Studies in Critical Theory: Rethinking Literacy in the Digital Age

English 4060
Rethinking Literacy in the Digital Age
Section 1
Raymond Ronci
10:00am-10:50 a.m.
Arts & Science 303

The term Literary Theory is nowadays synonymous with what we call Critical Theory. The theories and practices that once applied only to the study of literature are now used to critically examine all aspects of life. In a sense, the whole world is a text to be read, studied and analyzed.

Proceeding from the premise that what we know is always rooted in how we know we will examine the different ways in which our media act as metaphors. We will study how thinking and perception have changed as we evolved from an oral culture to a print-based culture to a television culture and now to a digital culture.

For the first part of the semester we will address the question: Why do I think what I think? by reading Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death followed by Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and concluding with a collection of essays edited by Mark Bauerlein called The Digital Divide: Arguments For and Against Facebook, Google, Texting and The Age of Social Networking.

For the second part of the semester we will address the question: What exactly do I think and how have our media metaphors shaped our sense of reality? We'll begin this part of the course by reading The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Keith Campbell and Jean Twenge, and iGen: Why Today's Super-connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy-- and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood by Jean Twenge.

Please note: this is a very HOT topic, and new books are being published all the time so the book list for the course could change between now and the first day of class. Nevertheless, the sum of the semester's reading raises some very compelling and important questions: Are you really free and do you really think for yourself? Is true democracy possible in a Capitalist economy? How do we develop the critical thinking skills required to negotiate the complex terrain of a mass media world? How do we sustain our role as citizens in a culture predicated on consumerism? The goal of the course is to provide students with the necessary knowledge required to read the world as a text and to think critically and independently about it.