January 22, 2009 Listing

Welcome to EL 312, "Literary Criticism."

The course website is located at http://blogs.setonhill.edu/DennisJerz/EL312. I will update the online syllabus periodically, so the printout I gave you is only for your convenience on the first day of classes. The official version of the syllabus is the online version (though I will notify you in advance of any significant changes).

Topics for today:

While the class meets on Thursday, note that preparatory assignments are due by midnight on Monday and 1pm Wednesday, so that we can all come to class on Thursday ready to discuss the week's material. (That means you should probably plan to devote time on the weekends to do the readings.)

This is far from an exhaustive list of issues that are important to literary criticism. But it will serve to organize the material that we study.

A four-step process that helps you prepare for a productive class discussion using the SHU weblog system.

We will start out slowly at first, only completing a part of the RRRR process, so that the whole class has the chance to adjust to it. Once we start the full process, for each item or group of items marked as "Text" on the course outline, Read the assignment, react by posting an "Agenda Item" (see FAQ entry) on Monday, respond to 2-4 items posted by your peers (sometime before class) and reflect on the readings via your Critical Exercise (a 2-3 page essay, due Wednesday). You are encouraged, but not required, to post your Critical Exercises online.

This course asks you to read a small number of literary works, and a large number of critical essays. We will keep returning to the same set literary works time and time again, always with a new critical focus. Keeping up with the readings is crucial. Studies have shown that regular weekly quizzes are very effective for keeping students on track, but I hate spending class time on quizzes, and I hate marking them. I'm sure you don't enjoy taking them, either. For that reason, we will use agenda items.

Rhetoric -- the use of language to persuade. One of the three most important of the "liberal arts" (those skills that free citizens were expected to have). Classical rhetoric recognizes three main ways to persuade. When persuading, we can rouse the readers' emotions (pathos), appeal to their sense of justice (ethos), or rely upon logic (logos).

Thu 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM A204

Although class meets only once a week, on Thursdays, some online assignments will be due Monday and Wednesday (so that I will have time to review your work before class).

See daily course outline.

Dennis G. Jerz (jerz.setonhill.edu)

  • Office: 403 St. Joseph, Box 461
  • E-mail: My last name, at the setonhill.edu domain. (For a faster response, include "EL312" in the subject line and please indicate your name.)
  • Phone: 724-830-1909 (but you will usually get a faster response if you e-mail)

Office Hours for Spring 2009

  • Monday 3:30-4:30pm; Tuesday 3pm; Wednesday 11am; Thursday 3pm.
  • Also by appointment.

Occasionally I step out of my office briefly to run errands during my scheduled office hours. When I do, I usually leave a note on my door. If my light is still on, then I'm probably not far away.

Office Visits
Outside of office hours, I usually leave my door open. If you should happen to drop by unexpectedly, and you notice that my door is closed, that's usually a sign that I'm trying to concentrate on something.  (If it can wait, please consider coming back during my office hours, or sending me an e-mail.)

From the Catalog:

Theories of literary criticism, focused on contemporary theory and practice.
Key Concept:


Much of your early education consists of being exposed to new facts, and learning how to recall, categorize, and associate them.

Facts are important, but they are just one part of the intellectual life. In a world in which Google and Wikipedia can instantly call up more facts than our ancestors might have ever encountered in a year of reading (and more partial truths and outright lies as well), facts are so plentiful that the accumulation of data becomes a parlor trick. A good Googler might become skilled at quoting statistics in order to win arguments, but that won't really advance the creation of new ideas

  • Facts join to form concepts.
    Our brains consumes oxygen and burns calories when they think. That's why we get headaches when we struggle to understand a new concept. Building concepts is challenging mental work, but like any skill, it comes more easily with practice.
  • Concepts join to form a way of seeing -- a lens, through which we may view the world.
    Glass is mostly sand, but you can't just pick up a random handful of sand and call it a lens. Making and grinding glass takes specialized knowledge and tools, as well as time and practice.

  • Theory is a way of categorizing and understanding the effect of such lenses.

