English 3900 Critical Approaches to Literature, Spring 2016

TR 2:00-3:15PM, Arts & Sciences 340B




Dr. Alex E. Blazer


Office Hours: MT 5:00-5:30PM and WR 1:00-1:50PM Arts & Sciences 330


Course Description


The undergraduate course catalog describes English 3900 as "A course studying a variety of critical approaches to selected literary texts. Required for graduation with literature concentration." In this course, we will survey most of the current theoretical approaches to literature: liberal humanism, New Criticism and Russian formalism; structuralism and semiotics; poststructuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism; psychoanalytic criticism; and Marxist criticism. We may cover feminist criticism, lesbian/gay criticism, New Historicism and cultural materialism, postcolonial criticism, stylistics, ecocriticism, existentialism and phenomenology, and reader-response criticism, and cognitive criticism, depending on student selection. For each theory, we will first gain a critical overview from Peter Barry's Beginning Theory. Next, we will read representative theoretical articles collected in Vincent Leitch's The Norton Anthology of Criticism and Theory. Finally, we will discuss representative works of criticism on various canonical literature and interpret Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead," and William Shakespeare's Hamlet through the lens of theory. Students will keep a critical reading journal applying the theories to a work of literature; and they will post both a theoretical article summary and a critical reading to the class discussion board and then informally present the responses to the class. The three exams will test students' understanding of the theory as well as their ability to apply the method in literary interpretation. Groups of 3-4 students will present a theory to the class.


This course's Academic Assessment page describes our topics:

as well as course outcomes:

Note that this course's prerequisite is English 2200 or permission of the department chair.


Course Materials


required (Amazon or GCSU Bookstore)

Barry, Beginning Theory

Leitch, The Norton Introduction to Theory and Criticism


course packet

Chopin, The Awakening

Shakespeare, Hamlet

recommended (Amazon or GCSU Bookstore)

Gibaldi, MLA Handbook, 7th ed.

Macey, The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory


Eagleton, Literary Theory


Assignments and Grade Distribution


article summary, 5%

You will summarize on GeorgiaVIEW and then informally present to the class one theoretical essay.

critical reading, 5%

You will read on GeorgiaVIEW and then informally present to the class your interpretation of a work of literature applying the ideas of one theoretical essay.

reading journal or blog, 10%

You will keep a reading journal or blog that interprets an outside work of literature from the range of positions held by the various theorists studied in class.

group presentation, 10%

Groups of 3-4 will formally present a critical theory to the class.

3 exams, 20%, 25%, and 25%

These three exams, the first in-class, second in-class and take-home, and third take-home, will test your knowledge of key concepts as well as your ability to apply critical approaches in interpretations of works of literature.


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 electronic course reserves. Check your university email for course-related messages. Use an online backup or cloud storage service such as Dropbox or Spideroak 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 fail the course. There will be a one letter final grade deduction for every unexcused absence beyond three. I suggest you use your three days both cautiously and wisely; and make sure you sign the attendance sheets. Habitual tardies, consistently leaving class early, texting, and surfing the internet 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 or an extracurricular activity 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 class attendance policy can be found here. You can check your attendance 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. 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. It is your responsibility to learn how to control your word-processing program. Before you turn in a formal paper, make sure your work follows MLA style by referring to the FAQ handout and using 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 a five days of its due date will result in failure of the course. Failing to submit a final exam or final paper within two days of its due date will 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 defines 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 will fail the assignment and the course. Here is how I have dealt with plagiarists in the past. 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.

Passing or Failing of the Course

There are three ways to fail the course: failing to regularly attend class, plagiarizing, failing an assignment that is worth 15% or more of the course grade, be it from poor quality, lateness of submission, or a combination of poor quality and lateness. By contrast, students who regularly attend class, complete their work with academic integrity, and submit assignments on time will pass the course.

The Writing Center

The Writing Center is a free service available to all members of the university community. Consultants assist writers in the writing process, from conception and organization of compositions to revision to documentation of research. Located in Library 228, the Center is open Monday through Friday. Call 445-3370 or email for more information.

