English 101 | Professor Meehan
The Rhetoric of Creative Reading
There is then creative reading, as well as creative writing. [Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”]
Purpose: To engage in the development and revision of a critical argument in writing that responds to a problem relating to the texts and ideas we are exploring in the course. In other words, you will be developing in each assignment a thesis-governed essay. In addition, the purpose in each case will be to focus in on a particular element of critical writing and thinking (what I take Emerson to mean by “creative reading” that will enable you to practice and develop the arts, or what we would now call the “mechanics,” of effective writing for use in any of your college courses, and beyond. These are the learning focal points we will address one at a time, using terms from classical rhetoric: ethos, pathos, logos.
Format: The writing projects should be approximately 5 double-spaced pages (not including Preface), 12 point font, standard margins. [“Approximately” means that a project much shorter or much longer than 5 pages is likely in need of further revision]. Each project will be submitted to Canvas. The copy uploaded to Canvas must include this preface either on the document or submitted in a comment. The preface includes:
- What the project is: Abstract of your argument (3-4 sentences) + list of Keywords.
- What is working: identify at least one element of your writing (from the rubric and/or your to-do list) that you have focused on and believe is strong in this project.
- What else you could do: identify at least one element or your writing that you will keep on your to-do-list and believe could use further attention and feedback.
Your essay should also include your statement of the Honor Code pledge.
All citations (direct or indirect) should use MLA format or another that you are familiar with already. For guidance on proper MLA citation format [in-text citation; works cited at end] consult the Purdue OWL.
Audience: I am only the initial reader of your essay. Since we are emphasizing that writers seek to communicate their writing in a variety of public/published forms, you need to consider a larger audience for each of the essays–and let that audience inform your writing and revision. Generally speaking, your audience for these projects will be readers who are interested in what first-year students at Washington College are writing and learning. This means that they have a basic knowledge of this course and its assignments, but no specific knowledge of the texts you are discussing or ideas you are exploring: your peers, other professors on campus, your parents, future students–all interested in getting a better view of how students at WAC think and write. You can reach that audience through several publications on campus including The Washington College Review, which publishes work that emerges from the W2 and other courses serving our writing program.
Writing Project #1
Coming to Terms with Intellect: The Ethos of Literacy
Develop a 5-page essay that reflects on, and argues for, your definition of the meaning of literacy. Think of it as “what it means to be (or perhaps not be) a reader and/or a writer”–particularly for someone in your position, in college. (Literacy suggests both the reading and the writing of words–literally, letters; I will leave it up to you to decide to focus on reading or writing or, if you think it effective, both). Since this is your definition, your “defense (or revision) of literacy,” the essay will explore how your personal experience as a reader or writer (or perhaps a non-reader/non-writer) informs your definition and reflection; since this is a definition of literacy’s meaning (synonyms here would be “significance” or “character”) informed by your experience, it is also an argument–since others likely won’t agree with you, and you likely don’t agree with other definitions of the character of literacy that you have encountered. From your perspective as a reader and writer, how is literacy significant, important, misunderstood, overvalued, etc?
You have some useful models to consider (Graff, Birkerts, Berry, Harris, Douglass) for how strong and engaging critical writing and argumentation can be effective and deliberate in using autobiographical reflection and personal experience to develop a focus and argument about an idea (in this case, defining the meaning of literacy). Our rhetorical focal point for this project, ethos, emphasizes the ways writers strengthen their argument by paying attention to the development of their ethos.
- The Question you will be answering in this essay (think of your thesis as the answer to this question): What is your view of the meaning (purpose, value) of literacy and how has that view been shaped by your experience as a reader and/or writer?
- Learning Focal Point for this project: Ethos. We will discuss and workshop ways that Ethos is developed through critical reflection and by “coming to terms” with our ideas and argument. As Harris argues (Rewriting), “coming to terms” with an argument requires strong reflection from the writer. Think of this reflection as effectively citing/quoting from your own experience and thinking.
- Citation requirement. Another way you will develop your focus your attention and your argument: cite and explain what Birkerts or Graff or Harris say about reading/writing–and use that to then focus on your own view in response. Your essay must have at least one direct quotation in it (from either Birkerts, Graff, Harris, Berry, or Douglass), effectively incorporated into your argument for this essay.
- Some suggestions for developing your argument and its focus:
- Identify and respond to a problem:
- Use another to set up the problem: Although Birkerts argues that reading is X, in my view reading is Y.
- Use your earlier self/views to set up the problem: Although I used to view reading/writing as ___, now I understand that ____.
- Another way to focus is to narrow your scope: you will need to focus on some key autobiographical examples of your engagement with reading/writing (say 2 or 3) that help demonstrate and develop the overall significance you are writing about. This is where the reflection comes in–taking your time with your argument and its complications rather than quickly listing off some experiences you have had.
- Identify and respond to a problem:
Writing Project #2
Forwarding Frankenstein: The Pathos of Writing
Jill Lepore asks: Are we ready for the truth about Frankenstein? As we have seen, particularly with help from the annotated edition, grasping the truth or the true story of the novel is not a simple matter since the author forwards so much material into her creation. That makes it a perfect case for an argument that will rely upon close/slow reading.
Your task is to develop a 5 page essay that argues for the truth of Shelley’s Frankenstein by demonstrating how that truth is forwarded through one or more of the many stories or intertextual materials that Shelley stitches into the novel. What purpose does this borrowed material serve in the novel? Why confuse the novel with these ideas and words from others? Any one of the options below would be enough for your project; I recommend that if you address more than one, you do not go beyond 2 or 3. Here is some of the forwarded or intertextual materials you might consider:
- Milton, Paradise Lost
- Genesis (Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, Fall)
- Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
- Dante, Inferno
- Volney, The Ruins
- Goethe, The Sorrows of Werter
- Percy Shelley, “Mutability”
- Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey”
- Mary Shelley‘s 1831 “Introduction” and autobiographical/psychological material from her life.
