Modern Literary Theory 

Contemporary Philosophy, Critical Theory, and Postmodern Thought

Swirl Theory Site

U. of Colorado Prof. Lectures 

Intro. Guide to Critical Theory 

Contemporary Literary Theory


Emory University postcolonial gateway site



Postcolonial Studies gateway site #2





Prof. Bruce Harvey

Literary Theory: Eng 5048         


Spring 2004, Monday 6:25-9:05, University Park Campus

Biscayne Bay O
ffice and Hours: AC1 346, (305) 919-5254, to be arranged

University Park Office and Hours: to be arranged

Home phone: to be given in class 



Some charge literary theory or culture theory with being overly difficult, impractical, or implausible.   Until recently, theory has been a cult-commodity of sorts, with those in-the-know and those-not-in-the-know or not-wanting-to-know smirking at each other.  The "theory wars"--inordinate angsting over whether and how one "does" theory--seem fortunately to be behind us.  This is because of zeitgeist-fatigue and because the terms and insights of many theorists have simply been absorbed as tools of the trade.  Some may find one type of tool better than another, and some new tools doubtless will be developed, but there is a consensus, for better or worse, that the theoretical toolbox is here to stay.


Sometimes the seeming zaniness or obscurity of contemporary theory can make one think that anything goes interpretively.  It is more useful to think of meaning as depending on the sorts of questions we ask of a text or literary work, and that our questions are, in turn, shaped (which does not mean absolutely determined) by our culture, our psychology, our ideologies, by, in the largest sense, the scripts that script us, or, in an institutional context, by the internal protocols of a particular academic discipline.  The goal of this course, however, is not just the pragmatic one of helping you to become more aware of the sorts of questions that can be asked, so you can write better future essays or your thesis.  Nor is it, more generally, to get you up to speed on a daunting subject.  Theory involves philosophy, politics, history, anthropology, and psychology; and invites us to become more curious about things and texts and more nuanced and deft in understanding our own interiors.  This is a serious course, and I will expect you to work hard in it.  Yet it should also be a fun one, in which admitting confusion will be okay, and presenting wacky takes on texts will be encouraged.


A note: we should distinguish between "original" "theorists" of culture, politics, sexuality, etc.--Marx, Freud, even Foucault, for example--all of whom are relatively easy to read; and secondary theorists who modify or use these originals as they think about texts--e.g., Jameson, post-Lacanians or many French feminist theorists, and Greenblatt or other New Historians.  Everyone will understand the meaning of the previous (2nd) paragraph; not everyone will fully understand this paragraph because I have written it as if you already knew who Jameson, et. al. are, a mini-illustration of the problem when you read literary theory oftentimes.  A major stumbling block to appreciating theory is the discomfort, as it were, of entering the party when you don't know the names of anyone.  Contemporary theorists often tend less to say something about something, than to position themselves against what other folks are saying about something.  They also like to make meta-remarks such as the one I just made, which can become dizzying.  In the course, we will read both "originals" and those who come after.  We will become dizzy; and we will, I hope, also become curious and exhilarated.


The course is divided into two sections:

--Learning Theory:  In this section, we will get an overview of the major schools or motifs of literary and cultural theory, sample a variety of influential theorists, and apply what we have learned to brief poems and short stories.  To make the abstract theory more concrete, we'll read the critical essays in the Bedford casebook edition of Shelley's Frankenstein.


--Practicing Theory:  The last two weeks will be devoted to workshops on your evolving semester essay and its theoretical strategies and maneuvers.  The text you write on may be any of the texts previously used in the course or Yamanaka's Blu's Hanging





20% =    In-class participation

20% =    Discussion board participation

10% =    Theory text precis
10% =    5-10 minute oral report on your essay

20% =    Essay draft

20% =    Essay final version




-- Peter Barry, Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory (Manchester University Press)
-- Vincent B. Leitch, Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism
-- Foucault, History of Sexuality: An Introduction (Vintage)
-- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism, 2nd edition, ed Johanna M. Smith (Bedford)
-- Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Blu's Hanging (Avon/Bard)




Class Participation:  I will give mini-lectures to highlight important issues, but most of the class will be discussion oriented.  Your participation will be worth 20% of your final grade. Missing class, especially as a graduate student, is considered very poor form: don't do it.  If you miss two days, we will have a serious discussion.  If you miss three, you will not be able to pass the course.


