Critical Conditions 2016 Syllabus

crisis, critique, criticism
The problem of what literary study is or should be today, in the twilight of ‘the university,’ and in the dim din of the “critique of critique,” could not be more contentious. These heightened stakes are occasioning intensified reflections within our discipline (proliferating new methods and manifestos) and abundant experiments in more public criticism (Avidly, LARB, Jacobin, nonsite, Public Books). Our proseminar endeavors to activate introductory thinking about what literature can do, and what literary critics can do, and to thereby help new PhDs begin to position themselves purposefully in the field, as well as purposefully far afield. How can we conceive of criticism and of literary production as vocations even as we witness the destruction of them as professions? Our questions – about what literature is, what reading is, what criticism is, whether a theory of literature is possible, how and whether literature is contextualized by or caused by history, how criticism can be a way of life – will be focused on modernity’s paradigmatic form, the novel, on structuralism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, and formalism, and on recent critical debates.


Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious
–.An American Utopia
Caroline Levine, Forms
Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique
Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

Semenza, Gregory, Graduate Study for the 21st Century
(pre-reading and ongoing reference)

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights ISBN-10: 0141439556
Ford Maddox Ford, The Good Soldier ISBN-10: 0141441844
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

Articles and excerpts available via dropbox

• active seminar participation, including careful completion of assigned reading, and consistent, thoughtful contribution to discussion
• attend and participate in the department’s Friday Colloquium and other department programming such as Critical Conversations, Critical Practices, the Program for Writers readings series
• discussion facilitation of a critical text
• close reading presentation of a literary text
• rapid writing due 24 August
• critical argument resumé due 26 October
• attend any event of your choosing during the Chicago Humanities Festival (October 29-November 12); critical review due 16 November
• Seminar Paper due 7 December

One goal of the course is to come in to strong familiarity with a number of the genres you will work with and in during graduate school (the novel, the literary critical reading, the scholarly monograph, the scholarly book review, the journalistic book review, the essay, the review essay, the abstract). To this end, an ongoing assignment in the course is to reflect on the genre of any given reading as you process its argument/content/insights.

non-required recommendations
• familiarize yourself with prominent journals in literary criticism both in general and in your presumptive field (ELH, ALH, NLH, Novel, PMLA, Boundary 2, Critical Inquiry, MLQ, SAQ, Narrative, Modernism/Modernity, SEL); study the kinds of articles they have published in the past decade
• consider purchasing and reading Eric Hayot’s The Elements of Academic Style
• join the English Department Graduate Student Association (EGSA)
• make plans to meet regularly with members of your cohort or of other cohorts to discuss seminar readings or other jointly undertaken readings
• attend and in participate in literary events around Chicago, such as The English Institute, poetry readings, InterCcECT, lectures at galleries and humanities centers throughout the city

Readings and Discussion: This is an intensive seminar, with a heavy reading load of complex texts. We will approach the seminar space as a laboratory for experimenting with reading practices and discovering some of the precepts of literary critical practice today. Participation is key to a strong seminar and an important basis for your evaluation.

Rapid Writing: for seven days in a row, conduct concentrated writing sessions in which you work for 30 minutes or 250 words (whichever comes first), on each of the following prompts.

1. What did you learn in college? What are some models of teaching or learning that
you have experienced or would like to try?
2. What is your favorite book, tv show, or artwork? Convince someone to appreciate it.
3. Describe a moment when your mind was changed, or when you changed the mind of
4. How do you participate in collectives?
5. What is literature?
6. Contextualize yourself. Where do you sit geographically, or historically, or
personally, or any other -ly?
7. What kind of work is writing?

Discussion Facilitation: for a given critical text, you will facilitate discussion, chiefly by posing three questions pertaining to the basic argument in the text, what the text helps us think about, how the text relates to other texts we have read.

Close Reading Presentation: oral presentation based on 3-4 pages writing of concerted attention to the poetics of prose in a passage of no more than 10 lines; careful and deliberate reading of the syntax, rhythm, tonality, imagery, and lettering of language; treatment of short slices as cross-sections that reveal the formal and thematic dynamics of a longer work; concluding with 3 questions for discussion. Consult the Close Reading tip sheets distributed in class. While straightforward formal oral presentation of your writing is fine, interveners are encouraged to take an interactive approach to the passage / conduct pedagogical experiments in close reading, and to facilitate discussion for a chunk of the session.

Critical Argument Resumé: choose any critical article or essay from the syllabus (or from another grad seminar syllabus) that you found particularly strong and identify its key moves: What is its thesis? How does it situate itself in a critical conversation? How does it claim consequences for its contribution? What makes it memorable to you? 1-2 pages.

Critical Review of CHP: 2 pages of description and evaluation, along with a headnote about the kind of publication in which you envision the review appearing.

Seminar Paper: 12-15 page essays should practice a critical reading of one of the novels on our syllabus, and may do so alongside a reading of a literary work not on our syllabus. Alternately, essays may take the form of a thesis-driven review of critical techniques, quandaries, trends, etc. Papers should reflect / incorporate research conducted using the MLA database. Visit the professor during office hours in November to discuss your topic. Abstracts (1-2pages) of papers will be presented during the course party December 7th.

