Reading South and North: Literature of the Americas


Assigments Winter 2001

Student Research Project
Research Project Description
Midterm Short Essay
Portfolio Assignment (Final)

Literary Theory Workshop

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8

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Student Research Projects

During winter quarter, in groups of two or three, you will research a topic related to program contents. You should turn in a brief paragraph stating your selected topic by Monday, January 15. The paragraph should include a sentence or two defining the specific theme on which you will focus, and another few sentences about your initial approach.
Some hints to help you in your selection:

Appropriate approaches: comparative, descriptive and/or analytical, with more or less emphasis on linguistic, literary, sociocultural, and historical issues

Appropriate topics:

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Winter Research Project Description

This assignment is due on Monday, February 12, before lecture. You have been conducting research for the last four weeks and you should be able to establish the specific core of your work and determine the extent of your interest. Each group should prepare one description that includes the research of each of the group's members.

The description of our project should be at least 250 words clearly stating the major theme and/or activity, with related and relevant issues.--
 Here are some useful hints for writing your description, extracted from the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers  :

The description should include:
* Title (straightforward and brief)
* Significance and aims of the project
* Conception and definition of the project (basic ideas or questions to be explored)
* Plan of work and methodology


The bibliography should be in alphabetical order, and you can divide it into sections such as general reference works, books and articles, or according to themes covered. The citations should comply with the MLA format.

Try to include in your bibliography only those titles that directly apply to your topic, for which you should have physical contact with the book or article, or possibly know of its contents by reading indexes or abstracts. You may proceed in your library work by first consulting general reference books that will lead you to more specialized material on the subject; in any case you should have first-hand knowledge of your sources.

You should have a minimum of 10 entries. Each member of the group should prepare a separate bibliography for their respective parts.

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Midterm Short Essay

First Draft Due Wednesday, January 31st at 10:00: an analytical essay on either Ship of Fools or Almanac of the Dead (or drawing on both) in relation to postmodernism and/or globalization.  Bring three copies to exchange with others.

We have now read two novels and had four lectures on topics concerning postmodernism and globalization.  (Attendees of workshop have also had three workshops on these topics).  The purpose of this essay assignment is: 1) to assess whether you understand some central concepts concerning postmodernism and globalization; and 2) to develop your capacity to make use of these concepts in literary analysis.

Your task: think about the ways that literature responds to our contemporary postmodern/global era.  Select one or more concepts related to postmodernism and/or globalization (for example "history," "tradition", "mass media," "authenticity," "heterogeneity," "displacement," etc.).  With reference to one or both novels, analyze the literary treatment of one or more of these concepts.

Your essay must have a thesis statement and a clearly developed argument.  The argument should demonstrate your understanding of postmodernism and/or globalization.  You should provide clear working definitions of the key terms you use in your argument.  You should include evidence to support your argument, and that evidence should come in the form of specific textual references (words, sentences, symbols, images, metaphors, etc.).

Suggested approach: give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, take notes, free write, etc. before you settle on a thesis and outline.  Consult your lecture notes and think about how elements of postmodernism and/or globalization help to explain our contemporary world.  As you think and write notes, aim to narrow down this very large topic to something manageable.  Keep in mind that even the experts have trouble agreeing about what postmodernism and globalization are—so don’t try to come up with The Definition to End All Definitions.  Your work here is to focus on one or two aspects, not to offer a comprehensive explanation of the contemporary world.

The final essay should be 5-6 pages long plus bibliography.

In seminar, we will exchange drafts in small groups.  That will allow you time to rewrite based on your colleagues’ comments and turn in the final draft on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Since you will not be able to write exhaustively about the novel, you should select those issues that appear most relevant and present them succinctly and coherently.  Before you bring in your first draft, double check to make sure it is at least 5-6 pages long, that spelling and grammar are correct, and that you have met the goals stated above.

Give your essay a title clearly related to its content.  Number each page.  Use a font size that is easy to read (neither overly large nor overly small).  The bibliography should be in alphabetical order.  Record your sources properly, using parenthetical style.  (That is to say, after citing a text or paraphrasing an author’s idea, put in parenthesis the author’s last name and the relevant page number.  If you cite more than one text by that author, include after the name the title of the book.)  For more information consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 5th ed., (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1999: pp. 209-224).  For basic MLA bibliography guidelines, follow the links on the library web page.


WEEK 1: Jameson, "Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue"

In small groups, discuss the following questions.  Prepare to bring your answers to the entire group and to write them up for your portfolio.

1) Jameson begins, "Four positions on our topic seem logically available."  Identify the four positions (write them in your own words).  Why do you suspect he prefers the last one?

