LITS2306 HISTORY OF CRITICISM
SEMESTER 1, 2004 - 2005
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Two compulsory 1-hour lectures per week:
One compulsory 1-hour tutorial per week, chosen from among:
Given the complexity of many of the readings, regular attendance is a must. Students should register for this course only when this is possible. If you are likely to miss class often, please click here.
This course seeks to introduce students to the basics of critical theory by surveying the historical development of the field from the classical period to the early twentieth century. This semester, we will devote six weeks to each of the following modules:
Module I is devoted to the Pre- and Early Modern Periods. In the first week, after an introductory session in which students are exposed to the course website, course requirements, etc., we will explore two main questions: what is critical theory? And, what is philosophy? The following week, we will examine perhaps the first known theory of the arts: Plato's famous call to banish poetry from his ideal state in Book X of The Republic on two grounds: epistemological and ethical. This will be followed in week three by a close reading of what some see as Aristotle's response to his teacher in his even more celebrated Poetics. In week four, we will examine the attempt by Medieval philosophers like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas to respond to Plato's claim that poetry does not reflect the true reality, while in week five, we will examine Sidney's important response to Plato's invitation to defend poetry and say why it should be readmitted into the ideal state. In the final week of this module, we examine two seminal Neo-Classical statements on literature by Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson, respectively, ending, as it were, where we began by effecting a return of sorts to the classical. As we shall see, most of the theorists studied in this module may be classified in what Abrams calls the mimetic and / or the pragmatic camps, that is, they tend to focus on what the (literary) work represents and / or the (moral) impact which it has on the audience. The term paper is based on this module which will not be tested again in the exam.
Module II is devoted mainly to the Late Modern Period, a term that is sometimes used to refer to the period dating from about the end of the eighteenth century to the early or mid twentieth century. We begin in the first week by returning briefly to the classical period to examine an important work on the importance of the author which which was rediscovered around the end of the eighteenth century: Longinus' On the Sublime. We will then turn our attention to Young's Conjectures on Original Composition in order to get a taste of the growing and hitherto unprecedented interest in the author at that time. The emphasis on the author (the so-called expressive approach) was inspired partly by the rediscovery of Longinus and partly by one particular interpretation of an eighteenth century philosopher named Immanuel Kant whose importance to subsequent thought is hard to underestimate. It would culminate in the views of the Romantics and the cultural nationalism of the mid and late nineteenth century which are, however, beyond the scope of this course. Our emphasis, rather, for the remainder of this module will be on another equally important legacy bequeathed by another interpretation of Kant to both critical theory and philosophy as a whole: the quest for (scientific) objectivity. After examining Kant's difficult views on philosophy and aesthetics in the second week, therefore, we will compare in the weeks that follow nineteenth and twentieth century views on the reader in the third week (Arnold, Richards, Achebe and Ramchand), representation in the fourth week (Zola, Watt, Achebe and Ramchand), the attempt to efface the importance of the author and to construct an author-less literary history in the fifth week(Arnold, Eliot and Brathwaite), and literary form in the final week (New Criticism). The final exam is based on this module alone.
You should note that whatever may be the final mark, departmental regulations decree that students must pass at least one question in the final exam in order to pass any course in Literatures in English. Students who fail the course in this way receive a FE ('Failed Exam') on their grade slip.