English 3900 Critical Approaches to Literature, Spring 2012

Section 01 (CRN 20220): TR 2:00-3:15PM, Arts & Sciences 243

Interpretation Survey

Spend a few moments writing all the questions you ask of every work of literature you read. We'll post your questions here, and throughout the semester we'll compare them to the questions the theorists we're reading would ask.

Now, let's develop questions the theorists would ask of any work of literature.

In Class Activities

1. New Criticism and Russian Formalism

In order to help us learn each others' names, cover the remaining objective critics, and practice a miniature close reading, today we're going to divide into groups of three or four and explain two key passages from a theoretical work and interpret two sections from Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric." How does the theorist say we should critically approach any work of literature? What images, symbols, connations, tensions, ambiguities, ironies, paradoxes, and tensions are evident in the primary text itself, and what is the unified, universal theme of the work?

  1. Group 1
    • Cleanth Brooks, "The Heresy of Paraphrase" (Leitch 1213-29)
      • The structure meant is a structure of meanings, evaluations, and interpretation; and the principle of unity which informs it seems to be one of balancing and harmonizing connotations, attitudes, and meanings. . . . It united the like with the unlike. . . . It is a positive unity, not a negative; it represents not a residue but an achieve harmony. (1218-9)
      • The truth of the matter is that all such formulations lead away from the center of the poem─not toward it; that the "prose-sense" of the poem is not a rack on which the stuff of the poem is hung; that it does not represent the "inner" structure or the essential" structure or the "real" structure of the poem. We may use─and in many connections must use─such formulations as more or less convenient ways of referring to parts of the poem. But such formulations are scaffoldings which we may properly for certain purposes throw about the building: we must not mistake them for the internal and essential structure of the building itself. (1221)
    • Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric" (online)
      • Parts 1-2
  2. Group 2
    • William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy" (Leitch 1230-46)
      • There is a difference between internal and external evidence for the meaning of a poem. And the paradox is only verbal and superficial that what is (1) internal is also public: it is discovered through the semantics and syntax of a poem, . . . while what is (2) external is private or idiosyncratic; not a part of the work as a linguistic fact. . . . There is (3) an intermediate kind of evidence about the character of the author or about private or semi-private meanings attached to words or topics by an author by a coterie of which he is a member. (1239)
      • Critical inquiries are not settled by consulting the oracle. (1246)
    • Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric" (online)
      • Parts 3-4
  3. Group 3
    • William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley, "The Affective Fallacy" (Leitch 1246-61)
      • The Intentional Fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its origins, a special case of what is known to philosophers as the Genetic Fallacy. It begins by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the psychological causes of the poem and ends in biography and relativism. The Affective Fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its results (what it is and what it does), a special case of epistemological skepticism, though usually advanced as if it had far stronger claims than the overall forms of skepticism. It begins by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the psychological effects of the poem and ends in impressionism and relativism. The outcome of either Fallacy, the Intentional or the Affective, is that the poem itself, as an object of specifically critical judgment, tends to disappear. (1246)
      • In short, though cultures have changed and will change, poems remain and explain; and there is no legitimate reason why criticism, losing sight of its durable and peculiar objects, poems themselves, should become a dependent of social history or of anthropology. (1261)
    • Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric" (online)
      • Parts 5-6
  4. Group 4
    • Boris Eichenbaum, from The Theory of the "Formal Method" (Leitch 921-51)
      • Before the appearance of the Formalists, academic re-search, quite ignorant of theoretical problems, made use of antiquated aesthetic, psychological, and historical "axioms" and had so lost sight of its proper subject that its very existence as a science had become illusory. (927)
      • I shall indicate briefly the evolution of the formal method during these ten years:
            1. From the original outline of the conflict of poetic language with practical we proceeded to differentiate the idea of practical language by its various functions (Jakubinsky) and to delimit the methods of poetic and emotional languages (Jakobson). Along with this we became interested in studying oratorical speech because it was close to practical speech but distinguished from it by function, and we spoke about the necessity of a revival of the poetic of rhetoric.
            2. From the general idea of form, in its new sense, we proceeded to the idea of technique, and from here, to the idea of function.
            3. From the idea of poetic rhythm as opposed to meter we proceeded to the idea of rhythm as a constructive element in the total poem and thus to an understanding of verse as a special form of speech having special linguistic (syntactical, lexical, and semantic) features.
            4. From the idea of plot as structure we proceeded to an understanding of material in terms of its motivation, and from here to an understanding of material as an element participating in the construction but subordinate to the character of the dominant formal idea.
            5. From the ascertainment of a single device applicable to various materials we proceeded to differentiate techniques according to function and from here to the question of the evolution of form—that is, to the problem of historical-literary study. (950)

    • Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric" (online)
      • Parts 7-8

2. The Questions New Critics and Russian Formalists Pose

Divide into five groups and extrapolate from each article the one question that the theorist would pose to a work of literature. After groups have defined the questions, as a class we will pose them (along with Tyson's overall New Criticism question) to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.

