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Questions for a Take-Home Exam

Due in Session 19

Choose any ONE of the questions below and write a 4-5 page paper that responds to the chosen question. Narrow the question down to a coherent and manageable set of issues. I would encourage you to try and make your responses as specific as possible, using examples from the literary texts we have read thus far to illustrate your argument. I don't, of course, expect definitive "solutions" to the problems raised by the question — the questions are broad and thus speculation is encouraged. However, I do wish you to take positions, to try to articulate and to defend your point of view. Please feel free to call me or drop by if you need clarification regarding the questions, or want to bounce some ideas off me before actually writing the paper.

  1. Osip Brik, an important figure in the Russian formalist movement, once remarked that Pushkin's Eugene Onegin would have been written even if Pushkin had not lived. What do you understand by this assertion? Defend or critique it by drawing on some of the theoretical positions we have examined this term. Use examples as and when appropriate.
  2. An often-quoted phrase of Derrida's is: Il n'y a pas de hors-texte. The sentence is hard to translate. Literally, it reads "there is no outside-text" or even more clumsily "there is not of the outside-text." In what sorts of ways might this be interpreted? What do you think Derrida might mean? Discuss, using examples as appropriate.
  3. What is the relationship between structuralism and post-structuralism? Another way of asking this question is: how should we make sense of the "post" in "post-structuralism"? Since this is a broad question, you might want to try and specify it further. For example, you might want to compare the ways in which the idea of the text and of intertextuality is construed (either implicitly or explicitly) in structuralist and poststructuralist theories. Or you might want to begin by considering the different ways in which the prefix "post" functions, and develop this into an analysis of the "post" in post-structuralism. Or you could take a different tack. Be specific and try and use examples to illustrate your points.
  4. The Unconscious, Lacan writes, is the discourse of the Other. What do you think he means by this? Using your reading of Freud, Lacan and Zizek, pursue the implications of this statement. Again, be specific and use textual/filmic examples as and when appropriate. (Here, too, you will need to decide how to focus your paper. You could, for example, examine the question of the subject, that is, of the speaking voice or intending self in its relation to the structures that surround it. Or, you could focus on Lacan's sense of how language works. Or figure out a different emphasis.)
  5. One of the distinctive features of Michel Foucault's thought is the intertwining of knowledge and power. Write a brief essay on how Foucault conceives this coupling. Again, you will need to narrow your focus. You could, for example, examine the issue through the notion of authorship: how does Foucault think we establish the idea of an author? Another approach might be to consider Foucault's argument regarding what constitutes an object of knowledge such as sexuality. Again, use the texts you have read to provide concrete illustrations.

Part 2

Write a 4-5 page essay — 12pt Times Roman or equivalent, one inch margins — on one of the following five "texts" named below (some of these are attached to the midterm). Your essay should make use of one or a combination of the theoretical methods we have examined thus far. Be specific, make sure you have clear and cogent argument, avoid lists and unnecessary plot summary.

Keats, John. This Living Hand.

Dinesen, Isak. Sorrow Acre.

Hoffman, E. T. A. The Sandman.

Rich, Adrienne. Diving into the Wreck.

Polanski, Roman. Chinatown.

Example Papers

"An Equal and Opposite Reaction: Dialectic Relationships in In the Lake of the Woods" by Laurel Ruhlen (PDF) (Courtesy of Laurel Ruhlen. Used with permission.)

"Paranoia and the Circulation of Discourse" by Tim Suen (PDF) (Courtesy of Timothy Suen. Used with permission.)

"Dreams in the Common Language" by Laurel Ruhlen (PDF) (Courtesy of Laurel Ruhlen. Used with permission.)

"A Real Wreck: Lacan in Rich's Diving Into the Wreck" by Laurel Ruhlen (PDF) (Courtesy of Laurel Ruhlen. Used with permission.)

"Il n'y a pas de hors-texte" by Leila Agha (PDF)

"The Political Unconscious and Jane Eyre" by Leila Agha (PDF)