Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

1. Where and When

Thu 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM A204

During the first class meeting, we will discuss whether we want to add a 10-minute break and extend the dismissal time to 8:40.

See daily course outline.

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2. Instructor

Dennis G. Jerz (

  • Office: 403 St. Joseph, Box 461
  • E-mail: My last name, at the domain. (Include "EL312" in the subject line and please indicate your name.)
  • Phone: 724-830-1909 (but you will usually get a faster response if you e-mail)

Office Hours
Spring, 2007 office hours are 1:30-2:30 Mon, 3-4 Tue & Thu, and by appointment. St. Joseph 403.

Occasionally I step out of my office briefly to run errands during my scheduled office hours. When I do, I usually leave a note on my door. If my light is still on, then I'm probably not far away.

Office Visits
I usually leave my door open. If you should happen to drop by when my door is closed, please come back later or send me an e-mail.

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3. Course Description

From the Catalog:

Theories of literary criticism, focused on contemporary theory and practice.

Education: Facts, Concepts, and Theories

Much of your early education consists of being exposed to new facts, and learning how to recall, categorize, and associate them. A "Great Books" course or a course in which you were expected to read every Shakespeare play (even all the minor ones, at the expense of spending more time with the best ones) is organized to communicate basic knowledge. That's not my favorite kind of course. In fact, when I taught a survey of drama course, I didn't feel obligated to select one play from every century we studied, or one from every country that has produced great drama. If I had been teaching a course on how the architecture of theater buildings and the economics of the professional theater affected the kinds of plays that got written and produced, I would have chosen a completely different set of plays -- but I chose to teach a literary genre class, rather than a theater history class. Literature and theater history are related, but they come with different sets of criteria for determining what works to study and what questions to ask about those works.

Facts join to form concepts.

Concepts join to form a way of seeing -- a lens, through which we may view the world.

Theory is the study of different lenses.

Facts are important, but they are just one part of the intellectual life. In a world in which Google and Wikipedia can instantly call up more facts than our ancestors might have ever encountered in a year of reading (and more partial truths and outright lies as well), facts are so plentiful that the accumulation of data becomes a parlor trick. A good Googler might become skilled at quoting statistics in order to win arguments, but that won't really advance the creation of new ideas.

A liberal arts institution operates on the assumption that developing the ability to collect facts from different areas and link them together meaningfully will give you an advantage over a merely passive consumer of knowledge.

If we can usefully join facts (the names and personal histories of Thomas Jefferson and and James Madison; the contents of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights) we see how they form concepts (independence, the separation of church and state, the right to free speech). Patterns that form when certain concepts join together give rise to ways of thinking about those concepts. One view of the Constitution, for example, holds that we should be true to our founders' initial intent rather than bow to whatever ideological whims might sway the current Supreme Court appointees. Another view of law holds that the Constitution is subject to the present, evolving needs of our country, rather than be shackled to the world view of a small group of people at a time in the distant past.

Dr. Arnzen's syllabus from Spring 2005 included the following paragraph, upon which I cannot improve.

Literary criticism is supposed to help us think critically about texts. It organizes approaches to literature and often facilitates thinking about literature in methodological ways. Yet, ironically, the criticism itself will perhaps be the most difficult reading material you will ever encounter in college. I do not expect you to entirely understand everything you read or discuss in this class -- indeed, I myself would never pretend to understand it all. Instead of memorizing terminology, I hope you'll engage with the texts under study by attempting to master the various schools of thought as much as possible, raising questions and issues along the way. This class may require much hair-pulling, as you try to wrestle meaning out of very densely written academic prose which refers to philosophical concepts you might not be familiar with. The trick is to "go with the flow" and try to figure it out on your own (you will find the Bedford Glossary very helpful in this regard). Consider what the critics we study claim to be true about literature, writers, and readers. Chances are, you already know more than you think you know about these topics. Bring your thoughts to class for open discussion, where we will put our minds together, emulating graduate school "seminars" in theory. Ideally we will all bring an open mind to our mutual interrogation of the readings and each other's arguments, challenging one another to think deeply, analytically, and critically, while at the same time becoming more aware of our own assumptions about literary interpretation and the value of literary study.
Literary critics disagree with each other. They don't always label the critical approach they use; you have to deduce it from the vocabulary they use and the issues they raise. An author may use more than one critical approach in the same essay. Two authors who use the same critical approach may come to completely different conclusions. This does not mean that literary criticism is a shouting match or that "anything goes." In fact, a good academic debate is meticulously researched and cited.

