The syllabus for this course is available for download here: 90methodssyllabusspring2017-1pdf. The most recent and updated version of our schedule is below:


English 90.02 | Methods of Literary and Cultural Studies


Nathan K. Hensley                                              

Spring 2015 / Georgetown University                                                    T/Th 2:00-3:15

Office: 316 New North                                                            Class: Walsh 496

Office Hours: T, 3:30-4:30, Th 11-12, and by appt.                                   202-687-5297





Garth Lenz, “Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining, United States,” C-print, n.d.
Description of English 90.02:


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, and J.G. Ballard alongside critical texts from a range of traditions: Marxism, psychoanalysis, postcolonial studies, formalism, gender and sexuality studies, deconstruction, and ecocriticism. In light of our literary texts, these short interventions 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 one unit to considering the challenges to humanistic literary and critical activity posed by climate change; the course will incorporate the 2016-2018 Mellon Sawyer Seminar, “Approaching the Anthropocene: Global Culture and Planetary Change.” 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, 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 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.


General Description of English 90:


This course aims to give students a coherent understanding of various theoretical and critical tools used to interpret texts by introducing them to strategies of close reading and to larger discussions regarding textual analysis. Although the course will not necessarily encompass the entire history of literary and cultural criticism, it will examine a range of schools and methods. These schools and methods will be grounded historically and will be situated and contextualized within larger critical conversations that have developed over time.


Course Goals:


During the semester, we’ll read broadly but closely, in genres both “literary” and “nonliterary.” At the end of the class you will be able to:


  • Analyze multiple genres of cultural expression at the level of both content and form;
  • Do the same for what is called theoretical or critical writing;
  • Understand key debates in the history of reading, and remain alert to the fact that reading is historical;
  • Speculate about the role of literary thinking in the 21st century, with attention to its institutional situation, the history of its practices, and the possibilities for its future;
  • Create critical interventions of your own, in multiple genres, using close analysis of cultural forms to make larger claims about the world and how we live in it.


Course Texts:


Please purchase these from the college bookstore, or online. If you purchase them online, be sure to note the ISBN number, otherwise you will end up with the wrong edition and have to buy it twice.


Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose (Penguin Edition) ISBN: 0140420150


Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Penguin) ISBN



Bram Stoker, Dracula (Norton Critical Editions) ISBN 0393970124


J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World (Liveright/Norton) ISBN 9780871403629


PDFs & Course Reader:


Significant sections of our course readings will be posted online, through the class blog. These are designated with an asterisk (*) on the syllabus. You must print these out in hard copy and should consider those printing costs (as much as $40) when you budget your expenditure for the course. I expect you to (1) print all of these readings in hard copy form; (2) bring them to class on the relevant day; and (3) archive them in a three-ring binder, creating a course reader of assigned critical texts.


Video Games:


These titles and others — the full list is available on the library catalog — are available at Gelardin New Media Center, in Lauinger Library. XBox 360, PS3, and PS4 consoles, along with an NES system from the late 1980s, are available for your use there. Other titles may be purchased depending on availability of funds; if there’s a title you want to study, let me know.



Bioshock 2

Mass Effect

Perfect Dark

Red Dead Redemption

Modern Warfare (latest title in the series)

Flower / Abzu



Donkey Kong

The Legend of Zelda


Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. (any)



Requirements include collaborative thinking, close reading, and full commitment to the work of the course. There will be periodic reading quizzes, generally unannounced, to ensure our progress on the reading.


Participation: This element of the grade measures your contribution to the collective labor of the class. There are many ways to participate, but all of them require diligently preparing the day’s reading: this means active engagement rather than passive consumption. Participation on a given day might include contributing to class discussions; intelligently listening to same; coming prepared with questions; and/or posting relevant questions and comments in advance of class to our blog. Note that you participate when you enable others, not just when you take up airtime. Other matters: no cell phones; no texting: only you, your peers, and the work we do together. (Please, no computers in class.)


Occasional quizzes: Simple, fact-based reading quizzes designed to keep everyone on pace; these are part of your participation grade. They may be announced in advance; they may not be.


Five blog posts. (c. 250 words). These are informal but intellectually substantial engagements with our reading for the day. They can take one of two forms: Summaries will use strategic citation and paraphrase to convey an overview of a given text’s argument as you understand it. This is an exercise in recapitulating what you’ve read. Provocations will work more critically. Here you might, for example, take a passage and perform a close reading of it, unlocking some particular complexity in the prose; you might compare one work with another; or you might pose questions about some knotty element in the reading – a contradiction, a dilemma– while taking time to thicken it with thoughtful reflections from other areas of the course. The key, for these, is to workshop an idea, test an argument. Protocols and schedules to be determined.


One critical essay. (3-5 double-spaced pages, normal-looking font.) This is a short, sharp critical engagement with one or more texts covered in class: an academic paper in the standard form, denuded of excess verbiage, bold of argument, and shined, prosewise, to a glistening polish. It can make use of your own earlier blog posts. Prompts will be provided, but you are encouraged to break from them to compose your own questions and topics.


