French 777

Winter Semester 1996

Cultural Studies and Literary Analysis: Socio-cultural Semiotics

Charles J. Stivale
361 Manoogian, 577-0970

General Syllabus

This seminar, serving as a course fulfilling the graduate minor in criticism, focuses on theorists and critical bases of contemporary work done in "cultural studies," how these relate to literary analysis, and the ways in which both domains correspond to recent socio-cultural conflicts in reading practices, known as the "Culture Wars."

Among other texts, readings will include: Barthes, -Mythologies- (selections); Bérubé, -Public Access-; Eco, -Travels in Hyperreality-; Grossberg, Nelson, Treichler, eds., -Cultural Studies- (selections); Lentricchia/McLaughlin, eds., Critical Terms for Literary Studies- (selections); Silverman, -The Subject of Semiotics-.

Description and Goals

This seminar, as part of the Ph.D. minor in cultural studies and literary analysis, is intended to provide participants with a broad understanding of different links between social sign systems and their study as part of literary and academic culture in North America in the 1990s. In particular,

-- To provide a basis for pursuing research in "cultural studies" in relation to literary studies, we will review a number of theoretical premises on which "cultural studies" and work in literary criticism are based.
-- To approach "social semiotics," we will understand the latter term broadly, as a general study of sign systems and their modes of representation, and this understanding will serve as the basis from which we will address different socio-cultural phenomena from a semiotic perspective, particularly the recent cultural and political "debate" known generally as the "Culture Wars."
-- To consider more fully the means by which semiotic analysis, broadly understood, provides access to the sophisticated poetic sign systems that are literary texts, we will also review theoretical premises that serve in studying both literary texts and cultural "texts."

One facet of this course may perhaps strike readers of the accompanying course program as odd, that we will not be focusing on specific literary texts as such, but rather on writings -about- literary texts -and- on writings that discuss the profession of writing-about-literary-texts. As will become evident during the semester, and particularly in the supplementary meetings on professional concerns, I believe that this meta-critical and meta-meta-critical focus is "odd" only in terms of a perspective that implicitly seeks to minimize the "collegial" dimension of academic work in favor of the scholarly, literary goals to which we ostensibly devote ourselves primarily.

Let me be clear: I do not wish to denigrate in any way the importance of engaging with primary, literary texts as well as with primary, literary critical sources that address these texts. To do so, particularly regarding the literary texts, would unnecessarily turn the focus away from those sources of enjoyment and interest that have attracted many of us to this profession in the first place. However, the meta- and meta-meta-critical emphases of this course are designed with a complementary goal in mind: to provide students (both those intending toenter the academic profession and those interested in broadening their critical acumen) with tools for working with literary -and- cultural texts and with a clearer understanding of what the stakes might be in undertaking such work at the end of the twentieth century.

-Seminar Organization- (cf. Detailed Program for specific dates):

I. Weeks 1-3: Mythologies, Past and Present

II. Weeks 4-7: Semiotic Theories and Reading Practices

III. Weeks 7-9: Cultural Studies: Synopses/Critiques

IV. Weeks 10-14: Readings of and with Key Cultural Theorists

As the "fourth hour" of the four-hour weekly course, additional group meetings, some focusing on particular professional topics, others with invited author-scholars, will be discussed during the first week, and the schedule for these meetings will be determined among the participants at a mutually convenient time -to the extent that this is possible-.