ENGLISH 285: INTRODUCTION TO
THEORY AND CRITICISM
Section 001: MW, 3
to 4:15 p.m., HHH 307
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
PROFESSOR BOB NOWLAN
Office: HHH 425,
Office Hours: MW
4:20-5:15 p.m., W 10:40-11:30 p.m., R 4:40-5:30 p.m.,
MWF 12 noon to 1
p.m., and By Appointment.
Let us begin with provisional working definitions
of some key terms.
to provide a conceptual explanation of what forms and constitutes an
object (and I mean “object” in a broad sense here: “objects” of
theoretical interest and concern include, for example, “questions,”
“issues,” “problems,” “processes,” and “relations”). This means
that a theory of an object seeks to explain what, in essence,
distinguishes this object, how and for what this object functions, and
what gives rise to and follows from the object’s interdeterminate
interconnections with other objects.
theory to support and sustain an evaluation of an object. In
other words, criticism judges an object, assessing its significance,
value, usefulness, and/or effectivity while simultaneously justifying
its judgement by drawing upon the support of theory to do so.
a particular mode of criticism. Critique refers to the
mobilization of theory to support an effort at intervention in relation
to an object. In other words, critique deploys theory to affect
either 1.) a change in an object or 2.) a change in the ways people
find it conceivable, desirable, and possible to value and use this
object. Theory always develops through critique of preexisting
theory as well as by means of intellectual processes that include
analysis and synthesis, deduction and induction, abstraction and
concretization, and testing and modeling.
Let’s turn next to some basic questions: 1.) Why
study theory and criticism? 2.) What does it mean to do so at an
“introductory” level? 3.) And what does this study have to do
I will address the first two of these questions
together, in this section (2.) and then turn, subsequently, to address
the third in the next two sections (3.) and (4.).
Throughout the everyday lives of each and every one
of us, our ability to make sense of the world around us–and to orient
ourselves to engage in relation to it on the basis of how we make
sense–means that we are continually working with "theories" of one kind
or another. At the same time, because our everyday lives also
demand that we make numerous judgements according to various standards
and criteria and that we then proceed according to the judgements we
have made, we are also continually thinking and acting in ways which
are at least rudimentarily "critical" as well. Nevertheless, in our
everyday lives most of us do not all that often reflect upon precisely
what theories are guiding and sustaining us, how so, and why so, nor do
we frequently examine how and why we think and act critically in the
ways that we do. Moreover, if asked to produce a rigorous intellectual
explanation, precisely accounting for and meticulously justifying the
theoretical and critical influences upon and determinants of our
everyday ways of thinking, understanding, feeling, believing,
interacting, communicating, acting, and behaving, most of us would have
a very difficult time.
Because the theories that guide and sustain us and
the ways in which we think and act critically in our everyday lives are
rarely simply the result of our own uniquely individual creation and
rarely a matter simply of our own autonomously free choice–especially
when we either are not conscious of their effects upon us or are unable
to explain, account for, and justify these in a sustained and rigorous
fashion–we are always working according to the influence and the
determination of theoretical and critical approaches which are much
larger than the space "inside" of our own "heads" or "minds": we are
always working according to theoretical and critical approaches which
occupy particular places within particular societies and cultures and
which are formed as particular products of particular histories and
A course of "introduction to theory and criticism”
presents an opportunity not only, therefore, to learn about the
theoretical and critical approaches of what might often at least
initially seem like an elite caste of distant and specialized
others–specific, and frequently famous, named "theorists" and
"critics"–but also, and more importantly, to reflect upon how and why
all of us work with the kinds of theoretical and critical approaches we
do; where these come from and what gives rise to them; where they lead
and what follows from them; which such approaches predominate in what
areas of everyday life today, in what places within what societies and
cultures, with what uses and effects, toward the advancement of what
ends and toward the service of what interests; and what alternative
approaches are possible, what alternatives are desirable, what
alternatives are necessary, and how do we get from here to
In fact, as I see
it, the foremost aim of beginning to study and to learn, to think,
read, write, and act theoretically must be to develop and refine the
ability to recognize, understand, explain, account for, and justify the
theories that guide and sustain us throughout our everyday lives.
Likewise, the foremost aim of beginning to study and learn to think,
read, write, and act critically must be to develop and refine the
ability to recognize, understand, explain, account for, and justify the
kinds of judgements, the ways in which we make judgements, and the
standards and criteria we use in making judgements throughout everyday
In short, in this course, my aim is to teach you to
theorize, and to critique, not simply to know something about–to be
able merely to identify and describe–the theories and critiques that
English 285: Introduction to Theory and Criticism is
not a literature course, a linguistics course, a creative writing
course, an English education course, or a scientific and technical
communication course. This is, instead, a meta-textual course:
the principal objects of our collective inquiry are cross-disciplinary,
inter-disciplinary, and especially trans-disciplinary theories and
modes of critical practice.
In short, this is a course in critical theory.
