Introduction to Literary Theory

Purpose of Course  showclose

This course will introduce you to the field of literary theory, a central component of contemporary studies in English and world literature. As you progress through this course, you will gain knowledge of the various premises and methods available to you as a critical reader of literature. You will identify and engage with key questions that have animated – and continue to animate – theoretical discussions among literary scholars and critics, including issues pertaining to ideology, cultural value, the patriarchal and colonial biases of Western culture and literature, and more. The structure of this course is historically based, arranged as a genealogy of theoretical paradigms, beginning in the early 20th century – when literary theory first developed as a formal discipline – and following the evolution of literary theory into the present day. From text-centric Russian formalism to contemporary gynocriticism and trauma theory, you will explore the basic principles and preeminent texts that have defined many of the major critical debates surrounding literature over the past hundred years.

Course Information  showclose

Welcome to ENGL301: Introduction to Literary Theory. General information on this course and its requirements can be found below.

Course Designer: James R. Fleming

Primary Resources: This course uses a range of different free, online resource materials, with primary use of the following materials:

  • Yale University’s Open Yale Courses: Introduction to Theory of Literature: Dr. Paul H. Fry’s Lecture Series
  • The University of Tennessee’s Internet Encyclopedia of PhilosophyDr. Vince Brewton’s “Literary Theory”
  • Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • The Saylor Foundation’s An Introduction to Literary Theory Coursepack
  • Athenaeum Library of Philosophy

  • Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. You also will need to complete the course’s Final Exam.
    Note that you only will receive an official grade on your Final Exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to review all the materials assigned in each unit. In addition, responding to the questions presented in the Q&As that follow many of the assignments in this course - as well as thoroughly reviewing Saylor’s coursepack and glossary of terms for this subject - also will help you prepare for the Final Exam.

    In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

    Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 119.5 hours to complete. Each unit includes time advisories that list the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit and assignment. These time advisories should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you approximately 5.5 hours to complete. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete Subunit 1.1 (a total of 4.5 hours) on Monday and Tuesday nights; Subunit 1.2 (a total of 1 hour) on Wednesday night; etc.

    Tips/Suggestions: It is recommended that you take thorough notes as you work through each assignment in this course. These notes will serve as a useful review tool as you study for the Final Exam. In addition, the Q&As that follow many of the assignments in this course will help you to solidify many important concepts. In addition, the coursepack and glossary of terms included in this course will serve as indispensable resources for understanding many of the various theoretical terms and concepts presented in this course.

Learning Outcomes  showclose

Upon successful completion of this course, you should be able to:
  • define both literary theory and literary criticism, and explain the emergence of these two fields as a discipline of study;
  • identify and discuss classical Greek explanations of the purpose of literature;
  • explain and account for the rise of literary theory in the 20th century, and describe the place of theory in contemporary English and cultural studies;
  • provide a brief overview of the major tenets, practitioners, and ideas stemming from the following critical and theoretical movements and/or schools: Russian formalism, New Criticism, structuralism, poststructuralism, semiotics, deconstruction, psychoanalysis,feminism, gender theory, Marxism, reader-response paradigms, New Historicism, postcolonialism, ethnic studies, ecocriticism, chaos theory, and trauma theory;
  • identify and discuss some of the viewpoints opposed to the practice of literary criticism;
  • discuss contemporary cultural forces influencing some of the newly emerging trends in literary theory, such as ecocriticism, trauma theory, and chaos theory; and
  • identify, discuss, and define some of the key theories of major literary and cultural critics and theorists, such as (in alphabetical order) Theodor W. Adorno, Aristotle, J.L. Austin, Mikhail Bakhtin, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Terry Eagleton, T.S. Eliot, Stanely Fish, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Stephen Greenblatt, Edmund Husserl, Wolfgang Iser, Fredric Jameson, Carl Jung, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Karl Marx, Plato, Ferdinand de Saussure, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Victor Shklovsky.

Course Requirements  showclose

In order to take this course, you must:
√    have access to a computer;
√    have continuous broadband internet access;
√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash);
√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;
√    have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);
√    have competency in the English language;

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook; and

√    have completed the following courses from “The Core Program” of the English discipline: ENGL101, ENGL201, ENGL202, ENGL203, and ENGL204.

Preliminary Information

Unit Outline show close