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C LIT 400 A: Introduction to Theory and Criticism

Meeting Time: 
TTh 8:30am - 10:20am
* *
Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen

Syllabus Description:


T-Th: 8:30 – 10:20 am -- Remote: 

Instructor: Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen

Office hours (remote):  Fri 8:30 – 10:00 am. Please send instructor an email beforehand to receive an individual invitation to join the meeting.


Description: This course offers a survey of some of the major texts in the history of critical theory in the West.  No prior knowledge of theory is required but be prepared to read challenging texts at a fast pace. Each session focuses on one important author or theme relevant to the study of literature and the arts.  We will start with the Ancients (Plato, Aristotle, Longinus), meander through French 17th century critics, 18thcentury theories of genius, taste and the sublime, Romantic irony, and tackle the great modern philosophers:  Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche. Emphasis will be placed toward the end on 20th century structuralism and post-structuralism:  Saussure, Jakobson, Barthes, Derrida.

Readings: Excerpts from Hazard Adams, ed., Critical Theory Since Plato (in course pack available at UW Book Store)

Assignments: One midterm exam and one final.

Schedule of meetings and readings:

  Jan 5:      General introduction

Th Jan 7:      Enthusiasm:  Plato, Ion

T   Jan 12:    Mimesis Plato, Republic

Th Jan 14:    Mimesis and Catharsis Aristotle

  Jan 19:    Rules: Aristotle, Classicism

Th Jan 21:    Beauty: Plotinus

  Jan 26:    The Sublime:  Longinus

Th Jan 28:    Genius: Young

  Feb 2:     Genius: Diderot

Th Feb 4:     Aesthetics:  Burke

  Feb 9:     Aesthetics: Kant

Th Feb 11:   Review

  Feb 16:   Mid-term exam (remote)

Th Feb 18:   Irony: Schlegel

  Feb 23:   Dialectic: Hegel

Th Feb 25:   Apollonian/Dionysiac:  Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

  Mar 2:     The Unconscious: Freud, Jung

Th Mar 4:     Structure, Sign, Text:  Saussure, Jakobson

T   Mar 9:     Structure, Sign, Text:  Barthes, Derrida

Th Mar 11:   General review

T   Mar 16, 10:30 – 12:20 am:  Final exam (remote)


Catalog Description: 
A selection of major theoretical statements in the history of literary theory and criticism, with texts drawn from such fields as literary studies, aesthetic theory, film studies, philosophy, and cultural studies.
Department Requirements Met: 
Capstone for Literature
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
October 19, 2020 - 9:12pm