Project 2: follow up

Once again, here are some examples (from previous writers in the class) of elements that we focused on in developing the second writing project, particularly in focusing on the forwarding of a literary text and the close reading its implications/complications as a way to support and extend your argument.

Remember my thesis about how best to learn and develop as writers: by giving more time to reflect on our writing, especially after we have finished a project. Take time now, before we get into the third project, to explore some of these samples. I also recommend taking your final version of the project into the Writing Center and getting some additional feedback on elements on your to-do list.

  • Development/Close Reading
    • Allison’s essay, particularly this body paragraph; notice how she invites the reader (using metacommentary: it is fitting to pause) to slow down to do some close reading. She focuses on the poem “Mutability”:
      • Although it is easy to see how the stanzas included in the novel relate to what is going on, there are subtler references to a “bigger picture” present in the novel, parallels to which can be found in the poetic stanzas that Shelley chose not to include. While the second half of the poem gives insight into the large impact that one thought can have on the entire scope of a lifetime, the first half puts humans on a much smaller scale, comparing them to “clouds that veil the midnight moon” that float through the sky and soon “are lost forever.” Percy Shelley compares humans to a musical instrument “whose fragile frame no second motion brings one mood or modulation like the last.” What Mary Shelley is communicating – through her husband’s words, no less – is that human life is a volatile and fleeting thing. Here it is fitting to pause and analyze the context of this poem’s placement within the events of the novel. Victor Frankenstein has just scaled a massive, desolate mountain and is contemplating man’s susceptibility to impulses and flighty desires. He essentially concludes that with the higher intelligence of mankind there is a great danger, and this danger stems from our uniquely human ability to “feel, conceive, or reason; laugh or weep; embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away.” Both Victor’s conclusion and the poem are a meditation on the flightiness and triviality of human lives and, by contrast, the extent to which these lives can be impacted through seemingly harmless decisions. The two halves of this poem are two conflicting views on a topic of immense depth, which is quite fitting for a poem entitled “Mutability.” While most readers will only experience the part of the poem found in the novel, it is important that one understands the significance that can be found by reading the entire text.
    • Allyson shows (in the first two body paragraphs) the effective use of keywords from the quotation as a basis for the interpretation or extension. Her argument is extended from the language she quotes.
  • Arrangement and Coherence
    • One of the ways we grasped this in the revision workshop: the importance of using keywords of our argument and signposts for where the argument is, where it is going, especially in places such as topic sentences. David presents a good example (third body paragraph) of how as simple a word such as “this” can do this.
    • Rachel’s project provides a strong example of how the keywords of the argument move the reader through the body paragraphs, extending from topic sentences into the close reading of the passages she forwards.
  • Argument set-up [reviewing Clarity and Complexity]
    • Sara sets up her problem with her thesis as response, effectively signaled with transition words:
      • In the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the author uses different texts to illustrate her main points, as many authors sometimes do. Unlike the novel’s intricate uses of eloquent language and the intertextual weaving being used, many people tend to think of Frankenstein as a simple horror story—a mad scientist creates a monster that is portrayed as a mindless killing machine, which escapes and terrorizes everything in its path. However, there is a more complex story suggested by the intertext Genesis—a complexity that I read as important to illustrate my belief that the creature Frankenstein created was not a monster at all. Mary Shelley uses Genesis to show the pain and suffering and loneliness the creature went through that ultimately spurns his actions, some being violent and hateful. Nevertheless, this is human nature, and based on how the creature is treated, he has the capacity for both good and evil.
    • Good example from Robbie of setting up the given/conventional view–starting generally, then moving in toward the more specific reading/argument that the thesis signals.
  • Conclusion
    • Jacob: A good example of raising implications at the end that both reiterate the complications of the argument, but reach out beyond the essay, to new ways of thinking with this information–thus answering the all-important So What?
    • Xavier’s project offers a good example of concluding the argument, then moving out toward some larger implications for the reader to consider.
      • Hollywood would have one believe that Frankenstein is just another simple monster horror story. But, upon further analysis, it is noticeable that Mary Shelley had a deeper meaning for her story. The story, using comparisons from John Milton’s Paradise Lost as well as other inter texts, develops a complicated picture of humans and our struggle with God from the beginning of time. Putting a monstrous, yet humanistic creature was an interesting choice. The monster in Frankenstein shows the best and worst of mankind. In this aspect, it represents all that humans are. And I think that Shelley wants us to realize that God wants the best for us; for us to strive for perfection, even though He knows we will never fully attain it. Though Victor dies before he gets his revenge, the monster comes to realize the error of his ways. This novel shows us that we are more than our mistakes and that we can overcome them. We all make mistakes; it is how we overcome them that defines who we are.
  • Citation format: for a reminder of MLA citation format (including the listing of works cited needed at the end of your essay), consult the Purdue OWL here.