Additional Policies

Additional statements regarding the Religious Observance Policy, Assistance for Student Needs Related to Disability, Student Rating of Instruction Survey, Academic Honesty, and Fire Drills can be found here.


Course Schedule

Week 1
T, 1-12

Interpretation Survey

Critical and Literary Theory

R, 1-14

Liberal Humanism, New Criticism, and Russian Formalism

Overview: Barry, "Introduction"

"Theory before 'Theory'—Liberal Humanism" (Barry 1-37)

Theory: Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"

"The Metaphysical Poets" (Leitch 951-68)

Recommended: Eagleton, "The Rise of English"

Week 2
T, 1-19

Theory: Ransom, "Criticism, Inc." (Leitch 969-82)

Theory: Brooks, "The Heresy of Paraphrase" (Leitch 1213-29)

Primary Text: Lowell, "For the Union Dead"

Reading Journal Selection Due

R, 1-21

Theory: Wimsatt and Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy"

"The Affective Fallacy" (Leitch 1230-61)

Theory: Eichenbaum, from The Theory of the "Formal Method" (Leitch 921-51)

Criticism: In Class Activity: Lowell and New Criticism

Week 3
T, 1-26


Overview: Barry, "Structuralism" (Barry 38-58)

Overview: Barry, "Narratology" (Barry 214-238)

Theory: Saussure, from Course in General Linguistics (Leitch 845-66)

Recommended: Eagleton, "Structuralism and Semiotics"

R, 1-28

Theory: Jakobson, "Linguistics and Poetics"

from "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances" (Leitch 1141-56)

Theory: Frye, "The Archetypes of Literature" (Leitch 1301-15)

Primary Text: Chopin, The Awakening

Reading Journal Entries 1-2 Due

Week 4
T, 2-2

Theory: Todorov, "Structural Analysis of Narrative" (Leitch 2021-30)

Theory: Barthes, from Mythologies

"The Death of the Author" (Leitch 1316-31)

Exam Review

R, 2-4

Criticism: In Class Activity: Reviewing the Theories

Primary Text: Shakespeare, Hamlet

Week 5
T, 2-9

Exam 1

R, 2-11

Poststructuralism, Deconstruction, and Postmodernism

Overview: Barry, "Post-structuralism and Deconstruction" (Barry 59-77)

Overview: Barry, "Postmodernism" (Barry 78-91)

Overview: Murfin, "What Is Deconstruction?"

Theory: Barthes, "From Work to Text" (Leitch 1316-31)

Recommended: Eagleton, "Post-Structuralism"

Week 6

T, 2-16

Theory: Foucault, "What Is an Author?"

from Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

from The History of Sexuality (Leitch 1469-1521)

Criticism: Yaeger, "'A Language Which Nobody Understood': Emancipatory Strategies in The Awakening"

R, 2-18

Derrida, from Of Grammatology

Theory: Derrida, from Of Grammatology

from Dissemination

from Specters of Marx (Leitch 1680-1744)

Criticism: Garber, "Hamlet: Giving Up the Ghost"

Reading Journal Entries 3-4 Due

Week 7

T, 2-23

Theory: de Man, "Semiology and Rhetoric" (Leitch 1361-78)

R, 2-25

Theory: Austin, "Performative Utterances" (Leitch 1286-1301)

Theory: Butler, from Gender Trouble (Leitch 2536-53)

Week 8
T, 3-1

Theory: Baudrillard, from "The Precession of Simulacra" (Leitch 1553-66)

Theory: Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa" (Leitch 1938-59)

Criticism: Pontuale, "The Awakening: Struggles toward l'écriture féminine"

R, 3-3

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Overview: Barry, "Psychoanalytic Criticism" (Barry 92-115)

Overview: Murfin, "What Is Psychoanalytic Criticism?"

