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MA English Literature: Foundation Module

The Foundation module aims to give MA students orientation in critical theory as well as training in research tools. The Foundation Module is compulsory for all MA students. The Foundation module consists of two distinct elements:

Introduction to Research Methods, a eight-week intensive module focusing on how to conduct research at Warwick, assessed by a short bibliography exercise.


Critical Theory, a term-length module, assessed by a 6000-word essay. (In the case of failure, the essay must be revised for resubmission by the 1 September, and the highest mark possible will be 50 (Pass).

Both elements of the module are compulsory.

Critical Theory

To meet this requirement, students must take one of the following Critical Theory modules.

a. Aesthetics and Modernity I

b. Aesthetics and Modernity II

c. Feminist Literary Theory

d. Freud’s Metapsychology

e. Modernism and Psychoanalysis

f. Postcolonial Theory

g. Drama and Performance Theory

Aesthetics and Modernity IProf. Thomas Docherty (term 1)

This MA module is designed to allow for an exploration of the importance of the concept of experience in relation to both aesthetics and modernity. In exploring this, we will cover a number of areas of inquiry. These will include explorations across a number of interlocking themes: a) the ways in which the formation of ‘taste’ in aesthetics is related to political and cultural ideas of modernity; b) how taste and judgement relate to the category of experience; how experience relates to the formulation of laws and norms; d) the role of experience in learning and thus also in formal institutions of literary and other educations; the relation of experience to the University as an institution of modernity; the formulation of the cultural norms of modernity through aesthetic experience; the question of how we might attempt to give legitimisations to judgements; the issue of justice. We will engage with these issues through consideration of some literary texts, considered alongside some philosophical arguments.     

This is a graduate level module. Accordingly, its actual shape will be partly determined by the evolving research interests of the student cohort. We will begin with issues of experience in relation to modernity in Montaigne and Descartes. This will probably take the first two weeks of the seminar. The actual schedule following this will be by agreement.

Montaigne, 'De l'expérience'

Descartes, Discours de la méthode

Moliére, Le bourgeois gentilhomme

Giambattista Vico, selection from Rectorial Orations in the Universitá di Napoli

Swift, A Tale of a Tub

Schiller, Selections from Letters on Aesthetic Education

Eliot, selections from Selected Essays

Benjamin, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'

Aesthetics and Modernity II – Prof. Thomas Docherty (term 2)

This MA module is designed to allow for an exploration of the importance of the question of violence, broadly construed, in relation to the cultural formation of modernity. We will begin from a collocation of issues related to what we can term ‘intellectual violence’ and its hypothetical inscription in ideas of Enlightenment, alongside more direct questions of material violence as determinant of a struggle over what might constitute modernity. The question then devolves onto issues regarding the emergence of the body as a site for politics and especially for potential political violence; and this allows for an investigation of matters related to corporeal aesthetics, beauty and violence, and the ritualised body as a site for sacrifice, confession and witnessing. The emergent bio-political questions can then be related directly to versions of history that are thought to be constitutive of modernity itself; and we can thus explore the question concerning violence (usually occluded) in the formation of a modern aesthetics.

This is a graduate level module. Accordingly, its actual shape will be partly determined by the evolving research interests of the student cohort. We will begin in the first week or two with a consideration of some key questions from Adorno & Horkheimer, and we will simultaneously try to historicise those questions by looking at Voltaire. After that, sessions will be conducted by mutual agreement.

Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment

Voltaire, Candide

Marx, The German ideology; Eighteenth Brumaire

Benjamin, 'Theses on the Philosophy of History' and other selected essays

Beckett, The Unnamable

Agamben, Homo Sacer; Language and Death

Lyotard, The Lyotard Reader

Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy; Conditions

Arendt, On violence; On revolution; and selected essays

Derrida, 'Circonfession'

Feminist Literary Theory – Dr. Emma Francis (term 1)

This module considers some of the most important debates and trends in feminist literary theory of the last 3 decades. The field is situated in a trans-national frame and we begin with an examination of the parameters which structured Anglo-American and French feminist literary criticism in the 1980s. However, from the outset our focus will also be on the conflicts and collaborations engaged between ‘western’, ‘multicultural’ and ‘third world’ feminisms. Feminist literary theory has developed itself from a diverse range of knowledges, initially including Marxism, psychoanalysis and liberalism and subsequently gay and lesbian knowledges, queer theory, post-colonial theory and post-modernism. The impact of each on feminist literary theory and the canons it has constructed will be considered. We will look, in particular, at the use and abuse of writing by black women in the formation of feminist literary theory, the way in which white feminist critics have often recuperated black-authored texts and have avoided the interrogation of whiteness. Both literary study and feminism being among the least autonomous of intellectual fields, we will open up the question of feminist literary theory’s relationship with the projects of feminist cultural and social theory. We will think about the historicity of feminism’s engagement with literature - does it make sense to bring concepts generated by ‘feminism’ into dialogue with texts produced either chronologically or politically outside of modernity? Perhaps the most important question we will ask is: what are the accounts of ‘woman’ which feminist theories rest upon?

As we will see, the demarcation between ‘literary’ and ‘theoretical’ texts has always been unstable within feminism and the course sets up a dialogue between the two categories. Some key ‘literary’ texts will be used as touchstones for our debates during the course.

Mahasweta Devi, ‘Douloti the Bountiful’ from Imaginary Maps (1995) (xerox)

Emily Dickinson, selected poems (1862) (xerox)

Winifred Holtby, South Riding (1936)

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (c.1400) (the long text) (trans. Elizabeth Spearing, Penguin:2003 - it is essential you use this Penguin edition)

Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (1928)

There is no course reader, but Cora Kaplan’s Sea Changes: Culture and Feminism (Verso: 1986) and Reina Lewis and Sara Mills (ed) Feminist Postcolonial Theory (EUP: 2003) are important collections which will be drawn upon frequently. Jacqueline Rose’s Sexuality in the Field of Vision (Verso: 1986) contains key statements of feminism’s debates with psychoanalysis and cultural theory. Students may wish to read these in preparation.

Freud’s Metapsychology: Trauma, Sexuality and the Death Drive Mr John Fletcher (term 1)

The course is designed as an introduction to some of the fundamental theories and concepts of psychoanalysis for literary students with no previous knowledge of the work of Freud or the post-Freudians. Unlike most academic psychology courses, it will take a text-based and historical approach, tracing the development of Freud’s thought through close readings of key essays, clinical case studies, and associated literary works. Concepts will be traced through their evolution, abandonment, retrieval, revision in texts from the 1890s to the 1920s. The course will start with the origins of psychoanalysis in trauma theories of hysteria, their apparent replacement by developmental models of sexuality and the Oedipus complex and the return of trauma in Freud’s final theory of the repetition-compulsion and the death drive and his associated analysis of the Uncanny. It will also address the critical and revisionary work of Jean Laplanche with its return to trauma and the theory of seduction. Though the main focus of the course is theoretical, it will look at three literary works that narrate or stage these concerns: Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and two novellas by the early 19th century German Gothic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, Mademoiselle de Scudery and The Sandman.

It is advisable for students taking the Literature and psychoanalysis pathway to take this module along with either Modernism and Pyschoanalysis or Psychoanalysis and Cuyltural production, however it is also available to other MA students, and can count towards meeting the Critical Theory requirement of the MA in English Literature. A week-by-week sylllabus will be available on the MA website with details of the set texts and recommended editions. The course starts on Wednesday of week 1, Term 1, so prospective students should prepare by reading the texts set for the first few weeks of term over the summer. Students considering taking the course should read Freud’s Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis, which is available in an early out-of-copyright translation as a free download from

The first of these lectures covers the question of trauma with which the course begins.