Reading and Writing in An Electronic Age

What happens when writing enters the electronic age? We turn to that question, and turn into a critical exploration of the problem (raised by Sven Birkerts and a range of other critical writers/thinkers we will be exploring over the remaining weeks of the term. Do we lose something that writing, particularly literary writing, has or should represent? Do we gain something in the process?

In her book Writing Machines, the critic Katherine Hayles, a specialist in the field of writing and new forms of media, argues for something she calls “media specific analysis.”  She emphasizes a simple point: the medium matters in whatever text we are reading–and so recognizing and understanding the differences among media should matter as well. A book is not a film is not a website–though these days, all three may interact in significant ways. For example, consider this webpage for The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Or, take a look (if you haven’t already) at The Medium is the Massage, the text we will turn to shortly. Hayles writes of “material metaphors,” symbolic moments in a text when the image or idea in the text (in verbal or visual form) reflects something of the material basis of the text. In other words, the medium. In other words, the subject of our reading or viewing turns into the object of our reading/viewing as well.  The eye in Blade Runner, it seems to me, is a material metaphor; so is the eye in The Invention of Hugo Cabret. And it may well be that both return us to the eye in Frankenstein: are we also looking at ourselves when we look at Victor or the creature or even reading Shelley’s language, implicated in what creation and creativity means?

This critical focus on thinking critically about a medium–be it writing, film, computer, etc–owes something to a well-known media theorist from the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan. For some useful background on McLuhan and one of his signature concepts, “the medium is the message,” browse this wikipedia entry. [by the way, as you may or may not realize, Wikipedia is a digital remediation of the print encyclopedia]. We will be reading McLuhan next week.

As an example of McLuhan’s assertion that the content of every medium is the medium itself–i.e., the real message lies in how any message is conveyed (its mediation) not what the content or message is–we could take this Wikipedia entry. MM would argue that the real effect on those who read this entry comes through the way the ideas (in this case, some background, initial description of ideas, further links and resources) are conveyed and not the ideas by themselves. There is no idea apart from its medium for MM. And so the nature of a wiki–its ways of conveying content, of linking, of the kinds of writing and reading experiences it emphasizes and enforces, is the message.

He also distinguishes two types of experiences we can have with a communication medium: hot (or high definition) such as film–where our attention needs to be focused, absorbed; and cool (or low definition) where the active participation of the viewer/participant is more crucial to the experience, such as with a book (turning the page, re-reading, etc).

The phrase ‘remediation’ comes from the authors Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin who build upon McLuhan to argue, further, that every new medium builds upon, repurposes and remediates an earlier and existing medium. Thus the medium is the message also implies that there is no new media apart from ‘old’ media. Bolter and Grusin take this even further (which is to say, take our new media all the way back to MM’s older view) in suggesting that the content of every new medium is the act of remediation itself: how the new medium relates to and reuses the old.

So film reinvents (or remediates) the writing of a book. But a book also reinvents the presentation of a film. In a couple weeks, when we look at some literary texts developed for electronic environments, we will encounter both, and more.

Pathos of Editing: stitching a more fluid essay Frankenstein (1910 film)

Image via Wikipedia

In addition to being a poor reader and reviser (see last post on the threading of a thesis), Victor Frankenstein, Shelley’s stand-in for the creative artist, the writer, the one who toils in the workshop of filthy creation, appears to be a bad editor. Think of it: if he had taken a bit more time to consider the presentation of his creation, the work that he had stitched together from parts (as any creative work is), might he have saved himself some heartache?

This editing workshop focuses on how we control and create the fluidity (often called ‘flow’ by you) of an essay that is not naturally or originally there. It is made, not born. And one key place we control and create this fluidity is through control of our sentences.

