Winter Quarter '04
English 303: History of Literary Criticism and Theory I: Plato to 1900
Course Description: The goal of this class is to introduce you to major theoretical positions taken towards literature in the western tradition, beginning with Plato and ending with Nietzsche and Wilde. We will be reading 18 or so different figures; we will expect you at course end to know the significance of each, as well as their relation to the other figures we will have read. And because literary theory exists to explain and situate the reading of literature, we will be reading a few literary texts as well, both so that we don’t as a class lose touch with the actual texts our authors are trying to describe, and so that you will be able to define in your own terms how various theoretical issues can be productively explored in particular works of literature.
Beyond simply knowing what people have said, however, we also expect you to become better active readers of their writing, and to help you learn to read these theoretical discourses critically and analytically—developing for yourself a sense of what issues they raise, and how they raise them—we will ask you to write a short (2 pp) response paper for virtually every class period. Those papers will become the basis for discussion in full-class sessions and in groups. We will not collect your written work every period; you will hand all of it, however, as part of your Course Portfolio on Monday of Week 10.
So writing is one important part of this course. Attendance is a second. This material is very challenging, and we will frequently be doing group work of various kinds, so we need your presence as well as your consistent preparation. If you are for any reason unlikely to be able to attend class regularly or to keep current with the reading and writing assignments, then you really should find yourself something else to take.
Graded Work: You will be doing two midterms, a precis paper, and a take-home final. You will also be submitting a class Portfolio, described on page 4 of this syllabus.
Course Grading: 500 Points, apportioned in the following way:
Truth in packaging disclosure:
1. In past quarters, most students have rated our classes as useful and relevant. But when students haven't liked a class (and that runs about 5% of those filling out forms), they have said that they never understood what was being asked of them. We take that concern very seriously, and in class we will try hard both to explain and to demonstrate what we want. But active reading—especially of theoretical texts—is not something that everyone will have done much of, and many of you will find it very difficult. We encourage you to ask questions, or to visit either one of us in our office hours. In the end, however, it is your responsibility to come to us. Most of you will indeed finally “get it,” though it may be the second midterm before it clicks. But if you do NOT get it, then (to repeat) you must take an active role in getting extra help.
2. This is a time- and work-intensive class. When we last offered the course students reported working an average of 12-14 hours per week. Some said they worked as much as 15-16 hours. That is higher than average for English classes, though still within the range of 3 hours per credit (1 in class, 2 outside) which the University sets as its standard for 5 credit classes.
3. The median grade (50% above, 50% below) in this class
has run anywhere from 3.1 to 3.3. That isn't the lowest grade—it
is the median grade. That means that some of you will indeed get a 2.5
or a 2.7 or a 3.0.
Second, the writing you do will also prepare you for class. If you have been actively engaged in a writing project, class sessions will move faster, group work will be much more efficient, and every person in the class will be able to contribute to the whole. Our work will be more interesting because you will have already made progress on the day's work before class even begins.
Third, you will simply 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 theoretical texts (or any text, for that matter) requires.
Finally, writing well truly is central to education in English. It is, after all, what the rest of the world thinks an English major is all about—and will expect you to be able to do. You SHOULD be doing constant writing for all your classes—so much so that it doesn’t feel like quite such a big deal in the first place.
What We Want. Our criterion for the response papers is ECI: “engaged critical intelligence.” You don't have to be right, and you don’t have to be polished (though you DO have to be intelligible!). You don’t even have to solve entirely whatever problem we give you. But we do want to see real effort with an engaged critical intelligence—even if it’s only to narrate for us 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 far too much time and developed far too much anxiety on these responses. Please understand: we’re not asking for a series of “English papers.” We call them “response papers” to suggest that their purpose is to be responding with an engaged critical intelligence to the reading and to our question(s) about it. In specific terms that means that we expect from you either TWO typed pages, or ONE hour of reflective writing beyond your reading of the assignments. If you truly want to do more than that—fine. But don’t go over two pages.
Our Response to Your Responses. The primary usefulness of these papers is in the writing itself. We take it as axiomatic that you will get much more from this class by having written regularly throughout than you otherwise would—and student evaluations confirm that most students from whom we've asked this kind of writing agree.
Moreover our intent is that these exercises will be useful to you whether we actually read them or not. Indeed, we 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 for our review as part of the course portfolio at quarter's end.
And when we do collect them, because the daily papers are not supposed to be fully finished works, we will also not generally read them with the same close attention we will give to your formal work. Instead our comments will be of the “OK,” “good,” or “We’d like to see more thinking going on here” variety. (If you want more specific response to your work, we'd be happy to talk with you during our office hours.)
Late Papers. We do not read late response papers. With the 6 to 8 sets of response papers we will collect from 50 students (240-320 papers), plus 4 formal writing assignments (200 more papers), we will have trouble enough keeping them straight already. Exceptions can be made only in cases of excused illness or family emergency.
(subject to change)
A portfolio for an English class is like many other portfolios: a collection of the work you have done, together with a reflective essay describing your experience in the course. This project thus offers you a chance to review your quarter's work, as well as to put that work into some kind of narrative perspective. Your portfolio must include:
1) A full item-by-item listing of the contents of the
The Self-Reflective essay should be about your experience in this class. It may take a number of different forms. It may, for example, be a narrative of your experience in this course—why you took it, what problems and challenges it presented to you as it progressed, and what you did to address them. Or it may discuss the writing you have done this quarter, describing critically what you take to be your work's strengths, and anything you think you still might be able to improve. Or it may discuss how your attitudes about literary theory have developed, changed, or not changed during the quarter: what were you thinking when you came in, and how has that changed in the ten weeks since? However you choose to set it out, the object of the exercise is to provide an occasion for you both to reflect on your experience in the course, and to do something towards evaluating and making sense of that experience.
The Self-evaluation is an exercise in which you evaluate your work for the course. What grade do you expect? How well does that reflect your learning? Explain using the criteria we develop as a class—and, to the extent they differ, your own. How did you do with respect to your goals for this course, and what do you think about your effort and your level of success? (Further detail will be supplied during the term.)
The portfolio counts for a total of 100 points: Response Papers 60, Self-Reflective Essay 30, Self-evaluation 10. The daily assignments included in the Portfolio will be evaluated on the basis both of completeness and Engaged Critical Intelligence. The SRE will be evaluated on the basis of responsiveness and thoughtfulness as follows:
The self-evaluation will be evaluated on the same basis as the SRE—with 10 as a top score.
The Portfolio should be submitted in a large mailing
envelope. To have it returned, be sure to address that envelope and
provide postage sufficient for the forty pages or so you will have submitted.