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4. Course Objectives

At the end of this course, you should be able to

  1. Engage intellectually with peers in both formal and informal environments
  2. Demonstrate sustained intellectual engagement with ongoing scholarly discussions about the theories that inform the discipline of English
  3. Develop superior research skills, with which you may filter and profit from a steady stream of complex academic readings (without the benefit of online summaries or study guides)
  4. Analyze literary works from multiple different critical perspectives (including perspectives that you would not ordinarily choose to employ in a paper), without dismissing or oversimplifying views which differ from yours
  5. Write at an advanced college level, using the vocabulary of literary criticism, but without smothering your personal writing voice under a mass of jargon and obfuscation
  6. Justify the critical approach(es) that you will find most useful in your future in graduate school, in your career, or in your own life-long learning process long after college
  7. Conceptualize your academic experience as more than the accumulation of purchased credits, or the correction of errors pointed out to you by your instructors; but rather as part of the ongoing human search for truth and wisdom. Good grammar and logical thinking are vital for full participation in the intellectual life that our education prepares us to lead.

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5. Course Requirements

The class format will emulate a graduate-level seminar, heavy on student-led discussion. Your job is not to write down and memorize everything I say in class (or what says online) and then pour it all out during the exam. Instead, you will be asked to demonstrate your ability to apply a particular critical theory to an assigned literary text, backing up your analysis with specific evidence from both the academic and literary sources.

I will often send out bulk e-mails to the address on file for you in the J-Web system. If you check a different address more regularly, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.

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5.1 Attendance

Students are expected to attend every class. (See Seton Hill University Catalog, p. 28-29, "Class Attendance" and "Excused Absences".)

Active participation in the class discussion (both online and in the classroom) is vital for the successful completion of this course.

I am happy to excuse students who have legitimate reasons, but students who miss a class period for any reason are still responsible for the material covered during the absence. An excused absence does not automatically grant an extension for any work collected or assigned that day. (Please recognize that in some cases, it may not be possible to make up activities that you missed.)

Because a large percentage of your course grade depends on your familiarity with assigned readings, falling behind or procrastinating can lead to big trouble.

Students who miss class for any reason -- excused or unexcused -- are still responsible for the work that was due and/or assigned on that date. A student's final grade may be lowered by the proportion of unexcused absences. Thus, a student with a final grade of B (75%) with a record of 10% unexcused absences would get a C+ (90% of 75% = 67.5%).

Students who miss three classes in a row, or a total of four classes over the semester, will receive an automatic F (regardless of work completed to that point).

Late arrivals, early departures, lack of participation or preparation, or disruptive behavior may count as absences at the instructor's discretion (you will be warned once before any absences are applied).

If you are absent from class without an approved excuse on a day when a major assignment is due -- perhaps because you stayed up all night working on a paper and are too tired to attend class -- the assignment will be counted an extra day late. (You might as well go to bed without finishing the paper, come to class so you don't fall farther behind, and then turn in the paper the next morning.)

5.1.1. Emergency Absences
Those who miss class due to an unplanned emergency should submit an "Absence Form," with proper documentation, as soon as possible.

For each class that you miss, download the word processor version of my "Absence Form" (available at After you initiate this contact, we will start working out whether or what kind of assignments would be appropriate. (I ask that you resist the impulse to ask me to e-mail you a summary of what you missed. I welcome the chance to help you get caught up, but please consult the syllabus and a classmate's notes first, and then bring any specific questions to me.) For some classroom activities, such as listening to peer oral presentations, there may be no appropriate make-up assignment. (See 5.2 Participation.)

5.1.2. Scheduled Absences
Those who miss class due to a scheduled activity must plan to complete all make-up assignments before the missed class. This means that you must submit an acceptable "Absence Form" (see above) at least 2 weeks before the missed class.

If there is insufficient time for us to agree upon an acceptable suggestion for making up missed work, or if an approved make-up assignment is late or unsatisfactory, then I may record the absence as unexcused.

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5.2 Participation

The participation grade is reflected in the Participation Portfolio. Students are expected to contribute actively to a positive classroom environment, both in person and online. Students who dislike public speaking may wish to invest more effort in their online writing, and vice-versa.

Those who participate above and beyond the call of duty will receive a bonus.

Common sense and common courtesy dictates that absences, late arrivals and early departures, use of telephones or headphones, lack of preparation, and inattentiveness will impact your participation grade.

If your final grade ends up near a borderline, I will consider your participation before deciding to bump the grade up or down.

Agenda Items and Online Discussion

In class, I may call on you to share with the class the agenda item you posted on your own blog. I may also ask you to share with the class the comments you left on peer blogs. Most students find that it helps to bring printouts of those online contributions, so you have something to consult when I call on you.