2) On page 55, Jameson writes, "I believe that globalization is a communicational concept, which alternately masks and transmits cultural or economic meanings."  On pages 56-57 he analyzes "cultural" and "economic" aspects in detail.  Based on those pages, make one list of the "positive" cultural aspects and another of the "negative" economic aspects.

3) At the bottom of 57 and top of 58 he explains how one might reverse these "positive" and "negative" valuations.  Extend your list into a four-sector diagram to represent the structure he proposes in his article.  In other words:
                               Positive                           Negative
                       Cultural aspects                     Economic aspects 
                        Economic aspects                      Cultural aspects


4) On page 58 Jameson asks, "Does this mean that the rest of the world is becoming Americanized?"  How does he answer his own question (between pages 58 and 63)?  Do you agree or disagree with his answer?  Why or why not?

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Week Two: Yúdice, "Postmodernity and Transnational Capitalism in Latin America"

First Part
In small groups, discuss the questions below.  Bring your answers to the entire group and write them up for your portfolio.

1) From the "Heterogeneity and Postmodernism Avant la Lettre" section, identify
quotes or passages that best represent Yudice's economic argument, aesthetic tenets and political points. Create two columns by placing the ideas that Yúdice is contesting in the first one, and the responses or alternatives that Yúdice proposes for each one in the second column.

2) From "Redemption through Culture" , establish the parallels between avant-garde movements in Latin American and postmodernity:

On page 14, Yúdice affirms that "If we rethink peripheral avant-gardes as the endeavor to create new life praxes by rearticulating local traditions, as in testimonial literature, it may prove too hasty to have declared the death of the avant-garde".  Explain at least two previous examples, such as the Boom, culture and art as "proxies for power", Eagleton's conception of aesthetics, and Brazilian Modernism.

From page 15-17 summarize the ideas that Yúdice quotes from Jameson's work and pair with them Yúdice's objections. Can you identify the main objection to Jameson's interpretation of postmodernity from a Latin American perspective according to Yúdice?

3) From "The rearticulation of tradition" section, establish the differences between First World and Latin American contexts around the concepts of hyperinflation, consumption, institutionalization, and pastiche. According to this section, what are suitable definitions for modernity, tradition and democratization.

Second Part
Identify the thesis in Yúdice's article and explain if it is developed and supported appropriately throughout his argument.

Who is the intended audience of this article and why?

Which kind of sources and examples does Yúdice employ to substantiate his points? What relationship does he establish between the different disciplines from which he draws examples? Why?

Can any of Yúdice's ideas be applied to Almanac of the Dead? Which ones and why?

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Week Three: Jameson, "Notes on Globalization as a Philosophical Issue" sections 4-5

Sections One through Three
Remember from our workshop during week one that Jameson identifies a paradox in globalization/postmodernism.  It is characterized at different times as expressing identity (standardization, integration, assimilation) and difference (diversity, multiplicity, heterogeneity, hybridity).

Remember also that he discusses two "spheres"—economic life and cultural life—and that these spheres blur into each other.

Section Four
1) On page 66 he mentions the Mexican intellectual Canclini.  Why does Canclini celebrate globalization/postmodernism?

Section Five
1) Starting with the last paragraph on page 71, read half way down page 72.  How does Jameson distinguish between the function of the state in Latin America and the function of the state in the US?  Why does it make sense to celebrate multiplicity in Latin America but not in the US?  Why does it make sense to defend "unity" in the US against an "oppressive multiplicity"?

2) Starting with the first complete paragraph on page 74, read half way down page 75.  When does it make sense to use nationalism to combat globalization?  Why would a "grassroots culture of multiplicities and differences" contradict this use of nationalism?


1) Which elements of Jameson’s discussion of globalization/postmodernism resonate with what you’ve been reading in Almanac of the Dead?

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Week Four: Rubin's "The Traffic in Women…", Ryan's chapter on Feminism and The Aspern Papers

First Part
In small groups, discuss Rubin's article following the steps provided bellow.  Bring your conclusions to the entire group and write them up for your portfolio.

Rubin tries to answer the "question of the nature and genesis of women's oppression and social subordination" revising the theories of Marx, Engels, Lévi- Strauss and Freud. It will be relevant for you to collect some background and general information on each of those theorists in order to properly place their ideas in the context of the article (see page 534). For each theory, identify the ideas that prove useful for a more complete definition of a "sex/gender system" and pair it with the shortcomings or additions suggested by Rubin.

