Dr. Alex E. Blazer Course Site Assignments Description
Materials Assignments Policies Schedule


From Criticism to Theory

English 491-75: Interpretive Theory: The New Criticism to the Present

Spring 2004, TR 7:00-8:15PM, Bingham Humanities Bldg 106


Professor: Alex E. Blazer Office: Bingham Humanities Bldg 336B
Mailbox: Bingham Humanities Bldg 315 Office Hours: TR: 6:00-6:50PM
Email: alex.blazer@louisville.edu Office Phone: 852-1722
Web: www.louisville.edu/~a0blaz01/ Departmental Phone: 852-6801


Course Description


Starting with the New Criticism, literary interpretation took on a level of analysis beyond simply reading the text at hand. New Criticism formalized and codified interpretation, and the movements that came after it further systematized such methods, with an additional self-conscious understanding of the critic's position with regard to the text. At the beginning of the new century, not only does the critic interpret literature, but she also theorizes the acts of reading, writing, and being. This course surveys the transformation from criticism to theory. This course will introduce the various methods of interpretation from the twentieth century, including the New Criticism, structuralism and semiotics, poststructuralism and deconstruction, feminist criticism, and psychoanalysis. For each theory, we will first discuss one chapter from Critical Theory Today, which explains the major tenets of a movement and provides an exemplary reading on The Great Gatsby. Once we have a grasp of the major questions a particular theory poses, then we'll discuss essays by theorists whose work exemplify that movement. Assignments will ask us to summarize a theorist via listserv response and oral presentation, review what we've learned in an in-class exam, debate interpretive theories in a take-home exam, and finally apply a theory to a text of one's own choosing in a final take-home exam. Note that this course is graded on a plus and minus grade scale and the prerequisites for include both English 102/105 and English 310.


Course Materials


required (bookstore)

Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Leitch, ed. et al, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism

Tyson, Critical Theory Today

recommended (online)

Barth, "Lost in the Funhouse"

Lowell, "Skunk Hour"

Watten, two poems


Assignments and Grade Distribution


Article Summary and Presentation, 10%

Once in the semester, you will summarize a particular thinker's essay or group of essays and post your summary to Article Summary discussion board in Blackboard the period before the class discusses the work. You will also be responsible for introducing the essay and issues for discussion to the class in an informal and brief presentation..

Exam 1, 25%

The first exam will be taken in-class. Identification, short answer, and short essay questions will test your overall understanding of two theories' key methods.

Exam 2, 30%

The second exam, taken at home, will be composed of longer essay questions that will allow you to probe and debate theories.

Exam 3, 35%

The final exam, also taken at home and cumulative, will be composed just as the second exam, save for an additional essay question that will ask you to apply an interpretive theory to a text of your choosing.


Course Policies


Office Hours and Email

I encourage you to stop by my office hours to discuss any aspect of the course, literature, or life. I'm happy to answer small questions such as due dates over email, but I prefer face-to-face conversations for more substantive topics like exams. I don't check my email on weekends.

Blackboard and Campus Email

All assignments must be turned in via either paper copy or Microsoft Word format in Blackboard. If Blackboard is down, email me your assignment as an attachment. Get in the habit of using Blackboard and your U of L campus email, for those are the systems we'll be using for class communication. Click here for help with your username and password.

Class Participation

We're going to be working with challenging works of critical theory; therefore, we'll all benefit from sharing our questions and ideas. If I feel that the majority of the class isn't participating because they're not keeping up with the reading, I reserve the right to give pop quizzes and reweight the other assignments accordingly.


There will be a one letter final grade deduction for every unexcused absence beyond four days. Missing seven or more days of class, excused or not, will result in failure of the course. Arriving to class late constitutes a tardy; two tardies equals one absence. Arriving to class more than 15 minutes late or leaving more than 15 minutes early constitutes an absence. Athletic competition, jury duty, illness, and so forth will be excused provided that you bring an official note within one week of your return to class.

Late Assignments

There will be a one-letter grade deduction per day (not class period) for any assignment that is turned in late.


Don't do it. Using someone else's words, ideas, or work without proper citation and representing it as your own is the most serious of academic offenses. See the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities, sections 5 and 6 in the Undergraduate Catalog. Any proven plagiarism will result in a failing grade for the assignment in question and will be reported to the Committee on Student Discipline for further action, which can include notice in the permanent record, dismissal, or expulsion.

Disabilities Resource Center

If you have any specific needs or concerns, please feel free to discuss the issue with me outside of class. Contact the Disabilities Resource Center (Robbins Hall, 852-6938) for information and auxiliary aid.

