English 2600 Syllabus

Critical Introduction to Literature - January 8, 2018




I'm Lee Ann Mortensen and I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Utah.  Though I have written in a variety of genres, I primarily focus on neo- postmodern, sort of minimalist prose/fiction that focuses on marginalized voices in the West. Click here to read my sometimes upsetting, angry, funny, four-letter-word work (that means it isn't everything for everyone). I've been published in journals like Ploughshares, River Styx and Prism International.

OFFICE: Classroom building CB410d (Touchstones posters and prayer flags outside)--E.mail is the best way to get ahold of me.
HOURS: I'm usually in my office CB410d by appointment, though I am often there MW 4:00-5:00PM or MW 8:30-9:30PM or in my classroom CB413 just down the hall. Be sure to also take advantage of consultation days.
PHONE: 801-863-8785
E.MAIL: mortenle@uvu.edu.


  • Run Lola Run (fem-gender; marx)
  • Death of a Salesman (psych; marx)
  • Kandahar (fem)
  • Pretty Woman (fem)
  • Frida (fem; post-colonial)
  • Magnolia (psych; decon; cultural)
  • Bowling for Columbine (decon; cultural)
  • Ma Vie En Rose (my life in pink; queer; fem/intersex)
  • Jackie Brown (fem; marx; af. am.)
  • Matrix (the first one; marx; post-colonial)
  • Legally Blonde (either one; fem)
  • Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Bomb (decon; psych; fem; new hist)
  • Blue (French; psych)
  • Snow White (fem)
  • Mulon (fem; queer/drag; cultural)
  • Clueless (fem; cultural; marx)
  • Fight Club (gender fem; marx; semiotics)
  • Go Fish (lesbian; queer)
  • The Crying Game (gay/queer; marx)
  • Fire (fem; post-colonial; lesbian)
  • Network (cultural; new hist)
  • Blade Runner (cultural; marx)
  • Being John Malkovich (cultural; psych)
  • Ice Age (cultural)
  • Syriana (post-colonial; cultural; marx)
  • Gattaca (marx)
  • Fur (fem; psych)
  • A Passage to India (post-colonial; psych)
  • Smoke Signals (post-colonial; decon)
  • The Color Purple (af. am.; lesbian)
  • Happy Texas (gay/queer)
  • Volver (Almadovar; fem; psych)
  • Slumdog Millionaire (post-colonial)
  • Jungle Fever (af. am.; fem)
  • Do the Right Thing (af. am; cultural)
  • Australia (postcolonial)
  • Avatar (postcolonial; deconstruction)
  • TransAmerica (cultural; queer)
  • The Tree of Life (with Sean Penn; psych; deconstruction)
  • Five Broken Cameras (about a Palestinian; postcolonial)
  • Malcom (Denzel Washington; af. am.; new hist)
  • The Big Short (Capitalism gone amock)
  • Hell or High Water (Capitalism, mocks the American Dream)
  • Moana (postcolonial; Maori Culture; cultural appropriation?)
  • Brave (fem)
  • Quigly Down Under (post colonial)
  • Hunger Games (marx; fem;)
  • Big Eyes (fem; psych)
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (psych)
  • What else should we add?


In this class, you will begin to develop an understanding of literary theory which will, as Lois Tyson (our textual guru this semester) tells us, help you "get on the bus" of current English studies.  You will learn more about your own way of looking at the world, and begin to see the theories behind your "natural" assumptions and interpretations about literature and "the" self.  You will learn that theory is a conversation rather than an absolute religion--theories are more like propositions (not laws, but arguments, perhaps) that try to explain things in interesting ways (often with the attempt at simplification rather than mystification).  Literary theories are also just as colored by their situatedness in region, history, politics etc. as is a literary text (and as are you).  You will see how texts can be interpreted in numerous ways based on the "lenses" you "put on" to see that text.  You will also see that each different lens or theory can focus on an entirely different aspect of that text.  The theories we are going to cover this semester range from the traditional to the currently hot: Psychoanalysis, Marxism, Feminism, New Criticism, Structuralism, Deconstruction Theory, New Historicism/Cultural Criticism, Queer Theory, Postcolonial Criticism, and African American Criticism.  You will be reacting to and practicing all these theories (or at least Lois Tyson's interpretations of these theories) with a number of written and visual texts, the main one being The Great Gatsby and your selected film and book-length works.

One thing to keep in mind from Deconstruction theory is that neither objectivity nor subjectivity are absolute. Therfore, it's important to self position or self identify in order to understand how the subject you're studying shapes you and is shaped by you.

Thus I reveal my own identities:: One thing a theorist can do before even looking at other texts is to evaluate their own biases or lenses.  I have always loved Post-Structural theories for the way they can privilege texts that experiment and avoid the myth of mere representation (e.i. realism).  As a writer who's mentors taught strangeness, I seldom like straightforward stories or movies (or television, or radio shows etc.).  I personally (but not "naturally") tend to look at the world in non-essentialist, post-structuralist ways.  In other words, there is no absolute law somewhere for me to rely on or find; there are no absolute answers; there is no definitive interpretation of a text or a life or a film; everything is relative and contextual, but not nihilistically so--to me no absolutes means there is infinite complexity rather than infinite meaninglessness.  I often can't give people answers, though, and this can be problematic.  Of course, when I'm suffering in love, everything becomes suddenly essentialistic and absolute, and thus simple (Love is Grand, for instance, or Love Sucks).  I am often also a theoretical and political feminist, but that's a very complex thing to be.  At times feminists are post-structural (gender is a construct, not an absolute), and at times feminism is political (gender bias is why women make less money, and so we need to turn the tide!).  Feminism can also be essentialistic.  French feminism, for instance, claims that good literature uses the female vagina as a model--non-linear/non-phallic, non-grammatical texts that use the "illogic" of the literal vagina and it's folds would be considered more disruptive, more interesting artistically, but also more feminine (for instance, Gertrude Stein's works would fall into this category).  French feminism is odd stuff, but it interested me as a new creative writer at BYU because it was a good excuse for writerly strangeness.  I am also often a theoretical and political queer which has many of the same complexities as "being" a feminist.  Often queer theorists talk about sexuality as a construct, not an absolute.  Other queers and scientists talk about sexuality being purely neurological.  Some queers just say sexuality biases need to be stamped out anywhere they're found because we're just "born this way".  It's quite a complex combination of lenses to see the world through, to write from within, and to read texts with.

