ENGL 309 A: Theories of Reading

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
ECE 037
Brad Gerhardt

Syllabus Description:


T/Th 1:30-3:20, ECE 037


Dr. Brad Gerhardt


B-435 Padelford Hall

Office Hours: T/Th 3:30-4:30



            Reading is a process so quotidian that it is easy to overlook exactly how we make meaning of the things we read (and more particularly, how and why we might need to resist them); our focus throughout this course will be on problematizing, and analyzing, that process. As a theoretical course, ENGL 309 will engage with literary critics and other theorists who have worked through the process of reading in different ways; however, we will also test the limits of the boundaries between readings of theory and reading as theory. Mikhail Bakhtin, in discussing the novel in particular, recognized that they (and by extension, other literary forms as well) represent a theory “that is both critical and self-critical, one fated to revise the fundamental concepts of literariness and poeticalness dominant at the time” (“Epic and Novel” 75). We will examine literary works which thematize the process of reading, demanding careful consideration of the ways in which we read them, and by extension, read ourselves and our environment.



-Jean Toomer, Cane (Liveright ISBN 978-0871401519)

-Anne Sexton, Transformations (Mariner, ISBN: 978-0618083435)

-William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (Vintage: ISBN: 978-0679732242)

-Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, Trans. Lydia Davis (Penguin: ISBN: 978-0142437964)

-Anne Carson, Float (Knopf, ISBN: 978-1101946848)

-Course Packet, available at Rams Copy Center (4144 University Way NE)



  1. Students understand the investments, contexts, and effects of the kind of close/critical reading skills or approaches under study/use.
  1. Students are able to contextualize and analyze the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, culturally.
  2. Students examine and develop theoretical or methodological strategies for producing and circulating texts.



Reading Response Blog

            Because this class wants you to regard yourself as an embodied, active reader, instead of having you write private reading journals, to be viewed only by me, I am asking you to take advantage of a potential online readership, by requiring you to create a blog (on Blogger, through your UW G Suite), to which you will post weekly responses to our in-class readings. These responses can be as personal or distant as you wish, but they must engage with the text and make thoughtful analytical interventions. You will also be required to post a thoughtful reply to one other classmate’s blogpost each week. 


Essay Summaries (Précis)

            For 4 the 10 theoretical essays (you choose which of the essays you want to summarize) we are reading over the course of the quarter, you will be asked to write a 1-page summary, also called a précis, of its main points and how it constructs that argument. The idea of a précis is not to simply rehash the argument point by point, but to give a cogent and concise account of what its aims and method are.


Midterm Paper (900-1200 words, usually about 3-4 pages double-spaced)

            After reading some foundational texts and theories, we will spend two weeks looking specifically at pairings of short stories with theoretical texts which respond directly or indirectly to those texts. Your midterm paper will take one of those pairings (to be clear, those are: Kafka/Deleuze and Guattari; Toomer/Hughes, Toomer/Walker, and Borges/Levenson) and compare and contrast the critical and literary readings they engage in: what are the points of contact between them, how do they thematize and exteriorize experience, and what different values or expectations do they have for their readers?


Final Paper (2000-3000 words, usually about 7-10 pages double-spaced)

            While I hope that you learn from each of the theorists we encounter over the course of the quarter, my main goal is to activate your critical faculties about the process of reading as well as to authorize you to make your own connections and offer your own insights. The final paper will ask you to expound your own theory of reading on the basis of either The Sound and the Fury or Swann’s Way. Consider what the texts may challenge or demand of you, and what that process of reading might do; how do you arrive at meaning, and what values, methods, or dangers present themselves through reading? You may reference any theoretical readings we’ve encountered, but I want this to primarily be your own engagement with a text, your own reading as theory.



Attendance and Participation:

            As a class first and foremost about reading, and how we respond to texts, being prepared for each day’s discussion and participating in it is simply a given. As should be obvious by the time we get to Michael Levenson’s critique of the ‘expert’ in his Everyday Humanities, I do not have much patience for the kind of pretentious and alienating jargon or simpering social hierarchies I too often encountered in graduate literature courses. I believe that all of us learn best when we speak from our own experiences, respond as embodied, particular readers, and acknowledge and discuss cultural norms that are ingrained in or critiqued by texts, rather than assuming there is a ready consensus on them. I think students are usually the best judges of their own effort at participation, so I will pass out a participation rubric which you will fill out and return, and which I will evaluate against my own observations as I assign this grade.


