ENGLISH 284: INTRODUCTION TO THEORY
Section 002, TR
2-3:15 pm, HHH 222
PROFESSOR BOB NOWLAN
425, Office Phone: (715) 836-4369
Office Hours: MW,
3-4 pm and 7:20-7:50 pm, as well as By Appointment
Some basic definitions:
Theory = a conceptual explanation of an
entity, including, in
particular, of why it is as it is.
Criticism = an evaluative judgement in relation
to an entity, supported
by reasons and evidence.
In short, theory grounds and thereby enables criticism while criticism
in turn draws upon and, through practical application, generates the
impetus for further development and refinement of theory.
the everyday lives of each and every one
of us, our ability to make sense of the world around us–and to
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
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.
our everyday lives most
of us do not all that often reflect upon
precisely what theories are guiding and sustaining us, how so,
so, nor do we
frequently examine how and why we think and act
critically in the ways that we do. Moreover, if asked to
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
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
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
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
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
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 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 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 life.
In short, in this course you to begin to learn how
to theorize, and to critique, not simply to know something about–to be
able merely to identify and describe–the theories and critiques that
Explicit concern with the study of theory and
criticism in 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 forty-five
years. Even as many English Departments continue to prioritize
courses in what at first glance might seem like 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.
studies has challenged the predominance of
the governing categories of traditional literary studies (the
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
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
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 over 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 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
In particular, work in theory and criticism inquires
into 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. In
other words, work in theory and criticism helps us explore how are
diverse kinds of texts studied within “English” today approached, made
sense of, interpreted, evaluated, and, yes, put to use–as well as why
We will begin this course, after
an initial class of introduction and orientation, by spending three
weeks working with selections from Jeffrey Nealon’s and Susan Searls
Giroux’s The Theory Toolbox:
Critical Concepts for the Humanities,
Arts, and Social Sciences. This book provides an
introduction to and overview of a consensus within contemporary theory
and criticism on how to make sense and use of the following fundamental
concepts: theory, author/ity, reading, subjectivity, culture,
multiculturalism, popular culture, media culture, ideology, history,
space/time, postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonialism,
difference, gender, sexuality/queerity, race/ethnicity/nationality,
class, and agency. After working with The Theory Toolbox we turn
next to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The
Great Gatsby, which we will
interpret and evaluate by making use of concepts from The Theory
Toolbox and by drawing upon prior approaches to interpretation
evaluation, especially of ‘classic’ literary texts, with which you are
already familiar. From that point forward we will work with Lois
Tyson’s Critical Theory Today: a
User-Friendly Guide to learn about six
leading approaches in contemporary theory and criticism: psychoanalytic
criticism; Marxist criticism; feminist criticism; deconstructive
criticism; lesbian, gay and queer criticism; and African American
criticism. We will spend three classes on each of these
approaches, including discussing, as Tyson does, how they each enable
us to make sense of The Great Gatsby.
At the same time, as we
study each of the six approaches, we will also engage with some select
primary texts representative of the approach in question, from The
Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism and other sources
reading and referring as well to some additional relevant sections from
The Theory Toolbox). As
time permits, I will screen one short
film in class per critical theory, offering us a further opportunity
for extrapolation, application, and reflection in relation to ideas
that studying the critical theory raises for our consideration.
Finally, we will return in our last class meeting to discuss the
concept of ‘agency’ from The Theory
Toolbox in preparation for your
final examination class. At that final examination class each
student will make a short individual presentation, sharing with the
rest of us a thoughtful articulation of what is most important to you
in relation to your own developing theoretical and critical outlook at
this point in your life.
In order to gain the most you can from this course
you will need to keep several points in mind as we proceed:
we can only engage with a small number of
significant contributions to the history of theory and criticism.
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’.
