English 3900: Critical Approaches to Literature, Fall 2018

TR 2:00-3:15 p.m., Arts & Sciences 340A




Dr. Alex E. Blazer


Office Hours: TR 11:00-12:15 p.m. and 3:30-4:45 p.m., Arts & Sciences 303 (appointment preferred)


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 many of the current theoretical approaches to literature: New Criticism and Russian formalism; psychoanalytic criticism; Marxist criticism; feminist criticism and gender studies; lesbian/gay criticism and queer theory; and postcolonial criticism. We may cover structuralism and semiotics; poststructuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism; African American criticism; ecocriticism, existentialism and phenomenology, reader-response criticism, and cognitive criticism, depending on student selection. For each theory, we will first gain a critical overview from Lois Tyson's Critical Theory Today. Next, we will read representative theoretical articles collected in Vincent B. Leitch's The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. Finally, we will practice using literary theory with the aid of Lois Tyson's Using Critical Theory. Students will summarize a theoretical article, apply a theoretical article, and practice interpretation. The three essay exams will test students' understanding of the theory as well as their ability to apply the method in literary 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 part of the Literature Concentration's sequence of courses 2200/3900/4900 (Writing about Literature/Critical Approaches to Literature/Seminar on Literature). This course's prerequisite is English 2200 or permission of the department chair.


Course Materials



Leitch, The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, 2nd ed. (Amazon or B&N)

Tyson, Critical Theory Today, 3rd ed. (Amazon or B&N)

Tyson, Using Critical Theory, 2nd ed. (Amazon or B&N)


course packet (GeorgiaVIEW)


Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (Amazon or Project Gutenberg Australia)

Macey, The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory (Amazon)

MLA Handbook, 8th ed. (Amazon)


Assignments and Grade Distribution


article summary, 5%

You will summarize in writing and then informally present to the class one theoretical essay.

article application, 5%

You will apply in writing and then informally present to the class one theoretical essay to the reading of a work of literature.

interpretation exercise, 5%

You will pair up to write an essay that uses concepts from literary theory and formally present your essay to the class.

group presentation, 10%

You will divide into groups of 2-3 to formally present a critical theory to the class.

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

These three exams, the first in-class, the second take-home, and the 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 the course packet; if you experience problems with GeorgiaVIEW, immediately contact support. 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 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, Electronic Recording Policy, and Academic Grievance or Appeals can be found here.


Course Schedule

Week 1

T, 8-21

Interpretation Survey

Critical and Literary Theory

R, 8-23

Formalism: Liberal Humanism, New Criticism, and Russian Formalism

Overview: Tyson, "Everything You Wanted to Know about Critical Theory But Were Afraid to Ask" (CTT 1-10 or GeorgiaVIEW)

Overview: Tyson, "New Criticism" (CTT 129-43 or GeorgiaVIEW)

Theory: Ransom, "Criticism, Inc." (NATC 969-82 or GeorgiaVIEW)

Week 2

T, 8-28

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

Theory: Wimsatt and Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy"

"The Affective Fallacy" (NATC 1230-61 or GeorgiaVIEW)

Criticism: Tyson, "The 'Death Song' of Longing: A New Critical Reading of The Great Gatsby" (CTT 144-60)

Primary Text: Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (GeorgiaVIEW)

R, 8-30

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

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from New Critical Theory to Understand Literature" (UCT 38-80)

In Class Activity: Practice Interpretation Exercise

Week 3

T, 9-4

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Overview: Tyson, "Psychoanalytic Criticism" (CTT 11-37)

Theory: Freud, from The Interpretation of Dreams, from "The Uncanny," and "Fetishism" (NATC 807-45)

R, 9-6

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

Theory: Lacan, "The Mirror Stage" and "The Signification of the Phallus" (NATC 1159-69, 1181-9)

Criticism: Tyson, "'What's Love Got to Do with It?': A Psychoanalytic Reading of The Great Gatsby" (CTT 38-50)

