The History and Tradition of Literary Criticism and Theory
English 490
MWF 12:00-12:50, Howarth 101, Fall 1999

Professor: Dan White
Office: Library 263, x. 3428
Office Hours: Tuesday 3:00-4:30, Friday 4:00-5:30, or by appointment
Home Phone: (206) 328-5548 (Discretion is advised)

Course Focus: This seminar examines the historical development of literary criticism and theory. Beginning with antiquity and ending with our own postmodern moment, we will familiarize ourselves with the concepts and stakes of the critical tradition. This is a demanding but manageable course: each week we will read several short but difficult texts, and we will dedicate our individual and collective energies to understanding what these texts mean and why they demand our attention. In order to bring theory alive for ourselves, we will divide our time between the discussion and application of the theoretical methods that we will encounter. The text to which we will apply theory will be William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads, one of the most influential and experimental books of poetry ever published, which first appeared in 1798 during what has come to be known as the Romantic period. Although individual poems will be assigned for our application exercises (see below), by the end of the third week of the course you should have read the volume in its entirety.

Requirements: Two papers, mid-term (5 pp.) and final (10 pp.); two position papers (3 pp.); two in-class application exercises; class participation; attendance. All written work must be titled, double- spaced, paginated, stapled, and submitted in a folder. This folder must include the following: all previously graded work, the handout called "Papers: Expectations, Guidelines, Advice, and Grading," and any other materials I have given you as a class or individually regarding your writing. When submitting your two longer papers, please also include a disk version of your paper saved in Word or as text (see "Papers on the Web"). If the folder does not contain all required materials, I will return it to you and mark down the paper one part of a grade for each day the folder is late.

Grading: Your grade will be a combination of the two papers (50%), two position papers (15%), two application exercises (15%), and class participation (20%). If you have difficulty engaging in public discussion, please see me.

Texts: All readings for this course are from the required sources, which, along with the two recommended texts, are available at the Campus Book Store:



On this syllabus, page numbers are given parenthetically, and the sources are labelled "B" (Bressler), "R" (Richter), "LB" (Lyrical Ballads), or "C" (Coursepack).

Position Papers: Most Mondays, three or four of you will be responsible for distributing a position paper (3 pp.) on one of the theoretical texts to be read that week. Each of you will write two such position papers over the course of the semester for weeks in which you are not responsible for leading the application exercise (see below). On weeks when position papers are due, if we are reading more than one text that week, the writers will have to divide the texts up between themselves; I only ask that all texts be covered, and it is not a problem if more than one student writes a position paper about the same text. In fact, many weeks all position papers will discuss the same text.

In these position papers you will attempt to accomplish the following three goals:

  1. Summarize and clarify the argument/position of your theoretical text
  2. Demonstrate how that text fits into the larger movement under consideration (here you will want to refer to Bressler)
  3. Suggest what you see as strengths and weaknesses of the text's theoretical perspective

You will come to class on the Monday that your position paper is due with nineteen copies of your paper, one for each student in the class, including yourself, and one for me. Everyone will read your position paper for Wednesday, and we will then, when appropriate, use your paper to help us understand the texts in question and to prepare us for our discussion.

Note: Everyone will have to write these position papers in advance of our class discussion of the material. In other words, you will need to come to terms with the arguments and issues on your own. Although the position papers should be formal and polished pieces of expository prose, they certainly may -- indeed, they should -- discuss and work through the difficulties you encounter as you read theory. I will not grade you on how comprehensively you have grasped every facet of the theoretical text, but on how clear, organized, and rigorous you are in your attempt to guide others through the text and movement at hand.

You will want to buy a folder or binder in which to keep position papers. That way, as the semester goes on, you can refer to them in order to remind yourself of the material that we have covered. At the end of the semester, then, you should have at least one position paper for each theoretical text.

Application Exercises: Most Fridays we will dedicate ourselves to applying the theoretical method of that week to a poem or poems from Lyrical Ballads. These application exercises will be led by you in groups of three or four. Each group will run two application exercises during the course of the semester. The week your group is scheduled to run class, you should meet two or three times to discuss how you will read the poem(s) using the methodology under consideration that week. Your goal will be to show both how you understand the poem(s) through the methodology and how we can better understand the methodology through your reading of the poem.

