Because the Associate Dean said that there were certain courses that faculty should be prepared to teach at the drop of a hat, and because there was a shortage, perhaps momentary, of ready instructors, I leapt into the breach and said Yes I will teach English 2700 Yes I said Yes I will Yes. That was in the spring, right before summer was about to launch, and the prospect seemed challenging and exciting.

Then it was August.

Luckily for me, two colleagues, and their two colleagues before them, offered their materials to me, freely, to help me out as I saw fit. Those colleagues: Jason Pickavance and Kati Lewis (who had materials from Allison Fernley and Andrea Malouf–whose permission I sought and obtained). I owe them a debt. Their notes and quizzes and discussion prompts helped stimulate my own thinking in very helpful ways.

This was an extremely rewarding teaching experience. The class was very small, which was worrisome but ultimately just fine. It had been some time since I engaged in any direct way with most of these texts, but it was wonderful to do so, and even more wonderful to see how gamely and persistently my students did the same. To see them read and investigate and claim these texts as their own was deeply moving to me. I loved the experience, so much so that I have signed up for it again.

English 2700: Introduction to Critical Theory

Instructor: Lisa Bickmore
Office: AD 238A…for now!
Contact info:; 957-4686; and CANVAS
Office Hours: MW 12 p.m.-1 p.m.; R 11 a.m.-12 p.m. (other times by appointment)

Course Description

English 2700 will cover the central movements of modern literary theory, from formalism to postmodernism. Students will focus on debates over language’s relation to reality, the rules and limits of interpretation, and the politics of literature.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, a student should be able to

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the different movements of modern literary theory.
  • Define and employ key concepts in literary theory, including mimesis, sign (signifier/signified), defamiliarization, irony, intention, structuralism, ideology, gender, and discourse.
  • Successfully enter debates over language’s relation to reality, the nature of literary interpretation, and the politics of literature.
  • Produce a clear statement of his or her theoretical commitments.
  • Produce a literary interpretation that clearly signals the writer’s theoretical stance.
  • Understand the role literary theory has played in the recent history of the discipline of literary studies.
  • Apply literary theory to the interpretation of a variety of texts.

Required Texts

The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, Ed. David Richter 3rd edition.
Additional readings and activities on CANVAS and in class

Course Content Warning 

We do not shy away from controversy in this course. I expect that you, as mature college students, will have the appropriate critical faculties necessary for engaging with the material in an objective manner. Both the content and expectations of this class are college level. We will be reading, viewing, and listening to materials that are of cultural and theoretical importance. They may contain content with themes and sometimes language suitable only for mature adults.You may be exposed to nudity, sexual themes, violence, divisive political ideologies, and swearing. All materials are chosen carefully and students are provided with ample background to appreciate and understand them in an academic setting.

Course CANVAS Site

The Response Essays, Synthesis Essay, Critical Responses (CRs), Creative Abridgement and Final Project will be submitted on the CANVAS site. The course syllabus and weekly schedule, and supplementary readings and resources/materials can also be found on the site. To log in to CANVAS go to:

Check CANVAS daily. I may send announcements to further clarify ideas presented in class, offer links to interesting and relevant information on the theorists we discuss, cheerlead the class as it grapples with complex concepts and dense writing, and/or maybe just to say “hello.” 

Critical Responses

Before each (except when essays and projects are due) class you will be expected to respond to a series of questions/prompts about the readings due for class. These are due by noon on TR. I require CRs in place of quizzes—learn to appreciate the CRs. You will post your responses in the Discussions section of CANVAS. You will also be expected to respond to peers’ CRs so that we can begin and extend our discussions on the ideas presented in the readings beyond the “borders” of our classroom.


Response essays                    (2 x 50 pts.)   100 pts.
CRs + Participation                                       200 pts.
Synthesis Essay                                             150 pts.
Midterm                                                         100 pts.
Final Exam                                                     150 pts.
Final Project                                                   200 pts.
Creative Abridgment                                     100 pts.

TOTAL                                                          1000 pts.

Grading Scale

93-100 = A    90-92 = A-     87-89 = B+    84-86 = B       80-83 = B-     77-79 = C+            74-76 = C           70-73 = C-     67-69 = D+    64-66 = D            60-63 = D-     0-59 = E

Course Policies and Procedures

Late Work: I do not accept late work. In extraordinary circumstances such as illness or emergency I will accept late work at the NEXT class meeting, but no later. Please email me as soon as you are aware of a problem (preferably before the class meeting). I never accept Critical Responses late. NOTE: Back up your files: save on a thumb drive, upload to your ENGL 2700 ePortfolio page, etc. Your computer crashing is not an excuse for late work.

Participation and Attendance: For this course participation is attendance. Simply filling seat space is not participating in the class. In my view, being “intellectually absent” from lectures and discussions/activities is no different than being physically absent. I expect you to come to each class on time, prepared to engage in class discussions/activities for the day. Students who are obviously unprepared will be marked as absent. To ensure your success in the course, you should attend every class, and you should come to class prepared. All CRs will count as part of your participation grade. Arriving late, answering cell phones, text messaging, listening to iPods, checking social media sites, and distracting others from learning do not constitute proper attendance. If you miss class, you are responsible for all work assigned. Your grade will begin to drop after two absences, regardless of your excuse. Students with perfect attendance and outstanding participation may be rewarded in terms of their final grade. More than four or more unexcused absences and/or CRs will result in a failing participation grade.

