Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Prompts for the rest of the semester...

Yes, there's a reason it's all in one post.

For this week and next week (the assignment will be the same), you have two options.

Option 1:  Focusing on a limited set of cited passages, but displaying knowledge of the larger text, use either Marcuse or Kermode to make an argument of your choice about Ellison.  Optionally, you might include research.  Your argument should either be distinct from our class discussion, or move beyond it in some clearly defined way, or challenge it in some clearly defined way.  You might, for instance, if you are musically inclined, argue that Ellison is performing a midrash of some work of Louis Armstrong; you might further develop our discussion of Ellison's use of Melville, perhaps using Marcuse instead of Kermode.  Anything is fair game as long as it has an argument, uses specific passages from Ellison, and makes use of Marcuse or Kermode (again, citing passages).

Option 2:  Write a proposal for your final project.  This proposal might be a little shorter than our usual blog entries (it should still be more than a page long, however).  It must include the following:

  1. A complete bibliography (see below for the number of sources) of your proposed sources, with a sentence or two each regarding how you plan to use those sources.
  2. A clear statement of your proposed argument, or a limited number of alternative arguments, or a clear question which is intended to lead to an argument.  This should include the following:
    1. A clearly stated counterargument to your position stated in (2) above, or a discussion of why your question in (2) above is a reasonable way to generate an argument.
    2. A clear statement of why your reader should care about this argument.  It might have small or large significance, but it should be clear why you think it's worth making.
  3. A clear statement of the role that Marcuse or Kermode (or both!) will play in your essay, including a discussion of at least one passage from the appropriate work.
  4. If you are revising an earlier draft (again, see below), a paragraph explaining, with specifics, what you plan to keep and what you plan to change, and why.  If you are not revising an earlier draft, just explain your argument at greater length.
You can use an outline, or just a regular text document, or a mix of the two.  You will be evaluated on this plan, as with any other blog entry.

Explanation:  My hope is that everyone will get a head start on their final project this way, but that those of you who need an extra week to start formulating your ideas will have it.  I am not going to require, but I will recommend, that everyone do a proposal for one of their blog entries either this week or next week.

Final Project Guidelines:

Your final project should offer a serious contribution to the work of the class.  It should show both that you understand our collective work, and that you have have your own direction or role within it.  You should have a clear, interesting, and worthwhile argument, which you make using both external sources and texts which we read as a class.  Ideally, you will draw on your own individual strengths and interests in this project (including, for instance, material from your own fields of study).  You may either begin a project from scratch or revise one of your existing essays, including existing revisions.  You should ideally do work which interests you, and which you feel contributes in some way to the class as a whole.

Specific guidelines:

  1. Your project must be at least 8 pages long, including at least 5 pages of new material (if you are revising).  8 pages is sufficient; I prefer that you not go above 12 pages, although I will tolerate longer essays.
  2. Your project must include at least 2 additional academic sources (generally, academic books and journal articles) beyond any that you might have used in an earlier revision.  If you feel that you're best off with non academic sources, please discuss that preference with me.  You should, however, do as much research as your argument requires.
  3. Your project must include some close readings of particular passages from at least one literary figure we have read collectively (Ellison, Melville, Eliot, Whitman, or Butler).  Some projects, though, will need more close reading than others.  Some highly research-oriented projects may do relatively little; some may revolve primarily around close readings.
  4. Your project must make sustained use of either Marcuse or Kermode (or possibly both).  This does not mean that you need to agree with them, however.  "Sustained use" does not mean that Marcuse or Kermode need to dominate your argument; they do, however, need to be part of the conversation, and you do need to show a good understanding of one of them.
  5. You should display a good understanding of all of your chosen texts, as well as of any relevant class discussions.  This means, in particular, that you should display a detailed "carnal" understanding of your texts, regardless of how individual or eccentric your "spiritual" readings may be.  I don't expect perfection, and I do expect differences of opinion, but I also expect you to know your material.
  6. Your project should make a single sustained argument from the first sentence to the last.  This does not mean you cannot make use of any tangents, nor does it mean that you must continually remind us of where you are, at a particular moment in your project, within the larger argument.  Your goals and direction should, nonetheless, by clear, even if they might sometimes become subtle.
  7. Think of this as your lasting contribution to the class, and your opportunity to teach me.  "He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher" - Song of Myself.

I'm sure questions will arise about all of the above; I'll do my best both to answer questions you raise in comments, and to revise as needed.


  1. I guess the most obvious question I have is when is the final project due? Three weeks from this Friday?

  2. What I have on the syllabus is Tuesday, Apri 26. I may be able to stretch it a couple days for people who don't want or need comments.

  3. The answer to this question is probably obvious but I think I'm reading into things too much...we have an assignment due at 4:00 on Saturday which is to be completed with one of the two prompts listed on this blog post. If these two options are the assignments for this AND next week, this means that both must be complete at some point over the next two weeks but in whatever order we choose? Sorry for the confusion...

  4. Answering the second question: you may, if you wish, do the Ellison assignment (but two different essays, obviously) twice. However, I highly recommend that you do the project proposal, rather than going into it blind. I'm letting everyone choose which they want to do when because I believe it will make your lives very marginally easier to have that choice.