Modernism and Psychoanalysis – Dr Dan Katz (term 2)

This module will look at the relationship between psychoanalysis and modernist literature in the context of the elaboration of new discourses of subjectivity and culture in the twentieth century. While examining certain clear instances of explicit “influence” between analytic and literary texts, we will also look at modernist literature and psychoanalysis as parallel and at times competing discourses intent on examining similar problems and texts. Recurring questions will include the relationship between subjectivity, sexuality, and language; the mobilisation of the concept of the “primitive” in discussions of sexuality and aggression; the viability of the symptom as interpretative matrix for both individual subjects and group structures; and the emergence of “culture” and ethnicity as central ordering concepts for organising discussion of artistic production in the early twentieth century. This last element leads to an additional concern: the investigation of forms of modernist complicity in totalitarian political projects, and the possibilities and limitations of psychoanalysis as a critical political discourse. Throughout, students will be encouraged to learn to use psychoanalysis as a powerful metalanguage for discussing literary texts, but also to contextualize this metalanguage within the intellectual history of the twentieth century.

Postcolonial Theory

This module is designed to offer an introduction to advanced study in the field of postcolonial literary studies. Assuming some familiarity (however limited) with some of the best-known works in the ‘postcolonial’ literary corpus (e.g., Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children or Edward W. Said’s critical writings) it aims:

i. to give students both a broad understanding of and a stake or investment in key conceptual, theoretical and methodological debates in the postcolonial studies field (e.g. over Marxism and post-structuralism, subalternity and representation; nationalism and feminism; imperialism, globalisation, and ‘tricontinentalism’);

ii. to situate these debates institutionally, by thinking about them in relation to developments in academic work in fields and disciplines (e.g. history, anthropology, philosophy) that abut and influence postcolonial literary studies;

iii. to contextualise the emergence and defining trajectories of postcolonial literary studies relative to wider social, political and intellectual developments – from the ‘Bandung’ era to the end of the Cold War to ‘9/11’ and the invasion of Iraq.

The module will proceed through an interpolation (and sometimes pairing) of literary and ‘theoretical’ texts. Students should come to the module prepared to read quite extensively and widely.

Set Texts

Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark (1996)

Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994)

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, A Grain of Wheat (1994)

Assia Djebar, A Sister to Scheherazade (1987)

Achmat Dangor, Bitter Fruit (2004)

Psychoanalysis and Cultural Production – John Fletcher (term 2)

This year the course will be studying the concept of Fantasy in psychoanalytic thought and its function in relation to a range of psychic processes and literary texts. Fantasy will be considered as it first emerged in Freud’s thought in relation to trauma and to memory, and then as ‘primal fantasy’ i.e. an unconscious structural model or template for later identifications and sexual object choices. Particular attention will be paid to the form that unconscious fantasy takes, as an arrested or frozen scene or scenic sequence, to which the subject is bound or fixated, and which generates a range of repetitions and variations. Fantasy is here understood as the point of interface between unconscious processes and cultural production. The role of fantasy in extreme conditions will also be studied, such as the literature of mourning and melancholia and the problem of the continuing relation to the dead, and finally the famous case of Judge Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, analyzed by Freud as a case of psychosis rather than ordinary, everyday neurosis, with its paranoid transsexual and utopian fantasies.

It is strongly recommended that students who take this course also take Freud’s Metapsychology: Trauma, Sexuality, and the Death Drive in term 1 in order to acquire a good grounding in the some of the fundamental concepts and theoretical models of psychoanalysis.

Drama and Performance Theory – Teresa Grant et al. (term 1)

This module has been written to be a theoretical core course underpinning the English MA pathway Shakespeare and the British Dramatic Tradition. The aim of this module is to introduce students to drama and performance theory, by giving them the opportunity to explore and discuss some of the methodologies, debates and conceptual approaches to drama and performance, both current and historical. It will encourage students to consider these methodologies when reading primary material, and to this end five key primary texts are allotted for the module which will encourage dialectical consideration of theory and practice. There will normally be a tie-in theatre trip late in the course. For full details click on this link.