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Winter Quarter 2010

English 302: Critical Practice, or,

What Do We Do When We Do English?

Mon Wed 12:30pm, Loew 113

Office phone: 543-6203 Padelford A-407

Office Hours: Mon & Wed 2:40-3:45pm, and by appt

Assignments and Updates



Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates | Blackboard

Course Overview:

Critical Practice, or, What Do We Do When We Do English?

To the world outside, English Studies are about reading and writing—and that’s just about that. But over the past few decades the field itself has become intensely self-conscious of what those two activities actually are. “Reading” and “writing,” we’ve decided, are complex processes, and depending on how you understand them, you will be doing very different things. One kind of reading, for example, has for some critics come to look like a kind of cultural cheerleading; another takes an angle that makes it deeply distrustful of anything—including successful authorship—that looks like the promotion of power or privilege.

In that context, this course will ask you to think carefully about what English Studies people actually do when they do English, particularly as readers. We’ll begin with half a dozen essays that make claims about what work in English actually is or should be, and we’ll go on to read the whole of a short book that seems to argue that you needn’t actually read much at all (but doesn’t actually). Finally, we’ll also read/watch some of the texts that that book looks at as part of its argument—like Montaigne’s essay “On Reading.”

Throughout I will be asking you to think carefully about the reading and writing you do, and how and why you might choose to do either of them differently. You’ll write, too, about your own literacy habits, and in the end I’ll ask you to formulate for the future your own reading/writing plan. What are you doing when you do English, and how and why might you want to modify either?

Students will write short response papers for almost every class; there will also be three formal paper/mid-term assignments and a group project.



Texts: Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Shakespeare, Hamlet. Assorted essays either on-line or on electronic reserve.



The chief goal of this class is to make you more informed, active, and, especially, self-reflective readers of literary and quasi-literary texts. The course description above outlines the general sequence for what we'll do, and some of that work will be in full-class settings; some in small groups.

Because I strongly believe in writing as a means of learning, you'll be writing a lot for this class. Writing requires that you engage actively with your reading, and ensures that you—and everyone else in the class—come ready to contribute to the general class thinking. Accordingly, you’ll be writing something for every class meeting—usually something informal, a “response” paper of no more than two pages. Sometimes those will be hard-copy papers; at other times they will be either posted to GoPost sites or dropped off in a Collect-It Dropbox. In either case, at the end of the quarter you will be submitting all of your writing in a hard-copy Critical Practice Portfolio—a collection of all the writing you do for the quarter, along with a Self-reflective Essay describing your experience in this class.

Some of your writing will be E-posts. I have set up an E-post board with Catalyst. You will each be assigned to a response group, and you will post to your group's board. (You will have access to all the class' boards--but please post to YOUR board only!) You will be able to choose a screen name, but remember that I will know what your real identity is--you will not be posting anonymously.

If you want to email me, you are welcome to do so--don't be surprised, however, if I cannot give you a fast response. I get a LOT of email, and I cannot process it all when it first arrives. My email address is displayed on the homepage of this website.

Structured writing for the course will include three paper/midterms, and a group project. I'm still figuring out what those projects will be.

Course Grading: 400 Points, apportioned in the following way:

Midterm: 100 (Pt 1, 30; Pt 2, 70)
Work Pair report as part of Term Project: 30
Term Project: 100
Final: 70
Portfolio: 60
Attendance/Participation: 40

Why so much writing? Several reasons. First, writing is the single most effective way almost any of us have to make our learning active. The mere reading of assignments, by contrast, is an essentially passive process. Though your mind goes through steps enough to make the reading make sense, it rarely goes much beyond that point, nor is it forced to build connections to the understandings you have brought with you to the class with any kind of strength or resilience. Most restricting of all, however, is that without active and engaged work with pen (or computer) and paper your mind may also not do the re-structuring of conceptual frameworks necessary to your becoming comfortable with the active reading of literary texts.

Second, the writing you do will prepare you for our time together in class. With your having been actively engaged in a writing project, class sessions will move faster, group work will be much more interesting and efficient, and every person in the class will actually have read the assignment and be able to contribute to the whole. Our work together will be better because you will have already made progress on the day’s work before class even begins.

Third, you will learn more. Having to write will force you to confront what you don’t already know, and will give you constant practice with the skills that the active reading of these authors requires.

Finally, writing well truly is central to education in English. It is, after all, what the rest of the world thinks English is all about—and will expect you to be able to do. You SHOULD be writing constantly—so much so that it doesn’t feel like quite such a big deal in the first place.

What I want. My criterion for the response papers is ECI: “engaged critical intelligence.” That means that you don’t have to be “right,” and you don’t have to be polished. You don’t even have to solve entirely whatever problem I give you. But I do want to see real effort--writing in which your intelligence is critically engaged--even if it’s only to narrate for me the difficulties you are having as you try to come to grips with the assignment.

How Much Time Should You Spend Writing? In the past some students have spent more time on and felt more anxiety about these responses than is necessary. Please understand: though I genuinely do want you to take this writing seriously, I’m not asking for a series of “English papers.” I call them “response papers” to suggest that their purpose is to be responding with an Engaged Critical Intelligence both to the reading and to my question(s) about it. In specific terms that means: I expect from you either TWO typed pages, or ONE FULLY ENGAGED HOUR of writing. If you want to spend more time than that—fine. Just don’t go over two pages, or, when posting on line, over the word-limit.

My response to your responses. I certainly do want your papers to be coherent, but the daily response papers are not supposed to be fully finished works. And because they are informal in this way, I will also rarely read them with the same close attention I will give to your formal work. Their primary usefulness is in the writing itself. I take it as axiomatic that you will get substantially more from this class by having written regularly throughout than you otherwise would—and end-of-quarter evaluations from earlier classes confirm that most students overwhelmingly agree.

