The first few weeks of the course hinge on the difference between “theory” and “theories” of literature; while on one hand we will be discussing the history of a variety of competing theories of literature or literaryness (and to understand why and when they appeared), on the other we will attempt a broader consideration of “theory” as a whole, as a genre or mode of thought that unites competing ideas (ideas as different as, say, Marxism and psychoanalysis) within a larger framework.
It is that framework that people refer to when they say things like, “I hate theory,” or “I do theory,” and so the question of what it would mean to hate theory, or do it, will reverse, as it were, the opening conundrum of the course. That is, if we have enough sense of how to hate it (and what there is hateful about it), or how to do it (and what gets “done” in that doing), we may well find that we then have the wherewithal to describe what it is exactly that we’re hating or doing (or, as Roland Barthes would tell us, loving).
All this may sound quite mysterious, which is ok. Though much of the course is designed to demystify the things that seem difficult or incomprehensible about (doing) theory, we will remain attentive to its mysteries as well; not understanding something will usually be as useful as seeing it with an epiphanic clarity.
Because of the difficulty of the texts we will be reading and the kinds of analysis we will perform, I strongly recommend that you take English 380 (Literary Analysis) before taking this class.
Download the Course Syllabus