English 3900 Critical Theory, Fall 2022

TR 2:00-3:15 p.m., Atkinson Hall 107




Dr. Alex E. Blazer


Office Hours: TR 10:15-10:45 a.m. and 3:30-4:45 p.m. by appointment


Course Description


The undergraduate course catalog describes English 3900 as "A course surveying a variety of critical approaches to selected literary, film, and new media texts." In this course, we will survey many of the current theoretical approaches to literature: formalism, structuralism, psychoanalytic criticism, phenomenology, post-structuralism, psychoanalytic criticism, Marxist criticism, historical studies; gender studies, ethinic studies, postcolonial criticism, cognitive criticism, and ecocriticism. For each theory, we will first gain a critical overview from Michael Ryan's Literary Theory: A Practical Introduction. Next, we will read representative theoretical articles collected in Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan's Literary Theory: An Anthology. Finally, we will practice using critical theory with selected texts: a poem, a novel, a play, a film, a television show, and a graphic novel. Students will summarize a theoretical article and apply a theoretical article. The three essay exams will test students' understanding of the theory as well as their ability to apply the method in literary and filmic interpretation. Student groups will present a theory to the class.


This course's Academic Assessment page describes our topics:

as well as course outcomes:

The skills you will practice include:

Employers want and need graduates who can write and communicate well . . . who can analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information . . . who have organizational, time management, and teamwork skills . . . who appreciate diverse viewpoints. The courses and programs in the Department of English, which is the cornerstone of a liberal arts education, will help you practice these skills and become a lifelong learner.


This course is required for both the Literature Concentration and the Film, Media, and Culture Concentration. This course's prerequisite is English 2200 or permission of the department chair.


Course Materials


required (Amazon or University Bookstore)

Rivkin and Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology, 3rd ed.

Ryan, Literary Theory: A Practical Introduction, 3rd ed.


course packet

Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Chase, The Sopranos, season 1, episodes 1 and 2

Curtiz, Casablanca

Lori-Parks, In the Blood

Moore and Lloyd, V for Vendetta

Rich, "Diving into the Wreck"


MLA Handbook, 9th ed. (Amazon)


Assignments and Grade Distribution


article summary, 5%

You will summarize one theoretical essay and share your informal summary with the class.

article application, 5%

You will apply one theoretical essay to the reading of a text and then share your informal application with the class.

group presentation, 5%

You will work with a group to formally present a critical theory to the class.

3 exams, 25%, 30%, and 30%

These three exams (exam 1, exam 2, and exam 3) will test your knowledge of key concepts of critical theory as well as your ability to apply critical approaches in interpretations of texts. Here's how to calculate your final grade.


Course Policies



We will use the course site for the syllabus schedule and assignment prompts; supporting documents include an attendance record, a course grade calculation spreadsheet, FAQ, a GeorgiaVIEW walkthrough, a guide to literary analysis, a research methods guide, and paper templates. We will use GeorgiaVIEW for assignment submission and the course packet; if you experience technical issues with GeorgiaVIEW, contact the Center for Teaching and Learning at or 478.445.2520. Check your university email for course-related messages. Use an online backup or cloud storage service to not only save but also archive versions of your work in case of personal computer calamities.


Because this liberal arts course values contemporaneous discussion over fixed lecture, regular attendance is required. Any student who misses seven or more classes for any reason (excused or unexcused) will be dropped from the course and fail. There will be a one letter final grade deduction for every unexcused absence beyond three. I suggest you use your three skip days both cautiously and wisely; and make sure you sign the attendance sheets. Habitual tardies, consistently leaving class early, texting, and web surfing will be treated as absences. Unexcused absences include work, family obligations, and scheduled doctor's appointments. Excused absences include family emergency, medical emergency, religious observance, and participation in a college-sponsored activity. If you have a medical condition, extracurricular activity, or job that you anticipate will cause you to miss more than four days of class, I suggest you drop this section or risk failure. The university absence policy can be found here. You can check your class attendance record here.

MLA Style and Length Requirements

Part of writing in a discipline is adhering to the field's style guide. While other disciplines use APA or Chicago style, literature and composition follows MLA style. Assignments such as in-class exams, discussion board responses, informal/journal writing, and peer review may be informally formatted; however, formal assignments and take-home exams must employ MLA style. One-third of a letter grade will be deducted from a formal paper or take-home exam for problems in each of the following three categories, for a possible one letter grade deduction total: 1) margins, header, and heading, 2) font, font size, and line-spacing, and 3) quotation and citation format. A formal paper or take-home exam will be penalized one-third of a letter grade if it does not end at least halfway down on the minimum page length (not including Works Cited page) while implementing 12 pt Times New Roman font, double-spacing, and 1" margins. Each additional page short of the minimum requirement will result in an a additional one-third letter grade penalty. Before you turn in a formal paper, make sure your work follows MLA style by referring to the MLA style checklist. Feel free to use these templates that are preformatted to MLA style.

