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Final Essay (1,500 words) – 30% – Due Aug. 11
This essay requires you to compare and contrast two of the assigned readings. You
cannot use the same texts you covered in your Reading Reports. Your essay must
have a thesis about the relationship you want to establish between the two texts.
Your thesis, for example, could be about how one text can be used in conjunction
with another text to improve the other’s shortcomings (to cover its “blind spots,” so
to speak), or how there is a clear evolution, or divergence, in thought from one text
to another. You could also write about how two texts are incompatible at the
theoretical level and thus force us to make an either/or decision when it comes to
choosing a method of approach. Again, you may want to consult secondary sources
for this assignment, but if you do so, the same rules apply as stated in the
instructions to the first two assignments. Your grade will be based on how well you
understand the theoretical texts you are writing about, the quality of your thesis,
and how well your essay is written (style, clarity, grammar, etc.).
The following prompts are provided to help you brainstorm. It is up to you if you use them,
modify them, or invent your own topic.
Copies, Copies Everywhere
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates states, “And so if the tragic poet is an imitator, he too is thrice
removed from the king [god] and from the truth; and so are all other imitators” (310). How has
literary and critical theory responded to the notion that mimetic art is a degraded copy of
something else? Focusing on two authors (not covered in your reading reports), explore how
theory has criticized and/or celebrated the untruthfulness of representation?
Reality and Representation
In the Poetics, Aristotle writes, “It is the function of a poet to relate not things that have
happened, but things that may happen, i.e. that are possible in accordance with probability or
necessity. … For this reason poetry is a more philosophical and more serious thing than history;
poetry tends to speak of universals, history of particulars” (12). Can art represent reality? If so,
how? Against Plato’s accusation that art is untruthful, explore how two authors (not covered in
your reading reports) have argued in qualified ways for the validity of artistic representation.
Free Play and Boundary-Crossing
“Full of creative contentment, [art] jumbles up metaphors and shifts the boundary stones of
abstraction, describing a river, for example, as a moving road that carries men to destinations
to which they normally walk” (Nietzsche 151-52). Explore the importance of “free play” and
boundary-crossing in two authors (not covered in your reading reports). How have these
authors argued for the importance play?
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The (Literary) Unconscious
“Our hypothesis is that in our mental apparatus there are two thought-constructing agencies,
of which the second enjoys the privilege of having free access to consciousness for its products,
whereas the activity of the first is in itself unconscious and can only reach consciousness by way
of the second” (Freud 676). Do art and literature have an unconscious? If so, how does it work
and become manifest in artistic representation? Explore notions of the unconscious in two
authors (not covered in your reading reports).
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
According to Jacques Lacan’s “The Mirror Stage,” a transformation occurs in “the subject when
he assumes an image” (2). How do the images of self offered in art and literature have a
similarly transformative effect? Are these images empowering, distorting, imprisoning? Explore
the transformative effect of images of self in two authors (not covered in your reading reports).
Ex-centric Thought
According to Jacques Derrida, “The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the
center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center
elsewhere. The center is not the center. The concept of centered structure … is contradictorily
coherent” (352). How has literary and critical theory tried to do away with the idea of stable
centres? Explore themes of de-centring in two authors (not covered in your reading reports).
Authority and Authorship
In “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes famously proclaims, “the birth of the reader must
be at the cost of the death of the Author.” Can the role of the author and his or her context
really be done away with so easily? What is gained or lost in the process? Explore questions of
authority, authorship, and/or readership in two authors (not covered in your reading reports).
Discourse Analysis
“Indeed, it is in discourse that power and knowledge are joined together. And for this very
reason, we must conceive discourse a series of discontinuous segments whose tactical function
is neither uniform nor stable. … Discourses are not once and for all subservient to power or
raised up against it” (Foucault 101). According to Foucault discourse is the site not only of
power but also of resistances, or “reverse discourse.” Explore two authors (not covered in your
reading reports) who explore the “tactical polyvalence of discourse” (broadly construed).
Surface Reading
In “Surface Reading,” Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best write, “we take surface to mean what is
evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts; what is neither hidden nor hiding; what, in the
geometrical sense, has length and breadth but no thickness, and therefore covers no depth”
(9). Explore two authors (not covered in your reading reports) who demonstrate an interest in
surfaces over depths? What is gained or lost by this refocusing?
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