English 4345: Topics in Critical Theory: Theories of Interpretation

Fall, 2007

TR: 11:00 a.m.-12:20 p.m.

Preston Hall 101


Professor Kevin Porter

100B Carlisle Hall

Office Hours: TR 1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m.

Office Phone: 817-272-3112

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


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.


Student Learning Outcomes


Students should be able to:

              employ proper grammar, punctuation, spelling in writing.
              employ standard MLA or APA guidelines for formatting assignments and citation.
              write with clarity to communicate effectively with scholars interested in critical theory.
              respond critically to course material, using synthesis and analysis.
              assimilate existing information to formulate new ideas.
              express ideas or arguments in oral form.
              develop active listening skills including paraphrasing and synthesizing ideas expressed in class.
              develop methods and strategies for analyzing and interpreting texts.
              evaluate an oral, visual, or written argument for sound or faulty (fallacious) reasoning.
              compare and contrast major themes, issues, or topics in more than one text.
              respond critically to the writing of others in primary and secondary sources.
              create and edit documents using word processing or other computer programs.
              explain the major concepts from Gerald Bruns, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, and Reed Way Dasenbrock.
              analyze critically the notions of “understanding” and “meaning,” especially their relation to language.


Required Texts


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

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

              Smith, Barbara Herrnstein. Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991. [ISBN: 0-674-16786-4]


ISBN numbers are provided for those students who wish to purchase their textbooks somewhere other than the university bookstore.




The major writing assignments for the course are reading cards (a brief summary of and one question about the assigned reading); two essays (6-10 pages); and a cumulative take-home final examination.



                Reading cards                      20%

                Essay 1                                  25%

                Essay 2                                  30%

                Final Exam                          25%


Not completing any of these assignments constitutes grounds for failing the course.




This is a senior-level course; consequently, attendance is mandatory, and active participation is expected. Attendance will be taken in the following way. At the start of each class, you must submit a 4x6 index card that contains the following: your name, the date, a 1-2 sentence summary of the scheduled reading (if multiple readings are assigned, summarize only one), and 1 question that I may announce—anonymously, of course—for general discussion. Cards that do not include a question will receive only ˝ credit. Cards cannot be turned in late, emailed to me in lieu of attending class, etc.; without a card, you will receive no credit for attending class. Excluding the first day of class, we have 26 scheduled meetings that involve newly assigned readings. Each card is worth 1 point, which amounts to 1% of your course grade. However, since it is not always possible to attend class, I will expect from you a maximum of 20 cards, which means that you are allowed six absences. Additional cards will count as .5 % extra credit; so, if you have perfect attendance and turn in the required cards, you will raise your final grade by 3%.


Drop Policy


UTA instructors cannot drop students for any reason. You may choose to drop the course with an automatic “W” by November 2nd. According to the University’s new drop policy, students who are dropping an English class may no longer go to the English department to do so—unless they are English majors; instead, students must first bring their instructors a form that they will sign indicating that they have discussed the reason(s) for dropping. The students then bring this form to their major advisors. Students who are undeclared must go to the University Advising Center.


Schedule of Assignments (revised 9-27-07)


I reserve the right to modify, as necessary, the readings and other assignments listed on this syllabus.


R             9/27        Bruns, Ch. 5


T             10/2        Bruns, Ch. 6


R             10/4        Bruns, Ch. 7


T             10/9        Open period: Class canceled


R             10/11      Bruns, Ch. 8


T             10/16      Bruns, Ch. 9

                                Essay 1 assigned


R             10/18      Bruns, Ch. 10


T             10/23      Bruns, Ch. 11


R             10/25      Bruns, Ch. 12


T             10/30      Bruns, Conclusion


R             11/1        Smith, Ch. 1


T             11/6        Smith, Ch. 2


R             11/8        Smith, Ch. 3


T             11/13      Smith, Ch. 4


R             11/15      Smith, Ch. 5

                                Essay 1 due

                        Essay 2 assigned


T             11/20      Open period: Class canceled


R             11/22      Thanksgiving holiday: Class canceled


T             11/27      Smith, Ch. 6


R             11/29      Smith, Ch. 7


T             12/4        Dasenbrock, Ch. Preface & Chapter 1


R             12/6        Dasenbrock, Ch. 7 & 11

                                Prompt for final exam distributed


Essay 2 and the final exam are due by 12:00 p.m. on Monday, December 10th. I assume that they will be sent to me via email attachment; if this is impossible for you, please make alternative arrangements with me ASAP. No late work will be accepted.


Americans with Disabilities Act

The University of Texas at
Arlington is on record as being committed to both the spirit and letter of federal equal opportunity legislation; reference Public Law 92-112 - The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended. With the passage of federal legislation entitled Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), pursuant to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, there is renewed focus on providing this population with the same opportunities enjoyed by all citizens.


As a faculty member, I am required by law to provide "reasonable accommodations" to students with disabilities, so as not to discriminate on the basis of that disability. Student responsibility primarily rests with informing faculty of their need for accommodation and in providing authorized documentation through designated administrative channels.  Information regarding specific diagnostic criteria and policies for obtaining academic accommodations can be found at www.uta.edu/disability.   Also, you may visit the Office for Students with Disabilities in room 102 of University Hall or call them at (817) 272-3364.


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It is the philosophy of The University of Texas at
Arlington that academic dishonesty is a completely unacceptable mode of conduct and will not be tolerated in any form. All persons involved in academic dishonesty will be disciplined in accordance with University regulations and procedures. Discipline may include suspension or expulsion from the University.

"Scholastic dishonesty includes but is not limited to cheating, plagiarism, collusion, the submission for credit of any work or materials that are attributable in whole or in part to another person, taking an examination for another person, any act designed to give unfair advantage to a student or the attempt to commit such acts." (Regents’ Rules and Regulations, Series 50101, Section 2.2)

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