Monday, September 12, 2011

"Critical Style"

I haven't ever taught the seminar we require of our MA students before (there are 3 sections each year, with about ten students each, and it is left to the instructor's discretion to set the terms of engagement), and making up this syllabus sent me into a minor intellectual crisis when I tackled it in June! What is the discipline? What am I comfortable endorsing in its excellence but also in its representativeness?!? I put out an appeal to Facebook friends and in a couple of other online venues, and the final result owes something to those suggestions; thanks to everyone who weighed in. I felt a lot better once I gave up any thought of the representative or of telling a full intellectual-historical story: it is a class on reading tactics, not a class that provides an exhaustive account of things...

(This is just the course description and reading list, not the full syllabus with assignments etc.)
The reading list for this course includes some of the most interesting and influential texts in twentieth-century Anglo-American literary criticism, interlarded with some bits of the French literary theory that influenced many American literary scholars in the closing decades of the last millennium. We will read the assigned texts closely and critically, both in order to understand what each one says and to isolate and identify interpretive and argumentative tactics that might be useful in our own critical work. Although we will touch regularly on intellectual history and the history of criticism, we will be especially attentive to questions of voice and argument; a significant portion of each class will be devoted to considering the choices each writer has made as they manifest themselves in style at the level of sentence, paragraph, chapter and book.

9/12 Introduction

9/19 William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity

9/26 Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden

10/3 Raymond Williams, Keywords

10/10 Roland Barthes, The Neutral

10/17 *Plato, Phaedrus; Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy,” in Dissemination

10/24 *Eve Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading,” in Touching Feeling

10/31 Jonathan Arac, Critical Genealogies: Historical Situations for Postmodern Literary Studies

11/7 Election holiday – no class

11/14 *Peter Stallybrass and Margreta de Grazia, “The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text”; *Frances Ferguson, “On the Numbers of Romanticisms”

11/21 *Gayatri Chakravorky Spivak, “Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching”

11/28 D. A. Miller, Jane Austen, or The Secret of Style; *Jane Austen, “Sanditon” (fragment)

12/5 Jonathan Coe, Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson

12/12 David Markson, Reader’s Block


  1. I like the military metaphors -- terms of engagement, tactics -- "revolution" in some form is inevitable in all academic contexts, reinforcements (to arguments?) helpful; examples can be conscripted or pressganged; an appropriately forbidding book might have erected a Maginot line...