Thursday, January 10, 2013

Literary Theory Class - Help?

I have an opportunity to take a class in Literary Theory at the university level. I'm registered for the class, along with a Fiction Writing Workshop, but I can only take one, while working full time. The writing class is online, and will require a substantial commitment. The Literary Theory class is "live."

If you've taken a course in Literary Theory, or have an opinion about it, I'd like to know about your experience. Even the introduction to the text, and the instructor's opening remarks, consider the concept that learning various literary theories may alter your experience of reading a work of fiction for pure pleasure. I'm not sure I want to "open that door." My response to what I read is based on my personal knowledge base and experience, and my own unique set of values, differing from any theory or construct. Though I appreciate, and understand that my view of the world is not the only view, it is my view.

Do you think an understanding of Literary Theory enhances your response to literature; or that it spoils it? Drop and Add ends tomorrow. I'd really like to know what you think.



John M. said...

I see Lit Theory as about the same as Film Theory -- nearly to utterly incomprehensible, a waste of time, and probably the most useless of all academic pursuits, but that's me. I would much rather grab a pen and notebook or a camera and make something happen than theorize about it. Get ready for a lot of Walter Benjamin and stuff like Deleuze and Foucault--hundreds of mind numbing pages of tail-chasing in search of its own relevance. But, then again, that's me.

Annie said...

Hi John,

Thanks for your opinion! I do appreciate it. It seems to me, too, that studying "theory" would be an exercise in contemplating other people's opinions and trying to squeeze literary works into "boxes" that are meaningful mostly to the individual theorist (now dead). However, if I decide to earn a second bachelor's and go on for an MFA in Creative Writing, such a course is considered necessary. Right now, though, I'm still seeking enrichment and courses of personal value; while renewing my teacher certification. I'm still debating, though. There is a time commitment and an emotional investment to the writing class, and I have to be prepared to give it.

John M. said...

It seems that the choice here is whether you want to do the reading or the writing. Either way, time will be sinking. Lit Theory is not a breezy sort of affair -- unless you have an instructor who has some sort of magic way with it, someone who's passion would be enough to keep it interesting.

Annie said...

Hi John, The theory class professor will be okay, and will try to make the material accessible, I think; along with a readable text. He does seem to have a sort of passion, and he's going to assign primary source reading as a companion to the text. So, I know what you mean... either class will require commitment and time. The writing class will require reading and discussion responses to published short stories and classmates short stories, as well as the production of original creative writing (two lengthy short stories and their revisions). It really is a tough decision. The last go round of writing classes, I was working part-time, and I had a recent body of work to fuel me. I'm excited for either class, I think, but intimidated at the same time, considering the high level responsibilities of my current job, which often require me to put in extra hours or work from home. I do feel the need to spark writing creativity again, by taking one or the other. The writing class would probably be best for that.

Jarod said...

Lit theory can be a fun sort of way to add a new dimension to your reading. It really depends on the instructor. If the instructor understands that lit theory is just as subjective as any other means of interpretation, rather than presenting it like some kind of skeleton key to unlock hidden meaning/truth, then it can be pretty fun. And I think the exercise of studying theory (looking for patterns, inconsistencies, points of tension within the structure of a narrative) can be a useful way to get to a more nuanced (enjoyable) reading on my own. Plus, of course, it can help with writing, so long as you don't let it weight you down some weird sense of right/wrong (in terms of structure and complexity). I have an MA in lit theory and I've seen it taught the correct/fun way and the wrong/stupid/tedious way. So, it's probably best to get a look at the syllabus before signing on for a theory class. It is NOT the holy grail of understanding poetry/prose, but it can give you new and interesting ways to think about a story.

Annie said...

Hi Jarod,

It's good to hear from you. Thank you for giving your input.

I think I may take Literary Theory another term. The text is Critical Theory Today, utilizing The Great Gatsby; but the instructor planned to include primary source readings, as well. I've since thought that perhaps the course may be beneficial to me in the same way that texts about writing are beneficial; which I can then ignore, as I'm actually writing or reading.

Still, I can't read a book now without immediately noting its tense and point of view, when I used to read just to get involved in the story and in the character's emotional evolution.

I decided to take the Fiction Writing Workshop. I've surprised myself and I've already written the first complete, polished draft of two different short stories, and it feels good.