What, precisely, does this mean? Again, ready? Here
"Critical theory" refers to a series of pathways for
intellectual inquiry that first emerged with the end of the 18th
century European Enlightenment and in particular with the initial
widespread waning of intellectual confidence that the newly hegemonic
bourgeois society would succeed in realizing Enlightenment
ideals. In short, critical theory represents the intellectual
articulation of the conviction that modern capitalist society cannot–at
least not without significant reformation or substantial
transformation–realize the Enlightenment ideal of an enlightened–that
is, a rational, just, and humane–society. According to
Enlightenment consensus, this (ideal) society is to be one which will
genuinely embody the highest values of human civilization, and
which will thereby insure steady progress in the attainment of liberty,
justice, prosperity, and contentment for all of its citizens.
Critical theory begins by inquiring into what
prevents the realization of this Enlightenment ideal. In doing
so, critical theory questions and challenges the seeming obviousness,
naturalness, immediacy, and simplicity of the world around us, and, in
particular, of what we are able to perceive through our senses and
understand through the application of our powers of reason.
Critical theory is therefore concerned with
discovering and uncovering, and with describing and explaining
"mediations"–environmental, ecological, physical, physiological,
psychological, intellectual, emotional, historical, social, cultural,
economic, political, ideological, linguistic, semiotic, aesthetic,
religious, ethical, etc.– between "object" and "subject," "event" and
"impression," "impression" and "perception," "perception" and
"cognition," "cognition" and "reflection," "reflection" and "response,"
"response" and "reaction," "reaction" and "action," and "action" and
At the same time, "critical theory" also always
involves questioning and challenging the passive acceptance that "the
way things are"–or "the way things seem"–simply "is" the "natural" way
they necessarily "should" or "must" be. In other words,
critical theory questions and challenges the conviction that what is,
or what is in the process of becoming, or what appears to be, or what
is most commonly understood to be, or what is dominantly conveyed to
be, is also at the same time right and true, good and just, and
necessary and inevitable: critical theory does not, at least not
automatically, accept any of this.
Critical theory is always particularly concerned
with inquiring into the problems and limitations, the blindnesses and
mistakes, the contradictions and incoherences, the injustices and
inequities in how we as human beings, operating within particular kinds
of structures and hierarchies of relations with each other, facilitated
and regulated by particular kinds of institutions, engaged in
particular kinds of processes and practices, have formed, reformed, and
transformed ourselves, each other, and the communities, cultures,
societies, and worlds in which we live.
Critical theory has always occupied tenuous
positions within traditional (academic) disciplines, and has always
moved restlessly across disciplinary borders; after all, when we think
of what critical theory has influenced, we must include such diverse
disciplines as sociology, political science, philosophy, economics,
history, anthropology, psychology, and even biology and physics, as
well as studies in English and other national, regional, and ethnic
languages and literatures. Critical theory, in sum, is by no
means merely a province of English Studies, and neither need it be,
should it be, nor can it be confined to English Studies alone, or to
language and literature studies more generally.
Yet the questions that we ask of the texts we read
and write and of the discourses we produce and disseminate, in English
Studies, are always already sedimented with the weight of extensive
historical exchange–and interchange–with critical theory, and the
answers we seek to these questions eventually require us to engage with
and draw upon critical theories far more directly than simply to
acknowledge this sedimentation. These questions include, at their
most fundamental, why should we, or anyone for that matter, read and
write these texts, the texts we privilege, and why should we, or anyone
else, be interested in producing and disseminating these discourses,
the discourses that are of the greatest importance to us, and why so
here and now? What is the value of these texts and
discourses? What is their relevance? What is their
usefulness? How and why are they different, including different
in their kind or degree of value and use, from other kinds of texts and
discourses in circulation within contemporary society and culture at
large? It is for this reason that this department includes this
course, a quintessential liberal arts course, as a required component
of its undergraduate core curriculum. In situating this course
within this location our aim is to cultivate rigorous self-reflexivity
in your own intellectual work and practice, as well as to offer you
stimulus and provocation that can effectively assist you in producing
both more compelling and sophisticated articulations in your engagement
with the intellectual work and practice of others.
Explicit concern with the study of critical theory
in relation to English Studies reflects and responds to how much the
disciplines of English and their constituent fields of intellectual
inquiry have changed over the past approximately thirty to forty
years. Even as many English Departments continue to prioritize
courses in what at first glance might seem like fairly traditional
areas–e.g., literature, rhetoric and composition, linguistics, creative
writing, and English education–much has nevertheless changed both in
the ways that many of these courses are taught and the aims that are
often pursued in teaching these courses. Even more important than
these changes, however, is the fact that English has been at the
cutting edge of the transformation of the humanities into the principal
broad arena of intellectual concern with relations between texts and
cultures such that even those departments and programs that do not
explicitly declare themselves as doing “cultural studies” often in fact
are extensively engaged in doing so.
