En 122 Modes of Reading 2008-2009

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EN 122 Modes of Reading 2008-2009
This booklet contains everything you need to know regarding practical matters for the module Modes of Reading.


This module offers an introduction to the practices of criticism. Form, genre and literary inheritance will be among the topics addressed. The module aims to enable students to work with a variety of critical approaches, and to develop an informed awareness of the possibilities available to them as readers and critics. Thematically organised lectures provide a frame of cultural reference on which the students will draw in their close readings in seminars.

Modes of Reading is a core module for first-year undergraduates.  It is taught by one weekly lecture and one weekly seminar in Terms 1 and 2. This year, there will also be a series of lectures on the history and key elements of the major theories of literature and culture delivered by Prof. Thomas Docherty.  All students taking Modes of Reading are strongly urged to note the time and place of Prof. Docherty's lectures (see below) and attend them.  They will provide students with additional and invaluable resources for Modes of Reading.

The module is convened by Dr. Michael John Kooy (m.j.kooy@warwick.ac.uk).  The co-convenor is Dr. Cathia Jenainati (c.jenainati@warwick.ac.uk). If you have questions, consult the website, speak to your seminar tutor, or contact the convenor.

Teaching Times

Main Lecture:  Thursday, 10-11 am, MS01 (Maths Building)

Prof. Docherty's Theory Lecture (optional but highly recommended): Term 1: Wednesday, 10-11 am, R0.21 (Ramphal Building), Term 2: Monday, 12-1 pm, MS0.1 (Maths Building). 
Seminars: Check your individual timetable 

Two unassessed essays (2,000 words) to be set by seminar tutors, due Term 1, Weeks 5 and 9. These are formative essays and must be submitted.  Students who fail to submit either or both of the unassessed essays without good cause by Week 5 of Term 3, will carry an overall mark of 40 for the module, regardless of whether they achieve a higher mark in the two assessed essays.

Term 2: Assessed Essay 1 (3,500 words), weighted as 50 per cent of your module mark;  due on Monday (Week 2, Term 2), 12 January 2009, by 3pm. 
Term 3: Assessed Essay 2 (3,500 words), weighted as 50 percent of your module mark; due on Monday (Week 2, Term 3), 27 April 2009, by 3pm.

The module is taught in four units.  In 2008-9, the units are: (1) Shocks and Sympathies; (2) Nation, Culture, Place; (3) Speaking with Others; (4) The Angel of History.  More details below.

Core Reading

Students must buy the following set texts:

These can be purchased from the University Bookshop, or any other retailer.
As well, core reading will come from a two-volume Theory Reading Pack containing excerpts from texts by authors ranging from Aristotle to Edward Said.  Students must buy this Theory Reading Pack from the department during the first week of term.  The Pack costs £18.  Cash only will be accepted.  The Packs will be on sale at the Department Office.
It is students' responsibility to buy the Theory Reading Pack within the first week of term.  The Study Pack contains excerpts from the following texts:

  • F. R. Leavis, Culture and Environment

  • F. R. Leavis, Education and the University: A Sketch for an 'English School'

  • Raymond Williams, The Country and the City

  • Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism

  • Aristotle, Poetics

  • Burke, On the Sublime

  • Freud, ‘On Dreamwork’

  • Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World

  • Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic

  • Stephen Greenblatt, 'The Touch of the Real'

  • Jerome McGann, The Beauty of Inflections

  • Ranajit Guha, 'Introduction to Subaltern Studies'

  • Gayatri Spivak, 'Can the Subaltern Speak?'

The Theory Reading Pack also contains a number of supplementary texts which, though not considered core reading, will nonetheless be of interest to students.


Term 1

Week 1 Introduction to Modes of Reading – Dr. Michael John Kooy (module convenor)

Unit 1: Shocks and Sympathies: These four lectures address a thread in literary criticism that perceives the process of ‘reading’ as eliciting and manipulating a state of either shock or sympathy.

Week 2 Allen Ginsberg, ‘Howl’ – Dr. Emma Mason

Week 3 Aristotle and poetics (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Emma Mason

Week 4 Edmund Burke and the sublime (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Emma Mason

Week 5 Shklovsky’s art as technique (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Emma Mason

Week 6 Reading Week – no lecture or seminars

Unit 2: Nation, Culture, Place: This unit with facilitate discussion about emplacement and literature, literary spaces, ideologies of place/space, locations of literature/culture and criticism.

Week 7 Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners – Dr. Pablo Mukherjee

Week 8 F. R. Leavis, from A Sketch for an "English School" and sections from Culture and Environment (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Pablo Mukherjee

Week 9 Raymond Williams, from The Country and the City (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Pablo Mukherjee

Week 10 Edward Said, from Culture and Imperialism (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Pablo Mukherjee
Term 2

Unit 3: Speaking with Others: This unit will engage with the central organisational and methodological importance of the hidden/absent/repressed in literature.

