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Each student is required to write a single essay of 6,000 words for the Critical Theory module. In the case of failure, the essay must be revised for resubmission by the 1 September, and the highest mark possible will be 50 (Pass).
Aesthetics and Modernity I – Prof. Thomas Docherty (term 1)
This MA module is designed to allow for an exploration of the importance of the concept of experience in relation to both aesthetics and modernity. In exploring this, we will cover a number of areas of inquiry. These will include explorations across a number of interlocking themes: a) the ways in which the formation of ‘taste’ in aesthetics is related to political and cultural ideas of modernity; b) how taste and judgement relate to the category of experience; how experience relates to the formulation of laws and norms; d) the role of experience in learning and thus also in formal institutions of literary and other educations; the relation of experience to the University as an institution of modernity; the formulation of the cultural norms of modernity through aesthetic experience; the question of how we might attempt to give legitimisations to judgements; the issue of justice. We will engage with these issues through consideration of some literary texts, considered alongside some philosophical arguments.
This is a graduate level module. Accordingly, its actual shape will be partly determined by the evolving research interests of the student cohort. We will begin with issues of experience in relation to modernity in Montaigne and Descartes. This will probably take the first two weeks of the seminar. The actual schedule following this will be by agreement.
Montaigne, 'De l'expérience'
Descartes, Discours de la méthode
Moliére, Le bourgeois gentilhomme
Giambattista Vico, selection from Rectorial Orations in the Universitá di Napoli
Swift, A Tale of a Tub
Schiller, Selections from Letters on Aesthetic Education
Eliot, selections from Selected Essays
Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'
Aesthetics and Modernity II – Prof. Thomas Docherty (term 2)
This MA module is designed to allow for an exploration of the importance of the question of violence, broadly construed, in relation to the cultural formation of modernity. We will begin from a collocation of issues related to what we can term ‘intellectual violence’ and its hypothetical inscription in ideas of Enlightenment, alongside more direct questions of material violence as determinant of a struggle over what might constitute modernity. The question then devolves onto issues regarding the emergence of the body as a site for politics and especially for potential political violence; and this allows for an investigation of matters related to corporeal aesthetics, beauty and violence, and the ritualised body as a site for sacrifice, confession and witnessing. The emergent bio-political questions can then be related directly to versions of history that are thought to be constitutive of modernity itself; and we can thus explore the question concerning violence (usually occluded) in the formation of a modern aesthetics.
This is a graduate level module. Accordingly, its actual shape will be partly determined by the evolving research interests of the student cohort. We will begin in the first week or two with a consideration of some key questions from Adorno & Horkheimer, and we will simultaneously try to historicise those questions by looking at Voltaire. After that, sessions will be conducted by mutual agreement.
Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment
Marx, The German ideology; Eighteenth Brumaire
Benjamin, 'Theses on the Philosophy of History' and other selected essays
Beckett, The Unnamable
Agamben, Homo Sacer; Language and Death
Lyotard, The Lyotard Reader
Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy; Conditions
Arendt, On violence; On revolution; and selected essays
Feminist Literary Theory – Dr. Emma Francis (term 1)
This module considers some of the most important debates and trends in feminist literary theory of the last 3 decades. The field is situated in a trans-national frame and we begin with an examination of the parameters which structured Anglo-American and French feminist literary criticism in the 1980s. However, from the outset our focus will also be on the conflicts and collaborations engaged between ‘western’, ‘multicultural’ and ‘third world’ feminisms. Feminist literary theory has developed itself from a diverse range of knowledges, initially including Marxism, psychoanalysis and liberalism and subsequently gay and lesbian knowledges, queer theory, post-colonial theory and post-modernism. The impact of each on feminist literary theory and the canons it has constructed will be considered. We will look, in particular, at the use and abuse of writing by black women in the formation of feminist literary theory, the way in which white feminist critics have often recuperated black-authored texts and have avoided the interrogation of whiteness. Both literary study and feminism being among the least autonomous of intellectual fields, we will open up the question of feminist literary theory’s relationship with the projects of feminist cultural and social theory. We will think about the historicity of feminism’s engagement with literature - does it make sense to bring concepts generated by ‘feminism’ into dialogue with texts produced either chronologically or politically outside of modernity? Perhaps the most important question we will ask is: what are the accounts of ‘woman’ which feminist theories rest upon?
As we will see, the demarcation between ‘literary’ and ‘theoretical’ texts has always been unstable within feminism and the course sets up a dialogue between the two categories. Some key ‘literary’ texts will be used as touchstones for our debates during the course.
