, students will be asked to formulate in writing their answers to this question and to identify the crucial issues involved. We will then begin a study of Classical literary criticism, commencing with extracts from Plato’s Republic and Ion. Issues: what precisely is Plato’s argument for banning poetry? Is it epistemological or moral? How does it relate to Plato’s theory of Forms? Does Plato contradict these arguments in his Ion? Would Plato’s judgement remain the same today? Can modern censorship appeal to any version of his arguments?
Week 2: Jan 28: Aristotle’s Poetics (pp. 90-102) , Horace’s Ars Poetica:What can we make today of Aristotle’s profoundly influential definitions and categorisations of poetry? To what extent is Aristotle’s conception of poetry epiphenomenal of his quarrel, at a philosophical level, with Plato’s theory of Forms? Is this conception necessarily tied to Aristotle’s view of “substance” as the primary reality? What are the political implications of Aristotle’s views of “substance” and “identity”? What are the implications for Feminism? Horace paints an entirely different picture of poetry, as something far more subjectively defined. Why? Does he really have a theory of poetry? Was it possible to theorise, beyond Stoicism, in a Roman world where only one man, the Emperor Augustus, was truly free? Was Horace a revolutionary or a reactionary apologist?
II. MEDIAEVAL LITERARY THEORY
Week 3: Feb 4: Moses Maimonides= Guide of the Perplexed; Thomas Aquinas= Summa Theologica (Ninth and Tenth Articles); Dante=s Il Convivio and Letter to Can Grande: What were the principal characteristics of Mediaeval semiotic theory, as embodied in these texts? How does Aquinas= theology underlie his conception of beauty? What functions does he attribute to figurative language? What kind of world-view is implied by a highly structured allegorical mode of writing as pursued by Dante? How is Maimonides= influence still discernible today?
III. RENAISSANCE LITERARY THEORY
Week 4: Feb 11: Sir Philip Sidney=s An Apology for Poetry: Notwithstanding their differences, both Aristotle and Horace exerted powerful influences on Renaissance poetics.What were the cultural and intellectual circumstances behind Sidney’s need to defend poetry? Is today’s marginalisation of poetry a parallel phenomenon? Does Sidney say anything new or is he merely echoing Aristotelian and Horatian notions? Does he present arguments or mere assertions? Can we learn something from his attempt to situate poetry within a broader (Christian) scheme of things and to insist on its didactic character? Does Sidney’s text belong to the Renaissance or is it anachronistic?
IV. NEOCLASSICAL LITERARY THEORY
Week 5: Feb 18: Pope=s An Essay on Criticism: Pope’s Essay, reflecting the values of neoclassical criticism, addresses an issue raised by Horace: Nature versus Art. What exactly does Pope mean by “Nature”? How, moreover, do we reconcile his emphasis on Reason with his insistence on submission to Divine Revelation? How heavily does this type of Classicism rely on Aristotle?
V. FROM ENLIGHTENMENT TO ROMANTICISM
Week 6: Feb 25: Kant’s Critique of Judgment; Hegel’s “Introduction” to Lectures on Fine Art; and Shelleys Defence of Poetry: Does Kant treat adequately the question of the subjectivity or objectivity of artistic judgment? How are his aesthetics connected to his epistemology in general? What are his views on the autonomy of art? How does Kant=s philosophy lay the groundwork for much Romanticism? What were the political causes of the Romantics’ extreme reaction against the neoclassical tradition? Is their movement towards subjectivity part of a broader historical movement? Why did the Romantics such as Shelley exalt the status of the poet? If Classicism has its roots in Aristotle, does Romanticism trace its genesis to Plato? The Romantics= argument for the autonomy of poetry –its freedom from religious, moral or political constraint — is still influential today, even in our English Department. Why? Is our age underlain by a continuation of Romantic predispositions? Is it even meaningful to talk of a Classical ideal, as T.S. Eliot did? While Hegel’s philosophy itself is not Romantic, it shares certain crucial elements with Romantic aesthetics: what are these?
Week 7: March 4: Emerson, “The American Scholar” and “The Poet”; Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”: What were the connections between European and American Romanticism? How much did American Romantics owe to German idealism? How profound was Poe’s influence on Baudelaire? What were the nature and origin of Emerson=s transcendentalism?