Writing Center

The Writing Center (Ekstrom Library, Room 312, 852-2173) provides drop-in assistance for planning, drafting, revising, and editing papers.


Course Schedule


This schedule is subject to change, so listen in class and check online for possible revisions.


Week 1
T, 1-13

Interpretive Theory

R, 1-15

New Criticism

Tyson, Ch1 "Everything You Wanted to Know about Critical Theory" (1-12)

Ch5 "New Criticism" (117-52)

Brooks, "The Heresy of Paraphrase"

"The Formalist Critics" (1350-70)

Week 2
T, 1-20

Ransom, "Criticism, Inc." (1105-17)

Wimsatt and Beardsley, "The Intentional Fallacy"

"The Affective Fallacy" (1371-1402)

R, 1-22

Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"

"The Metaphysical Poets" (1088-1104)

Practicing the New Criticism

Week 3
T, 1-27

Structuralism and Semiotics

Tyson, Ch7 "Structuralist Criticism" (197-240)

Saussure, from Course in General Linguistics (956-77)

R, 1-29

Jakobson, from "Linguistics and Poetics"

from "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances" (1254-68)

Lévi-Strauss, "A Writing Lesson" (1415-26)

Week 4
T, 2-3

Frye, "The Archetypes of Literature" (1442-56)

Todorov, "Structural Analysis of Narrative" (2097-2106)

***Optional family sitcom screening after class

R, 2-5

Barthes, from Mythologies

"The Death of the Author"

"From Work to Text" (1457-1475)

Practicing Structuralism and Semiotics

Exam 1 Review

Week 5
T, 2-10
Exam 1, In-Class Section
R, 2-12

Poststructuralism and Deconstruction

From Structuralism to Poststructuralism

Tyson, Ch8 "Deconstructive Criticism" (241-276)

Exam 1, Take-Home Section Due

Week 6

T, 2-17

Foucault, "What Is an Author?"

from Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

from The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, An Introduction

from "Truth and Power" (1615-70)

Practicing Post-Structuralism and Deconstruction

R, 2-19

Butler, from Gender Trouble (2485-2501)

Week 7
T, 2-24

de Man, "Semiology and Rhetoric"

"The Return to Philology" (1509-31)

R, 2-26

No Class: 20th-Century Literature Conference

***I encourage you to attend some panels for you can hear some of the theories from our couse put into practice (the program can be found at the above link).

Week 8
T, 3-2

Derrida, from Of Grammatology

from Dissemination (1815-76)

R, 3-4

Baudrillard, from "The Precession of Simulacra" (1729-40)

Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa" (2035-55)

Week 9
T, 3-9


Tyson, Ch2 "Psychoanalytic Criticism" (13-48)

Freud, from The Interpretation of Dreams

"The 'Uncanny'"

"Fetishism" (913-55)

R, 3-11

Bloom, Introduction, The Anxiety of Influence (1794-1805)

Take-Home Exam 2 Due

Week 10
T, 3-16
No Class: Spring Break
R, 3-18
No Class: Spring Break
Week 11
T, 3-23

Lacan, "The Mirror Stage"

from "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious"

"The Signification of the Phallus" (1278-1310)

R, 3-25

Kristeva, from Revolution in Poetic Language (2165-78)

***Optional screening of Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) after class

Week 12
T, 3-30

Deleuze and Guattari, from Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature

from A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1593-1608)

R, 4-1

Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (2179-92)

Practicing Psychoanalysis

Week 13
T, 4-6


Tyson, Ch4 "Feminist Criticism" (81-116)

Gilbert and Gubar, from The Madwoman in the Attic (2021-34)

R, 4-8

Kolodny, "Dancing through the Minefield" (2143-64)

Week 14
T, 4-13

Bordo, "The Body and the Reproduction of Feminity," from Unbearable Weight (2360-76)

Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs" (2266-98)

R, 4-15

Smith, "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism" (2299-15)

Christian, "The Race for Theory" (2255-66)

Week 15
T, 4-20

Sedgwick, from Between Men

from Epistemology of the Closet (2432-44)

Zimmerman, "What Has Never Been" (2338-59)

Wittig, "One Is Not Born a Woman" (2012-20)

Rich, from "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" (1759-82)

Practicing Feminist Criticism

R, 4-22

Tyson, Ch12 "Gaining an Overview" (423-31)

Roundtable of Final Exam Criticism Topics


Week 16
T, 4-27
No Class: Reading Day
R, 4-29
No Class: Reading Day
T , 5-4
Take-Home Exam 3 Due