YOUR BIASES (Identity/Ideological/Theoretical Laundry List):



1. Attendance is, of course, essential: Theory is damn hard, trust me, and when I am really on, I am often flying all over the place never again to recreate the potential brilliance of what I just said.  Besides, your voice adds greatly to our community of literary critics and theorists, and when you are not here and prepared, our class, and our learning, are hugely diminished.  You can miss 5 class periods (though damage may be inflicted after 2 absences because of the discussions and explanations you miss).  After that, if you miss 5 class periods, you will NOT pass this class.  If you arrive late 3 times, this will count as an absence. 

2. Arrive prepared for class discussions and writing assignments.  Participation is essential.   If you are prepared (and have a thinking brain), you should be able to participate. Your active participation in our discourse community--that means talking, thinking people getting together to discuss interesting and important things--is required. 

3. Be sure to pay attention to Canvas and especially the Web Calendar. You must use the internet, and Word 365 is available to all students.

4. Writing Assignments must be turned in the day they are due or you will lose 5 points each week they are late. Assignments should be uploaded to Canvas Assignments. Always keep a thumb drive (or similar device) to backup your work (or Dropbox or other cloud storage).  Use MLA Format to structure your formal essays (ask for a handout on this at the uvu Writing Lab in LI 208), or visit them at http://www.uvu.edu/owl/  You can also get more MLA information on the web.

5. No cell phones or earbuds should be visible during class, and laptops must be used for note taking or reference only. I will automatically deduct 5 points every time I see you on your phone or using other technological distractions. This Salon article about not tweeting during Breaking Bad might give insight into problems with concentration and multitasking.

6. I will be available for consultations with you during hours or by appointment (see above). Please come talk with me about your ideas, questions, interpretations and so on.  A good way to get a hold of me is through E. Mail.  Your free on-campus UVLink E. Mail system is available at: https://uvlinx.uvu.edu/lumlogin/lumlogin.aspx .  You can send me E. Mail at mortenle@uvu.edu

7. Students with Disabilities - If you have any disability that may impair your ability to successfully complete this course, please contact the UVU Accessibility Services Department (LC 312, https://www.uvu.edu/accessibility/; 863-8747). Academic accommodations are granted for all students who have qualified documented disabilities. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the Accessibility Services Department.

8. Respect and Maturity are absolutely necessary in college, and especially in a literary theory course which deals with a variety of difficult and sometimes confrontational interpretive systems.  I will assume you have learned seriousness and maturity already and treat you accordingly. 

9. If you have not had a College Writing I course yet or its equivalent, please see me.

10. Remember, no children (or pets--except service animals) are allowed in classrooms at UVU--see the Wee Care center for day care information.

11. Final exams cannot be taken early.


Every Point Counts (subject to change)!

In-Class Assignments:

Out-of-Class Assignments:

Grade is based on a percentage of the total points. If you have 95% of the points or higher, you get an A. If you have 90% of the points, you get an A-. If you have 87% of the points, you get a B+, and so on. 


Computer Labs: All of you can use the Open Lab computers in SC 116; SB101; AD007; SC215 to write essays and access the web.  Go to the Center for Student Computing Web site for more information at http://www.uvu.edu/studentcomputing/openlabs/.

Writing Lab: (LI 208) Tutors are available to help with grammar and style as well as documentation, organization, details, etc., whatever you ask them to focus on.  You can also use their on-line lab at http://www.uvu.edu/writingcenter  Lab personnel will not fix or edit every error. They will mark some spelling, grammar or punctuation errors, but they will not correct these errors. They will make general suggestions about how you can learn to fix the problems on your own.  They can also help you format your essays for MLA audiences.


Academic Honesty/Plagiarism Statement: Plagiarism, or the use of others’ words or ideas without proper attribution, is an impediment to your education and to the educational mission of Utah Valley State College. Under the policy of the English and Literature Department of uvu, work that has been plagiarized must receive a failing grade. A distinction is made between unintentionally plagiarized work, which must be corrected in order to be considered for a passing grade, and intentional plagiarism, which will be forwarded to the Office of the Dean of Student Life as a disciplinary matter in accordance with uvu’s statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities. Evidence of intentional plagiarism will cause you to fail this course. Please refer to www.uvu.edu/courseinfo/engl/plagiarism_policy.html  to read the department’s full statement on plagiarism, and speak to your instructor if you have any questions about avoiding plagiarism.  Please also be aware that there is a difference between plagiarism and pastiche, a postmodern writing technique, but not everyone knows about this.


Email Me Your Phone Numbers and Address Now at mortenle@uvu.edu


Copyright Lee Ann Mortensen 2018