ACLAnet Menu

Back to ACLAnet Syllabi & Documents


Junior Year Writing

Comparative Literature 397B


University of Massachusetts/Amherst


Dale Hudson

Fall 2000 South College 309
TuTh 1.00-2.15 Office hours: Tu 10.30-12.45
Tobin 422 Telephone: 545.0929
Schedule no. 820361 e-mail:

Course description

In addition to intensive work on writing skills, this course provides an introduction to critical theory and its application in the analysis of cultural productions such as art, cinema, or literature. Writing assignments will include short reviews of theoretical works as well as substantial revisions of previous term papers or seminar papers. By the end of the semester, each student will have a better understanding of the scope and range of critical theory and its vital connection to comparative literature. In doing so, each student will also gain some perspective into the political position they endorse in their own scholarship.

As comparative literature is a diverse field of study that must continually redefine itself, a working knowledge of a broad range of critical theory is a significant means to bridge the gaps between individual interests. Whereas language departments are united (and, as often is the case, divided) by their so-called literary canons, comparative literature is bound by no such restrictions. Students may study topics as diverse as postcolonial African theater, professional wrestling, classical Chinese poetry, video games, the cinema of Hollywood and Bollywood, Greco-Roman drama, plastic surgery and body modification, French and Italian Renaissance poetry, slave narratives, and so forth. It is critical theory that allows comparative literature students to analyze such diverse cultural productions and to communicate with one another about them.

We will begin with an overview of formative approaches to modern literary theory-phenomenology, structuralism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, marxism, and feminism-in order to situate ourselves as well as to recognize that interpretation always implies a political position, even if it is an ambivalent one. We will then read essays (or excerpts) from various critical approaches to literary and film theory, and we will explore the important contributions of deconstruction, postcolonial theory, queer theory, gender studies, cultural studies, and ethnic studies.

As in-class projects, we will read Honoré de Balzac’s 1831 novel The Wild Ass’s Skin [La peau de chagrin] and Tom Tykwer’s 1998 film Run Lola Run [Lola rennt] against various critical approaches to understand how a single work can support multiple interpretations and be mobilized to radically different ends according to theoretical approach.

Throughout the semester, each student will work on a substantial research paper on a topic of their choice and will submit an abstract and annotated bibliography. The final paper will be presented at a colloquium.

Required texts

Available at Atticus/Albion Bookshop, 8 Main Street, Amherst

Honoré de Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin

Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds., Film Theory and Criticism, 5th edition

Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, 2nd edition

Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, eds., Literary Theory: An Anthology

Copies of these texts are also available on reserve, 3rd floor, W. E. B. DuBois Library. Students who read French are encouraged to read Balzac's novel in the original. A copy of La peau de chagrin has also been placed on reserve; others are available in the stacks.




Abstract 10% 200-word abstract of final paper

Annotated bibliography




Annotated bibliography for final paper;
10-12 items


Final paper




Major research project to be presented at colloquium; 10-12 pages


Three reviews




Close reading and review of three essays from anthologies; 2-3 pages each


Critical revision




Substantial revision of a previously submitted term paper






Attendance and active participation required, including preparation of questions to stimulate discussion of an essay


Course requirements

All reading assignments should be completed by the date they appear on the syllabus.

Active participation is not optional! Discussion is an important means to develop analytical skills. Test your insights without the ‘pressures’ associated with written assignments; see what your classmates think.

You will be asked to lead the discussion for at least one reading assignment. Prepare five to seven questions about the assigned essay that will stimulate discussion. While the work you put into your in-class presentations should be useful when you write your reviews. You may want to choose to review the essay that you present to class.

Your three reviews should focus on a close reading of particular essay. The objective of these reviews is to sharpen your critical acumen and prepare you for the final paper. All papers should be double-spaced with standard fonts, point sizes, and margins. On average, a page should contain about 250-300 words. Papers appreciably shorter or longer than this limit will not be accepted. Electronic submissions (e-mail attachments) will be accepted in special circumstances with advanced permission only.

You will be asked to submit a substantial revision of a term paper or seminar paper that you have previously submitted for another class. It is not so important that your critical revision show a complete re-conception of the original work, but you should expand and refine your arguments, showing evidence of how the critical theory covered in class has helped you to redefine your basic interpretation of a work or works of art, cinema, or literature. This critical revision must be submitted with a copy of the original paper with the instructor's comments. This assignment may be submitted at any point during the semester.

Your abstract for the final project should be no longer than 200 words. It should contain your basic thesis as well as situate the topic and give an indication of your methodology and basic arguments. Your annotated bibliography should contain standard publication information and well as a brief synopsis (approx. 50 words) of each work. See the MLA Handbook or equivalent for details. Your final paper should be a work of engaging scholarship and should demonstrate your knowledge of critical theory. You may write on absolutely anything but are expected to include research in more than one language. Please select your topic in consultation with me. You are welcome to revise an essay submitted for a previous course for this assignment. Final papers will be presented at a colloquium to be scheduled the week after the November break.

