English 161

Introduction to Literary Theory

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2021 Hale, Dorothy J.
TTh 12:30-2

Book List

Leitch, Vincent, et al: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, THIRD EDITION

Other Readings and Media

Additional required course readings will be posted on our b-courses site.


This course explores the distinctive nature of “theory” as a twentieth-century approach to the study of literature.  Our inquiry is organized around the major movements in the field: formalism, structuralism, deconstruction, Marxism, psychoanalysis, identity politics, and post-colonialism.  We will examine the different conceptions of literary value and critical method that define these approaches, as well as the family of ideas that “doing theory” comes to signify.  We will also consider the way recent critical trends (such as ecopoetics, global studies, affect theory, and the new ethics) build upon, revise, or attempt to work outside of the intellectual traditions consolidated in the twentieth century.

Our study of literary theory will be anchored in a particular question: why does prose fiction command sustained theoretical attention, across schools and throughout the twentieth century--often serving as the privileged example of literary value?  As we focus on the categories of importance attributed to prose fiction, we will develop an understanding of key theoretical concepts.  These include the story/discourse distinction, textuality, signification, ideology, master narratives, the unconscious, the split subject, binary opposition, dialectical logic, border crossing, voice, heteroglossia, mimicry, technologies of power, gender performativity, and ethical singularity.

To develop skills as close readers of theory, students will write two short papers (7-8 pages each).  A take-home final provides the opportunity for synthetic thinking.  Required b-course posts encourage students to work out their questions and responses to the course materials on a weekly basis.

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