Week 1: Angela Carter, The Magic Toyshop – Dr. Christina Britzolakis

Week 2: Freud, ‘On Dreamwork’ (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Chrsitina Britzolakis

Week 3: Bakhtin, from Rabelais and his World (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Christina Britzolakis

Week 4: Gilbert and Gubar, from The Madwoman in the Attic (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Christina Britzolakis
Unit 4: The Angel of History: This unit will focus on the necessity of contrapuntal/oppositional reading practices. 

Week 5: Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia – Dr. Rashmi Varma

Week 6: Reading Week – no lecture or seminars

Week 7: Stephen Greenblatt, ‘The Touch of the Real’ (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Rashmi Varma

Week 8: Jerome McGann, from The Beauty of Inflections (Reading Theory Pack) – Dr. Rashmi Varma

Week 9: Ranajit Guha, from ‘Introduction to Subaltern Studies’ (Reading Theory Pack) and Gayatri Spivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ – Dr. Rashmi Varma

Week 10: Revision lecture – Dr. Michael John Kooy

Individual seminar tutors will be giving students a schedule for the seminars. In terms of content, the seminars will follow the lecture syllabus.

Additional Theory Lectures

Prof. Thomas Docherty will be offering a series of Theory Lectures. These lectures, though optional, are highly recommended. They will give students an introduction to important developments in literary theory, from the early twentieth century to the present. Details are posted on the website.

Shocks and Sympathies’

Dr Emma Mason
Week 2 Allen Ginsberg, ‘Howl’

Week 3 Aristotle and poetics

Week 4 Edmund Burke and the sublime

Week 5 Shklovsky’s art as technique

These four lectures address a thread in literary criticism that perceives the process of ‘reading’ as eliciting and manipulating a state of either shock or sympathy. As well as providing introductory discussions to poetry (Aristotle), the sublime (Burke) and ‘art’ (Shklovsky), the lectures will show how these three thinkers variously aestheticize and politicize their writings on interpretation, showing that there is no ‘natural’ way of reading any given text. Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ will offer us a way into these questions. It is formally experimental (based on a triadic form that shifts into breath-length sentences that challenge the ways we ‘scan’ poetry); stylistically disorienting (its hallucinatory feel lends itself to frank references to sexuality which later provoked an obscenity trial); rich in literary references (to William Blake, Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs); politically radical (addressing subjects like the Vietnam war, poverty, homosexuality and race relations); and emotionally diverse (the poem has a charged rhythm but deals also with feelings of depression and alienation). It is also an intensely religious poem and borrows and reworks many aspects of the epic genre to achieve a sublime effect it simultaneously undermines (what would it mean to have a ‘sublime’ feeling in 1955, Ginsberg asks, a period devastated by a relatively recent awareness of the holocaust and about to enter into the Vietnam War (1959-1975), producing over 5 million casualties according to some statistics).

‘Howl’ enables us to think about the world around us by asking us to see it in a different way, serving to open up questions of perspective and interpretation in a parallel way to the three theorists this module focuses on. All four writers work to defamiliarize us from our deepest assumptions and preconceptions through literature, specifically poetry, which each theorist turns to as the genre most effective in assisting us to comprehend and recognize the world, through feeling as well as thinking. Where Aristotle and Burke show us that poetry is the most powerful genre in which to express, explore and reflect on emotion, Shklovsky insists that poetry is both the only way back into feelings that have been severed by the devastation of life and also the most vivid way of experiencing the good ‘sensation of life.’ Poetry, he argued, stops us from making assumptions about things because its language is already a bit strange and so removes us from the ‘automatism of perception,’ forcing us to always question what we encounter. The lectures will also draw on other examples of poetry to work through the question of what it means to be a ‘reader,’ of texts, society and one’s community.

Nation, Culture, Place’

Dr Pablo Mukherjee
Week 7 Colin MacInnes, Absolute Beginners

Week 8 F. R. Leavis, ‘A Sketch for an "English School"’ and sections from Culture and Environment

Week 9 Raymond Williams, from The Country and the City

Week 10 Edward Said, from Culture and Imperialism

In a sense, all the readings in this unit are different responses to a certain question involving what is called the national imaginary. The national imaginary as a term considers how is it that people are asked to imagine themselves and others as belonging to a status group involving nationality.

The question is simply this: what do we mean when we say I study English literature? Are we referring to texts that happen to be produced in strands of English language or do we mean texts that because of their composition and publication somehow work to create a national identity, a sense of belong to a particular set of provincial interests?

What gets included or excluded when we either make language, landscape, and national identity mean the same thing or what happens when we disentangle them?

We begin with the powerful articulation of these issues in Colin MacInnes’ novel about the post-second world war ‘new’ England. By placing the issues of language, gender, class, immigration, consumption that make up the fabric of everyday life saturated with the problematic possibilities of a ‘new beginning’ MacInnes provides us with an imaginative entry point into a critical assessment of ideas of national and cultural belonging. It is in this light that we then turn to to Leavis's attempt to define what makes a degree in "English literature" possible. We turn look at Raymond Williams's critique of the blindness to issues of power in Leavis and by looking at his new mode of reading poetry, examine what it says about literature and national cultures. Edward Said then discusses the international, imperial elements that go into reading the English novel.