A theory class invites you to try on different lenses, in order to observe what each world view reveals and conceals.

Key Concept:

Literary Theory

We might call literary theory the study of the specialized criteria that helps scholars make critical judgment.  We might call it the practice of identifying and engaging with the different sets of criteria that literary critics use in order to determine what works are worthy of academic study, and what questions to ask about those works.

Key Concept:

Literary Criticism

First, let's review something you're very familiar with already: literary interpretation

  • Content (plot, characters -- the most basic level of understanding a text)
  • Form (structure, conventions)
  • Tone (language, style)
  • "Meaning" (on a surface level, "what it means"; on a deeper level, "how it means")
Recall that a review is a form of evaluation, asking more or less "Is this book worth buying?"

We might think of literary criticism, then, as the study of the criteria that reviewers use in order to evaluate works. It is the study of taste, judgment, and value, as applied to the selection and discussion of works that reviewers and scholars consider especially worthy of intellectual inquiry.
Learning Objectives (English Literature)

All seven of the English literature program learning objectives apply directly to this course.

  1. Examine a wide range of genres, styles and cultural literatures.
  2. Examine the traditional canon and innovative nontraditional writers and writing.
  3. Demonstrate analytical skills of reading literature.
  4. Demonstrate a high level of research and writing skills.
  5. Write and speak in a wide range of formats appropriate to major emphasis:  fiction, non-fiction, poetry, critical essay, oral presentation.                              
  6. Speak and write about issues in the discipline and how they interact with the culture at large.
  7. Articulate the ongoing relation between personal habits of reading and writing and the evolving study of English.

The outcomes for this course also happen to number seven, but they aren't intended to correspond directly with the learning objectives. 

At the end of this course, you should be able to

  1. Engage intellectually with peers in both formal and informal environments
  2. Demonstrate sustained intellectual engagement with ongoing scholarly discussions about the theories that inform the discipline of English
  3. Develop superior research skills, with which you may filter and profit from a steady stream of complex academic readings (without the benefit of online summaries or study guides)
  4. Analyze literary works from multiple different critical perspectives (including perspectives that you would not ordinarily choose to employ in a paper), without dismissing or oversimplifying views which differ from yours
  5. Write at an advanced college level, using the vocabulary of literary criticism, but without smothering your personal writing voice under a mass of jargon and obfuscation
  6. Justify the critical approach(es) that you will find most useful in your future in graduate school, in your career, or in your own life-long learning process long after college
  7. Conceptualize your academic experience as more than the accumulation of purchased credits, or the correction of errors pointed out to you by your instructors; but rather as part of the ongoing human search for truth and wisdom. Good grammar and logical thinking are vital for full participation in the intellectual life that our education prepares us to lead.

The class format will emulate a graduate-level seminar, heavy on student-led discussion. At this point in your college career, you probably understand that my role as your instructor is not to divulge "the right answer" for you to memorize and spit back for credit. The professor who taught lit crit to me, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., pointed out that criticism is a skill that you do, rather than a set of facts to memorize. [1]

Instead, you will be asked to demonstrate your ability to apply a particular critical theory to an assigned literary text, backing up your analysis with specific evidence from both the academic and literary sources.

I will often send out bulk e-mails to the Seton Hill address on file for you in the GriffinGate system. If you prefer to get your mail from a different address, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.


[1]  I recall Hirsch's statement as particularly significant, because at the time he made it, he was famous for a series of essays and books promoting his concept of "cultural literacy" -- his observation that educated people share a common core of facts and concepts, that are necessary for comprehension of complex subjects; he has argued that the public school system is failing precisely because teachers focus on nebulous "critical thinking skills" rather than spending time teaching content.

Students are expected to attend every class. (See Seton Hill University Catalog.)

Active participation in the class discussion (both online and in the classroom) is vital for the successful completion of this course.

I am happy to excuse students who have legitimate reasons, but students who miss a class period for any reason are still responsible for the material covered during the absence. An excused absence does not automatically grant an extension for any work collected or assigned that day.

In some cases, it may not be possible to make up activities that you missed.

