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First Assessed Essay: Reading Literature, Culture and Theory together

2020-2021

Throughout this term, we’ve been practicing four seemingly distinct skills: learning how to read, summarise, and engage with theoretical texts; learning how to close read and analyse novels and poetry (broadly conceived to include music and other poetic texts) ; learning how to “apply” theory to texts; and learning how to use literary texts to open up, interrogate, and challenge theoretical texts and concepts. For this assessed essay you will unite these different skills, bringing literature, culture, and theory together. You are also encouraged to challenge conventional distinctions between theory and literary texts (broadly conceived to include poetry, music, and so forth). Thus you may wish to treat the literary texts as theorisations or read the theoretical texts as literary texts.

Answer ONE of the following questions:

  1. How might a literary or poetic text either perpetuate or challenge dominant ideologies? For this essay, you want to make sure you clearly define ideology based on the relevant texts and then illustrate your claim with one literary text.
  2. Write an analytical essay comparing 2-3 theoretical approaches to reading poetry (you can draw here from the readings for Unit 1 or 2) and illustrate your comparison through an engagement with one of the poems, songs, or album. Ideally, you want to connect these theoretical approaches by identifying a key debate or central problematic.
  3. At one point in The Gathering, Veronica says: ‘But I have disturbed the ghosts. They are outside the door of the room, now, as the ghosts of my childhood once were; they are behind the same door. Their story is there, out on the landing of Griffith Way, waiting for me one more time.’ How does the novel articulate haunting, belonging, and memory? In your answer, please refer to at least one theoretical text.
  4. Write an essay comparing the possibilities and limits of two feminist approaches we’ve studied in Term 1. You can draw on approaches found in either literary or theoretical texts. Ideally, you want to connect these theoretical approaches by identifying a key debate or central problematic in feminism.
  5. Write an essay that examines the importance of the concept of the “unconscious” for understanding literature and culture. To make your claim, put one of the theoretical and one of the literary texts in conversation, though how you do so is up to you. Make sure you carefully define how your authors understand the unconscious.
  6. In the preface to Surge, Jay Bernard writes: ‘I am from here, I am specific to this place, I am haunted by this history but I also haunt it back.’ How does Black cultural production theorise absence and presence (archival, visual, literary or otherwise)? In your answer, please refer to at least one theoretical text.
  7. How might we engage in Cyborg literary criticism? Write an essay that explores how either Donna Harraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” or Janelle Monae’s Arch-Android offers a way of reading or thinking about literature and culture.
  8. Write an essay that makes a claim for how one of the literary texts we’ve read in Term 1 engages with history on both the level of content and form? While you want to pay attention to questions of representation, but also questions of style and form. You will want to draw on at least one theoretical text here to support your reading.

For each essay, you’re being asked to do two key things. First, drawing on your precis assignment, you’re being asked to explicate your key-term. Second, you’re being asked to engage in original, interpretive work of your key literary text.

Above all, remember that this assignment – as with most of the essays and exams you’ll write at Warwick – is argument-driven. Even when you’re comparing texts, you still want to be making a strong (rather than weakly descriptive) claim based on the evidence of the text and its implication in a wider world.