Moreover my intent is that these exercises will be useful to you whether I actually read them or not. Indeed, I will not collect every set of papers at the time you write them (though you will be collecting them as you complete them, and turning them in as part of the course portfolio at quarter’s end). And when I do collect them, my comments will be of the “OK,” “good,” or “I’d like to see more thinking going on here” variety. (If you want more specific response to your work, you are always welcome to come talk with me during my office hours.)

Late Papers. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I cannot accept late response papers. With the reading of multiple sets of up to 40 papers each over the course of the quarter I will have trouble enough keeping them straight already! (40 times 20 is 800 papers!!!!!) You can, however, miss up to two assignments without any deductions from your final portfolio grade. I also do not accept emailed papers unless I specifically ask for them to be submitted in that way. Again, this is principally a paper management issue--I simply cannot keep track of papers coming in from different inputs at different times and places. Thanks for your understanding.

Truth in Packaging disclosure:

1. In past quarters, most students have rated my classes as useful and relevant. But when students haven’t liked them, they tend to complain that they never really understood what I was asking them to do in the first place. I take that concern seriously. I will demonstrate what I want as clearly as I can in class. But even if most will get the hang of active critical reading by quarter’s end, some of you are still likely to find the process very difficult. If you feel as though you aren’t getting it, I strongly urge you to talk with me. In the end, it is up to you to get help. DON’T PUT IT OFF!!

2. In part because they are writing for every class session, students report working more on this class than they generally do for other classes. The average time spent runs between10-12 hours per week, but some report they worked as much as15-16 hours (still within the average of 3 hours per credit which the University sets as its standard for 5 credit classes, but more than you may be able to spend).

3. The median grade (50% above, 50% below) in my upper division classes runs anywhere from 3.1 to 3.3. That is NOT the bottom grade—it is the median grade. That means that a number of you may indeed get a 2.5 or a 2.7 or a 3.0, even though you may have done better than that elsewhere. If that is going to make you unhappy, then, again, you should get into a different class.

4. Attendance and Participation are part of the course, and they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. I take role randomly during the quarter, but I also use my review of your portfolio work to evaluate your class participation. Incomplete portfolios mean incomplete participation.

5. All assignments must be completed on time. Your score on any paper reflects whether your work has met this requirement.

So much for the work you’ll be doing. Now for a word of caution and of reassurance. Although this is an upper division class, I know that some of you will not have read much theory before. Not to worry. Theory isn’t so much hard as it is really different in goal and perspective from interpretation. Once you’ve learned something about thinking theoretically, and provided you do the reading and writing carefully and on time, you should be able to keep up with the work (see paragraph 2 above in Truth in Packaging). If, however, for some reason you expect to be missing class, or to be unable to keep up with the assigned work, then I very strongly urge you to find something else to take!!!

Tentative Reading Schedule

What is written here is absolutely sure to be modified over the length of the quarter, so get used to updating yourself regularly as to reading and writing assignments. The most up-to-date information will be on the Assignments and Updates page. That means that if information given below conflicts with the information posted on the A and U page, then the information below is wrong, the A and U page is right.

Week 1 (Jan 4): Introduction: English: the Most Useful Subject There Is (?!).

(Jan 6): Reading reading. Alice Munro, "Boys and Girls." Syllabus Quiz.

Week 2 (Jan 11): The view from Philosophy: Plato, the Ion.

(Jan 13): Answering Plato: Aristotle, Poetics (online).

Week 3 (Jan 18): NO CLASS: Martin Luther King day.

(Jan 20): Inventing the English Major: Arnold. "The Study of Poetry."

Week 4 (Jan 25): The classic English major. Cleanth Brooks, “Irony as a Principle of Literary Structure.”

(Jan 27): The Attack on Eden. Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author."

Week 5 (Feb 1): Attack and Expansion. Janice Radway, "Introduction" to A Feeling for Books.

(Feb 3): Review for Midterm, and Mid term, Part 1.

Week 6 (Feb 8): A simplifying complication: Peter Rabinowitz, "Actual Reader and Authorial Reader." Make-up Catch-up review session, to be held in hour two.

(Feb 10): Mid Term, Part 2.

Week 7 (Feb 15): NO CLASS: Presidents' Day

(Feb 17): Bayard, How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read. Chapters 1 and 2. Borges, "The Library of Babel." Introducing the Term Project.

Week 8 (Feb 22): A thought about post-Post-colonialism: Edward Said, "The Politics of Knowledge." (ON-Line office hours. You can write me questions about your Bayard chapter concerning either what things mean and whether you've gotten it right, or about any other way I might be able to help. I'll answer, and then, for the ones I think would help everyone in the class, I'll post the Q and A's.)

(Feb 24): DUE: Full Proposal for your Final Project. Identify the chapter you will be writing on, give a summary of what you think it is about and who might be connectable to it and how, and a brief account of what your turn in the conversation will be. Read Around, Stage 1

Week 9 (Mar 1): Two Representations of the Third World. Kipling, "William the Conqueror," and Tagore, "Bride and Bridegroom."

(Mar 3): Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Imperialism and Sexual Difference."

Week 10 (Mar 8): Meanwhile, back at the Ranch. Martha Nussbaum, "The Literary Imagination." Portfolio Due.

(Mar 10): Final Project DUE. Read Around, Stage 2, and Party time.

Finals Week (Mar 18): 8:30-10:20. Final. This will be an online final. This means you will be able to take this final from anywhere in the world, just so long as you have an internet connection that supports email.




Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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