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Fall Quarter '09

English 506/Comp Lit 500A

Modern and Contemporary Critical Theory/Theory of Literature I

Professors Gary Handwerk and John Webster

Webster Office and Phone: Padelford A-407 206 543-6203

Office Hours: TuTh 3:30-4:30pm and by appt.

Handwerk Office and Phone: Padelford A-101, 206 543-2690

Office Hours: Mon 1-3 PM and by appt.


Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates



Course Overview:

Modern and Contemporary Critical Theory/

Theory of Literature I

What do we do when we do theory within the fields of literary and cultural studies? And, having some sense of the what we do, how do we do it, and why? This quarter we will investigate these simple questions from three different vantage points: historical backgrounds to modernity (covering authors from Aristotle to Marx to Nietzsche to Wilde to Woolf), selected incursions into contemporary theoretical perspectives, and applied theory (via selected short stories and poems).

The main goal of this course is to introduce students to the graduate study of theory. We presuppose that most students new to the University of Washington will have read and studied a certain amount of theory, but may not yet feel fully grounded in and comfortable with theory. Our discipline is far past the phase when a one quarter comprehensive survey of what has come to be called “theory” was practical or possible. Such a survey is well worth undertaking, in whole or in part; and we encourage you to move from 506 into our theory sequence 507-10, or to 535, 556 or wherever your theoretical inclinations might take you next.

Here we will work toward reading the texts we will be covering—a set that includes fiction and poetry along with remarkable theoretical pieces—more closely and more carefully. As we read them, we'll be looking to see ways that even the literary texts among them are not simply descriptive accounts of what particular authors see around themselves. Literary texts do many different kinds of work, and reflecting on what they do, from merely pleasing all the way up to making arguments about how people should think and feel and behave, will be central to everything we read.

Course Requirements:

1) Response Papers: Writing is, of course, a process best practiced with some regularity, so we will be asking you to do several kinds of writing for this class, and to write something for almost every class. Everyone will submit a response paper (ungraded, informal papers, about two pages in length) for most class sessions during the quarter. These papers have several purposes. They are meant to help you focus in a preliminary way your reaction to specific texts and to help us gauge how you are responding to them individually and collectively. They also give you a chance to practice your analytical skills and to get some sense of how we respond to your analytical writing.

But they are also NOT "English Papers." Our criterion for these papers is ECI: Engaged Critical Intelligence. You don't need to be right, you just have to be well engaged in trying to figure out whatever the task we've given you.

How long should they be? No more than a single single-sided single-spaced piece of paper (!), or the result of one hour's engaged work with the writing.

2) Précis: A writing skill central to everything we do in literary and cultural studies is the ability to summarize/redact complex arguments. Your first formal exercise in this class will involve writing an effective précis of one of our early readings.

3) The Bayard Project: Kenneth Burke famously wrote of literary scholarship as an ongoing conversation, and nowhere is that more true than in theory. Much of what makes theory difficult, in fact, comes from finding yourself inserted into a conversation, or set of conversations, whose terms, traditions and concerns you may not understand. Even worse, it often seems bad manners (or, worse, admitting abysmal ignorance, since everyone around you keeps acting as if they know exactly what's at stake) to ask anyone what the heck is going on in the first place. This course will offer you entrée to a set of theory's standard conversations, and the Bayard Project will offer you a chance to engage in a particular conversation centered on a recent (and remarkably readable) study. In this section of the course we will also take up the problems specific to the teaching of theory to undergraduates--a challenge any of you who go on to college or university level positions will find yourselves encountering.

4) Collaborative Critical Project: Your 3rd major assignment will be a collaborative writing exercise submitted during the final third of the class. You will be responsible, in pairs, for reading and leading a class discussion on one from a selected group of critical essays (based upon suggestions made by our UW colleagues). You will also collaborate on producing a one-page, single-spaced, no-margin analysis of this essay, due one week after your class presentation. Your first objective in this paper should be to summarize as thoroughly and clearly as you can the main claims and the sequential presentation of arguments in that essay. Your second objective is to discuss how plausible and how helpful you consider those claims and arguments. More details on this will be forthcoming.

5) Final Paper: This will be your own personal version of the paper you write and present jointly. We'll give you details on this (which, effectively, is a Full-Re-write assignment) closer to the time you'll be writing it.

Regular attendance and participation are, of course, an expectation in a graduate seminar. We will expect you to have read and to have thoughtful questions and comments to make about whatever material we are dealing with on a specific day. At the same time, we are also aware that H1N1 is on the loose, and we will do our best to accommodate whatever impact that virus will have on either you or us. This website will be central to your keeping up, and it will serve as our first line of communication should you fall ill.

Course Grading:

1) Response papers/Portfolio 20%
2) Precis 15%
3) Bayard Project 20%
4) Presentation and joint essay 20%
5) Final paper 25%


Bayard, Pierre, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (Granta: 2008)
Crews, Frederick, The Pooh Perplex (U of Chicago P: 2003)
Freud, Civilization and its Discontents. Norton: 1989
Richter, David, Falling into Theory, 2 ed. (Bedford/St. Martin’s: 2000)
Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own (HBJ: 1981)


Tentative Reading Schedule

What is written here is sure to be modified over the length of the quarter. Get used to updating yourself regularly as to reading and writing assignments; the most up-to-date information will always be on the Assignments and Updates page.

Week 1 (Oct 1): Introduction: “Doing and Undoing English”; Test case: Alice Munro,
                                                “Boys and Girls” (Photocopy handout)

Week 2 (Oct 6): Barthes, “The Death of the Author” (Richter, 253); Plato, “Ion” (on-line) and selections from Republic (handout)

(Oct 8): Aristotle, Poetics (selections)

Week 3 (Oct 13): Arnold, “The Study of Poetry ”; Richter “Introduction” (1-12);

(Oct 15): Cleanth Brooks, “Irony as a Principle of Literary Structure”; Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn."

Week 4 (Oct 20): Précis due. Radway, Introduction to A Feeling for Books (Richter 199).

(Oct 22): Rabinowitz, “Actual Reader and Authorial Reader” (Richter 258). Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read, Chaps 1-2.

Week 5 (Oct 27): Said, “The Politics of Knowledge” (Richter 189).

(Oct 29): Marx (TBD)

Week 6 (Nov 3): Woolf, A Room of One's Own.

(Nov 5): Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense”; selections from Human, All Too Human.

Week 7 (Nov 10): Wilde, “The Decay of Lying.” Full Proposal for Bayard Paper due.

(Nov 12): Freud, “The Uncanny”

Week 8 (Nov 17): Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, and E.T.A. Hoffmann, "The Sandman."

(Nov 19): Foucault, “What is an Author?”

Week 9 (Nov 23): Bayard Project Due.

(Nov 24): Spivak, “Imperialism and Sexual Difference” (Richter 340).

(Nov 26): Thanksgiving Break

Week 10: (Dec 1): Pooh and other games

(Dec 3): Presentations.

Week 11: (Dec 8): Notes on Learning. Presentations

(Dec 10): Presentations, Party. Portfolio due

Finals Week: Final Paper due on or before 5:00pm December 16.




Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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