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English 302, Spring 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!!


#6 and #7.

The instructions are as follows:

Write on one of the two passages. The object of your essay will be to explain fully and clearly:

1. what is being argued in the paragraph you select;

2. how what is being argued fits into the overall argument of the article as a whole;

3. how this argument connects to an on-going critical conversation in at least two other critics we've looked at over the course of the quarter; and

4. what difference understanding this makes to you, personally, as a reader.

Remember to be specific and full in explaining what you see and what it means.
As I said in class: NO MORE THAN 1000 words.

Good luck--today's submissions should be emailed back to me by 4:00pm today. Please EMBED the answer in your email. You can do this by blocking and copying. If you can't figure out how, send me a note.


THE FINAL: We are using an E-final format. The original final is scheduled for Friday, June 13, 2008, 2:30-4:20 pm. But to give you more flexibility, you may in fact take the final any day of next week. (But you can take it only once!)

I will indicate on this page each day WHICH TWO paragraphs from the set I've posted you can write on for that day. You will write on one of the two paragraphs.

I will post that notice by noon; you will have until 4:00pm Seattle time to send your essay to me by email.(Embedded within the message--not as an attachment. You can do this by blocking, cutting and pasting into the email message.) Late papers will be docked a point a minute.

(Your emails automatically record the time they are sent--that will be the time by which I will sort out timeliness.)

Because this process is far more flexible than having to arrive on campus at a predetermined time, and write within the limits of the scheduled final period, I really do NOT expect you to have any problem completing the final on an appropriate day with the appropriate passages and with the appropriate timeliness.

Each day I will choose passages by lottery--I'll draw numbers out of a hat. That means it is mathematically possible that I will draw the SAME numbers each day. And it is also possible that one or more of the passages on the Study Page will not appear at all (it may even be likely, and not just possible!). And, finally, it is also possible (though unlikely) that both passages will be from the same article.

The actual instructions for your writing I will post with Monday's first selected pair of passages; I will, however, be asking you to write on one of the two passages. The object of your essay will be to explain fully and clearly

1. what is being argued in the paragraph;
2. how what is being argued fits into the overall argument of the article as a whole;
3. how this argument connects to an on-going critical conversation in at least two other critics we've looked at over the course of the quarter; and
4. what difference understanding this makes to you, personally, as a reader.

As I said in class: NO MORE THAN 1000 words.

Finally, I will answer questions via email up until Monday morning, and I'll post answers to the list as a whole (as I did with Bayard).

For final passages, click here


For notes written to various members of the class about various chapters in Bayard, click here

June 5

Reading: None

Writing: Term Project due. See assignment on Blackboard.

June 3

Reading: Bayard, Chapter 3. We're going to do a "Why What So What" exercise with this chapter, and we're going to succeed!

Writing: No response paper; portfolio is due, though it can be turned in on Thursday with NO penalty. See assignment on Blackboard. (p.s., a "detailed listing" of response papers just means: NOT "Response Paper 1", but "Response Paper 6: Dialogue between Said and Radway" [or whatever the title you would give your piece might be])

May 29

NO PHYSICAL CLASS. I invite you instead to write me via email about your reading of your chapter in How to Talk. I will answer your emails, and I'll circulate the questions and answers that seem to me particularly interesting to the whole class list. I'll make all contributions to that list anonymous, just to ensure that you won't be reluctant to write in for fear of saying something not-quite-perfect.

No writing assignment beyond the invitation to send me mail. All mail sent on May 29 counts as "office hour mail." I will answer it all, though if it turns out to be a lot, it may take me to Friday sometime to get it processed.

May 27

Reading: Actually--this is not so much a "reading" assignment as it is a "re-reading" assignment. The goal: re-read Chapters 1 and 2 of Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

In talking in class this week about the Barthes excerpts I urged you to think about how the way we read things can change from one reading to another. When you first read Barthes, for example, you might have come out of that reading with a sense of what he was saying, and (perhaps in consequence) of what value there was in his argument.

But Barthes' text is complicated, and tough to understand fully on a first, or even a second, go. Now that we've talked about the essay a lot, many of you have come to a different "sense" of what it's finally about. (This I know because I've now talked with a number of you about the questions you have had about Barthes' argument.) This means that Barthes' text was hard to "get," but, since part of what we do when we re-read is actually revise--change--our first reading, it also begins to suggest that what we call "reading" is, as a process, more complicated than it often seems. In many ways, one could even say that when you first "read" Barthes you didn't actually "read" Barthes at all. You read AT Barthes, but in a way that echoes what all of us do when trying to read something that is very new and different: you were both reading Barthes, and yet NOT reading Barthes at the same time.

