Ex 1: Taste and Canon
This is a diagnostic paper -- what we will use as "before" when we get to the end of the semester and reflect. Employing direct quotations from the assigned readings, write a brief essay (following MLA style; 2-3 pages, not counting the Works Cited list) that applies literary criticism to a specific text (I suggest "Ode on a Grecian Urn," but if you would rather choose a different text, that's OK with me.
You should submit it to Turnitin.com. I will e-mail the class the course ID and password that you should use.
Assume that I have read all the works and that I have them handy; no summary is necessary, and quotations should generally be very brief -- only a few words at a time, woven into your own sentences; not whole paragraphs stitched together with "Another quote that I found interesting is..."
Rather than a collection of observations that occurred to you as you read, I am asking you to present a well-thought-out essay that takes a specific stand on an issue.
Unlike a general survey course, where I would encourage and accept almost any useful comment you might want to make about the week's readings, for the exercises in this course I am asking you to demonstrate your ability to defend a thesis that applies the week's topic in literary criticism.
General questions such as "Was Melville a feminist?" or "Does symbolism contribute to the effectiveness of 'Benito Cereno'?" are pointless. They are simple yes/no statements, and the author already knew the "right" answer before sitting down to write the actual essay.
A productive thesis statement requires not merely a question, but rather a claim -- a non-obvious statement that takes a stand on a complex issue.
"Melville's feminization of the ethnic other is a reaction against destabiilzing threats to the masculine world of 'Benito Cereno'; yet the utter helplessness of the male characters before the feminized forces of nature exposes the limitations of the masculine world-view."For the critical exercises, I would much rather that you reach for the stars and occasionally stumble, rather than choose completely safe topics and never stretch your abilities.