Engl 310 Literary Theory (3 cr) 9:30am-10:45am TR TLC 149 Spring 2012
Instructor: Stephan Flores / http://www.uidaho.edu/class/english/stephanflores

Office hours: W 1:30-3:00 p.m. & by appt.

English 310.01 Spring 2012 Semester Schedule/Syllabus [follow preceding/highlighted link to schedule of readings, due dates, etc.]

Blackboard 9 (for DSs and additional materials)

[entry from UI catalog]: Current trends and issues in literary theory, with practice in the application of theory to literary texts. [note: Engl 310 is required for majors in the literature emphasis, recommended for all emphases, and also strongly recommended for English majors who plan to apply for graduate studies in English/humanities]
Prereq: Engl 102 and Engl 215 (or by permission of instructor)

Course description: This course introduces undergraduates to contemporary critical theory—including attention to selected “precursors”— with focused study of post-structuralism(s) and material cultural analysis: deconstruction, psychoanalytic theory, Marxism, feminism and gender analyses, postcolonial theory, a bit of film theory, and other historical contexts for interpretation. These perspectives engage with relations among desire, power, history, representation (particularly the figurative turns of language), texts and identities.  We shall consider theory through practice (and opposing/positing these terms in this way is highly problematic), via a case study of Edith Wharton's novel The House of Mirth and with a few selected poems, short fictions, plays, and films—these juxtaposed and intertwined works provide occasions for inquiry/analysis as we develop an understanding of theory in literary and cultural studies. 

The selected readings vary among and juxtapose Parker's sustained narrative/introduction, with the complex development of Wharton's novel as well as the five critical essays/perspectives on The House of Mirth, along with as many 'theory' intensive, 'primary' theory texts as can be accomodated, leaving room too for the plays by Dorfman, Mamet, and Lindsay-Abaire, and a quick viewing of Truffaut's The 400 Blows. I conceive of our readings and the assignments as tiered, sequenced/cumulative, and recursive (we'll cycle back, continue to return to concepts/issues as we move forward), and accomplished in the contexts of your developing understanding in the discussion-based exchanges in class and on Blackboard (especially via the Discussion Starters). In this latter sense, your understanding develops in relation to one another's ways of understanding and of writing, and not only in terms of your direct engagement with the assigned texts. I shall also be ready to continue to expand the range of reference and additional texts to suggest and make available, for those interested in further reading (for example, for those planning to apply to graduate studies in English)--let me know of your interests and aspirations.

You may feel and find this course description and syllabus overwhelming--that's a fair representation and effect —analysis is interminable—and yet I hope that you will find this ongoing questioning of premises and modes/means and strategies of and for making meaning compelling and vital. For instance, must "desire" always be desire for something (someone), some meaning or identity, some particular end (outcome) of a specific narrative with a familiar or known context? Where does longing/desire come from? What are its origins? Do we read texts or do we feel that texts somehow read us? are meaning and identity oriented in relation to some inside or somewhere external/outside, in the present, or in the past (or always oriented to the future?) and so on . . . .

Required texts (see other 'theory' essays, poems, short fiction available online/Blackboard):

Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies, Second EditionOxford: Oxford UP, 2011.

Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth (1905). Ed. Shari Benstock. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: Bedford Books of St.Martin's P, 1994.

Parker, Robert Dale. Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. [this text will be available after Jan. 24th, 2012]

Mamet, David. Glengarry Glen Ross (1984). Grove Press, 1994. Winner of 1984 Pulitzer Prize.

Dorfman, Ariel. Death and the Maiden. Penguin, 1994. This play opened at London's Royal Court in 1991, and won the Olivier award for best play, along with a best actress award for Juliet Stevenson. It was followed by a Broadway run with Glenn Close, Gene Hackman and Richard Dreyfuss, and then turned into a film by Roman Polanski featuring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. Along with studying the play, we'll view the film version.

Lindsay-Abair, David. Good People (2011). Received New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best Play (2011), with Frances McDormand and Tate Donovan.

We shall also view the film The 400 Blows (also recommended: Truffaut's Day for Night):

The 400 Blows (1959). [excerpt from Criterion Collection blurb]: "François Truffaut’s first feature, The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups), is also his most personal. Told through the eyes of Truffaut’s life-long cinematic counterpart, Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), The 400 Blows sensitively re-creates the trials of . . . difficult childhood, unsentimentally portraying aloof parents, oppressive teachers, petty crime, and a friendship that would last a lifetime. The film marks Truffaut’s passage from leading critic of the French New Wave to his emergence as one of Europe’s most brilliant auteurs."

