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Introduction to Literary Theory

As taught in: Spring 2004

Photo of Sigmund Freud.

Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis and author of The Interpretation of Dreams, one of the required texts for this course. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.)


Prof. Shankar Raman

MIT Course Number:




Course Features

Course Description

This subject focuses on the ways in which we read, providing an overview of some of the different strategies of reading, comprehending and engaging with literary texts developed in the twentieth century. The course is organized around specific theoretical paradigms. In each case our task will be, first, to work through the selected reading in order to see how it determines or defines the task of literary interpretation; second, to locate the limits of each particular approach; and finally, to trace the emergence of subsequent theoretical paradigms as responses to the achievements and limitations of what came before. The literary texts and films that accompany the theoretical material will serve as concrete cases that allow us to see theory in action. In general, then, each week we will pair a text or film with a particular interpretative approach, using the former to explore the strengths of the theoretical paradigm under discussion. Our task will not be to provide a definitive or full analysis of the literary or filmic work, but to exploit it to understand better theories of literary interpretation.