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English 302, Fall 2008

Assignments and Updates


See also: Blackboard

(for help with close-reading, try: Thumb-plunging, or the Art of Literary Noticing)

This is the Assignments and Updates Page. All assignments and updates to earlier assignments will be posted here, beginning with the most recent first.

This is the most up-to-date information available on this website. Please check this page frequently throughout the quarter!!

Midterm rewrite

For those of you thinking about whether to rewrite the midterm, I've posted on the Blackboard two examples from the class of strong accounts of the Barthes paragraphs, and the rewrite assignment itself. As I told you on Tuesday, the rewrite version of the exam includes a new paragraph for you to write on. Remember the criteria for success include being responsive (on point), accurate, full, and specific.

P.S., I hereby raise the ante: you can earn up to 2/3 of the difference between your score and 55 (the original offer was 1/2). This is due anytime up to and including December 2.

December 11: FINAL EXAM

This will be an e-final. I will post the exam to this website no later than 6pm on December 11. You will then have until 9pm to write. Your exam will be DUE at 9pm.

(Note: All email arrives at my box with the posting time on it. Late submissions will be penalized five points plus one point per minute of lateness. That means, for example, that a paper one minute late will be penalized 6 points, and a paper five minutes late will be penalized 10 points.)


Between now and December 2, I will hold online office hours. That means you can write to me to ask any questions that arise for you during your expansion of your proposal into the final edition of your Term Project. I will answer, and I'll post those questions and answers that I think might be especially valuable for others in the class to read. (My online conversation with my Spring Quarter class can be read here.)

For December 4

Reading: No New Reading, but don't miss the Conversations about HTTABYHR. I highly recommend that you to read through the online conversation I have been holding with you now, and the conversation I held in June with my Spring Term class. To access those conversations, click here.

Writing: Final edition of the Term Project due at the beginning of class. We will be doing a read-around of your work for one hour, and setting up a review for the final in the other.

For December 2

Reading: Conversations about HTTABYHR. Between now and December 2, I will hold online office hours. That means you can write to me to ask any questions that arise for you during your expansion of your proposal into the final edition of your Term Project. To get started,

Writing: Portfolio due. See Blackboard for the full assignment.

For November 25

Reading: Look over ("skim") the rest of Bayard's book and identify the chapter you will be writing on. You can pick any chapter OTHER THAN THE FIRST TWO!!

Writing: A 3-4 page Full Proposal for your Final Project. In your Full Proposal give: 1) a brief summary of the chapter's argument, 2) who among those writers we've read this term might be in conversation with it and how, and 3) a brief account of what your turn in the conversation will likely be.

In class someone asked how this differs from a rough draft. The answer is that it will be shorter than a full draft for the paper, but it should be more than just a "proposal." I want to see not just what you want to do, but how you are developing your thinking too. So I explained that, yes, I was more or less asking for an early draft, but that I didn't want a "first draft" so much as a draft that could help you get your ideas out without feeling as though they had to be complete or polished. I want you to have a working start on the paper, something that can be ditched entirely if need be, something that you know will need substantial upgrading, whether in terms of expansion or of rethinking, before it is to be turned in on December 4.

For November 20:

Reading: Bayard, How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read. Chapters 1 and 2.


We’ve now reached the last part of the quarter, and it’s time to see how far you will be able to get with a book that just appeared at the end of last year.  In spite of its title, much of Bayard's book isn't really about NOT reading. Rather, it's about how complicated the process of reading really is, and how rarely readers actually think very hard about reading's complications. Thus a more accurate title for Bayard's book might have been: Why You Rarely Read Books in the Way You Think You Do, And How You Go On To Talk About Them Anyway. (It was first published in French, and its title was actually slightly different from the title of its English translation.  In its translation it is titled How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read; in French its title is:  Comment parler des livres que l'on n'a pas lus ?or, How does one talk about books one has not read?  The difference is small, but important. 

In a sense, Bayard’s whole book follows from the conversation we saw beginning with Barthes’ notion of the birth of the reader.  For Barthes’ notion of the birth of the reader invites us to begin a deeper conversation about what, exactly, a “reader” is.  Barthes has one idea, Rabinowitz another (or more properly “others”—since he has more than one!), Radway still another.  Said and Spivak, too, have things to tell us about readers—though not as directly as the other folks.  Bayard joins the conversation by changing it a bit, focusing less on “readers” than on “reading”—but the issues he wants to raise are connected.  Or at least that’s what I say.

