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Clemens: Ruthner Lit. Theory

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In Class With Bertens & Co.:
A Very Brief (Comparative, Critical,
and Casual) Homage
Clemens Ruthner
Trinity College, Dublin
234In fall 2006, during my visiting professorship in Canada, I had the pleasure of teaching MLCS / C. LIT/ EASIA 507, an introductory course in literary theory. It looked
a bit complicated as the course was meant for a very heterogeneous group of graduate students. This group consisted of MAs and PhDs deriving from three different
departments: Modern Languages, Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies.
“Heterogeneous” meant that not only were the backgrounds of students diverse, but
so was their previous knowledge of literary theory—and their willingness to indulge
in it. Moreover, the course had existed already in a well-established format, using
as mandatory readings J.Wolfreys’s Literary Theories: A Reader & Guide (1999), and
H.Bertens’s Literary Theory: The Basics (2001), in addition to L.Tyson’s Critical Theory
Today: A User-Friendly Guide (1999) as a recommended addition. In a way, this
teaching experience reminded me of the discipline of parallel slalom which is fairly
widespread in my ski-loving homeland, Austria.

Or shall I call it “figure skating,” with
my students as an occasionally uber-critical audience and I as a referee? Analogies
aside, I shall sketch the outcome of this informal competition in Comparative Theory
in the following essay.
To begin, I would not have chosen Wolfreys, but instead the Norton Anthology of
Theory and Criticism (or one of the available Blackwell readers). There are several
reasons for this. First, I have always loved the “Bible” format of the Norton anthology
project as it is a reader that stays with you almost all of your life (or at least for most
of your studies) due to the immense comprehensiveness of its widespread theory
canon it escapes the dangers of an overly-specialized choice. The Norton Anthology
is so multi-functional that it invites its employment in…

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