course shell:


professor email:


online syllabus:



office hours:

tues 3:40–5:00, 9:10–9:30

603j pray harrold hall

* or email for appointment *



Literature 511: Literary Criticism

Winter 2017

Dr. Abby Coykendall




Tuesday 6:30–9:10 pm

Pray-Harrold Hall 318

Course # 22555



Course Description:

LITR 511 is a class in which you will investigate a wide variety of literary theory, both past and present, paying especial attention to critical debates most influencing current practice in the field. Literary criticism, and aesthetics more generally, has long held a vexed status within the public realm. How we read, whom we read, and what we read says as much about our own values (and those of the larger culture) as it does about our facility to accommodate the values and the perspectives of others. Although reading is in itself an ephemeral undertaking, reading theory can be even more so. Theory is situated in an ambiguous and unnerving locale: between ourselves and the text, between others and the text, and ultimately between ourselves and the world.

We will approach our literary critical texts in much the same fashion as we approach our literary texts: at once imaginatively and analytically. We will search for sites of affinity as well as sites of ambivalence, recurring motifs as well as recurring problems and paradoxes. We will begin by briefly surveying the so-called “classics,” selections from Plato and Aristotle, and then move on to modernists like Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, writers profoundly shaping not just the interpretation of literature, but conceptions of the world in general. We will primarily concentrate on schools of critical theory operative in the last half century—deconstruction, feminism, queer theory, postcolonialism, and cultural studies—testing out each in turn through an ongoing analysis of two literary works: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Course Objectives:

By the end of the semester, you will be better able to

1.      Craft unique interpretations of literary works—and, hopefully, of life itself—by exploring new avenues of thought in class, asking challenging questions of yourself, your peers, and the text, and sharing the upshot of these investigations in writing;

2.     Comprehend the major debates in literary interpretation and theory, and become conversant in key concepts of literary criticism, from the classical tradition to contemporary practice;

3.     Participate in these debates (and initiate new ones) by responding to critical essays, articulating discussion questions, and interrogating the value of a range of critical positions with regard to literary texts in manifold aesthetic, pedagogical, as well as cultural contexts;

4.     Engage with the community of scholars and the larger public by acquiring the critical vocabulary and theoretical wherewithal necessary to influence the study and appreciation of literature;

5.     Articulate and advance your own critical position vis-ą-vis a host of theoretical approaches, making clear, compelling, and persuasive arguments about literary works in essays reflecting the basic conventions and current trends of literary criticism.

Course Books and Materials:

Bring copies of all required readings with you to class. You will need everything on hand for groupwork and class discussions. Some required materials, and many supplemental materials, are available in the course shell, printable from any campus computer: (see “Modules” or the “Files” links to the left).

The books pictured below must be purchased, although a copy of the first two are available on 2-hour reserve at the Halle library in case you have trouble acquiring them at the beginning of the term. (Click the asterisks for reserve information, or simply go to the circulation desk to check books out).

David H. Richter, ed., Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, 3rd ed.
(Bedford, 2007; ISBN # 0312415206) **

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 2nd ed., Ed. Michael Patrick Gillespie
 (Norton Critical Editions, 2006; ISBN # 9780393927542) **

Toni Morrison, Bluest Eye
(Plume, 2005; ISBN # 0452287065)

Make sure to get the correct edition by double-checking the ISBN number, a fingerprint of sorts for the specific book. You may buy books from the EMU Bookstore in the Student Center; through online merchants (Amazon, Powell’s, etc.); or, potentially, from other local bookstores (Ned’s).

Instructor Availability:

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns during my office hours, as well as at any time through the course shell or email ( Emails with straightforward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues usually receive a reply within a week. Please limit inquiries to those that I alone can answer so that I can give more pressing issues of other students the attention that they deserve. If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus, course shell, or peers in your group, and then email only if the confusion persists.  

Course Itinerary:

Nothing is more vital for success in this course than keeping up with, and actively engaging in, the reading assignments and class discussions each day. The more actively that you participate, the more closely that the course content can reflect your unique needs and interests.

See the “Modules” link in the course shell, or the Schedule below, for the reading and homework assignments due each week. For most of the term, we will be covering portions of the novels together with select theoretical works, making for a representative survey of literary criticism over the span of the semester.

The theoretical essays may prove daunting to read, but you need not master every single concept that the theorists unfold. Focus on the big picture, tracing three or four key arguments in depth, honing in on specific ideas most of interest to you, and drawing connections between those ideas and other literature or criticism that we have covered in class.