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.
the reading you will do for this course
should challenge you; you should find it difficult from time to time,
at least initially so; and you should not expect that what you read
will always make intuitive sense or provide immediate
satisfaction. Of course, I hope that eventually you will
experience the excitement that comes from 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. For
most of you, this is your first course in theory and criticism,
whereas, in most cases, you had already taken many courses, and read
many texts, in the area of “literature” well before you began your
university studies. Imagine what it might be like to take a
course of introduction to literature having never previously taken such
a course, studied or read any of the material, or maintaining even
much, if any, familiarity with what literature involves and what it
might mean to make sense and respond to it. Expect, therefore, in
this class, that you will grow in understanding, facility, and
confidence; don’t be needlessly hard on yourself–accept that you will
learn through trial and error, through taking risks and trying out
ideas, and by making mistakes. You don’t need “the right answer”
or “the right way to say it” to talk; by no means–learn through
talking, and through becoming highly comfortable recognizing and
accepting what you don’t already clearly understand and what you can’t
already clearly articulate.
you will need, consistently and
conscientiously, not only to work hard to remain patient, and to keep
an open mind, but also not to rest content
with the superficially
apparent, the merely commonsensical, the seemingly self-evident, or the
already familiar; work in theory and criticism deliberately
all of this, and in order to appreciate what it means to think, speak,
listen, read, write, act, and interact in a critical and theoretical
manner, you will need to follow this path as well.
you have to be an active participant in this
course; you will gain relatively little if you don’t bring to bear your
own knowledge, experience, interests, and concerns in direct relation
to the concepts and practices we study. You have to find ways
make what we read and study relevant to and for you; you need
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 study.
I know people enrolled in 284 have in many
cases taken many English as well as other higher educational courses
for a 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. Be confident you have
bring to bear and to offer–all of you, always.
Sixth, 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 this process is continuously
All positions are
limited, in one way or another, and those seriously
engaged in theoretical and critical work quite readily recognize and
accept this fact. We are constantly striving to extend,
refine, enrich, renew, open up, pass beyond, approach again, and to
push in new and different directions–and all the while continuously
updating our thinking and understanding 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.
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
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
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;
so means you have to listen, read, and try very hard to
where others might be coming from, how so, and why so (including
they seem to be coming from very different places than you).
The following required books
are available in the
UWEC Bookstore at Davies:
1. Nealon, Jeffrey and Susan Searls Giroux. The
Theory Toolbox: Critical Concepts for the Humanities, Arts, &
Social Sciences. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield,
ISBN#: 0-7425-1994-5. Purchase.
2. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great
Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 1925/1953. ISBN#:
3. Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: a
User-Friendly Guide. Second Edition. New York:
2006. ISBN#: 0-415-97410-0. Purchase.
4. Leitch, Vincent B., et. al., eds. The Norton
Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton,
2001. ISBN#: 0-393-97429-4. Rental.
I will supply copies of all additional reading
materials we will use over the course of the semester. I will
also supply video, audio, audio-video and other texts we will use as
points of reference, reflection, application, and extrapolation in
R 9/3: Introduction and Orientation.
T 9/8: Why Theory? and Author/ity.
for Class, T 9/8: The Theory
R 9/10: Reading.
for Class, R 9/10: The Theory
T 9/15: Subjectivity.
for Class, T 9/15: The Theory
R 9/17: Culture.
for Class, R 9/17: The Theory
T 9/22: Ideology.
Read for Class, T 9/22: The
Theory Toolbox, 83-94.
Paper Assigned in Class, T 9/22.
R 9/24: History and Space/Time.
for Class, R 9/24: The Theory
T 9/29: The Great Gatsby,
for Class, T 9/29: The Great
R 10/1: The Great Gatsby,
Read for Class, R 10/1: The Great Gatsby, 97-180.
First Paper Due by 12
noon in my
English Department Mailbox, HHH 405, on Friday 10/2.
T 10/6: Psychoanalytic Critical Theory [Introductory Lecture and Tyson
for Class, T 10/6: Critical
Theory Today, 11-52.
R 10/8: Psychoanalytic Critical Theory [Selections, Freud from Norton
for Class, R 10/8: The Norton
Theory and Criticism, 919-929 (From The Interpretation of Dreams) and
T 10/13: Psychoanalytic Critical Theory [Selections, Lacan, from My
Teaching, and, as time permits, Short Film, To Be Announced].
for Class, T 10/13: Lacan, from My Teaching (To
R 10/15: Marxist Critical Theory [Introductory Lecture and Tyson
Chapter, and Class Section from Theory Toolbox].
for Class, R 10/15: Critical
53-81, and The Theory Toolbox,
T 10/20: Marxist Critical Theory [Marx and Engels from Norton
for Class, T 10/20: 764-788 (Selections from
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts
of 1844, The German Ideology,
Communist Manifesto, Grundrisse,
Preface to A Contribution to the
Critique of Political Economy, Capital
Volume 1 Chapter 1 Section 4 and
Chapter 10, as well as “Letter from Friedrich Engels to Joseph Bloch”).
