Tyll Zybura

Sinngetriebener Mensch

Introduction to Literary Theory

Tyll Zybura, 24.09.2018

Winter 2018.

Course commentary

“Hostility to theory usually means an opposition to other people’s theories and an oblivion of one’s own.”

—Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, p. xii

Theory is a way to see the world and there is no way to see the world without theory: we can only be more or less conscious of it. Theory provides terminology and methodology to illuminate specific phenomena (some defined broadly, some narrowly) from a certain, selected angle. Literature is the phenomenon that we are interested in here, and we will see how theory can enrich our speaking and writing about it.

In this seminar we will do three things:

  • We will look at the development of ‘theory’ in the context of 20th and 21st century social and cultural development; and how it crystallized into a part of our discipline which has generated a wealth of introductory works. The questions we ask are: How does literary studies make use of theory; explicitly in analysis and criticism? And implicitly: What kinds of theoretical premises come with the territory?

  • We will familiarize ourselves with selected literary theories in greater depth and apply them to literary texts. The questions we ask are: What results do they yield? What do they allow us to say that we wouldn’t have been able to without theoretical framework? What is the benefit of using them?

  • We will address how to use theory in our scholarly writing. The questions we ask are: How can we generate theoretically informed arguments? How can we embed theory in our writing, structurally and rhetorically?

Literary Theory is a strangely canonized field (which we will discuss as a problem, although the course structure will respect it). The theories within that canon which we will focus on are Structuralism, Deconstruction, Feminist Criticism, Postcolonial Criticism, Queer Theory, and the Childhood Studies approach to literature which we are currently developing in our research project.

I’m very excited to teach this particular course because, as a student, the study of literary theory was hugely inspiring for my reading experience and all my thinking; I’m looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm with you and hope to re-create this experience for some of you! :)

Required reading

  • Novel: Yvonne Roberts, A History of Insects (2001)

  • Novel: Naomi Alderman, The Power (2016)

  • Movie: Wonder Woman (2017, dir. Patty Jenkins)

  • Movie: La La Land (2016, dir. Damien Chazelle)

  • Movie: Blade Runner (1982, dir. Ridley Scott)

  • Movie: The Piano (1993, dir. Jane Campion)


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