Discussion Threads:  I will set up the discussion thread web-link (only the class can access it) the first week of class.  You may initiate topics ("threads") or respond to topics I or other students propose.  Now and again, I may post significant quotes from theorists or critics to stimulate discussion. You should submit and read postings routinely, but I don't want it to become only busy work for you.  You should have at least a meaty paragraph or exchange for each of the major theory areas.  I will monitor the dialogue periodically (and perhaps occasionally intervene)--but this is intended to be your forum, not mine.  Heated debate is fine; but remember that basic rules of etiquette apply--be polite and avoid vulgarities.  Respectable grammar, spelling, and sentence style are expected.  About midway through the semester, I'll give you feedback about whether your online discussion up to that point equals an "A," "B," and so forth.   And you can always ask me how you are doing.  If the online discussion creates awkwardness for you in any form, please talk to me and we'll work the problem out.  The online discussion equals 20% of your final grade.  For those of you who do not have easy access to the Internet at home, there are many facilities on campus, available virtually all the time (logging in for 20 minutes before or after class once or twice a week would likely satisfy this portion of the course requirements).


Theory Text Precis: Choose a theoretical book (preferably by an author we are not reading), relevant to the issues that you are writing about in your essay.  I will help you select an appropriate theory author and his/her text.  Write an approximately one-page summary (not an evaluation) of the volume.  This will be worth 10% of your overall grade.    


Paper:  For the "Practicing Theory" section of the course, I have selected a contemporary Hawaiian novel about which little has been written (I'm starting a new book on Polynesia in fiction and film).  You may write your essay on it or any of the other texts we've discussed during the semester. Essay guidelines will be given down-the-road.  The draft of your essay equals 20% of the course grade; the oral report on it, 10%; and the final version another 20%.


March 12:        Email me a 1/2 page statement of possibilities for your essay.
March 19:        Confirm what theoretical volume you will use for the precis.
March 29:        Email me your precis.
April 2:             Email me a draft of your essay.
April 5/12:        Oral reports and workshops on your essay.
April 16:           Email me a final version of your essay.




There is no final exam.


Because I usually teach at Biscayne Bay, and am only coming down to University Park Monday evening, it is important for you to talk to me, as needed, about course matters directly before or after class.  Other conference arrangements will need to be ad hoc. You may call me at my home number (before 11:00 PM), leave a message on my BBC office phone, or email me. 


A graduate-level seminar is not simply a more intense 4000-level undergraduate course.  I look upon you as a potential teacher or colleague-in-the-making and thus, although I'm still leading the class, democracy more or less rules.  This means that while typically I will have an agenda, I have no problem with the class veering off into other illuminating avenues.  I also expect more active and regular participation than in an undergraduate class.  Passivity on your part--waiting for me to guide you to important passages and points--is inappropriate.  A high degree of intellectual inquisitiveness and resourcefulness is assumed of all students in a graduate seminar.








You should read the selections in the order given--overview (the Barry volume), reader (the Norton anthology), author (a major theorist's work), text (brief text to which we will apply the previous), and Frankenstein essay.  In class, sometimes we will dwell more extensively on one of the readings or another, according to everyone's need and interest and so on.  A typical class will be a mix of me summarizing, me asking you for help in puzzling through some knotty theoretical issue or vice-versa, and--as much as possible--concretely applying theory to specific texts.


At the top of this page are several links to literary/cultural theory sites.  I encourage you to tour them.  


The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism provides introductions to each of the major theoretical schools.  Please read them or the relevant sections of the sites above.



Jan 5, Mon

Introduction--Grasping theory in 100 seconds (CLICK HERE)

Jan 12, Mon

Underneath the class date, I will occasionally put Go  sites (click on this one), taking you to websites relevant to the issues/texts of the week.  These are supplementary (not mandatory) reading, and I likely will not refer to them in class... but try to visit for additional insight. I also will post in this column miscellaneous notes about whatever needs to be miscellaneously noted.

Also see my
Theory Lecture Notes
which I will update periodically.  You should read the appropriate section of these notes to review class lecture/ discussion, but do not read them before because I modify to fit the class meeting just completed.

The Emergence of Literature as a Discipline/New Criticism  

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 1
--reader: Ransom 1105-18, Wimsatt and Beardsley 1371-1403, & Brooks ("The Formalist Critics") 1350-2, 1366-71
--text and analysis (to be read in class): Jarrell's "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" (e-text)
--text (to be read in class): Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (e-text)

If you are curious for a sampling of Cleanth Brooks' criticism, see the two scanned pages below from his William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963): note the emphasis on unity, coherence, balance of opposites, etc.