Second Paper Assigned in Class, T 10/20.
R 10/22: Marxist Critical Theory [Nowlan, Lecture–Introduction to
Fundamental Tenets of Marxism, and, as time permits, Short Film, To Be
for Class, R 10/22: Nowlan, “Lecture:
Introduction to Fundamental Tenets of Marxism”:
T 10/27: Feminist Critical Theory [Introductory Lecture and Tyson
Chapter, and Gender Section from Theory
for Class T 10/27: Critical
83-133, and The Theory Toolbox,
164-170 (“Gender”) .
R 10/29: Feminist Critical Theory [Woolf and Cixous from Norton
Read for Class R 10/29: The
Norton Anthology of
Theory and Criticism, 1021-1029 (Woolf, From A Room of One’s Own), and
2039-2056 (Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”).
Second Paper Due
by 12 noon in my
English Department Mailbox, HHH 405, on Friday 10/30.
T 11/3: Feminist Critical Theory [Wittig and Bordo from Norton
Anthology, and, as time permits, Short Film, To Be Announced]
for Class, T 11/3: The Norton
Theory and Criticism, 2014-2021 (Wittig, “One is Not Born a
2362-2376 (Bordo, From Unbearable
Weight: Feminism, Western Culture,
and the Body).
R 11/5: Deconstructionist Critical Theory [Introductory Lecture and
Tyson Chapter, and Postmodernism and Poststructualism Sections from
for Class, R 11/5: Critical
249-280, and The Theory Toolbox,
125-140 (“Postmodernism” and
T 11/10: Deconstructionist Critical Theory [Selections, Barthes, and
Barbara Johnson from Norton Anthology].
for Class, T 11/10: The
Norton Anthology of
Theory and Criticism, 1466-1475 (Barthes, “The Death of the
“From Work to Text”), and 2319-2337 (Johnson, From “Melville’s Fist:
The Execution of Billy Budd”).
R 11/12: Deconstructionist Critical Theory [Continuation from T 11/10
and, as time permits, Short Film, To Be Announced].
T 11/17: Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Critical Theory [Introductory Lecture
and Tyson Chapter, and Queer Section from Theory Toolbox].
Read for Class, T 11/17: Critical Theory Today,
317-357, and The Theory Toolbox, 170-175 (“Queer”).
R 11/19: Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Critical Theory [Rich and Sedgwick
from Norton Anthology].
Read for Class, R 11/19: The Norton Anthology of
Theory and Criticism, 1762-1780 (Rich, From “Compulsory
and Lesbian Existence”), and 2432-2445 (Sedgwick, From Between Men:
English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, and From Epistemology of
T 11/24: Lesbian, Gay, and Queer Critical Theory [Butler from Norton
Anthology and, as time permits, Short Film, To Be Announced].
Read for Class, T 11/24: The Norton Anthology of
Theory and Criticism, 1488-1501 (From Gender Trouble).
Paper Assigned in Class, T 11/24.
T 12/1: African American Critical Theory [Introductory Lecture and
Tyson Chapter, and Race and Postcolonial Sections from Theory Toolbox].
for Class, T 12/1: Critical
359-415, and The Theory Toolbox,
175-179 (“Race”) and 140-150
R 12/3: African American Critical Theory [Hughes, Baker, and Gates from
for Class, R 12/3: The Norton
Theory and Criticism, 1313-1316 (Hughes, “The Negro Artist and
Racial Mountain”), 2227-2240 (Baker, From Blues, Ideology, and
African-American Literature: a Vernacular Theory), and 2424-2431
(“Taking Black: Critical Signs of the Times”).
T 12/8: African American Critical Theory [Smith from Norton Anthology,
and, as time permits, Short Film, To Be Announced].
for Class, T 12/8: The Norton
Theory and Criticism, 2302-2315 (Smith, “Toward a Black Feminist
R 12/10: Agency.
for Class, R 12/10: The
Theory Toolbox, 193-206
Examination Assignment Distributed in Class, R
T 12/15, 3-4:50 pm, Final Examination Class.
Third Paper Due by 12
noon in my
English Department Mailbox, HHH 405, on Wednesday 12/16.
* THIS SCHEDULE IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE *
ORGANIZATION AND CONDUCT OF CLASS
I will often make initial presentations (i.e., give
short lectures) in class, but I will always allow room at the end for
questions, while we will frequently engage in extended class
discussions of the readings, and of the issues they raise for us.
