Literary historian Cathy Davidson has said that literature is not simply fictional writing, beautiful writing, or profound writing, but rather "a complex social, political, and material process of cultural production." In this course we will seek to understand what this claim about literature might mean and how we might study such a complex process. We will approach this task by surveying the history of literary theory, from Plato and Aristotle to the present, paying particular attention to contemporary critical theory. We will address questions such as: What is literature? How do we determine the meanings of a text? What are the relationships among an author, a text, a reader, and a context? What role does a text play in representing or even producing ideas of race, class, nation, and gender? Students will learn to read texts closely and carefully--that is, to read for a text's figures, themes, meanings, contexts, and structures. In addition, students will learn to ask and write about a text's social, political, and material aspects. We will read literature as well as critical studies of literature, examining the insights of New Criticism; Formalism, Structuralism and Post-structuralism; Marxism; Psychoanalysis; Deconstruction; Feminism and Queer Theory; Cultural Studies; Post-colonial Studies; and Critical Race Theory.