Cultural studies has challenged the predominance of
the governing categories of traditional literary studies (the virtually
exclusive central focus of early to mid 20th century work in English)
such as the "canon," the discrete and homogenous "period," the formal
properties of "genre," the literary object as autonomous and
self-contained, the "author" of the "work" as a figure of transcendent
"genius," the act of reading as a private mode of reverential
contemplation and ecstatic escape from the mundane pressures of the
everyday, and the "greatness" of literature as measurable in terms of
universal standards of aesthetic beauty and eternal principles of
ethical right and good. In these challenges, cultural studies is
continuous with developments over the last forty years of work in
literary studies from structuralism through postmodernism and beyond.
Ultimately more important, however, in
distinguishing cultural studies from (traditional) literary studies,
therefore, is the fact that cultural studies is directly concerned with
the "writing" and "reading" of all "texts" of culture, and not just
conventional "literary" texts. According to cultural studies, we
"read" whenever we interpret what something "means," and we "write"
whenever we create something which others must interpret so as to
determine what it means. This leads us to approach all products
of culture as "texts" insofar as they are written and read, insofar as
they are understood as possessing or bearing meaning. "Texts"
include everything from the seemingly most "profoundly meaningful" to
the seemingly most "mundanely meaningless" (as, after all, to be
considered insignificant, or of little or no meaning, is to be judged
to mean in a particular way as well). Cultural studies thus
focuses on making sense of "texts" such as films, television shows,
music and video productions and performances, paintings and drawings,
sculpture and architecture, sports teams and games, trends in clothing
and fashion, commercial advertisements, individual dreams and plans,
shopping lists and checkout receipts, buildings and rooms, kinds of
food and drink, roads and vehicles, manners and gestures, ceremonies
and rituals, personalities and personal relationships, and individual
actions and specific incidents.
Cultural studies may very well, according to this
conception, include literary studies as a constituent component.
It has by now been close to twenty-five years since Terry Eagleton
proposed, in the first edition of his Literary
Theory: an Introduction, that because "literature" is so
difficult precisely to define, and, as such, is an extremely incoherent
and unstable category, the field of "literary studies" should be
replaced by a field of "cultural studies" that focused on making sense
of the rhetoric and politics of texts and discourses of all different
kinds. However, it really should be no surprise that we have not
witnessed the "death of literature" implicit in this and many similar
kinds of recommendation made around the same time. After all,
Eagleton does admit that literature can be defined as whatever a
particular culture (or subculture) happens to regard as especially
"highly valued writing." Whereas Eagleton suggests that this
means "literature" may no longer serve as a particularly useful
category, I suggest that this reconception of what “literature” entails
in fact opens up many new possibilities for work in literary studies
conducted as part of work within a larger field of cultural studies:
i.e., inquiring into what makes for different conceptions of highly
valued writing within and across different historical cultures–and
What is most important, as I see it, is how, and for
what, is work to be conducted within contemporary English studies, the
field of text and cultural studies encompassing yet extending beyond
the traditional combination of literary studies plus rhetoric and
composition studies plus linguistic studies plus studies in creative
writing plus English educational studies. How are the diverse
kinds of texts and discourses studied within “English” today
approached, made sense of, interpreted, evaluated, and, yes, put to
use–and why so? If English Studies is to concern itself with
understanding the rhetorical, aesthetic, political, and ideological
constituents of relations among texts and discourses of diverse kinds
throughout culture and across cultures, without translating this
understanding into a reductive homogeneity or a constrictive orthodoxy,
it needs to bring to bear the insights of an inter- and indeed a trans-
disciplinary constellation of cooperating and contesting modes of
understanding that has the power to address the breadth of these
concerns, and to do so with philosophical rigor–and that constellation
is critical theory.
In order to concentrate our collective inquiry we
will focus this semester, after an initial week and one-half of
introduction to some major concepts from Enlightenment philosophy,
politics, and culture, we will engage with the complete texts of a
limited number of relatively short yet classic instances of critical
theory: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto; Soren
Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling;
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake
Zarathustra; Sigmund Freud, Civilization
and Its Discontents; Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own; Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider; James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time; and Ngugi wa
Thiong’o, Writers in Politics.
Why so? For the following reasons:
First, each of these texts not only
represents a major (influential) current within the history of critical
theory but also does so in a simultaneously both relatively accessible
and relatively comprehensive fashion.
Second, in contrast with a packed survey that
rapidly moves across an immense, mind-numbing variety of different
figures and approaches, while only attending to often partial and
highly limited fragments of major representative ideas in each case,
studying a limited number of critical theoretical texts in depth will
provide us a much better opportunity to work on the primary aim of this
course (offered at this–advanced introductory–level): i.e., to help you
develop and enhance your own self-reflective theoretical and critical
Third, each of these eight texts exemplifies the
combined philosophical-ideological and social-political concerns and
commitments of critical theory that I delineated aove–in section 3 of
this course explanation statement.
