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I'm looking forward to The Practice of Criticism, Fall 2008 edition. I've been teaching this course since 1985, when I first came to Geneseo, and when it was English 270 and called Practical Criticism. The course took this original name from an enormously influential work by the British literary critic I.A. Richards.

The Geneseo English department changed the name of the course in the 1990's, in part because the name had become tarnished by its association with an out-of-favor method of literary investigation known as the New Criticism. From the late 1970's onward, there had been a flourishing of interest in the theory of literature and criticism among American and British literary scholars which had led to a widespread rejection of the New Criticism as theoretically naïve.

Though close in sound to the old name, the new name for the course emphasizes an important theoretical point: that criticism is a practice (from Greek praxis), which is to say, roughly, a form of concrete activity that always embodies or enacts some set of theoretical (from Greek theoria) assumptions or perspectives, and that is always embedded in particular social and historical circumstances. It is a way of doing things, you might say, that is done differently according to the way all kinds of other things are done in the society in which people do it.

So the course is now about more than just reading and responding to literature. It's about how we do these things and why we do them as we do. The change in the course number, from 270 to 170, reflects the English department's conviction that English majors should begin to wrestle with questions of this kind as early as possible in their undergraduate careers.

The course has changed a lot since I first began teaching it. And I've changed with it. More about that in class.