Cathy Comstock
University of Colorado at Boulder

Honors 4055 (880), TR 2:00-3:15
Spring 1995

Fulfills: Critical Thinking Core
Honors Senior Seminar
Humanities Upper Division

Comstock x27656, Farrand 201
Hours: F 2:30-3:30

W 2:00-2:50
Lots more by appointment

Discourse Analysis and Cultural Criticism

(alias: Deconstructing our Culture/Reconstructing Our Lives)

Discourse analysis helps us to investigate the conventions by which we make meaning of our existence. How, that is, do we "read" the world and the discourses around us, and how does that reading shape our considerations and our actions? Deconstruction pokes around a little further and explores the vested interests or hidden contradictions in an ideological system by looking at that which has been marginalized in the service of its preservation. In other words, if one value is to reign supreme in a culture, what does it have to push the side in order to hold its place as king of the mountain? And, most fun of all, what would happen if we tried deposing the king and making the outcast the center?

In Western culture, for example, the effort to define the male as a source of power and clarity has often led to the casting of all potential sources of weakness onto the female, by characterizing women in terms of dependence and unreliable emotionalism. In a similar manner, our positioning of the human as the "crown of creation" has traditionally corresponded with a view of other species as so inferior that we can feel free to make them subservient to our needs and desires. Many emerging influences, however, such as the philosophies of deep ecology and non-violence, as well as the increasingly visible damage to our ecoshpere, have urged us to view ourselves as intimately interconnected with each other and all forms of life. Hence, we may want to question those traditional power hierarchies and try out new kinds of relationships based on different premises.

In this class, we'll study discourse analysis and deconstruction as a means of exposing and perhaps shaking up a bit prevalent cultural attitudes toward selfhood and sexual identity, the environment, and other species. As we read books which deconstuct our cultural patterns, we'll try to deconstruct their analytical premises in turn.

An important element of the class will be some outreach work on the part of each student. This aspect of the course is based on the assumption that when we offer our help where it is most needed, we often come to realize on a profound and concrete level what it means to be marginalized by a culture's dominant ideology, and what a pleasure it is to fool around with those boundaries. Class requirements:

Three analytical essays (4-6 pages)
Final analytical/synthetic paper (10-15 pages) In-class presentations
Outreach work (Journal optional)


Jan. 13 Introduction

18 Reading: Political Criticism, Eagleton

          How does Eagleton define discourse analysis? What
          subjects and texts could be included in the category of
          "discourse"? Why does he see discourse analysis as
          crucial to our ability to understand and transform our
          social context? In what ways does he see the traditional
          humanities as having succeeded, and also as having
          failed, in accomplishing the education needed to be
          responsible citizens? Anything problematic in Eagleton's

     20   Readings: "Deconstruction," On Deconstruction, 86-89,
          Culler; "Post-structuralism," Eagleton

          According to Eagleton, how are dualistic hierarchies an
          inherent aspect of language and culture?  How have the
          definitions of gender roles illustrated both the rigid
          exclusions and uneasy intermingling of terms that
          characterize ideologies of privilege and dominance?

          What does Culler mean by the "double movement" of
          deconstruction? How does that make the deconstruction of
          a dualistic hierarchy more deeply transformative than a
          mere reversing of the roles of dominant and marginalized
          positions ( so that it moves beyond what we might call
          "reverse sexism or racism")?

          Can you think of other examples of the dynamics described
          by Eagleton and Culler?

     25   Writing and Logocentrism, pp. 89-110, Culler
     27   Institutions and Inversions, pp. 156-179, Culler

Feb. 01 First Paper: Discursive Analysis of "Sex and Death in the

          Rational World of Defense Intellectuals," Cohn
     03   Discussion of papers
     08   Discussion of volunteer service
     10   Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Stevenson
     15   Reading as a Woman, pp. 43-64, On Deconstruction, Culler
     17   A Room of One's Own, Woolf
     22   Introduction to Sexual/Textual Politics, Toril Moi
          Goodman's article on Kitty Dukakis
     24   History of Sexuality, Foucault
Mar. 01   !!! Second Paper !!! Close Analysis of Introduction to
          Child-Loving, Kincaid
     03   Discussion of Last Paper
     08   Discussion of Upcoming Paper
     10   !!! Third Paper !!! Deconstructive Analysis of Text of
          Your Choice
          (Outreach Discussion in Class)
     15   The End of Nature, McKibben
     17   Discussion of Outreach Experiences
     22 & 24 SPRING B-R-E-A-K
     29   Introduction to Animal Liberation, Singer
     30   Evening viewing: The Animals' Film (6pm, here)
     31   Discussion of film (rewrites due)

Apr. 05 Ecofeminism, Gruen

     07   Diet for a New America, Robbins
     12   Diet for a New America
     14   Gandhi the Man, Easwaran
     19   Discussion of Final paper
     21   !!! Incredibly Hard Final Paper Due !!!
          Synthesis of research and volunteer experience and
          discursive analysis of text related to outreach

          Beginning of Class Presentations

     26   More Wonderful Class Presentations
     28    "       "       "        "

Final Exam Period: Presentations and Celebrations

Monday, May 9, 7:30 - 9:30 p.m.


Literary Theory, Eagleton (excerpts)
On Deconstruction, Culler
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson
A Room of One's Own, Woolf
History of Sexuality, Foucault
Diet for a New America, Robbins
Gandhi the Man, Easwaran

Notes worth Noting:

*More than two unexcused absences will lower your mark a letter *Xeroxed materials are on reserve in Norlin Library under my name

Date: Fri, 10 Nov 1995 09:24:32 -0700 (MST)