Critical Writing About Literature
This is a course about how to read, talk about, and write about texts critically. It’s a gateway course to the English Major because interpreting different kinds of texts is the basis for all the learning you will do as an English major. In this sense, literary interpretation is a set of skills you’ll learn in and after this course, but it’s also more than that. It’s how remake ourselves and our worlds through (attempts at) understanding. As this course introduces you to practices of interpretation, we’ll center a set of texts that think explicitly about the stakes and challenges of becoming ourselves and being at home in a world that we are still learning to understand, including: Refuge (Williams), Fearful Beloved (Queen), Fun Home (Bechdel), Olio (Jess), and After the Last Sky (Said & Mohr).
This survey of major texts and movements of literary theory is organized by the history of critical attention to the negative, the pessimistic, and the absent. We’ll track how (and ask why) theorists seeking to address elemental questions about forms of knowledge and power often root their inquiries in what those forms fail to describe, or in what those forms obtain in contradistinction to. By focusing on theories of negativity (or how the negative animates broader critical debates), we are not isolating a separate theoretical tradition, but rather are using an essential aspect of all theoretical inquiry and practice to organize our survey. Course reading will include Marx, Adorno, Ahmed, Berlant, Butler, Chen, Derrida, Fanon, Federici, Halberstam, Hartman, Lowe, Mbembe, Moten, Said, Spillers, Spivak, and Wilderson.