Which brings us back to Bayard. I don't remember all of what we talked about lo these many weeks ago. I was coming down with the flu, and the next few weeks were a blur. But had I been fully conscious, I would have suggested to you that one of the things that makes HTTABYHR a harder read than it should be is its title.

For 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.

So I'm interested in hearing from you on Tuesday about what has, or what has not, changed in your reading of Bayard as a result of the conversations we've had over the past 4 weeks. We've introduced a series of theoretical conversational topics: the social construction of the self, the idea of the canon, the slipperiness of truth, identity politics, the "death" of the author and the birth of the reader.

And that last--the birth of the reader--has also enabled us to begin a 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. For his part, Bayard changes the conversation a little, focusing less on "readers" than on "reading"--but the issues he wants to raise are connected. Or so my claim goes. I look forward to hearing what you have to say about all this on Tuesday.

Writing: Actually, you can take your pick. Write either on:

a. Questions you still have. What are the concepts and formulations that you have trouble sorting out here, and (include this, too) what is your best guess about what they contribute to B's argument?


b. We ended the Spivak class with a quick exercise in the way the questions "What, Why, and So What" can help you pull together the work you have done in sorting out what a difficult text has to say. For Tuesday's response paper, get as far as you can on an explanation of the What, the Why and the So What of these first two chapters.

May 22


Reading: No new reading--just re-reading Spivak in order to answer at least one of the questions below. (If you want to read the Kipling story she critiques, you can find it at:

Writing: pick one of the following questions generated in class 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" (non-white/non-female)'s point of view?

May 20

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.)

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.

To get a bead on her argument, put it 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 dialogue: Said begins the conversation by commenting on Spivak's piece. What does he say, and what does Spivak then say back?

May 15

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 contraversial 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.

May 13

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.)

May 8

Midterm exam. 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.

May 6

Reading: Review. No new readings.

Writing: 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. Go back through Aristotle, Arnold, Barthes and Radway and select your nominations for KEY key terms. 2 words from each. Briefly define each of your nominations and give a sentence explaining its importance. (That will be a total of 8 key terms.)

May 1

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.)

Writing: Pay special attention in your reading 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?

April 29

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,", you might also want to read, or re-read, "Five Principles for Reading Difficult Texts" on the Blackboard.)

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--that point is to have you become at least preliminary experts on at least two ideas you encounter in the text.)

April 24

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 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.'" (Critical Theory Since Plato, pp. 585-6)

I don't imagine that will make a lot of immediate sense for you, but that's ok because we will take as our challenge for Thursday the figuring out of what we CAN make sense of in this piece! There are just 12 paragraphs here--pick the paragraph that seems to you the most interesting of the lot and, 1) give a short precis of what it says, and then 2) explain what you think is interesting in this particular paragraph.

April 22

Reading: Selections from Aristotle's Poetics, and Sidney's Defence of Poetry. (Both are included on the Blackboard.) Some of Aristotle’s key words and phrases:


Last week I laid out for you four major theoretical orientations that western literary theories have tended to have over the past 2500 years (see the Blackboard for an outline of those orientations).

For Tuesday, first use those categories to think about Aristotle. How many of these orientations does his theory take? Which key ideas belong to each of the orientations you see? [Aristotle's key ideas include: an imitation of an action; complete, whole and of a certain magnitude; character; pity and fear; catharsis; philosophical vs. historical; the law of probability or necessity.]

Then imagine you are Aristotle. What would you like about this play? What terms would you use to praise it? How exactly, for example, does the play create the emotions Aristotle describes as necessary to tragedy?

Then imagine you are Philip Sidney (one of Queen Elizabeth's most distinguished courtiers, by the way--and a pretty good poet in his own right). Would he like Hamlet? Given what he says about what poetry should do (and by "poetry" Sidney means any imaginatively "made" object--which a play obviously is), is Hamlet a successful "poem"? How? What do you see it doing that Sidney would admire? Or hate?

April 17

Reading: Shakespeare's Hamlet, Acts 4 and 5.

