Fall 2021 Undergraduate English Courses

359:210 Introduction to Literary Theory


In their 1981 song "Why Theory?", the punk band Gang of Four insisted:

"Each day seems like a natural fact / And what we think / changes how we act"

The song recommends that we need to think about what we think and what we do, and then to ask how theory might prompt us to change not only our thinking and our doing, but how they go together.

In this course we will study theory by starting from scratch, questioning our common-sense assumptions and exploring how we make sense of things. Because we are working in a literature department, we will bring these questions into focus by examining how we read and write. How do we learn to orient ourselves in language? Can we use literature as a tool or a weapon? Is it an inheritance or a gift? Can anyone teach you how to be creative? What is education for, anyway? By dwelling on questions like these, every week should be surprising, baffling, amusing, and/or challenging.

The course will be conducted in an asynchronous online format. At its core, the course requires a circulation of several messages a week: between me and you, between you and the readings, and between you and the others in the course. It is a simple pattern: you read, you write, you re-read, you write again. The online arrangement may be especially helpful for theoretical work, because it allows you more flexible time to work through the weekly cycle in productive ways.

This course fulfills the Theory requirement for the English major; it also satisfies the Core Curriculum requirement in "Philosophical and Theoretical Issues" [AHo].