24 August
Rapid Writing due
Jeffrey Williams, How to Be an Intellectual “Introduction” and “The Pedagogy of Debt”
Colleen Lye and Christopher Newfeld, “Humanists and the Public University”
Marc Bousquet, “The Waste Product of Graduate Education”
Michel Berube, “The Humanities, Declining?”
Pete Coviello, “Love in the Ruins, Or, Should I Go To Grad School?”
Daniel Mendelsohn, “A Critic’s Manifesto”
The Sarahs, “The New Enthusiasm”
in class: why and how to be a grad student at UIC, part 1 (visit from EGSA reps)

31 August
Simon During, “Stop Defending the Humanities”
John Crowe Ransom, “Criticism, Inc.”
Terry Eagleton, The Function of Criticism excerpt
Stefan Collini, What Are Universities for? “The Character of the Humanities”
Edward Said, “Secular Criticism”
Roderick Ferguson, The Reorder of Things “Affirmative Actions of Power” and “The Birth of
the Interdisciplines”
Caroline Levine, Forms “The Affordances of Form”
in class: why and how to be a grad student at UIC, part 2

7 September
J Hillis Miller, On Literature excerpt
Jacques Derrida and Derek Attridge, “This Strange Institution Called Literature”
Jonathan Culler, “The Most Interesting Thing in the World”
Jacques Rancière, “The Politics of Literature”
Wuthering Heights 1
in class: visit from Stephen Twilley, Managing Editor, PublicBooks


14 September
IA Richards, Practical Criticism “Introductory”
Roland Barthes, S/Z excerpt
Miller, “The Critic as Host”
Jane Gallop, “The Historicization of Literary Studies and the Fate of Close Reading”
Andrew Goldstone, “Close Reading as Genre”
Wuthering Heights 2
Miller, “Repetition and the Uncanny”
Eagleton, Myths of Power excerpt

16-17 September ENGLISH INSTITUTE at University of Chicago

21 September
Claude Levi Strauss, “The Structural Study of Myth” and “A Writing Lesson”
Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics “The Object of Study”; “Nature of the
Linguistic Sign”
Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play”; Grammatology “The Exorbitant: Question of
Jonathan Culler, “Structuralism and Grammatology”
Paul De Man, “Semiology and Rhetoric”
in class: visit from Marie Khan, External Fellowship Coordinator, Graduate College


28 September
Karl Marx, The German Ideology excerpt
Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious “On Interpretation”
Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times excerpt
The Good Soldier 1
in class: visit from Jen Hedler Phillis, Assistant Editor, Jacobin Magazine

5 October
Sigmund Freud, Three Essays
Alenka Zupancic, “Why Psychoanalysis?”
Eve Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet “Axiomatic”
The Good Soldier 2
Frank Kermode, “Recognition and Deception”
Jesse Matz, Literary Impressionism excerpt
Nicholas Brown, Utopian Generations excerpt

12 October
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish excerpt
Eagleton, Ideology of the Aesthetic Intro
Rancière, “Ten Theses on Politics”
Levine, Forms, “Hierarchy”
Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories Intro
Jodi Dean, Crowds and Party excerpt
in class: visit from Jonathan Elmer, Director, Chicago Humanities Festival, and
Professor of English (Indiana University)

19 October
Franco Moretti, Distant Reading “Conjectures on World Literature”; “Style Inc”
Williams, “The New Critical Modesty”
Rancière, “The Misadventures of Critique”
Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best, “Surface Reading”
Kieran Healy, “Fuck Nuance”
Dean, “Communicative Capitalism”
in class: visit from Liesl Olson, Director, Scholl Center, Newberry Library

20 October JODI DEAN at UIC

26 October
Critical Resume due
Bruno LaTour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?”
Rita Felski, Limits of Critique “Introduction”; “The Stakes of Suspicion”; “Context Stinks”
Anne Lise Francoise, “Late Exercises in Minimal Affirmatives”
Carolyn Lesjak, “Reading Dialectically”

2 November
Levine, Forms, “The Wire”
Tom Eyers, “The Revenge of Form”
Sandra MacPherson, “A Little Formalism”
Jonathan Kramnick and Anahid Nersessian, “Form and Explanation”
Jameson, The Political Unconscious “Dialectic of Utopia and Ideology”
in class: visit from Catherine Goldstead, Acquisitions Editor, Johns Hopkins
University Press

9 November
Jameson, An American Utopia
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad 1

16 November
WORKSHOP with Mary Hale and Davis Brecheisen, dissertating students
CHF Review due

30 November
Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia excerpt
AO Scott, Better Living Through Criticism excerpt
Maggie Nelson, Art of Cruelty excerpt
Geoffrey Hartman, Criticism in the Wilderness excerpt
The Underground Railroad 2
Kathryn Schulz, “The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad”
Kenneth Warren, What Was African American Literature excerpt
Walter Benn Michaels and Erica Edwards, “Symposium on WWAAL”

7 December
FINAL PARTY w Northwestern and U of Chicago cohort counterparts
Seminar Paper due