Casebook Exercises (400 points)
Take chances, make mistakes, get messy! -- Ms Frizzle, The Magic Schoolbus
An important component of the course is a casebook comprising 10 short essays (about 3 pages), each of which presents your attempt to apply the week's critical readings on your own (before the class meets to discuss them). You will have the chance to revise one essay for a higher grade (but note that the revision opportunity is not intended to replace a zero).
I fully expect that, from time to time, the classroom discussion will lead you to a different conclusion than the preliminary one you investigated in your casebook essay. When that happens, you might find yourself thinking, "My written paper is wrong! I'd have gotten a higher grade if I submitted it after the class discussion!"
But if everybody held back their opinions until after the class discussion was over, and nobody came to the classroom with thoughts they had already wrestled into papers, we'd have pretty weak class discussions.
Literary criticism is a skill -- it's something you do, not a list of "correct answers" to memorize. The casebook papers are your opportunity to try on an unfamiliar set of lenses, so that you see familiar things in new ways.
Each paper is your opportunity to get my assessment of your developing ability to identify, organize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate all the components of a lit-crit research paper. I'm less interested in whether you applied a particular lens "correctly" than I am in your developing mastery of the skills necessary to participate, at an advanced undergraduate level, in the intellectual discussion that surrounds the texts and ideas we will explore in the class.
By "apply the week's critical readings" I mean quote directly from, and engage directly with, the assigned essays that we are scheduled to discuss at the next class, in order to ensure that in the limited time we have for discussion we can move rapidly towards a deeper exploration of the issues raised by the readings. Remember that this class asks you to pay close attention to the critical essays; the casebook papers are your opportunity to demonstrate that you can use these critical essays in order to present a challenging, well-supported, persuasive interpretation of one of the literary works on the syllabus.
Note that Keesey's introductions will always simplify and exaggerate a bit, because the function of his introduction is to point out what is different about this particular way of looking at literature. If you engage with something Keesey says in his introduction, you're not actually engaging with the argument in the essay Keesey is trying to introduce. I won't actually forbid you from quoting from or responding to what he says in his introductions, but I am asking you to think of Keesey's comments as the overture rather than the main event, or the appetizer rather than the first course.
Evaluation of Casebook Essays
- Format and Completeness: Does the paper follow MLA style, with a title block and a title that specifies your position on a topic? Do the thesis, content, syntax, and grammar all demonstrate advanced writing ability?
- Organization and Thoroughness: Does the paper present an organized confrontation with an issue arising from the assigned critical essays? Are the claims supported with textual evidence? Is the paper free of logical fallacies (such as the "straw man" or "burden of proof")?
- Quotations and Application: Does the paper apply the week's critical topic to one of the primary works on the syllabus? Does the paper cite specific passages from both primary and secondary sources? Are the citations integrated with an original argument, or merely part of a summary? Are the direct quotations well-chosen, brief, plentiful, and integral to the student's original argument (or are they random, overlong, and summative)?
- Insight and Engagement: Does the paper make creative, well-supported connections, and/or ask productive questions? If I noted mistakes, were they intellectually productive mistakes that demonstrate your willingness to tackle challenging concepts? Or was I distracted by too many mechanical/structural weaknesses (typographical errors, summative filler, flowery cruft)?