In order to gain the most you can from this course
you will need to keep several points in mind as we proceed:
First, we can only engage with a small number of
significant contributions to the immense critical theoretical
discussion engaging the issues we will take up, and we can only begin
to explore what makes these contributions significant. This is an
introductory course, the opening to a potential lifetime’s pursuit;
don’t expect that what we read and study this semester represents the
‘ultimate truth’ or the final answer to what constitutes the most
important work in ‘theory and criticism’. Feel free to
explore writers and writings we do engage further than our assigned
textbooks allow and feel free as well to bring other theories and modes
of critical practice, represented by other figures and groups, to bear
as we proceed in discussion.
Second, the reading you will do for this course
should challenge you; you should find it often difficult, at least
initially so; and you should not expect that what you read will make
intuitive sense or provide immediate satisfaction. Of course, I
hope that eventually you will experience the excitement, even the joy,
of working with these levels and kinds of knowledge-practices, but I do
not want you to imagine you necessarily should be able to do this right
away, with ease.
Third, you will need, consistently and
conscientiously, not only to work hard to remain patient, and to keep
an open mind, but also to trust in the potential value of conceptual
thinking–and the corollary power of mental abstraction. Do not
rest content with the superficially apparent, the merely
commonsensical, the seemingly self-evident, the already familiar;
critical theory deliberately challenges all of this, and in order to
appreciate what it means to think, speak, listen, read, write, act, and
interact in a seriously critical and theoretical manner, you will need
to follow this path as well.
Fourth, even as I will provide a few specific sites
for testing and applying what we can extract from readings in theory
and criticism, I will count on you to take the initiative to do this
yourself as well. You have to be an active participant in this
course; you will gain relatively little if you don’t bring extensively,
and intensively, to bear your own knowledge, experience, interests, and
concerns in direct relation to the concepts and practices we
study. You have to find ways to make what we read and study
relevant to and for you; you need to extrapolate; you need to start
engaging as someone who seeks to theorize and critique not just learn
something about theories and modes of criticism. A cynical
approach toward the material here which regards it as simply what you
are ‘required’ to study in one course for one semester in order to
fulfill the requirements of a major or minor on the way to a degree
will leave you confused, frustrated, unfulfilled, and actually disabled
from taking advantage of the contribution this course is designed to
make toward your success in that very same major or minor field of
Fifth, and following closely upon the last point,
since many of you enrolled in this course are advanced students, taking
this course late in your undergraduate career, I do expect you to
demonstrate the intellectual maturity you have acquired through the
duration of this previous work; you will need it. Although
designed as an upper 200 level course, I know people enrolled in 285 at
present have in many cases taken many English as well as other courses
for a considerable number of years now; all of this, including the
meaning, value, significance, relevance, and effectiveness of what you
have studied and learned, as well as have not, should become ‘grist for
the mill’ in our discussions together this semester. We will
frequently reflect on the following questions: a.) Why are we doing
what we are doing as women and men working in English studies today,
and why not something else, perhaps more meaningful, valuable,
significant, effective, relevant, and urgent? b.) What difference
does it make (for whom and for what) that we read, write, teach, study,
talk about, and otherwise engage with the kinds of texts we do in the
forms and setting that we do, working within this field in this
department at this university at this place and time?
Sixth, and again as a consequence of what I have
just elaborated, you will need to participate actively–to ask
questions, to offer comments, to not be afraid to speak, and to write
what you think, no matter how tentative, uncertain, or confused you
might find yourself (i.e., you must be prepared to take the risk that
what you say, or write, might turn out to be ‘wrong’). In fact,
don’t look for hard and fast, simple right and wrong answers; the study
of theory is as much, if not much more, about asking questions as it is
about securing answers, and the process of critique is continuously
ongoing. All positions are limited, in one way or another, and
those seriously engaged in theoretical and critical practice quite
readily recognize and accept this fact. We are constantly
striving to extend, develop, refine, enrich, renew, open up, pass
beyond, approach again, take in a new and different direction–and all
the while continuously updating because the objects of our theoretical
and critical work do not remain static. They change, often
dramatically, with time and over space, plus the work of theorizing and
critiquing these objects changes them, in turn requiring new
theorizations and new critiques.
Seventh, and finally, while I welcome you always to
disagree with anything we read whenever you find yourself so inclined,
and even strongly encourage you to do so, I expect, at the same time,
that you will always first strive to understand what you read ‘on its
own terms’, especially when you find yourself troubled or disturbed by
it, so that you will not simply dismiss or reject what you oppose but
instead carefully argue against and precisely critique it.
I expect you to work hard first to do justice to the positions you
engage, and to be able to re-present them as their adherents would
recognize them, even when (perhaps especially when) you aim to move
from this first stage to a second stage in which you argue strongly to
the contrary. I expect you will do the same with positions I as
your teacher advance as well as those your classmates advance.
And I encourage you eventually to work to find theoretical and critical
positions that you can stake out as your own, and use your sincere
commitment to these as the basis for your engagement with others; to do
so means you have to listen, read, and try very hard to understand
where others might be coming from, how, and why so (including when they
seem to be coming from very different places than you).
Students are required to purchase the following
books (available at the UWEC Bookstore in Davies Center):
1. Marx, Karl [and Frederick Engels]. The Communist Manifesto.
1848. Frederic L. Bender, ed. Samuel Moore,
trans. A Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton,
2. Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling.
