Theories & Methds of Lit Study

English 625 B Theories & Methds of Lit Study: Literary Problems versus Real Problems

Wednesday 18:30-21:00

Office: 714 Kuykendall                               Office hours: Mon 2-3, Fri 3-4

Office Phone: 808-956-3072                             E-mail:


Theories and Methods of Literary Study: Literary Problems versus Real Problems

The aim of this course is to introduce graduate students to fundamental concepts and problems in the interpretation of literature. Rather than approaching the topic through a survey of the different “schools” of literary criticism, we will examine different theoretical approaches to problems that are encountered in thinking about literature and the quality of the ‘literary’—What is literature, and why should theory come between our intimate literary experiences and how we talk about it? What is the relationship of literature to art in general? Can art take the form of a comic book? Is it possible to have “lyric poetry after Auschwitz”? Why is theory so inaccessible and traumatic? How are literary theory and literary criticism different beasts? Is it even possible to apply theory to literary texts? What is the relationship of history to literary history? What is the relationship of theory to praxis? Can theory change the world? Can literature change the world? Is it even desirable to change the world? What does it mean to change the world?


Readings will be covered in four clusters:

  1. Problem of Mimesis, Mediation, Experience (4 weeks): the Sublime or Unrepresentable; Negation and Affirmation; Surface and Depth;
  2. Problem of the World Outside Literature (4 weeks): Aesthetics and Politics; Kitsch and the Avant-Garde; Postmodernism.
  3. History and Subjectivity (3 Weeks): the historical, the literary-historical, and literary historiography; self and subalternity (feminist and postcolonial perspectives).
  4. Methods of Reading (4 Weeks): Ideology Critique; Immanent Reading, Cognitive mapping (the connection between spatial and temporal logics); close and distant readings; embodied and affective readings.


Primary Readings and Films:

Art Spiegelman (1986), Maus I

Marcel Proust (1913), “Part I: Combray”, Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, trans. Lydia Davis

Reinhardt Hauff (1986), Stammheim – The Baader-Meinhof Gang On Trial, duration: 107 minutes

Carolyn Steedman (1986), Landscape for a Good Woman

Patricia Highsmith (1977), Little Tales of Misogyny

Critical Essays will be provided electronically.



Informal class assignments to demonstrate preparedness and attentiveness

Students are expected to make two individual class presentations (15 minutes each)

One short paper or keyword drawing on one of the class presentations (6 pages)

One long paper (15-20 pages)

All students will make team presentations for the graduate colloquium.



General Student Outcomes:

  1. You will gain a better understanding of how theories and methods of literary study work
  2. You will be able to identify and describe key concepts in critical theory
  3. You will develop the ability to place your own scholarly work within broader critical conversations and to contribute to these conversations by conducting independent research.
  4. You will gain experience delivering concise, informed, focused, and thought-provoking oral presentations to peers in the field.
  5. You will gain experience formulating historically- and theoretically-informed argument based essays; and you will gain experience documenting sources accurately and responsibly, using a standard academic style.