Critical theory provides us with innumerable ways to illuminate our readings of both text and embodied performance. The primary goal of this seminar is to introduce students to a number of critical theories with a particular emphasis on how their approaches can be applied to the study of literature. The objective for the students is to become acquainted with a broad spectrum of critical methods: Reader-response theory; Mythical/Archetypal Theory; Marxist criticism; Feminist criticism; Postcolonial Criticism; Deconstructive Criticism; New Criticism. The goal is that the material that is covered will make students more comfortable with reading and applying theory so that you will be more inclined to pursue these areas further and/or investigate other theoretical methods on their own.

Course description: In his study of horror fiction, Joseph Grixti contends that monstrous individuals symbolise the ‘means of evading the real implications of the uncertainties and discomforts which appear to be endemic to the constantly changing social, political, and economic conditions of our technologically oriented cultures’. Grotesque individuals, specters, ghosts, or monsters in fiction are often metaphors for ‘unpleasant social and existential realities’ that contemporary society seeks to deny and expurgate. Monsters are the quintessential Other w/ a capital “O,” persons or creatures defined as different from (and viewed as functioning outside) the dominant social group. They are the forgotten, the repressed, the underbelly of culture. They become ‘scapegoats’, embodied as abjectly and horrifyingly other, which must be confronted and destroyed. Major nineteenth-century Gothic narratives, especially fin de siècle Gothic, situate the monster as geographically and physically other. The monster in much contemporary literature is located, by contrast, in an ‘elsewhere’ that is intimately with(in) us. This course will give us the opportunity to read and compare works that employ the monstruous as a central motif. Among the questions we’ll ask: why is American Literature, and Southern Literature in particular, so enamored with the ghostly, the monstruous, the grotesque, and the ugly other? What effect does the monstruous have on us as readers? What’s the appeal?