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EN2L4 Literature in Theory



Dr Caitlin Vandertop (

Dr Rashmi Varma (

Module outline

Literature in Theory (LiT) is designed as the core offering for level 5 students in Q300. It builds on the first-year core module Modes of Reading to ensure progression. However, LiT aims to examine the very object of study in the students’ undergraduate degree—literature and literary studies. Questions about what we study when we say we study literature will be aligned with an examination of topics such as the institutionalisation of literature as a discipline, issues of literary and cultural “value”, literature’s relationship to other fields of cultural production, as well as its place in the wider constitution of humanities in the university today. The module will provide a set of concerns common to all students in Q300, thus deepening a sense of intellectual community, as well as fostering a culture of critical thinking. Further, it will prepare students to face the challenges confronting the study and practice of humanities today and the crises of the public university globally.

Module Delivery

The module will be delivered as a 1-hour lecture (Monday 3-4pm) and 1-hour seminar on a weekly basis

At present, we plan on delivering the lectures online. They will be uploaded each week on the day of the lecture. We may be delivering the seminars in some combination of online and face-to-face modes. We will communicate our plans with you as the situation evolves over the coming weeks.

The syllabus is comprised of 8 units of 2 weeks each, plus an Introduction and Conclusion, taught over the course of the year. Each unit's readings will comprise a primary text and a set of theory readings.


2 x 2000 word essays + 1 research essay/creative project (examples include research into a publisher, analysis of literary prize winners, research into a literary 'heritage' figure, analysis of paratexts, a 'decolonised' syllabus, etc.)

Details on the assignments will be posted to the Moodle page.

Deadlines: Essay 1 - Term 2, week 1; Essay 2 - Term 3, week 1; Research project - Deadline Term 3, week 4.

Essay 35%; Essay 35%; Research project 30%

Primary texts

The module will involve both literary and theoretical reading. The primary texts that you need to obtain for 2021–2022 are:

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel” (any translation)

Daljit Nagra, Look We Have Coming to Dover!

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place

J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace

Amitav Ghosh, In An Antique Land

David Mitchell, “The Right Sort”

Sally Rooney, Normal People

Akira Kurosawa, Rashomon



Course Schedule

Week 1 Introduction (Caitlin Vandertop/Rashmi Varma)

Unit I What is Literature? (Paulo de Medeiros)

Primary Text: Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”

Week 2

Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting”, in Illuminations, translated by Harry Zorn (Pimlico, 1999) pp.61-69

Terry Eagleton, ‘Introduction: What is Literature?’ in Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis, Mn: University of Minnesota Press, 1996/2011); pp. 1-15.

Week 3

Toni Morrison, “black matters” from Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Random House, Inc, 1993), pp. 1-28.

Edward Said, “Narrative and Social Space” in Culture and Imperialism (New York: Random House, 1994); pp. 73-95.

Optional Reading: Beatriz Sarlo, "Imaginary Constructions" in Borges: A Writer on the Edge. Verso, 2007. Also available here:


Unit II Disciplining Literature (Rashmi Varma)

Primary Text: Daljit Nagra, Look We Have Coming to Dover!

Week 4

Barbara Christian, “The Race for Theory” [1987] in New Black Feminist Criticism, 1985-2000, ed. Gloria Bowles, M. Giulia Fabi and Arlene R. Keizer (Uni of Illinois Press, 2007) pp.40-50

Leah Price, “Reading: the State of the Discipline”, Book History 7 (2004), 303-320.

Week 5

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, “On the Abolition of the English Department”, in Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, eds. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 438-442.

Gauri Viswanathan, “The Beginnings of English Literary Study in British India”, Oxford Literary Review Vol. 9, No. 1/2, COLONIALISM & other essays (1987), pp. 2-26


Unit III (Weeks 7/8): Literary and cultural value (Upamanyu Mukherjee)

Primary Text: Akira Kurosawa, Rashomon

You may also wish to read the two short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa - Rashōmon and In a grove online or the print book translated by Takashi Kojima with an introduction by Howard Hibbett is available in the library PL801.K8

Week 7

Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital”, in J. G. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986), pp.241-258.

