I’ve been presumptuous and arrogant. It’s impossible to study Literature ad hoc. Nobody can wing literary theory. A student must engage with a reasonable selection of Literature’s primary fictional and interpretative texts if she or he really wants to get to grips with what the tradition is all about. Such a course may serve as a prelude to studying one or more particular literary or theoretical movements, including fantasy fiction and its related fields (romance, romanticism, gothic, science fiction, Arabian fantasy). And in turn, one need not export every theoretical concept from the literary to the fantasy domain – even the much derided fantasy genre now boasts a tradition of critical theoretical writing. But one must embrace something of the breadth of interpretations, ideas, techniques, and language of the core tradition before one can take a closer look at one small part of it. To rush it is to risk running through the clouds only to find oneself standing on air.
What to do? I perused my introductory texts to Literature and surveyed a handful of preliminary reading lists aimed at students starting a BA in English Literature, and from these, I selected one hundred exemplary literary texts from the Classical to the postcolonial/postmodern, from Euripides and Ovid to Angela Carter’s Wild Children (1991) to Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow (2007). I similarly collated a list of theoretical works pertinent to my scope of interest, including Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (1975), and Toril Moi’s Sexual/Textual Politics (2002). As a travelling companion, I’ve already acquired (at only nominal cost) a slightly dated copy of The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Together, they will, I hope, function as solid foundation for my precursory exploration of literature, insha’Allah.
Reading: D. Cavanagh et al [Eds.], The Edinburgh Introduction to Studying English Literature: Second Edition (Edinburgh University Press, 2014); Stephen Mitchell, Gilgamesh (Profile Books, 2005); Amanda H. Podany, The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013)