ENGL 511.01 (3 crs)
Studies in Literary Criticism: Contemporary Critical Theory & Practice

Dr. Stephan Flores (sflores@uidaho.edu)                                                      
Class meets 9:30 am - 10:45 am  TR  REN  127                                                                          
http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~sflores/                                                    885-6156; 885-6147
Office hours: MW 1:00-2:00 p.m. & by appt.                                                 315 Commons

This course ventures into contemporary critical theory (including attention to selected “precursors”) with focused study of post-structuralism(s) and material cultural analysis, particularly deconstruction, psychoanalytic theory, Marxism, feminism and gender analyses, and historical contexts for interpretation.  These perspectives engage with relations among desire, power, history, representation (particularly the figurative turns of language), texts and identities.  We’ll explore several short stories by James and Wharton with selected secondary criticism —these narratives, together with the theoretical texts—complement one another, and provide occasions for inquiry/analysis as we develop an understanding of theory in literary and cultural studies.  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. . . . what inhabits the prohibited margin of a particular explanation specifies its particular politics.”


Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Second edition. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2004)

M.A.R. Habib, Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2008)

Short fiction:

James, Henry. "In the Cage."

James, Henry. "The Jolly Corner."

Wharton, Edith. "Xingu."

Wharton, Edith. "The Other Two."

also see

James, Henry. "The Figure in the Carpet."

James, Henry. "The Lesson of the Master."

James, Henry. " The Real Thing"


1. Ten written Discussion Starters: a thesis/problem-driven, question-posing response (175-200 words) to some aspect of the texts and topics of study and 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. No late entries —Discussion Starters with corresponding texts/due dates noted on schedule below, are due in class (hard copy or copy you can access via laptop, etc.), with DS entries also posted on Blackboard before class (between 7:30pm the night before and no later than 8:30 a.m. the day class meets). Come to class prepared to share/exchange your DSs first in a small group, and then we’ll rotate responsibility for putting a spotlight on individual 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. Two concise Critical Analyses: These CAs will "occupy"—in a sense—two of the twelve DS due dates noted on the schedule below; CA#1 will be due between Sept. 8 and Oct. 6 (450-500 words, single-spaced, titled, posted online and with hard copy turned in during class on date that corresponds to the text or texts under discussion—for example, during the week of Sept. 27-29, a good portion of the class may decide to submit one of their ten DSs, while some students may choose to submit CA#1 instead); in like fashion, CA#2 is due between Oct. 11 and Nov. 15 (450-500 words). These assignments direct you to explore a significant issue and rhetorical/theoretical strategy/topic that you identify in the text or texts assigned for that day or week. A sharply focused explanation and analysis may contain the kernel of a hypothesis that could serve as the cornerstone or shaping idea for a longer essay, such as 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.

3. Theory Essay 1, that demonstrates your developing understanding of the significance and contours of explanation and argument and concepts of one or more of the texts under study up to the due date (1800 words for body of essay, approximately 6.5-8 pp., excluding Works Cited page, double-spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman, 1-inch margins, MLA format). What is the philosophical value/utility of the theory/concepts (perhaps in relation to some other or prior perspective, theory/concept). What argument and point of view (what is at stake) forms the theory and elicits or prompts your essay? What assumptions and practices get called into question by the theory/concept? In general terms for any critical essays, see these views and advice: Advice and Resources on Writing Critical Essays

4. Theory Essay 2: 3000+ words for body of essay (approximately 11+ 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, discussion, by recent scholarship, and by your perspectives. I shall attend to the ways that you select, define, and engage questions and contradictions, and 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 scholarship/history on the topic and text or question under analysis. 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 Critical Analyses) to form part of this essay; but you may not, for example, cobble together two or three assignments to form this larger assignment or draw substantially upon your text from Theory Essay 1. Theory Essay 2 must embody and represent additional work to a substantial degree. Please feel invited to confer with me during the writing process.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Attendance: If you have no absences by the semester's end (excused or not), you will receive four bonus points; with only one absence you will receive three bonus points. 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.

8. Grades: Critical Analysis #1 (30 pts); Critical Analysis #2 (30 pts); Theory Essay 1 (100 pts); Theory Essay 2 (130 pts). These required assignments add up to a maximum of 290 points. Thus 261-290 points equals an A, 232-260 equals a B, 203-231 equals a C, 174-202 equals a D, and anything below 174 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, incomplete or 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 70 points.

9. 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).

10. 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.

11. 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 on the class website to a useful guide to avoiding plagiarism, and a link to information on the university's policies regarding plagiarism.

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.

NOTE: as we proceed through the schedule, I intend to note in advance on days where multiple excerpts/texts are listed, which reading or readings we'll focus upon for discussion. The pace is challenging but steady and manageable. In addition to the DS due dates, each day/readings also constitute potential discussion threads on Blackboard.





Habib, Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History, Introduction (1-9); Notes&Queries

Habib, Ch. 1, The First Decades: From Liberal Humanism to Formalism (1-30); Literary Theory: An Anthology (LT) 1.1, Introduction (3-6): Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Formalisms (from Russian Formalism to New Criticism); Notes&Queries; see also (optional), Jonathan Culler, "The Literary in Theory" (2000, via pdf in course Blackboard site)


Habib, Ch. 2, Socially Conscious Criticism of the Earlier Twentieth Century (31-54); LT 7.1, Political Criticism: From Marxism to Cultural Materialism, Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, Starting With Zero (643); see also Herbert Scott's poem "The Grocer's Children" and Robert Flanagan, "Reply to an Eviction Notice" (via pdf on Blackboard)

LT 7.2-7.6: G. W. F. Hegel, Dialectics (647); Karl Marx, Grundrisse (650); Marx, The German Ideology (653); Marx, Wage Labor and Capital (659); Marx, Capital (665); see Sarah Cleghorn's poem, "The Golf Links"; DS DUE


Habib, Ch. 3, Criticism and Theory After the Second World War (55-76); LT 2.1-2.3 Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, The Implied Order: Structuralism (53); Jonathan Culler, The Linguistic Foundation (56); Ferdinand de Saussure, Course on General Linguistics (59); Flores/Notes on Saussure

Habib, Ch. 4, The Era of Poststructuralism (I): Later Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Deconstruction (77-112); LT 7.10 Louis Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (693); DS DUE


LT 5.1-5.6 Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, Strangers to Ourselves—Psychoanalysis (389); Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (397); Freud, On Narcissism (415); Freud, The Uncanny (418); Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (431); Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (438); also see Stephen Dunn's poem "On Hearing the Airlines Will Use A Psychological Profile to Catch Potential Skyjackers" (via Blackboard pdf)

LT 5.7-5.8 Jacques Lacan, The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of I (441); Lacan, The Insistence of the Letter in the Unconscious (447);see Donald Justice's poem, "The Missing Person" (via pdf on Blackboard); LT 7.12 Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (712); DS DUE


continue Lacan and Zizek if “needed”; LT 4.1-4.4 Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, Introductory Deconstruction (257); Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense (262); Nietzsche, The Will to Power (266); Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference (271); see John Berryman, "The Ball Poem"

LT 4.6-4.7 Jacques Derrida, Différance (278); Derrida, Of Grammatology (300);see Seamus Heaney's poem, "From the Frontier of Writing" (via pdf on Blackboard) ; DS DUE


Derrida, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (pdf ‘handout’ on Blackboard); LT 4.8-4.9 Derrida, Semiology and Grammatology (332); Barbara Johnson, Writing (340);see also excerpts from Niall Lucy, A Derrida Dictionary (on Blackboard) CHOICE: DS DUE TODAY OR ON THURSDAY

Habib, Ch. 5 The Era of Poststructuralism (II): Postmodernism, Modern Feminism, Gender Studies (113-145);see also these stories, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, "A New England Nun" (1891) and her "The Revolt of 'Mother'" (on Blackboard) ; DS DUE TODAY IF YOU DID NOT SUBMIT ONE ON TUES.


LT 8.1-8.2 Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, Feminist Paradigms (765); Gayle Rubin, The Traffic in Women (770); see also the short story, Doris Lessing, "A Woman on a Roof" (1963, on Blackboard); CHOICE: DS DUE TODAY OR ON THURSDAY

LT 8.3-8.4 Luce Irigaray, The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine (795); Irigaray, Women on the Market (799); DS DUE TODAY IF YOU DID NOT SUBMIT ONE ON TUES. (OR LAST CHANCE TO SUBMIT CA#1)


LT 9.1, 9.4-9.5 Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, Contingencies of Gender (885); Judith Butler, Performative Acts and Gender Constitution (900); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (912); DS DUE

LT 9.6-9.7 Michael Moon, A Small Boy and Others: Sexual Disorientation in Henry James, Keneth Anger, and David Lynch (922); Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity (935); see Bettie Sellers's poem, "In the Counselor's Waiting Room" (via pdf on Blackboard)


Habib Ch. 6 The Later Twentieth Century: New Historicism, Reader-Response Theory, and Postcolonial Criticism (146-171); Theory Essay 1 due

LT 6.1, 6.4 Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, Writing the Past (505); Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (549); see also Ursula Fanthorpe's poem "Knowing About Sonnets" (via pdf on Blackboard) DS DUE


Louis Montrose, “New Historicisms” (pdf ‘handout’); LT 7.14 Alan Sinfield, Cultural Materialism, Othello and the Politics of Plausibility (743)

LT 11.1, 11.4 Colonial, Post-Colonial, & Transnational Studies, Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, English Without Shadows, Literature on a World Scale (1071); Ania Loomba, Situating Colonial and Post-Colonial Studies (1100); DS DUE


Habib Ch. 7 Cultural Studies and Film Theory (172-203); CHOICE: DS DUE TODAY OR ON THURSDAY

LT 12.1, 12.6 Rivkin and Ryan, The Politics of Culture (1233); John Fiske, Culture, Ideology, Interpellation (1268); DS DUE TODAY IF YOU DID NOT SUBMIT ONE ON TUES.


