Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

 

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 closely how this tradition generated questions that are still with us, such as: what is the act of interpretation; what is the “aesthetic”; what is “imitation” or mimesis; and how are we to know an author’s intention?