Introduction to Literary Theory
English 202W

Spring 2009
MWF 9:10-10:10
ETN 207

Goals & Expectations


Frann Michel
Eaton 204
MWF 10:20-11:20
and other times by appointment
fmichel <a>

 Required Texts on order at WU Bookstore:

Robert Dale Parker, How to Interpret Literature [HIL]

Literary Theory: An Anthology (2nd ed), ed Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan [LTA]

Additional texts available electronically &/or via ereserve include 

Octavia Butler,  "Amnesty"
Marilyn Chin, “We Are Americans Now, We Live in the Tundra”
Sandra Cisneros, “Mericans"
Gerald Vizenor, “Almost Browne”
Derek Walcott, "Blues"

This course offers continued study of literary conventions and practice, with particular emphasis on theory as a mode of approaching literary study.   In ENGL 201, students will have developed skills in close reading.  In 202W, we explore the ways that theoretically-informed close reading may foster insights not only into the construction of a text, but also into matters of language, desire, and ideology. Theory challenges and critiques what is known as common sense.

In this course, we will explore theoretical texts from a variety of fields (including linguistics, psychoanalysis, political economy, anthropology) as well as applications of theoretical approaches to literary texts.  We will have five short literary texts in common as recurrent objects of analysis and interpretation.

This is a writing-centered course, and informal writing will be a primary mode of learning. Students are expected to post regularly to the course blog, and to comment on the posts of others.  At the end of the semester, students will write evaluations of their own and others’ blog contributions.  In addition, the course requires three formal essays.

I expect you to come to class having done the assigned reading, having thought about it, having questions or ideas about it, and having done any other assignments with care and attention. Each student will be responsible for using class discussion as a vehicle for analysis and discovery, as a way of demonstrating a command of the assigned reading, and as a way of turning the course to individual advantage.

We can use class time most effectively if everyone is mentally as well as physically present in class, and if we all give each other attention and respect.  Ask questions. I encourage you to schedule individual conferences for reviewing papers and discussing work in progress; please come to conferences with copies of the relevant material and with questions.

Course requirements (suggested percentages):
class participation, blog participation, and blog evaluation: 40%
paper one: 20%
paper two: 20%
paper three 20%

For more information about assignments see below.

If you have a documented disability for which I can make accommodation, please speak with me individually.

Some links

electronic reserves  (all reserve texts also available in hard copy at the Hatfield Circulation desk)

class weblog  

my writing guidelines

WISE site for dropping off papers

Writing Center

On Plagiarism and how to avoid it 

Hatfield Library literature resources

202W resources


Tentative Schedule of Readings and Assignments

M Jan 19 Introductions
W Jan 21 HIL, Chapters 1& 2 (Introduction & New Criticism)
F Jan 23 Walcott, "Blues"; Chin, "We Are Americans Now, We Live in the Tundra"; Vizenor, "Almost Brown"; Butler, "Amnesty"; Cisneros, "Mericans" (ereserve)

M Jan 26 Saussure, "Course in General Linguistics," LTA  59-71
W Jan 28 HIL Chapter 3: Structuralism
F Jan 30 Barthes, "The Death of the Author" (online)

M Feb 2  HIL Chapter 4: Deconstruction 77-89; Derrida, "Semiology and Grammatology"  LTA 332-339
W Feb 4 HIL Chapter 4: Deconstruction 89-100; Johnson, "Writing" LTA 340-347
F  Feb 6 Miller, “Heart of Darkness Revisited” (e-reserve)

M  Feb 9 First Paper full draft due  (about 3 pages, 4 copies)
W Feb 11 Freud, "Screen Memories" (distributed in class)
F Feb 13 HIL Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis 101-126; Freud, "The Interpretation of Dreams," LTA 397-414
M Feb 16 HIL Chapter 5 Psychoanalysis 126-135; Lacan, "The Mirror Stage," LTA 441-446
W Feb 18 Chodorow, "Pre-Oedipal Gender Configurations,"LTA  470-486; First paper due
F Feb 20 Adelman, "'Man and Wife Is One Flesh': Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body" (e-reserve)
M Feb 23 HIL Chapter 6: Feminism 136-152; Gilbert and Gubar, "The Madwoman in the Attic," LTA 812-825
W Feb 25 HIL Chapter 6: Feminism 152-161; Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema" (ereserve)
F Feb 27 Rubin, "The Traffic in Women," LTA 770-794