Assessment Weights:


Weekly Homework & Participation

min length:

due date:


Seminar Paper Proposal

5 pages
(2500 words)

April 8
(11:59 pm)


Presentation on Paper Topic

10 minutes

April 25


Seminar Paper

15–20 pages
(4700–6000 words)

April 25
(11:59 pm)


Consult with me as early as possible to brainstorm possible topics for the seminar paper, which constitutes a large proportion of the final grade, with the weekly homework coming in a close second. There will be no formal, comprehensive final exam in this class; nonetheless, you must be able to draw knowledgeably on the readings for the in-class activities and homework assignments due each week.

Most importantly, you must be able to critically examine a well-chosen selection of these works in your seminar paper. The more conversant that you become in the criticism over the span of the term, the easier that the composition of your seminar paper will prove at its conclusion.

Homework assignments will be due almost every class period to ensure ongoing preparation for and participation in class. On any given particular week, and depending on your group number, you may be applying the theory to the literature in critical responses; composing discussion questions on the novels or theory; or presenting quotations from recommended materials or scholarly databases. See the course shell, or the “Weekly Assignments” handout, for details.

Group Assignments:

The groupwork is simply a way to organize which set of students do which assignments with which materials each week, thus diversifying the issues highlighted during class discussion, the students bringing them to our attention, as well as the skills used to do so. Most classes will consist of interactive discussions stemming from the groupwork.

Group 1

Last name begins with A–C


Group 4

Last name begins with M–R

Group 2

Last name begins with D–Ki


Group 5

Last name begins with S–Z

Group 3

Last name begins with Kj–L




Note: there is no “groupwork” in the sense that you must collaborate with your peers on the same assignment or meet with your peers outside of class. At most, you will need to ensure that you are not covering the same topic or text for homework and rely on each other for notes when one of you must be absent.


This class is meant to be a welcoming educational experience for all students, including those who may have various challenges or disabilities that impact learning. If you find yourself having difficulty participating and/or demonstrating knowledge in this course, please feel free to contact me to discuss accommodations, even if you currently lack a Disability Resource Center (DRC) accommodation letter. You can also contact the DRC directly to talk about accommodations (487-2470; 240K Student Center;

Grading Scale:
























Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial. Failure to participate regularly in class makes achieving course objectives difficult and, eventually, impossible. Reserve absences for illnesses, car troubles, or other unforeseen emergencies preventing you from coming to class, and make sure not to exhaust your allowable absences too early in the term.

Attendance will be taken both before and after the break, and tracked weekly for you in the course shell. Anyone who misses TWO classes for any reason will have their final grade reduced by a full mark (for example, lowered from A to B, or B to C), and any student who misses THREE or more classes will become ineligible to pass.

When you must be absent, contact other students in your group to get copies of notes or determine what you missed. Unforeseen changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email, and any missed homework is simply due upon your return, although you may need to do a critical response instead of discussion questions or quotations, per the “Weekly Assignments” instructions below.   

Note that you are never required to explain why you are absent. I will always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class. Health issues and the like are private matters that you have no obligation to share or explain and may well prefer to keep confidential.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarification of issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is important to come on time. Make sure to leave early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, slow buses, no parking).

When you must be late, it is your responsibility to sign the attendance sheet to avoid being marked absent. Arriving well into the period, or exiting well before its conclusion, counts as half an absence. One such partial absence rounds down (thus not factoring at all), but two such on two separate occasions combine together into a single absence—your maximum number for the term.

You may at times have understandable reasons to be late; however, habitual lateness routinely interfering with your learning or disrupting class activities will eventually compound into half or full absence(s) and therefore potentially impact your final grade.

Classroom Etiquette:

It is important to be mindful of your peers during class time, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive when you yourself speak. Once class begins, do not distract your peers by walking in or out of the room, unless there is a genuine emergency. If you have a medical condition requiring you to leave the room occasionally, definitely bring an accommodation letter attesting as such; otherwise, conduct ALL personal business during the break or outside of class time.

Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical. Students conspicuously unprepared to discuss the materials for the day, or discovered using laptops or phones for purposes unrelated to the course, may be asked to leave and marked absent.

This course has a NO-LAPTOP, NO-CELL-PHONE POLICY. Store such devices inside your bag (and put them on silent mode) during class time unless specifically asked to use them to look something up.

Academic Integrity:

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all of the coursework on your own, is imperative. Copying the homework of peers, having someone else do your assignments, submitting essays written for other classes in this class for double credit, and, of course, plagiarism are all forms of academic dishonesty that will not be tolerated and may prevent you from passing.

