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 ICON discussion board, to bring in questions and "applications" for class discussion, and to write two critical essays evaluating course material and related readings.



August 22rd Introduction, recurring patterns of criticism

August 24th structure, form and theme: Aristotle, "Poetics," NA 90-112

August 29th aesthetics: Kant, from The Critique of Judgment, NA 499-535

August 31st early feminism: Pizan, NA 263-270; Wollstonecraft, NA 582-593 + handout


September 5th romantic aesthetics: Wordsworth, NA 645-665; Coleridge, NA 674-682

September 7th romantic aesthetics: Hegel, NA 626-644

September 12th historical approaches: Marx, NA 759-788

September 14th fiction, realism: Henry James, "The Art of Fiction," NA 851-89; Gyorgy Lukacs, "Realism in the Balance" NA 1030-1040, 1046-58

September 19th psychological approaches: Freud, NA 913-952

September 21st linguistics: Saussure,NA 856-977

September 26th structuralism: Boris Eichenbaum, 1058-1080, Levi-Strauss, NA 1415-1427

September 28th Anglo-American poetics: Cleanth Brooks, NA 1350-1371, Wimsatt and Beardsley, NA 1374-1387


October 3rd Marxists: Althusser NA 1476-1509

October 5th feminism: Woolf, NA 1017-1029; Gilbert and Gubar, NA 2021-2035, Susan Bordo, NA 2360-2376

October 10th race theory: Houston Baker, NA 2223-240; Barbara Christian, NA 225-2266; bell hooks, NA 2475-2484

October 12th Bakhtin, NA 1186-1219

Abstract for first paper due.

October 17th historicism and cultural studies: Foucault, NA 1615-1647

October 19th Andalzua NA 2106-2125

First paper due.

October 24th Peter Brooks, handout; Hayden White, NA 1709-1728

October 26th Poulet, NA 1317-1333; Sartre, NA 1333-1349; Frye 1442-1457

October 31st Heidegger, NA 1118-1134; Derrida, NA 1815-1830


November 2nd Late Twentieth-Century Marxists: Eagleton, NA2240-2250; Jameson NA 1960-1974

November 7th Reader response: Jauss, NA 1547-64

November 9th Iser, NA 1670-81; Tompkins, NA 2126-42


November 14th post-colonial theory: Fanon, handout; Homi Bhaba, NA 377-2397

November 16th Said, handout from Culture and Imperialism

Thanksgiving break week of November 21st and 23rd

November 28th gay and lesbian studies: Eve Sedgwick, NA 2432-2433; Bonnie Zimmerman, NA 2338-2359; Butler, NA 2485-2501

November 30th rhetorical and psychological approaches: De Man, NA 1509-1526; Lacan, "The Mirror Stage," NA 1278-90; Laura Mulvey, NA 2179-92

December 5th postmodernism and technology, hypertext: Lyotard, NA 1609-1614; Baudrillard, NA 1729-40; Haraway, NA 2266-98

December 7th ethics, ecocriticism, handout from Carolyn Merchant

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


Room 209 EPB, 5:30-6:45 p. m.
Instructor: Florence Boos  (
Office: 319 English-Philosophy Building
Office hours: most days, informally after class; Tuesdays 4-5 and Wednesdays 5-7 p. m.; 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: 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 four questions to hand in at the beginning of the period: these may be either "real" questions, that is, a request for explanation or discussion of an unclarity, or a class question, one intended to evoke discussion on an issue.

Even if we do not have time for your contribution that day, you can use your questions as a basis for your bi-weekly posting.
journal on-line: every other week you should prepare a 1 1/2 - 2 page commentary on one of the texts we have read for that week, and post it on our web page link to ICON, with a paper copy to me, for a total of 7 postings a semester. These should be posted within two weeks of the day we discuss this text in class. I will read these promptly and make suggestions if needed, but will not grade them until the end, when I will ask you to print them out in a packet to turn in with your final paper.
attendance: near perfect attendance is necessary for this course. The first two absences are without penalty; for each successive absence (except for death of family member or hospitalization), please post an additional 1 page journal, with a paper copy to me.
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 12th, and the paper itself is due October 19th or 20th.
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.