Over the course of the semester, I have tried my hand at the different practices of literary criticism. I have demonstrated my abilities to engage with the works of other critics, I have assessed the limits of those works and incorporated them into my own unique project, and I have communicated my ideas through both oral and written modes. My work over the course of the semester has outlined my progressive engagement with the various practices, which ultimately culminated in the creation and presentation of my final research paper. As a process of self-reflection, I will now look back on the semester’s work to assess and to illustrate the ways in which I have demonstrated the course learning outcomes.
Reading Texts Closely, Thinking Critically:
We began the semester by engaging directly with literary texts, and developing our own ideas through open ended blog post discussions. In my first two blog posts about Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I generated discussions about two themes which I noticed upon reading the novel. I framed a way of reading Tess as behaving in direct response to the expectations of her surroundings. These discussions, while interesting, were simply a way of noticing a possible lens for interpreting the novel. As the semester progressed, I engaged in more sophisticated discussions, such Blog Post 10 in which I discussed critically a Marxist interpretation of House of Mirth. In this post, I asked critical questions such as, “How is it that by playing by the rules of the system of exchange Lily is rebelling?” I also analyzed the ways in which the assumptions being made would change our interpretation of the novel, such as my statement that, “[Lily’s] self-destructive actions, especially burning the letters which were her last remaining ‘asset’, become demonstrations of the fallacious logic within the system of exchange.”
The progression of my analyses demonstrated my ability to read both literary and critical texts closely, understanding the implications of each interpretation.
In my final research paper, I created an interesting and original conversation about Heart of Darkness. I made claims such as, “If Conrad rejects morality as a result of his awareness of how it can be manipulated as a tool for justifying crimes against humanity, then his theme of moral nihilism in the novel takes on a new meaning,” which demonstrate my ability to incorporate the works of others (in this case, Michael Lackey) to develop my own critical interpretation.
Conduct Research in Literary and Cultural Studies
For the Midterm Essay, we engaged with the work of one literary critic, assessing the uses, limitations, and possibilities for furthering their work. I read an essay by Charlie Wesley called Inscriptions of Resistance in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Here, I demonstrated my ability to challenge the assumptions of Wesley, posing questions such as, “Wesley spends little time actually discussing what these differences are. To strengthen Wesley’s approach, I would ask, what is it that makes the two accounts inherently different?” Questions such as these are crucial, I think, to research in literary and cultural studies. By discussing the strengths and weaknesses of other people’s interpretations, we can work towards finding the most cohesive or inclusive framework for interpreting literary texts.
In my final essay, I incorporated Wesley’s essay as well as the works of five other authors to develop my argument. With each of these works, I analyzed how the authors’ projects could help to develop or conflict with my own project. Doing so demonstrated my ability to conduct research, and to utilize this research as a part of my own, larger project.
Communicate Effectively in Oral and Written Modes
Again, directing our attention to the final essay, I was tasked with writing a 10-12 page research essay that articulated my own research and interpretation of a novel. To represent my project as such, it required that I develop my interpretation in a fairly concise, fully-thought out, and polished work. For my Research Proposal, I discussed how 8 potential sources could be incorporated into my research project. In my own research, I found 5-7 additional sources that could have helped to develop my argument. Ultimately, I had to make decisions about which sources could best help me to ground my argument within the given guidelines. These decisions required that I think critically about how to communicate my ideas most effectively in this format. In the final essay, I narrowed my sources down to just five secondary criticisms, which helped me to articulate my argument in an effective manner.
The oral presentation which accompanied the paper required that I turn the same research project into a 10 minute presentation. As such, I had to nearly halve the material that I could discuss. I omitted an additional two sources which I believed would cloud the shortened version of my project. I restructured the written style of my argument so that it could be communicated more effectively through an oral presentation. Finally, I recited my speech numerous times in practice for a well-timed and precisely communicated presentation. I believe that this oral presentation and my final research paper demonstrated my ability to communicate effectively in both modes.