ENGLISH 4030: CONTEMPORARY Critical theory

Fall 2005                                                                             SECOND Essay Assignment


Please submit a 4-6 page essay on one of the topics below by FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 11. Remember to support the claims you make with frequent, accurate, and direct reference to any texts you consider, and be sure to cite correctly any sources you use (Chicago or MLA style preferred).  Do not hesitate to ask me questions (or ask one another questions) about this project; email inquiries are welcome. Proofread twice, and then have someone else do it again.  Don’t use the word “portray.”


1. Design your own topic, of suitable specificity and sophistication, about something that interests you in the material we’ve covered so far.  If there’s a discussion question that particularly intrigued you or you now wish you could have said more about, this would be a chance to pursue it further.  If you decide to design your own topic, you must discuss it with me and provide a description in writing (at least a paragraph) by Monday, November 7.


2. Expository: Explain, carefully and thoroughly, one of the concepts we’ve encountered so far this term.  Good candidates would include “interpretive community,” “heresy of paraphrase,” "Intentional fallacy," “ideological state apparatus,” and “indeterminacy.”


3. Also expository: Find an example or two of “deconstruction in action” in popular writing or media (like the Clinton example I used in class) and explain how it works.  You’ll probably want to spend a little time explaining how deconstruction works in general, too.  Don’t force it—that is, don’t go out and find something to deconstruct; rather, find something that’s already in the process of deconstructing itself (which is how this allegedly works, after all) and describe how it is happening before our very eyes.  If it’s easy to include the text or text-and-image you choose, please do so.  If you choose this topic, be sure to run your plan by me by Monday, November 7.


4. Autobiographical:   Stanley Fish writes in “Interpreting the Variorum” that “interpretive communities” are “the explanation for both the stability of interpretation among different readers (they belong to the same community) and for the regularity with which a single reader will employ different interpretive strategies and thus make different texts (he [or she] belongs to different communities).”  Can you confirm this claim with reference to your own classroom experience?  Evidence you might adduce would be different approaches to texts you’ve employed (or been encouraged to emply) in different classes or different kinds of classes, or different interpretations of the same text that you’ve been invited to adopt in different circumstances.


5. Structuralist: Will Wright, in the third chapter of Sixguns and Society (on-line, and [soon] on reserve in the library), describes four different Western plots according to their series of "plot functions." The on-line excerpt describing Vladimir Propp’s analysis of Russian folk-tales details a similar kind of structural analysis.  With these two examples as your models, perform your own structural analysis of a recognizable genre (literary or cinematic) and produce a list of plot functions that describe its action, using examples from at least four texts.


6. Dramatic: Write a dialogue in which two or more of the critics we’ve studied so far discuss or debate or argue about the topics that concern them.  For example, you could have Eagelton discuss the nature of literature with Eliot and/or Brooks, or Guillory or Fish debate Wimsatt and Beardsley and/or Brooks on interpretation, or have a round table in which Frye and Graff and others talk about the role of criticism. Obviously, you would want to draw heavily on the texts we’ve read for the substance of the speeches (and cite them accordingly), but as well you should feel free to improvise in a way that’s consistent with each critic’s positions.