COURSE AIMS AND OBJECTIVES:
This course is designed to introduce you to the variety of questions we can ask about literary texts, their authors, and their audiences. We will study a limited number of texts using a variety of critical approaches: formal, generic, reader-response, feminist, psychological, economic, ecocritical. The course will also provide closely supervised instruction in the format and basic elements of critical writing (this is a “W” course). The course is designed to prepare you for the sorts of questions you will be expected to ask and answer throughout an English major, but it is not only for future English majors. The course is designed to help you to explore your own reasons for reading, writing about, and interpreting literary texts in a variety of ways.
Student participation will be a key element of this course. The small size of the class will allow us to conduct our class work on the seminar model, with students providing regular input into class discussion and in-class exercises, both written and oral. More than three (3) unexcused absences will be grounds for lowering your grade in the course.
The College's plagiarism policy will be strictly enforced. This policy states: "1) To plagiarize is to use without proper citation or acknowledgment the words, ideas, or work of another. Whenever one relies on someone else for phraseology, even for only two or three words, one must acknowledge indebtedness by using quotation marks and giving the source, either in the text or in a footnote. 2) When one borrows facts which are not matters of general knowledge, including all statistics and translations, one must indicate one's indebtedness in the text or footnote. When one borrows an idea or the logic of an argument, one must acknowledge indebtedness either in a footnote or in the text. When in doubt, footnote." If you have questions about plagiarism beyond our in-class discussions, contact me directly. Dickinson's accommodations for disabilities policies will also be in force in this class. Once again, follow these electronic links or contact me directly.
You must complete all of the assigned work
in order to receive credit for the course. Grades will be based on the following
Class Essay #1 Essay #2 Essay #3 Take-Home Final
Participation (poem) (novel) (play) Exam
10% 20% 20% 20% 30% = 100%
Please do not hesitate to contact me at any time during the semester to discuss the course, our readings, your writing, or your grade.
ASSIGNED READINGS AND CLASS WORK:
This class will be unlike others you have had in the English
Department. There will be a range of readings assigned for each day, and
you will often be asked to emphasize some aspect of those readings for
class work. Essays and written work will draw on your reading of all assigned
material. You will revise and resubmit almost all of your writing. You will
also be encouraged to read more widely than the required reading in order
to fulfill the requirements and goals for the course. You will be placed in discussion
groups which will regularly be asked to present specific material or questions
to the class. The terms listed under the readings below will be defined progressively.
You will familiarize yourself with the attached handout on "Interpretive
Methods" and be able to refer to and critique these approaches as the semester
proceeds. Our class will become more flexible and discussion oriented as our
Date Text/s Critical Terms/Method Readings Writing
AUGUST 31 M Our syllabus ---Our syllabus as a Text----Our class as a Dialogue "Read" what?
SEPTEMBER 3 TH Heaney: 3-7 Mayes ix-xviii and 1-24, Glossary: "form," "formalism"
7 M Heaney: 10-11, 13-14 Mayes 25-48 , Glossary: "intentional
10 H Heaney: 29-35 Mayes 66-85, Glossary: "affective fallacy"
14 M Heaney: 100-114 Mayes 85-108 , Glossary: "irony," "paradox"
17 TH Mayes 138-155 ------------Imagine one image
21 M Heaney: 156-165 Mayes 165-184, Glossary: "New Criticism," "genre"
24 TH Heaney: 72, 120 Mayes 184-201
28 M Mayes 217-232
------------Workshop Draft of Essay #1
OCTOBER 1 TH Heaney: 214-17, 332-41 Mayes 232-45, Glossary: "poetry," "poetic diction"
5 M Heaney : 411 -----------------------ESSAY #1 DUE
8 H Brontë: 15-220
12 M Brontë: 220-441
15 TH Film versions of Jane Eyre
19 M FALL PAUSE
22 TH Brontë: 445-459 Glossary: "new historicism" "ecocriticism"
26 M Brontë: 459-536 Glossary: "feminist criticism"
29 TH Brontë: 565-633 Glossary: "reader-response criticism"
NOVEMBER 2 M Rhys: 17-61 -------------------------Workshop Essay #2 Draft
5 H Rhys 65-190 Glossary: "Marxist Criticism"
9 M What is a Novel? Glossary: "novel" --------------------------------------ESSAY #2 Due
12 TH Shakespeare Act I-II
16 M Shakespeare Act III-IV
19 TH Shakespeare Act V
23 M (NO CLASS: Research day for essay #3: submit electronic essay summary to me)
26 TH THANKSGIVING
30 M Shakespeare 91-116, 246-254 Glossary: "gender criticism," "feminist criticism"
DECEMBER 3 H Shakespeare 203-229, 255-268, 323-349, Glossary: "poststructuralism," "postcolonial"
7 M Exam writing (favorite Heaney poem, favorite Shakespeare scene) ESSAY #3 DUE
10 TH Last Class and Discussion of Take-Home Final Exam (Class evaluation)
December 18, Friday, 12 noon (NO LATE EXAMS): Take home
final exam due in East College 305
Remember that critical approaches are not cookie-cutters placed over a text. The most effective interpretations often draw on more than one approach in order to develop an argument. Every one of the categories below overlaps with others in important ways. Less useful interpretations force the text into narrowly methodological readings; such reductive interpretations always weaken an argument by leaving it open to objections from other points of view. The following distinct categories, however, represent ways that literary critics and theorists have been talking about texts for the past half-century. Your own reading and writing about literature should reflect the ways that you give emphasis to various sorts of questions that can be asked about texts.