Mahasweta Devi, ‘Douloti the Bountiful’ from Imaginary Maps (1995) (xerox)
Emily Dickinson, selected poems (1862) (xerox)
Winifred Holtby, South Riding (1936)
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (c.1400) (the long text) (trans. Elizabeth Spearing, Penguin:2003 - it is essential you use this Penguin edition)
Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1928)
There is no course reader, but Cora Kaplan’s Sea Changes: Culture and Feminism (Verso: 1986) and Reina Lewis and Sara Mills (ed) Feminist Postcolonial Theory (EUP: 2003) are important collections which will be drawn upon frequently. Jacqueline Rose’s Sexuality in the Field of Vision (Verso: 1986) contains key statements of feminism’s debates with psychoanalysis and cultural theory. Students may wish to read these in preparation.
Freud’s Metapsychology: Trauma, Sexuality and the Death Drive
– Mr John Fletcher (term 1)
The course is designed as an introduction to some of the fundamental theories and concepts of psychoanalysis for literary students with no previous knowledge of the work of Freud or the post-Freudians. Unlike most academic psychology courses, it will take a text-based and historical approach, tracing the development of Freud’s thought through close readings of key essays, clinical case studies, and associated literary works. Concepts will be traced through their evolution, abandonment, retrieval, revision in texts from the 1890s to the 1920s. The course will start with the origins of psychoanalysis in trauma theories of hysteria, their apparent replacement by developmental models of sexuality and the Oedipus complex and the return of trauma in Freud’s final theory of the repetition-compulsion and the death drive and his associated analysis of the Uncanny. It will also address the critical and revisionary work of Jean Laplanche with its return to trauma and the theory of seduction. Though the main focus of the course is theoretical, it will look at three literary works that narrate or stage these concerns: Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and two novellas by the early 19th century German Gothic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, Mademoiselle de Scudery and The Sandman.
It is advisable for students taking the Literature and psychoanalysis pathway to take this module along with either Modernism and Pyschoanalysis or Psychoanalysis and Cuyltural production, however it is also available to other MA students, and can count towards meeting the Critical Theory requirement of the MA in English Literature. A week-by-week sylllabus will be available on the MA website with details of the set texts and recommended editions. The course starts on Wednesday of week 1, Term 1, so prospective students should prepare by reading the texts set for the first few weeks of term over the summer. Students considering taking the course should read Freud’s Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, which is available in an early out-of-copyright translation as a free download from http://www.rasch.org/over.htm
The first of these lectures covers the question of trauma with which the course begins.
Modernism and Psychoanalysis – Dr Dan Katz (term 2)
This module will look at the relationship between psychoanalysis and modernist literature in the context of the elaboration of new discourses of subjectivity and culture in the twentieth century. While examining certain clear instances of explicit “influence” between analytic and literary texts, we will also look at modernist literature and psychoanalysis as parallel and at times competing discourses intent on examining similar problems and texts. Recurring questions will include the relationship between subjectivity, sexuality, and language; the mobilisation of the concept of the “primitive” in discussions of sexuality and aggression; the viability of the symptom as interpretative matrix for both individual subjects and group structures; and the emergence of “culture” and ethnicity as central ordering concepts for organising discussion of artistic production in the early twentieth century. This last element leads to an additional concern: the investigation of forms of modernist complicity in totalitarian political projects, and the possibilities and limitations of psychoanalysis as a critical political discourse. Throughout, students will be encouraged to learn to use psychoanalysis as a powerful metalanguage for discussing literary texts, but also to contextualize this metalanguage within the intellectual history of the twentieth century.
Postcolonial Theory – Dr Sorcha Gunne (term 2)
This module is designed to offer an introduction to advanced study in the field of postcolonial literary studies. Assuming some familiarity (however limited) with some of the best-known works in the ‘postcolonial’ literary corpus (e.g., Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children or Edward W. Said’s critical writings) it aims:
i. to give students both a broad understanding of and a stake or investment in key conceptual, theoretical and methodological debates in the postcolonial studies field (e.g. over Marxism and post-structuralism, subalternity and representation; nationalism and feminism; imperialism, globalisation, and ‘tricontinentalism’);
ii. to situate these debates institutionally, by thinking about them in relation to developments in academic work in fields and disciplines (e.g. history, anthropology, philosophy) that abut and influence postcolonial literary studies;
iii. to contextualise the emergence and defining trajectories of postcolonial literary studies relative to wider social, political and intellectual developments – from the ‘Bandung’ era to the end of the Cold War to ‘9/11’ and the invasion of Iraq.
