The field of English is shaped by literary theory through its profound engagements with big questions of reality, language, identity, power, desire, history – most broadly, the self and the world. When studying literature, we often seek out ways of uncovering the workings—and play—of these engagements in the texts we read. This course turns to the questions and answers posed by theory itself, rather than applications through the reading of literary texts.
Theory can seem complex and intimidating, but its questions are fundamental: how do we make meaning? How do we constitute texts, and how do texts constitute us? How are we to know those parts of ourselves that refuse knowledge? How do our bodies, our given identities, and the material conditions of our lives shape who we are and how we feel, think, act, desire, and read? Keeping these and other basic questions in mind, this course will survey the key approaches and texts of contemporary literary theory.