That said, the project for Thursday is to get clear on what his first two chapters are arguing.  What I’d like you to do is locate in each chapter your candidate for the title of “Key Passage”—the paragraph that, once someone has fully understood it, provides the interpretive key to understanding the whole point Bayard seems to be making  So—locate a paragraph that seems like the key, and then do your best to explain why. 

For November 18:

Reading: No new reading--just re-reading Spivak in order to answer at least two of the questions below.

Writing: These questions were generated by Spring term's 302 class. We can draft off them for Tuesday, however. Pick two of the following questions to answer as you re-read Spivak's article:

1. Explain the significance of the following terms:

  • tropological deconstruction
  • translation-as-violation
  • freedom-in-troping

2. How does Spivak's theory of translation as violation connect with her critique of U.S. feminist academia?

3. What is a straight-forward way of distinguishing between politics of identity and politics of knowledge? Which would Spivak favor?

4. We understand the literary discourse surrounding Spivak's article, but what is the historical feminist discourse that she is responding to?

5. How does Spivak address truth and in what ways does it relate to feminism?

6. What is the connection between imperialism and feminism?

7. Is it even possible for lanuage to include/incorporate the "other's" (in this case non-white/non-female)'s point of view?

For November 13:

Reading: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Imperialism and Sexual Difference." (On electronic reserve. You can access this essay by logging in to your MyUW page and then clicking on the "View Course Reserves" link in the "My Class Resources" dialogue box.) If you want to read the Kipling story she critiques, you can find it at:

Writing: This is the most difficult reading of the quarter—and you may just find yourself wondering what the heck she's on about at places. Spivak actually made her reputation by being the translator from French to English of Jacques Derrida's famous work On Grammatology.

Unsurprisingly, then, she is very taken by Derridean deconstruction—a down-and-dirty explanation of which might go as follows: every use of language, in spite of what may seem its ability to represent the world truly, actually is finally unstable. Indeed, the notion one can state truth is something of a self-deception. What one does is make an effort to say something true, but that very statement itself depends upon language structures that necessarily distort one's effort to represent truth. Some of these distortions are easier to see than others--she begins this essay by summarizing feminist arguments that destabilize traditional ways of talking about literature. Instead of declaring truths that apply to men and women alike, traditional modes of discourse privilege men's experience and minimize, falsify, or even ignore women's experience.

Spivak endorses that conclusion, but immediately goes on to caution that the succeeding feminist effort to speak truth, while to be admired for its breaking free of traditional bias, runs the danger of failing to understand that its own new truths are also, as all truths are, similarly subject to the claim that they minimize or falsify things.

Her essay then goes on to discuss feminist thought in the context of imperialist discourses, and, as you will see, warns that in some ways feminist discourse seems not to have escaped a kind of collusion with imperialist discourses.

So: To get a bead on Spivak's argument, put those arguments in conversation with Said's arguments. What would he have said about Spivak's argument? What would she have said about his?

In a nutshell, write act three of your Critical Theory Dialogue: Said begins the conversation by commenting on Spivak's piece (as he spears a canapé with a toothpick). What does he say, and what does Spivak then say back?

For November 6:

Reading: Edward Said, "The Politics of Knowledge." (On electronic reserve. You can access this essay by logging in to your MyUW page and then clicking on the "View Course Reserves" link in the "My Class Resources" dialogue box.)

Writing: Said was one of the founders of "postcolonialism," currently one of our profession's major modes of critical discourse. The "poco" (to give it its usual nickname) movement began as pushback against the allegedly Euro-centric tendencies of the then-dominant schools of criticism, both in terms of which books and authors dominated the world canon, and in terms of how the literature and discourses about literature could be seen as instrumental to colonialist and post-colonialist political and cultural domination. Over its relatively short lifespan postcolonialism has morphed into something more abstract: there are now postcolonial studies of pre-colonial literature, for example. The Wikipedia entry for Said provides summaries of both his work and his own complicated and somewhat controversial personal history:

For your response to this reading, however, let's keep closer to home.

For last meeting I asked you to write a dialogue between Rabinowitz and one of the critics who preceded him. For Thursday's class you can write act 2 of the play that that dialogue has turned into, in which Said addresses all three of the most recent critics we've read. Having considered his description of his project in "The Politics of Knowledge," what do you imagine Said would say about the arguments between Barthes and Rabinowitz, for example, concerning reader and author? How might they answer him? Again, you can set this wherever you want, and with whatever props you deem most appropriate.

For November 4:

Reading: Rabinowitz, "Actual Reader and Authorial Reader." (On electronic reserve. You can access this essay by logging in to your MyUW page and then clicking on the "View Course Reserves" link in the "My Class Resources" dialogue box.)