1843. Alastair Hannay, trans. and intr. New York: Penguin
3. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spake Zarathustra.
1911. Thomas Common, trans. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1999.
4. Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents.
1930. James Strachey, trans. and ed. Peter Gay,
intr. New York: Norton, 1961.
5. Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. A
Harvest Book. San Diego: Harcourt, 1957. Mary Gordon,
foreword. Foreword copyright, 1981.
6. Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. Vintage
International Edition. New York: Vintage International, 1991.
7. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by
Audre Lorde. Berkeley: The Crossing Press, 1984.
8. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Writers in Politics: a Re-Engagement with
Issues of Literature and Society. 1981. Revised and
Enlarged Edition. Oxford: James Currey/East African Educational
We will also work periodically with short
supplementary texts both in theory and criticism as well as providing
us sites to practice testing out and applying ideas garnered from
reading, study, and discussion of critical theory. I will make
copies of these supplemental texts available for you, and I will do the
same for various guides, outlines, lecture notes, comments on class
discussions, and other learning tools that I will prepare for you to
help you in your work as part of this class.
In addition, your own writing, in the form of
Desire2Learn postings, as well as in other forms, to be determined,
will serve as significant texts in this course, and you yourselves will
also at times be invited to refer us to supplementary texts of your
choice for purposes of practice in testing and application.
1/26-M and 1/28-W: Introduction and Orientation.
2/2-M: Discussion, Selections: Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”;
Condorcet, “The Future Progress of the Human Mind”; and Voltaire,
“Reflections on Religion” (These readings are all available on the UWEC
faculty-student shared drive, otherwise known as “deptdir” and the “W
drive” as well as through our Desire2Learn Classroom Website).
2/4-W: Discussion, Selections: Descartes, “I Think Therefore I Am”;
Locke, An Essay on Human
Understanding, Bentham, “The Principle of Utility”; and Smith, The Wealth of Nations (These
readings are all available on the UWEC faculty-student shared drive,
otherwise known as “deptdir” and the “W drive” as well as through our
Desire2Learn Classroom Website).
2/9-M: Discussion, Selections: Mandeville, “The Fable of the Bees”;
Cleland, Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a
Woman of Pleasure; The
American Declaration of Independence; The Declaration of the Rights of Man and
the Citizen; Wollstonecraft, Vindication
of the Rights of Woman, and Paine, “African Slavery in America”
(These readings are all available on the UWEC faculty-student shared
drive, otherwise known as “deptdir” and the “W drive” as well as
through our Desire2Learn Classroom Website).
2-11-W: Discussion, Selections, Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
2/16-M: Discussion, Selections, Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
2/18-W: Discussion, Selections, Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
2/23-M: Discussion, Selections Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
2/25-W: Discussion, Selections, Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto and Related
Texts. Read for Class:
To Be Announced.
* Learning and
Contribution Reflection Paper #1 Assigned *
3/1-M: Discussion, Selections, Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
3/3-W: No Class.
3/8-M: Discussion, Selections, Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Related
Texts. Read for Class:
To Be Announced.
3/10-W: Discussion, Selections, Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
and Contribution Reflection Paper #1 Due *
3/15-M: Discussion, Selections, Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
3/17-W: Discussion, Selections, Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
3/29-M: Discussion, Selections, Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra and Related
Texts. Read for Class: To Be
3/31-W: Discussion, Selections, Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents.
Read for Class: To Be Announced.
4/5-M: Discussion, Selections, Freud, Civilization
and Its Discontents. Read
for Class: To Be Announced.
* Learning and
Contribution Reflection Paper #2 Assigned *
4/7-W: Discussion, Selections, Woolf, A
Room of One’s Own. Read
for Class: To Be Announced.
4/14-W: Discussion, Selections, Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. Read for Class: To Be Announced.
* Learning and
Contribution Reflection Paper #2 Due *
4/19-M: Discussion, Selections, Lorde, Sister Outsider. Read for Class: To Be Announced.
4/21-W: Discussion, Selections, Lorde, Sister Outsider. Read for Class: To Be Announced.
4/26-M: Discussion, Selections, Lorde, Sister Outsider. Read for Class: To Be Announced.
4/28-W: Discussion, Selections, Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. Read for Class: To Be Announced.
5/3-M: Discussion, Selections, Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. Read for Class: To Be Announced.
5/5-W: Discussion, Selections, Ngugi, Writers
in Politics. Read for
Class: To Be Announced.
* Learning and
Contribution Reflection Paper #3 Assigned *
5/10-M: Discussion, Selections, Ngugi, Writers in Politics. Read for Class: To Be Announced.
5/12-W: Discussion, Selections, Ngugi, Writers in Politics. Read for Class: To Be Announced.