Discussions will follow a variety of possible formats, including work
from time to time in pairs or small groups. In addition, I may on
occasion ask you to write responses to questions or other prompts prior
to class, or to do brief writing in class, in order to enhance the
effectiveness of our class discussion. As time permits, I will on
occasion screen short films, and we will discuss these in relation to
the issues in theory and criticism you are reading about and studying
at that same time in the semester. We may also make use of other
kinds of cultural texts as sites of extrapolation and application.
In sum, although I will direct the course of our
engagement with the texts and topics you will be studying this
semester, I strongly welcome–and encourage–all of you to become
actively involved in class by frequently asking questions and offering
comments, including in response to each other. You tend to learn
much better that way than by merely listening to me, and you should
keep in mind throughout the semester that you are all in the same
position because you are all new students of theory and criticism; you
therefore can–and should– help each other. No pressure
either–participation in discussion is not about ‘looking good’ in front
of me or your peers; it’s about learning, including by working with–and
through–confusion, uncertainty, hesitancy, puzzlement, lack of
familiarity, and lack of understanding. It’s quite reasonable–and
indeed quite helpful–to voice all of those kinds of responses, and, in
fact, doing so often ‘looks much better’ than holding back or
pretending that ‘everything is, always, perfectly clear’. Lots
and lots of things I don’t know and find difficult to understand, that
will always be the case, and I’m continually learning (not to mention
continually ‘re-learning’ and ‘un-learning’); no reason why you should
be any different from me in that regard. At the same time, don’t
feel intimidated by what I know, or about how I am able to articulate
what I know; after all, I’ve been working at this for many, many years,
and I’m supposed to have acquired a certain amount of expertise, and to
have achieved a certain amount of fluency. Otherwise I wouldn’t
be in my position. I don’t ever expect you to maintain or
demonstrate a professor’s level of knowledge, and articulateness.
You are beginning students of theory and criticism; relax and work from
where you are at.
GOALS OF THE BACCALAUREATE
These are the five most important, official goals
all UWEC undergraduate courses are designed to help you meet:
1. Knowledge of Human Culture and the Natural World
2. Creative and Critical Thinking
3. Effective Communication
4. Individual and Social Responsibility
5. Respect for Diversity Among People
These goals require your striving to
meet them. Striving means
learning actively and deliberately, completing assignments in a
thorough and timely fashion, participating in class discussion, and
making connections between what we do while meeting in class and what
you do when engaged outside of the classroom.
GENERAL 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
your essays and contributions to class discussion–insights you gain
through your engagement with the texts and topics addressed as part of
this course, and I expect you 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 your own lives, past and
present. And I expect you to let me know right away when and if
you have any questions or problems about any aspect of how you are
doing in and with the course, so that I can do whatever I possibly can
to help answer these questions and solve these problems.
Another important point to keep in mind is that we
who work at the university do not conceive this as a completely
"safe space" entirely separate from the rest of the "real world" where
you can expect to be sheltered from encountering anything and
everything you might ever find disagreeable or objectionable.
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 is symptomatic of
positions and practices that operate beyond the confines of the
classroom, the course, and the university. You are here at the
university because you are now ready to engage with difficult,
challenging, and even disturbing positions and practices–and to make
your own contribution toward dealing seriously with them.
Therefore, if ever and whenever you find any text or topic upsetting,
you maintain the ethical responsibility, as a university student, not
simply to try to hide from but rather to engage with it in an
intellectually serious, responsible, mature adult way. On
occasion you will encounter ideas that you may find troubling, in this
UWEC course and in almost all others as well; within the UWEC English
Department we grant no right of exemption from engaging with these
ideas and offer no support for complaining (to any higher
administrative authority) about their inclusion. After all, great
works of art–including many great works of literature–are often created
with the deliberate aim of disturbing, even shocking many people who
will encounter these; often the intent here is to provoke strong
response, as well as thought–and action–that goes beyond what has
become familiar, conventional, commonsensical, and, especially, merely
Finally, students should understand that 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. (A professor is not
merely a ‘teacher of other people’s ideas’, and a professor maintains
many more responsibilities beyond teaching his or her
classes.) In short, professors must create, advocate for,
and profess these knowledges; you should expect that your professors
may from time to time take controversial positions on difficult and
challenging issues, refusing the pretense of disinterested
neutrality. To do anything less than assume this responsibility
would be to shirk our professorial responsibility and to render
ourselves unworthy of maintaining our professorial positions.
SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS FOR THE COURSE
General Criteria: Evaluation of
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.
This course cannot contribute effectively to
students' learning if students do not attend class. What happens
in class is an indispensable part of this course. Therefore, the
following attendance policy will apply for students enrolled in this
section of English 284, except for
students who must miss an extended
period of the semester due to an emergency for which they arrange an
officially authorized absence
from class (in the latter case, we will
work together to make arrangements to help you make up for what you
1.) Students who exceed a maximum of two
absences will suffer a penalty of a loss of one full letter
each additional unexcused absence. An unexcused absence is one
where you offer no reasonable excuse for missing, but choose this to be
a day that you miss class.
2.) Students should provide me with written
confirmation of a debilitating injury or illness, or of any other
serious individual or family emergency, for the excusing of any further
absences beyond the maximum of two unexcused absences.
3.) In addition to the maximum of two unexcused
absences, students may miss a maximum of three
excused absences without
suffering a grade penalty. Six total absences will result in a
loss of two full letter grades. Students who miss more than
six classes total should withdraw from the course and enroll again in a
subsequent semester; otherwise they will most likely receive a grade of
* Students are
expected to arrive for class on time and to stay through
the very end of class. If you don’t do so, you won’t be
as attending class. In addition, you need to be awake, alert, and
attentive while in class; this means you can’t expect to sleep or rest
in class. Again, if you do so, this will count as an absence from
class. And the same is true of doing other school
work in class or attending to other–personal– matters irrelevant to
what we are focusing on at that point in time in class (e.g., you
should avoid text-messaging, or web-searching, or facebooking, or
playing games on your cell phone, or checking out youtube while in
class–just to mention a few common temptations). *
** In addition, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT IN THIS CLASS THAT YOU COME TO
CLASS HAVING DONE THE READING REQUIRED OF YOU PRIOR TO CLASS. The
quality of your own learning, and that of the rest of your classmates
depends upon you taking this seriously and carrying it out
Learning and Contribution/Learning and
Contribution Reflection Papers
My foremost aim in teaching this course is to help
you to 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–along with how well–you contribute to the
learning for the rest of the class.
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, 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 participation. Quality
class participation does not, moreover, involve merely asking questions
of me and responding to my questions; quality class participation
requires you to work to advance a serious and substantial discussion
with your peers about the texts and topics subject to discussion.
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 writing in and for class is also a valuable way to contribute
to class. At the same time, listening carefully, respectfully,
and thoughtfully in class discussions is yet another important means of
contribution–as is taking time to meet and talk with me outside of
class. In fact, meeting and talking with me outside of class can
be an excellent way to contribute–as well as to show me how seriously
interested in and engaged with the course material you are.
Each paper will offer you an opportunity to apply
concepts and practices we have just been working with to cultural texts
of your own choice. Paper one will ask you to apply select
concepts from The Theory Toolbox.
Paper two will aks you to
apply–and to compare and contrast–psychoanalytic and Marxist critical
theory. Paper three will ask you to apply–and to compare and
contrast–three of the following approaches: feminist critical theory;
deconstructionist critical theory; gay, lesbian and queer critical
theory; and African American critical theory. In addition, I will
ask you to briefly assess how, along with how well, you have been
contributing to your own learning and to that of your classmates in the
preceding approximately one-third of the semester. These papers
provide you the occasion not only to show me your learning, but also to
advance this, as you often learn a great deal about something by
writing about it. In addition, these papers provide you the means
to demonstrate your critical self-reflexivity, the hallmark of a
liberal arts education. As you are assessing your own
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 can
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 all of that into account in determining
your learning and contribution grades.
I will provide you specific directions in the
assignments I give you for each of these papers. I estimate, as a
rough average, you should aim here for approximately 6 to 8
double-spaced typed pages in length (or 1500 to 2000 words) for the
first learning and contribution reflection paper, approximately 8 to 10
double-spaced pages in length (or 2000 to 2500 words) for the second
learning and contribution reflection paper, and approximately 10 to 12
double-spaced typed pages in length (or 2500 to 3000 words) for the
third learning and contribution reflection paper. The grade in
response to each of these papers will constitute the following
percentages of the overall course grade: #1, 25%,; #2, 30%; and #3, 35%.