Procrastination is toxic, more so than in most classes, because so much of the course material depends on your familiarity with challenging readings that we will discuss in class.

Students who miss class for any reason -- excused or unexcused -- are still responsible for the work that was due and/or assigned on that date. A student's final grade may be lowered by the proportion of unexcused absences. Thus, a student with a final grade of B (75%) with a record of 10% unexcused absences would get a C+ (90% of 75% = 67.5%).

Students who miss two classes in a row, or a total of three classes over the semester, will by default receive an automatic F (regardless of work completed to that point). (I am willing to consider well-documented circumstances that might justify an exception.)

Late arrivals, early departures, lack of participation or preparation, or disruptive behavior may count as absences at the instructor's discretion (you will be warned once before any absences are applied).

If you are absent from class without an approved excuse on a day when a major assignment is due -- perhaps because you stayed up all night working on a paper and are too tired to attend class -- the assignment will be counted an extra day late. (You might as well go to bed without finishing the paper, come to class so you don't fall farther behind, and then turn in the paper the next morning.)

5.1.1. Emergency Absences
Those who miss class due to an unplanned emergency should submit an "Absence Form," with proper documentation, as soon as possible.

For each class that you miss, download the word processor version of my "Absence Form" (available at http://jerz.setonhill.edu/teaching/AbsenceForm.doc). After you initiate this contact, we will start working out whether or what kind of assignments would be appropriate. (I ask that you resist the impulse to ask me to e-mail you a summary of what you missed. I welcome the chance to help you get caught up, but please consult the syllabus and a classmate's notes first, and then bring any specific questions to me.) For some classroom activities, such as listening to peer oral presentations, there may be no appropriate make-up assignment. (See 5.2 Participation.)

5.1.2. Scheduled Absences
Those who miss class due to a scheduled activity must plan to complete all make-up assignments before the missed class. This means that you must submit an acceptable "Absence Form" (see above) at least 2 weeks before the missed class.

If there is insufficient time for us to agree upon an acceptable suggestion for making up missed work, or if an approved make-up assignment is late or unsatisfactory, then I may record the absence as unexcused.

The participation grade is reflected in the Participation Portfolio. Students are expected to contribute actively to a positive classroom environment, both in person and online. Students who dislike public speaking may wish to invest more effort in their online writing, and vice-versa.

Those who participate above and beyond the call of duty will receive a bonus.

Common sense and common courtesy dictates that absences, late arrivals and early departures, distracting use of telephones or headphones, lack of preparation, and inattentiveness will impact your participation grade. (I fantasize that students may actually use their smart phones to look things up on the internet during class discussions, but please turn off your ringers during class time.)

If your final grade ends up near a borderline, I will consider your participation before deciding to bump the grade up or down.

Agenda Items and Online Discussion

In class, I may call on you to share with the class the agenda item you posted on your own blog. I may also ask you to share with the class the comments you left on peer blogs. Most students find that it helps to bring printouts of those online contributions, so you have something to consult when I call on you.

About Weblogs

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette focused on how Seton Hill University students have been using their academic weblogs.

This course expects you to use the internet regularly -- mostly blogs.setonhill.edu and turnitin.com. Just as students in generations past learned to carry spare quills, a pen knife, an extra inkhorn, and spare lamp wicks, there are certain common-sense strategies that will make your use of the internet less risky. Print out a copy of the course syllabus, and print out online readings in advance, so that you can work on the readings if the internet happens to be down.

Most assignments will be submitted and returned via turnitin.com. Unless the homework assignment specifically mentions a printout, you should assume that I don't want you to submit a hard copy. (For instance, although I won't always collect your Agenda Items, you should still bring a printout to class each day.)

Please note that your Agenda Items are due on your blog on Monday, your weekly Exercises are due on Turnitin.com on Wednesday, and 2-4 comments per assigned reading are due sometime before class. (I will spend class time discussing these in more detail, and I'll send out reminders for the first few weeks.)

