Summary of Assignments for This Class
You will be required to meet with me at least three times during the term, including an introductory conference at the beginning of the term. (Naturally, you are welcome to consult me more than three times.) If all goes well, this should be a pleasant requirement to fulfill; I just want to let you know the conferences are coming. All I ask--nay, beg--is that you show up when we agree that we'll meet. If you really really can't do so, please email me to let me know not to wait for you.
This is perhaps the most unconventional assignment you will undertake for this class because it does not require you to do any specific reading or writing, or even to meet any specific deadlines. In order to make this a true seminar, where a group of colleagues share information that each of them has gathered individually, I would like each student in this course to choose an area of emphasis, or "specialty." Your specialty will not require any previous knowledge (though following up on a previous interest is certainly allowable), only an intellectual interest or curiosity that will guide some of your thoughts about the reading we do. If you choose to specialize in representations of religion, for instance, we will all know to turn to you when that subject arises in a text. I hope that at least some of you will find that your special interest in a topic inspires further exploration in responses, papers, or supplemental reading.
This assignment was adapted from one given by Michael Barsanti
There are many assignments due for this class that are called "Responses." Students are often confused by these assignments, in part because they are less formal than what they have been asked to write for classes in the past. I don't expect the Responses to have a coherent point, or to make especially brilliant readings of the stories assigned. They should represent a first attempt to make sense out of the assignment, a first attempt at getting the bits and pieces you have marked in the reading to hang together in some way.
Here's how I imagine you doing these assignments:
Aside from giving us entry points into class discussion, these responses are meant to provide fodder for your papers, so remember to use the archival properties of the threaded discussion to your advantage when you begin to formulate paper ideas.
I'll be grading the responses on a scale from + (plus) to √ (check) to - (minus), and will evaluating them based on their engagement, thoughtfulness, and ability to instigate meaningful discussion. You should know that I will downgrade these if they arrive late, since they constitute the single most important part of the course. They will be the basis from which we begin our discussions, and will play a key role in my sense of your involvment and performance in the course.
We will read some scholarly articles in this class, representing long-established landmarks of criticism in the field as well as more recent work that has changed the way scholars think about the texts we read. I intend these readings to familiarize you with reading literary criticism, and with the kinds of issues that lately have dominated scholarly work on British Poetry. As a way of encouraging you to gain control of this material by writing on it, I have assigned Article Summaries; the summaries should be no longer than 400 words, but they should demonstrate that you have read the article carefully. If you are struggling with an article and do not feel comfortable summarizing it as a whole, explain what you can and then explain specifically what parts are giving you trouble and why, noting terms or passages that you would like to discuss to help you better understand the argument.
The shorter paper (5-7 pages, 1500-2000 words, to be turned in any time before fall break) should fulfill the following assignment: At some point during the semester, you will inevitably find that we as a class have not discussed a particular text in the ways that you think it needs to be discussed. We will have ignored an aspect of the text that interests you, or misread it, or simply approached it from an angle different from the one you would like to explore. You might have raised the issue in class or in a listserv response, only to find that the discussion went elsewhere. Your assignment is to write an essay in which you situate your own viewpoint in relation to this class discussion--one in which you attempt to show the class another, better way of reading this text. How does reading this particular text from your angle change what that text means or can mean? For example, perhaps we have failed in discussion to notice a set of metaphors or references that illuminates the text. How does noticing that information change the way we read the text?
This assignment is designed to make you identify a discussion that is already--or has already--taken place and to situate your own interpretation and argument in relation to that discussion. The goal of your essay, then, should be to intervene in our discussion--to describe that critical conversation, to explain (in relation to it) what you want us to see, and then to show us how to see it and argue why you want us to see it. Your Essay should at least do the following:
Your paper prospectus will be a one-page prose sketch of your plans for the paper; before doing this, you should obviously read the section below. We will use this document as the starting point for a pre-paper discussion early the following week.
This essay should be at least 2500 words. You should consider it to be just like the articles that you read during the semester, and you should follow the conventions of critical articles. It is probably best to conceptualize this essay as a longer version of the short essay (see above), except that you will be intervening in a current, real, existing discussion occurring between literary critics in print out there. This means that the aim of this essay is still to challenge and transform existing interpretations of your text in question, but that those existing interpretations will gathered from recent published literary criticism. Therefore, you will need to acquaint yourself with the critical literature out there that concerns itself with your texts or issues, and that you should make yourself an expert in your texts' reception and production. You should think of your audience, then, as no longer your classmates but rather as the very critics out there whom you are reading, and who are therefore interested in the same issues that you are.
For both the short and the long essay, you'll find critical articles to be helpful as models, since critical essays usually go about their business in the same way that I have outlined above for the short essay assignment. You may find it a good exercise to read critical articles with an eye to writing your own essays. What problem is a given critic re-examining? Why? How is that critic intervening in an already-existing critical conversation? How does that critic wish to transform that critical conversation and/or the poem at hand? Therefore, I strongly suggest that you find a critical writer whom you like and emulate that critic's way of setting up (framing) a problem. This is very different from plagiarizing someone's argument or content; instead, I mean that you should study a writer or an article that you find both persuasive and beautifully written, and try to understand how that writer structures arguments and makes points.
The final will include passage identifications and short-answer questions as well as an essay section. We will discuss the exam in more detail as it approaches.