                                                    Useful concepts                                  Criticism                             Rubin

Marx                                     Reproduction of labor
                                               Surplus value
                                               "historical and moral

Engels                                   Relations of sexuality =|=
                                               Relations of production
                                              Sex and gender as
                                                    social product

Lévi-Strauss                          Kinship, gifts and exchange
                                               Division of labor by sex

Psychoanalysis                     Mechanisms of the reproduction
and Freud                                  of sexual arrangements

2) Rubin provides many examples of  "primitive", non-Western cultures to illustrate her analysis of sex-gender systems and their relationship to social, economic, political and historical trends. Think of one or two examples of "political economy of sex" and exchange in our Western, contemporary society.

3) Finally, apply Rubin's idea of eliminating "obligatory sexualities and sex roles" (p. 551) to the sex and gender representations in Ship of Fools and Almanac of the Dead.

Second Part
Ryan's brief explanation of feminism draws most of its substance from the response to a basic duality that places matter as feminine and reason as masculine.   According to Irigaray, "the subject of knowledge and reason is always defined in the Western Tradition as masculine". Who is the subject of knowledge and reason in The Aspern Papers? To which extent is that duality represented and subverted in The Aspern Papers, following Ryan's feminist reading of the work?  Consider that the papers have both a material and spiritual value in many levels (personal, artistic, social) and they are at the center of the "exchange" among the characters.  What are the roles of women in the story in relation to that "exchange" (think in terms of Rubin's article)? Write a paragraph with your conclusions.

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Week Six: Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", Bordo's "Material Girl…" and Morrison's The Bluest Eye

First Part

In small groups, focus on one of the two articles. Your task is:
1) To identify the thesis statement and paraphrase it.
2) To list the main points of the article and explain them in your own words.
3) To provide at least on alternative example to those used in the articles.

Please, write your answers in your portfolio and be ready to explain your answers to the other groups.

Second Part

Take into consideration Ryan's suggestions for a feminist reading of Morrison's novel. Write one or two paragraphs on your analysis of Maureen Peel's, Claudia's, Pauline's and/or Pecola's attitudes to ideals of female beauty.

Almost in every section of Morrison's novel you have a passage that could be analyzed according to Bordo's arguments but also from the internalization of beauty ideals referred in Mulvey's article. Focus on how the individual is perceived or is seen by others, how the individual internalizes that perception, and how the individual perceives others in the particular section or passage that you selected for analysis. Discuss how these perceptions interact with the sense of identity and to which extent race and gender play a role in the sense or lack of sense of identity. Pay attention to who narrates, who "bears the look", and who is the subject/object. In other terms, analyze the dynamics of seeing/not seeing and being seen /not being seen in the novel.

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Week Seven: Post-Structuralism: Ryan, Nietzsche and Cixous

First Part

1) Discuss the main tenets of structuralism in order to distinguish it from post-structuralism. List your conclusions.

2) In Ryan's introduction to Post-Structuralism, identify central dichotomies that have been contested by post-structuralist thinkers. Pair each dichotomy with one or two responses and summarize such responses with a quote from the reading. Try to prioritize the dichotomies, from the more inclusive to the most particular.

3) Define in your own words the following terms according to the ideas presented in Nietzsche's and Cixous' essays (write these definitions in your portfolios):

Second Part

Exemplify the post-structuralist tenets with concrete examples drawn from this quarter's readings. How do they destroy or contest binary thought patterns? How do they open meanings and emphasize artifice and imitation over truth? Why are (or are not) they examples of "women's writing" (see Cixous 583-584)? Which role does language, a different conception of language (see Nietzsche 361), play in such literature? Write your conclusions in your portfolio.

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Week 8: Post-structuralism and E. Bishop, "Crusoe in England"

Part one:
In small groups, check in with each other to see whether everyone has a basic understanding of Lyotard’s argument in the excerpt from The Postmodern Condition.  Read carefully the middle paragraph on page 75 of Ryan, and compare this synthesis to Lyotard’s own words.  Be prepared to offer a definition of Grand Narrative, micronarrative, and language game.  (This part is for discussion only, not for portfolios.)

Part two:
Explain Ryan’s argument about Bishop’s poem, "Crusoe in England."

A) Group discussion of Romantic poetry.

B) In small groups, define Ryan’s thesis (write this up for your portfolio).

C) In groups, locate evidence in support of Ryan’s thesis.  Some groups will work with pages 91-94, and others with pages 94-97.  In order to identify evidence, you will have to recognize features of post-structuralism.

D) Every group should find 7 examples/features of post-structuralism, explain how they work as evidence, and write them up for your portfolio.

E) Optional portfolio work if you have time: write your response to Ryan.  Are you persuaded by his argument?  If not, why not?  Do you have an alternative interpretation of the poem you would like to offer?

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