- Texts and ideas from her Parents: William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft
- Texts and ideas from Science: Erasmus Darwin, Davy, Paracelsus and other scientific figures identified by the annotations.
- Any textual materials within the novel: the letters, the different narratives (characters telling their tales: for example, Safie’s story)
- Any other ideas and historical material identified by the annotations that interest you: the context of slavery and abolition in early 1800s; politics related to French Revolution.
- Film Forwarding (Reverse Intertextuality): A film’s forwarding of the novel (for example: Branagh’s version, or the use of Frankenstein in “Blade Runner.” [keep in mind that you still need to make an argument: this would not be a film review]
The keys for your selection should be that it is a passage of the novel that you have noticed for its complications, one that interests you as a reader and writer, and one that you believe can help illuminate something significant about this novel. Significance means you will be focusing on interpreting ideas you think are important in the passage (and the novel), not summarizing the plot. We can think of these numerous intertextual moments (from the title onward) as doors that readers might pass by or decide to open. Your essay will open one of those doors and argue for the significance to this novel of what’s there. In general, your argument/thesis will answer this question: What larger significance does this intertextual passage illuminate?
- Learning Focal Point: Pathos. We will focus on ways that the close/slow reading and illumination of texts and their implications enhances the pathos of our writing: this means effectively reading and forwardinganother text within the text of your writing; complicating (in the good sense) our critical vision and development of ideas in our writing. In this sense, you are working on your own intertextuality–and can learn from the ways Shelley uses intertextuality to develop a more complicated story/novel–even argument. Or to use our keyword from Harris: you are ‘forwarding’ Frankenstein by paying attention to the text and its implications–borrowing from it as well as extending it. You should do a slow reading of the relevant passages from the novel that will help the development of your argument.
- Argument: You will argue for why and how you think the forwarded or intertextual material illuminates a truth of the novel that readers might not otherwise understand. Your claim will thus respond to this critical problem: what does a reader miss if he or see passes too quickly by this material or fails to understand what Shelley is forwarding? what’s at stake in creating the novel with this material? For example: Why should it matter that a reader understands the implications of the novel’s subtitle—“the modern Prometheus”?
- Development: Two areas for your own forwarding. As a way to develop the argument, you should bring into your discussion multiple passages from the novel (directly and indirectly quoted) that support your interpretation. As a way to extend your interpretation, or perhaps clarify the problem or premise for your argument, you must forward at least one quotation from one of the two critical sources we have used in our reading: The Annotated Frankenstein(the Introduction or one of the many annotations) or the essay by Jill Lepore, “The Strange and Twisted Life of ‘Frankenstein’.”
Writing Project #3
Countering the Medium: The Logos of Argument
Develop a 5–page essay that engages in, and engages with, a critical reading of the new forms of electronic reading and writing we have been exploring. We can borrow the given or general topic from Birkerts: the transformation of reading and writing in the electronic age. How do you as reader, writer, and critic view this transformation?
We know that Birkerts is deeply concerned that electronic texts offer a bleak picture for the future of reading and writing: shallowness instead of depth, to cite keywords from his argument. Some other critics we have encountered have different views: Baron, McLuhan, Murray, etc. Your assignment is to forward and counter these critical perspectives for the purpose of supporting and developing your argument. You can choose one of two options for focusing your argument on new forms of mediated reading and writing.
Option 1: Multimedia Literature. Pursue a critical reading and evaluation of one or more of the hypertext and multimedia literary works we have explored: Luminous Airplanes and any of the texts from the Electronic Literature Archive; you can also consider McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage as a multimedia text. You might also select a video game or other sort of digital text that you or others would argue is literary or at least readable, in addition to being playable. Based on the examples you have chosen and the criticism you have read, what is your critical assessment of these newer forms of mediated literature? Do they work or fail as literature? Do they represent a form of innovation for reading and writing, or is it, as Birkerts would put it, mere distraction and worse, destruction of self and soul? What ideas from Birkerts and other critics inform your critical perspective and elaborate your reading of these digital literary texts?
Option 2: Networked Knowledge and Communication. Pursue a critical reading and evaluation of a digital network such as Wikipedia or Google or other sites/networks for reading, researching, and communicating that you might propose–such as texting and its relation to conversation [think of Turkle’s argument]. Based on the site/network/device you have chosen and the criticism you have read, what is your critical assessment of this form of networked knowledge and communication? Does it represent a form of innovation for reading and writing, or is it, as Birkerts would put it, causing the erosion of individuality, authority, history? What ideas from Birkerts and from other critics inform your critical perspective and elaborate your reading of these digital networks of reading, writing, and knowledge?
- Learning Focal Point: Logos. We focus on logos this project in working on forwarding and countering the critical arguments of others—assessing the critical argument of another writer (in this case, something from Birkerts and others such as McLuhan, Carr, Murray) and effectively applying that argument to our own, countering it in your writing. We will extend this logical strategy of countering to developing what is known as “counterargument”: anticipating and responding to objections to one’s own argument.
- Citation: You are required to have at least one citation (direct quotation) from two different critics, effectively incorporated into your project.
- Counterargument: You are also expected to engage formally in a counterargument at some point in your essay to develop your own argument effectively: a place where you integrate and respond to possible objections, qualifications, or limitations in your argument.