[In times like these,] art forms, like “tragedy” or “comedy”
or “satire” would be treated as equipments for living, that
size up situations in various ways and in keeping with
correspondingly various attitudes. The typical ingredients
of such forms would be sought. Their relation to typical
situations would be stressed. Their comparative values would
be considered, with the intention of formulating a “strategy of
strategies,” the “over-all” strategy obtained by inspection of the lot.
How does one form a "strategy of strategies" for the critical interpretation of texts? As an English major or minor, you have already begun shaping your understanding of what it means to critically read, write, and interpret. English 371 encourages you to shape that understanding even more, by involving you in the study and practice of criticism. This course does not emphasize the literary or historical interpretation of specific texts; rather, it emphasizes the study of landmarks in critical and theoretical practice, as well as the development of your ability to read theoretical texts for themselves. It will provide you with an introduction to some of the intellectual concepts and methods that have shaped contemporary understandings of rhetoric, literature, culture, and text. In this particular class, we will consider what can or should be the principles underlying an equipment for living. What beliefs about text underlie these principles, and what assumptions accompany those beliefs? What bearing does critical interpretation have on larger questions of identity, agency, textuality, and human society when the definitions of those terms are themselves contingent – uncertain?
In a single course, we cannot cover every school of thought, every intellectual movement, or every theory vital to criticism. Instead, we will focus our readings and our discussions on a finite set of critical problems or dilemmas (some would call them critical paradoxes): Agent/cy, Anti/Signification, Text/uality, and Re/Presentation. As we unpack these dilemmas, we will likely note that their intertextual dimensions – that is, how their meanings, constructions, and social uses are shaped by and help to shape other texts – are indeed infinite. Whether or not you consider yourself a theorist, much critical work is often done to meet real demands in real contexts. So, we will also focus on two films, a graphic novel, some short fiction, and other web, print, and video texts that will serve as "cases" for us to apply what we have learned, considering the role of critical practices in raising and answering questions about incarceration, digitality, feminism, globalism, ecology, and even war.