Syllabus | Assignments


This course will focus on several varieties of critical texts relevant to literary study, from Aristotle's Poetics to post-modern and other contemporary selections. Among the points of view represented in the authors we read will be blends of formalism, structuralism, Marxism, feminism, gender studies, cultural studies, psychological and psychoanalytic approaches, reader-response theory, poetics, narratology, and ethics and literature. Many of our selections will be from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, which I will supplement with several handouts (on ecocriticism, ethics and other topics).

Students will be asked to post brief responses to the course texts on our WebCT discussion board, to bring in questions and "applications" for class discussion, and to write two critical essays evaluating course material and related readings.



August 23rd Introduction, recurring patterns of criticism

August 25th structure, form and theme: Aristotle, "Poetics," NA 90-112

August 30th aesthetics: Kant, from The Critique of Judgment, NA 499-535


September 1st early feminism: Pisan, NA 263-270; Wollstonecraft, NA 582-593 + handout

September 6th nineteenth-century humanism: Arnold, NA 802-825; Pater, NA 833-41

September 8th Nietzsche NA 870-895

September 13th historical approaches: Marx, NA 759-788

September 15th applications of Marxism: Williams, NA 1565-75; Eagleton, NA 2243-49; Bourdieu, NA 1806-14

September 20th psychological approaches: Freud, NA 913-952

September 22nd tradition and formalism: T. S. Eliot, NA 1088-1105; Cleanth Brooks, NA 1350-71

September 27th structuralism and narratology: Todorov, NA 2097-2105; Bakhtin, NA 1186-1219

September 29th Peter Brooks, handout; Paula Gunn Allen, NA 2106-2125


October 4th Hayden White, NA 1709-1728

October 6th feminism: Woolf, NA 1017-1029; Cixous, NA 2035-2055; Kolodny, NA 2143-2164

October 11th Hughes, NA 1311-1316; Gates NA 2421-31; bell hooks, NA 2475-2484

October 13th Andalzua, NA 2208-2222; Vizenor, NA 1975

Abstract for first paper due.

October 18th historicism and cultural studies: Foucault, NA 1615-1647

October 20th Benjamin, NA 1163-85; Mulvey, NA 279-92

First paper due.

October 25th gay and lesbian studies: Rich, NA 1759-1780; Barbara Smith, NA 2299-2315; Butler, NA 2485-2501

October 27th psychological approaches: Jung, 987-1003; Lacan, 1278-1310


November 1st Lacan; Kristeva, NA 2165-79

November 3rd reader-response theory: Jauss, NA 1547-64; Iser, NA 1670-81

November 8th Barthes, NA 1457-75; Fish, NA 2067; Tompkins, NA 2126-42

November 10th post-colonial theory: Fanon, handout; Spivak, NA 2193-2207

November 15th Ngugi wa Thiongo, NA 2089-2096; Chinua Achebe, NA 1781-1793

November 17th Said, handout from Culture and Imperialism

Thanksgiving break week of November 22nd and 24th

November 29th literature and ethics: Booth, handout

December 1st postmodernism: Lyotard, NA 1609-1614; Baudrillard, NA 1729-40; Deleuze and Guattari, NA 1601-1608

December 6th technology, hypertext: Haraway, NA 2266-98; Moulthrop, NA 2502-2524

December 8th ecocriticism, handout from Carolyn Merchant

December 13th: final essay (take-home exam) due; students will summarize the contents of their papers in class.



Room 208 EPB, 1:05-2:25
Instructor: Florence Boos  (
Office: 319 English-Philosophy Building
Office hours: most days, informally after class; Thursdays 2:45-3:45 and Wednesdays by appointment

The course text is the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, ed. Vincent B. Leitch, 2001 edition. If you use an earlier edition, it may not contain the selections assigned later in the course. I will provide handouts where marked on the syllabus.

Course assignments:

in class questions and "applications": For each class period, please read the assignment carefully in advance. You may often need to reread passages to decipher what you think they mean.

Then prepare at least one question to ask; this may be either a "real" question, that is, a request for explanation or discussion of an unclarity, or a class question, one intended to evoke discussion on an issue.

Please also prepare an "application" where relevant, that is, a reference to an aspect of a literary work which seems consistent with something in our texts. For example, the definition of "tragedy" in Aristotle's Poetics might suggest examples of reversal and recognition in a novel you have read recently. Alternately one might find parallels to the critical work in modern texts (for example, the structure of Christine de Pisan's "A City of Ladies" might suggest Mary McCarthy's The Group).

Even if we do not have time for your contribution that day, you can use your questions and applications as part of your weekly posting.
journal on-line: each week you should prepare a 2/3-one-page commentary on one of the texts we have read for that week, and post it on our web page link to WebCT, for a total of 15 postings a semester. These do not have to be completely current; that is, you can post entries after the week in which we read the selection--but don't wait too long! I will read these each week but will not grade them. I will ask you to print them out at the end of the semester to turn in with your final paper.
overview and critique: You are asked to write a six-page (typed) essay providing an overview of three or more essays which are linked in theme or approach--for example, three formalist essays, or three essays on feminism--followed by your evaluation of the merits and/or limitation of each. A one-page outline or abstract will be due October 13th, and the paper itself is due October 20th or 21st.
research essay: This essay, of a minimum of six-pages, should provide a summary, background material, and critique of a book or other fairly substantial work of criticism of your choice. It should demonstrate a knowledge of its historical context and the opinions of some earlier critics; and the final portion of the paper, of course, should be your own evaluation of the merits of this approach. For example, you could choose one of Emmanual Levinas's books, then provide background on his relationship to the holocaust and how previous writers have categorized his works, and for your conclusion, reflect on which of his ideas seem to have continued relevance.

The research essay is essentially a take-home final and will be due the Tuesday of exam week. Please be prepared to summarize your essay to your fellow students at our last session; if for some reason you cannot attend that last session, you may give your presentation the final week of class.