Special Collections Digital Curation Assignment. The guidelines for this assignment in historical reading and remediation are forthcoming, but in short you will use contemporary digital media technologies – video capture, Imovie, etc.—to curate an analog object from Georgetown’s special collections department: an old letter whose significance you will illuminate for us, an annotation in the margin of a 19th century novel, or an advertisement in the front matter of a Dickens novel. You will then explain the interest and importance of this historical discovery using new media technologies. This is an experimental assignment whose outcome is not given in advance: part of your task is to think about what the possibilities might be. I will hand out a detailed guide and grading rubric as the assignment approaches.


Video game reading assignment. (2 pages, single spaced.) As a follow-up to the Digital Curation Assignment, you will here use “old” methods of literary analysis to produce a close reading of a recent video game. Guidelines for this will be circulated as we proceed: the gist is that you’ll be asked to engage both critically and intimately with what may be the most influential media form of the contemporary moment.


Take-home mid-term and final exams. Open book, open notes, no Googling. The mid-term is just that: a temperature-taking of your work so far, assessing your capacity to engage imaginatively and substantively with the material to this point. The final is a cumulative, end-of-term assessment designed to allow you to make creative analytic connections from across the semester. These are less formal than the essay, more structured than the blog posts. Here as always, ideas matter most. You have 48 hours to complete them, choosing from among a set of essay questions.


Policy on Late Work:          

Out of respect for your classmates’ and my own time, late papers and other assignments will be penalized the equivalent of one letter grade for each day beyond their due date, with the first 24 hour period beginning immediately. Three days late is an F. Late blog posts will not be counted. Please see me in advance if think extraordinary circumstances may arise.

Course Grading Policy:


Your final grade for this course will reflect the quality of work you produce, but also the quality of your participation in the collaborative work of the course. Thus, your thoughtful responses to the texts, your active participation in class discussions, and your level of effort all contribute crucially to your final grade. The percentage breakdown is as follows:


Five weblog responses (2% each)                                                  10%

Digital Curation Assignment                                                          10%

Video Game Reading                                                                     10%

Short Essay                                                                                    15%

Mid Term Take-Home Exam                                                        15%

Final Take-Home Exam                                                                20%

Participation                                                                                  20%


Absence and Tardy Policy:


The collaborative, seminar-style nature of this course makes your presence in class imperative. You are allowed three absences, for any reason at all, without penalty. Every unexcused absence beyond the third will result in a 1 percentage point drop in your final grade, i.e. from 91% to 90%. If you must miss a class session, it’s your responsibility to learn what happened in class and to obtain any of the materials distributed that day. If you know in advance you’ll miss a day when an assignment is due, let me know so we can arrange another, earlier, due date. You are permitted four late arrivals over the course of the semester. Every two late arrivals after the first four will count as one class absence.




Do not do it, ever. If you plagiarize at all, at any scale, you will at the very least fail the course. See the Georgetown Honor System website for guidelines about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. Note that in all matters I expect you to observe the Georgetown honor pledge: To be honest in every academic endeavor, and to conduct myself honorably, as a responsible member of the Georgetown community as we live and work together.


Disabilities, Special Conditions, Etc.:


I’m committed to providing whatever it takes to help you be successful in this course. The Georgetown Academic Resource Center says this: “Georgetown does not discriminate or deny access to an otherwise qualified student with a disability on the basis of disability, and students with disabilities may be eligible for reasonable accommodations and/or special services in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAA) of 2008. However, students are responsible for communicating their needs to the Academic Resource Center. The University is not responsible for making special accommodations for students who have not requested an accommodation and adequately documented their disabilities. Also, the University need not modify programmatic, course, or degree requirements considered to be an essential requirement of the program of instruction.” Please find me early in the term to discuss how I can help.


Guides for the Lost:


Conceptual writing about literary method can be daunting. Various online guides can help: your first line of defense is the Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism; then consult the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Both are available through our course blog. Only after that should you bother with Wikipedia. Please stay away from online summaries not mentioned here. And as always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions whatsoever about this material. We’re in this together.


[Please note that the calendar is subject to change; I reserve the right to alter readings as our progress dictates.]


Week 1


Th., January 12: Introduction: What is literature? What is reading? What is “English”? Real news and the fake kind; lies and art; beauty and damage; Anonymous, “Carlos Burned Most of My Stuff”; Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty”


Week 2


T., January 17: Jonathan Culler, “What is Literature and Does It Matter?” from Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction*; Terry Eagleton, “The Rise of English”*; Select G.M. Hopkins journal entries (Gardner, ed. pp. 106-111)


Th., January 19: Richter, “Introduction” from The Critical Tradition*; G.M. Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” “As kingfishers catch fire,” “Inversnaid,” “Binsey Poplars,” “Hurrahing in Harvest.” (Add/Drop ends)


Week 3


T., January 24: Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Th., January 26: Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Gilles Deleuze, “Lewis Carroll”*


Week 4


T., January 31: Sigmund Freud, “On the Interpretation of Dreams”*; begin Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


