University of Oregon


Introduction to Theory of Literature (ENGL 300)

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry takes on Knapp and Michaels's influential article, "Against Theory." The historical context of the piece is given and key aspects of the theorists' critical orientations, specifically their neo-pragmatism, are defined. A lengthy discussion of the relationships between, on the one hand, intention and meaning and, on the other hand, language and speech follows with reference to Saussure, deconstruction, and Russian formalism. Knapp and Michaels's use of Wordsworth's "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal" to explore the limits of meaning and intention is examined in depth. Ultimately, the case is made, using issues subject to dispute in Knapp and Michaels, that theory is a useful and necessary tool in literary studies.

00:00 - Chapter 1. Knapp and Michaels in Context
05:37 - Chapter 2. Stanley Fish
09:46 - Chapter 3. Knapp and Michaels's Three Arguments
15:54 - Chapter 4. Intention and Meaning: Wordsworth's "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal"
27:04 - Chapter 5. The Discovery of Language in Speech
36:47 - Chapter 6. The Impracticality of Theory

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website:

This course was recorded in Spring 2009.