This course introduces students to the foundations of
Literary Theory through a survey of
the historical development of the field from the Classical period to the early twentieth
Literary critics engage in literary
criticism, that is, the interpretation of literary works. This course introduces students to the
foundations of what some call
‘literary theory’ (and others the ‘philosophy of literature’), a sound grasp
of which is indispensable to all those seeking to become effective critics.
Literary theorists reflect
philosophically on both the nature of literature and the theoretical
principles which underpin the process of criticism by which meaning is
attributed to literary works. Literary theory is a subset of a
wider field sometimes called ‘critical theory’ (literally, the theory of
criticism) and sometimes called ‘aesthetics’ devoted to philosophical reflection on the
arts in general (art, film, etc.).
Some of the most important issues addressed by literary
Audience: does the meaning of a (literary) work derive
mainly from its impact
on the audience or does the audience, rather, shape the meaning of
a (literary) work? (Critics who answer yes to the former question
are sometimes said to subscribe to a pragmatic theory of art; those
who answer yes to the latter are sometimes called reader-response
Author: does the meaning of a (literary) work
primarily originate within the writer? (Critics who answer yes to this are
said to subscribe to an expressive theory of art);
is the meaning of a (literary)
work synonymous for the most part
with the form or structure of the work itself
should we therefore ignore all
factors external to the work itself (such as the world, readers,
(Critics who answer yes to this are sometimes said to subscribe to an objective
or formalist theory of art);
Literary History / Tradition / Intertextuality /
Canonicity: is the meaning
of a (literary) work derived mainly
from its social and historical context and
/ or its relationship to other (literary)
works? If so, how exactly should we
understand this relationship: in terms of mere succession?
Influence? etc. Why are some
writers and their works deemed more important than others?
Representation: does the meaning of a (literary) work derive
primarily from what
it imitates or reflects in the world outside the work itself? (Critics who answer yes to this are sometimes said to subscribe
to a mimetic theory of art);
We will explore these issues by carefully reading seminal statements
on literature in particular and the arts in general by key theorists ranging
from the Classical period (e.g. Plato) to the twentieth century (e.g. T. S. Eliot). In each case, we
will attempt to relate these views to wider philosophical concerns.
For example, to understand Plato's views on the impact which drama has on the
audience, we will need to grasp his views on the nature of human identity.
We will also compare
these views, where possible, with relevant essays by Feminist, Post-colonial
American theorists such as Virginia Woolf or Kamau Brathwaite.
Through close examination of practical illustrations of
these theories (especially with reference to Post-colonial literatures),
students will also be encouraged to apply the paradigms discussed in their own
By the end of this course, students will:
have become acquainted with the views of key figures in the development of
literary theory such as Plato, Aristotle, T. S. Eliot, Virginia
Woolf, and Derek Walcott;
have been introduced to some of the key concepts, debates and issues in
literary theory concerning the nature of literature; literary
authorship; literary form; literary history, intertextuality, and
canonicity; the literary reader and the reading process; and
been been exposed to some key concepts, debates and issues of wider
philosophical interest such as the nature of human identity,
knowledge, and language;
be able to apply some of the most important insights gained to the
of literary works.
Passes in LITS1001 Introduction to Poetry, LITS1002 Introduction
to Prose Fiction, and LITS1003 Introduction to Drama.
A pass in LITS1005 Writing About
Literature (formerly E10E) is welcome but not mandatory. Passes in
any Level I or II Philosophy courses are also useful.
LITS2306 is, in turn, the pre-requisite for the other Theory courses:
Modern Literary Theory
LITS3301 Issues in Criticism
Post-Structuralisms and Post-colonialisms
Seminar Participation and / or Presentation(s)
and / or Response(s): 10%
Mid-Semester Term Paper: 30%
Final Examination: 60% (2 questions in 2 hours)
Please note that, whatever the final mark, students must
pass at least one
question in the final exam to pass any course in Literatures in
English. Failures of this sort are denoted by FE ('Failed Exam') on the grade slip.