Instructor: Heather Zwicker


This course will introduce a variety of literary theories in English and Cultural Studies that have developed over the course of the twentieth century. Taking as our premise the idea that the theorized interpretation of texts, events and lives is an everyday human activity rather than the exclusive province of academic specialists, we will explore foundational problems such as canonicity, class, consumerism, gender, ideology, race, sexuality, and textuality, using theoretical strategies such as formalism, structuralism, poststructuralism, deconstruction, cultural materialism, and feminism. The primary object of this course is to address the question of why literary or critical theory should matter; and so to test the proposition that it does, the course will examine the ways in which various kinds of theory can illuminate specific social and literary problems, texts, debates and struggles.


The following primary textbook for the course has been ordered through Orlando Books, 10123 - 82 Avenue, 432-7633:

Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, ed., Literary Theory: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell Books, 1998.

Additional books are available through the University Bookstore; please purchase the following:

Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Critical Terms for Literary Study. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality. New York: Vintage, 1978.

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye. 1970. New York et al.: Penguin, 1994.

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place. New York et al.: Penguin, 1988.

There are several books available in the Salter Reading Room (3rd floor, Humanities Centre) for you to consult. These include:

Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi, ed., The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth, ed., The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism. Baltimore, 1994.

Irene A. Makaryk, ed., Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.



Grades in this course will be based on five things:

10% Careful preparation for and participation in class discussions. Read carefully, think up questions in advance, and conduct yourself in a way that enables other students to learn. Participation makes intellectual community happen.

15% A series of 9 short (1-2 page) critical responses to assigned readings. A critical response is a 1-2 page summary and evaluation of an assigned theoretical reading or two. Critical responses are designed to aid you in clarifying issues, formulating questions, and articulating your opinion. Write them in a way that will help you to do these things. (I recommend a synopsis of the argument with a collection of your questions or reservations at the end.) I will read these and comment on them, but your grade will be based on merely completing them. A sample critical response is appended to this syllabus. Please note that I will not accept critical responses late.

20% A take-home exam, due 26 November.

25% A 10-page essay, due 4 March, that uses one or two theoretical strategies to discuss a text of your choice. In keeping with the necessarily interdisciplinary nature of this course, "text" will be interpreted in the broadest sense. It may include literary writing, a music video, artwork, or architecture.

30% A final exam, to be written during the last class, 8 April.


The weight of the final exam is set by the English Department. You need to know that, as is always the case, term work cannot be reconsidered after the final exam has been written. However, if at any point in the course you have concerns about my evaluation of your work, please discuss them with me.


SCHEDULE (subject to change)

Sep 03 Introductions

Literary Studies/Cultural Studies/Canonicity

10 Raymond Williams, "Literature" (reader); Terry Eagleton, "What is Literature?" and "The Rise of English" (reader); Gauri Viswanathan, "Currying Favor: The Politics of British Educational and Cultural Policy in India, 1813-54" (reader)

Critical response #1 due: on either Eagleton or Viswanathan

17 Harper's articles (reader); John Guillory, "Canon" (Lentricchia 233-249); Raymond Williams, "Culture" (reader); John Fiske, "Popular Culture" (Lentricchia 321-335); Stuart Hall, "Cultural Studies: Two Paradigms" (reader)


24 The New Criticism: I.A. Richards, "The Four Kinds of Meaning" (reader); Cleanth Brooks, "The Formalist Critics" and "The Language of Paradox" (R&R 52-68); Thomas McLaughlin, "Figurative Language" (Lentricchia 80-90); John Donne, "The Canonization" (R&R 69)

Critical response #2 due: on either Richards or Brooks

Oct 01 Russian Formalism: Boris Tomashevsky, "Thematics" (R&R 24-27); V. Propp, Morphology of the Folktale (R&R 28-31); Viktor Shklovsky, "Art as Technique" (R&R 17-23); Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, "Fulfilment" (reader)

Critical response #3 due: on Russian Formalism (at least 2 of the 3 theorists)

Assignment: for next class, bring in a photocopy of a 1-2 page excerpt from a novel you're reading in another course

08 Dialogism: Mikhail Bakhtin, "Discourse in the Novel" (R&R 32-44)

15 Structuralism: John Carlos Rowe, "Structure" (Lentricchia 23-38); Jonathan Culler, "Introduction: 'The Linguistic Foundation'" (R&R73-75); Ferdinand de Saussure, "Nature of the Linguistic Sign" (R&R 76-90)

Critical Response #4 due: on Saussure

22 Roman Jakobson, "The Twofold Character of Language" and "The Metaphoric and Metonymic Poles" (reader)

Take-home exam handed out


29 Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, "The Class of 1968-Post-Structuralism par lui-même" (R&R 333-357); Barbara Johnson, "Writing" (Lentricchia 39-49); Jacques Derrida, "Différance" and "Plato's Pharmacy" (R&R 385-407, 429-450)

Nov 05 Derrida, cont'd

12 Roland Barthes, "From Work to Text" and "The Death of the Author" (reader)

Critical Response #5 due: on Barthes

19 Michel Foucault, excerpts from The Order of Things and Discipline and Punish (R&R 377-384, 421-428)


26 Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, "Starting with Zero: Basic Marxism" (R&R 231-242); Karl Marx, The German Ideology, The Manifesto of the Communist Party, "Wage Labor and Capital" and excerpt from Capital (R&R 250-276)

Take-home exam due

Dec 03 Raymond Williams, "Base and Superstructure," "Determination," "Productive Forces," "Ideology" (reader); James H. Kavanagh, "Ideology" (Lentricchia)

Assignment: Before next term, read Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (see 7 Jan) and visit West Edmonton Mall. Keeping in mind Althusser's idea that ideology is vested in physical practices, analyze the ideology of West Edmonton Mall. Use what you discover on this visit as the basis of Critical Response #6.




