Contemporary Critical Approaches: Contemporary Literary Theory

English 8050
Contemporary Literary Theory
Section 1
Carsten Strathausen
Strickland 324

This course focuses on current trends in literary theory. Our overall goal is to explore both the philosophical as well as the socio-political dimension of theoretical paradigms such as structuralism, postmodernism, deconstruction, post-colonialism, psychoanalysis, feminism, Marxism, reader response, etc. Two critical premises will guide our discussion: first, the belief that there is no “meta-theory” able to account for all the insights fashioned by the different approaches to literary and cultural production. The second premise holds that theories do not just emerge out of a socio-historical vacuum, but always carry within themselves traces of the particular context in which they are “born.” Examining that context, then, is an essential part for “understanding” literary and aesthetic theory in general. Rather than dismissing a particular critical approach as “unrealistic” or “outdated,” it is far more productive to assess its strength and weaknesses within and beyond the historical context during which it emerged. This approach should also help students to become more familiar with whatever theory they might find most useful for their own work. The course begins with a brief discussion of the “linguistic turn” in 20th century theory and the fundamental importance of Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics from 1916.