  • Sentence Variation:
    1. look at your sentence length: hit return at the end of each sentence in one or more paragraphs: turn your prose into poetry; the point is to bring out the buried voiced (the origins of poetry, of writing) of your sentences.
    2. we are after variation: not all long/complex; not all short and sharp–a fluid movement between the two.
      1. think both Hypotaxis and Parataxis.
      • Close-Up
        • Experiment with using the power of shifting to a short, sharply focused sentence as a way to highlight your thesis statement. It is like moving in for a dramatic close-up on your critical vision. It can tell your read: pay attention to these keywords and ideas throughout the essay–a way to provide the thread the reader takes with them.
      • Sentence Combining: fluidity and variety in sentence style derives from a more specific grasp of the kinds of sentences and sentence parts we have at hand. You can combine shorter, simpler sentences in several ways, including compounding and subordinating. For more practice, visit the Sentence-Combining page of Guide to Grammar and Writing.
  • Transitions
    • between sentences within a paragraph (the point from above), and between paragraphs. Look at the transition sentence (the first sentence of the next paragraph). Work on weaving the reader’s path (or the thread of your thesis) into the next paragraph.
      • use transition signals (think of the way we need to do this with a speech or public presentation): “Yet another example of this irony of dark creation is evident in the creation scene.” Or by contrast: “Unlike the darkness of creation we see with Victor, the creature presents a vision of light…”
  • Weave your quotationinto the paragraph: quotations need to be effective, not just accurate.
    • remember to provide context/introduce the quotation (don’t throw quotations at the reader)
    • leave the page number for the parenthetical citation; don’t introduce the quotation with the page number.
  • Meta-Commentary.
    • We will be returning to this in later workshops. For now, think about places where you can add in a sentence that will help clarify things for your reader by letting the reader know what you are thinking.
      • “in other words”; “By irony of dark creation I mean…”; “Let me reiterate the point made earlier:….”; “What do I mean by …?”
      • also think of transition words: however, although, despite, that or this [point, idea]
  • Specificity.
    • Edit out phrases that leave things the argument or idea or specific reference vague. Sometimes this is a matter of selecting stronger verbs and more complex nouns; sometimes, this is a matter of substituting for some of the pronouns we use too frequently (it, he, she) or too loosely (this, without a reference to what this is: this idea of creation…). It is also a matter of editing for more specific verbs. Consider, as one tool for getting a better grasp on the implications of words (as well as relations, synonyms), using Wordnik.
    • For a good poetic example of specificity that matters for an argument, read Robert Pinsky’s “Shirt.”

Reverse Outlining: Three-Act Thesis Template

English 101 | Professor Meehan

Three-Act Thesis: Revision Strategy | Writing Project #2

Read and respond to the draft by filling in the structure below with specific information from the essay.

Act 1: Introduction/Set UP


Critical Problem:



Act 2: Complications/Examples/Evidence for your thesis [for this size essay, around 2-4, also known as supporting paragraphs]

Complication #1:

[Passage that is forwarded]


Keywords/ideas that relate back to the thesis [how the writer is extending the passage and argument]:



Complication #2:

[Passage that is forwarded]


Keywords/ideas that relate back to the thesis [how the writer is extending the passage and argument]:




Complication #3:

[Passage that is forwarded]


Keywords/ideas that relate back to the thesis [how the writer is extending the passage and argument]:



Complication #4:

[Passage that is forwarded]


Keywords/ideas that relate back to the thesis [how the writer is extending the passage and argument]:





Act 3: Conclusion

Climax: final answer to question/solving of problem—where writer reinforces the thesis:




Resolution: What’s next—where this argument leaves the reader; larger implications reader might take from this argument and apply elsewhere.




Revision Workshop: Development and Arrangement

Our focus in the second project is on close/slow reading: reading for the implications in a text–and effectively getting implications into our own writing–thereby enhancing the pathos of our argument. The texts we read are more complicated than we might think; we want our own texts, our writing and response to those complicated texts, to reflect that level of complication. Our first step in workshop will be to do close reading to work on the development of the argument–and then using that development to refine and revise the thesis. As an analogy for what slow reading means, how it emerges through rereading and revision, consider two film moments: the shower scene from “Psycho”; the scene in Blade Runner when Deckard closely reads and analyzes the photograph. This is where we look closely, and look again, for what’s working in a passage as well as for what else we might see/argue (which is also to say, what else we are not seeing or thinking).

The second step in revision will be to make sure that our more developed thesis is effectively threaded through the essay–an aspect of the arrangement of the essay.