Jan 07 Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (reader); West Edmonton Mall

Critical Response #6 due: on Althusser and WEM

13 7 pm (Wed): Screening of Schindler's List. Please note that even if you cannot attend this screening, you are required to see the film on your own before 14 Jan class.

14 Ideological Domination...: Pierre Bourdieu, "Distinction" (R&R 1028-1036); Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (R&R 282-289); Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, "The Culture Industry as Mass Deception" (R&R 1037-1041); Stuart Hall, "The Rediscovery of 'Ideology'" (R&R 1050-1064); Schindler's List

21 ...and Resistance: Antonio Gramsci, "'Hegemony'" (R&R 277); Daniel O'Hara, "Class" (Lentricchia 406-428); Janice Radway, excerpt from Reading the Romance (R&R 1042-1049); John Fiske, "Television Culture" (R&R 1087-1098); The Jerry Springer Show

Critical Response #7 due: on mass culture

Race/Racial Difference/Postcolonialism

28 Anthony Appiah, "Race" (Lentricchia 274-287); Frantz Fanon, "The Fact of Blackness" (reader); Kobena Mercer, "Black Hair/Style Politics" (reader)

Critical Response #8 due: on Fanon

Feb 04 Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

11 Edward Said, Orientalism (R&R 873-886); Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place


15-19 Reading Week; classes suspended



25 Virginia Woolf, "Professions for Women" (reader); Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, excerpt from The Madwoman in the Attic (R&R 596-611); Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex" (R&R 533-560)

Mar 04 Audre Lorde, "Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference" (R&R 630-636); Dionne Brand, excerpt from Bread Out of Stone (reader); Myra Jehlen, "Gender" (Lentricchia 263-273)

Term Paper due


11 Adrienne Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" (reader); Gayle Rubin, "Thinking Sex" (reader)

18 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality

25 Eve Sedgwick, excerpt from Epistemology of the Closet (reader); Willa Cather, "Paul's Case" (reader)

Critical Response #9 due: on your choice of topic

31 Paris Is Burning (screening in class); review

08 Final exam



Students sometimes ask about guides to literary theory, so here are four books that explain complicated theoretical concepts straightforwardly:

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 1983. Clearly written from an explicitly Marxist point of view but obviously limited by its early date.

Green, Keith and Jill LeBihan. Critical Theory and Practice: A Coursebook. London: Routledge, 1996. The first two sections, on language, linguistics, structuralism and literature are likely the most useful for this course. If you're having trouble with Saussure, this is the place to go.

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts. New York et al.: Longman, 1998. This book is especially useful for showing how theories might be put to practical use in writing about literature, and contains lots of literary critical examples. Especially good on deconstruction.

Selden, Raman, Peter Widdowson and Peter Brooker. A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory. 4th ed. London et al.: Prentice Hall, 1997. An excellent overview of a range of theoretical positions, this text does a good job of situating movements historically and institutionally. If you were to buy a single book to guide your reading throughout the course, this would be it: it contains chapters on New Criticism, Russian formalism, structuralism, Marxism, feminism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism and queer theory.


Here are some introductions to cultural studies:

During, Simon. The Cultural Studies Reader. New York/London: Routledge, 1993. Contains a range of essays that provide an overview of the kind of work done in the name of cultural studies.

Brantlinger, Patrick. Crusoe's Footprints: Cultural Studies in Britain and America. New York: Routledge, 1990. Picks up where Turner's book leaves off, giving a history of cultural studies in the United States.

Hall, Stuart. Culture, Media, Language. London: Unwin Hyman, 1990. Hall is perhaps the best known cultural studies practitioner, and this is just one collection of his essays.

Johnson, Richard. "What is Cultural Studies Anyway?" Social Text 6 (Winter 1986/87): 38-80. A long-ish article, but it gives a succinct sense of where cultural studies comes from and offers contentious suggestions for where it might go.

Turner, Graeme. British Cultural Studies: An Introduction. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990. A clear and concise history of the development of cultural studies in England and Australia.

Here are a few texts that provide an overview of particular movements in literary theory (most titles are self-explanatory):

Abelove, Henry, Michele Aina Barale and David M. Halperin, ed., The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Duberman, Martin, ed. A Queer World: The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

Eagleton, Terry and Drew Milne, ed., Marxist Literary Theory. London: Oxford, 1996.

Grossberg, Lawrence, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler, ed., Cultural Studies. New York/London: Routledge, 1992.

Guillory, John. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993.

Hennessy, Rosemary and Chrys Ingraham, ed. Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women's Lives. New York/London: Routledge, 1997.

Lentricchia, Frank. After the New Criticism. Chicago, 1983.

Marks, Elaine and di Courtivron. New French Feminisms: An Anthology.

Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Staton, Shirley F. Literary Theories in Praxis. Philadelphia, 1987.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Another resource to look out for the is the "for Beginners" series. Don't be deceived by their appearance! Published by either Icon Books (Cambridge) or Writers and Readers (London), these comic-like books are normally very solid and do a good and often very entertaining job of explaining complicated ideas clearly. You can find introductions to Derrida, Benjamin, Foucault, Saussure, Marx, Lacan, Freud, Feminism, Postmodernism, and more.