The multiple parts of the Term Paper assignment should be submitted in a folder. When submitting an expansion or revision, always re-submit all the previous drafts, including my comments. (Multi-part assignments are incomplete unless all required parts are supplied; I will supply more details on this when the time comes.)

Note: If you ever feel you want more rapid or more detailed feedback on an assignment, make an appointment with me during my office hours, and I will go over the work with you in detail, regardless of whether it was late or on time.
Turnitin.com also checks submissions for plagiarism.

Getting Credit for Late Work

The slots for depositing papers on Turnitin.com have a due date and time. If your assignment is late by only a few minutes, I probably won't bother with any late penalty. If your paper is a few hours late, I will probably cut short the comments that I write (since I may in fact finish marking the stack before your paper arrives).

If you submit your assignment after I have already assigned a zero for your paper, you must e-mail me to ask me to replace the zero with the grade you have earned. (I typically do not go back to check whether late papers have arrived.)

Please note that if I have already finished grading my stack of submissions, a late paper goes on the bottom of my to-do list. I may not be able to get it back to you in time for you to complete the next step of a multi-step assignment. If you are concerned about not getting a paper back soon enough, please arrange an appointment so that I can give you feedback in person.

I reserve the right to refuse to accept any assignment that is more than a week late, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

By default, late assignments automatically lose one letter grade if they are not submitted on time, and another letter grade for each additional day late (counting weekends as one day).

Students may not skip any stage of a multipart assignment. This may mean that you will have to complete a preliminary assignment for no credit before I will look at the next step in an assignment.

All Late Work

If you are asking that I waive a late penalty, or change the zero I have already recorded, e-mail me a copy of your completed Absence Form, with a subject line that follows this pattern: "Smith EL312 Ex 1-2 Absence Form".

Special Cases

Response/Reflection Items: These time-sensitive assignments earn no credit if they are late. (You should still complete any items you missed in order to get full credit for your class portfolio.)

Class Participation: The way to get credit for a missed in-class activity is to contribute substantially to the online discussion. Post thoughtful comments on the course website, your peers' websites, and/or your own. To make sure that I see and record credit for this alternative work, send me an e-mail with links to the URLs for the additional work you submitted.

Make-up/Extra Credit Assignments: I do not have a policy of inventing make-up or extra-credit assignments to enable you to pull your grade up in the last few weeks of the term. You may, however, at any time demonstrate your willingness to work hard for your grade by doing more than the required amount of work on your weblog. (Call my attention to this extra work when you submit your weblog portfolio.)

Please acquire your own individual copies of the assigned texts, and bring a copy to class on the day the discussion is scheduled.

Some assigned texts are available online. You may print these out, you may purchase your own book or check one out from the library, or you may bring an electronic version on a laptop or PDA.

If you wish, you may purchase copies of textbooks through an Amazon.com affiliates page that I have set up. (You don't have to buy them through this link -- you can use the campus bookstore or any other supplier.)


Disability Statement

If you have a disability that requires instructor consideration, please contact the Director of Disability Services at 724-838-4295.  It is recommended that this be accomplished by the second week of class.  If you need accommodations for successful participation in class activities prior to your appointment at the Disability Services Office, you should offer information in writing that includes suggestions for assistance in participating in and completing class assignments.  It is not necessary to disclose the nature of your disability.

Plagiarism Statement

Seton Hill University expects that all its students will practice academic honesty and ethical conduct.  The University regards plagiarism, cheating on examinations, falsification of papers, non-sanctioned collaboration, and misuse of library material, computer material, or any other material, published or unpublished, as violations of academic honesty.  Violators of the code may expect disciplinary sanctions, which are discussed in the Seton Hill University Catalog.

Any unreferenced use of the written or spoken material of another, or of previously submitted work of the student's own, constitutes plagiarism.  Paraphrasing the thoughts or written work of another without reference is also plagiarism.  Helpful information is available at the following web site:  Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It (http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml).

