Literary Theory - EN889

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
(version 3)
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7 30 (15) PROF DS Ayers







On this module we conduct a broad survey of modern literary and critical theory, but in a revisionist spirit, asking what were the moments that generated certain critical turns, and examining the broad historical impetus of change, such as the Russian Revolution, the Cold War, and the revolts of 1968. In the first part of the module we look at developments in the early twentieth century which gave shape to modern literary studies; in the second part of the module we look at developments from the second half of the century to the present day. As well as reading the texts of theory, we aim to understand its historical and institutional contexts, and our overall objective is to understand and analyse some of the recent turns in critical discourse, such as transnationalism, and the turn away from theory to the archive.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

One two hour seminar per week

Method of assessment

100% coursework

Preliminary reading

Draft list of topics:

1. Society and criticism: F.R. Leavis and Leon Trotsky

2. Russian Formalism and Bakhtin

3. Marxism I: Benjamin and Adorno

4. Marxism II: Raymond Williams and Louis Althusser

5. Fortunes of the author: Barthes, Foucault

6. Ontological criticism: Heidegger, Derrida

7. Colony and race: Fanon and Spivak

8. The ethical turn: Eve Sedgwick and Judith Butler

9. The transnational turn: Susan Friedman

10. Philosophy or Weak Theory: Alain Badiou or the archive?

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

1. Gain an understanding of some of some recent strands of literary theory and their associated reading practices.
2. Develop a knowledge of the ways in which such theories compete with and complement each other
3. Explore such key concepts as deconstruction, critique, rhetoric, language, discourse, ideology, the subject, gender, and identity.
4. Consider the complex processes by which concepts, terms, topics, themes and procedures from French and German philosophy have been adapted to the subject area of English Literature
5. Acquire an understanding of, and competence in handling, the analytic tools and vocabularies which are the substance of modern literary-theoretical thought.

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