Spring 2012

M 2:30-5:30

430 Burrowes


Dr.  Sophia A. McClennen

Dept. of Comparative Literature

Mailbox: 427 Burrowes

Office:   448 Burrowes 

Office Phone: 865-0032


Office Hours: by appointment.






Foundations of Modern Theory


The Theory Canon


This one-credit, five-week seminar (held during the first five weeks of the Spring semester) introduces some of the most significant contributors to the modern theory canon.  It covers those essential readings and major thinkers that all should know regardless of area of focus or preferred critical approach.   Readings will include work by Nietzsche, Freud, Gramsci, Foucault, and more. 



Course Objectives:


  1. Introduce students to some of the most significant contributors to the modern theory canon.
  2. Give students a sense of the contexts and debates within which these essays emerged.
  3. Develop students’ abilities to analyze and write about theoretical essays.
  4. Develop students’ abilities to use critical theory in their research. 



The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Vincent B. Leitch, General Editor.

General Information:

Academic dishonesty: Students are expected to uphold the University's standards of academic integrity. Academic dishonesty will be dealt with according to University policies.

Registration Policy: During the drop/add period at the beginning of the semester, the department of Comparative Literature encourages students to visit this and other courses in order to make informed decisions about which courses to take. After the first week, however, only students registered in the course may remain; no student may late-add (or restore a dropped registration) after the third week of the semester without petitioning the department on a form available in the office, 448 Burrowes.

University Access Statement: The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified students with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  If you anticipate needing any kind of accommodations in this course or have any questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible. 

Course Requirements

Grade Breakdown:





Critical Responses






Final Papers



Grading Scale:

  • 100-93= A
  • 92-90= A-
  • 89-88= B+
  • 87-83= B
  • 82-80= B-
  • 79-78= C+
  • 77-70= C
  • 69-60= D
  • 59-0= F

Course components

1. Participation

Your class participation grade is based on observations of student performance in the following categories:

   Attendance- Student regularly attends class without late arrivals or early departures.


  Preparation- Student completes homework assignments and studies course materials thoroughly BEFORE coming to class.  Student completes all assignments before coming to class.


  Class Interaction and Citizenship- Student is attentive and cooperative with the rest of the class; actively participates in class and collaborates with classmates in paired or group activities, and contributes to class discussion.


2. Questions posted on Angel

Each week you will post 3-4 questions on specific selections. (The exact number of selections will vary each week.) These questions will indicate how carefully you read and will also reveal the sorts of questions that interest you as a theorist. 


3. Critical Responses

These brief “papers” (2-3 pages) allow you to develop your critical thinking skills vis-ŕ-vis course materials. Your papers should not be summaries of readings.  Rather, your papers should be critical responses to one of the selections. You may make references to works previously studied in the course, or to other texts you have read in other courses, which you feel intersect critically with the material we are covering.  These short papers will also be good practice for writing about theory.

4. Critical Essay Worksheets


5. Presentation

Each student will present either in week two or three on one of the theorists to be covered. These presentations should provide background on the theorist as well as on the reading for that day.


6. Final papers: Two abstracts.

Given the short nature of the course, long research papers are not possible.  Rather, we will “imagine” two papers: a theory paper and an application of theory paper.  On the day of our last session, students will turn in 2-3 page abstracts of each type of paper.  More details on this in class.



Plan of Study

All readings are in the Norton Anthology.

All assignments are to be posted on Angel.


 The Top 4


  1. Marx
  2. Freud
  3. Saussure
  4. Nietzsche




Second Cuts



  1. Derrida
  2. Lacan
  3. Gramsci
  4. Benjamin
  5. Horkheimer and Adorno
  6. Althusser
  7. Barthes
  8. De Man
  9. Deleuze and Guattari
  10. Lyotard
  11. Hall
  12. Jameson



(Each of these assignments should be on a different selection, i.e. no doubling)


Deep Tracks



  1. Bakhtin
  2. Fanon
  3. Foucault
  4. Said
  5. Anderson
  6. Spivak
  7. Habermas
  8. Rich
  9. Kolodny
  10. Butler
  11. Bhabha



(Each of these assignments should be on a different selection, i.e. no doubling)



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