Special Topics in Criticism/Theory/Methodology: Trivial Pursuits

English 490S-10.01

Ever been told that majoring in English 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 in theories of literary criticism and works of fiction; disciplinary debates about reading “critically,” “uncritically,” and “postcritically;” the embodiment of knowledge and expertise in ways that are profoundly raced, gendered, and sexed; the role of hobbies like gardening or blogging in cultural criticism; the uses of literature and the humanities 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, To the Lighthouse; Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman; Jamaica Kincaid, My Garden (Book):; Junot Diaz, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Kate Zambreno, Heroines; Nick Sousanis, Unflattened; Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust. Shorter Essays: Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying,” 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) or Opportunity for Collaborative Final Project; Active Participation and Occasional Short Writing Assignments.