RICHARD L. W. CLARKE


 

 

 

COURSES IN LITERARY THEORY

LITS2306 HISTORY OF CRITICISM

In this course, students were introduced, in Module One, to the Classical foundations of philosophy, rhetoric and literary theory advanced by seminal theorists such as Plato, Aristotle, Quintilian, and Longinus as well as, in Module Two, to competing perspectives, philosophical versus rhetorical, on two important topics:

    Representation and Form:

  • What is the nature of the relationship which exists between a literary work and those aspects of reality (e.g. a place, a time, a person[s], etc.) which it seeks to describe, depict, portray or, in short, re-present?  Do literary works merely reflect reality or does reality (or at least or understanding of reality) reflect (or at least is shaped by) literary works?
  • How exactly do literary works 'represent' reality?  In what precisely does the form of a literary work consist? and

    The Reader:

  • What is the nature of the relationship which exists between a literary work and its audience (or reader, viewer, spectator, critic)? 
  • Do literary works have an effect upon the audience or do audiences have an effect upon literary works? 
  • Is reading necessarily subjective or can it be objective?

We explored several answers to these questions offered by a wide range of theorists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as as Zola, Wilde, Lubbock, Forster, Crane, Booth, Tolstoy, Arnold, Pater, Richards and Rosenblatt. 

 

To build on this foundation and to deepen your understanding of the basics of literary theory and criticism as well as what it takes to be a skilful and effective literary critic, you should register over the next few semesters for some or all the following courses:

LITS3301 ISSUES IN CRITICISM

This course builds on the foundation erected in LITS2306 History of Criticism and thus functions in effect as Part II of that course.  In Module One, we shall compare the views of several important early modern and Romantic philosophers and rhetoricians (e.g. Francis Bacon, Montaigne, René Descartes, John Locke, G. W. F. Hegel, Giambattista Vico, Friedrich Nietzsche) as well as literary theorists (e.g. Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, Edward Young, and Friedrich von Schleiermacher).

In Module Two, we shall we shall focus our attention on two other important topics not covered in LITS2306:

    The Author:

  • What is the nature of the relationship which exists between a work and its author (creator, producer, etc.)?  Is literature, especially lyric poetry, a form of self-expression?
  • Does the identity of the author (his/her personality, character, nationality, class, race, gender, the place and time in which s/he lives, and so on) shape the literary work which s/he has written or is the author's identity (or at least our understanding of it) shaped by his/her literary work?; and

    Literary History, Intertextuality, Canonicity:

  • Should a literary work be studied in relation to other non-literary 'things' such as its author, the social and historical context in which it was produced, and, perhaps less obviously, its reader and the social and historical context in which it is read?  Does it accordingly matter that literary works are both produced and received in various places and/or at different times?  Does literature, in short, have a history? 
  • What is the precise nature of the relationship that links authors (and their works) to their precursors and successors?  Is this relationship one simply of chronological succession (e.g. Milton comes before Wordsworth who comes before Brathwaite, and so on) or is it one of influence (e.g. Milton’s work shapes Wordsworth's or Eliot Brathwaite's, etc.)?  If so, do successors passively absorb the influences of their predecessors or can these pressures be actively resisted? 
  • Should a literary work be studied in relation less to non-literary things (i.e. who writes it, who reads it, or the time and place of production or reception) than to other literary works?  Is it accordingly better to focus less on the history of literature than the 'intertextual' similarities and differences which literary works (i.e. ‘texts’) share with each other?
  • Last but not least, do some writers possess greater skill than their counterparts and produce works of higher quality that are worthier of study and preservation and, thus, do they deserve to be elevated over (i.e. 'canonised') other lesser literary examples?. 

We shall explore several competing answers to these questions offered, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by several important theorists such as Matthew Arnold, Hippolyte Taine, T. S. Eliot, Wimsatt and Beardsley, Leo Spitzer, and Walter Ong.

LITS3303 MODERN CRITICAL THEORY

This course introduces students to several modern schools of theory, such as Marxism, Psychoanalysis and Phenomenology.  This year the course will build on students' exposure to the classical foundations of rhetoric (the study of the production of persuasive discourse) and hermeneutics (the study of the interpretation of discourse) in Parts I and II of the History of Criticism course in order to explore modern schools of criticism that emphasise a rhetorical approach to the study of literature and culture.

The course will seek to answer the following basic questions.  First, does an understanding of rhetoric and hermeneutics shed any light on literature?  That is, can and should we study literature from a rhetorical / hermeneutical perspective?  Second, does an understanding of literature, in turn, shed any light on rhetoric and hermeneutics?  That is, can and should we read non-literary discourse from a literary perspective?  Can we, in short, apply the skills which we possess as literary critics, that is, can we do what literary critics do (i.e. literary criticism) to other, strictly speaking non-literary texts?  The answer to each of these questions offered by this course is, as we shall see, in the affirmative.

In Module One, accordingly, we shall study the views on rhetoric advanced by several key twentieth century theorists, such as as Kenneth Burke, Richard Weaver, Chaim Perelman, Stephen Toulmin, Robert Scott, Lloyd Bitzer, Edwin Black, Walter Fisher, and Richard Vatz. 

In Module Two, we shall explore several rhetorical models of literature (e.g. Kenneth Burke, Wayne Booth, Harold Bloom, Stanley Fish, Henry Louis gates, Jr.) as well as the literary / rhetorical dimensions of the discourses produced in several purportedly scientific and/or philosophical (i.e. allegedly non-literary) fields of knowledge, such as Anthropology (e.g. Clifford Geertz), Economics (e.g. Deirdre McCloskey), History (e.g. Hayden White), Law (e.g. James Boyd White), the Natural Sciences (e.g. Thomas Kuhn, Paul Newell Campbell, Walter Weimer, Alan Gross), Philosophy (e.g. Richard Rorty), Psychology (e.g. Michael Billig), and the Social Sciences (e.g. Joseph Gusfield, Richard Harvey Brown, Michael Overington).

 

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