Theory: Freud, from The Interpretation of Dreams

from "The Uncanny"

"Fetishism" (Leitch 807-45)

Recommended: Eagleton, "Psychoanalysis"

Group Presentation Sign Up

Week 9
T, 3-8

Theory: Bloom, from The Anxiety of Influence (Leitch 1648-59)

Theory: Lacan, "The Mirror Stage"

"The Signification of the Phallus" (Leitch 1159-69, 1181-9)

Criticism: McGowan, "The Awakening of Desire, or, Why Edna Pontellier Isn't a Man"

R, 3-10

Theory: Kristeva, from Revolution in Poetic Language (Leitch 2067-81)

Theory: Deleuze and Guattari, from A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Leitch 1454-62)

Criticism: Adelman, "'Man and Wife Is One Flesh': Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body"

Reading Journal Entries 5-7 Due

Group Presentation Topic Due

Week 10
T, 3-15

Theory: Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (Leitch 2081-95)

Theory: Žižek, "Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing" (Leitch 2402-27)

MLA Style

Exam 2 Prompt

R, 3-17

Marxist Criticism

Overview: Barry, "Marxist Criticism" (Barry 150-165)

Overview: Murfin, "What Is Marxist Criticism?"

Theory: Marx and Engels, "The Communist Manifesto"

Recommended: Eagleton, "Categories for a Materialist Criticism" and "Towards a Science of the Text"

Week 11
T, 3-22

No Class: Spring Break

R, 3-24

No Class: Spring Break

Week 12
T, 3-29

Theory: Trotsky, from Literature and Revolution (Leitch 877-92)

Theory: Lukács, from The Historical Novel (Leitch 905-21)

Criticism: Rowe, "The Economics of the Body in Kate Chopin's The Awakening"

Exam 2 Due

R, 3-31

Theory: Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility" (Leitch 1046-71)

Theory: Horkheimer and Adorno, from "The Culture Industry" (Leitch 1107-27)

Week 13
T, 4-5

Theory: Althusser, from "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (Leitch 1332-61)

Theory: Jameson, "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" (Leitch 1846-60)

Criticism: Bristol, "'Funeral Bak'd-Meats': Carnival and the Carnivalesque in Hamlet"

R, 4-7

No Class: Professor at Conference

Week 14
T, 4-12

No Class: Campus Closed Due to Water Main Break

R, 4-14

Group Presentation 1: Reader-Response Criticism

Overview: Tyson, "Reader-Response Criticism"

Theory: Jauss, from "Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory" (Leitch 1403-20)

Theory: Fish, "Interpreting the Variorum" (Leitch 1970-92)

Week 15
T, 4-19

Group Presentation 2: Postcolonial Criticism

Overview: Barry, "Postcolonial Criticism" (Barry 185-95)

Theory: Anderson, from Imagined Communities (Leitch 1913-23)

Theory: Anzaldúa, from Borderlands/a Forntera: The New Mestiza (Leitch 2095-109)

R, 4-21

Theory: Fanon, from The Wretched of the Earth (Leitch 1437-46)

Theory: Wă Thiong’o, Liyong, and Owuor-Anyumba, "On the Abolition of the English Department" (Leitch 1992-2000)

Exam 3 Interpretation Topic Due

Reading Journal Entries 8-11 Due

Week 16
T, 4-26

Group Presentation 3: Feminism and Gender Studies

Overview: Barry, "Feminist Criticism" (Barry 116-33)

Overview: Barry, "Lesbian/Gay Criticism" (Barry 134-49)

Theory: Gilbert and Gubar, from The Madwoman in the Attic (Leitch 1923-38)

Theory: Rubin, from "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality" (Leitch 2373-2402)

Theory: Wittig, "One Is Not Born a Woman" (Leitch 1904-13)

R, 4-28

Theory: Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s" (Leitch 2190-220)

Overview: Barry, "Literary Theory—A History in Ten Events" (Barry 262-86)

Overview: Barry, "Theory after 'Theory'" (Barry 287-317)

W, 5-4

Exam 3 Due