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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2009

E 321K • Introduction to Criticism-- Honors

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

Please refer to the course schedule for course days, time, room location, prerequisites and possible cross-listings:

This course will investigate the principles and practices of contemporary literary criticism. We will begin with a brief overview of the liberal humanist tradition against which twentieth-century literary criticism positions itself. This tradition denies its historical, cultural, and political investments, offering close readings divorced from context and form and grounded in the presumption of a transcendent human subject (by default white, male, straight, and socio-economically privileged). The "true essence" of this liberal humanist subject is presumed transcend culture, experience, and language. We will then turn our attention to some of the major contemporary critical approaches, each of which embraces the inherently situated (contingent) and political nature of interpretation, as well as the ways in which culture, experience, and language produce and define the "human subject," which, according to them, is therefore not transcendent. We will devote ourselves to a handful of approaches selected from this list: psychoanalytic criticism, Marxist criticism, feminist criticism, New Criticism, reader-response criticism, new historicist criticism, structuralist criticism, deconstructive criticism, lesbian, gay, and queer criticism, African American criticism, and post-colonial criticism. The course will involve theory and application. First, we will strive to understand both the methodology of each critical approach and what is at stake in it, interrogating the ways in which an act of literary criticism reproduces and institutionalizes as well as challenges and transforms cultural values. And second, we will practice literary criticism ourselves, applying diverse critical approaches to two previously chosen texts throughout the semester.

Grading Policy

This is a writing flag course, which means that we will attend carefully to writing. Informal assignments will include semi-weekly reading notes posted to the class wiki in which you will apply the critical approach we're currently addressing to some small part of Chopin’s The Awakening. You will also be expected to respond to your classmates’ readings. Formal assignments will include three papers: two 5 page papers in which you will summarize as tightly as possible two critical approaches we’ve studied in class and then read them "across" each other to assess the focus, value, and stakes of each; and one 7 page application paper in which you will apply one of the critical approaches we’ve discussed to The Great Gatsby. Each paper will go through multiple drafts and a formal peer review before it’s due.


Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide by Lois Tyson; The Awakening by Kate Chopin, edited by Nancy Walker; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (any edition); A small handful of TBA primary texts that I will make available to you.


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