English 304—Contemporary Literary Criticism and Theory
In this course we will focus on the major turn in literary criticism that took place in the last third of the 20th century, and which still defines the central controversies in literary theory. This was the turn from Romantic-humanist ways of thinking about literature to what is called a “post-humanist” perspective. These two ways of thinking about literature are based in two ways of thinking about the nature of the human self. Romantic humanism thinks of literary works as centered in the self of the author. According to this conception, a poem “expresses” what is inside the person who writes it. In the post-humanist conception, by contrast, a poem is thought to emerge from an impersonal generative system of some sort, and the author is conceived as a kind of instrument by means of which the true poem-creating forces operate. In the final part of the course, we will focus on two important new post-humanist conceptions of the nature of the self, those of Judith Butler and Jacques Lacan.
There will be no exams in this course. You will write four papers of between 2-4 pages, one roughly every two weeks, and your grade will be determined entirely on that basis.
Wordsworth, Preface to the Lyrical Ballads
Brooks, “The Language of Paradox”
Heaney, “Feeling into Words”
Barthes, “The Death of the Author”
Foucault, “What is an Author?”
Staten: “A Romantic View: Seamus Heaney”
Fish, “How Do We Recognize a Poem When We See One?”
Butler, “Gender Imitation and Gender Subordination”
Lacan, “The Mirror Stage”