English 4956 -- Literary Theory Seminar

Instructor: Alan Bourassa
Time: TTH 10:00 - 11:20 a.m. (EC102)
Office Hours: MW 12:30-1:30, WF 10:30-11:30 and by appointment (Office ECH 121 )
Tel: 474-1882
e-mail: bourasa1@nb.sympatico. ca

"Literary Theory" may sound like a rather dry subject, very far from the emotional adventure of fiction and drama. However, Literary Theory is one of the most interesting and challenging areas of literature. It begins with the assumption that we are all creatures of language. We live in language as a fish lives in water. Our political decisions, our desires, our ethics, even the way we perceive reality are all structured and shaped by language. What this means is that literary theory can help us to understand every area of our experience. In fact "Literary Theory" is almost a misnomer. It does not just deal with literature. It can be used to understand music, film, fashion, architecture, urban planning, television, psychology and a host of other subjects. In this course we will read some of the classic texts of Literary Theory. This class will be based on our discussions of these texts. It is a seminar class, so you will be expected to have a lot to say. Make no mistake: Literary Theory is difficult, but, as the philosopher Spinoza said, all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.

Reading List

Julie Rivkin, Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology
Class Packs (to be distributed)


Week 1 Sept. 4-5
Wimsatt and Beardsley - "The Intentional Fallacy"

Week 2 Sept 8-12
Saussure - Course in General Linguistics (76-90)
Introduction - Culler - "The Linguistic Foundation" (73-75)

Week 3 Sept. 15-19
Barthes - "Myth Today" (1119-1134)
Fiske - "The Jeaning of America"

Week 4 Sept. 22-26
Storey - "Structuralism and Post-Structuralism"
Austin - How To Do Things With Words (96-100)

Week 5 Sept 29-Oct 3
Frye - "Archetypes of Literature"
Solomon - The Signs of Our Times

Week 6 Oct. 6-10
Review of Structuralism and Semiotics

Week 7 Oct. 13-17
Thanksgiving Day
Rivkin and Ryan - "Starting With Zero: Basic Marxism" (231-242)
1st 3 page paper due

Week 8 Oct. 20-24
Marx - Manifesto of the Communist Party (256-261)
Grundrisse (247-249)
The German Ideology (250-255)
"Wage Labour and Capital" (262-267)
Chapter 1: Commodities (268-276)

Week 9 Oct. 27-31
Storey - "Marxism"
Volosinov - "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language" (278-281)

Week 10 Nov. 3-7
Fiske - "Culture, Ideology, Interpellation" (305-311)
Ewen - "All-Consuming Images" (1082-1086)

Week 11 Nov. 10-14
Remembrance Day

Adorno and Horkheimer - "The Culture Industry as Mass Deception" (1037-1041)
Gramsci - "Hegemony" (277)

Week 12 Nov. 17-21
Williams - "Marxism and Literature"
Althusser - "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (294-304)

Week 13 Nov. 24-28
Benjamin - "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (282-289)
2nd 3 page paper due

Week 14 Dec. 1-5

Review of Marxism and the theory of ideology

Assignments and Evaluation

Your participation grade will include not only attendance and participation in class, but also in class assignments and participation in group work.
The papers are due at the beginning of class on the dates specified. Late papers will be marked down one full letter per day (i.e. one day late brings a B+ down to a C+). If you have to hand a paper in late you must tell me BEFORE the paper is due and we can negotiate. There are certain good reasons for not handing in a paper: family problems, illness, going out of town. There are certain reasons that won't fly: hangovers, assignments for other classes, fatigue. Just be reasonable about handing in your assignments and I will be reasonable if something unforeseen comes up.
You will be allowed three unexcused absences during the semester. After that your final grade will be dropped one mark per extra absence (so three extra unexcused absences drops you from B to C). Again, an unforeseen crisis will excuse the absence. But if you miss several classes, even with a legitimate reason, it will certainly reflect on your work and therefore your grade.

Important Note: Always keep extra copies of your papers on floppy disk, and make an extra hard copy of each assignment. I will be dealing with hundreds of pieces of paper this semester. One or two are bound to get misplaced, so don't put yourself in an awkward position. Always have a backup.

The Secret to the Participation Grade: 20% of your total grade is for participation. This 20% is, in effect, a gift. It is very easy to get an A in participation: just participate. Speak in every class. Make me remember you. If you participate a lot, I will remember. If, at the end of the semester, when I am giving you your participation grade, I remember that you spoke in almost every class, and that you did in-class assignments enthusiastically, you will be on your way to an A in participation. If I remember you speaking a fair amount, you will get a B-range grade. If you just sat quietly -- even if you showed up for all the classes -- I would give a C or lower. Just talk, ask questions, make comments, give an opinion, argue, and you will get a good grade in participation. Simple as that.


Seminar presentation # 1 5%
Seminar presentation #2 5%
3 page paper # 1 10%
3 page paper #2 10%
Response portfolio 10%
Participation 10%
Seminar presentation #3 5%
Seminar presentation #4 5%
8-10 Page research paper 20%
Response Portfolio 10%
Participation 10%


Alan Bourassa / English / Faculty / STU Homepage