The History of Literary Theory

FALL 1998

MWF 10:00-10:50

We could borrow the title "The Canon and Its Discontents" for this class. Until recently, "The History of Literary Theory from Plato to the Present" has been a traditional or canonical course in English departments in the United States. It was not always so. The establishment of this history was the occasion of a long struggle for intellectual hegemony within the academy. The appearance of Literary Criticism: A Short History by W.K Wimsatt, Jr. and Cleanth Brooks in 1957 marked the triumph of the "theory advocates." It was immediately followed by a series of anthologies of Western theory which provided the appropriate texts for the "theory canon." Literary theory was legitimized as a discipline.

In this course we will read crucial texts from the theory tradition. We will examine the philosophical arguments used to establish these texts as central to the Western cultural tradition. We will read and discuss some of the critiques of the theory canon as well as the contemporary ("theoretical") rejection of theory as a discipline. We will note the cultural and historical backgrounds of the emergent theory tradition and its primary texts as well as the background of the contemporary rejection of the theory tradition. One long seminar project and several short discovery projects will be required. Each student will also prepare a brief abstract of the long project that will be published as part of the classLiterary Theory Page.



Meditations on Stevens' "Of Modern Poetry"

Students should also explore the following Web pages and related links. Specific assignments will be made during the semester.

The Voice of the Shuttle. This list is remarkable for depth and variety.

Culture/Culture Wars.

"The Literary Canon" by George P. Landow.

"Canon: Dictionary Definitions" by Kathryn Stockton.

"Feminist Questions About the Literary Canon" by Kathryn Stockton.

"The Emergence of 'Literature': Making and Reading the English Canon in the Eighteenth Century" by Trevor Ross in ELH 63.2 (1996) 397-422).

Updated: 2 October, 1998

Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations is requested to speak with me during the first two weeks of class. All discussions will remain confidential. Students with disabilities should also contact Disabled Student Services in the Ley Student Center.

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