Several theory quotes to get you thinking some more: Jonathan Culler states "there is no determining in advance what might count as relevant, what enlarging of context might be able to shift what we regard as the meaning of a text.  Meaning is context-bound, but context is boundless,” or in the words of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: “in every textual production, in the production of every explanation, there is the itinerary of a constantly thwarted desire to make the text explain.” Peter Barry sums up premises shared across many perspectives in contemporary critical theory: 1) Politics is pervasive; 2) Language is constitutive; 3) Truth is provisional; 4) Meaning is contingent; 5) Human nature is a myth (Beginning Theory, second edition, Manchester UP, 2002).


1. Eight written Discussion Starters: a thesis/problem-driven, question-posing response (approx. 200 words each) to some aspect of the texts and topics of study and discussion, focusing in particular on the main 'theory' text or texts listed for that next day's discussion. Discussion Starters present a means for you and the class to share enthusiasms and doubts as you delve into the text’s significance, methods, and effects. Each entry should include some summary/explanation of some aspect of the text under discussion—that is, choose something you find important/useful/provocative, and comment on its significance; then you should compose/derive a thesis-sentence statement (the thesis-sentence presents a reasoned, interpretative, precise claim on some aspect of the text/theory in question, preferably quoted or cited) to follow (and to encapsulate or use as a point of departure from) your summary/explanation. No late entries —Discussion Starters with corresponding texts/due dates noted on schedule below, are due with entries posted on Blackboard 9 no later than 8:00 pm the evening before the next day's class. Come to class prepared to talk about your DS (at times first in a small group), and we’ll rotate responsibility for putting a spotlight on two or three DSs to facilitate discussion. Missing discussion-starter entries (including any missing DS entries on Blackboard, regardless of whether you turned in a hard copy) will be counted against your semester grade (see below).

2. Write a Summary-Critical Response that presents a focused summary (Part One, 250-300 words) of key aspects of one of the essays in the Bedford case studies edition of The House of Mirth, followed by a reflective, question -and problem-posing critical response to that essay/perspective/interpretation/argument (Part 2, 450-500 words).

3. Theory in Practice Essay (titled, approximately 7 pp., excluding Works Cited page, double-spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman, 1-inch margins, MLA format)—on The House of Mirth in relation to interpretative and theoretical contexts/issues/problems—demonstrates your developing understanding of the significance and contours of explanation and argument and concepts of one or more of the theoretical and critical texts under study.

4. Critical Analysis (titled, 4-5 pp., excluding Works Cited page, double-spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman, 1-inch margins, MLA format): This assignment directs you to explore a significant issue and rhetorical/theoretical strategy/topic that you identify in Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and in(conjunction with) Robert Vorlicky, Richard Brucher, Anne Dean, and/or Linda's Dorff's essay(s) on the play, and/or in relation to one or more of the perspectives/premises of our readings in theory. A sharply focused explanation and analysis may contain the kernel of a hypothesis that could serve as the cornerstone or shaping idea for the Term Essay. Your analysis can be quite "thesis-driven"—that is, you may find it effective to compose a thesis for your response that maps out for readers the engaging, important points that you want to develop—or you may prefer a more reflective, question and problem-posing approach.

5. Term Essay (approximately 9+ pp., excluding Works Cited page, double-spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman, 1-inch margins, MLA format). This critical essay develops ideas prompted by our study and discussion and your perspectives; in some respects, it may be similar to the prior theory in practice assignment. I shall attend to the ways that you select, define, and engage questions and contradictions, to the clarity, imagination, and grace that you demonstrate in presenting your topic, (hypo)thesis, and argument, and the extent to which your work engages with, explains, and contributes to the larger 'conversation' of theoretical/critical discussion on the topic and text or question under analysis (for example, if you write about a literary text about which published scholarship is available, you are expected to cite/draw upon/situate your analysis in some degree of relationship to that research). I do not always expect essays to conclude by 'solving' such problems or by 'proving' your thesis; I hope that you address interesting topics (questions for debate, interpretation, and analysis) in thoughtful and useful ways. Note: You may draw upon and revise material from prior written work (DS entries or the Critical Analysis) to form part of this essay; refrain, however, from cobbling together DSs to form this larger assignment or draw substantially upon your text from the Theory in Practice Essay. The Term Essay must embody and represent additional work to a substantial degree: you may focus upon questions of 'theory' or upon one or more literary texts. You also may consider incorporating/analyzing any of the literary texts referenced on this site (such as Dorothy Parker's short fiction, on Bblearn) not only the plays that we have considered (you could, for example, juxtapose an analysis of Glengarry Glen Ross with Good People, or explore gender/history/politics in Death and the Maiden) but short fiction or poetry. Please feel invited to confer with me during the writing process.

