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Assignments

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Saved by Alan Liu
on January 2, 2014 at 7:48:57 pm
 

Since there is no exam in this course, regular attendance and participation is a must (and will figure in the final grade).  To pass the course you must be in class the majority of the time (you are allowed a maximum of two absences, with the count started after the first week of classes).

 

Assignment Due  5-Page Paper

Must be emailed by midnight on Jan. 30th to instructor at ayliu [at] english [dot] ucsb [dot] edu as a PDF file (less preferable: Doc or Docx file).  Counts for of final grade.

 

 

This assignment asks you to show your understanding of the "close reading" approach in literary studies by thinking about it from a parallax viewpoint (i.e., by looking at it in comparison to a different approach or in a different context). Choose one of the following two topics:

 

  1. Write an essay in which you compare the way the New Critics or Russian Formalists read a literary work to the way a scientist studies a phenomenon.  Base your essay on a comparison between a specific writing by such critics as Ransom, Brooks, Wimsatt, Shklovsky, Tomashevsky, etc. (e.g., an essay or part of an essay where they closely read a poem) and compare a specific scientific article. Look for similarities and differences in regard to such issues as:

 

    1. What is truth from the point of view of a scientist and a literary close reader?
    2. What is observation?
    3. What is analysis?
    4. What is logic?
    5. What is aesthetics?
    6. What is the relationship of the pursuit of knowledge to society or culture?
    7. What is "good"?

 

Be sure to focus your essay around just one main issue. (See "General guidelines for designing your essay below.)

 

  1. "Close read" something that is not a work of literature--e.g., a photograph, film, video, graphic novel, video game, advertisement, press release, government document, company annual report, Web site, etc.  Your close reading must be organized so that your observations lead up to or support some focal thesis (it cannot just be miscellaneous observations on sequential parts of the work you are reading; see "General guidelines for designing your essay below.)  Also, you must be able to document by way of footnotes (or endnotes) at least three specific ways that your analysis corresponds to New Critical or Russian Formalist "close reading."

 

Instructions for submitting your essay:

Email a copy of the paper to the instructor at ayliu [at] english [dot] ucsb [dot] edu.  The preferred format is a PDF file. (If you cannot convert your document into a PDF, then email it as a DOC or DOCX).

 

General guidelines for designing a focused, intellectually interesting essay:

Assume that your reader is intelligent and educated, but does not know everything you do about your topic.  Arrow right Your reader needs your help in focusing on a particular path through an issue (rather than being lost in a forest of issues).  Arrow right Your reader needs your help in getting from point A to Z in your argument, which means that you need to lead the argument through points B, C, D, etc. (even if it appears blindingly obvious to you). Arrow right Last, but not least, your reader doesn't want to be bored to death with totally predictable arguments that steamroll over everything in their path to get from their beginning "This is what I will argue" through their middle "This is my argument" to their concluding "This is what I argued."

 

So: be sure to Arrow right focus your essay around a main issue, including other issues as necessary but in a manner logically subordinate to your argument (i.e., as supports, components, extensions, or challenges to your argument). Arrow right Be sure to demonstrate the steps A to Z of your logic so that the reader can follow your trail of thought.  Arrow right And also be sure that you actually deal with something important or that you care about, which naturally means that there is some problem or open question that puts a kink in any totally predictable argument.  For example, good essays often include a pivotal intellectual turning point, question, challenge, or complicating problem in mid-flow of the sort:


[a] Thesis argument (e.g., "Today we live in an age of information, audio-visual entertainment, and other multimedia materials that require us to 'close read' such materials if we hope to be literate consumers....")

[b] Turning point or challenge (e.g., "But unlike the texts that the New Critics or Russian Formalists studied, some of the new information and multimedia carry hidden structures and codes that cannot be "read," or even seen, in any ordinary way.  How can we be 'close readers' of such materials today?")

[c] Resolution (e.g., "If we look more deeply into the issue, we can see that literacy now requires an understanding of  underlying structures and history of information or entertainment that are analogous to those of the print literature once studied by the formalists.  These new structures and history are different but also similar...")

 

Assignment Due  8-10 Page Paper

Must be emailed by midnight on Mar. 14th to instructor at ayliu@english.ucsb.edu as a PDF file (less preferable: Doc or Docx file).  Counts for   of final grade.