  1. T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"
    • "The Metaphysical Poets"
  2. John Crowe Ransom, "Criticism, Inc."
  3. Cleanth Brooks, "The Heresy of Paraphrase"
  4. William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe C. Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy"
    • "The Affective Fallacy"
  5. Boris Eichenbaum, from The Theory of the "Formal Method"

3. Formalist and Structuralist Readings of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Today we're going to briefly break up into groups to compare and contrast how a New Critic would interpret Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights with how a structuralist (genre critic or narratologist) would.

Article Summary and Critical Reading

GeorgiaVIEW Post

During the semester you will write two informal papers, an article summary and a critical reading, and post them to our course discussion board at GeorgiaVIEW > Discussions > Article Summaries and Critical Readings.


The article summary, which will summarize a particular theorist's essay, should

The critical reading, which will interpret a work of literature, should

Informal Presentation

You will also be responsible for a brief, informal presentation. The article summary presentation should introduce the essay by defining key points and terms (without simply reading your written summary) and broaching issues for class discussion. The critical reading presentation should poses the theorist's questions and interpret the work in response to those questions (without simply reading your written response).

Due Dates

  1. Your written assignment will be due in GeorgiaVIEW > Discussions > Article Summaries and Critical Readings three days before we are scheduled to discuss an article. If you do not submit your written summary to GeorgiaVIEW before the article is discussed in class, you will fail the assignment.
  2. Your brief, informal presentation will be due on the day we discuss the essay in class. This date is approximate for we will sometimes fall a day behind.
  3. I will return your graded assignment to you in GeorgiaVIEW > Assignments > Article Summary or Critical Reading approximately one week after we discuss the article in class.
  4. For example, we are scheduled to discuss Frye on Tuesday, 1-31. Therefore, someone's summary will be due in GeorgiaVIEW by Saturday, 1-28. In class on Tuesday, 1-31, that student will informally present the main ideas of Frye's essay. I will return the graded article summary to her the following week in GeorgiaVIEW >Assignments > Article Summary.

Note: As I wrote on the syllabus course schedule, we may have to slow down for certain theorists and theories. We will not be able to discuss each and every article in class. Thus, some articles may only be summarized on GeorgiaVIEW's Article Summaries discussion board and presented to the class by the person assigned to the article. Therefore, it is extremely important for each person to turn in the summaries on time and attend class for the presentation component. Summaries will be penalized one letter grade for each day, not class period, that they are turned in late. Failing to present the article to the class without providing a valid absence excuse will result in a one letter grade penalty.


AS stands for Article Summary and CR stands for Critical Reading


GAV Due Date Presentation Due Date Reading Student
S, 1-28
T, 1-31

Jakobson, "Linguistics and Poetics" and/or from "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances"



Frye, "The Archetypes of Literature"

2/AS Hannah Malte

2/CR Stephen Hundley

M, 1-30
R, 2-2

Todorov, "Structural Analysis of Narrative"



Barthes, "The Death of the Author"

4/AS Emily Mixon

4/CR Lexi Kraft

S, 2-11
T, 2-14

Foucault, "What Is an Author?"

5/AS Charles Morris III

5/CR Hannah Malte

M, 2-13
R, 2-16

Derrida, from Of Grammatology or from Dissemination


6/CR Chelsea Werner

S, 2-18
T, 2-21

de Man, "Semiology and Rhetoric"

7/AS Katie Nix

7/CR Charles Morris III

S, 2-25
T, 2-28

Butler, from Gender Trouble

8/AS Lucy Bartholomew

8/CR Logan Herren

M, 2-27
R, 3-1

Baudrillard, from "The Precession of Simulacra"

9/AS Kaitlin Alvin

9/CR Katie Nix

M, 3-5
R, 3-8

Lacan, "The Mirror Stage" or "The Signification of the Phallus"

10/AS Stephen Hundley


S, 3-10
T, 3-13

Kristeva, from Revolution in Poetic Language

11/AS Logan Herren

11/CR Emily Mixon

Deleuze and Guattari, from A Thousand Plateaus

12/AS Grace Allen

12/CR Kaitlin Alvin

M, 3-12
R, 3-15

Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"