Speaking with Others’

Dr Christina Britzolakis
Week 1 Angela Carter, The Magic Toyshop

Week 2 Sigmund Freud, from ‘On Dreamwork’

Week 3 Mikhail Bakhtin, from ‘Rabelais and His World’

Week 4 Gilbert and Gubar, from The Madwoman in the Attic

Within the context of literary theory and literary criticism, we often encounter the term ‘other’ (or ‘otherness’). This terminology has been linked with the discourses of psychoanalysis, feminism, poststructuralism (especially in the field of linguistics) and postcolonialism. What we classify under the concept of "otherness" is connected to certain mechanisms of exclusion through which the construction of the self takes place. Otherness, then, can be conceptualized as present within the self, as psychic conflict; a way of talking about the operation of desire, the unconscious, desire and fantasy. At the same time, the term ‘otherness’ is attached to particular bodies that get labelled and marked as “the Other.” In this latter context, otherness is defined by difference, typically marked by outward signs like race and gender. Historically, otherness has been associated predominantly with marginalized or subordinate groups: those who have been defined as different by a dominant group.

Difference, then, is not an ontological given but necessary for ethical and social relations; it is another way of talking about relationality and conflict, within pre-existing power structures. The dynamics of otherness can be seen as part and parcel of the construction of the subject.

To what extent can literary texts help us to imagine otherness? Can reading be seen as an encounter with the otherness of our own culture(s)? Are there particular genres, or formal or aesthetic strategies, which can open up a dialogue with what culture excludes or censors as ‘other?

In this unit, the term "otherness" will therefore be used as a convenient means of yoking together a set of related discussions about the operation of difference within literature. It will be applied to the process of psychic formation, as a dialogue between symbolic discourse and its "other"; to the relation between men and women; and to the interaction between different social languages in the literary text.

We start with Angela Carter’s novel, the Magic Toyshop and see how Carter employs a range of ideas about femininity, fantasy, intertextuality, myth, ‘demythologizing’, performance, the relationship between parents and children, Englishness / Irishness etc., in order to foreground the knotty problems of conceiving of and relationship with ‘others’. Psychoanalysis teaches us that, owing to repression, much of the activity of the mind is unconscious. In the second lecture, we go to Sigmund Freud’s model of this process as found in dream narrative and its mechanisms of dreamwork. We ask whether literary criticism can learn anything from Freud’s model of dream interpretation and discuss Freud’s theory of the uncanny, and its impact on literary criticism.

For the linguist Bakhtin, we all become foreign to ourselves when we enter language. He analyzes literary discourse as an intersubjective process of creating socially and culturally significant meanings. In reading, we enter into a complex web of interrelations between utterances which he calls dialogic and which for him distinguishes the novel as a genre. Bakhtin is also interested in the way that literature both reflects and is able to circumvent the social and religious regulation of the body, and he develops the concept of ‘grotesque realism’ to explore this process. This is the content of our third lecture.

Finally, we look at the impact of feminism on literary interpretation. Feminist critical theory tries to unravel the relationships between gender and the construction of identity. Feminist criticism applies these insights to the formation of literary canons and the politics of aesthetic evaluation, e.g. via the notion of ‘the resisting reader’. The course extracts by Gilbert and Gubar are discussed as an influential example of the project of rereading male-authored ‘images of women’.

The Angel of History’

Dr Rashmi Varma
Week 5 Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia

Week 7 Stephen Greenblatt, ‘The Touch of the Real’

Week 8 Jerome McGann, from The Beauty of Inflections

Week 9 Ranajit Guha, from ‘Introduction to Subaltern Studies’ and selections from Gayatri Spivak

How does literature capture the stuff of life? If it does so, how is it different from other kinds of narrative that also claim to do so, like ‘history’? What does it mean when we say something is ‘fictional’, and others ‘historical’? Are these really two completely separate, watertight compartments containing mutually exclusive elements? Or do they, in reality, share features? Can literature make claims to historical truth? Or is it a debased kind of historical record? Such are the questions we investigate in this unit, questions that go to the heart of a much more fundamental issue – what and of what use is literature?

We begin with Hanif Kureishi’s re-imagining of a recent, vibrant and tortured period in British history – the 1970s. Does Kureishi’s novel offer us insights that we cannot get in historical accounts of these times? Or does it encourage to understand that the literary is always already historical and the historical always already ‘literary’? Next, we turn to Stephen Greenblatt’s influential essay that raises these questions by taking a series of ‘historical’ texts and objects. Jerome McGann outlines what is meant by the historical method in literary scholarship and argues that it answers many of the criticisms of insularity and irrelevance thrown at literature. Finally, two incisive essays from Guha and Spivak raies the problematic question of competing story telling strategies in historical narratives. If ‘history’ frequently borrows literary strategies of subject positioning, focalisation etc. to privilege some stories over others how do we reach stories that never directly told to us? Can literary techniques offer us any clues?

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