Writing: Two of the key terms I didn't put on the exam simply because they are in a sense too key are "author" and "reader." We've seen in the pieces we've read how the center of literary analysis has moved from the author and what s/he thought or planned or whatever to the reader and what s/he thinks or ought to think. In "Actual Reader and Authorial Reader" Rabinowitz engages the reader-author issue again, and tries to create a way to have both one's reader and one's author, too. We'll be talking about that, and to make sure we don't get too abstract, I will want to come back to Hamlet as a test case.

But for your response paper, I want us all first to get clearer on what Rabinowitz argues, and how his argument carries on the conversation we've been following in Arnold, Barthes and Radway.

So. Having read the Rabinowitz piece, write for your response paper a dialogue between either R and Arnold, Barthes, or Radway. The dialogue would begin with A, B, or R having read the essay just as you have, and responding to R. Knowing what you know about what each of these writers has suggested about readers and writers, what would they say in response to R? What would R say back? (You can have this conversation occur over a nice glass of pinot noir, or in any other setting you might like.)

For October 30:

Midterm exam (part 2) . Bring a blue/green book and something with which you can write clearly and legibly. I will plan the exam as something that can be answered successfully within 60 minutes, but you will have the entire 110 minutes of the scheduled class time to finish the exam.

Writing: No response paper for today. Bring a blue/green book for the midterm.

For October 28:

Reading: No new reading today--just review. But as part of that review I have sent you an email about what I thought I didn't do well enough last week: summarize the theoretical basis for the key claim Barthes makes in his essay--the claim that "the author is dead." Having read that email, go on to read the account of structuralism I've now posted (click here). In class we'll work with Part 1 of the Midterm, with review, and with practical criticism basics.

Writing: Your paragraph nomination, and why we should use it. Part 2 of the midterm comes up on Thursday the 30th; this is your opportunity to help write that midterm. That midterm will include 1 or 2 essay questions just like the one you wrote on last week: a paragraph for which you will give a short precis and explanation, and for which you will be asked to describe how other writers we've read would respond. For this response, choose a paragraph, identify that paragraph (with page number and the introductory phrase), and explain why this would make a good selection for the midterm.

For October 23:

Reading: No new reading for today. The first hour will be spent on review; the second hour will be spent taking Part 1 of the Midterm.

Writing: First, be sure to bring a blue/green book and something with which you can write clearly and legibly. Second, Key Word/Term exercise. Your job is to help in the general class project of putting together a set of key terms from readings and classroom conversation to this point in the course. So. As you go back through Plato, Aristotle, Arnold, Barthes and Radway, select your nominations from each for KEY key terms. 2 nominations from each. In your writing briefly define each of your nominations and give a sentence explaining its importance. (That will be a total of 10 key terms.)

For October 21:

Reading: Radway, "Introduction" to A Feeling for Books. (On electronic reserve. You can access this essay by logging in to your MyUW page and then clicking on the "View Course Reserves" link in the "My Class Resources" dialogue box. (You can also access the essays by clicking HERE.)

Writing: Pay special attention in your reading of Radway to the first whole paragraph on page 204 (beginning "It is essential.....") and the second whole paragraph on page 209 (beginning "The tension...."). Write for ONE of these paragraphs a paragraph of your own in which you describe as specifically as you can how Radford's argument is a turn-taking in a conversation you have already been following in Arnold and Barthes. What issues that we've seen in one or both of those two writers are taken up here? What positions do you see Radford alluding to from her predecessors? does she adopt earlier positons, or extend them? or modify them? or reject them?

For October 16:

Reading: Barthes, "The Death of the Author." (On electronic reserve. You can access this essay by logging in to your MyUW page and then clicking on the "View Course Reserves" in the My Class Resources dialogue box.) (As you read Barthes, but after reading the paragraph below under Writing (just below this paragraph), you might also want to read, or re-read, "Five Principles for Reading Difficult Texts" on the Blackboard.) (You can also access the essays by clicking HERE.)

Writing: This piece is short, but most people find it challenging on their first reading. It truly is a classic of "theory," both in terms of the argument it makes about the nature of literary discourse and literary commentary, and in terms of its rhetorical stance of ironic transgression. Part of its effect follows from Barthes' use of aphoristic sentences. As you read, pick TWO such sentences from the whole that you think are "key" moments. Type them out, and then explain first what you think they mean, and second, why you think they might be important. (Don't worry about being highly successful at this--the point is to have you become at least preliminary experts on at least two ideas you encounter in the text.)

ADDENDUM: Last night in class I handed out a sheet with 12 aphoristic sentences from Barthes' essay. (I've posted that sheet on the Blackboard) I said last night that if you hadn't already picked your own sentences, you could pick any two from this sheet to use for the assignment above.

For October 14:

Reading: Arnold, The Study of Poetry (Click on link for text).

Writing: This is a very famous piece of theoretical criticism, one of a number Arnold wrote which established him as something like the founder of modern literary criticism. Many trace back to Arnold much of what 20th century readers thought the practice of criticism was. I've given you twelve paragraphs of an essay that's about twice that size. Here's what Hazard Adams, in Critical Theory Since Plato, says in introducing readers to the piece:

"Arnold is fond of terms like poetic truth and high seriousness.... His method in 'The Study of Poetry' is not to define these terms but instead to offer poetic examples of them--'touchstones.' These touchstones can be as short as a single line. Like several of his Romantic predecessors, Arnold thinks not so much of the quality of a poem as a whole as he does of the presence of an undefinable poetry quality somewhere in a poem. There is no discursively expressible standard for these touchstones, and the catch-all evaluative term high seriousness is not explained. An educated reader [that would be YOU!] is supposed to sense the presence of high seriousness. The critical power grows as the result of a liberal education. Sound critical judgments are made by educated people, not by those who make a mindless application of principle or method."

Adams goes on: "Arnold's point [is] that one must finally depend on the developed taste and erudition of the critic. [In an earlier essay] Arnold speaks of 'judging' as the critic's business," where that judging (in Arnold's own words) must be 'judgment which almost insensibly forms itself in a fair and clear mind, along with fresh knowldge.'" (pp. 585-6)

I don't know if that will make a lot of immediate sense for you, but that's ok because we will take as our challenge for Tuesday the figuring out of what we CAN make sense of in this piece!

So: there are just 12 paragraphs here--pick the paragraph that seems to you the most interesting of the lot and, 1) give a short, accurate precis of what it says, and then 2) explain what you think is interesting in this particular paragraph. Why did you choose it? What is its So What? (see Reading Difficult Texts)

For October 9:

Reading: Aristotle's Poetics (selection). (The required reading is posted to the Blackboard page.)

Writing: Aristotle was a philosopher just as much as Plato, but he seems less threatened by the existence of other arts (perhaps because he actually had a pretty good day job as the tutor to Alexander the Great!). In these sections from the Poetics Aristotle defines "tragedy," and in doing so provides both a mimetic and a pragmatic theory for it. For your response paper, pick what you take to be three KEY TERMS in Aristotle's explication of tragedy, and define clearly what exactly each of them means.

For October 7:

Reading: Hamlet, Act 5. Plato, The Ion. (For link to The Ion, go to the Blackboard.)

I'm asking you to finish Hamlet as well as read Plato's Ion (which is not very long). I'm not asking you to write on Hamlet, but I do want to have you focus your thinking in a particular way. So let me say something about that here:

In reading Act 5 keep in mind what I suggested Thursday night about the last move most successful dramas make: after having represented a progressive disordering of the play's world, somehow you have to be given a sense of how that will all come back into some kind of order. It may well be a very chastened sense of order--indeed, in tragedy it very often is. To be sure, you can't go back to the (very often arrogant and unknowing) ordered ways of the past with which you enter act 1. But traditional drama looks for some amount of reconstruction. How does that happen here?

What we said about Hamlet on Thursday included the notion that, at least with respect to Hamlet's own sense of order, we are actually offered in acts 1-4 a series of possible reorderings, none of which actually work.

In Hamlet's first soliloquy he is clearly OUT of order (!). He is "melancholy," in the Elizabethan vocabulary, depressed and alienated in ours. As he speaks his lines we hear him say that his life, and the work around him, seems to him meaningless and empty--a wasteland: "weary, stale, flat and unprofitable...." The world is "an unweeded garden" --he sees nothing fruitful, nothing useful. Then we noted that at the end of that act a "new" Hamlet emerges. Having encountered the ghost, Hamlet now is excited, and he's on a mission. He has a purpose, a thing to do: "The time is out of joint," he says, alluding to the broken order he sees around him, "Ah, cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!"

What he says in those lines is in the form of a lament, but I hear an ironic tone in those words as well. It may be a world of mayhem he has found himself in, but the upside is that he now has a role to play, a thing to do: revenge.