Plagiarism, put simply, is taking either the IDEAS or the WORDS of another person and recycling them as if they are your own. You must acknowledge when you are drawing on the thoughts and/or expressions of other people, under any circumstances and without any exception. For example, if you insert the words of someone else into your own writing, you must credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side: So and so says “X.” When you paraphrase, or describe someone else’s ideas in your own words, you must also credit that person, albeit minus the quotation marks: So and so says X. Without those acknowledgements, others’ unique conceptualization and/or construction of ideas will pass as your own by default. And any writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, is plagiarizing the original source.

All instances of academic dishonesty, including plagiarism, will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment. Any instances of academic dishonesty in the seminar paper will result in outright failure of the course; so too will any two instances of academic dishonesty on two different assignments, however minor either may be.

Plagiarism by its very nature leaves a trace. It should never be found in any assignment that you submit. Make absolutely sure that your work is plagiarism-free before turning it in, for there will be no exceptions to this policy.

Academic Resources & Campus Safety:

Students are encouraged to come to the University Writing Center (115 Halle Library; 487–0694; at any stage of the writing process, which offers one-to-one writing consulting for both undergraduate and graduate students. You can make appointments or drop in (M–Th 10–6; Fri 11–4). A Pray-Harrold satellite is in room 211 (M–Th 11–4). The Academic Projects Center (116 Halle, offers drop-in consulting on writing, research, and technology-related issues (M–Th, 10–5). Bring a draft of your writing and any relevant instructions or rubrics to the consultation.

Call 48–SEEUS (487–338) for the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety. If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS will notify you of any danger afflicting the campus.

Swoop’s Pantry (104 Pierce, 487–4173, offers food assistance to all EMU students who could benefit. You can visit twice per month to receive perishable and non-perishable food items, personal hygiene items, baby items, and more. 

University Policy:

In addition to the course-specific policies and expectations above, students are responsible for understanding all applicable University guidelines, policies, and procedures. The EMU Student Handbook ( gives you access to all University policies, support resources, and your rights and responsibilities. Electing not to access the link above does not absolve you of responsibility. Changes may be made to the EMU Student Handbook whenever necessary, and shall be effective when a policy is formally adopted and/or amended. For questions about any university policy, procedure, practice, or resource, please contact the Office of the Ombuds (Student Center 248; 487–0074, or visit the website (




Online Handouts and Links:

Course Shell:                               

Course Syllabus:                         

Professor Home Page:              

Critical Tradition (on reserve):  







Schedule for Literature 511 (Winter 2017):

See the “Modules” page in the Course Shell ( for easier navigation, including links to readings, handouts, and assignment details, and the Weekly Assignments handout for details on the homework. The page numbers refer either to novels or selections in The Critical Tradition. All other texts are located in the course shell. Homework must be posted by 12:30pm the day of class. Abbreviations are as follows: Critical Responses (CR); Discussion Questions on the Novel (NQ); Discussion Questions on the Theory (TQ); Quotations from Recommended Materials (RQ); and Quotations from Scholarly Databases (SQ).

Week One (1/10):


Welcome to LITR 511; Course & Student Introductions; Conjectural Responses

* Homework: Along with the homework assignments below, please confirm that you have read the syllabus, making note of any questions that you have via the survey in the course shell.

Week Two (1/17):


& Formalism

Literature: Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891 version (ix–xv, 1–50)

Theory: Aristotle, Poetics; Plato, “Allegory of the Cave”

Recommended: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You’re so Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay is About You”

* Homework: Group 1 (CR); Group 2 (NQ); Group 3 (TQ); Group 4 (RQ); Group 5 (SQ)

Week Three (1/24):


Literature: Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray (51–100)

Theory: Sigmund Freud, Interpretation of Dreams (on Dream Work); Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism”

Recommended: Sigmund Freud, “Moses of Michelangelo”

* Homework: Group 2 (CR); Group 3 (NQ); Group 4 (TQ); Group 5 (RQ); Group 1 (SQ)

Week Four (1/31):

Lacanian Psychoanalysis

Literature: Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray (101–150)

Theory: Jacques Lacan, “Mirror Stage” (1123–29); Jane Gallop, “Lacan’s ‘Mirror’”

Recommended: Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror

* Homework: Group 3 (CR); Group 4 (NQ); Group 5 (TQ); Group 1 (RQ); Group 2 (SQ)

Week Five (2/7):


Literature: Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray, plus appended Wilde essays (151–184, 335–350)

Background: “What is Marxist Criticism?”