Sanctions for plagiarism (and other violations of academic integrity, such as unsanctioned collaboration) may include one or more of the following: a zero on the assignment, a zero on entire sequence to which the assignment belongs, lowering the final course grade, or failing the course. All academic integrity violations will be reported to the provost's office, where further actions may be taken. These further actions may include suspension or expulsion..
Recent activity on the blogs of all students in this course. This page will update regularly, though it won't always show the most recent entries. To force an update, post a comment anywhere on this website or the NMJ portal.
50 Recent Peer Entries

The whole course is based on 1250 points. I compute all grades according to the four point scale. Thus, for an assignment worth 20 points, if you get a 15, that is a 3.0 ("above average," "good," or "B").

  • Oral Presentation (100 pts)
  • Casebook Essay Exercises (400 pts)
  • Participation Portfolios (300 pts)
  • Critical Project (150pts)
  • Term Paper Portfolio (300 pts)
The "Critical Project" final presentations take place during the final exam time slot, but there is no exam.

Once during the semester, sign up to lead the class in a 15-minute discussion of one of the assigned essays from Keesey.

  • Post on your weblog a richly-linked entry, that includes such useful details as key quotations, vocabulary terms, and a brief MLA-style Works Cited section. Link to pages you found in the internet that helped you understand the material. Link to blog entries in which your peers ask probing questions or supply interesting agenda items. (Please do not read word-for-word from your blog entry.)
  • Just before you start speaking, hand me a one-page outline that presents your goals for the presentation. (I will write my feedback on this page and return it to you after class.)
  • After your presentation, e-mail me a brief summary of what you feel the class gained from your presentation. Include specific details from the class discussion or other feedback that you gather during the class. (Three or four sentences with a bulleted list of supporting details will be sufficient. Please do not just e-mail me your PowerPoint slides or the script from which you were reading.)

  • No more than three students may present on a given day. (This is to prevent 10 people from trying to present during the last week of classes.)
  • The presentation schedule is fixed a week in advance. If, a week in advance, you confirm your commitment, but you're not actually ready to present when the time comes, you will not be permitted to reschedule. (If you can get someone to switch with you, that's fine. And, as always, I'm willing to be flexible in extenuating circumstances.)
  • Only one student per assigned essay. (Claim your presentation dates by posting a comment on the course website, on the entry devoted to the essay you are choosing.)

Grading Criteria
Your oral presentation will be evaluated on:
  1. Completeness (richly-linked blog entry, 5 minutes of presentation, 10 minutes of discussion)
  2. Depth (adequately demonstrated comprehension of material; usefully explained challenging passages for the benefit of the class)
  3. Engagement (presentation is not read word-for-word from a blog entry or script; presentation makes use of student contributions, citing them by name and giving appropriate credit; discussion questions move beyond fill-in-the-blank or "Here's what I think, do you agree?")
  4. Reflection (quality of the outline that you hand to me before you begin speaking; depth and quality of the e-mail reflection statement that you write after your presentation is over).

Take chances, make mistakes, get messy! -- Ms Frizzle, The Magic Schoolbus

An important component of the course is a casebook comprising 10 short essays (about 3 pages), each of which presents your attempt to apply the week's critical readings on your own (before the class meets to discuss them). You will have the chance to revise one essay for a higher grade (but note that the revision opportunity is not intended to replace a zero).

I fully expect that, from time to time, the classroom discussion will lead you to a different conclusion than the preliminary one you investigated in your casebook essay. When that happens, you might find yourself thinking, "My written paper is wrong! I'd have gotten a higher grade if I submitted it after the class discussion!"

But if everybody held back their opinions until after the class discussion was over, and nobody came to the classroom with thoughts they had already wrestled into papers, we'd have pretty weak class discussions.

Literary criticism is a skill -- it's something you do, not a list of "correct answers" to memorize. The casebook papers are your opportunity to try on an unfamiliar set of lenses, so that you see familiar things in new ways.

Each paper is your opportunity to get my assessment of your developing ability to identify, organize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate all the components of a lit-crit research paper.  I'm less interested in whether you applied a particular lens "correctly" than I am in your developing mastery of the skills necessary to participate, at an advanced undergraduate level, in the intellectual discussion that surrounds the texts and ideas we will explore in the class. 

