Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

What is Literary Criticism?

When I took a course called "Critical Theory Since Plato," I wrote in my notebook what the instructor said on the first day. Literary criticism is not something that you know, it is something that you do.

But how does one "do criticism"?

A book reviewer gives a particular opinion about a particular book, in order to help potential readers consider whether to spend their money on it. Yet literary criticism is something different. A literary critic does not mark up an author's work in order to pass judgment on this or that detail. A literary critic does not plow through a list, assigning a rank of one to five stars to each, or calling a toll-free number to vote for or against a particular work.

Literary critics typically examine something that has already been deemed worthy of intellectual attention. They may focus on one or several specific literary works, but often the works are simply convenient examples that illustrate bigger issue that applies to literature as a whole, not just to the aesthetic value of this particular author's choices in the creation of this particular work.

For example, a literary critic might look at the plays that make up the Oedipus cycle; Shakespeare's tetralogy that includes Richard II, Henry the IV Part 1, Henry the IV Part 2, and Henry V; and the six Star Wars movies -- not in order to tell people whether they should or shouldn't spend their time and money watching these works, and not in order to spit back a chronological ilst of what happened to the characters. Rather, the literary critic might look at how the conventions of storytelling affected the way the passage of time is represented in each of these works; or might look at the representation of father/son and master/servant relationships; or the various ways in which women are depicted as wielding or isolated from power.

We won't work on such a grand scale; what I just described would make an excellent topic for a Ph.D. thesis -- something that you should undertake only once you have decided which critical approach will best suit the task you want to accomplish. So we will take the Whitman's Sampler approach -- trying a little of this and that. We will move too quickly for us to develop mastery in any one critical area, but I hope that the course will nevertheless give you some idea of the possibilities.

I didn't get an introduction to critical theory until I was in grad school. Some of it I liked; some of it was confusing; some of it I got tired of really quick. But the exercise helped me to identify why certain academic articles excited me, and why others annoyed me. The experience helped me identify the particular set of questions that I felt motivated to study further. It helped me identify what I had gained from my English degree, what issues and questions I thought was most worth talking about, and how I personally could contribute usefully to the discussion.

Permalink | 25 Jan 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Overview of Critical Issues

This is far from an exhaustive list of issues that are important to literary criticism. But it will serve to organize the material that we study.

Permalink | 25 Jan 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Term Project Workshop

Start working on your Presubmission Report now.

Permalink | 29 Mar 2007 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)