About Weblogs

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette focused on how Seton Hill University students have been using their academic weblogs. Maybe somebody you know got quoted!

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5.3 Submissions and Late Work

This course expects you to use the internet regularly -- mostly and Just as students in generations past learned to carry spare quills, a pen knife, an extra inkhorn, and spare lamp wicks, there are certain common-sense strategies that will make your use of the internet less risky. Print out a copy of the course syllabus, and print out online readings in advance, so that you can work on the readings if the internet happens to be down.

Most assignments will be submitted and returned via Unless the homework assignment specifically mentions a printout, you should assume that I don't want you to submit a hard copy. (For instance, although I won't always collect your Agenda Items, you should still bring a printout to class each day.)

Please note that your Agenda Items are due on your blog on Monday, your weekly Exercises are due on on Wednesday, and 2-4 comments per assigned reading are due sometime before class. (I will spend class time discussing these in more detail, and I'll send out reminders for the first few weeks.)

The multiple parts of the Term Paper assignment should be submitted in a folder. When submitting an expansion or revision, always re-submit all the previous drafts, including my comments. (Multi-part assignments are incomplete unless all required parts are supplied; I will supply more details on this when the time comes.)

Note: If you ever feel you want more rapid or more detailed feedback on an assignment, make an appointment with me during my office hours, and I will go over the work with you in detail, regardless of whether it was late or on time. also checks submissions for plagiarism.

Getting Credit for Late Work

The slots for depositing papers on have a due date and time. If your assignment is late by only a few minutes, I probably won't bother with any late penalty. If your paper is a few hours late, I will probably cut short the comments that I write (since I may in fact finish marking the stack before your paper arrives).

If you submit your assignment after I have already assigned a zero for your paper, you must e-mail me to ask me to replace the zero with the grade you have earned. (I typically do not go back to check whether late papers have arrived.)

Please note that if I have already finished grading my stack of submissions, a late paper goes on the bottom of my to-do list. I may not be able to get it back to you in time for you to complete the next step of a multi-step assignment. If you are concerned about not getting a paper back soon enough, please arrange an appointment so that I can give you feedback in person.

I reserve the right to refuse to accept any assignment that is more than a week late, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

By default, late assignments automatically lose one letter grade if they are not submitted on time, and another letter grade for each additional day late (counting weekends as one day).

Students may not skip any stage of a multipart assignment. This may mean that you will have to complete a preliminary assignment for no credit before I will look at the next step in an assignment.

All Late Work

If you are asking that I waive a late penalty, or change the zero I have already recorded, e-mail me a copy of your completed Absence Form, with a subject line that follows this pattern: "Smith EL312 Ex 1-2 Absence Form".

Special Cases

RRRR Items: These time-sensitive assignments (see the RRRR section of the FAQ page) earn no credit if they are late. (You should still complete any items you missed in order to get full credit for your class portfolio.)

Class Participation: The way to get credit for a missed in-class activity is to contribute substantially to the online discussion. Post thoughtful comments on the course website, your peers' websites, and/or your own. To make sure that I see and record credit for this alternative work, paste the URLs of your online contributions into a word processor file, and upload the file into the J-Web late paper box in order to make up a missed set of discussion prompts.

Make-up/Extra Credit Assignments: I do not have a policy of inventing make-up or extra-credit assignments to enable you to pull your grade up in the last few weeks of the term. At any time, however, you may demonstrate your willingness to work hard for your grade by doing more than the required amount of work on your weblog. (Call my attention to this extra work when you submit your weblog portfolio.)

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5.4 Texts

Please acquire your own individual copies of the assigned texts, and bring a copy to class on the day the discussion is scheduled.

Some assigned texts are available online. You may print these out, you may purchase your own book or check one out from the library, or you may bring an electronic version on a laptop or PDA.

If you wish, you may purchase copies of textbooks through an affiliates page that I have set up. (You don't have to buy them through this link -- you can use the campus bookstore or any other supplier.)



Shakespeare, The Tempest (any edition, but the Folger Shakespeare editions have excellent notes)

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6. Assignments

The whole course is based on 1250 points. I compute all grades according to the four point scale. Thus, for an assignment worth 20 points, if you get a 15, that is a 3.0.

There is no final exam. The final draft of the term paper is due by 6pm May 10, which is the time scheduled for our final exam.

In case we fall behind, I may call a make-up class during the final exam slot.

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Oral Presentation (100 points)

Once during the semester, sign up to lead the class in a 15-minute discussion of one of the assigned essays from Keesey.

