English 161

Introduction to Literary Theory: Free Speech, in Theory

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2018 Langan, Celeste
TTh 2-3:30 223 Dwinelle


This course will interrogate the way in which “free” speech informs and complicates our understanding of literature and the literary.  We will trace the conceptual intersection of freedom and speech both historically and across several disciplines, beginning with Plato and Aristotle, then proceeding to consider the effect of general literacy on the conception and regulation of free “speech,” reading Milton’s Areopagitica and Marx’s “On the Freedom of the Press.” Turning from "public" to "private" speech, we will also examine psychoanalytic and linguistic accounts of psychic and physiological disfluency.  Throughout, we will consider the “freedom” of speech in relation to questions of both form and content.  Are genre, meter, and grammar mere forms of constraint? Or are we free only when released by formal constraint from instrumental communication? Do political and psychic repression merely inhibit free speech, or is our idea(l) of free speech an effect of these repressions?  And what do physical constraints on speech, from aphasia to stuttering, have to tell us of the relation of literary form to speech freedom?  Does the global hegemony of English threaten a speech freedom that ought to be understood as dependent upon a polyglot diversity? Finally, to what extent is free speech a diminished form of freedom itself?  We will end by considering the current situation of free speech in the U.S., reading materials related to the  “Citizens United” decision, current discussions of "campus climate," and earlier Supreme Court cases related to free speech.

Students will have the opportunity to write three progressively longer essays (ranging from 3 to 10 pages) on different theoretical questions of free speech: on a specific philosophical, political, or aesthetic theory of literature; on a legal or psychoanalytic “case”; on literary form.

Texts will include: Norton Anthology of Literary Theory; Butler, J.: Excitable Speech; Foucault, M.: Fearless Speech; Freud, S.: Dora;  Melville, H.: Shorter Works; Plato: The Republic; Sophocles: Antigone; Wordsworth and Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads.

The English Department is working on expanding the class size for this offering. If you would like to enroll in this course after it fills, please put yourself on the wait list and if we are able to accommodate you, you will be added as soon as possible (no later than the first week of classes). 

Other Recent Sections of This Course

Back to Semester List