This assignment–involving preparation for a short
individual presentation to make to the class at the time of our final
exam–will be distributed and explained at our last regular class
meeting. It will function therefore as a ‘take-home’ exam, but,
at the same time, take a form you likely never previously encountered
with a final, and, I suspect, based upon my experience using this with
previous Introduction to Theory and Criticism classes, a form that is
also considerably more interesting and valuable than usual. You
will receive a grade worth 10% of the
overall course grade for your
performance on this final examination assignment.
General Formatting Requirements: Papers
All papers should be typed, double-space, on single
sides of standard white letter-sized (8" X 11") typewriter, computer
printer, or photographic paper. You may use any standard font you
wish but your print size must remain between 10 and 12 points.
Pages should be numbered, and your name should be at the top of the
first page. The pages of your paper must be stapled together and
you are responsible for doing so; I do not bring staplers to class.
You are also responsible for proofreading your
paper before you turn it in; if you catch any typographical errors, you
should neatly cross these out and write your corrections on top of
these with a pen (but not a pencil).
I will expect you, furthermore, to observe the rules
and conventions of Standard Written English to the very best of your
ability in writing these papers, including MLA format for citation and
documentation of sources for the argument and research paper.
Plagiarism and Academic Honesty
Plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of academic
dishonesty are serious offenses. They not only undermine the goal
of learning but also are exploitative of the work of others.
Dishonesty in written work as part of this course will result in a
failing grade. In addition, dishonesty may result in further
disciplinary action on the part of the University administration;
dishonesty can ultimately lead to expulsion from the University.
Also, if you directly echo someone else’s thoughts as articulated in
the course of class discussion you should add the last name, followed
by the letters CD (for class discussion), followed by the date, in a
parenthetical citation right after the end of the sentence, viz:
(Nowlan, CD, 9/19/09).
Late papers will lose 1/3 of a letter grade per day
late unless you have made arrangements ahead of the time with me to
turn in these papers late due to a serious personal or family
problem. Alternately, if you provide a reasonable explanation why
you are late (again, due to a serious personal or family problem)
shortly after the paper is due, you won’t suffer any grade
penalty. It is best to talk with me directly about this, and to
make sure to do so within a week’s time of the due date at the absolute
latest. I do understand that at times real problems come up for
all of us, no matter what we might intend or prefer.
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 related to what we are doing in this
course. Learning that takes place in conferences can be equally
as important, and at times even more important, than what takes place
in class. Please do not hesitate to meet with me during office
hours or to ask for an appointment at any time you think this might be
helpful; making myself available for conferences with you outside of
class is part of my responsibility as your teacher. Moreover, I
always sincerely do welcome getting to know and work with my students
outside as well as inside of class. I am ready to do whatever I
can to help you in your understanding of issues addressed in
discussions and readings, as well as to help you in your writing for
and participation in this course. I want to make sure that I do
all that I can to help you succeed in this course and I want to help
you, as far as I can, to gain as much out of it as possible through
your participation in and work for it. You may also feel free to
write me via e-mail, and to call me–or leave a message for me on the
answering machine–at my office. Keep in mind–“my office
hours” are for you, and I would rather talk with you during my office
hours than do anything else, so please do not worry about “disturbing”
me in coming to talk with me. These office hours are time
that I have set aside to meet, talk, and work with you. And also,
even though I’ve only designated three regular office hours a week, I
can arrange to meet you at other times as well, if and when you need or
would like to do so.
Any student who has a disability and is in need of
classroom accommodations, please contact both the instructor and the
Services for Students with Disabilities Office, Old Library 2136; for
more information on the services the latter office provides you, check
out their webpage:
In the interest of accountability–me to you–I am
here providing you weblinks: 1.) to my statement of philosophy as a
https://people.uwec.edu/ranowlan/philosophy.htm and 2.) to
my autobiographical profile:
You are also welcome
to check out 3.) my myspace page,
and to look me up 4.)
on facebook, http://www.facebook.com,
where I just started a page this
past summer under ‘Bob Nowlan’. [If you are interested in
becoming myspace or facebook friends, feel free to contact me about
that.] In addition, you can find 5.) my professional vita (the
academic equivalent of a resume) at:
I encourage you to check
these sites out; it is useful for you to know who your teacher is, what
he’s about, and where he’s coming from–and I like to be very open,
honest, and forthright with you about all of that. I look forward
to a great semester working together with you!