5/17-M: * Learning and Contribution
Reflection Paper #3 Due *
***** THIS SCHEDULE
IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE *****
EXPECTATIONS OF STUDENTS
I expect students in this course to strive to become
sincerely interested in learning about the subject matter of this
course, and to be consistently intellectually serious as well as
academically diligent in their pursuit of this learning. I expect
students to strive to bring actively and extensively to bear-in their
essays and contributions to class discussion-insights they gain through
their engagement with the texts and topics addressed as part of this
course, and I expect students to strive at the same time to relate
these texts and topics as closely and as fully as possible to subjects
of genuine interest and concern in their own lives. Finally, I
expect students to let me know right away when and if they have any
questions or problems about any aspect of how they are doing in and
with the course, so that I can do whatever we possibly can to help
answer these questions and solve these problems.
RESPONSIBILITY, ACADEMIC FREEDOM,
The English Department aims to provide you with an
intellectually challenging education. This means we will often include
texts and introduce topics in our courses that candidly explore adult
issues, including ones offering representations that may, on occasion,
prove unsettling, disturbing, and even offensive to some of you.
The higher educational academy is not a "safe space"
separate from the rest of the "real world" where you can expect to be
sheltered from encountering anything you might find disagreeable or
objectionable. On the contrary, we expect you to take up the
challenge to confront these kinds of texts and topics in a mature,
responsible way, and that means bringing directly to bear your negative
reactions-including your reactions of shock, dismay, and discontent-in
class discussions and in your writings and presentations for
class. If you find a position or practice represented in a text
or topic included in the assigned readings for class to be
objectionable, it is therefore of crucial importance that you raise
your objections openly and honestly, not simply claim personal
exemption from having to see, hear, or talk, read, and write about
these kinds of matters. After all, disturbing positions and
practices exist extensively outside of the classroom as well as in what
we read, see, hear, and otherwise confront in and for class; what we
confront in class exists in this institutional space as symptomatic of
positions and practices that operate beyond the confines of the
classroom, the course, and the university. If and when you find
any text or topic genuinely appalling, you maintain the ethical
responsibility, as a mature adult and as a responsible citizen, not
simply to try to hide from these positions and practices but rather to
work to critique and change them.
Students should expect therefore that you may well
on occasion encounter representations that you will find troubling, in
this UWEC course and in many others as well; within this Department you
will receive no right of exemption from engaging with these and no
welcome for simply complaining (especially to a higher administrative
authority) about their inclusion. Instead you should bring your
objections forthrightly to bear in your contributions to class
discussion. Finally, to conclude this particular point of
discussion, a professor differs from a high school teacher in many
respects, but one key difference is that we maintain a principal
professional, ethical responsibility forthrightly to represent the most
advanced knowledges in our fields of expertise and to proceed from
there to work toward their further development and dissemination.
In short, we must create, advocate for, and profess these knowledges;
you should expect that your professors may from time to time take
strong and indeed controversial positions on difficult and challenging
issues, eschewing the pretense of disinterested neutrality. To do
anything less than assume this responsibility, and to do so with
alacrity, would be to shirk our professorial responsibility and to
render ourselves unworthy of maintaining our professorial position.
THE GOALS OF THE
This university is, as most of you well know, a
liberal arts institution; education in the liberal arts (and sciences)
represents the historic and central commitment of what we do together
on this UW campus-not vocational training and pre-professional
development. The university administration and faculty support
this commitment so strongly that they have asked that all syllabi
elaborate the official goals of the baccalaureate, as well as identify
which ones the course in question will help you achieve.
According to the UWEC administration, the baccalaureate degree shall
work to develop the following for UWEC students:
1.) an understanding of a liberal education.
2.) an appreciation of the University as a learning community.
3.) an ability to inquire, think, analyze.
4.) an ability to write, read, speak, listen.
5.) an understanding of numerical data.
6.) a historical consciousness.
7.) international and intercultural experience.
8.) an understanding of science and scientific methods.
9.) an appreciation of the arts.
10.) an understanding of values.
11.) an understanding of human behavior and human institutions.
UWEC strives to
help you meet these objectives in the course of the higher
education you pursue here. Please note that in making these our
foremost aims, we at UWEC clearly distinguish ourselves from technical
colleges as well as from all other UW schools, especially places like
Stout, River Falls, and Stevens Point. English 285, Introduction
to Theory and Criticism aims to help contribute to you meeting goals
1-4 and 10-11.
These goals cannot be met passively by the student:
each requires your striving
toward it to be met. Striving means learning actively, completing
assignments in a thorough and timely fashion, participating in class
discussion, and making connections (above and beyond those emphasized
by us in the classroom) between what we do while meeting in class and
what you do when engaged outside of the classroom.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE COURSE GRADE
Evaluation of Student Performance
In evaluating all work done for this course, I will
take account of how carefully, seriously, intelligently,
enthusiastically, and imaginatively students engage with the concepts,
issues, positions, and arguments addressed in the course and
represented by the texts we read, by me, and by each other.
required. Students are allowed two unexcused absences,
maximum. Other than that, except for an emergency, your grade
will suffer if you miss class. As noted above, this class
emphasizes discussion; thus, it is imperative that students (prepare
for and) attend classes. Your presence is also necessary for the
large amount of group work we will do. For every unexcused absence after the
second, I reserve the right to lower your overall course grade by a
third of a letter. If you experience troubles of one kind
or another that mean you will have to miss several classes, you should
withdraw and re-take the course another semester where you will be in a
better position to do so.
