Literary theory, which is as old as literature itself, is nation- and language-specific only in a limited sense. This course of lectures is designed to present the ways in which the concepts of European, English—and their offshoot, American—theory and criticism can be applied in the study of English literature as well as the broader field of literatures in English. The earliest examples of a systematic theoretical approach of this kind are to be found in eighteenth-century studies of rhetoric and in theoretical writings with a rhetorical dimension (Hugh Blair and Lord Kames). Although the ways in which we think about literature have since been broadened by other (ethical, religious, philosophical, ideological) considerations, rhetoric has not lost its relevance; in certain respects, through the New Criticism, Structuralism and Poststructuralism it has fortified its positions. It is within this frame that the course addresses major theoretical areas such as the nature of literature; (inter)mediality; literature and the other arts; technicalities of language use: rhythm and metre; rhetorical figures: imagery, irony and allegory; genres; the work and its reception; the Hungarian reception of English and American literature. The material propping up the argument of the course includes not only the work of critics (M. H. Abrams and E. D. Hirsch to Stanley Fish, Elaine Showalter, Raymond Williams, etc.), philosophers (Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, György Lukács, Jacques Derrida, etc.) and psychologists (Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, Jacques Lacan, etc.) who have made important contributions to the field, but also the theoretical utterances of creative writers (W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Chinua Achebe and others).
A full reading list, containing obligatory and optional items, will be incorporated into the detailed course description that I am going to make available at the beginning of the semester. For preliminary orientation I refer you to some important anthologies that are likely to contain material relevant to the course, such as:
Adams, Hazard, ed. Critical Theory Since Plato. Revised Edition. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
Adams, Hazard and Leroy Searle, eds. Critical Theory Since 1965. Tallahassee: Florida State UP, 1986.
Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: Norton, 2001.
Lodge, David, ed. 20th Century Literary Criticism: A Reader. London: Longman, 1972.
Lodge, David, ed. Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. London: Longman, 1988.
Newton, K. M., ed. Twentieth-Century Literary Theory: A Reader. London: Macmillan, 1988.
Warhol, Robyn R. and Diane Price Herndl, eds. Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1991.
As I intend the examination to be a complex one, you will have to take the written variety. The questions will fall into three sections: (1) an assessment of your familiarity with required reading material; (2) the metrical and rhetorical analysis of a piece of poetry or the rhetorical analysis (which may include rhythm) of a prose passage; (3) an essay on a historical or theoretical topic discussed in the course of the semester. The time of the examination will be two full hours (120 minutes).
A few weeks before the course ends I will make available a sample of the question sheets to be used at the exam. A list of the essay questions (section 3 of the exam) will also be published.