By "apply the week's critical readings" I mean quote directly from, and engage directly with, the assigned essays that we are scheduled to discuss at the next class, in order to ensure that in the limited time we have for discussion we can move rapidly towards a deeper exploration of the issues raised by the readings. Remember that this class asks you to pay close attention to the critical essays; the casebook papers are your opportunity to demonstrate that you can use these critical essays in order to present a challenging, well-supported, persuasive interpretation of one of the literary works on the syllabus.

Note that Keesey's introductions will always simplify and exaggerate a bit, because the function of his introduction is to point out what is different about this particular way of looking at literature. If you engage with something Keesey says in his introduction, you're not actually engaging with the argument in the essay Keesey is trying to introduce. I won't actually forbid you from quoting from or responding to what he says in his introductions, but I am asking you to think of Keesey's comments as the overture rather than the main event, or the appetizer rather than the first course.

Evaluation of Casebook Essays

  • Format and Completeness: Does the paper follow MLA style, with a title block and a title that specifies your position on a topic? Do the thesis, content, syntax, and grammar all demonstrate advanced writing ability?
  • Organization and Thoroughness: Does the paper present an organized confrontation with an issue arising from the assigned critical essays? Are the claims supported with textual evidence? Is the paper free of logical fallacies (such as the "straw man" or "burden of proof")?
  • Quotations and Application: Does the paper apply the week's critical topic to one of the primary works on the syllabus? Does the paper cite specific passages from both primary and secondary sources? Are the citations integrated with an original argument, or merely part of a summary? Are the direct quotations well-chosen, brief, plentiful, and integral to the student's original argument (or are they random, overlong, and summative)?
  • Insight and Engagement: Does the paper make creative, well-supported connections, and/or ask productive questions? If I noted mistakes, were they intellectually productive mistakes that demonstrate your willingness to tackle challenging concepts? Or was I distracted by too many mechanical/structural weaknesses (typographical errors, summative filler, flowery cruft)?

This component of your grade evaluates your level of engagement with the subject matter, including preparation, attentiveness, and active contributions to a positive learning environment, as well as other matters of academic integrity and respectful behavior, as described in the Seton Hill student handbook.

Portfolio 1 (100 pts)
Portfolio 2 (100 pts)
Portfolio 3 (100 pts)

The bulk of the participation grade will be attached to three portfolio assignments, which will ask you to collect and reflect on a selection of the work you have completed. (See the RRRR Sequence. More details about the portfolio will be posted as the first due date approaches.)

If your final grade should end up on or near a borderline, I will look to your participation grade to determine whether to round up or down.

You will design and complete a project that pertains to some area of literary criticism. You might create a website that analyzes your favorite TV show according to several different critical perspectives; you might create a work of fiction that illustrates or responds to or reacts against a particular critical approach; you might submit a paper to an academic conference and complete the paperwork to request funding for travel expenses; you might make a video of yourself performing a song with lyrics that teach, challenge, or spoof a critical perspective, upload the song to YouTube, and write a paper about the comments you receive.

A series of assignments that lead up to and include a final research paper (15-20 pages).

In Keesey, Appendix A. We will read this in class.

You may wish to start reading Keesey Appendix B, ''Benito Cereno.''

If you have not read The Tempest before, you should read it before we start discussing articles about it.

Recent Comments

Katie Vann on Portfolio III: Portfolio 3
Katie Vann on Term Project: Class Presentations
Angela Palumbo on Term Project: Good job everyone! http://blogs.setonhill.edu/Ang
Mara Barreiro on Term Project: Great job everyone!!
Ellen Einsporn on Portfolio III: Last blog portfolio...ever! And my reflections on
Erica Gearhart on Portfolio III: Take a look at my final blogging portfolio and my
Derek Tickle on Term Project: Excellent work class! http://blogs.setonhill.edu/
Jenna on Term Project: Great job, class! http://blogs.setonhill.edu/Jenna
Jenna on Portfolio III: Portfolio 3- Just in time for summer http://blogs.
Bethany Merryman on Term Project: Thanks to the class for making this semester FUN a
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