module specification

SJ6004 - Why Literature Matters (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Why Literature Matters
Module level Honours (06)
Credit rating for module 30
School The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass)
Total study hours 300
219 hours Guided independent study
81 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 20%   1500 word essay or creative work
Coursework 30%   2000 word essay or creative work
Coursework 30%   2000 word essay or creative work
Oral Examination 20%   Presentation
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Year North Tuesday Morning

Module summary

Why Literature Matters is a level 6 module which introduces and develops a series of related discussions about the personal, worldly and critical stakes involved in reading and writing literature. Students will follow a number of discrete syllabuses, some related to staff specialisms and publications,  that  require them to engage with the value of their reading, writing and critical practice in relation to other spheres of experience and action.

Syllabus topics may include but are not limited to the following, and may change from year to year:
1 - Why writers write
2 - Writing, activism and geopolitics
3 - Literature, ecology and environmental aesthetics
4 - Literature and the sacred
5 - Literature and ontology

The module will be taught in weekly sessions comprising a lecture and seminar and supported by online and face-to-face tutorial hours, and assessed by short critical writing and essays.

Module aims

The aims of this module are
● to develop students’ understanding of the critical contexts in which literary production, distribution and reception take place
● to allow students to contrast modern, contemporary and canonical theories of literary value
● to develop students’ critical writing skills about literature and their personal sense of commitment to literary values


1 - Writing, activism and geopolitics. This topic examines the political risks and opportunities of creative writing, and includes case studies where literary and creative works respond and contribute to political events. The topic allows for discussion of intersectionality; state censorship and surveillance of writers, publishers, literary and critical works; and the role of literary studies within and outside of the academy for both students and academics.

2 - Literature and the sacred. This topic examines the role that the poetic and creative imagination occupies in the practice and literature of spirituality and faith. It considers themes such as early modern mysticism, the bardic tradition, forms of incantation, scripture and ritual, and negative theology and the apophatic.

3 - Literature, ecology and environmental aesthetics. This topic examines the nature of the literary and creative imagination within naturalistic and environmental models of signification and interpretation, such as biosemiotics. New critical perspectives that marry environmentalism and aesthetics form the basis of discussion about how the revaluation of human activity within its environment takes place.

4 - Literature, place and transnationalism. This topic brings the various earlier topics together in a discussion of how sense of identity, place, purpose and world are brought together by a number of writers.

Works may change from year to year.

Learning and teaching

Use will be made of the World Wide Web and Blackboard postings to direct students to relevant material that arises in lectures and seminars. Both lectures and seminars will strive to maintain a high level of dialogical engagement and interaction, and tutorial hours will support and develop classroom learning. Class sessions may also be enhanced by guest speakers, visits, screenings and other activities.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
● discuss the relationship between literary content, author and/or reader identity and ideological commitment
● discuss literary practice and interpretation in relation to metaphysical or theoretical principles
● outline and appraise writers’ accounts of literary value and creative practice
● critically appraise contemporary theories of signification and literary value

Assessment strategy

Assignment 1 (20%): 1500 word essay

Assignment 2 (30%): 2000 word essay

Assignment 3 (30%): 2000 word essay

Assignment 4 (20%): student conference

The best assignments each year will be considered for inclusion in an annual anthology of student writing.


Atwood, Margaret, On Writers and Writing (Virago, 2015)
Ayers, David, Literary Theory: A Reintroduction (Malden, MA ; Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007)
Auerbach , Erich, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, translated by W.R. Trask (Princeton University Press, 20030 (originally published 1953)
Darnton, John, Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from the New York Times (New York: Times Books, 2002)
Detwiler, Religion and Literature: A Reader (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007)
Dines, Gail, and Jean McMahon Humez, eds., Gender, Race and Class in Media: A Critical Reader, 3rd ed (Los Angeles: London : SAGE, 2011)
Ghiselin, Brewster, ed., The Creative Process: Reflections on Invention in the Arts and Sciences, New Ed edition (Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 1992)
Hoffmeyer, Jesper, Biosemiotics: An Examination Into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs (University of Chicago Press, 2009)
Iovino, Serenella, and Serpil Oppermann, eds., Material Ecocriticism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014)
Lamarque, Peter, Work and Object: Explorations in the Metaphysics of Art (Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2012)
Lyotard, Jean-Francois, ‘The Sublime and the Avant-Garde’ in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, translated by G. Bennington & R. Bowlby (Polity Press, 1991)
Mariani, Philomena, ed., Critical Fictions: The Politics of Imaginative Writing, Discussions in Contemporary Culture, no.7 (Seattle: Bay Press, 1992)
Morton, Timothy, Ecological Thought, Reprint edition (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2012)
Nanson, Anthony, Words of Re-Enchantment: Storytelling, Myth, and Ecological Desire (Stroud: Awen Publications, 2011)
Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014)
Otto, Rudolf, The Idea of the Holy, translated by J.W. Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958)
Sells, Michael, Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)
Scheingold, Stuart A., The Political Novel: Re-Imagining the Twentieth Century (New York: Continuum, 2010)