History of Literary Criticism
This is a course on the history of literary theory, a survey of major debates about literature, poetics, and ideas about what literary texts should do, from ancient Greece to examples of modern European thought. The first half of the course will focus on early periods: Greek and Roman antiquity, especially Plato and Aristotle; the medieval period (including St. Augustine, Dante, and Boccaccio), and the early modern period (such as Philip Sidney and Giambattista Vico). In the second half of the course we will turn to modern concerns by looking at the literary (or "art") theories of some major philosophers and theorists: Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Walter Benjamin. We end the course in the mid-twentieth century. The purpose driving this course is to consider how this tradition generated questions that are still with us, including: how transparent is language? what is the act of interpretation and in what and with whom does its power lie? what is the "aesthetic” and why is the term problematic? why are the concepts of “mimesis” and representation open to debate? how do we account for intention? how do we assess the principle of “form”? and what do we classify as “literary”?
During the semester there will be four short writing assignments in the form of analytical essays (3 pages each). Students may use these small essays to build into a final long piece of writing on a single text or group of texts, due at the end of the term. Most of our readings will come from a published anthology of literary criticism and theory; a few readings will be on Canvas.