Textual (Philological): this form of analysis emphasizes the physical text as an object of study. Is there still a manuscript copy of the work in the author’s handwriting? Are there conflicting manuscript versions? Can we date this work? How? How did the author or editor revise the work over time and in different editions? How might these questions influence our understanding of the text?
New Critical: a form of reading that stresses our ability to analyze a literary text without considering the circumstances surrounding its production. Such reading de-emphasizes the author and the historical context in favor of a “pure” analysis of language as language: tropes, symbols, metaphors, allusions, metrics, narrative structure. A “great” work is then seen as one that exemplifies certain identifiable characteristics: unity, complexity, subtlety, allusiveness. Sometimes identified with “close” reading.
Historicist/New Historicist: traditional forms of historicism emphasize the importance of historical “background” to the understanding of literature. The more a reader knows about the time and place in which a work was produced, the more effective will be that reader’s interpretations of the text. So-called “new” historicism argues that history itself is much less stable than we thought because our understanding of the past is always conditioned by our mediator (the historian) and by our own subjective position in a complex, multivalent culture.
Biographical: reading that emphasizes the author as a key to understanding the text. Such interpretations see the author’s childhood, education, family background, social class, and life experiences as important critical considerations. Traditional biographical readings tend to see authors as “products” of their times. More recent authorial critiques tend to stress the psychology of the author as a key to literary interpretation. Did the author long for a “mother”? Did the author hate a “father”? What did the author hide? Do we identify with the author’s life?
Psychological (Freudian): such readings see psychological categories and terms--conscious, subconscious, ego, id, superego, Oedipal, repression, transference--as important ways of talking about literature. They may focus on the psychology of the author, the characters/voices in the text, or the reader, seeking to explain plots, imagery, and authorial intention in terms of an analysis of mental events. For such interpretations the “hidden” aspects of a work are often more important than the “obvious.”
Economic (Marxist): Marxist interpretations emphasize the economic and material conditions of all human activity. Such readings claim that literary works are a function of the material circumstances of the author (rich or poor) and the economy of the author’s society (feudal, mercantile, capitalist, socialist). Such readings also stress the role of literature in hiding or revealing class distinctions and the need for political change.
Reception/Reader Response: discussions of responses produced by a text on its audience. Such critiques might discuss acceptance or rejection of a work by the reading public over time, reception by contemporary critics, or the current state of criticism of a text. Reception theory also analyzes and interprets the process of reading itself? What does it mean to “read” a work? What does it mean to “misread” the same work? Could we read disinterestedly?
Deconstructive: de(con)structive readings set out to reveal the linguistic tensions in a literary text. They also want to argue that all language is less st(able) than we often assume. Does “light” always imply, contain, or implicate “dark”? Does a seemingly unified text contain contradictions? How might a poem about the beauty of nature actually reveal the author’s own confusions about his pre/con/re-ceptions. Do certain words hide a much as they reveal? Do we find “true” meaning or make our own meanings? Is there “Meaning,” or are they only “meanings”?
Feminist: such readings stress the fact that women and men have different sorts of experiences--including linguistic experiences--or point out similarities across gender boundaries. Feminist interpretations might draw attention to the fact that the author was male or female, or to varying responses by male and female readers. Such readings also tend to emphasize the history of gender relationships as a key to understanding the text. At the most theoretical level a feminist reading argues that language itself is male or female (i.e. based on certain gendered assumptions).
Cultural Studies: a form of criticism that sees literary works not as the products of “genius” authors, but rather as artifacts of the cultures in which they were produced and in which they are interpreted. Cultural studies also incorporates the records of societies--imaged, photographs, films, clothing, objects--into the concept of “text,” arguing that to read a text is to read the culture in which it was produced and also the culture in which readers are performing the act of interpretation.
Ecocriticism: a recent form of interpretation that has emerged
out of emphasis on the relationship between humans and the natural environment.
Ecocritics emphasize the role played by nonhuman nature in a wide range
of literary texts. They also interrogate the ways that human interactions
with nature (plants, animals, geology, landscapes) have affected human life
and the natural world. Many ecocritics have environmentalist or preservationist
agendas; others are more interested in the philosophical and cultural implications
of human understanding of and impact on the natural environment.