Zero Tolerance Policy

            Literature, by its nature, should invite a wide range of reactions, opinions, and interpretations; I hope to encourage this by providing an intellectually challenging but respectful environment; I ask you to do the same. There will be no tolerance for words, speech, behavior, actions, or clothing/possessions that insult, diminish, demean, or belittle any individual or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, ability, economic class, national origin, language, or age. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of discourse DO NOT protect racism or other acts of harassment and hate. Violations of this Zero Tolerance Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct will be taken.


Technology Policy

            Unless you have a very specific reason for needing them, I request that you not use computers or electronics in class. I ask that you purchase physical copies of our texts, and our discussions will refer extensively to those physical objects, so bring to class with you the text you were assigned to read and be ready to engage with it. Please mark up your readings and take notes with pencil/pen and paper.


Late Work:

            I will accept any of the written assignments late with a penalty of one grade level for each day (24 hour period) after the due date (for a paper that would receive a 4.0 had it been on time on Monday, any time after class up through Tuesday, it will receive a 3.0, Wednesday a 2.0, etc.). I will not accept reading responses late.



            Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated in any way in my class; your work should be entirely your own, and cite any outside sources you have used (though none of the assignments ask you to do this). Definitions of what constitutes plagiarism and the consequences at the UW can be found at:  http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/plag.html



Writing Centers

            The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) offers free, one-on-one help with all aspects of writing at any stage in the writing process. It is best to make an appointment in advance: https://depts.washington.edu/owrc/signup.php

            The CLUE Writing Center in Mary Gates Hall is open Sunday to Thursday from 7pm to midnight. The graduate tutors can help you with your claims, organization, and grammar.


Religious Accommodation

            Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.


Disability-Related Needs:

If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.



            I will return assignments as quickly as possible with my written comments and grade, which is my primary form of communication, though I’ll also post grades to Canvas.

Total: 500 pts (see Canvas for grading scale)

            Assignments (80%)

                        Reading Response Blog – 140 pts (10 pts per week for a post, 4 for a response)

                        Essay Summaries (Précis) – 60 pts (4 summaries of chosen essays, 15 pts each)

                        Midterm Paper – 50 pts

                        Final Paper – 150 pts

            Participation (20%) – 100 pts



NOTE: Readings/viewings should be completed BEFORE class on the date indicated.

26 September – Course Introduction; Wit (in class)


1 October – Virginia Woolf, from The Common Reader: “Introduction” and “How Should One

            Read a Book?”, and “The Reader” (in Course Packet, CP)


3 October – Jane Austen, Lady Susan (CP)


8 October – Wolfgang Iser, “Interaction Between Text and Reader” (CP), selections from            William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience (CP for the text of the poems and

            images of his illustrations on Canvas)

10 October – Franz Kafka, “In the Penal Colony”, and Deleuze and Guattari’s “What Is a Minor

            Literature?” (CP)


15 October – Jean Toomer, Cane, Part One; Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial

            Mountain” (CP)

17 October – Cane, Part Two; Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”


22 October – Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” and “Funes the Memorius”; Michael

            Levenson, from The Humanities and Everyday Life (CP)

            (bring The Sound and the Fury to class as well)

24 October – William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, April Seventh, 1928

            Midterm Paper due in class 


29 October – The Sound and the Fury, June Second, 1910

31 October – The Sound and the Fury, April Sixth, 1928


5 November – The Sound and the Fury, April Eighth, 1928 and Appendix

7 November – Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text”; Michel de Certeau, “Reading as

            Poaching” (CP)


12 November – Anne Sexton, Transformations

14 November – Eve Sedgwick, “Paranoid and Reparative Reading” (CP); Marcel Proust,

            Swann’s Way, “Combray” 1 (through pg. 48)


19 November – Swann’s Way, “Combray” 2

21 November – Swann’s Way, “Swann in Love” (through pg. 300)


26 November – Swann’s Way, finish “Swann in Love” and “Place-Names: The Name”

28 November – Thanksgiving Break (NO CLASS)


3 December – Anne Carson, Float

5 December – Katherine Hayles, “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine” (CP)


10 December – Final Paper due in my office by 5pm

Catalog Description: 
Investigates what it means to be a reader. Centers on authorial and reading challenges, shifting cultural and theoretical norms, and changes in the public's reading standards.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
September 12, 2019 - 11:00pm