LitCrit Course Objectives

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 to 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.


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