Theory: Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire; Louis Althusser, “Ideology & Ideological State Apparatuses”

Recommended: Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (1272–89)

* Homework: Group 4 (CR); Group 5 (NQ); Group 1 (TQ); Group 2 (RQ); Group 3 (SQ)

Week Six (2/14):


Literature: Toni Morrison, Bluest Eye, 1970 (1–50)

Background: “What is Feminist Criticism?”

Theory: Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1172–80)

Recommended: Mary Ann Doane, “Economy of Desire”

* Homework: Group 5 (CR); Group 1 (NQ); Group 2 (TQ); Group 3 (RQ); Group 4 (SQ)

February 20–26

Winter Recess (No Class)Re-read Wilde’s novel, read ahead in Morrison’s novel, or survey recommended readings (above or below) in order to generate ideas for the seminar paper. Guidelines will be available in the course shell.

Week Seven (2/28):

Critical Race Studies

Literature: Toni Morrison, Bluest Eye (51–100)

Theory: Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, “Tropes of Empire”; Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda, “Racial Imaginary”

Recommended: Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark (1791–1801)

* Homework: Group 1 (CR); Group 2 (NQ); Group 3 (TQ); Group 4 (RQ); Group 5 (SQ)

** Additional Preparation: Scan and do survey for “Bibliography for Dorian Gray” in the course shell.

Week Eight (3/7):

Postcolonial Critique

Literature: Toni Morrison, Bluest Eye (101–150)

Theory: Edward Said, Orientalism (course-shell version); Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather

Recommended: Homi Bhabha,  “Of Mimicry and Man”

* Homework: Group 2 (CR); Group 3 (NQ); Group 4 (TQ); Group 5 (RQ); Group 1 (SQ)

Week Nine (3/14):

Neoliberal Critique &

Asian American Studies

Literature: Toni Morrison, Bluest Eye, plus “Afterward” (150–206, 208–216)

JNT Dialogue Readings: Lisa Lowe, Intimacies of Four Continents (Chapter 1);  & Mimi Thi Nguyen, “The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror”  

* Homework: Post a 600-to 700-word response to the course shell articulating connections between the two Dialogue readings, integrating quotations from any two theoretical sources previously covered.

March 16, 6:30pm

JNT Dialogue “Temporalities of Crisis and Condition,” keynotes Mimi Thi Nguyen and Lisa Lowe (in the Student Center Auditorium)

Week Ten (3/21):


& Deconstruction

+ Derrida Video

Literature: Begin re-reading the novel on which your seminar paper will focus

Background: “Deconstruction and Post-Structural Analysis”

Theory: Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx; Derrida, “The Other Heading”

Recommended: bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness”

Optional: “Grad Student Deconstructs Take-Out Menu,” The Onion

* Homework: Group 3 (CR); Group 4 (NQ); Group 5 (TQ); Group 1 (RQ); Group 2 (SQ)

Week Eleven (3/28):

Gender Studies

& Queer Theory

Literature: Continue re-reading the novel and working on your proposal

Criticism: Judith Butler, “Imitation & Gender Insubordination”; José Esteban MuĖoz, Disidentifications

Recommended: Michel Foucault, “Abnormal”

* Homework: Group 4 (CR); Group 5 (NQ); Group 1 (TQ); Group 2 (RQ); Group 3 (SQ)

Week Twelve (4/4):

Disability Studies

Literature: Continue re-reading the novel and working on your proposal

Theory: Tobin Siebers, “Sex, Shame, and Disability”; Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place

Recommended: Alison Kafer, Introduction to Feminist, Queer, Crip

* Homework: Group 5 (CR); Group 1 (NQ); Group 2 (TQ); Group 3 (RQ); Group 4 (SQ)

April 8 (11:59 PM)

Seminar Paper Proposal Due (post in course shell)

Week Thirteen (4/11):

Individual Conferences in lieu of regular class (see Schedule in the course shell)

* Homework: Along with reviewing your Conjectural Response from the beginning of term, post quotations to “Theory and Criticism on the Novels” (one theoretical and one critical work to be used in your paper, neither covered in class, optionally or otherwise)

Week Fourteen (4/18):

Material Cultural Studies

Various: Read other students’ quotations (“Theory and Criticism on the Novels”)

Criticism: Thomas Fick, “Movies, Consumption, Platonic Realism”; Elisa Glick, Dialectics of Dandyism”

Theory: Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumer Society”

Recommended: Horkheimer and Adorno, “Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”

* Homework: Be prepared to respond to questions on Jameson and discuss the quotations; Groups 1–2 should focus on the Fick and Groups 3–4 on the Glick articles, attending to strengths and weaknesses

Week Fifteen (4/25):

Research Presentations (schedule in the course shell)

April 25 (11:59 PM)

Seminar Paper Due (post in course shell)