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. That is, we will learn of the many ways to read a cultural text by surveying the history of literary theory, paying particular attention to contemporary critical theory. We will address questions such as: What is literature? How does language generate meaning? How do we determine the meanings of a cultural 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? What is hate speech? Can pornography or video games or violent films be said to do harm? We 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.