FALL 2004                 THIRD ESSAY ASSIGNMENT


Please submit a 5-6 page essay on one of the topics below by Wednesday, December 7.  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 other 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 welcome.  I will also happily look over drafts or portions of drafts in advance of the due date.  Remember that even topic that advertise themselves as "surveys" need a thesis, and remember to proofread everything at least twice.


1. Design your own topic, of suitable specificity and sophistication, about something that interests you in the material we've covered in recent weeks.  If there's a discussion question that intrigued or irritated you, this is your chance to pursue it further (on the way racialist thinking can sometimes be revealed as structuring the most unexpected texts, for example). If you decide to pursue this option, you will need to discuss your topic with me and provide a written description no later than Wednesday, November 30.


2.  If “popular culture” means what John Fiske says it does—that is, a sort of plundering or poaching of a mass-culture text (or even a high-culture one) to serve the satisfactions of a “popular” reader or viewer-- then what is the role or job or purpose of the critic (literary or otherwise) in relation to it?  (You’ll want to refer to at least three critics we’ve read in taking up this topic.)


3. Explain, carefully, clearly, and thoroughly, the meaning and importance of one of the critical or theoretical concepts we’ve encountered in the latter half of the term.  Good candidates this time would include “subject,” “orientalism,” “the subaltern.” Feel free to adopt a critical stance toward the concept or the way critics use it, but be sure to represent it fairly and accurately first.


4. A friend or partner or attractive stranger or chatty extraterrestrial says that he/she/it has noticed you’ve been toting this Dracula book around all semester, and asks you with what seems like genuine interest what it’s about.  You get a helping of your favorite beverage, arrange yourself comfortably, take a couple of deep cleansing breaths, and say, "That's actually a very complicated question, because…."



5. One last time: 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, what would Gilbert and Gubar  or Simone de Beauvoir have to say to Judith Butler about gender?) 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 position.


6. Why does Terry Eagleton call his book "an obituary" (178)? Do you agree with that assessment?  Why or why not?


7. Though psychoanalysis, structuralism, and post-structuralist schools of criticism each get individual chapters in Eagleton's Literary Theory, feminist criticism does not. Why not? (That is, what does he say about the issue?) What does this omission (if it is an omission) reveal about Eagleton, or feminism, or the relationship between them?


8. In Literary Theory: An Introduction, Jonathan Culler asks, "Is cultural studies a capacious project within which literary studies gains new power and insight?  Or will cultural studies swallow up literary studies and destroy literature?" (43). Discuss these questions (which represent, among other things, a binary ripe for deconstruction, no?), with reference to some of the relevant theorists we've read this term (Eagleton, Graff, Greenblatt, and Guillory certainly come to mind for me; there will be others).