CL 390:

Twentieth-Century (Western) Theory:
An Introduction

Instructor: Katherine Arens
Dept. of Germanic Studies
E.P. Schoch 3.128; 1-4123
Course: Unique # 31105 TTH 2-3:30. MEZ 1.118




Precis and Assignments

Course Description:

The purpose of this course is to provide an overview to the major schools and problems characterizing twentieth-century Western theory -- almost a century of work that is neither aesthetics, nor philosophy, nor philology in the classical sense, but rather an uneven corpus of texts, some of which tend towards philosophy or linguistics, others towards pure ideology (often under the cover of culturally sanctioned or arbitrary values like "canonicity" or "anti-hegemonic practice"), and still others that deal with texts as parts of cultural processes.

The course will introduce representative texts from each movement; the syllabus indicates where more extensive background/historical texts can be found -- most often, the "first authoritative" introduction to the movement, a text that has defined it for the public. It is your responsibility to find out the "historical facts" of each movements, by reference to one of these texts and/or to the Makaryk encyclopedia. Note that, with some exceptions, this means that the class will focus on foundations rather than on the newest and coolest.

The focus of classroom discussion will, first of all, be the outline of the philosophical and methodological premises of each movement, and then how they could be applied to real literary and/or cultural texts. The emphasis will be on the practical: what does each text say or assume about art, authorship, authority, and the like, and what do these assumptions mean for producing "readings" of texts in context? The real issue in "doing theory," as I am framing it here, is how theory and its ideologies can correlate with responsible interpretive practice. Thus the last 15 minutes of each class will be dedicated to setting up (the start of) a précis interpreting James Joyce's The Dead.

By the end of the semester, the students will be familiar with the broad outlines and the historical development of modern criticism and will have experience with assumptions behind today's literary and cultural studies. The goal is to equip students with the toolkit out of which today's theory has been built (or tinkered, in an act of bricolage), so that theory itself can be deconstructed as a hegemonic practice.


Ordered Books:

*Essays not in these volumes on reserve.

*Reference list appended to syllabus, with call #'s of "Background" books from syllabus.