Raymond Williams, “On High and Popular Culture”:

Week 8

Ankhi Mukherjee, "What is a Classic? International Literary Criticism and the Classic Question", PMLA 125.4 (2010), pp.1026-42.

Neil Lazarus, “The Politics of Postcolonial Modernism”, The European Legacy 7.6 (2002), pp. 771-782. 

Optional Reading: Gayatri Spivak, “How to Read a 'Culturally Different' Book”, in An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), pp. 73-79. 


Unit IV (Weeks 9/10): Literary markets (TBC)

Primary Text: Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place

Week 9

Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf and Melba Cuddy-Keane, “Are Too Many Books Written and Published?” PMLA 212. 1, Special Topic: The History of the Book and the Idea of Literature (2006): 235-244 (239-243). 

Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002. pp.94-136.

Week 10

Pascale Casanova, “Literature as a World”, New Left Review 31 (Jan/Feb 2005), 71-90. 

Sarah Brouillette, “Postcolonial Writers and the Global Literary Marketplace”, in Postcolonial Writers in the Global Literary Marketplace (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 44-75 (44-61). 


Term 2

Unit V (Weeks 1/2): The State of Literature (Mike Niblett)

Primary Text: J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace

Week 1

Benedict Anderson, 'Cultural Roots', in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006; rev edition); pp. 9-36

Timothy Brennan, ‘The National Longing for Form’ in Homi Bhabha, ed. Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990); pp. 44-70.

Week 2

Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900 (London: Verso, 1999), pp. 12-29. 

Joseph Slaughter, ‘Enabling Fictions and Novel Subjects: The "Bildungsroman" and International Human Rights Law’, PMLA 121. 5 (2006), pp. 1405-1423. 


Unit VI (Weeks 3 and 4) Institutions of world literature (Caitlin Vandertop)

Primary Text: Amitav Ghosh, In An Antique Land

Week 3

Fredric Jameson, ‘Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism’, Social Text 15 (1986), pp. 65-88. 

Warwick Research Collective, Combined and Uneven Development: Towards a New Theory of World-Literature (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2015), pp. 1-15.

Week 4

Graham Huggan, ‘Prizing “Otherness”: A Short History of the Booker’, Studies in the Novel 29. 3 (1997), pp. 412-433.

Aamir Mufti, ‘Prologue: The Universal Library of World Literature’ in Forget English! Orientalisms and World Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), pp. 1-35. 


Unit VII (Weeks 5 and 7) Literature as media / technology / data / intellectual property (Natalya Din-Kariuki)

Primary Text: David Mitchell, “The Right Sort” (Sceptre Books/Twitter) available here

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Soul at Work in The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy, trans. by Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009), 74105. 

Stephen Marche, Literature is not Data”,  

Optional Reading: Holger Syme and Scott Selisker, 'In Defense of Data: Responses to Stephen Marche's 'Literature is Not Data'

Week 7

Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, David Golumbia, ‘Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities’, 

Moya Z. Bailey,All the Digital Humanists Are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave", in Intersectionality in Digital Humanities, ed. by Barbara Bordalejo and Roopika Risam (ARC Humanities Press, 2019), pp. 9-12. 

Unit VIII (Weeks 8/9): University and Universalism (Ross Forman)

 Primary Text: Sally Rooney, Normal People

 Eric Hayot, “The Sky is Falling[] 

Chris Newfield, Unmaking the Public University (Harvard UP, 2008), pp. 125-158. 

Martha Nussbaum, “VI. Cultivating Imagination: Literature and the Arts,” Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton UP, 2016), pp. 95-120.  

Dalia Gebrial, “Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford and Movements for Change’, in Decolonising the University, ed. by Gurminder K. Bhambra, Dalia Gebrial, Kerem Nişancıoğlu (Pluto Press, 2018), pp.19-32. 

Week Ten: The Future of the Discipline: A New (?) Hope (Jen Baker)

Set Reading:

Castiglia, Christopher. The Practices of Hope: Literary Criticism in Disenchanted Times. United States, NYU Press, 2017. [Extract]

Smith, Christian. “’The point is to change it’: The Imperative for Activist Literary Studies.” Alicante Journal of English Studies, no. 33 (2020): 17-42.

Your tutors may also ask you to read some current news/culture items.

This module is a compulsory core and only available to Q300 English Literature second-year students.