Teaching Literary Criticism to Iranian University Students: Some Cultural Obstacles


Associate Professor of Critical Theory


Literary criticism is one of the most challenging courses, if not the most problematic course, to teach on the curriculum of Literature in Iranian universities. This course has in fact been designed to familiarise students with a variety of critical approaches to literature. As such, faculty members who teach this course are required to cover a range of theories that often negate or dialectically complete each other. Each of these theories offers certain possibilities but also has some limitations in the critical reading of literary texts. In this paper I argue that teaching literary theory and criticism to Iranian students is often a disappointing and unsuccessful undertaking mainly because they cannot think of the critical reading of texts as an act that can be performed through various conflicting discourses. What our audience at Iranian universities seeks is the assurance of an “ultimate word” in literary theory and criticism, an approach which offers them a “complete” strategy for decoding every aspect of texts. Even when introduced to an easily applicable approach, students typically do not show much enthusiasm for engaging in a critical reading of texts but prefer their teachers to “reveal” to them the “secrets” of a text or its supposed “message”. It is argued in this paper that the difficulty of teaching literary criticism at Iranian universities stems from an undemocratic mentality which believes in the authority of a single voice and, therefore, is unable to grasp the pluralism of critical approaches. I conclude that no significant improvement can be envisaged in the current condition of teaching literary criticism in Iranian universities unless there is a change of attitude towards criticism and cultural plurality, both on the part of students and faculty members.