  • Post on your weblog a richly-linked entry, that includes such useful details as key quotations, vocabulary terms, and a brief MLA-style Works Cited section. Link to pages you found in the internet that helped you understand the material. Link to blog entries in which your peers ask probing questions or supply interesting agenda items. (Please do not read word-for-word from your blog entry.)
  • Just before you start speaking, hand me a one-page outline that presents your goals for the presentation. (I will write my feedback on this page and return it to you after class.)
  • After your presentation, e-mail me a brief summary of what you feel the class gained from your presentation. Include specific details from the class discussion or other feedback that you gather during the class. (Three or four sentences with a bulleted list of supporting details will be sufficient. Please do not just e-mail me your PowerPoint slides or the script from which you were reading.)

  • No more than three students may present on a given day. (This is to prevent 10 people from trying to present during the last week of classes.)
  • The presentation schedule is fixed a week in advance. If, a week in advance, you confirm your commitment, but you're not actually ready to present when the time comes, you will not be permitted to reschedule. (If you can get someone to switch with you, that's fine. And, as always, I'm willing to be flexible in extenuating circumstances.)
  • Only one student per assigned essay. (Claim your presentation dates by posting a comment on the course website, on the entry devoted to the essay you are choosing.)

Grading Criteria
Your oral presentation will be evaluated on:
  1. Completeness (richly-linked blog entry, 5 minutes of presentation, 10 minutes of discussion)
  2. Depth (adequately demonstrated comprehension of material; usefully explained challenging passages for the benefit of the class)
  3. Engagement (presentation is not read word-for-word from a blog entry or script; presentation makes use of student contributions, citing them by name and giving appropriate credit; discussion questions move beyond fill-in-the-blank or "Here's what I think, do you agree?")
  4. Reflection (quality of the outline that you hand to me before you begin speaking; depth and quality of the e-mail reflection statement that you write after your presentation is over).

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Critical Exercises (400 points)

You will build a casebook of 10 short essays (2-3 pages), each of which presents your attempt to apply the week's readings on your own, before class meets.

An optional 11th exercise is your opportunity to make substantial revisions to any previous exercise in order to get a higher grade. (Please note -- the 11th exercise will not replace a zero; it is only for improving the grade on an assignment that you have completed.)

For my late submission policy, see section 5.3 of the syllabus.

Update, 15 Feb:

Many of you are doing an excellent job, directly addressing the week's readings and applying them to a literary work of your choice. I do feel that I should clarify that "apply the week's readings" does mean quote directly from the assigned readings that we have not yet discussed in class, in oder to ensure that in the limited time we have for discussion we can move rapidly towards a deeper exploration of the issues raised by the readings.

Thus, for Ex 4, I would like to see your exercise refer to specific statements by McDonald, Kent, O'Connell, and / or Kolodny, and apply them to your own reading of one of the literary works on the syllabus. You are welcome to re-use a work we have discussed before, or one we have not discussed yet. You are welcome to do outside research, but if you do, please note that Wikipedia and are not appropriate sources for an academic paper. (See this handout about the importance of finding peer-reviewed journals.)

Note that Keesey will always be simplifying and exaggerating because the function of his introduction is to prepare you to understand the readings in that section; he is not actually advancing an argument. I'm not forbidding you from quoting from or respond to what he says, but I am instead asking you to think of him as the overture rather than the main event, or the appetizer rather than the first course.

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Participation Porfolios (300 pts)

This component of your grade evaluates your level of engagement with the subject matter, including preparation, attentiveness, and active contributions to a positive learning environment, as well as other matters of academic integrity and respectful behavior, as described in the Seton Hill student handbook.

Portfolio 1 (100 pts)
Portfolio 2 (100 pts)
Portfolio 3 (100 pts)

The bulk of the participation grade will be attached to three portfolio assignments, which will ask you to collect and reflect on a selection of the work you have completed. (See the RRRR Sequence. More details about the portfolio will be posted as the first due date approaches.)

If your final grade should end up on or near a borderline, I will look to your participation grade to determine whether to round up or down.

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Critical Project (150 pts)

You will design and complete a project that pertains to some area of literary criticism. You might create a website that analyzes your favorite TV show according to several different critical perspectives; you might create a work of fiction that illustrates or responds to or reacts against a particular critical approach; you might submit a paper to an academic conference and complete the paperwork to request funding for travel expenses; you might make a video of yourself performing a song with lyrics that teach, challenge, or spoof a critical perspective, upload the song to YouTube, and write a paper about the comments you receive.

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Term Paper Portfolio (300 pts)

A series of assignments that lead up to and include a final research paper (15-20 pages).

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