VI. SYMBOLISM AND AESTHETICISM:
Week 8: March 11: Gautier, Preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin; Baudelaire, selections, pp. 792-802; Mallarme, “Crisis in Poetry”: Gautier and Baudelaire exerted considerable influence on modernist poets such as Eliot and Pound: what was the nature of the symbolists’ reaction to the modern world? How does symbolist poetry relate to Romanticism, and how does it prepare the way for modernist aesthetics?
Mar 15-23: Spring Break
Week 9: March 25: Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance; Wilde, “The Critic as Artist”; Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying,” and The Birth of Tragedy: why was Pater’s History so controversial? How subversive were the emphasis on art for art’s sake and the principles of aestheticism? Why does art seem to replace religion for these dudes? Was this merely a symptom of a despairing Victorian humanism? In what ways does Nietzsche challenge and undermine the basic tenets of Western philosophy and aesthetics? Is he uncool?
Week 10: April 1: Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment; Jameson, The Political Unconscious: What are the basic predispositions of Marxist literary analysis? What is the Marxist conception of the “human”: scientific, humanist, fatalistic? Must literary value be related to a particular ideological stance? If not, how do Marxist aesthetics accommodate political commitment? Do Marxist notions of “ideology” overlap with those of other areas of literary theory, such as Feminism? What are Horkheimer and Adorno’s central insights into the “culture industry”?
VIII. THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Week 11: April 8: Boris Eichenbaum, “The Theory of the ‘Formal Method’; A Wimsatt and Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy” and “The Affective Fallacy”: What are the central features of formalism, according to Eichenbaum? The essays by Wimsatt and Beardsley are among the primary documents of the “New Criticism,” still pervasive today. The New Critics’ focus was “the word on the page.” What were the motives behind their rejection of interpretative recourse to factors such as an author’s intention, biography, moral purpose and historical circumstance. Is the “intentional fallacy” argument valid? New Criticism has been under fire for over twenty years but does it have any redeeming features? Can we accommodate its focus on ambiguity, irony and paradox within more comprehensive schemes of reading?
(B) STRUCTURALISM AND DECONSTRUCTION
Week 12: April 15: Northrop Frye, “The Archetypes of Literature”; Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author” and “From Work to Text”; Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (pp. 1822-1830): how does Structuralism advance beyond previous methods of analysis? What are its philosophical assumptions about identity, authorship and language? Is it indeed ahistorical, as Marxist theorists argue? Is it radical? What explains its apparent neglect in contemporary academia? Is deconstruction capable of definition or summary? What is its historical and philosophical genesis? Is it a philosophy? Is it original or merely a superficial rehashing of the ideas of Hegel and other philosophers? Is it revolutionary or simply the latest phase of reactionary withdrawal from political concerns? Can Marxism and Deconstruction be reconciled?
(C) CULTURAL STUDIES:
Week 13: April 22: Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality; Homi K. Bhabha, “The Commitment to Theory”; Gayatri Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason; what is Foucault’s central thesis regarding sexuality and power? What political resonance does “theory” have for Bhabha? And what, according to Spivak, are the limitations of Western categories of thought?
(D) PSYCHOANALYTIC CRITICISM AND FEMINISM
Week 14: April 29: (i) Lacan’s “The Mirror Stage..,” “The Agency of the Letter,” and “The Signification of the Phallus”: Can we “explain” the process of artistic creation, as Freud attempts to do? Is art a sublimation of repressed wish-fulfilment? Are Freud’s psychoanalytic accounts individualistic or social? What is their political resonance? Does Lacan=s inscription of Freudian concepts within language usefully extend their application? In general, can psychoanalytic principles and models be used to organise the form and content of literary criticism? Is this discipline categorisable in a “scientific” fashion? Or is the refusal to categorise it yet another genteel mystifying impulse? To explain particular texts, don’t we need universal archetypes?
(ii) Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language: Is there a cohesive philosophy behind the various branches of Feminism? What are the main issues of contention between Feminist critics themselves? Are there a set of “male” philosophical assumptions uniformly to be assailed? Why is Feminism necessarily politically conscious? Is Feminism basically a middle class, liberal and individualistic movement? What is at stake in a revision of the literary canon? Can the Bible and the Qur’an survive a Feminist reading? Is the vocabulary of Feminism obliged to compromise with the conceptual frameworks it sets out to impugn? How does Kristeva modify Lacan=s insights?
Week 15: May 6: Final Exam.