Format: All assignments must be typed and follow the conventions of MLA style: 12 pt font (Times New Roman or Garamond), 1-inch margins, double-spaced, no title page, stapled. Your name, the assignment title, and the class number should appear in the top left corner. Come up with engaging and fitting titles for your essays. (these are in addition to assignment titles in the heading information). I do not accept assignments by email. Follow instructions outlined in each assignment description to ensure that you correctly submit assignments.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the presentation of another’s work as your own. It also applies to the appropriation of a person’s ideas, which you state are your own. Direct quotations and/or paraphrasing (including information taken from the Internet) must be documented with in-text and Works Cited citations inMLA format.

Plagiarism also includes turning in a paper for which you plan to receive credit or for which you have already received credit in another course. It is your responsibility to know what plagiarism is, and your responsibility to write work that acknowledges its intellectual debts appropriately and openly.

Plagiarism is a serious breach of honesty and academic integrity; the penalty for plagiarism is an automatic “E” in this course. In the spirit of this policy, a several descriptions and policies outlined in this syllabus have been taken from and/or modified from work that Dr. Jason Pickavance, Professor Andrea Malouf, and Professor Kati Lewis have so generously shared with me.

Incomplete: Students must be passing and have completed a substantial portion of the course work in order to be granted an incomplete.

Accommodation for Disabilities

Students with medical, psychological, learning or other disabilities desiring accommodations or services under ADA, must contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC ).  The DRC determines eligibility for and authorizes the provision of these accommodations and services for the college.”   Please contact the DRC at the Student Center, Suite 244, Redwood Campus, 4600 So. Redwood Rd, 84123.  Phone: (801) 957-4659, TTY:  957-4646, Fax:  957- 4947 or by email: 

Final Thoughts
You will no doubt find this course challenging, possibly frustrating, and even difficult. You will be expected to do a lot of work, but you can absolutely succeed in this course. The main difference between an A and an E in this class is time, effort, participation, reading deliberately, and engaged writing. You will be most likely to succeed in this class if you realize that the work is not only your responsibility, but also your opportunity. The thinking, reading, and writing skills you build in this class will likely help you for the rest of your academic career and in your civic and professional life. I’m looking forward to working with you!


Note: This schedule lays out the readings I anticipate us discussing, along with dates for the major assignments.

UNIT 1: Prelude to Modern Literary Theory

W 8/21 Intro to the class. What is literary theory?

M 8/26 Read: Terry Eagleton, “What is Literature?

W 8/28 Read: Plato’s Republic Book X. Post Critical Response (CR).

M 9/2 No class—Labor Day

W 9/4 Read: Aristotle, “Poetics.” Post CR.

M 9/9 Read: Wordsworth, “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads; T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Post CR.

UNIT 2: Inside the Text: Formalism to Poststructuralism

W 9/11 Read: I.A. Richards, “Principles of Literary Criticism.” Post CR.

M 9/16 Read: Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique.” Post CR.

W 9/18 Read: Cleanth Brooks, from “My Credo: Formalist Criticism” and “Irony as a Principle of Structure”; Wimsatt and Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy.” Post CR.

M 9/23 Read “Structralism and Deconstruction,” pp. 819-837. Response Essay #1 due.

W 9/25 Read: Ferdinand de Saussure, “Nature of the Linguistic Sign”; Claude Levi-Strauss, “The Structural Study of Myth.” Post CR.

M 9/30 Read: Roland Barthes, “The Structuralist Activity”; “From Work to Text.” Post CR.

W 10/2 Read: Paul de Man, “Semiology and Rhetoric.” Post CR.

M 10/7 Read: Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” Post CR.

W 10/9 Read: Michel Foucault, “What is an Author?” Post CR.

Unit 3: Reader Response, New Historicism, Cultural Studies, and Materialist Criticism

M 10/14 Read:  Hans Robert Jauss, from Toward an Aesthetics of Reception. Post CR.

W 10/16 Read: Wolfgang Iser, “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” Post CR.

M 10/21 Read: Stanley Fish, “How to Recognize a Poem When You See One.”

W 10/23 Read: Judith Fetterley, “Introduction” to The Resisting Reader.  Distribute midterm.

F 10/25 Response Essay #2 due.

M 10/28 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Post CR.

W 10/30 Read: Louis Althusser, from Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses; Raymond Williams, from Marxism and Literature. Midterm due.

Unit 4: Psychoanalytic Theory, Feminist Theory, Gender Studies, Queer Theory

M 11/4 Read: Peter Brooks, “Freud’s Masterplot”; Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Post CR. Final Project Proposal due.

W 11/6 Read: Nina Baym, “Melodramas of Beset Manhood”; Gilbert and Gubar, from Infection in the Sentence: The Woman Writer and the Anxiety of Authorship”; Toril Moi, from Sexual/Textual Politics. Post CR.

M 11/11 Read: Michel Foucault, from The History of Sexuality; Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, from Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet. Post CR

W 11/13 Read: Judith Butler, “Imitation and Gender Insubordination; Martha Nussbaum, from The Professor of Parody. Post CR.

Unit 5: Postcolonialism & Postmodernism

M 11/18 Read: Chinua Achebe, “An Image of Africa”; Toni Morrison, from Playing the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.

W 11/20 Read: Edward Said, from the Introduction to Orientalism;  Dialogue between Fredric Jameson and Aijaz Ahmad; Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Writing, ‘Race,’ and the Difference it Makes.”  Post CR.

M 11/25 Read: “Theorizing Postmodernism” (pp. 1920-1932). Synthesis Essay due.

W 11/27 Read: Jean-Francois Lyotard, “Defining the Postmodern”; Jean Baudrillard, from The Precession of Simulacra.  Post CR

M  12/2 Read: Jurgen Habermas, “Modernity versus Postmodernity.” Distribute final exam. Post CR.

W 12/4 Read: bell hooks, “Postmodern Blackness”; Cornel West, “Postmodernism and Black America.” Post CR.

Final Period: present final projects. Final exam due.