The module will proceed through an interpolation (and sometimes pairing) of literary and ‘theoretical’ texts. Students should come to the module prepared to read quite extensively and widely.
Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark (1996)
Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994)
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, A Grain of Wheat (1994)
Assia Djebar, A Sister to Scheherazade (1987)
Achmat Dangor, Bitter Fruit (2004)
Psychoanalysis and Cultural Production – John Fletcher (term 2)
This year the course will be studying the concept of Fantasy in psychoanalytic thought and its function in relation to a range of psychic processes and literary texts. Fantasy will be considered as it first emerged in Freud’s thought in relation to trauma and to memory, and then as ‘primal fantasy’ i.e. an unconscious structural model or template for later identifications and sexual object choices. Particular attention will be paid to the form that unconscious fantasy takes, as an arrested or frozen scene or scenic sequence, to which the subject is bound or fixated, and which generates a range of repetitions and variations. Fantasy is here understood as the point of interface between unconscious processes and cultural production. The role of fantasy in extreme conditions will also be studied, such as the literature of mourning and melancholia and the problem of the continuing relation to the dead, and finally the famous case of Judge Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, analyzed by Freud as a case of psychosis rather than ordinary, everyday neurosis, with its paranoid transsexual and utopian fantasies.
It is strongly recommended that students who take this course also take Freud’s Metapsychology: Trauma, Sexuality, and the Death Drive in term 1 in order to acquire a good grounding in the some of the fundamental concepts and theoretical models of psychoanalysis. A detailed week-by-week syllabus will be found on the MA program website.
Critical Theory essays: some general advice
There are a number of ways to conceive of the Critical Theory essay. The simplest is to choose one of the set authors or topics and write on that with suggestions from the relevant tutor.
Slightly more ambitious is to compare and contrast theorists especially if there is a debate between them or one has criticised the other and there is an implicit or explicit dialogue between them. There may be topics where literary or other texts and readings of them have been deliberately built into the syllabus, e.g. readings by Baudelaire and Benjamin of Poe’s ‘The Man in the Crowd’ or Freud’s analyses of dreams and symptoms. Here you might give an account of the readings of these texts and how they are motivated by the theoretical premises and feed their own contributions to or disagreements with those readings into the discussion of the relevant theoretical frameworks. More ambitiously, and perhaps only to be attempted by the more theoretically confident students, is to select a literary or cultural text and generate a reading within a given theoretical framework or in relation to certain theoretical issues.
In both the last two options it must be stressed that this is a critical theory essay, not just an essay on a literary text, and the readings of the latter are there only to forward the discussion of the theoretical issues being addressed and should be organised to confirm, complicate or query the terms of the relevant theoretical issues and frameworks. We don’t want an essay that is mainly just a reading of poem x or novel y (you have other modules in which to do that).
The bottom line here is that students should be able to analyse the work of one of the theorists studied, to be able to explain their key terms, how they operate and the problems they are addressing. The more ambitious will want to play different theories off against each other and consider the limitations, blindspots or weak points of the theoretical frameworks being addressed. The starting point should be the texts read and discussed in the seminars, while the more confident will move a bit beyond them. However, the essay is only 6,000 words and that doesn’t leave much scope for too much ranging around. The essays should be focussed on particular theoretical essays and chapters and the structure of the argument as laid out there. You should think of yourself as giving an account of or arguing with particular theoretical texts and the arguments and terms deployed in them. Sweeping generalisations about Marxism or Psychoanalysis or Deconstruction should be avoided in favour of textually focussed argument.
Most importantly all students must have a discussion with the tutor responsible for each module and agree a topic and especially a title in advance so that we have a list of agreed titles (even if these may evolve in the writing process). This is an opportunity to get some guidance as to reading as well as to the formulation of the topic and title, and it should have happened by the end of the term in which the module is taken.
The MA Dissertation offers students the chance to undertake and complete a sustained research project (approximately 16,000 words) on a topic of special interest. If you wish to write a dissertation, you should identify the broad area of interest before you arrive at Warwick. Students are asked in September to indicate their wish to write a dissertation along with their provisional option choices and to submit a short 500 word proposal of their proposed project, together with a bibliography. Note that the topic of the dissertation does not have to be directly related to any of the taught modules. Students intending to apply for funding for doctoral work are strongly advised to apply to write a dissertation.
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