Th., February 2: Karl Marx, “The Fetish of the Commodity and its Secret” and “The Process of Exchange”*; Susan Sontag, “Against Interpretation”*; Lewis Carroll, selected photographs*


Week 5


T., February 7: Lewis Carroll, from Through the Looking Glass; Ferdinand de Saussure, From Course on General Linguistics*; ESSAY 1 DUE



Th., February 9: VISIT TO GEORGETOWN SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, 5th Floor Lauinger Library. With Ethan Henderson, Curator of Rare Books, Special Collections. No drinks, only pencils. Begin watching Alice in Wonderland (1951), film, C. Geronimi, dir.*; and Alice in Wonderland (2010), film, T. Burton, dir.*



Week 6


T., February 14: Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation”*; Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass; Alice in Wonderland (1951), film, C. Geronimi, dir. and Alice in Wonderland (2010), film, T. Burton, dir.*


Th., February 16: Bram Stoker, Dracula; Michel Foucault, from The History of Sexuality: “The Incitement to Discourse” and “Method”*


Week 7


T., February 21: Bram Stoker, Dracula and Foucault, cont’d. Optional guest video lecture: Stefan Waldschmidt, Duke University*


Th., February 23: Bram Stoker, Dracula; SPECIAL COLLECTIONS ASSIGNMENT DUE  


Week 8


T., February 28: Bram Stoker, Dracula; Jacques Derrida, Youtube videos*; “Letter to a Japanese Friend”*; “Signature Event Context”*


Th., March 2: Bram Stoker, Dracula; Derrida, continued. Daniel Stout, “Dracula and Temporality.”*




Week 9


Week 10

English 90.02 | Methods of Literary and Cultural Studies

Week 9



SPRING BREAK, Friday, March 3 through Tuesday, March 13



Week 10


T., March 14: SNOWDAY


Th., March 16: Dracula, to end.


Week 11


T., March 21: 2015 Timothy Clark, from The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and Environment*; Jeremy Davies, from The Birth of the Anthropocene” [handout]; Juliana Spahr, “Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache,” “Unnamed Dragonfly Species,” “#Misanthropocene: 24 Theses.”* Select audiorecordings of Juliana Spahr;* Robert Hass, “The Problem of Describing Trees”*; Jorie Graham, “Sea Change.”*


Th., March 23: [No class, professor traveling to give lecture] Read J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World & watch Jeremy Jackson, “Ocean Apocalypse (video lecture)*,” Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Sixth Extinction” (video lecture).*


Week 12


T., March 28: J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World.


Th., March 30: J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World, concluded.


Week 13


T., April 4: Selected eco-disaster film TBD, voted on by class. The Day After Tomorrow, San Andreas, etc. Historical materialism: Terry Eagleton, from Marxism and Literary Criticism* (chs. 1, “Literature and History” and 2, “Form and Content”); Raymond Williams: “Determination” and “From Reflection to Mediation”*; Nathan K. Hensley and Philip Steer, “Signatures of the Carboniferous: The Literary Forms of Coal,” excerpt*; Optional text (only for the brave!): Fredric Jameson, “Preface” from The Political Unconscious*


Th., April 6: “New materialisms”: Sharon Marcus et al., “Surface Reading: An Introduction”*; Susan Sontag, “Against Interpretation”*; Jeffrey Williams, “The New Modesty In Literary Studies”*; Brian Dettmer, selected art pieces*


Week 14


T., April 11: Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”*


Th., April 13: No class, Easter Break.


Week 15


T., April 18: NOTE: CLASS IS CANCELLED DUE TO FUNERAL; please do all readings and post as scheduled. Virtual class will consist in reading carefully ALL posts and making a comment on one of the posts (or more). Video games as a culture industry?  Alexander Galloway, “Gamic Action, Four Moments”; “Not Playing Around: Army to Invest $50 Million in Combat Training Games.”; Markuu Eskelinen, “The Gaming Situation,” Game Studies 1.1 (2001)

Th., April 20: Video games as environmental theory? Elegy for a Dead World.  (Keys from NH); Jesper Juul, “Introduction to Game Time,” First Person, available online <>; Alexander Galloway: “Social Realism in Gaming.”  Game Studies 4.1 (2004):

[Professor Hensley would like to acknowledge the significant remixing,        borrowing, and cutting-and-pasting he did from other scholars’ labor in    coming up with these readings.  Most helpful of all was Professor Mark Sample’s course, “Videogames in Critical Contexts,” at George Mason University.  Professor Sample’s course website is available at]

Week 16

 T., April 25: Discuss games Elegy for a Dead World*, Flower, and Abzû in light of ecological catastrophe (please Google these games for game play screens); G.M. Hopkins, “Ribblesdale” and selected nature poems, watercolors, journal entries.* VIDEO GAME CLOSE READING DUE

Th., April 27: Last day of class: what is literary study now? Why does it matter?

Recommended Event: Friday, April 28 – Saturday, April 29: Two-Day Symposium: Approaching the Anthropocene: Global Culture and Planetary Change. Eduardo Kohn, Keynote.




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