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(Academic Year 2001-2002: Semester I)

General Information:

Some Primary and Secondary Sources

Pre-Twentieth Century Cultural Theories:

Pre-Twentieth Century Critical Theories: Special Topics in Cultural Theory:

Special Topics in Critical Theory:


This course seeks to introduce students to the basic principles of textual interpretation / literary criticism by surveying the historical development of the field that has come to be known as cultural and critical theory.

This course is divided into four modules that correspond to the four basic approaches to criticism practised by critics in general and Caribbean critics in particular:

  • Representation: the mimetic view of literature (the primary focus is on what a work imitates or represents or ‘is about’):
    • Realism
    • Symbolism
    • representationalist models of ‘literary history’ and ‘canon formation’
  • The Reader: the pragmatic view of literature (the primary focus is on the impact of a work upon the reader):
    • the formative effect (for both good and bad) which literature has on the reader
    • pragmatic models of ‘literary history’ and ‘canon formation’
  • The Author: the expressive view of literature (the primary focus is on the author of the work):
    • ‘genial criticism’: the quality of a work as the expression of an author’s genius
    • ‘hermeneutics’: the quest for the author’s intention in order to determine the meaning of a work
    • ‘biographical criticism’: the scrutinising of a work for what it reveals about the author
    • ‘contextual criticism’: the scrutinising of an author’s biography for the light it sheds on the work
    • author-oriented models of ‘literary history’ and ‘canon formation’
  • Literary Form: the objective view of literature (the primary focus is on the form or structure of the work itself):
    • Neo-Classical strictures on the subject, form, and function of literature
    • ‘New Criticism’--the study of the ‘form’ of lyric poetry
    • Neo-Aristotelian Narratology--the study of dramatic and narrative ‘structure’
    • formalist models of ‘literary history’ and ‘canon formation’

In each module, we will discuss classic statements on the critical approach in question made over the years (from fifth century BC Athens to the early twentieth century) in relation to what has come to be called the liberal humanist theories of cultural identity and language (e.g. the Cartesian subject, Locke's view of language) which have shaped that critical approach.  Some of the thinkers to be studied in this regard include Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Herder, Renan, Mary Wollstonecraft, W. E. B. Du Bois, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Kamau Brathwaite.  (In terms of non-European thinkers, our emphasis will be on African and Caribbean thinkers.)

E23F is the prerequisite and an indispensable foundation for E23G Twentieth Century Literary Theory offered in semester II. In E23G, you will study several of the most important modern schools of cultural and critical theory which have profoundly shaped literary criticism and cultural studies here in the Caribbean and which have, in the wake especially of nihilistic developments in the late nineteenth century, posed a radical challenge to many of the most cherished assumptions of Liberal Humanism discussed in E23F. Schools to be studied in E23G include: Marxism, Freudian Psychoanalysis / Jungian Archetypal Theory, Phenomenology / Existentialism / Reader-Response and Reception Theory, Feminism, and Anti-colonial Theory. 

If you are interested in and choose to specialise in cultural and critical theory, you may opt in your final year to do E33D Post-Structuralisms and Post-Colonialisms in which you will study several contemporary schools also of immense relevance to cultural studies here in the Caribbean and which have advanced the critique of Liberal Humanist assumptions even further. Some of the following schools will be studied in E33D: Saussurean linguistics, Semiology, Structuralism, Derridean Deconstruction, Bakhtinian Dialogism, Foucauldian Discursive Criticism, Post-Structuralist Marxism, Post-Structuralist Feminism, and Post-colonial Theory.

Theory (short for ‘cultural and critical theory’), as you will come to find out, is not necessarily easy but a grasp of it is immensely rewarding. A basic knowledge of it is certainly indispensable for all students of literature and culture precisely because it makes you aware of both what it is exactly that you presently do as a critic and precisely how you might improve upon this. It is probably safe to say that students who get a thorough handle on theory most often find their comprehension of literature and other cultural practices (and their grades!) immeasureably improved. This is why you will find that most successful programmes in literature (whether anglophone, francophone, hispanic, etc.) are predicated upon a sound foundation in Theory.

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Lecturer: Dr. Richard Clarke

Tutor: Ms. Carmel Haynes

Prerequisite: None.  A pass in E10E Writing About Literature would be welcome but is not mandatory.  A pass in PH19A Introduction to Philosophy and Logic (or, indeed, any level I course[s] in Philosophy) is also extremely useful.

Class Schedule

Two compulsory 1-hour lectures per week:
  • Lec. 1 Tuesday 2 PM - 3 PM (A19)
  • Lec. 2 Thursday 4 PM - 5 PM (LR3) 
One compulsory 1-hour tutorial, chosen from among:
  • Tut. 1Tuesday 11 AM - 12 PM  (A19) (CLARKE)
  • Tut. 2 Wednesday 5 PM - 6 PM (ASR1) (HAYNES)
  • Tut. 3 Thursday 3 PM - 4 PM (ASR1) (HAYNES)