English 160

Methods and Materials of Literary Criticism

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2020 Puckett, Kent
Thurs. 2-5 83 Dwinelle


In this course, we will look at some major moments in and read some major works of literary criticism written in English.  Beginning with Sir Philip Sidney’s “The Defence of Poesy” and moving through writing by William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, J. S. Mill, Matthew Arnold, George Eliot, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, A. C. Bradley, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, William Empson, Cleanth Brooks, James Baldwin, Kenneth Burke, Raymond Williams, Northrop Frye, C.L.R. James, Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Edward Said, Toni Morrison, Eve Sedgwick, and others, we’ll read British and American literary criticism in order to do a few related things.  First, we’ll look to these writers in order to consider some questions essential to thinking about literature and literary language: What is literature?  What is it for?  Is literature literary because it entertains, because it instructs, because it is ordered, beautiful, dangerous, or strange?  What, if anything, makes literary language different from other kinds of language?  And what analytic, descriptive, or interpretive methods are appropriate to what might be specific about literary language?  Second, we’ll look to these writers at work, looking closely at how different critics engage with their different chosen objects, how they understand the practical and maybe impractical ends of criticism, and how they write about writing.  We’ll see how Arnold reads and writes about Wordsworth, how Woolf reads and writes about Austen, how Coleridge, Bradley, and Wilde read and write about Shakespeare, how Morrison reads and writes about Melville, and how Henry James reads and writes about Henry James.  Third, we’ll look at some ways in which the more or less continuous modern history of literary criticism in Britain and America responds to other histories—to revolution, reaction, political upheaval, world wars, cold wars, empire, decolonization, social movements, social networks, as well as the economic, political, and cultural vicissitudes of the modern university.

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