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History of Literary Theory

ENGL 394.401
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major

This is a course on the history of literary criticism, a survey of major theories of literature, poetics, and ideas about what literary texts should do, from ancient Greece to examples of modern European and American thought. The course will give special attention to early periods: Greek and roman antiquity, especially Plato and Aristotle; the medieval period (including St. Augustine, Dante, and Boccaccio), and the early modern period (where we will concentrate on English writers such as Philip Sidney and Ben Johnson). We'll move into modern and 20th century by looking at the literary (or "art") theories of some major philosophers, artists, and poets: Kant, Wordsworth, Marx and Engels, Matthew Arnold, the painter William Morris, T. S. Eliot, and the critic Walter Benjamin. We'll end with a very few samples of current literary theory. The point of this course is to look closely at the Western European tradition which generated debates about problems that are still with us, such as: what is the "aesthetic"; what is "imitation" or mimesis; how are we to know an author's intention; and under what circumstances should literary texts ever be censored. We'll have a number of small writing assignments in the form of "response" or "position" papers (approx. 3 pages each), and students can use these small assignments to build into a long writing assignment on a single text or group of texts at the end of the term. Most of our readings will come from a published anthology of literary criticism and theory.