Introduction to English Language and Literature
This course will address the historical, cultural, and critical contexts of literature and literary study. The first section of the course, "What is Literature? Why National Literatures?," will consider what distinguishes literature from other forms of writing, and explore how our present understanding of literature and authorship are linked to the rise of capitalism and of nationalism, to the development of new print technologies, and to concepts of "civilization" and "humanity" forged in the contexts of modern imperial expansion and colonial rule. In the second section of the course, "What is literary study? Theories of Reading, Writing, and Meaning," we will chart how the establishment of literary study within the modern university, especially the creation of English departments and curricula, has shaped the understanding and reception of literature. In this regard, we will consider some of the main approaches that have organized academic literary study, including New Criticism, reader response, deconstruction, and ideology critique. In the third and final section of the course, "'Writable’ Texts and the Cultural Politics of Reading," we will build on the first two units of the class in order to develop a vantage on literature as a practice, rather than a product.
Course materials will include short novels by Hannah Foster (The Coquette), Henry James (The Turn of the Screw), and Ama Ata Aidoo (Our Sister Killjoy), as well as short fiction by Rudyard Kipling and Ted Chiang. We will also read a range of critical work that address the themes and issues of the course, including selections from Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Catherine Belsey’s Critical Practice, and short pieces by Anne McClintock, Michel Foucault, and Edward Said. Written work will include a midterm and a final exam, which will include both a take-home and an in-class component.