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Jill Robbins, Chair 150 W 21st Street, Stop B3700, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4936

Fall 2007

SPN 381M • Literary Theory and Practical Criticism

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
49460 W
1:00 PM-4:00 PM
BEN 1.118

Course Description

No course can "cover" all of theory, because there is way too much of it to cover. One course, in one semester, cannot hope to read and discuss more than the tiniest subset of all the interesting and significant theoretical texts. So, a theoretical survey course is not possible in any really comprehensive sense. Another factor often overlooked in the design of courses about literary theory is the real world: the world of graduate students in departments of Spanish & Portuguese who take the courses on literary history and theory, but who also take examinations and write M.A. theses and doctoral dissertations; who look for andhopefullyobtain jobs; who seek to hold on to these jobs by publishing articles and books. A course on practical criticism and theory for graduate students in a department like ours will focus on things that help them read and understand their texts, take their examinations, complete their theses and dissertations, get jobs, and defend themselves when they enter the profession. The profession, meanwhile, does not offer a nice, neat monolithic job description. It offers an assortment of job descriptions. Many of these have a lot to do with the applicants' critical and theoretical orientation, even if the job announcement does not say so. The student/future applicant who is too specialized reduces his or her chances in the job market. An applicant must be ready to teach, in addition to basic language courses, literary survey courses, honors courses, humanities courses, interdisciplinary courses. Many of these will be outside one's home department or in joint programs. What is the practical criticism that supports those activities and endeavors? It will be a criticism that shows the student how to analyze and discuss a work's historical context, and one that, at the same time, gives some inkling of how to discuss the style and form of a work. The critical schools that best help the graduate student in his or her seminars, exams, and dissertations are the same ones that help both the undergraduates and graduates they will someday teach. The two critical orientations that best fulfill these demands could be classified into two tendencies: the Philological (or Historicist) and the Formalist (or Aestheticist). It is too simple to say that the former term encompasses all scholars and critics who seek to verify the original environment, audience, or authorship of literary texts, or that the latter term accurately characterizes all critics chiefly concerned with style and structure. If we look at the two extremes as critical modes, rather than as rigid taxonomic categories, we can see that most critics take a hybridized approach, now delving into historical reality, now focusing on formal aspects of the text under scrutiny, according to what specific works, genres, movements, and authors require of readers. The two modes, at the same time, are discernible techniques or orientations, whose implementation by a given critic, in a specific essay or study, can be dominant or recessive.

The proposed course intends to give students an introductory survey of certain discursive styles, certain bits of knowledge, that will facilitate the task of learning how to go from dominant to recessive and back again, between the two critical modes. The historicist aspect will be represented by a sampling of selected passages from works in the disciplines imposed by the logic of historicist method and cultural criticism, among them cultural and social anthropology, art history, sociology, psychology, and political science. The various formalist approaches (Russian Formalism, New Criticism, Structuralism, Deconstructionism) are represented from passages selected from relevant and influential authors. This course is designed to help the student navigate in the Ocean of Theory. We cannot hope to read everything relevant. But we can get some sense of a significant archipelago of influential works. The works mentioned below, and those passages which figure in the photocopied reader, are to be discussed and debated, not recited like catechism.

Grading Policy

1 term paper, 15-20 pages (longer papers welcome) 50% 1 20-30-minute oral report 15% 1 20-30-minute topical presentation 15% 1 WEEKLY 250-word précis of currently assigned critical reading 10% 1 WEEKLY in-class essay on brief passage 10% NOTE: INCLUDES A SUBSTANTIAL THEORETICAL COMPONENT (SEE "TEXTS", BELOW)


1. Auerbach, Mímesis 2. Roland Barthes, Mitologías 3. Mijail Bajtín, La cultura popular en la edad media y renacimiento 4. Terry Eagleton, Una introducción a la teoría literaria 5. Electronic reader of selections


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