History of Literary Criticism: Literary Theory Ancient to Modern
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 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 and Dante), 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, with writings by Foucault, Fanon, and others. The purpose driving this course is to consider closely how this tradition generated questions that are still with us, such as: what is the act of interpretation; whose interpretation matters, what is the "aesthetic"; what is "imitation" or mimesis; how do critical ideas travel and how are they contested; and how are counter-systems of the aesthetic erected. 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 long piece of writing 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; a few readings will be on Canvas.