What is “English,” after all?  And what is reading? This course in the theory and method of literary study has two goals that might, at first, seem contradictory: (1) to introduce the conventions of reading, thinking, and creative concept-making crucial to flourishing as a Georgetown English major; and (2) to examine those processes from critical and historical vantages, so as to turn naïve practice into self-conscious method.

To those ends we’ll read literary works by authors like G.M. Hopkins, Bram Stoker, Lewis Carroll, J.G. Ballard, and Juliana Spahr alongside critical texts from a range of traditions: Marxism, psychoanalysis, historicism, formalism, gender and sexuality studies, deconstruction, and ecocriticism. In light of our literary texts, these short conceptual works will provide new models; ask new questions; and push us to see from new angles the processes of reading, interpretation, and contextualization that are the bread and butter of college English.

This term, we will devote several weeks to considering the challenges to humanistic inquiry posed by anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change; the course will incorporate the 2015 Lannan Symposium, “In Nature’s Wake: The Art and Politics of Environmental Crisis.” To close the term, we’ll use literary reading practices and concepts of “environment” to examine what may be today’s most dominant cultural form, the video game.

Throughout this work, our aim will be to develop a self-aware, historically-grounded sense of how we read and why — a particularly urgent problem now, perhaps, when earth veers inexorably toward collapse and new media forms threaten to diminish forever our capacity to think critically. (Or so we’re told.) No prior exposure to “literary theory” is necessary.

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