Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Paper 2.2: "Sublime Philosophy"

Note: the questions for "Green Tea" are below this post...

In his work, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Johnathan Culler defines theory as something that is “reflexive, thinking about thinking, an enquiry into the categories we use in making sense of things, in literature and other discursive practices” (15). With this definition in mind, it is important to remember that any reading is naturally a “theory” that can help us relate to or contextualize a literary work. The Gothic is particularly receptive to literary theory, as it is a fundamentally subversive genre which delights in mirrors, mazes, and masks. Using a theoretical lens, such as feminism, helps us ask specific questions about a book’s genesis, purpose, expression and audience—reminding us that literary works only remain vital as we re-read them and re-interpret them for future generations.

Using your close reading in Paper 2.1 as a basis, choose one of the following theoretical approaches. Also consider which one best informs your reading, so you can seamlessly incorporate your “thesis” into this paper. All of the prompts below are borrowed from Chapter 4 of Stevens’ The Gothic Tradition, which discusses theory and the Gothic novel.

A Feminist Reading: discuss “the relative silence, or, at the very least, passivity, of female characters” in these 19th century Gothic texts. What role does this play either in reinforcing female stereotypes or criticizing a patriarchal (male) power structure? Consider the Creature’s “femininity,” or the roles of the largely mute Elizabeth and Justine…or the much more powerful Carmilla in Le Fanu’s story.

A Psychoanalytic Reading: discuss how these texts deal with “the psychologically divided self, especially when the “id” (the appetite driven emotional basis of life) is in conflict with the “ego” (the conscious sense of self) or the “super-ego” (the sense of morality, sometimes construed as the conscience).” For example, you might consider how consciously these stories reveal man’s “forgotten phase,” which has been suppressed by civilization and English society (ex: Le Fanu’s The Familiar: “So little a matter, after all, is sufficient to upset the pride of skepticism and vindicate the old simple laws of nature within us” (47).

A Marxist Reading: discuss “how, in terms of the class struggle, various characters may become “outsider” figures, feeling alienated from their social context—their fellow human beings.” For example, is the Creature a symbol for the “ugly, inhuman lower classes,” that is naturally repugnant to the aristocratic lover of beauty, Frankenstein? Or is the Creature’s transformation (and murderous rage) symbolic of the danger of educating the lower classes?

Ideas and Sources to Consider:

• Consider the Contextual Documents at the back of Frankenstein as well as Freud’s “The Uncanny”

• Consider the intro essays on each theory at the back of Frankenstein, as well as the critical essays that accompany them

• Use Stevens’ The Gothic Tradition, esp. Chapter 4, which discusses theory and its application to Gothic fiction

• Use the blog entries on cultural context as possible sources

• Check the library—we have Shelley’s Journals and other documents related to her life and works

REQUIREMENTS: 4-6 pages…use of other primary and secondary sources (not counting the class texts)…proper MLA citation throughout…due Friday, April 16th by 5pm

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