ENGLISH 5000            FALL 2018                   SECOND ESSAY ASSIGNMENT

Due date: MON 11/19


 Length: 1800-2200  words, give or take, should be sufficient. Please supply a one-paragraph description of your topic by class time on Wednesday, 11/14, in which you make a clear statement of your aims (insofar as you understand them at that point). Feel free to discuss possibilities with me any time; email in particular would guarantee a prompt reply.



One conventional strategy in New Historicist criticism is the juxtaposition of a literary text with contemporary, non-literary ones: such critics read Shakespeare’s plays and explorers’ accounts of the New World, for example, or (as we’ll shortly see) Dracula along with contemporary accounts of Oscar Wilde's trial and Bram Stoker's own letters.  The goal is not to establish firm distinctions between “text” and “context” or to make arguments about influence, but to explore the mutual, even dialectical, involvement of multiple kinds of writing in pressing contemporary issues and cultural entanglements.


What happens if we place Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory (1st ed., 1983) and David Lodge's Small World (1984) in similar relation?  That is, what would reading these texts together, as contemporary "interventions" in the debate about theory, tell us about that debate as it stood in

the early 1980s?  Does Lodge's narrative bear out any of the claims Eagleton makes about "theory" as a practice and an institution?  Does Eagleton’s expository account of theory hint at or draw upon the kind of libidinal investments we see in Lodge’s characters?  Eagleton and Lodge are both prominent British academics (and were in 1984)--what attitudes or conclusions do they share (about theory, America, the history of criticism, the nature of "literature")?  Where and how do they differ--and can those differences be explained in terms of the theories that the books themselves describe?


In approaching these texts together, and organizing an essay about them, it will certainly help to have a focus somewhat narrower than “theory in general.”  A non-exhaustive list of possibilities would include:

·        The rhetoric of crisis (or other rhetorical strategies)

·        The role/treatment of feminism (and/or Marxism)

·        Theories of narrative / theory as narrative

·        Theory and romance (repetition, deferral, combat)

·        Theory and mastery

·        Theory and sterility/fecundity

·        Theory and the “real world”

·        The role of the theoretical commitments of the two authors

·        Visions of the future