Students often say they need to work on their organization. It is, however, not always clear to them what organization means–or more to the point, how it is stitched and structured into an essay. I emphasize organization as a matter of revision and, in many cases, of some simple stylistic choices that “thread” an argument: keywords (beginning with a title), basic transition words that signal continuation while also emphasizing–this idea, this passage, but, however. A critical essay, we know, needs a thesis; an effectively organized essay often just needs more conscious attention to its transitions and keywords–to the ways the writer can move the reader through the essay. For an example, consider this review in NYTimes Book Review of Edward Hirsch poetry by Peter Campion. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Between Ordinary and Ecstatic

Contemporary American poetry is sometimes panned for being mundane. With all the splendor and terror in the world, why should we care about some guy’s memories of high school, or the quality time he spends with his cat? Glancing over it, you might suspect that Edward Hirsch’s poetry would lend evidence to this view. Hirsch will begin a poem with a line like “Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater” or “Traffic was heavy coming off the bridge.” Neither opening seems to burn with that hard, gemlike flame.

But in Hirsch’s work, things are not always what they seem. Certainly, his poems work to dignify the everyday. But they do more than that. What makes Hirsch so singular in American poetry is the balance he strikes between the quotidian and something completely other — an irrational counterforce, the “living fire” that gives its name to his new selected poems.

That phrase appears in “Wild Gratitude,” the title poem of Hirsch’s 1986 volume. On its surface, the poem seems to be about, well, a guy spending time with his cat. But as he listens to her “solemn little squeals of delight,” he begins to remember the 18th-century English visionary and madman Christopher Smart, who in his most famous poem, “Jubilate Agno,” venerated his own cat, Jeoffry. The memory leads to a chain of associations, and the poem ends in a nearly epiphanic moment:

And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry — and every creature like him —
Who can teach us how to praise — purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.

This passage could stand as an emblem for all of Hirsch’s poetry. Literary and allusive, but also domestic and intimate, as it rises toward praise, Hirsch’s voice resounds with both force and subtlety.

One of the pleasures of reading the new selected poems is the chance to see that voice develop and then range freely and surprisingly. Most poets are hot one minute and cold the next, depending almost on the day of the week. But Hirsch is worth reading chronologically. He not only gets better with each new book; he also provides a kind of model for the growth of poetic intelligence…[goes on in the next paragraphs to review briefly those books included in the selected poems.]

One strategy to test for this thread: use the highlighting tool. Highlight in yellow the words/phrases of your thesis (somewhere from your introductory section). Then read through the draft and highlight in green wherever key statements/reiterations (in other words, threads) of that thesis show up in the body of the essay and in the concluding section. Next, using yellow, highlight parts of the body and/or conclusion where the thesis/argument is being extended: that is, keywords of the thesis are not being repeated, but the argument is being developed, elaborated. Finally, go back and highlight in red any phrases and passages in the draft that seem to wander from the focus, that seem to be a different or new argument–not a reiteration or extension of the original argument.

Another practice technique to make the signals and structure of your argument more transparent to the reader, consult this discussion from Harvard’s expository writing program on Topic Sentences and Signposts.

Organic Monsters

Is the monster a monster? In other words, according to the novel, what’s monstrous, what’s a monster?

I have suggested that one way to think about close reading, and to begin to think about the complications of language, is to use the OED. Here is an entry for “organic” that I looked up today (some cross-fertilization; for my course on Environmental Writing). Notice one of the uses is taken from Coleridge (the author of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”) from 1817, the year before the novel is first published.

6. Of or relating to an organized structure compared to a living being.

a. Of, relating to, or characterized by connection or coordination of parts into a single, harmonious whole; organized; systematic.

1817 S. T. COLERIDGE Biographia Literaria I. xii. 237 The fairest part of the most beautiful body will appear deformed and monstrous, if dissevered from its place in the organic whole

What catches my eye here is that the organic becomes monstrous–in effect, inorganic–when it is cut off from a larger whole, system; when there is a loss of relationship, connection. In this sense, the monstrous is not the opposite of human, it is when the human is separated from the larger context of humanity, or when humanity is dissevered from its place in the organic whole of life. Monsters, in this sense (it seems to me) are neither made nor born as such; they are neglected into being. Consider also the OED entry for monster.

This view that the monster is or begins as organic and beautiful, but becomes inorganic (or ugly or inhuman, etc), shows up in some recent retellings (or extensions) of Frankenstein in film. One version in particular we will explore: Blade Runner. The lesson there is that the monsters seem more human than their human creators. Its an extension of the novel, by way of science fiction and visions of cyborg replication. But it is something that Shelley also has in mind. As we have seen through some close reading of the novel, Victor is giving birth to his creation–something parodied in this recent New Yorker cartoon (with thanks to Jeremy for the link). However, as usually is the case with such parody, the joke seems less on Victor or the novel, and more on the contemporary reference to parenting–what to expect when you’re expecting.

