This course will survey a range of key texts in literary and cultural theory as a means of reflecting on the underlying assumptions and approaches of critical practice that we may sometimes take for granted. Put more simply, this course asks “how do we know what we’re doing when we analyze texts and cultural phenomena?” How do we choose which objects or topics to examine and which features to focus on or what questions to ask? What histories, traditions, debates, or structures help shape, enable, or limit our critical approaches?
This course seeks to defamiliarize, contextualize, and historicize practices of criticism so that we can deepen our sense of our own critical approaches and potentially expand their scope. Looking at a variety of foundational texts treating structuralism, Marxism, gender, sexuality, psychoanalysis, empire and postcoloniality, deconstruction, subjectivity, race, and the cultural resonances of ‘things,’ the course will explore the rich intellectual history and complex debates embedded (and often forgotten or overlooked) in contemporary theoretical interventions.
In addition to gaining greater facility with the key interventions and insights of particular theorists, the course hopes to expose seminar participants to a wide range of approaches to “writing theory” so as to foster familiarity with a variety of theoretical registers and develop each participant’s individual capacity to incorporate theoretical precision and nuance into their own critical writing.