Special Topics in Criticism, Theory & Methodology: Trivial Pursuits

ENGLISH 490S.10.01

Ever been told your major won’t get you a job? That certain subjects are “serious” while others are “fun?” This class will help you answer the naysayers by introducing you to theories of reading and knowledge production that take both amateur pleasures and professional aspirations seriously. The works featured in this class will explore how trivial pursuits become entangled in serious projects of educating oneself, learning how to live with others, and making sense of dominant cultural values. Topics will include: the relationship between amateurism and professionalism; professional ethics and codes of conduct, the role of hobbies like sports and gardening in cultural criticism, debates about reading methods (critical, uncritical, postcritical); the uses of literature in a world that prioritizes information and instrumental knowledge.

We will read a mixture of fiction, creative non-fiction, and literary/cultural criticism (in traditionally academic as well as experimental styles). Texts to be drawn mostly from: Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim; Virginia Woolf, “A Mark on the Wall” and To the Lighthouse; C.L.R. James Beyond a Boundary; Jamai-ca Kincaid, My Garden (Book):; Junot Diaz, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Kate Zambreno, Heroines; Nick Sousanis, Unflattened. Shorter Essays: T.S. Eliot, “The Perfect Critic,” Michael Warner, “Uncritical Reading;” Amy Hollywood, “Reading as Self-Annihilation,” Rita Felski, “Enchantment,” others.

Requirements: Midterm paper (5-6pgs); Final Paper (10-12pgs); Active Participation and Occasional Short Writing Assignments.