Late assignments will not be accepted unless special arrangements are made in advance. Please note that the night before the paper is due is too late to make special arrangements-as is the beginning of class on the day the paper is due. "I wasn’t in class when the assignment was given" or "I have two other papers to write" are not valid excuses for making special arrangements or submitting papers late.

If you have questions about anything related to the course, I am available immediately after class, or you may contact me by telephone or e-mail. Should you be unable to make office hours, schedule an appointment for another time.

Absence policy

f you will miss class due to religious observance or participation in a sporting event please notify me in advance. If you miss class for medical reasons please provide a note from your doctor and notify me of extended absences. Remember missing a class does not excuse you from respecting assignment deadlines. Please make arrangements with me as soon as possible to discuss possible extensions.



The difference between a ‘political’ and ‘non-political’ criticism is just the difference between the prime minister and the monarch: the latter furthers certain political ends by pretending not to, while the former makes no bones about it. It is always better to be honest in such matters.

-Terry Eagleton





Th 07 Introduction
Tu 12 Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory (1983, 1996) [introduction and chapter 1: 1-46]
Th 14 Eagleton, Literary Theory [chapter 2: 47-78]
Tu 19 Eagleton, Literary Theory [chapter 3: 79-109]
Th 21 Eagleton, Literary Theory [chapter 4: 110-130]
Tu 26 Eagleton, Literary Theory [chapter 5: 131-168]
Th 28 Eagleton, Literary Theory [conclusion: 169-189]; and

Abstract due



Tu 03 Eagleton, Literary Theory [afterword: 190-208]
Th 05 Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) [R&R 128-150]
Tu 10 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, "Dialectics" (from The Science of Logic; 1812) [R&R 243-246]; and
  Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" (1969) [R&R 294-304]
Th 12 Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1955) [B&C 731-751]; and
  Roland Barthes, "The Face of Garbo" (1957) [B&C 536-538)
Tu 17 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (1966) [R&R 377-384]; and
  Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) [R&R 421-428]; and

Annotated bibliography due

Th 19 Jacques Derrida, "Différance" (ca. 1973) [R&R 385-407]; and
  Jacques Derrida, "Plato’s Pharmacy" (1972) [R&R 429-450]
Tu 24 André Bazin, "The Evolution of the Language of Cinema" (1950-1955) [B&C 43-57]; and
  Siegfried Kracauer, "Basic Concepts" (1962) [B&C 43-57]
Th 26 Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic of Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex" (1975) [R&R 533-560]; and
  Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (1980) [R&R 596-611]
Tu 31 Audre Lorde, "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference" (1984) [R&R 630-636]; and
  Hortense Spillers, "Mama’s Boy, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book" (1987) [R&R 656-672]


Th 02 Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Cinema" (1975) [B&C 833-844]; and
  Linda Williams, "Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess" (1991) [B&C 701-715]
Tu 07 Judith Butler, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" (ca. 1990) [R&R 722-730]; and
  Judith Halberstam, "F2M: The Making of Female Masculinity" (1994) [R&R 759-768]
Th 09 Edward Said, Orientalism (1978) [R&R 873-886]; and
  Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera (1987) [R&R 887-902]
Tu 14 Jean-Luc Comolli and Jean Narboni, "Cinema/Ideology/Criticism" (1969) [B&C 752-759]; and
  Robert Stam and Louise Spence, "Colonialism, Racism, and Representation: An Introduction" (1983) [B&C 235-250]
Th 16 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic (1993) [R&R 970-977];
  Carole Boyce Davies, "Migratory Subjectivities" (1994) [R&R 996-1015]; and
  Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (1988) [R&R 1016-1022]
Tu 21 Stuart Ewen, All-Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture (1988) [R&R 1082-1086];
  John Fiske, Television Culture (1987) [R&R 1087-1098];
  Susan Bordo, "‘Material Girl’: The Effacements of Postmodern Culture" (1993) [R&R 1099-1115]; and

Final paper due

Th 23  




Tu 28 Honoré de Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin (1831) [part 1: 21-90]
Th 30 Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin [part 2: 91-194]


Tu 05 Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin [part 3 and epilogue: 195-285]
Th 07 Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run (1998) [video]
Tu 12 Tykwer, Run Lola Run (con’t)
Th 14 Wrap-up

Back to ACLAnet Syllabi & Documents

Home button

About ACLAnet - Syllabi & Documents - Syllabus Related Materials - Pedagogical Theory and Practice
Participant List/Profiles - Additional Resources - Suggest New Links - Submit Material - Search ACLAnet

Back to ACLAnet Syllabi & Documents

Home button

About ACLAnet - Syllabi & Documents - Syllabus Related Materials - Pedagogical Theory and Practice
Participant List/Profiles - Additional Resources - Suggest New Links - Submit Material - Search ACLAnet