Contribution/Learning and Contribution Reflection Papers
This is and Why it is Important
My foremost aim in teaching this course is to help
you learn something of significance and value. I will judge you
to a significant degree on what you learn, how-and how hard-you strive
to learn, and on how-as well as how well-you contribute to the learning
for the rest of the class.
You cannot learn or help others learn if you do not
contribute. If you don't contribute to the work of this class not
only will you fail to derive as much gain from it as would be the case
if you did contribute, but also you will deprive everyone else of the
benefit of your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, knowledge, and
experience. In fact, to remain passively silent in class exploits
the work of others who actively engage.
Class participation represents an important
opportunity to learn, not just a place in which to demonstrate what you
have learned. By raising questions, testing and trying out ideas,
taking risks and making mistakes, you learn a great deal-and help
others learn a great deal as well. You learn through talking, not
just talk to show what you have learned. Don't hesitate to
speak forth in class if you have anything at all to throw into the mix.
At the same time, just talking a great deal does not
necessarily mean that you are making a quality contribution to the
class by aiding the learning that we aim to accomplish. Quality
of participation is much more important than quantity, although a
sufficient quantity is indispensable to insure quality. Still, I
want to emphasize here that I perceive talking for talking’s sake,
especially talking which pulls us off on far-fetched tangents, which
remains disconnected from and disengaged with the reading and the rest
of the class, or which effectively silences others, to be negative
Quality class participation does not, moreover,
involve merely asking questions of me and responding to my questions;
quality class participation requires you to work as assiduously as you
can to advance a serious and substantial discussion with your peers as
well as with me about the texts and topics subject to discussion.
Students should, therefore, be prepared to engage with and respond to
each other in class discussion, and I will take particular note of how
well you do so.
I would like you to come to class with strong
opinions on the topic of discussion, to be ready to share your opinions
with the class, and to be open-minded enough to debate your thoughts
and to push them as far as they will go. This last aspect will
involve what some may think is overanalyzing things, or pushing the
envelope to the point where meaning may break down, but this process is
absolutely necessary to understanding a topic fully.
As for evaluating class participation, I find the
system designed by my colleague, Professor Mary Ellen Alea
useful: A = Nearly daily response, but always with consistently
useful, insightful comments and questions; B= Daily response, with
regular comments and questions; C = Less frequent, occasional questions
and comments; F = Usually quiet, or, alternatively, engaging in
behavior that disrupts the learning processes of you and your fellow
students, such as talking while others are speaking.
Forms of Contribution
Contribution to the class certainly can extend far
beyond mere speaking in class: it may include a variety of ways in
which you can bring to bear your insights to help yourself as well as
the rest of us gain from the experience of this course.
Excellent writings for and in response to class (on Desire2Learn)
and as part of your learning and contribution reflection papers can
help make up for limitations as far as participation in class
goes. At the same time, listening carefully, respectfully, and
thoughtfully in class discussions is an important contribution to class
Contribution Reflection Papers/
Learning and Contribution Reflection Grades
Learning and contribution will constitute the major
proportion of your overall course grade. A significant component
of this will involve you writing three learning and contribution
reflection papers. The assignments for these papers will in turn
each involve two parts.
First, I will ask you questions that will require
you to engage in extended written form with positions, concepts,
arguments, theories, and modes of critical practice we have been
studying for the immediately preceding portion of the semester,
as well to demonstrate what you are learning from working with these
ideas. These questions will take different forms, and you will
most likely always have multiple options from which to choose, with
each option involving somewhat different kind of work on your
part. Especially with the last reflection paper, you should
expect to do some independent research in answering these questions.
Second, I will ask you questions that will require
you to assess how, and how well, you have been contributing to your own
learning, and that of others in the class.
As I see it, these papers provide you a useful
opportunity to communicate with me how you believe you are doing with
the course, as well as why so, and to demonstrate your critical
self-reflexivity, the hallmark of a liberal arts education. As
you are assessing your own learning and contribution, you may include
thoughts in reaction to issues raised in class discussion that you did
not have the opportunity or did not feel comfortable enough to share in
class; these additional reflections will help me get a better sense of
what you have been thinking about and how you have been responding to
class discussions, as well as to the readings. I will take into
account what you write in determining your learning and contribution
grade for the preceding semester period; performance on these papers
represents a vital component of your learning and contribution grade.
I will provide you specific directions in the
assignments I give you for each of these papers; please note well that
the questions I ask you to address will change from reflection paper to
reflection paper. These papers should be typed, double-space, on single
sides of standard white letter-sized (8" X 11") typewriter,
computer printer, or photographic paper. All pages should be
numbered, and you should place your name at the top of each page.
You may use any standard font you wish, yet you should keep your point
size between 10 and 12 points. Papers must be stapled, and you
are responsible for doing so, not me. You should follow all rules
and conventions of Standard Written English and MLA format for
citation and documentation of sources.