Based on your reading of the novel, particularly with the implications you see raised (answered and unanswered) by the end, how would you forward Shelley’s Frankenstein into a contemporary reproduction? What would your text (film or multimedia or print) emphasize? How would it illustrate, borrow, authorize and extend Shelley’s version?

By the end, I pay particular attention to Victor’s use of the word species (as in “my duties towards the being of my own species”) and the use of the word being. Is the creature a human being? What does that mean for the novel? When thinking about such keywords, I find it helpful to track the places where the word appears–something that I do more and more these days using Google Books (sorry Birkerts–it’s a research tool). I find that there are 66 appearances of the word “being.”

Close Reading Template: How to Slow Down

We have talked about close reading as a crucial component of the ways we strengthen several rhetorical elements of our compositions that we will focus on for the second writing project: Development and Coherence. Joseph Harris can guide us as well with his conception of “forwarding” a text. Here is a template you can use to think about forwarding as a process for annotating a text as well as a structure to build upon in developing your evidence across the body of your essay, a structure that is dynamic, not static, moving us (to use Harris’s terms) from paraphrasing to authorizing to quoting to extending.

  1. Set-up: Introduce the quotation briefly with basic summary or paraphrase: what’s the context; who is speaking and from where? Don’t throw the quotation at the reader. You can also begin to integrate/anticipate the interpretation you will be getting into after the quotation. Examples: While traversing the Alps Victor echoes the words of the poem “Mutability” in saying, “…”;  or even better: Victor’s fear of change is particularly evident when he echoes the lines from Mutability, “…”
  2. Close-up: The quotation. Choose a portion from the text that is not just relevant but rich, worth focusing on for your interpretation. In other words, your quoting should reflect the selective reading you are doing, moving your reading to the interpretation and development of your argument. You don’t quote to prove that you have read; you quote to read (with your reader) what you are proving regarding your argument.
  3. Follow-up: Put the quotation to work and explain/elaborate how it speaks to and supports and develops your critical vision (thesis). Extend from the quotation. Highlight key words, phrases, images. Don’t assume the quotation speaks for itself. Make it speak to your vision and how you want your reader to see it. Use suggestive imperatives: Notice that Victor (or Shelley or Walton) uses the word….  This is the place for interpretation, not summary. Slow the scene down and look at a specific frame. Think 3-5 sentences or more of good follow-up to the quotation.

To consider one example, Denise, a student from the course several years ago, writes about Frankenstein’s  intertextual link with “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Here is a specific paragraph that is effective in its close and slow reading–notice how she notices the particular word ‘serpent’ and puts that to work.

The plots, themselves, are inherently similar: an older man tells a younger man about something tragic that has occurred in his life in a first person, story frame format. The stronger tie, however, is the distinct air of warning that pervades both tales. In anticipation of his narrative, Frankenstein says, “I had determined, at one time, that the memory of these evils should die with me; but you have won me to alter my determination. You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been” (18-19). Frankenstein has been stung by a metaphorical snake in his past – and not just any metaphorical snake, but a metaphorical serpent. The connotation of the word “serpent” calls to mind certain evil; this word choice was very deliberate.  The ominous, cautionary nature of these words immediately strikes both Walton and the reader. This nature primes Frankenstein’s audience to listen carefully to his tale and take what moral each can. The Ancient Mariner, too, stops the wedding guest of his tale to relate his own morbid experiences, in the hopes that the guest will, like Walton, become wiser.  Both stories are told to impart a specific message to both their internal and external audiences. The Mariner warns that one should love everything that exists, something that clearly does not happen in Frankenstein. This negligence allows horrible events to occur in both stories; thus, Frankenstein echoes the Mariner’s warning. Likewise, one of the messages of Frankenstein seems to be on the dangers of knowledge, both in general and in its misuse. Like Frankenstein, the Ancient Mariner abuses knowledge by using it to kill an albatross and is then punished for it. 

For these reasons, I suggest a better term for close reading is slow reading. It is also, as you can see, a form of re-reading. And finally, it is a form of composition, in that it is a way to develop an argument, add to its complexity and coherence. Remember: just before that dreary day in November, Victor Frankenstein is building an “argument” for a way to rethink the act of human creation. He, like us, is developing his evidence and reasons across the body of his work. He does so, initially, carefully–and then inexplicably, gives that up in the name of “speed.” In his haste, Victor was not a good close reader.