Week 4

T, 9-11

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

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

R, 9-13

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

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

Week 5

T, 9-18

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Psychoanalytic Theory to Understand Literature" (UCT 81-109)

R, 9-20

Exam 1

Week 6

T, 9-25

Marxist Criticism

Overview: Tyson, "Marxist Criticism" (CTT 51-65)

Theory: Marx and Engels, from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, from The German Ideology, from The Communist Manifesto, from Grundrisse, from Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, from Capital Volume 1, and from "Letter from Friedrich Engels to Joseph Bloch" (NATC 647-76)

R, 9-27

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

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

Criticism: Tyson, "You Are What You Own: A Marxist Reading of The Great Gatsby" (CTT 66-78)

Week 7

T, 10-2

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

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

R, 10-4

Theory: Williams, "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory" (NATC 1420-37)

Theory: Jameson, "from The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act" (NATC 1818-46)

Week 8

T, 10-9

No Class: Fall Break

R, 10-11

No Class: Hurricane Michael

Week 9

T, 10-16

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

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Marxist Theory to Understand Literature" (UCT 110-138)

R, 10-18

Feminist Criticism

Overview: Tyson, "Feminist Criticism" (CTT 79-114)

Week 10

T, 10-23

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

Theory: Smith, "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism" (NATC 2223-37)

Criticism: Tyson, "'. . . next they're throw everying overboard . . .': A Feminist Reading of The Great Gatsby" (CTT 115-28)

R, 10-25

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

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Feminist Theory to Understand Literature" (UCT 139-71)

Week 11

T, 10-30

Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Criticism

Overview: Tyson, "Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Criticism" (CTT 302-26)

Theory: Zimmerman, "What Has Never Been: An Overview of Lesbian Feminist Literary Criticism" (NATC 2328-2350)

R, 11-1

Theory: Sedgwick, from Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire and from Epistemology of the Closet (NATC 2464-77)

Theory: Rubin, from "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality" (NATC 2377-2402)

Criticism: Tyson, "Will the Real Nick Carraway Please Come Out? A Queer Reading of The Great Gatsby" (CTT 327-42)

Group Presentation Sign Up

Week 12

T, 11-6

Theory: Berlant and Warner, "Sex in Public" (NATC 2597-2615)

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Theories to Understand Literature" (UCT 172-205)

R, 11-8

No Class: Professor at Conference

Exam 2 Due

Week 13

T, 11-13

Postcolonial Criticism

Overview: Tyson, "Postcolonial Criticism" (CTT 398-427)

Theory: Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness" (NATC 1610-23)

R, 11-15

Theory: Fanon, from The Wretch of the Earth (NATC 1437-46)

Theory: Said, from Orientalism (NATC 1861-88)

Criticism: Tyson, "The Colony Within: A Postcolonial Reading of The Great Gatsby" (CTT 428-47)

Week 14

T, 11-20

Theory: Spivak, from A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (NATC 2110-26)

Practice: Tyson, "Using Concepts from Postcolonial Theory to Understand Literature" (UCT 245-84)

R, 11-22

No Class: Thanksgiving Holiday

Week 15

T, 11-27

Group Project Meeting Day

R, 11-29

Exam 3, Interpretation Essay Topics

Week 16

T, 12-4

Existentialism and Phenomenology Presentation

Overview: Dufrenne, "Existentialism and Existentialisms" (GeorgiaVIEW)

Theory: Beauvoir, from The Second Sex (NATC 1261-73)

Theory: Sartre, from What Is Literature? (NATC 1196-1213)

R, 12-6

African-American Criticism Presentation

Overview: Tyson, "African-American Criticism" (CTT 343-97)

Theory: Hurston, "Characteristics of Negro Expression" (NATC 1008-23)

Overview: Tyson, "Gaining an Overview" (CTT 448-53)


R, 12-13

Exam 3 Due