I recommend an
approximate target range of between 2000 (minimum) and 2500 (maximum)
words (roughly 8-10 pages).
learning and contribution grade (including learning and contribution
reflection papers) will be worth 25% of the overall course grade.
Late papers will lose 1/3 of a letter
grade for each day they are turned in after the deadline, except
in case of a seriously urgent situation where I have approved an
extension; you need to communicate with me beforehand, if at all
possible, to request such an extension.
Postings (Reflections, Comments, Critiques)
Students will prepare and submit two kinds of
postings to our Desire2Learn electronic classroom on regular intervals
throughout the course of the semester. This will be a space
where you can engage in discussion primarily with your peers, largely
free from having to worry about directly addressing me with anything
that you here write.
Each week I will post a short writing assignment for
you to address on our Desire2Learn electronic classroom. Students should post their papers in
response to this assignment within 20 hours of the time the first class
of the week meets, i.e., by 7 p.m. Sunday evening. No late
postings will be accepted.
These writing assignments will ask you briefly to
address questions related to the readings assigned for the upcoming
week. In so doing, you will already begin to stake out a
tentative, preliminary position in relation to these texts, and some of
the issues they raise for our consideration; we will be able to draw
upon and refer to what you write in our class discussions, as proves of
interest and use.
I expect all
students to look over your classmates’ Desire2Learn postings prior to
class and to come to class prepared to speak to these as well as to the
In writing these reflections, comments, and/or
critiques you should aim for approximately
500 to 1000 words. These are “semi-formal,” which means
that you should try to write as clearly and cogently as possible, but
that I will not be a stickler for the most minute kinds of fine points
of style in evaluating what you write.
You should address a
minimum of three of these assignments in the first half of class (prior
to spring break) and a minimum of three more in the second half of
class (after spring break).
After the week’s classes have met, you will then be invited to respond to your own previous
posting and/or that of your fellow students. These
responses should indicate what you have gained as a result of class
discussion and the chance to think further about what you and/or your
classmates initially wrote.
You should try to keep these responses approximately
the same length as your initial postings.
You should offer a
minimum of nine responses in the first half of class (prior to spring
break) and a minimum of nine more in the second half of class (after
You will have approximately
two weeks in which to offer your response postings.
I expect the opportunity to engage in this kind of
supplementary, informal dialogue will help you in your learning and
contribution, as well as make the course more interesting and
meaningful for you. It will also give you the chance to test out
and receive potentially helpful feedback on ideas you might want later
to pursue in class discussions, and in learning and contribution
reflection papers. In addition, this will give you a chance to
share ideas that you thought of after class discussion, or that you
needed more time to think out and formulate effectively in your own
mind before sharing these, and Desire2Learn postings should help
students who are shy about speaking forth extensively in class
discussion. I know everyone in class has much of value to offer,
including those who do not feel as readily inclined or as comfortable
to voice this in class discussion as some others.
The Desire2Learn postings will be graded twice, once
half-way through the semester and once at the end of the
semester. Here, my evaluation will be quite succinct, focused,
and holistic. The grade for your
Desire2Learn postings will contribute the following percentages of the
overall course grade: 12.5% for the first half of the semester, and
12.5% for the second half of the semester.
A BRIEF WORD ON
Do not use anyone else's words without giving the
author credit. If I find out that you've plagiarized even part of
a paper, you will have to re-write it, and you may be dismissed from
UWEC. If you echo any thoughts mentioned in class discussion add
the letters CD in parenthetical citation after the sentence, viz:
(Nowlan CD 2/2/04).
I encourage you to meet with me in conference during
office hours or at another mutually convenient time to discuss any
issue of interest or concern that you develop as a student in this
course and as a member of this class. I recognize the value of
learning that takes place in conferences; I know this can at times be
equally as important, and in fact occasionally even more important,
than what takes place in class. It also provide you an
opportunity to contribute beyond what you say in class and write for
class. So please do not hesitate to meet with me at any time you
think this might be helpful to you. I want to help you in your
understanding of issues addressed in texts and discussions, as well as
in your writing and participation. And you may certainly also
feel free to contact me by e-mail or by (my campus office) phone as
Any student who
has a disability and is in need of classroom accommodations, please
contact the instructor and the Services for Students with Disabilities
PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING
I strive to be as accountable to my students as
possible. I believe it is crucial that students become aware of the
ideas and the values which shape and direct their education, and I
believe students should expect that all of their teachers will be
prepared to explain why they teach as they do. Please, therefore, take
the time, as early as you can this semester, to read through and think
carefully about my "Statement of Teaching Philosophy" that I have
posted on my UWEC faculty website:
This statement explains WHY I teach as I do. I think it is extremely
important that you know and understand where your teachers are coming
from in teaching you as they do. You will find me one who trusts you
sufficiently always to be frank about this with you.
Professor Bob Nowlan's Home Page
This material is copyrighted (©)
Professor Bob Nowlan
Last Updated: January 19, 2004