Introduction to Critical Theory Instructor: Simon Ferrell Course

Introduction to Critical Theory
Instructor: Simon Ferrell
Course Description
A survey of critical theory provides the necessary tools to understand and analyze the history of
the twentieth century. Our discussions will cover a wide range of topics: we will question what
theory is – a mode of analysis or a text itself, an object to be interpreted? We will discuss how to
employ these various modes of analysis in our own writing and thinking, and we will trace
arguments, language, and techniques across the twentieth century. While this survey is by no
means exhaustive, it will provide you with the techniques to analyze literature at an advanced
level, the basic ideas behind these important critical theories, and the means to begin pursuing
these theories outside of the class. Schools of thought covered include new criticism,
structuralism, post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, feminism, Marxism, queer studies, race theory,
post-colonial studies, and Postmodernism.
Required Materials
Bennett, Andrew and Nicholas Royle. Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, 3rd ed.
Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto (1848).
Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992).
Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural
Studies, 2nd ed. (2011).
Course Packet – Includes most of the primary theoretical readings.
Nolan, Christopher. The Dark Knight (2008).
Scorsese, Martin. Taxi Driver (1976).
In addition to the films, we will also view clips and/or episodes of Dexter, Lost, Battlestar
Galactica, and The Wire.
- Three 3-4pp. Formal Reaction Papers.
- One 12-15pp. Final Term Paper.
- Attendance and active, thoughtful participation at all class meetings.
Writing Assignments
Throughout the semester, I will assign three 3-4pp. formal reaction papers in which you will
place different theoretical perspectives into conversation with each other (for example,
psychoanalysis and feminism, or Marxism and Postmodernism). In these papers, think about how
these theories work together, how they oppose each other, and how these strands of thought
make sense to you. No formal research for these three reaction papers; instead, I want to see only
your critical thinking, quotations from the primary theoretical readings, and your own close
reading of these passages.
For the final 12-15pp. term paper, employ a mode (or modes) of critical theory and analyze a text
of your choice. Be accurate in how you use the theory, engage with passages and close readings
of both your primary text and the theory with which you choose to analyze, and be careful to
avoid “analogy thinking.” Instead, use the theory to illuminate something organic about the text.
You must make use of at least seven of the assigned readings from the semester for this final
term paper. As always, I am happy and available to help you at any point during the writing
process. Come by my office during my office hours or make an individual appointment with me.
Attendance and Participation
Participation and attendance are of the utmost importance in this course. This is not a lecture
course. You will be expected to participate actively in everything that goes on in the classroom,
which means sharing your ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Participation accounts for 10% of your
final grade. Missing class will affect your grade, and four absences will result in a failing grade
for the course.
Academic Integrity
I expect academic integrity. If you are caught cheating on any assignment, quiz, etc, you will fail
the work in question and, depending upon the circumstances, possibly fail this course. Such
violations can even get you dismissed from the college. See attached statement on plagiarism.
Additionally, no discrimination, of any kind, will be tolerated in this class.
Unit Readings
New Criticism
Parker – “New Criticism” pp. 11-43.
Bennett & Royle (B &R) – “The beginning.”
Brooks – “The Language of Paradox” (CP).
Structuralism & Semiotics
Parker – “Structuralism” pp. 44-85.
Saussure – “Nature of the Linguistic Sign” & “Binary Oppositions” (CP).
Levi-Strauss – “The Structural Study of Myth” (CP).
Barthes – “Myth Today” (CP).
Parker – “Deconstruction” pp. 86-111.
B & R – “The author,” Narrative,” & “Readers and reading.”
Barthes – “The Death of the Author” & “From Work to Text” (CP).
Foucault – “What Is an Author?” & from Discipline and Punish (CP).
Derrida – “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (CP).
Parker – “Psychoanalysis” pp. 112-47.
B & R – “The Uncanny” & “The text and the world.”
Freud – from The Interpretation of Dreams; from Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality; from
Beyond the Pleasure Principle (CP).
Lacan – “The Mirror Stage” (CP).
Žižek – “How Did Marx Invent the Symptom?” (CP).
View Taxi Driver.
Parker – “Marxism” pp. 211-43.
B & R – “Ideology.”
Marx & Engels – The Communist Manifesto & “Alienated Labor” (pp. 131-36).
Althusser – “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (CP).
Horkheimer & Adorno – “The Culture Industry” (CP).
Feminism & Queer Studies
Parker – “Feminism” pp. 148-78.
B & R – “Sexual difference,” “Desire,” and “Queer.”
Haraway – “Persistence of Vision” (CP).
Cixous – “Sorties” (CP).
Butler – “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” (CP).
Rubin – “The Traffic in Women” (CP).
Foucault – from The History of Sexuality, Vol. I (CP).
Race and Postcolonial Studies
Parker – “Postcolonial and Race Studies” pp. 270-313.
B & R – “Racial difference,” “The colony,” and “Mutant.”
Morrison – Playing in the Dark.
Said – from Orientalism (CP).
hooks – “Eating the Other” (CP).
Anderson – from Imagined Communities (CP).
B & R – “The postmodern.”
Jameson – “Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism” & “Cognitive Mapping” (CP).
Baudrillard – “The Precession of Simulacra” (CP).
Lyotard – from The Postmodern Condition (CP).
View The Dark Knight.