Subjects of Theory after Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud
English 491
MWF 12:00-12:50, Wyatt 306, Fall 2000

Professor: Dan White
Office: Wyatt 341, x. 3428
Office Hours: Tuesday 3:00-4:30, Friday 1:00-2:30, or by appointment
Home Phone: (206) 328-5548 (Discretion is advised)

Course Focus: This seminar will familiarize you with contemporary critical theory by tracing questions of subjectivity and truth from the writings of Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud through the major theoretical movements of the twentieth century. In this demanding but manageable course, each week we will read several short but often 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 positions that we will encounter. The text to which we will apply theory will be Shakespeare's Hamlet, a play whose central character has represented, for different readers and in different ways, the first appearance of modern subjectivity.

Requirements: Two papers, mid-term (5-7 pp.) and final (10-12 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 printed in Times New Roman 12. Your mid-term and final papers must be submitted in a folder, and this folder must include the following: all previously graded written 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. 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%). Class participation is mandatory; if you have difficulty engaging in public discussion, please see me.

Texts: All readings for this course are from the following required sources, which are available at the Campus Book Store:

On this syllabus, page numbers are given parenthetically, and the sources are labelled "R" (Richter), "C" (Coursepack), "M-E" (Marx-Engels Reader), "H" (Hamlet), or "B" (Bressler).

I have also placed the following very useful books on reserve:

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, some weeks all position papers will discuss the same text.

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

  1. Summarize and clarify the argument/position of your theoretical text (you will need to quote and carefully explain key passages from your text)
  2. Demonstrate how that text fits into the larger movement under consideration; in other words, position your text within a larger theoretical field (you may refer to Bressler)

You will come to class on the Monday that your position paper is due with enough copies for each student in the class, including yourself, and two 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. On the day that we discuss the text about which you have written your paper, you will be expected actively to help facilitate 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. If you get confused or stuck (and you will!), your first instincts should be to refer to Abrams and Eagleton, on reserve, and to consult with one another. 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 theory to Shakespeare's Hamlet, and applying Hamlet to theory. These application exercises will be led by you in groups of four. Each group will run two application exercises during the course of the semester. Your goal will be to facilitate a critical discussion of a manageable selection from Hamlet, to be determined by you, in relation to the theory under consideration that week. When appropriate, I have assigned a critical essay from our edition of Hamlet, and you may choose to integrate that essay into your application exercise. By the end of class we should have a better understanding of the play because of our reading of the theory, and a better understanding of the theory because of our discussion of the play.

The weekend before your group is scheduled to run class, you should meet to determine which scene(s) or passage(s) from Hamlet you would like the class to examine in the exercise. In class, for the first twenty minutes we will break into four discussion sections, and each section will be led by one of the members of your group. Furthermore, the three or four students who wrote position papers for the preceding Monday will each be in a separate section. I will wander between the groups and join discussion as we see fit. After twenty minutes, we will then reconvene as a class, and the 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 Truth


August 28


August 30

"Defining Criticism, Theory, and Literature" (B 1-15)
Hamlet, Act 1 (H 27-56)

September 1

Plato, Republic, Book X (R 21-29), Ion (R 29-37)
Hamlet, Act 2 (H 56-79)
E-mail four preferences for position papers and application exercises


September 4

No class (Labor Day)

September 6

"A Historical Survey of Literary Criticism" (B 16-35)
Aristotle, Poetics (R 42-64)
Hamlet, Acts 3-5 (H 79-154)

September 8

Critical Exercise: Discussion of Hamlet
"A Critical History of Hamlet" (H 181-207)

New Criticism: From Author to Text


September 11

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

September 13

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

September 15

No class


September 18

Application Exercise: New Criticism and Hamlet
Three position papers due

Reader-Response: From Text to Reader

September 20

"Reader-Response Criticism" (B 62-76)
Stanley Fish, "Interpreting the Variorum" (R 977-90)

September 22

Application Exercise: Reader-Response Criticism and Hamlet

Nietzsche, Structuralism, and Poststructuralism


September 25

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay (57-96)
Four position papers due

September 27

Nietzsche, "Truth and Falsity in an Ultramoral Sense" (C 1-7)
Michel Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" (C 18-31)

September 29

Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Sections 1-7 (33-60)
Application Exercise: Nietzsche and Hamlet
Provisional thesis for mid-term paper due


October 2

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

October 4

Roland Barthes, "The Structuralist Activity," "The Death of the Author" (handout)

October 6

Application Exercise: Structuralism and Hamlet
Mid-term paper due (5-7 pp.)


October 9

"What is Deconstruction" (H 283-93)
Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (R 878-89)
Three position papers due

October 11

Derrida, "Différance" (C 8-17)

October 13

Application Exercise: Deconstruction and Hamlet
Marjorie Garber, "Hamlet: Giving up the Ghost" (H 297-331)


October 16

No Class (Fall Break)

October 18

Foucault, from The History of Sexuality (R 1472-81), "What is an Author?" (R 890-900)
Three position papers due

October 20

Application Exercise: Nietzsche, Foucault, and Hamlet

Marx and Marxism


October 23

Karl Marx, from The German Ideology (M-E 148-66), "The Method of German Philosophy" (C 32)
Four position papers due

October 25

Marx, from Capital (M-E 302-29)

October 27

Marx, "Estranged Labour" (M-E 70-81)


October 30

"What is Marxist Criticism?" (H 332-44)
Raymond Williams, from Marxism and Literature (R 1154-72)
Four position papers due

November 1

Louis Althusser, "Marx's Immense Theoretical Revolution" (handout)

November 3

Application Exercise: Marx, Marxism, and Hamlet
Michael D. Bristol, "'Funeral Bak'd Meats': Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet" (H 348-67)

Freud, Lacan, and Psychoanalytic Theory


November 6

Sigmund Freud, "The Unconscious" (handout)
Four position papers due

November 8

Freud, from The Interpretation of Dreams (C 64-66), "Creative Writers and Daydreaming" (R 483-88)

November 10

Freud, "The Theme of the Three Caskets" (R 488-94)


November 13

E.T.A. Hoffmann, "The Sand-Man" (C 67-84)
"What is Psychoanalytic Criticism" (H 241-51)

November 15

Freud, "The 'Uncanny'" (C 85-105)

November 17

Application Exercise: Freud and Hamlet
Janet Adelman, "'Man and Wife is One Flesh': Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body" (H 256-82)


November 20

Jacques Lacan, "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud" (R 1045-65)
Three position papers due

November 22

Application Exercise: Lacan and Hamlet

November 24

No class (Thanksgiving Break)

Cultural Criticism: Gender and Feminism


November 27

Virginia Woolf, from A Room of One's Own (R 551-59)
"What is Feminist Criticism" (H 208-15)
Four position papers due

November 29

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

December 1

Application Exercise: Gender, Feminism, and Hamlet
Elaine Showalter, "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness, and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism" (H 220-40)
Provisional thesis for final paper due

New Historicism and Cultural Poetics


December 4

"Cultural Poetics or New Historicism" (B 236-47)
"What is the New Historicism?" (H 368-76)

December 6

Karin S. Coddon, "'Suche Strange Desygns': Madness, Subjectivity, and Treason in Hamlet and Elizabethan Culture" (H 380-402)

December 13, 4:00, English Department: Final Paper due (10-12 pp.)

Daniel E. White