Saturday, April 9, 2011

Option 2: Critiquing America

For the final project I would like to do a revision of a revision. I’m going to revise my first revision, which was a revision of an essay I wrote on Whitman and Marcuse. In my essay I compared and contrasted Whitman and Marcuse’s views towards art. I argued that Whitman’s form of poetry conflicts with what Marcuse believes art should be. In my final project I would like to take my argument in a different direction. I plan to argue that Whitman, Melville, and Marcuse share many of the same ideas about what the future of America should look like.

I believe that this is a worthy topic to discuss considering how influential and popular these authors are in our society. Many powerful people have read the work of these authors; for instance, Bill Clinton gave a copy of Walt Whitman’s “Leafs of Grass” to Monica Lewinsky. Discussing how these authors view America may give the reader more political insight, and may also help the reader form a better idea of their own political views.

I plan on trimming down my analysis on how Whitman and Marcuse have contrasting views towards art and the role that it plays in our society; instead, I’m going to focus more on Whitman’s poems that show his view towards sexuality, slavery, and religion, and compare his views with Melville’s views by using Ishmael’s relationship with Queequeg. Then I’ll compare the views that Whitman and Melville share with the ideas that Marcuse writes about in “One Dimensional Man.”

I was also thinking about using Marcuse to analyze a book that I read over the summer, “1984” by George Orwell. “1984” depicts a dystopian future where the world is oppressed by oligarchies that control their populations through misinformation and fear. I think that this novel shares some views concerning slavery and sexuality with “Leafs of Grass” and “Moby Dick”, and its political ideas can be compared to Marcuse’s.

Proposed Bibliography:

Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press

Marcuse, Herbert. Art as Form of Reality

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick or The Whale, Penguin Group

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four, Penguin Group

Whitman, Walt. Song of Myself. Dover Publications


  1. I'm all in favor of you doing something with your second revision, which had some promising ideas. That being said, though, you're not really specifying anything in particular about how you're going to revise - no new scholarly sources, no clearly formulated argument. In fact, here's the closest you come: "I plan to argue that Whitman, Melville, and Marcuse share many of the same ideas about what the future of America should look like."

    As phrased, this is both obvious and trivial. So obviously whether or not you can make it work is whether you can narrow it down a lot. The one thing I find promising is the "should"; you're arguing that they agree on a presumably utopian vision of a future America.

    In what details, though? How do they differ? Why is it important to see those similarities - in other words, how do we read better or think better after understanding those similarities.

    In other words, for it to succeed you need to find something more specific within the argument.

    I think that doing something with George Orwell and Marcuse is an excellent idea. Those are two thinkers who are close enough to be easily related, but different enough that they could easily be used to critique one another. Both were anti-totalitarian socialists, but I would argue that where Marcuse promotes a utopian vision, Orwell is more of a critic of utopian thought. I also think that both could be used together to read, say, Ellison or Butler.

    However, while I think the idea of bringing Orwell and Marcuse into Butler is an excellent one, it's just a starting point.

  2. I like the idea of you relating the three authors together. However, I agree you need some more specifics to your paper. Maybe what you could do is find some aspect of our society today and discuss how they would all say the same thing about it, whether it be bad or good thoughts. Along with this idea, maybe you could discuss a vision of an ideal world they would all agree on, and give specifics from their works that would back it up. Hopefully my comments can help to lead you in some diection. Good luck on your final paper!