Based on your reading of Fish and Perloff, how would you describe the "Crisis in the Humanities"? Is this
a recent phenomenon attributable to current conditions or events? What are the implications of the "crisis"? Why
is it called "crisis"?
Of the four paradigms for analyzing poetry (poetry as
rhetoric, poetry as philosophy, poetry as art and poetry as cultural productions) which ones are most persuasive and
What role do the early critics / theorists play in Perloff's assessment of the current crisis in the humanities?
What role might the history of literary criticism and theory play in understanding the current crisis?
She closes with the idea that "it is ... the contemporary fear of the pleasures of representation and recognition --
the pleasures of the fictive, the what might happen -- and its subordination to the what happened
-- the historical / cultural -- that has trivialized the status of literary study in the contemporary
academy and shrunk the corresponding departments. Indeed, the neo-Puritan notion that literature and the other arts must
be somehow 'useful,' and only useful, that the Ciceronian triad -- docere, movere, delectare -- should renounce its
third element ('delight') and even the original meaning of its second element, so that to move means only to move
readers to some kind of specific action, has produced a climate in which it has become increasingly difficult
to justify the study of English or Comparative Literature at all" (18).
Evaluate these claims in terms of your understanding of the current critical issues for the humanities.
Bruce McComiskey's introduction to English studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s) locates the crisis within the departments
of English in the United States. What are some of the similarities between McComiskey's concerns for English and the problems
articulated by Fish and Perloff?
To what extent is McComiskey's historical context for English Studies instructive? What do we learn about the "crisis"?
To what extent do you think McComiskey's solution -- integration -- answers the problems effectively?
How might a course like this -- on the history of theory and criticism -- contribute to your understanding of the discipline(s) of
Choose one of the discipline chapters on Rhetoric and Composition, Creative Writing, Literature and Criticism, and Critical
Theory and Cultural Studies, and offer an analysis of the discipline vis-a-vis early theory.
For example, Janice Lauer in the chapter on Rhetoric and Composition, notes that the most prominent debates in the field
today involve disciplinarity, writing processes and pedagogies, and writing ideologies. How do these debates involve
or reflect the issues of early critical theory -- such as mimesis, audience, pleasure and utility?
Katherine Haake believes that critical theory plays an important role in creative writing: "In my own view, creative
writing, like other strands of English studies, can be organized conceptually around the three fundamental questions
David H. Richter poses in Falling into Theory. Though Richter's subject is literature and the question is reading,
the essential critical framework he poses -- asking what we do, why we do it,
and how we do it -- applies as elegantly, and as productively to writing as it does to reading. In turn, this
framework can be used to illuminate what has emerged, since the time when Wendy and I were starting out together, as the enduring
triptych of our field -- product, process, writing -- which can be said to define and organize us" (166). What are the
implications of connecting theory to creative writing in these ways? What does this suggest about unifying the project of English
In exploring the narratives of origin for "literature" and literary study in the university, Richard C. Taylor suggests that
the roots in classical languages, literature and rhetoric has a far longer history than the study of nationalist literatures
such as British and American, and that for many critics the idea of humanism is passe: "the idea of a cultural traditions is one that should be challenged rather than
uncritically conveyed" (202). What might this suggest about our study of classical and early modern criticism and theory?
How does this study compare with or feed into our contemporary practices of cultural and ideological criticism?
Introduction to NATC
Although very simplified, this introduction provides an overview of the major movements in literary
criticism and theory over the expanse of Western history. It usefully sets up a discussion of different
theories in terms of two fundamental questions: What is literature? and What is interpretation?
As you consider the different theoretical texts this semester, keep in mind how each constructs or assumes
a concept of literature and a method of interpretation. Also consider the reader: "In depicting the critical
encounter, theories of reading and interpretation invariably assign characteristics to texts and allocate particular roles
and tasks to readers" (NATC 2).
Your role in this class will be first to understand the meaning of the texts we are reading so as to create a clearer
sense of the history of approaches to these fundamental questions, and second to analyze the texts and raise
questions about the ways in which they answer these questions.
Consider the schematic from M. H. Abrams offered on page 5. What are the theories that reflect a primary
orientation toward the universe? What theories reflect a primary orientation toward the artist? Toward
the audience? Toward the work itself?
The introduction suggests that the theories we will be reading -- from Ancient through Enlightenment texts -- are
primarily oriented toward the universe. What does that suggest about the function or value of literature
during this vast historical expanse? What might you expect for the role of mimesis in these theories? What
might you expect for the role of didacticism?
As we begin to read the actual texts and discuss their complexities, we will return to these questions to see if these
generalizations bear scrutiny. Is there room for theories of reader-response or authorship in this era?
On page 6-7, the editors suggest that theories of literature often go hand in hand with theories of interpretation.
What does this mean? How might we apply this idea to the theories in this class?
Back to Top of Page