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ENGL 506 A: Modern And Contemporary Critical Theory

Introduction to Graduate Studies

Meeting Time: 
MW 9:30am - 11:20am
SMI 109
Jesse Oak Taylor smiling
Jesse Oak Taylor

Additional Details:

“Why has critique run out of steam?” This question, posed by Bruno Latour in 2003, hangs over humanistic study in the 21st century. “Critique” and/or “Theory” had energized the humanities and social sciences in the late-20th century even as it threw disciplines into disarray, with protracted, hard-fought conflicts over canons, methods assumptions, and truth-claims. Indeed, the conflict and the energy often went hand in hand. And yet, as Latour’s question suggests, by the turn of the millennium the spirit of critique seemed to have run out of steam, its efficacy and purpose run astray in an age of global (indeed planetary) uncertainty. In this course, we will ask what it means to pursue graduate study in English “after critique,” “after theory,” and indeed “after nature.” We will explore the ways in which scholars and critics are framing research questions, methods, and archives, including not only our their objects of study but the changing fora in which such study is pursued and the status of graduate education in a profession increasingly marked by precarity. Latour’s essay will provide our point of departure. From there, we will look both backwards and forwards to think about the changing shape of English studies and the disciplines within which it is in dialogue, ranging from philosophy and history to the social and even natural sciences. We will pay particular attention to impact of the so-called “New Materialism” within the humanities, including not only theories going under that moniker, but also the renewed interest in other materialist modes of inquiry such as textual studies, digital humanities, affect theory and the environmental humanities.

Course readings will primarily be drawn from recent works such as the following, supplemented by selections from the writings of Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, Raymond Williams, and Fredric Jameson:

  • Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor Network Theory (Oxford, 2005)
  • Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago, 2015)
  • Franco Moretti, Distant Reading (Verso, 2013)
  • Diana Coole & Samantha Frost, Eds. New Materialisms (Duke, 2010)
  • Jane Elliot & Derek Attridge, Eds. Theory After Theory (Routledge, 2011)
  • Scot Barnet & Casey Boyle, Eds. Rhetoric, Through Everyday Things (Alabama, 2015)
  • Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton, 2015)
  • Paula M. L. Moya, The Social Imperative: Race, Close Reading, and Contemporary Literary Criticism (Stanford, 2016)
  • Tobias Menely & Jesse Oak Taylor, Eds. Anthropocene Reading: Literary History in Geologic Times (Penn State, 2017).
Catalog Description: 
Engages ongoing critical conversations that inform English studies, including: language, textual production, disciplinarity, the university, capital, nation formation, postcolonialism, the environment, race, gender, class, and sexuality. The historical focus is contemporary, with attention to foundational modern theorists.
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 10:50pm