Below is a student essay, exemplifying New Criticism, from another theory site.

Go--sample student New Criticism essay

No Class: M.L.K. Day


Reading Week: Read Shelley's Frankenstein (we'll discuss via the Bedford critical/theoretical essays to be read later in the semester) & Yamanaka's Blu's Hanging

Over the next eight weeks, you should develop ideas and theoretical perspectives about Blu's Hanging or another class text or film.  By March 12, you should email me indicating what you might want to address in your paper.  We will then discuss Blu's Hanging fully in class, applying the theories you have previously been introduced to, and you will orient your ideas/paper in a more explicitly theoretical manner.

Jan 26, Mon

Click this Go  for an irreverent example/ summary of Structuralism by Terry Eagleton (likely the most famous literary critic/ theorist, next to Edward Said)


Form, Structures, and Signs

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 2

--reader: Saussure 956-77, Frye 1442-57, Barthes ("From Work to Text") 1457-60, 1470-75, & Todorov 2097-106

--text: Blake's "London" with Blake's illustration (e-text and gif)

Feb 2, Mon

Here are some sites that review poststructuralism and deconstruction--the two are not quite synonymous (Lacan, Foucault, Kristeva, & many feminists are poststructuralists and use the tools of deconstruction, but are not deconstructionists per se).

Go (mini-example of deconstructive reading)

Posts I: Poststructuralism and Deconstruction

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 3

--reader: Nietzsche 870-84, Foucault 1615-47, & Derrida 1815-19, 1830-76

--Frankenstein: Botting, "Reflections of Excess"


Here and subsequently I list the Bedford critical/theory essay on Frankenstein  appropriate for the theories/theorists we are studying, so that you will have a concrete example.




Feb 9, Mon





Go-History of self

Go-Deleuze letter

Go-StarTrek reading

Go-Durer reading




Posts II: Postmodernism

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 4 (81-90 only)

--reader: Deleuze and Guattari 1593-97 & ("A Thousand Plateaus") 1601-09, Jameson ("Postmodernism...") 1932-35, 1960-74, Lyotard 1609-15, & Baudrillard 1729-41


Feb 16, Mon

For our purposes, it is best to read lucid (but still heady) summaries of Lacan and Kristeva, for both are notoriously obscure and protean and hard to fathom from just an excerpt or two.  Please check out either of the Lacan sites and the Kristeva site below.  If anybody wants the real thing, I can loan out (this goes for most of our theorists) various volumes. Just tell me what you think you are interested in. 

Go-fancy Lacan page

Putting on the Freudian Hat

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 5 (96-108 only)

--reader: Freud 913-56 & Mulvey 2179-92

--text: Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart" & "The Black Cat" (any edition or print from Heart  Cat)

--Frankenstein: Collings, "The Monster and the Maternal Thing"

--film excerpt (time allowing): Disney's "Lilo and Stich"


Click on the images below. The first is a promotional poster for Elvis in "Blue Hawaii."  The other three come from Disney's "Lilo and Stitch."  Now that you know something about postmodernism's toying with representational surface/depth, ponder the visual differences among the images.  Now ponder Lacan's mirror stage (see links to the left), and look closely at Lilo in her bedroom: does her doll have an identity? does Lilo have an identity? how does Lilo's identity relate to the photos on the wall of tourists' bodies that she has photographed?  Note that her camera is on a table next to a hula-dancer lamp. Can theory provide us with a way of talking, perhaps rather elaborately and profoundly, about this "popular" flick or make you notice things you might not otherwise notice?



Image#2                  PAPER GUIDELINES




Feb 23, Mon

Go-fancy site: just browse and use for future reference


Gender, Bodies, and Sexuality I: Feminism

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 6 (124-30 only)

--reader: Cixous 2035-56, Haraway 2266-99, & Davis 2398-421

--Frankenstein: Smith, "Cooped Up"

--film excerpt: Elvis's "Blue Hawaii"

We will likely divide up into groups with each group being in charge of leading discussion on Cixous, or Haraway, or Davis for the rest of the class.

Over the next several weeks, we will increasingly move towards idea-workshop discussion mode, as you internalize more theory possibilities.

This would be a good time for you to pause and, if you have not already done so, review GO site material or my online notes. You will find that many of the theorists we will yet be reading, although "easier" reads in some ways, also assume knowledge of Derrida, Freud, Lacan, Poststructuralism, etc.


