21L.488 | Spring 2018 | Undergraduate

Contemporary Literature: Street Haunting in the Global City


Paper 1


Due: Class 13

Format: 11–12 point type; 1.5 or 2x spaced; standard margins. Please just don’t do anything weird.

Length: 4–5 pages

Citations: Use MLA citation guidelines (parenthetical page numbers for quotations within the body of the text). At the paper’s conclusion cite the text edition of all works cited in the body of the text. If you consulted outside works which shaped your thinking in any way (not required!), please also include a Works Consulted section. You must give credit to any ideas that are not your own.


You may devise a topic of your own so long as you run the idea by me (either in office hours or by e-mail) at least one week before the deadline.

  1. Pick a sense (sight, hearing, touch, etc.) to trace throughout one of our readings. Develop an argument about the significance of the way that sense functions and the way that you interpret that sense in the context of the work’s larger themes or concerns. Possible questions to address:
    • How does this sense collide or conflict with other senses?
    • How does reading through the lens of this sense make us aware of something new or different or surprising about the text that we might not otherwise notice?
    • How does your reading go beyond the obvious or what we might expect of that sense?
    • What aspects of the city does this sense provide access to and what aspects remain untapped? How does the author address this?
  2. Develop an argument about how one of our primary texts challenges, revises, or does not fit with Baudelaire’s model of the flaneur or de Certeau’s model of walking in the city (voyeurs versus walkers). Please note that if you choose this topic, you must develop an argument that is substantially distinct from the class discussions we have had. Possible questions to address:
    • What passages might at first glance seem to fit one of these models well, but upon closer inspection suggest additional problems or nuance?
    • Where and how do the novelists use language or metaphors in a different way than the essayists, and to what effect?
    • How do the novels shed new light on the essays rather than vice versa?
  3. Choose prompt A or B about city sites and features.  
    1. Compare a single scene or city site from Open City and Saturday and develop an argument about the significance of the differences between them. How are the authors doing something different with this site (use of language, role in the text, problems raised, etc.)?
    2. Trace one of the following city features throughout one primary text and develop an argument about its function.
      Possible city sites to look at from one or both novels:
      • City streets (alleys, roads, highways, bridges)
      • Architectural features (doors, windows, barriers/blockades, balconies, stairs, elevators, houses, parks and green spaces, institutions – clinical, cultural, etc.)
      • Squares and plazas
      • Modes of transportation
      • Spaces that span the threshold between public/private domains
      • Urban temporalities: scenes from early morning, late at night, etc.
      • Virtual spaces/spaces mediated by technology
      • Forms of violence, variously defined
  4. Using examples we have not focused on in class, and focusing in on a manageable section of one text, develop an argument about how one of our authors grapples with problems of scale at the level of both form and content. Scales might be temporal or spatial or a combination of the two. Possible avenues:
    • How does a specific scene balance different scales? Where is there tension? How does the author accommodate conflicting scales?
    • Are there differences in how the author approaches problems of spatial scale versus temporal scale? How do you interpret the significance of this?
    • How do the issues of scale you are interrogating in one section of the text mirror (or possibly conflict with) the novel’s larger thematic and philosophical concerns with scale?
  5. Choose a (seemingly) minor/peripheral character from one of our texts and develop an argument about that character’s significance and function within the text. Thoughts:
    • How is this character essential to the work and how would the novel be different without that character?
    • How do you account for the character’s peripheral status?
    • What is the significance of the author’s precise choices of language regarding this character?
    • Are there passages where the character does not make an appearance but continues to shape the story or its language in some critical way? How, where, and why?
    • Why does the character appear when (s)he does in the novel’s overall structure?
  6. In one our primary texts, choose 2 scenes or passages that, upon first glance and in the novel’s larger plot/structure, seem completely unrelated. Develop an argument for how and why we should read these two passages together. Thoughts:
    • How does each passage change in the context of reading the other one?
    • What ways do the two passages challenge each other or create new tensions for the reader to face?
    • What new complexities arise when you put these two passages together and what is your argument regarding the significance of this newfound complexity?

Tips and Important Considerations:

  • Consult the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for the etymology and multiple meanings of words that are important in your discussion.
  • Consult the list of themes provided in most class sessions and try to link something small and specific to those large thematic concerns.
  • Be sure to focus on the HOW—in other words, not just WHAT the author describes or conveys, but HOW the author does that, and HOW you interpret it.
  • Go for quality over quantity. Limit yourself to focused, specific examples, or a handful of scenes you can take apart in great detail.
  • Be sure that every claim has a piece of direct, textual evidence to back it up.
  • Show your reader your thought process and logic in action: walk me through the steps that lead you from observation to interpretation and argument.
  • Make sure that you are advancing claims and interpretations that could potentially be countered, questioned, disagreed with, and debated.
  • No matter which topic you choose, your paper should be focused on the novel as a work of art and its language—it should not read like a case study of individual characters’ psychology as if they were real, or like a history report on the events featured in the text. These aspects are important, of course, but you must consider how we get to them through the medium of language.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2018
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments