This course will teach critical writing about literature, and just as importantly, give you practice critical writing. You will learn key terms in literary analysis, practice close reading, and acquire strategies for making interesting, convincing, and unified arguments about literary texts. We will discuss how to move from particular moments in literature to interpretations of literature; how to study literature in ways that help us better understand culture, history, and politics; as well as how to organize sentences, paragraphs, and essays effectively.
Most importantly, this class is about “the way we argue now.” Such a phrase suggests the following:
- that there is a “we”—a community of people, what some scholars might call a “discourse community”—who make, revise, and learn from arguments. For the purposes of this class, the “we” refers to both our class community and the broader field of English literary studies. These communities remind us that arguments emerge from conversations and engagement with other people’s ideas. They also remind us that the shape of our arguments—the rhetorical strategies we employ—often reflect the conventions of a community. For example, we use thesis statements not simply because they express an argument clearly, but also because readers in the field of literary studies expect to see thesis statements.
- that there are different “ways” to argue. This course will explore different modes of argumentation, and different understandings of literature by introducing distinct approaches to literary criticism (focusing especially on formalism, narrative theory,feminism, postcolonial studies, and cultural studies).
- that how we argue about literature (and how we understand literature!) changes over time. The way we argue “now” often differs from the way people argued “then.” This means that our arguments about literature emerge from our own situated positions in history and culture (one reason why it’s important to bring your experiences to class discussion). The novel, once seen as low culture, popular, and even dangerous, is now considered an art form. Contemporary literature, once relegated to the margin of literary study, is now a growing field of study. The canon—or an established body of “great works” passed on from one generation to the next—has been questioned as too restrictive because it marginalizes (often for political and cultural reasons) some of the best writers and works of literature. Moreover, because of new technology, literature takes new forms—television shows like The Wire can be literary, tweets can be poetic, and source code can function as part of rather than outside of a text.