LT 10.1, 10.7-10.8 Introduction: Rivkin and Ryan, Situating Race (959); Lisa Lowe, Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian-American Differences (1031); Robert Dale Parker, Tradition, Invention, and Aesthetics in Native American Literature (1051); DS DUE

LT 2.7-2.9 Roland Barthes, Mythologies (81); Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge (90); Seymour Chatman, The Structure of Narrative Transmission (97)


LT 11.11 Alan Lawson, The Anxious Proximities of Settler (Post)Colonial Relations (1210); Mary Ann Doane, "Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator" (also recommend: Constance Penley's "Feminism, Film Theory, and the Bachelor Machines" and Joan Copjec's "The Orthopsychic Subject: Film Theory and the Reception of Lacan"; CHOICE: DS DUE TODAY OR ON THURSDAY (OR LAST CHANCE TO SUBMIT CA#2)

Wharton, Edith. "Xingu."

Wharton, Edith. "The Other Two."



James, Henry. "In the Cage." and see these articles in folder on Blackboard: Hugh Stevens, "Queer Henry In the Cage"; John Carlos Rowe, "Working at Gender: In the Cage" (2000)

James, Henry. "The Jolly Corner."

Alison, Baker, "Loving Wanda Beaver" (1994); Cornelia Nixon, "The Women Come and Go" (1993); recommended: Judith Halberstam, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Men, Women, and Masculinity" (2002)


Denis Johnson, "Emergency" (1992); Joshua Ferris, "The Dinner Party" (2008); recommended: Rapaport's section (see Blackboard pdf) on Social Relations (Marx, Levinas, Nancy)

Millhauser, Steven. "In the Reign of Harad IV" (2006)


Theory Essay 2 due


Other short fiction we may dip into or you may peruse (available in course Blackboard):
Alison, Baker, "Loving Wanda Beaver" (1994)
John Clayton, "Talking to Charlie" (1994)
Bernard Cooper, Truth Serum" (1994)
Joshua Ferris, "The Dinner Party" (2008)
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, "A New England Nun" (1891)
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, "The Revolt of 'Mother'"
Denis Johnson, "Emergency" (1992)
Doris Lessing, "A Woman on a Roof" (1963)
Millhauser, Steven. "In the Reign of Harad IV" (2006)
Cornelia Nixon, "The Women Come and Go" (1993)
Padgett Powell "Trick Or Treat" (1993)
Edith Wharton, "The Other Two" (1904)
Edith Wharton, "Autres Temps . . . " (1916)

Additional essays and excerpts that extend range of assigned readings noted in schedule above include these pieces, available on course Blackboard site.

Barbara Herrnstein Smith, from Contingencies of Value (1988, "All value is radically contingent . . . .)

Martin Heidegger, "Language" (1950)

Michel Foucault, excerpts from Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison and The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1

Jacques Lacan, "The Signification of the Phallus" (1958)

Judith Halberstam, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Men, Women, and Masculinity"

Benedict Anderson, from Imagined Communities (1983, on the origins/causes of 'nationalism')

More to browse . . . .
Tompkins, Jane. "A Short Course in Post-Structuralism." College English 50.7 (1988): 733-47.

Derrida, Jacques. “Différance

[excerpt from "Différance"]: http://www.hydra.umn.edu/derrida/diff.html

Derrida, Jacques. "Signature Event Context"

Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulacra and Simulations"

All in One Summary/Overview of Perspectives in Critical Theory

And additional older links/summaries/resources, some of which I may get around to revising:

New Historicisms

What Is Deconstruction

What Is Psychoanalytic Criticism

What Is Feminist Criticism

What Is Marxist Criticism


Mary Klages on Humanism and Literary Theory

Mary Klages on Bahktin

Mary Klages on Claude Lévi-Strauss

Mary Klages on Poststructuralism/Derrida

Mary Klages on Homi Bhaba/Race and Postcolonialism

Mary Klages on Postmodernism (via Sarup)

Mary Klages on Postmodernism II (via Lyotard/Baudrillard)

Professor Lye's Advice on Analyzing Literature

Jack Lynch's site/theory sources