Ever since Plato banished poets from his Republic, literature’s place in society has been the subject of intense philosophical debate. This course will give an introduction to the history of Western thinking about literature. Students will examine Aristotle’s notion of mimesis, Romantic theories of imagination, the establishment of literature as an academic discipline, and the questioning of the meaning of ‘literature’ in poststructuralist theory. Despite the great variety of approaches and social contexts, some basic questions keep recurring in these debates about literature. Indeed, ‘theory’ can be seen as a multitude of attempts to answer what are (seemingly) simple questions: What is literature? What does it represent? How does it relate to our world and society? Why do we need it? Why do we study it? How do we analyse or interpret it? We’ll discuss our views on these questions at the beginning of the course and then return to them throughout to see whether they change as we read new theorists. We’ll also think about a range of literary texts, particularly Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to see how different theoretical approaches work in action.
Literature as a subject of study; the history of literary theory; theoretical approaches to literature; the place and role of literature in culture and society; writing, reading, and texts; theory and criticism; critical terminology.
This course aims to give you a foundation in literary theory and to introduce you to the critical reflection on literature. You will acquire a general overview of the field and its historical development. At the end of the course, you should be able to identify and compare different approaches to literature, use key concepts in discussions about texts, authors and readers, and situate your own interests in relation to relevant theoretical concerns.
We will meet for three hours every week, divided into two parts. Two hours will be a combination of lecture, discussion and short exercises, introducing and exploring concepts and arguments with reference to selected texts. One hour will be reserved for tutorials, for which the class will be divided into groups.
Class Attendance and Participation – 10%
In-Class Exercises and Presentations – 20%
Mid-Term Paper – 25%
Final Paper – 45%
The precise texts will be made available closer to the start of second semester.