13/AS Savannah Clark

13/CR Garrett Korn

M, 3-19
R, 3-22

Trotsky, from Literature and Revolution

14/AS Garrett Korn

14/CR Savannah Clark

Lukács, from The Historical Novel

15/AS Rachel Foss

15/CR Grace Allen

S, 3-31
T, 4-3

Horkheimer and Adorno, from "The Culture Industry"


16/CR Rachel Foss

M, 4-2
R, 4-5

Althusser, from "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"

17/AS Chelsea Werner

17/CR Lucy Bartholomew

S, 4-7
T, 4-10

Hall, "Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies"

18/AS Lexi Kraft


Group Presentation

In the formal presentation, four groups of three-four students will collaborate to teach four of the following eight critical approaches to the class:


cognitive criticism

existentialism and phenomenology

reader-response criticism

feminism and gender studies

queer theory

African American criticism

postcolonial criticism



One week before the presentation, the group should inform the class of what 1 overview article (if not in Robert Dale Parker's How to Interpret Literature) and 1-2 theoretical articles it will teach as well as provide the professor with clean copies of the articles (if not in Leitch's Norton Anthology).


During the 30-40 minute presentation followed by 10 minute question and answer session, the group should

I expect each group member to respect the group, communicate with the group, attend group meetings, and do her fair share of the work. If there is a major problem that the group cannot manage, let me know (anonymously if warranted).


Sign Up


Date Theory Students
T, 4-17

Queer Theory

Grace Allen

Rachel Foss

Hannah Malte

R, 4-19

Feminism and Gender Studies

Savannah Clark

Logan Herren

Charles Morris III

Katie Nix

T, 4-24

Postcolonial Criticism

Lucy Bartholomew

Stephen Hundley

Emily Mixon

R, 4-26

Reader-Response Criticism

Kaitlin Alvin

Garrett Korn

Lexi Kraft

Chelsea Werner

Exam 1

Exam 1 will cover New Criticism and structuralism and will be taken in class on Tuesday, February 7. There will be two essay questions. In the first essay, you will be asked to compare and contrast the New Criticism and structuralist methodologies. The second essay question will ask you to demonstrate and practice the New Criticism and structuralist critical approaches to literature on your choice of one text from the following, available in GeorgiaVIEW: Ai's "Fairy Tale," Anne Sexton's "Red Riding Hood," or Angela Carter's "The Company of Wolves." You may bring printouts of the literature to the exam; but you may not use your textbooks.


Your theory essay will be graded on 1) your ability to balance a broad understanding of the general theory with a healthy amount of specific terms from particular theorists as well as on 2) your ability to assess similarities and differences between the two general theories.


Your application essay grade will be based on how you interpret the text; in other words, illustrate your understanding of the critical methodologies by making apparent the questions a New Critic and structuralist ask of a text.


If I were to study for this exam, I would 1) create an outline of key terms and compose their definitions, 2) write practice essays comparing and contrasting New Criticism and structuralism using those keys terms, and 3) write practice essays interpreting the one literary work from New Critic and structuralist perspectives using those key terms.


Note: It is impossible to illustrate your knowledge of all of these terms in a 75 minute exam. Prioritize the ones that are fundamental for an understanding of the general theory and distinguish particular theorists within that theory.

Exam 2

Exam 3

Student Work of Literature Theorists

Grace Allen

My Little Pony

Foucault, Butler

Kaitlin Alvin

Dance Moms (2011-present)

Lacan, Gilbert & Gubar, Kristeva (?)

Lucy Bartholomew

Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Butler, Marx

Savannah Clark

Hemingway, "Hills like White Elephants"

Marx, Brooks, Ransom

Rachel Foss

Sherlock (2010-present)

Rich, Lacan

Logan Herren

Collins, The Hunger Games

Kristeva, Gilbert & Gubar

Stephen Hundley

Wolfe, The Colored Museum


Garrett Korn

Mad Men (2007-present)


Lexi Kraft

O'Connor, "Artificial Nigger"

Fish, Hall

Hannah Malte

Mishima, Confessions of a Mask

Butler, Rich

Emily Mixon

Atwood, I'm Starved for You

Baudrillard, Beauvoir

Charles Morris

Goodkind, The Sword of Truth

Freud, Iser

Katie Nix

Dexter (2006-present)

Freud, Lacan

Chelsea Werner

Palahniuk, Fight Club