Late Assignments

We're all busy with multiple classes and commitments, and adhering to deadlines is critical for the smooth running of the course. There will be a one letter assignment grade deduction per day (not class period) for any assignment that is turned in late. I give short extensions if you request one for a valid need at least one day before the assignment is due. I will inform you via email if I cannot open an electronically submitted assignment; however, your assignment will be considered late until you submit it in a file I can open. Because your completion of this course's major learning outcomes depends on the completion of pertinent assignments, failing to submit an assignment that is worth 15% or more of the course grade within five days of its due date may result in failure of the course. Failing to submit a final exam or final paper within two days of its due date may result in failure of the course.

Academic Honesty

The integrity of students and their written and oral work is a critical component of the academic process. The Honor Code defines plagiarism as "presenting as one's own work the words or ideas of an author or fellow student. Students should document quotes through quotation marks and footnotes or other accepted citation methods. Ignorance of these rules concerning plagiarism is not an excuse. When in doubt, students should seek clarification from the professor who made the assignment." The Undergraduate Catalog and Graduate Catalog define academic dishonesty as "Plagiarizing, including the submission of others’ ideas or papers (whether purchased, borrowed, or otherwise obtained) as one’s own. When direct quotations are used in themes, essays, term papers, tests, book reviews, and other similar work, they must be indicated; and when the ideas of another are incorporated in any paper, they must be acknowledged, according to a style of documentation appropriate to the discipline" and "Submitting, if contrary to the rules of a course, work previously presented in another course," among other false representations. As plagiarism is not tolerated at GCSU, "since the primary goal of education is to increase one's own knowledge," any student found guilty of substantial, willful plagiarism or dishonesty may fail the assignment and the course. This course uses plagiarism prevention technology from TurnItIn. The papers may be retained by the service for the sole purpose of checking for plagiarized content in future student submissions.

Writing Center

Writing consultants will work with any student writer working on any project in any discipline. To learn more about Writing Center locations, hours, scheduling, and services, please visit Send questions to

Required Syllabus Statements

Additional statements regarding the Religious Observance Policy, Assistance for Student Needs Related to Disability, Student Rating of Instruction Survey, Academic Honesty, Student Use of Copyrighted Materials, Electronic Recording Policy, Academic Grievance or Appeals, and Fire Drills can be found here.

COVID-19 Statement

Both the WHO and CDC recommend vaccinations (WHO, Advice for the public and CDC, Operational Guidance, updated August 11, 2022). Both the WHO and CDC recommend wearing masks in public in areas of community transmission (WHO, Advice for the public; WHO, Q&A; and CDC, Operational Guidance, updated August 11, 2022). The CDC COVID Data Tracker assesses community transmission. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, stay home and contact Student Health Services. If you test positive for COVID-19, stay home and contact Student Health Services. GCSU has a decision path for students. Do not attend class while symptomatic or testing positive. During isolation, retrieve class notes from a classmate and consult with me about make up work. Absences due to isolation will be considered excused if appropriate documentation from Student Health Services or Academic Advising is provided. If you continue to test positive after the date the university gave you for an excused absence, your positive test counts as an excused absence. However, any absence beyond seven class periods, regardless of excuse, will be considered excessive and result in the student being dropped from the course and failing.


Course Schedule

Week 1

T, 8-16

Interpretation Survey

Critical Theory

Syllabus Questions

R, 8-18

Formalism: Liberal Humanism, Russian Formalism, New Criticism

Ryan, "Literary Theory: A Primer" (LTAPI 1-19) (GeorgiaVIEW)

Ryan, "Russian Formalism, New Criticism, Poetics" (LTAPI 20-47) (GeorgiaVIEW)

Shklovsky, "Art as Technique" (LTAA 8-14) (GeorgiaVIEW)

Week 2

T, 8-23

Brooks, "The Formalist Critics" (LTAA 15-20)

Wimsatt and Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy" (LTAA 29-41)

R, 8-25

O' Sullivan, "Broken on Purpose: Poetry, Serial Television, and the Season" (LTAA 42-54)

Rapaport, "Tools for Reading Poetry" (LTAA 55-79)

Week 3

T, 8-30

Structuralism: Semiotics, Genre Criticism, Narratology, Interpretive Conventions

Ryan, "Structuralism, Linguistics, Narratology" (LTAPI 48-68)

de Saussure, from Course in General Linguistics (LTAA 137-77)

R, 9-1

Lévi-Strauss, "The Structural Study of Myth" (LTAA 178-95)

Barthes, from Mythologies (LTAA 196-204)

Foucault, "What Is an Author?" (LTAA 217-29)

Week 4

T, 9-6

Herman, "Scripts, Sequences, and Stories: Elements of a Postclassical Narratology" (LTAA 230-47)

Newman, "From Beats to Arcs: Towards a Poetics of Television Narrative" (LTAA 248-69)