 

This paper of 8-10 pages should deal with some aspect of the course materials from Structuralism on (though earlier material may also figure in your argument).  Below are suggestions for possible topics, but it is most important that you choose or invent a topic for yourself that you have a real interest in--something you think is significant, problematic, or otherwise characterized by genuine intellectual or sociocultural interest.  In regard to "coverage" of materials in the course: you may want to deal with two or more authors; or you may want to deal just with one author in a way that opens out into broader issues.  In any case, I am looking for penetration of thought coupled with some evidence of range (translation for the latter: a sense that you have done a fair amount of the reading and have developed a "cognitive map" of the field).  The ideal essay, in my mind, is one that focuses tightly on an interesting problem grounded in analysis of one or more particular texts but that also opens out into broader implications showing that you have been thinking about the issues of the course as a whole.

 

Some Possible Topics:

 

  1. "Theory" derives from Latin theoria and ultimately from Greek theorein, "to look at."  (Similarly, "theorem" derives from Greek theoros, "spectator.")  The root of theorein is thea, "act of seeing."  What is the relationship between theorizing and seeing?
  2. Using aspects of the theory you have read, write an essay that answers the following question: what is the logic of etymological interpretation (as in the question above)?
  3. Write an essay on theory as a prose form or writing style.
  4. Much of the theory you have read has been in translation.  Two possibilities: (a) Write an essay on how the concept or practice of translation is related to literary theory.  (b) Using the theory you have studied, write an essay about the nature of translation.
  5. Discuss the relation between American and European theory; or, again, between theory as a "Western" form and the non-Western world.  
  6. Write an essay about the anthropological contribution to theory.  Why has anthropology been such a suggestive discipline?  Or again, what is similar, and what different, in the work of Lévi-Strauss and Geertz?
  7. In his "The Structural Study of Myth," Lévi-Strauss at one point suggests that it would require an IBM computer to do what
  8. Lévi-Strauss ("Structural Study of Myth") and Barthes (S/Z, pp. 28-30) both compare structure to music.  Three possibilities: (a) what's the difference between "music" as Lévi-Strauss hears it and as Barthes hears it?  (b) How do both authors compare to de Man, whose "Shelley Disfigured" also touches upon the idea of music?  (c) What is the relation of "theory" (see question 1 above) to "music" generally?
  9. There is "play" in deconstruction.  And there is also "violence" (see, for example, de Man, "Shelley Disfigured").  What is the relation between these two concepts in deconstruction?
  10. Write an essay in which you explore further than we were able to in class the relations between the concepts of the body, women, and language in French feminist theory.
  11. Foucault often draws upon the evidence of art and literature in his discussion of "unreason."  Write an essay about the role of art and/or literature in Foucault's method.  Why does Foucault need to look so often to the arts?  What does he gain, and what does he stand to lose?
  12. What does Stephen Greenblatt mean when he says, "There is subversion, no end of subversion, only not for us"?  Do you see any problems in his notion of subversion?
  13. What has modern literary theory done to the notion of the "author"?  How long has the "author" (as an important concept) been on the scene anyway?  And is he or she still important?  (Note: this essay could also be varied to address the notion of the "book.")
  14. Write an essay on the concept of the "new" in literary theory.
  15. Write an essay on the emotional range of modern literary theory.  You may want to begin with "irony."  (Note: be careful not to be too impressionistic in discussing emotion.  Define what you mean and show evidence for it from the texts.)
  16. Héléne Cixous started her career as professor of English literature (in France) with a special interest in James Joyce, and in a note to her "The Laugh of the Medusa" she speaks admiringly of "the Anglo-Saxon countries" as showing more promise for "feminine" literature.  Similarly, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their "Introduction: Rhizome" speak glowingly of American and English literature (while quoting the song "Old Man River") as more rhizomatic.  Elsewhere they especially admire the works of Henry Miller.  From the American perspective, of course, much of recent literary theory seems to be about importing French theory.  But from the French perspective, there is a sneaky admiration for American (and English) literary influences--not to mention the well-known French infatuations with such aspects of American popular culture as jazz music or Jerry Lewis.  Write an essay in which you speculate on why American theory loves French theory, why French theory loves American/English literature, or some combination of the above.   Why does America secretly want to be French; why does France secretly want to be American?  (Caution: though your essay may include discussion of popular or mass culture phenomena, it must at some point discuss literary or other theory in particular.)
  17. Write an essay on the function of "literary history" in theory.
  18. Derrida, De Man, and other deconstructive writers often recommend "rigor" in their works (to the extent that the word "rigorous" has become a kind of fetish among second-generation deconstructive authors).  What does deconstruction mean by "rigor"?
  19. A much celebrated concept in the academy these days is the "interdisciplinary."  How does the reading you have done in our course help explain the increasing emphasis on the "interdisciplinary"?  What is interdisciplinary study?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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