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this is Michel Foucault

What is literary theory and why am I here sitting in a literary theory class?

“This is not a ‘tool box’ course, meant to show you how to use theory as a method for producing readings of texts” (page 1, Engl 372 syllabus) .That one sentence about viewing theory as something besides only a tool for talking about literature made me realize why I have always secretly avoided studying literary theory or talking about it during literature classes and in my papers. While hearing others talk about the theoretical aspects of different works of art and literary pieces, I have not yet been able to fully utilize ‘theory’ in order to explain my thoughts about a poem, a story or an art work.
It is ironic that as a Comparative Literature major I have always been cautious of talking about ‘literary theory’. During conversations and discussions about various works of literature I am often hesitant sharing my thoughts on the theoretical aspects of the piece. Even though literary theory has been a part of my academic experience, it has always been a marginal aspect of my Oberlin classes. As a result, I think, I have not yet developed an active understanding of different schools of what we know as literary theory.
During my study abroad in Buenos Aires, I took two literature classes at University of Buenos Aires. The structure of my literature classes were in a way not comparable to my literature classes in Oberlin. I remember how confused I was when at first, I took a look at the syllabus for my literature class at UBA. The readings for each session were always divided into two separate sections of ‘literature’ and ‘literary theory’. Students would come to class having read the assigned theoretical texts in addition to the literary work of the day. Most of them seemed very comfortable talking about the theoretical aspect of the texts. They would always almost immediately classify the different pieces of literature that we were reading. It was as if everyone was supposed to wear their ‘theory’ glasses before entering these literature classes. This had made me think that as a Comparative Literature major I in fact, know nothing about literature and how to think about literary pieces.
Although I found these literature classes at UBA restricting in terms of thinking about the concept of ‘literature’ and what it could mean to individuals, I decided that I need to work on my knowledge of literary theory and that is mainly why I registered for this class while I was still in Argentina.



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