English 3385: Special Topics in Rhetoric: Theories of Interpretation

Fall 2004

MWF: 11:00 a.m.-11:50 a.m.

Preston Hall, Room 300


Professor Kevin J. Porter

100B Carlisle Hall

Office Phone: 817-272-3112

Email: kporter1@uta.edu (best way to contact me outside of class or office hours)

Office Hours: MW 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m.


Course Description


If you are reading this sentence, you are engaged in an act of interpretation, the goal of which is, presumably, understanding. But what does it mean to “understand” a text? Is there an instant in time in which a reader shifts from not understanding a text to understanding it? Is there a single, precise standard by which a person may (or should) judge (or be judged regarding) how well she has understood a text? Is understanding a cognitive state that results from culling information from a text, or is it a particular mode of being-in-relation to a text? Or is it something else entirely (perhaps even not an “it”)?


In this course, we will examine contemporary theories of the interpretation of literary and non-literary texts. Our goals for the course are fourfold: (1) to learn basic theoretical concepts related to various methodologies of interpretation (i.e., “hermeneutics”); (2) to gain a broad perspective on the history of the emergence, interanimation, and collision of hermeneutic theories; (3) to contrast various concepts of the “author” and the “reader” of texts; and (4) to investigate what consequences follow for English Studies from the adoption of particular hermeneutic theories by researchers and teachers in the field. To reach these goals, we will read texts written by influential theorists and scholars, such as Roland Barthes, Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, Stanley Fish, Michel Foucault, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, and Wolfgang Iser.


Required Texts


Bruns, Gerald L. (1992). Hermeneutics Ancient and Modern. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1992. [ISBN: 0-300-06303-2]

Dasenbrock, Reed Way. (2001). Truth and Consequences: Intentions, Conventions, and the New Thematics. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP. [ISBN: 0-271-02041-5]

Derrida, Jacques. (1988). Limited Inc. Chicago: Northwestern UP. [ISBN: 0810107880]

Fish, Stanley.  (1980). Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP. (ISBN: 0-674-46726-4)

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. (1967). Validity in Interpretation. New Haven, CT: Yale UP. (ISBN: 0-300-01692-1)

Iser, Wolfgang. (1976). The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP. (ISBN: 0-8018-2371-4)

Smith, Barbara Herrnstein. (1991). Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP. [ISBN: 0674167864]




The assignments for this class are comprised of 3 critical reviews (6-8 pages) and a cumulative take-home final examination. Assignments turned in late will not be accepted; however, if you must miss class, you can email the assignment to me so long as it is sent prior to the beginning of class.




                Critical Review 1                                 10%

                Critical Review 2                                 20%

                Critical Review 3                                 40%

                Final Examination                               30%




Attendance is mandatory, and active participation is expected. Students are allowed 2 absences without penalty; for each subsequent absence, 1% will be automatically deducted from the student’s final course grade. I will distribute a sign-in sheet at the beginning of each class; if you are not in class by the time the sheet is collected, you are counted as absent.


Drop Policy


UTA instructors cannot drop students for any reason. You may choose to drop the course with a “W” by November 12th.


Schedule of Assignments


I reserve the right to modify, as necessary, the readings and other assignments listed on this syllabus. All readings marked *** are available at my website (http://www.uta.edu/english/kporter1). You should print out these materials as soon as possible in one of the campus computer labs, and you must bring to class a copy of the specific assigned reading for that day.


I have provided detailed instructions for all course assignments; you should use days that “carry over” a discussion to get ahead on your other work. This “extra” time is factored into my consideration of assignment due dates, progress toward completing assignments, grades, etc.


8/23         Introduction to the Course: Interpretation and Understanding


8/25         Bruns, “Introduction”

                ***            Critical Review Instructions

                ***            Sample Critical Review


8/27         Bruns, Chapters 1 & 2


9/1           Bruns, Chapters 3 & 4


9/3           Bruns, Chapters 5 & 6


9/6           Labor Day Holiday: No Class


9/8           Bruns, Chapters 7 & 8


9/10         Bruns, Chapters 9 & 10


9/13         Bruns, Chapters 11 & 12


9/15         Bruns, “Conclusion”


9/17         Iser, Chapters 1 & 2


9/20         Iser, Chapters 3 & 4


9/22         Iser, Chapters 5 & 6


9/24         Iser, Chapters 7 & 8


9/27         Fish, Chapter 1


9/29         Fish, Chapters 3 & 11


10/1         Fish, Chapter 13


10/4         Fish, Chapters 14 & 15


10/6         Hirsch, Chapters 1 & 2


10/8         Hirsch, Chapters 3 & 4


10/11       Hirsch, Chapters 5 & Appendix 1

                Due: Critical Review #1 of Iser, The Act of Reading


10/13       Hirsch, Appendices 2 & 3


10/15       ***            Barthes, “The Death of the Author”


10/18       ***            Foucault, “What is an Author?”


10/20       Derrida, “Signature Event Context” (in Limited Inc.)


10/22       Continued Discussion of Derrida, “Signature Event Context”


10/25       Continued Discussion of Derrida, “Signature Event Context”


10/27       ***            Searle, “Reiterating the Differences: A Reply to Derrida”


10/29       Derrida, “Limited Inc a b c . . .” (in Limited Inc.)


11/1         Continued Discussion of Derrida, “Limited Inc a b c . . .”

                Due: Critical Review # of Foucault, “What is an Author?”


11/3         Continued Discussion of Derrida, “Limited Inc a b c . . .”


11/5         Smith, Chapter 1


11/8         Smith, Chapters 2 & 3


11/10       Smith, Chapters 4 & 5


11/12       Smith, Chapters 6 & 7


11/15       ***            Bloom, “The Essay Canon”


11/17       Dasenbrock, Chapters 1 & 2


11/19       Dasenbrock, Chapters 3 & 4


11/22       Dasenbrock, Chapters 5 & 6


11/24       Thanksgiving Holiday: No Class


11/26       Thanksgiving Holiday: No Class


11/29       Dasenbrock, Chapters 7 & 8

                Due: Critical Review #3 of Smith, Contingencies of Values

12/1         Dasenbrock, Chapters 9 & 10


12/3         Dasenbrock, Chapters 11 & 12

                Final Examination Prompt distributed


Final Examination due by 12:00 p.m. on Monday, December 6th. No late exams will be accepted.


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