In class, for the first fifteen minutes we will break into three or four discussion groups, and each group will be led by one of the members of your group. Furthermore, each group will include one of the three or four students who wrote position papers for the preceding Monday. I will wander between the groups and join discussion as we see fit. After fifteen minutes, we will then reconvene as a class, and the three or four leaders will direct, but not dominate, our discussion.

You will receive both an individual and a group grade for your work, and your overall grade for the assignment will be an average of the two. At the end of the semester, I will count the average of your two overall grades as 15% of your final grade for the course.


Introduction: Antiquity, Mimesis, and the Invention of Criticism


August 30 Introduction

September 1 "Defining Criticism, Theory, and Literature" (B 1-15)

September 3 Critical Exercise: "Tintern Abbey" (LB 113-18)


September 6 No Class (Labor Day)

September 8 "A Historical Survey of Literary Criticism" (B 16-35); Plato, Republic, Book X (R 21-29), Ion (R 29-37)

September 10 Aristotle, Poetics (R 42-64)


Romantic Readers and Authors


September 13 William Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads (LB 241-72); Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Biographia Literaria (R 321-22); Three position papers due

September 15 Wordsworth and Coleridge (cont.)

September 17 Application Exercise: "Simon Lee" (LB 60-63), "Old Man Travelling" (LB 106-107)


New Criticism: From Author to Text


September 20 "New Criticism" (B 36-47); W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy" (R 749-56); Four position papers due

September 22 Cleanth Brooks, "Irony as a Principle of Structure" (R 758-65)

September 24 Application Exercise: "Song," "A slumber did my spirit seal" (LB 154)


Reader-Response: From Text to Reader


September 27 "Reader-Response Criticism" (B 62-76); Three position papers due

September 29 Stanley Fish, "Interpreting the Variorum" (R 977-90)

October 1 Application Exercise: "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere" (LB 9-36); Thesis for mid-term paper due


Breaks: Marx, Nietzsche, Freud


October 4 Karl Marx, from Capital (C 1-14); Four position papers due

October 6 Marx, "Consciousness Derived from Material Conditions" (R 388-91), "Estranged Labor" (C 15-20)

October 8 Friedrich Nietzsche, "Truth and Falsity in an Ultramoral Sense" (C 21-23); Mid-term paper due (5 pp.)


October 11 "Psychoanalysis" (B 147-53); Sigmund Freud, from The Interpretation of Dreams (C 24-26), "Creative Writers and Daydreaming" (R 483-88), "The Theme of the Three Caskets" (R 488-94)

October 13 Application Exercise (Freud): "Goody Blake, and Harry Gill" (LB 54-58)



October 15 "Structuralism" (B 87-100); Ferdinand de Saussure, "Nature of the Linguistic Sign" (R 832-34); Four position papers due


October 18 No Class (Fall Break)

October 20 Roland Barthes, "The Structuralist Activity," "The Death of the Author" (C 27-29)

October 22 Application Exercise: "Anecdote for Fathers," "We are Seven" (LB 64-68)


Poststructuralism and Deconstruction


October 25 "Deconstruction" (B 114-33); Four position papers due

October 27 Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?" (R 890-900), from The History of Sexuality (R 1472-81)

October 29 Application Exercise: "The Idiot Boy" (LB 86-101)


November 1 Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (R 878-89); Four position papers due

November 3 Jacques Derrida, "Différance" (C 30-43)

November 5 Application Exercise: "Anecdote for Fathers," "We are Seven" (LB 64-68)




November 8 "Marxism" (B 210-22); Three position papers due

November 10 Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (C 44-74)

November 12 Application Exercise: "Michael" (LB 226-40)


Cultural Criticism: Gender and Race


November 15 "Feminism" (B 178-191); Four position papers due

November 17 Virginia Woolf, from A Room of One's Own (R 551-59)

November 19 Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, from The Madwoman in the Attic (R 1361-74)


November 22 Luce Irigaray, "This Sex Which Is Not One" (R 1467-71)

November 24 Application Exercise: "Tintern Abbey" (LB 113-18)

November 26 No Class (Thanksgiving Break)


November 29 "Cultural Studies" (B 263-71); Three position papers due

December 1 Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "Writing, 'Race,' and the Difference it Makes" (R 1576-88)

December 3 Application Exercise: "Song for the Wandering Jew" (LB 178)


New Historicism and Cultural Poetics


December 6 "Cultural Poetics or New Historicism" (B 236-47)

December 8 Conclusions


December 13, 4:00, English Department: Final Paper due (10 pp.)

Daniel E. White