Alienation: An Out-of-this-World Course on Critical

Alienation: An Out-of-this-World Course on Critical Theory
[3000- or 4000-level undergraduate course]
Professor James Reeves
[Class Time and Location]
Fall 2016
Office Hours: M 10-12, Turlington ####
Course Description
For many of us, critical theory can be a bit alienating. Full of names we don't recognize,
recondite terms we only half comprehend, theory can be absolutely overwhelming. At the same
time, theory is indispensable if we are to understand what exactly it is we do as students of
literature. In fact, without theory it's hard to know what literature even is in the first place.
This course attempts to bring theory down to earth by taking us interstellar. Pairing theoretical
texts with science-fiction poems, songs, novels, and plays, we will cover several by-nowtraditional modes of critical inquiry (Formalism, Deconstruction, Marxism, and New
Historicism) as well as more recent developments in criticism (Affect Theory, New Materialism,
Ecocritcism). In addition to studying what theorists have to say, we will also apply their insights
and methodologies to the various science-fiction texts we read throughout the semester. My hope
is that by applying critical theories and methodologies to a genre too often dismissed as "low
brow," we will begin to consider theory less paralyzing and to recognize science fiction as the
sophisticated genre it is. At the very least, we should all be able to agree that Derrida is not half
so scary as giant alien crab monsters.
Required Texts*
Course Reader
Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd ed. (2004)
Octavia Butler, Lilith's Brood (Grand Central Publishing, 2000)
Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (Vintage, 1993)
Reading Schedule
Week 1, Introduction
M 8/22: Introduction
W 8/24: Terry Eagleton, "What is Literature?"
Primary Texts: David Bowie, "Space Oddity"; Radiohead, "Subterranean Homesick Alien"
Week 2, Formalism and the New Criticism
M 8/29: Boris Eichenbaum, "The Formal Method"
W 8/31: Cleanth Brooks, "The Formalist Critics"
Primary Texts: Christina Rossetti, "Goblin Market"; Harry Martinson, "Aniara"
Week 3, Structuralism
M 9/5: No Class (Labor Day)
W 9/7: Roland Barthes, "Mythologies"
Primary Texts: Genesis 1-3; The Eridu Genesis; The Fourth World of the Hopis
Week 4, Phenomenology and Reader Response
M 9/12: Edmund Husserl, "Ideas"
W 9/14: Stanley Fish, "Interpretive Communities"
Primary Texts: Lisel Mueller, "Reasons for Numbers"; Lucretia Davidson, "To a Star"
Week 5, Post-Structuralism
M 9/19: Martin Heidegger, "Identity and Difference"; Barbara Johnson, "Writing"; Response Essay 1
W 9/21: Jacques Derrida, "Of Grammatology"
Primary Text: Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears (chapters 1- 7)
Week 6, Psychoanalysis
M 9/26: Freud, "The Interpretation of Dreams"
W 9/28: Lacan, "The Mirror Stage"
Primary Text: Dick, Flow My Tears (chapters 8-14)
Week 7, New Historicism
M 10/3: Raymond Williams, "The Country and the City"; Foucault, "Discipline and Punish"
W 10/5: Stephen Greenblatt, "Shakespeare and the Exorcists"
Primary Text: Dick, Flow My Tears (chapters 15-21)
Week 8, New Historicism (cont'd)
M 10/10: Hegel, "Dialectics"; Marx, "Capital"
W 10/12: Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"
Primary Text: Dick, Flow My Tears (chapters 22-Epilogue)
Week 9, Gender Studies
M 10/17: Midterm Exam
W 10/19: Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women"; Lucy Irigaray, "Women on the Market"
Primary Texts: Sylvia Plath, "Edge"; Anna Hempstead Branch, "Selene"
Week 10, Gender Studies (cont'd)
M 10/24: Foucault, "History of Sexuality"; Judith Butler, "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution"
W 10/26: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "Epistemology of the Closet"
Primary Text: Octavia Butler, Dawn (Part I)
Week 11, Critical Race Theory
M 10/31: Ian F. Haney López, "The Social Construction of Race"
W 11/2: Toni Morrison, "Playing in the Dark"
Primary Text: Octavia Butler, Dawn (Part II)
Week 12, Post-Colonialism
M 11/7: Edward Said, from Orientalism; Response essay 2 due
W 11/9: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?"
Primary Text: Octavia Butler, Dawn (Part III)
Week 13, Cultural Studies
M 11/14: Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"
W 11/16: Michel de Certeau, "The Practice of Everday Life"
Primary Text: Octavia Butler, Dawn (Part IV)
Week 14, The Turn to Affect
M 11/21: Eve Sedgwick, from Touching Feeling; Sianne Ngai, from Ugly Feelings
W 11/23: No Class (Thanksgiving Holiday)
Primary Texts: Jeffrey McDaniel, "The Quiet World"; Lawrence Raab, "Attack of the Crab Monsters"
Week 15, New Materialism and Ecocriticism
M 11/28: Jane Bennett, from Vibrant Matter
W 11/30: Ursula Heise, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ecocriticism"
Primary Texts: Peter Payack, "The Migration of Darkness"; Terry Bisson, "They're Made out of Meat";
Anna Hempstead Branch, "A Sonnet to the Earth"
Week 16, The Post-Secular
M 12/5: Jurgen Habermas, "Notes on a Post-Secular Society"
W 12/7: Charles Taylor, from A Secular Age
F 12/9: Final Paper due
Primary Text: Jonathan Swift, from Gulliver's Travels (Book III)
Final Exam: December 12, 2016 at 3:00p.m.