March 1, Mon

Go-same site as above: just browse for future reference


Gender, Bodies, and Sexuality II: Queer Theory

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 7 (139-48 only)

--reader: Zimmerman 2338-59, Sedgwick 2432-38, & Butler 2485-501

--author: Foucault, History of Sexuality

--Frankenstein: Michel, "Lesbian Panic"

Email me to get feedback on your online postings. There is no need to email if you know yourself how you are doing--posting regularly, or posting rarely.  If in doubt email.


March 8, Mon

Go-same as above, but for Marxist Theory: just browse for future reference

Go-same as above, but for New Historicism: just browse for future reference


We will use Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" to consolidate our understanding of the previous theoretical perspectives, including tonight's focus--political criticism and New Historicism.

Politicizing Texts I: From Marx to Cultural Studies and New Historicism

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 8 (156-66 only) and Chapter 9 (172-86 only)

--reader: Horkheimer and Adorno 1220-40, Althusser 1476-79 & 1483-509 ("Ideology..."), & Hebdige 2445-57

--text: Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" (e-text)

--Frankenstein: Montag, "The Workshop of the Filthy Creation"

--cut reading: Frankenstein: Zakharieva, "Frankenstein of the Nineties" (read this essay and intro. if you are interested in film or are writing on "Lilo and Stich" or "Blue Hawaii" or another film)


--cut readings: Marx and Engels (German Ideology & Letter from Engels) 759-63, 767-9, 787-8, Gramsci 1135-43, Hall 1895-1910

Email me to get feedback on your online postings. There is no need to email if you know yourself how you are doing--posting regularly or posting rarely.  If in doubt email.



By March 12 email me a 1/2 page statement of possibilities for your essay.

These can still be tentative, as the goal over the next three weeks will be to work towards argument focus and theoretical clarity.  As you think about your paper, please follow first what interests you about Blu's Hanging or your selected text/film.  Then, after you have some core ideas, ponder what theory will most enable you to work out your ideas.  In other words: react first and then reflect theoretically.  You will find, doing things thusly, that theory will be much less abstract to you--it will, rather, become part of your thought process.

March 15, Mon

Go-very good Terms & Issues section from an Emory University gateway site: please skim through

Go-another very good Postcolonial Studies gateway site

Go-Stevenson biography in South Seas

Go-illustration from 1st edition of Stevenson's "Falesa"

Stevenson's "The Beach of Falesa" is a 60 page download.   It is available in a collection of Stevenson tales (South Sea Tales) which costs $11.00.

Our goal will be to collectively come up with a full-scale, "flow-chart" interpretation of the Stevenson tale that has strong explanatory power, combining theories we've looked at previously and especially theories of colonialism/postcolonialism. Please come prepared with important passages, etc., in mind!!!

Politicizing Texts II: Questioning Imperial and Racial Stereotypes

--overview: Beginning Theory, Chapter 10

--reader (on race): Smith 2299-315 & Gates 2421-32
--reader (on postcolonialism): Fanon 1575-7 & 1587-93

--text: Stevenson's "The Beach of Falesa"

   (long e-text from website)
   (reformatted Word version--56 pages)

   (smaller formatted Word version--38 pages)

--cut readings (on race): Christian 2255-66 & Baker 2223-40
--cut readings (on postcolonialism): Bhabha 2377-97 and Spivak 2193-208 (for reasons that I cannot fathom, Norton selected Spivak's revised version of an essay which, in its original was difficult but rewarding, but in the one printed here, obscenely obscure)

By March 19 confirm what theoretical volume you will be using for the March 29 précis assignment.




Spring Break: No Class


March 29, Mon




Go--template for undergraduate class discussion (I've put this here in case any of you in the future want to teach "Blu")

Applying Theory to a Text
--Yamanka, Blu's Hanging

Email me the précis
By April 2 (Friday), email me a draft of your essay in standard Word format.



April 5, Mon


Applying Theory to a Text

Workshops and 5-10 minute oral reports on your evolving essay:
--bring copies of the first two or three pages of your essay
--bring copies of the theory book precis
--deliver (do not read!) a summary of the theory book and how it applies to your essay
--after the reports, you'll divide into small groups to workshop your essays


April 12, Mon

Applying Theory to a Text

Workshops and 5-10 minute oral reports on your evolving essay:
--bring copies of the first two or three pages of your essay
--bring copies of the theory book precis
--deliver (do not read!) a summary of the theory book and how it applies to your essay
--after the reports, you'll divide into small groups to workshop your essays


April 16 (Friday)

Essay due via email