M Mar 2 HIL Chapter 7: Queer Studies; Rivkin & Ryan, "Contingencies of Gender" LTA 659-664
W Mar 4 Butler, "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution," LTA 900-911  
F Mar 6  Rubin, "Sexual Transformations," LTA 889-891; Foucault, "The History of Sexuality," LTA 892-899

M Mar 9 Sedgwick, "Epistemology of the Closet," LTA 912-921
W Mar 11 Second Paper full draft due (3-5 pages, 4 copies)
F Mar 13 HIL Chapter 8: Marxism 187-197; Marx, "Wage Labor and Capital," LTA 659-664

M Mar 16 Marx, "Capital," LTA 665-672
W Mar  18 Gramsci, "Hegemony" Marx, "The German Ideology," LTA 653-658
F Mar 20 HIL Chapter 8: Marxism 197-217; Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"; Second paper due
Mar 23-27 Spring Break

M Mar 30 Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel" and "Rabelais and His World" LTA 674-692; Bristol, "'Funeral-Bak'd-Meats': Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet" (e-reserve)
W Apr 1 HIL Chapter 9: Historicism and Cultural Studies 218-231; Foucault, "Discipline and Punish" LTA 549-566
F Apr 3 HIL Chapter 9, 231-239; Thompson, "Witness Against the Beast" LTA 533-548

M  Apr 6 HIL Chapter 10: Postcolonial and Race Studies, 240-262;  Kincaid, "A Small Place" 1224-1229
W Apr 8 Spivak, "Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism," LTA 838-853
F Apr 10  Said, "Jane Austen and Empire" LTA 1112-1125

M Apr 13 HIL Chapter 10 262-277;  Haney López, "The Social Construction of Race" 964-974
W Apr 15 SSRD
F Apr 17 Anzaldua,  "Borderlands/La Frontera" 1017-1030

M Apr 20 Morrison, "Playing in the Dark" 1005-1016;  Gates, "The Blackness of Blackness" 987-1004
W Apr 22 Lowe, "Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity" 1031-1050
F Apr 24 Parker,  "Tradition, Innovation, and Aesthetics" 1051-1067

M Apr 27 Draft of final essay due (4 copies)
W Apr 29  HIL, Ch 11 Reader Response & Afterword
F May 1 blog self-evaluation due

M May 4 Last day of class Final essay due

Friday May 8  11 am Optional revisions of Essays 1 & 2 due



Class Participation Blog Essays   Policies

Class participation

Evaluation of your participation includes the following:

Attendance: you must be both physically and mentally present in order to participate. Note that tardiness does not impress the teacher with your scholarly dedication and commitment to learning in this course. Please come to each class on time, fully prepared. If you miss a class, talk to at least two other students who were present that day, and get copies of their class notes.  In addition, post to the class blog a summary of the main points of the assigned reading for the day of your absence.  (For each absence after the first for which you fail to provide this summary within one week of the absence, your participation grade will be lowered by 1/3--e.g., from a B to a B-; on days when papers or drafts are due, the 'assigned reading' equivalent is three of your classmates' papers or drafts.)

Preparation: reading and writing assignments are due on the class day indicated on the syllabus. You should bring to class any assignments, the assigned text, and appropriate notetaking material (notebook, pen). You should be prepared to discuss the reading and share your responses. Read actively, mark your texts, and take notes. As we move through the semester, you will also want to think about connections between current and past readings and discussions.

Peer editing and other in-class assignments: Not all writing done in class will be collected, but all should be done in good faith and with attention. Similarly, you should give your classmates' writing respectful attention and provide rigorous and tactful responses.

Discussion: Try to contribute at least once to each general class discussion and at least once to each small-group discussion. Quality of response is more important than quantity, but you cannot offer thoughtful comments unless you speak up! Expect to be asked to support your observations with specific textual references. Ask questions. Be respectful of your classmates. Listen attentively. Avoid side conversations; if it's worth saying to your neighbor, it's worth sharing with the rest of the class. Don't interrupt others; if you wish to speak next, raise your hand. Avoid personal attacks; challenge the idea not the person. 



Point your web browser to
Login using your WU username & password
On the "My Weblogs" list you should see "Introduction to Literary Theory"
Click on one of the "Create new entry" buttons to do just that.
You need to select the "Publish" option for Post Status for your entry to appear on the formal blog site page.
To comment on someone else's entry, you have to be viewing the actual site, which you can get to via the "view site" links or this link:
You might want to compose your posts and comments in a word-processing program and paste them into the blog.

