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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Postgraduate Course: Critical Theory: Issues and Debates (ENLI11101)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course will introduce students to a range of theoretical issues and debates that have been influential in the humanities, with a particular focus on developments within and around literary studies. It is specifically designed to be suitable both for beginners and more advanced students. For those who have little or no prior experience of working with critical theory, it offers a groundwork for future exploration; for those already well-versed in the discussion of theory, it will offer the opportunity to broaden and deepen your understanding of relevant debates. The course will also be valuable for any student looking for a framework within which to reflect on your own critical practice, or wanting to develop a broader understanding of twentieth century intellectual history.
Course description This course is designed to provide an overview of key issues and debates within the field of critical theory as it has developed within the humanities since the 1970s. These debates cover such problems as the status of the artwork, the validity of interpretation, the social role of the critic and the nature of historical understanding. Rather than seeing these as discrete areas of enquiry, the course will treat these as overlapping problems, which can best be understood in relation to the larger context of changing ideas about art and its place in society since the end of the eighteenth century. The course will consider the emergence of new accounts of the literary artwork in the early twentieth century and the theoretical questions that arise once the definition of the artwork can no longer be taken for granted. It will look at the convergence of ideas which makes up the dominant historicist paradigm in the contemporary humanities, as well as examining a series of theoretical positions that claim to critique that paradigm, drawing on Marxism, structuralism, psychoanalysis and deconstruction. Finally, the course will look at examples of contemporary critical discourse in order to ask about the current situation and future prospects of critical theory. How have theorists reacted to new technologies? Are we ¿ as prominent figures have urged ¿ now ¿beyond critique¿?

The course consists of 10 weekly 2-hour seminars, supplemented by 1 hour of additional discussion each week as part of a smaller study group. The central focus of the course is on developing skills in the reading and analysis of what can be complex texts. By focusing on short texts and extracts from longer works, you will be exposed to a wide range of theoretical debates and develop your understanding of specific arguments through comparison and contextualisation. Authors covered on the course will vary from year to year, but typically you might expect to read work by many of the following: Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Helene Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Ranciere, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Barbara Herrnstein Smith. The course organiser will specify which readings are core to classroom discussion.

Indicative Seminar Topics

1. Introduction: what is critical theory?
2. Formalism and New Criticism
3. Structuralism
4. Hermeneutics and Interpretation
5. Marxism and Critical Theory
6. Ideology and Power
7. Psychoanalysis and the Subject
8. Deconstruction
9. Technology and Media Theory
10. After critique? Beyond the "hermeneutics of suspicion".
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Auditing: There are strict conditions attached to auditing this course, owing to the small class sizes and the focus on group discussion. Students are welcome to audit, but they must be able to guarantee a) to attend all the weekly seminars; b) to complete the required reading for all seminars; c) to attend small-group study meetings (an additional 1 hour per week); and d) to take a full part in class discussion and small-group work. If you wish to audit please email the course organiser with confirmation that your participation in the course has been approved by your Programme Director or Supervisor, and that you are able to commit the time required to play a full part in the course.
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Introduce students to a range of contemporary theoretical debates within literary studies. For those who have little prior experience of literary theory, it offers a groundwork for future exploration; for those already well-versed in the discussion of theory, it will offer the opportunity to broaden and deepen your understanding, to reflect on the place of theory within your own critical practice, and to pursue new directions in your studies.
  2. Provide a detailed overview of critical and literary theory as it has developed since the early twentieth century, but will also seek to situate those developments within the larger history of criticism, and specifically in relation to intellectual and cultural changes since the late eighteenth century.Particular consideration will be given to the intersection and overlap between literary studies and other areas of the humanities and social sciences such as historiography, philosophy, and social theory.
  3. Be able to onsider questions such as what constitutes research in critical theory, how to read carefully and respond thoughtfully to work which can often be dense and forbidding, and how to relate your understanding of theory to the sensitive reading of literary texts.
Reading List
Primary reading:

Most texts for discussion will be drawn from the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (2nd edition). Other primary reading will consist of journal articles or book chapters, available through the University library's electronic resources.

Provisional Primary Reading List for 2016/17

Seminar 1
* Catherine Gallagher, 'The History of Literary Criticism', Daedalus 126:1 (1997): 133-153.
* Roland Barthes, from Mythologies, 'Death of the Author', 'From Work to Text' [NTC: 1320-1331]
* Barbara Herrnstein Smith, 'Contingencies of Value', [NTC 1798-1818]
* Friedrich von Schiller, from 'On the Aesthetic Education of Man', [NTC 483-492]

Seminar 2:
* Boris Eichenbaum, from 'The Theory of the Formal Method', [NTC: 925-950]
* John Crowe Ransom, 'Criticism, Inc.', [NTC: 971-981]
* Stanley Fish, 'Interpreting the Variorum', [NTC: 1974-1992]
* Jurgen Habermas, 'Modernity: An Incomplete Project', [NTC 1577-1587]

Seminar 3
* Ferdinand de Saussure, extracts from Course in General Linguistics [NTC: 850-866]
* Roman Jakobson, from 'Linguistics and Poetics' [NTC: 1144-1152]
* Tzvetan Todorov, 'Structural Analysis of Narrative' [NTC: 2023-2030]

Seminar 4
* Hans Robert Jauss, from 'Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory', [NTC: 1406-1420]
* Annette Kolodny, 'Dancing Through the Minefield', [NTC: 2048-2049]
* James Clifford, 'On Ethnographic Authority', Representations 2 (1983): 118-146.

Seminar 5:
* Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, various extracts, [NTC: 651-660]
* Walter Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility', [NTC: 1051-1071]
* Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno, extract from Dialectic of Enlightenment, [NTC: 1110-1127]
* Jacques Ranciere, 'The Aesthetic Revolution and Its Outcomes', New Left Review, 14 (2002): 133-151

Seminar 6
* Louis Althusser, from 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses' [NTC: 1335-1360]
* Michel Foucault, extracts from Discipline and Punish, and The History of Sexuality [NTC 1490-1520]

Seminar 7
* Plato, from Phaedrus [NTC: 77-83]
* Claude Levi-Strauss, from Tristes Tropiques [NTC: 1277-1286]
* Jacques Derrida, extracts from 'Plato's Pharmacy', from Dissemination [NTC 1697-1734]
* Friedrich Nietzsche, 'On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense', [NTC 764-773]

Seminar 8
* Helene Cixous, 'The Laugh of the Medusa' [NTC: 1942-1959]
* Judith Butler, extracts from Gender Trouble [NTC: 2540-2552]
* Homi Bhabha, 'The Commitment to Theory' [NTC: 2353-2372]

Seminar 9
* N. Katherine Hayles, extract from How We Became Posthuman [NTC: 2165-2186]
* Donna Haraway, 'Manifesto for Cyborgs' [NTC: 2190-2220]
* Friedrich Kittler, text TBC

Seminar 10
* Bruno Latour, 'Why has Critique Run Out of Steam?' [NTC: 2282-2301]
* Eve Kosodsky Sedgwick, 'Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You're So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You', Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Duke UP, 2003): 123-151.
* Rita Felski, 'Suspicious Minds', Poetics Today 32:2 (2011): 215-234.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Course organiserDr Alex Thomson
Tel: (0131 6)50 3058
Course secretaryMiss Kara McCormack
Tel: (0131 6)50 3030
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