Four acts later, Hamlet has done a lot. It is often said of Hamlet that he just sits around and talks but does nothing. That is actually a very strange thing to say. By the time Act 5 rolls around Hamlet has staged a play, which he himself has rewritten, he has killed Polonius, he has engaged in some sort of semi-violent break up of love with Ophelia, he has upbraided his mother and scared her within an inch of her life, and he has been on a sea journey where he engineered a reversal of fate for himself and for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Inaction is not his problem! (And by mid-scene in Act 5, scene 1 he has leapt into Ophelia's grave and started a ranting fist fight with Laertes!) You can certainly argue that Hamlet's actions don't get him anywhere (except the switching of the letters on the boat--that worked quite well, actually!), but not that he's inactive.

Now. What I suggested on Thursday was that these actions are all ways Hamlet tries to take control of the out-of-control situation--ways "to set it right," in his phrase from Act 1.

When you get to Act 5, however, things change. Until Act 5, scene 2 he's been busy plotting and counterplotting--and therefore, ironically, modeling himself on arch-enemy Claudius, who is busy plotting and counter-plotting in return. Maybe, one might conclude, that's not been a good plan. I suggested to you that the key speech to think about there is the "fall of a sparrow" speech. There he reflects on the meaning of human action in what I think is a way that is distinctly different from what we have seen from him before. One of the things critics try hard to interpret in this speech is his very famous phrase: "The readiness is all." Nice, short and sweet. But: What is "readiness" in this context? What does it mean to say that that is "all"? Some feel that if they could just get a clear grasp of this phrase, it might be the key to the whole experience. What do YOU think?

So, finally, your reading Question for Hamlet: what move in the great identity crisis Hamlet undergoes throughout this play does this speech represent? What does this speech DO to advance, change, resist what has been the thrust of the play with respect to Hamlet to this point?

We'll take time in class on Tuesday to sort that out. And we'll also look closely at Horatio's final speech--all in an effort to answer the larger question I left you with on Thursday:

If the last move of plays like this is towards a (chastened) reordering of the society's moral landscape, how is that suggested here? Indeed, how can there be ANY moral reordering after a scene which, after seeing or hearing of at least four deaths before this scene [R&G, Ophelia, Polonius] leaves the corpses of four more people strewn about--Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, Hamlet, all of whom have been principals of everything that has happened since Act 1?

(I have not asked you to write up an answer to these questions as a response paper, instead asking you to focus on the Ion. But we will take time in class to see what you've come up with.)

Writing: Plato uses the dialogue form for his philosophy, which on the one hand tends to make his work more readable, but on the other hand also makes some of his points a little less obvious. (Darn!) The major issue in this dialogue concerns truth and who, between poetry and philosophy, has the best bead on it. I talked in class about the Ion on Tuesday; I explained that Ion was a "rhapsode"--not a poet himself, but a man who made his living by expert reciting and explaining of the great poets (in Ion's case, his Great Poet is Homer). So in taking shots at Ion Socrates is technically taking shots at the performing of poetry--not poetry itself. But still, as Socrates critiques Ion, he also manages to indict poetry as a whole.

Your task for Tuesday: Locate the stretch in the Ion in which you think Socrates makes his most effective case again the poet. Explain what his argument is and how it extends beyond the mere performance of poetry to the art of poetic creation as well. Finally, imagine how you might refute Socrates' claims. Ion turns out not to be the brightest bulb in the room, but if he had been brighter by a few watts, what might he have said back?

For October 2:

Reading: Hamlet, Acts 3 and 4. Again, look for a 10-12 line segment of text in each of the two assigned acts. This time write out for yourself a brief paragraph for each in which you give your best description of what work you see your textual segments DOING in the play. (This is not a response paper--just notes to help you remember once you get to class why you made the choices you did.)

(The things that lines of text typically do include: advancing details of plot; providing insights into character; offering opportunities for figurative attention; enabling or advancing one or more thematic conversations.)

Writing: Go to your group's Catalyst GoPost site and read through the essays that your group will have posted for response paper 1. Then play the role of theorist as you summarize your impressions about what you’ve read. What, generally, can you say about what your classmates as a group have done when they’ve done English? Differently put, if you were trying to use these essays as a sort of data base from which to adduce a description of what we do when we do English, what are some of the things that that description would have to include? (500 word limit)

Submit your essay to the CollectIt box below (NOT to the GoPost board) by noon on Thursday, October 2:

(I will be reviewing your essays before I come to class.)


For September 30:

Reading: Hamlet, Acts 1 and 2. For each act, select one 10-12 line chunk of lines that you think is particularly cool, for whatever reason. You can mark it in your book, or copy it out, or bring a xerox of the two. We'll do an exercise with the lines you bring.

Writing: GoPost assignment. Follow this link: Catalyst. Then see what group you are in (instructions on the page above the Group URLs), click on your assigned URL and have at it.