Here are some suggestions for blog entries:
* write a discussion question  
* explicate a sentence from the reading
* consider the relation between an aspect of one of  the theoretical texts and an aspect one of our 5 literary texts
* analyze a point of correspondence and/or contrast between two of our theoretical readings
* define a term from the reading

Blog comments might respond to a question, amplify or critique an explication, cite and discuss a relevant textual passage, offer a counter-example that challenges the premises of the original post, present your own interpretation of a potential application of a theoretical to a literary text, or offer other questions or  reflections in response to the original post.  You may, of course, respond to more than one post, and respond to the responses.

Satisfactory blog participation will require at least seven posts over seven different weeks and at least seven comments in seven different weeks (that is, post about every other week, and comment at least as frequently).  Stronger participation will entail more numerous and/or particularly thoughtful and cogent posts and comments.  It will also entail posting about the readings before we discuss them in class.

Summaries of reading assignments for days when you are absent do not count toward the quantitative evaluation of your blog participation.

Everyone should have posted at least once to the blog by W Feb 4; everyone should have commented on a blog post at least once by W Feb 11.

In your blog evaluation (about 2 pages, due May 1), you will consider both the quantity and quality of your participation. That is, note how many posts you wrote, how many comments, and how they were distributed throughout the semester.  Consider also how successful your posts were in adding to your own learning.  Feel free to cite (e.g., by date and title) particularly illuminating posts and/or comments: what were some moments when articulating your thinking was most useful or productive?  In addition, note which two of your classmates provided the most helpful blog participation: from whose posts and comments did you learn the most?  Again, be specific about which entries were most helpful and how you found them informative, enlightening, provocative.



In each paper, you will need specifically to cite and work with at least one of the relevant theoretical texts.  Each essay should have a clearly-stated thesis that takes account of both conceptual and stylistic aspects of the literary text and relates them to each other. The thesis should be supported through quotations from the text and through analytic discussion of quoted words, phrases, and sentences. More information on how to write an essay can also be found in guides to academic writing available in the Writing Center library.  Please use MLA format. You may also discuss your essay with Writing Center consultants. The WU Writing Center is located in Matthews Hall, and is open M-Th 10am-4pm and 7pm-9pm, F 10am-2pm, and Sun 4pm-9pm (closed Saturday). Call x4822 or 370-6300 for an appointment. You are also invited to consult with me. For an appointment, email, call x6389, or see the sign-up sheet on my office door (Eaton 204), or drop by during office hours.

1. Draft due M Feb 9 (4 copies); Paper due M Feb 16 (about 3 pages).
Drawing on our readings in post/structuralism, analyze an aspect of one of our short literary texts.

2.  Draft due W Mar 11 (4 copies); Paper due  F Mar 20 (about 4 pages).  Drawing on our readings in psychoanalysis, feminism, and/or queer studies, analyze an aspect of one of our short literary texts.

3. Draft due M Apr 27 (4 copies); Paper due F May 8 11am (about 5 pages).  Drawing on our readings in Marxism, materialism, postcolonial and/or critical race studies, analyze an aspect of one of our short literary texts.

Please submit completed essays & blog evaluations to your folder at this course's WISE site

Essays will be graded as follows:

A An excellent essay typically includes an outstanding thesis, thoughtful consideration of concepts and perceptive analysis of texts. Detailed reading, cogent and graceful argument, vivid and sophisticated prose.

B A good essay typically includes a strong thesis and coherent argument, effective supporting attention to the texts, and generally fine and clear prose with only occasional lapses in grammar. The difference between an excellent essay and a good one lies less in what is wrong with the good essay than in what is right with the excellent one.

C A satisfactory essay typically includes a thesis that is too general or simplistic, and vague readings of the texts. Generally competent prose but marred by consistent grammatical or organizational errors.

D A below standard essay typically has an ill-defined or ill-supported main idea, together with serious flaws in grammar, logic, or argumentation.

F A failing essay is typically one marred by plagiarism. It may also be an essay that reveals no knowledge of the text and that is written in unidiomatic English.



Cell phones should be turned off or silenced.

Please do not use laptop computers in class.

On most days we will sit in a circle for discussion.  Please make sure you have an unobstructed view of each of your classmates.

Assignments are due at the beginning of class on the scheduled date.   

See above for policies on participation.




When you have questions about materials or assignments, please raise them in class--others are likely to have the same questions. When you have questions or concerns about your work, problems with the course, or suggestions for improving the class, please come see me as soon as possible. I will do my best to answer questions, resolve problems, and make use of your suggestions. Thanks.

My office is Eaton 204. I will be available for conferences MWF 10:20-11:20 and other times by appointment. You can reach me or my voice mail at x6389, or you can email me at fmichel<a>