6. Participation: Please take advantage of opportunities to share your insights and to listen and reply to others' ideas. I hope that questions and discussions will enable you to move the class in directions you find most helpful, give you opportunities to develop critical skills through collaboration, and provide for a productive, interesting exchange of perspectives among the class. I may form small groups, primarily for sharing Discussion-Starters (as noted above). Students should also be prepared to enter into and perhaps facilitate discussion on the days that they submit each of the Critical Analyses.

7. All required work is due as specified on the due date—work turned in late will be graded accordingly. Required graded written work will be downgraded one notch (for example, B+ to B, converted to points for each assignment) for each weekday late (not just days classes meet but counting just one day for a weekend). Work submitted more than a week late will not be accepted. I will grant short extensions for medical and family emergencies—but talk with me as soon as possible to request an extension. Always keep copies of your work.

8. Attendance: One to two absences will not affect your semester grade; a third absence will lower your semester total by six points, with a six-point reduction for each additional absence (four absences=minus 12 points, five absences = minus 18 points); six or more absences is sufficient cause for you to receive a failing grade for the course, regardless of your semester point total. All absences will be counted—excused or not—if something extraordinary occurs, talk to me.

9. Grades: Critical Summary-Response (30 pts); Critical Analysis (30 pts); Theory in Practice Essay 1 (100 pts); Term Essay 2 (120 pts). These required assignments add up to a maximum of 280 points. Thus 252-280 points equals an A, 224-251 equals a B, 196-223 equals a C, 168-195 equals a D, and anything below 168 equals an F. I shall also reserve a potential five bonus points based on my perceptions of the strength of your participation and efforts over the semester; in addition, late, incomplete/insufficient Discussion-Starter entries will be counted against your semester grade, with the loss of seven points for each missing/late, or incomplete entry, to a maximum loss of 56 points.

10. Office hours. I encourage you to confer with me—especially before assignments are due—to talk about your interests, intentions, and writing strategies. If you cannot make my regular hours (in 315 Commons), we’ll arrange another time. I also welcome communicating with you by E-mail (sflores@uidaho.edu).

11. Use of laptops and cell phones during class is prohibited, except on days when DSs are due; that is, occasional use of laptops—typically for group work and to access the online components of the class—may be permitted with instructor’s approval.

12. Do not submit work for this class that you have submitted or intend to submit for a grade in another course; as always, be careful to cite anyone else's work that you draw upon. See highlighted link for brief guidelines on plagiarism, from English 101.

Additional reference sources for further study/research: I have retrieved/placed some articles and book chapter excerpts in folders on Blackboard, and will put some resources on library reserve. Do not rely upon or incorporate research from non-refereed, non-“scholarly” sources or publications.

English 310.01 Spring 2012 Semester Schedule/Syllabus [this links to schedule of readings, dues dates, etc.]

More to browse . . . .
Tompkins, Jane. "A Short Course in Post-Structuralism." College English 50.7 (1988): 733-47.[access this from UI network/computers]

Summary/Overview of Perspectives in Critical Theory (I may continue to update/revise this)

Additional quite helpful series of summary/review resources and links

Some links to texts that Parker refers to in How to Interpret Literature:

BBC website profile of Chile and of Augusto Pinochet:



In February 1991, the eight-member National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, established in 1990 by then-President Patricio Aylwin, released its report. The Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation is popularly known as the Rettig Report for former Senator Raul Rettig, president of the commission. Other members of the commission were Jaime Castillo Velasco, Jose Luis Cea Egaña, Mónica Jiménez de la Jara, Laura Novoa Vásquez, José Zalaquett Daher, Ricardo Martín Díaz, and Gonzalo Vial Correa. The commission's mandate encompassed human rights abuses resulting in death or disappearance during years of military rule beginning on September 11, 1973 and ending on March 11, 1990.

Sources: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts 03/06/1991;Los Angeles Times 09/07/1990; Esteban Cuya, " Las Comisiones de la Verdad en America Latina. " http://www.derechos.org/koaga/iii/1/cuya.html (March 1, 1999).

Aritzia, Pilar Zozaya. "Alternative Political Discourses in Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden." Atlantis 18.1-2 (1996): 453-460. (on Bblearn)

Morace, Robert A. "The life and times of Death and the Maiden." Texas Studies in Literature & Language 42.2 (2000): 135-53. (on Bblearn)

Advice and Resources on Writing Critical Essays

For reference: Here is the table of contents of Robert Dale Parker's Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012: