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English 302, Fall 2008

The Final

The Final for this class will be held as an e-final on Thursday, December 11, 2008. 

The Final is optional.  If you choose not to take the exam, you will receive a score which is the average of your midterm and term project scores. 

(The term projects will be scored by Tuesday; if you want to know your score, send me a note specifically requesting that I send you your score.)  (Unless you specifically request it, I can’t send you an email with your score in it as that could technically constitute a breach of your privacy rights.) 

For those of you taking the exam, I will post the paragraph numbers at 6pm; you will have until 9pm to email me your essay.  Email them as texts EMBEDDED in an email, and not as attachments.  (You can embed in most email programs by blocking and copying what you have written in your word processor and pasting that copy into the email.)

Below are 4 passages, two from each of the final two readings of the quarter.  Of these four passages I will designate two for the final, and you will write on one of those two.  The instruction will be: 

Write an essay about ONE of the following two passages.  In your essay explain fully and clearly

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

WORD LIMIT:  1000 words

Possible passages for the Final. 

1. Said, p. 192

Such constructed things—they have only an elusive reality—as the Chinese mind or the Greek spirit have always been with us; they are at the source of a great deal that goes into the making of individual cultures, nations, traditions, and peoples. But in the modern world considerably greater attention has generally been given to such identities than was ever given in earlier historical periods, when the world was larger, more amorphous, less globalized. Today a fantastic emphasis is placed upon a politics of national identity, and to a very great degree, this emphasis is the result of the imperial experience. For when the great modern Western imperial expansion took place all across the world, beginning in the later eighteenth century, it accentuated the interaction between the identity of the French or the English and that of the colonized native peoples. And this mostly antagonistic interaction gave rise to a separation between people as members of homogenous races and exclusive nations that was and still is one of the characteristics of what can be called the epistemology of imperialism. At its core is the supremely stubborn thesis that everyone is principally and irreducibly a member of some race or category, and that race or category cannot ever be assimilated to or accepted by others—except as itself. Thus came into being such invented essences as the Oriental or Englishness, as Frenchness, Africanness, or American exceptionalism, as if each of those had a Platonic idea behind it that guaranteed it as pure and unchanging from the beginning to the end of time.

2. Said, p. 198

One of the great pleasures for those who read and study literature is the discovery of long-standing norms in which all cultures known to me concur: such things as style and performance, the existence of good as well as lesser writers, and the exercise of preference. What has been most unacceptable during the many harangues on both sides of the so-called Western canon debate is that so many of the combatants have ears of tin, and are unable to distinguish between good writing and politically correct attitudes, as if a fifth-rate pamphlet and a great novel have more or less the same significance. Who benefits from leveling attacks on the canon? Certainly not the disadvantaged person or class whose history, if you bother to read it at all, is full of evidence that popular resistance to injustice has always derived immense benefits from literature and culture in general, and very few from invidious distinctions made between ruling-class and subservient cultures. After all, the crucial lesson of C. L. R. James’s Black Jacobins, or of E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class (with its reminder of how important Shakespeare was to nineteenth-century radical culture), is that great antiauthoritarian uprisings made their earliest advances, not by denying the humanitarian and universalist claims of the general dominant culture, but by attacking the adherents of that culture for failing to uphold their own declared standards, for failing to extend them to all, as opposed to a small fraction, of humanity.

3. Spivak, p. 340

My theoretical model is taken from Paul de Man. De Man suggests that a critical philosopher initially discovers that the basis of a truth-claim is no more than a trope. In the case of academic feminism the discovery is that to take the privileged male of the white race as a norm for universal humanity is no more than a politically interested figuration. It is a trope that passes itself off as truth, and claims that woman or the racial other is merely a kind of troping of that truth of man—in the sense that they must be understood as unlike (non identical with) it and yet with reference to it. In so far as it participates in this discovery, even the most “essentialist” feminism or race-analysis is engaged in a tropological deconstruction. De Man goes on to suggest, however, that even as it establishes the truth of this discovery, the critical philosopher’s text begins to perform the problems inherent in the very institution of epistemological production, of the production, in other words, of any “truth” at all. By this logic, varieties of feminist theory and practice must reckon with the possibility that, like any of the discursive practice, they are marked and constituted by, even as they constitute, the field of their production. If much of what I write here seems to apply as much to the general operations of imperialist disciplinary practice as to feminism, it is because I wish to point at the dangers of not acknowledging the connections between the two.

4. Spivak, p. 347

When versions of my general argument are presented to academic Women’s Resource Groups and the like, sympathy seems instantaneous. Yet, because of the presence of the double standard, the difference in the quality or level of generosity of discourse and allocation that engage the First and the Third Worlds remains striking. This discrepancy is also to be observed within curricular planning. In the distribution of resources, feminist literary criticism celebrates the heroines of the First World in a singular and individualist, and the collective presence of women elsewhere in a pluralized and inchoate fashion. These tendencies are not covered over by our campus battles for affirmative action on behalf of “women of colour.” Such battles should, of course, be fought with our full participation. But they are ad hoc sexist activities that should be distinguished from a specifically “feminist” enterprise. In the absence of persistent vigilance, there is no guarantee that an upwardly mobile woman of colour in the U.S. academy would not participate in the structure I have outlined—at least to the extent of conflating the problems of ethnic domination in the United States with the problem of exploitation across the international division of labour; just as many in Britain tend to confuse it with problems of Immigration Law. It may be painful to reckon that this, too, is a case of the certified half-caste’s limited access to the norm. It is almost as if the problem of racism within feminism can qualify as such only when resident or aspiring to be resident in the First World.