R, 9-8

Existential Humanism: Existentialism & Phenomenology, Reception Theory & Reader Response Criticism, Ethics

Ryan, "Phenomenology, Reception, Ethics" (LTAPI 69-80)

Kant, "Transcendental Aesthetic" (LTAA 299-304)

Week 5

T, 9-13

Poulet, "The Phenomenology of Reading" (LTAA 305-17)

McCormick, "Teaching, Studying, and Theorizing the Production and Reception of Literary Texts" (LTAA 318-30)

Bourdieu, "Distinction" (LTAA 331-47)

R, 9-15

Levinas, "Ethics and the Face" (LTAA 348-65)

Nussbaum, "Cultivating Humanity: The Narrative Imagination" (LTAA 382-401)

Week 6

T, 9-20

Exam 1

R, 9-22

Poststructuralism: Deconstruction & Postmodernism

Ryan, "Post-Structuralism" (LTAPI 80-112)

Nietzsche, The Will to Power (LTAA 466-70)

Deleuze, "What Is Becoming?" (LTAA 471-3)

Week 7

T, 9-27

Derrida, "Différance" (LTAA 474-95)

Derrida, "That Dangerous Supplement" (LTAA 496-517)

Recommended: Murfin, "What Is Deconstruction?" (GeorgiaVIEW)

Recommended: Tyson, "Deconstruction" (GeorgiaVIEW)

Recommended: Derrida

R, 9-29

Barthes, "The Death of the Author" (LTAA 518-21)

Barthes, "From Work to Text" (LTAA 522-27)

Johnson, "Writing" (LTAA 528-35)

Week 8

T, 10-4

Ryan, "Psychoanalysis and Psychology" (LTAPI 113-33)

Freud, from The Interpretation of Dreams (LTAA 575-91)

Freud, "The Uncanny" (LTAA 592-614)

Freud, "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego" (LTAA 615-7)

R, 10-6

Bloom, from The Anxiety of Influence (GeorgiaVIEW)

Lacan, "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience" (LTAA 618-23)

Week 9

T, 10-11

No Class: Fall Break

R, 10-13

Winnicott, "Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena" (LTAA 624-35)

Hinrichsen, "Trauma Studies and the Literature of the US South" (LTAA 636-49)

Week 10

T, 10-18

Ryan, "Marxism and Critical Theory" (LTAPI 134-52)

Ryan, "History" (LTAPI 153-71)

Marx, from The Philosophic and Economic Manuscripts of 1844 (LTAA 717-29)

Marx, from The German Ideology (LTAA 730-5)

R, 10-20

Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (LTAA 736-44)

Bourdieu, "Structures and the Habitus" (LTAA 745-67)

Week 11

T, 10-25

Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (LTAA 768-77)

Foucault, "Right of Death and Power over Life" (LTAA 778-91)

R, 10-27

Agamben, "Homo Sacer" (LTAA 792-808)

Montrose, "New Historicisms" (LTAA 809-31)

Week 12

T, 11-1

Exam 2 Due

Ryan, "Gender Studies" (LTAPI 172-97)

R, 11-3

Rubin, "The Traffic in Women" (LTAA 901-24)

Rich, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience" (LTAA 925-39)

Week 13

T, 11-8

Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa" (LTAA 940-54)

Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" (LTAA 955-62)

R, 11-10

Grewal and Kaplan, "Global Identities: Theorizing Transnational Studies of Sexuality" (LTAA 963-75)

Mohanty, "Women Workers and Capitalist Scripts" (LTAA 976-99)

Puar, "'I Would Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess': Becoming Intersectional in Assemblage Theory" (LTAA 1000-13)

Week 14

T, 11-15

Sedgwick, "Epistemology of the Closet" (LTAA 1014-33)

Berlant and Warner, "Sex in Public" (LTAA 1034-53)

Muñoz, "Cruising Utopia: 'Introduction' and 'Queerness as Horizon: Utopian Hermeneutics in the Face of Gay Pragmatism'" (LTAA 1054-65)

R, 11-17

Group Presentation 1

Ryan, "Ethnic Studies" (LTAPI 198-214)

TBA Ethnic Studies Overview

TBA Theoretical Article

Week 15

T, 11-22

Group Presentation 2

Ryan, "Indigenous, Postcolonial, and Transnational Studies" (LTAPI 215-35)

TBA Postcolonial Overview

TBA Theoretical Article

R, 11-24

No Class: Thanksgiving Holidays

Week 16

T, 11-29

Group Presentation 3

Ryan, "Cognition, Emotion, Evolution, Science" (LTAPI 236-49)

TBA Cognitive Criticism Overview

TBA Theoretical Article

R, 12-1

Group Presentation 4

Ryan, "Animals, Humans, Places, Things" (LTAPI 250-67)

TBA Ecocriticism Article

TBA Theoretical Article


R, 12-8

Exam 3 Due