Advanced Critical Reading



Rembrandt’s Mother, by Gerard Dou


Updated: 12/01/2015



On this page you will find the following information about the course EN 6102:


Course Description

Primary Texts

Secondary Texts

You will also find links to a number of web pages containing:

Course Website login to find the IVLE (Integrated Virtual Learning Environment), which includes the course discussion forum)

Lecturer for the Course: JOHN PHILLIPS

Lecture Schedule

Lecture Notes  (collected)


Relevant and Useful Websites




This module aims to train students to engage critically with texts at a postgraduate level, with particular reference to the application of critical theory to the problems of reading, interpretation and evaluation.  The Module follows a traditional model for postgraduate seminars and is based upon the idea of the guided reading group.  The main aim of the module is to provide depth in citical reading and to this end we spend a considerable amount of time on two or three short texts with other supplementary texts added along the way. It is not a survey course but rather a guided exercise in critical reading.  Accordingly we spend a much greater amount of time than normal on a few texts, which we will treat with unusual care and detail.  The module has no particular doctrine to impart nor does it emphasize any reading strategy over any other.  The texts chosen in any given year are picked for their importance in the field and their implicit engagement with the widest range of theoretical problems in critical reading.  Students will have an opportunity to write an essay in which their own reading strategies or methods may be developed.  The module places emphasis on the problems and resources of reading and interpretation.  It is recommended that you read at least one introductory text at the beginning of the course.





Description: REDTRI           PRIMARY TEXTS



Edmund Husserl, "Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man"
Jacques Derrida, "Plato's Pharmacy"
Jacques Lacan, "Seminar on the Purloined Letter"
Hélène Cixous, "Veils"


We may also select from any of the following:

Mary Shelly, Frankenstein.

Immanuel Kant, "Perpetual Peace”

Edgar Allan Poe, The Portable Edgar Allan Poe.

Marcel Duchamp. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).

Mina Loy, The Lost Lunar Baedeker

Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel.”

Maurice Blanchot, “Literature and the Right to Death.”

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry as Mass Deception.”

Shannon and Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication

Norbert Wiener, On the Human Use of Human Beings

J. L. Austin, How to do Things with Words.

Emmanuel Levinas, from Totality and Infinity

Martin Heidegger, “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking”

Jacques Derrida, “The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing”

Jacques Derrida. “Signature Event Context,” in Margins of Philosophy

Harold Bloom, “The Breaking of Form.”

Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas.

Jacques Rancière. The Politics of Aesthetics

Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time III.

Helen Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing.

Irina Aristarkhova, Hospitality of the Matrix: Philosophy, Biomedicine, and Culture.

Wim Wenders. Kings of the Road.

Jacques Rancière. “Aesthetics and Politics.”

Paul Virilio. The Aesthetics of Disappearance.

Classical Literary Criticism (Oxford World's Classics)

Saint Augustine, Confessions

Sidney’s “The Defence of Poesy” and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism (Penguin Classics)

Michel de Montaigne, “On Experience”

Percy Bysshe Shelly, “Defence of Poetry”


      Texts will be made available during the course, which draws on a range of materials.  These will generally be written but they may include visual culture and music.  But the most important texts for the course are critical.  You should familiarize yourself with introductions as well as seminal articles in the field of literary and critical theory, like those found in the Wolfreys volume (see below).  More of them can be found in several other available “readers” in the field, the best of which are listed below.  The more you access and the earlier, the better you will be able to work with the material.  Careful and patient study of these texts will help you appreciate and understand the wide ranging and exciting possibilities of critical reading.


     Literary Theory is a fascinating and enjoyable topic in its own right.  For the purposes of this course you should consider it as your primary focus.  If you consider it merely as a tool for approaching literary (or other kinds of) texts you will fail to do it justice.  



Description: REDTRI           SECONDARY TEXTS


Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996.

Bennington, Geoff and Jacques Derrida. Jacques Derrida. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992.

Derrida, Jacques. The Derrida Reader: Writing Performances. Ed. Julian Wolfreys. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 1998.

Derrida, Jacques. Acts of Literature. Ed. Derek Attridge. London: Routledge, 1992.

Ellman, Maud, ed. Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism. London: Longman, 1994.

Featherston, Mike, Couze Venn, Ryan Bishop and John Phillips, eds. Problematizing Global Knowledge. London: Sage, 2006.

Hamilton, Paul. Historicism. London: Routledge, 1996.

Hawkes, David. Ideology. London: Routledge, 1996.

Payne, Michael. Reading Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

Phillips, John. Contested Knowledge: A Guide to Critical theory. London: Zed, 2000.

Royle, Nicholas. Jacques Derrida. London: Routledge, 2003.

Vice, Sue, ed. Psychoanalytic Criticism: A Reader. Cambridge: Polity, 1994.

Wolfreys, Julian. Deconstruction•Derrida. London: Macmillan, 1998.


Recommended Readers


Cahoone, Lawrence, ed. From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology.  Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York & London: Norton, 2001.  This is by far the most ambitious attempt at a definitive anthology of theory and criticism.  It provides articles from the Ancient Greeks to some very recent ones (e.g., on hypertext).  Remember, though, there’s no such thing as completion—already the critics have been savage about its omissions. 


Literary Theory

Rice, Philip and Patricia Waugh, eds. Modern Literary Theory: A Reader. 4th Edition. London: Arnold, 2001.  Publishes some of the “seminal texts” alongside some of the contemporary developments and debates that the seminal texts have engendered.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology.  Revised Edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.  Thorough and sensibly ordered, this contains most of what you would need to know for a good overview of the history of modern literary theory.

Julian Wolfreys, ed. Literary Theories: A Reader and Guide. New York: New York Universities Press, 1999.  This is an intelligent and coherent collection of key essays in literary theory with a thoroughly contemporary understanding of their significance: recommended not only for its texts but also for its introductions and editorial material.


Cultural Theories

Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester, 1994.  This contains much of what you need to know to make an intellectual engagement with popular culture.

Eagleton, Terry and Drew Milne, eds. Marxist Literary Theory.  Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.





The CA component (60%) is assessed as follows:


1.         Class Participation, which includes one 5 or 10 minute Presentation to be signed up for, prepared according to my instructions for the week, and presented to the class during the seminar, together with a short (one-page) handout.


2.         One 3000 word essay on the course texts or topics, negotiated with me, for submission on the last week of the course.


For details of the assignments with marking Criteria and guides follow this link:





The Open Book Examination comprises 40% of the overall mark.




Oxford English Dictionary: Your most important resource (Access restricted to NUS Students)

Voice of the Shuttle: An invaluable website for all students of literature

General Literary Theory and Criticism guides:

This link will take you to the first of five pages of general literary theory and criticism guides, listed in rough alphabetical order of page titles.  The links are constantly being updated.  Please feel free to alert me to dead links as well as to relevant and interesting websites and I will, naturally, acknowledge your input.

JWP’s Web Links:

Here you will find the links page attached to my personal website.  The links could be of use to anyone interested in critical and cultural theory, modernism and postmodernism, continental philosophy and other related topics. You will also find links to web dictionaries, encyclopedias and glossaries.



Return to the Main Course Website of JWP