Writing: In a way, the biggest challenge in writing a tragedy is what to do with the ending. You are writing about gross disasters, corpses are lying all over the stage, and the audience is nevertheless supposed to leave the theatre not totally depressed but in fact somehow pleased and elevated! I mentioned Tuesday that the classic play structure moves in three stages--an opening period of "order," a middle period of increasing "disorder," and then a final move to "re-order" the play's world.

Your assignment for today? Pick a passage in Act 5 that you think does at least some of the work of putting the world of this play back together. What is supposed to reorder this horrible mess of a place? In just the final scene, after all, we see the deaths of Gertrude, Claudius, Laertes and Hamlet--and hear from almost the very last lines in the play that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also dead! What do you see that "reorders"? Or maybe there is nothing--"the rest is silence"? What do YOU think? (For an online conversation about that last phrase of Hamlet's, and how many different ways some people have read it, see:

The conversation on that site raises a question we will need to deal with: what do we do in the face of multiple readings? Are they all right? Does everybody get to have his or her own opinion? If not, why not?)

April 15

Reading: Shakespeare's Hamlet, Acts 2 and 3.

Writing: Yesterday in class I asked you in groups to locate particular moments in your scene that you thought would be important to keep in mind as we read on into the play. For Tuesday I want you to do the same thing, but on your own, for 3 moments in acts 2 and 3. (So you might pick one moment in Act 2, and two moments in Act 3--or vice versa.) Then for each, explain why you think the moment you've noticed is of interest. We will also have in class the first of two "Moment Quizzes," in which you'll be asked to recognize a moment in Act 3 and explain why it is a moment worth noticing.

April 10

Reading: Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act 1. (Read all the act, even though I've only asked you each to write on a single scene.)

Writing: You've each been assigned a scene from Act 1 of Hamlet. Write a paper in which you explain what you see going on in that scene other than simply the plot. In a word, try your hand at interpreting what you read. You can look up notes from a class or go online if you want (though if you do, do include a note explaining what you did and what you got where), but that's not really necessary. I just want to get a sense of what you as a class can do with one of these scenes. You can focus on just a few lines, or explain what you think the scene as a whole is doing. As I said in class, the point is to do something to explain what is unsaid in the scene--what is implied or "meant."

To illustrate I gave you the example of the first two lines of the play, where out on the battlements the wrong person gives the challenge. The person coming to relieve the guard says, "Who goes there?" But it is actually the guard's job to challenge any unknown person approaching--and so the guard replies: "Nay, answer me!"

So what? One explanation would be that in these first lines Shakespeare gives you just a little bit of confusion, something a little disordered, as a way to open a play that will turn out to be about a great deal indeed of disorder. It also begins to prepare all of us for the ghost's appearance--obviously everyone in the scene is just a little nervous, acting just a little weird.

So, the "said" part of the scene are the two lines; the "unsaid" part of the scene is the explanation a critic could supply to explain what those two lines' effect is, along with an explanation of their role in the scene and play to come.

April 8

Reading: Bayard, How to Talk, pp i-xix, and 1-31.

Writing: Bayard's title uses a very typical "English Studies" way of talking, for it is quintessentially ironic. Irony is saying one thing but meaning something else. An obvious example would be, in the midst of a horrendous downpour that catches you and a crowd of other people without umbrellas, to look at a fellow sufferer and declare: "Nice weather, isn't it?!" You'd really be saying that the weather isn't nice at all, thus saying one thing, but meaning another.

In Bayard's case he says he will be talking about Not Reading, but one could argue that that's not really what he's talking about at all.

With that thought in mind, find a sentence in each of chapters 1 and 2 that seems to you to summarize Bayard's real point in the chapter. Then, first explain in your own words what you think he's trying to say, and second, for one of the two, react to it. Do you think his claim makes sense? Explain your thinking. Use examples from your own experience as a reader either to support Bayard's positon, or to explain its shortcomings.

April 3

Reading: All of the narratives from your Group's GoPost submissions. (See Catalyst for access.)

Writing: For your classwork today, first read all of the narratives submitted in your group (that will be 9 essays—all to be submitted before class begins at 1:30 pm).

Then I want you to 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? Or, more generally still, what people do as readers in an academic setting?

Submit this essay to the CollectIt box below (NOT to the Gopost board) by Friday , April 4, noon: