21L.488 | Spring 2018 | Undergraduate

Contemporary Literature: Street Haunting in the Global City


Paper 2


Due: Class 19

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

Length: 6 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.

Texts Used: You may write about one or two of our primary texts. All papers must include Adichie’s Americanah. You are welcome to use any of our secondary critical texts, but this is not a requirement. If you choose to write a comparison paper including a second text, you can choose any of the following as your second text, provided you did not write your first paper on this text:

  • Poe, “The Man of the Crowd”
  • Woolf, “Street Haunting”
  • Cole, Open City
  • McEwan, Saturday
  • Thien, “A Map of the City”
  • Chaudhuri, Calcutta and other excerpts


You are enthusiastically encouraged to devise your own topics. Please run the idea by me (either in office hours or by e-mail) at least one week before the deadline. Regardless of topic, all papers should be based on focused close readings of the primary text(s). Originality and creativity should be prioritized. If you do not devise your own topic, you may choose from the options below.

  1. Develop an argument about the role of the body in one or two of our primary texts (you will probably want to focus in on a few key scenes to compare). How you interpret “the body” is up to you; you could look at the body as a whole, or a part such as hair or hands, corporeal language and metaphors, etc. How does language pertaining to the body resonate with or open questions pertaining to sexuality, gender, race, age, narrative, city-dwelling, national belonging, spatial orientation, aesthetics and beauty, or any other major concerns of the text? What is the nature of the relationship between the body and its environment? The body and other bodies? The body and text? The body and the passage of time? The body and the acts of reading and writing? The body and social or cultural institutions?
  2. Pick one specific word that our text(s) use to characterize spatial navigation, and discuss its significance, either in a single work or in a comparison of 2 works. You can trace the word throughout a work, or focus in on a few key scenes. What is particular about the way the author(s) use this word? Where and how does it take on different meanings or connotations or functions? What does a contrast between different uses reveal? Does part of speech shift the meaning (verb in one place and adjective in another)? How does this word resonate with the major concerns of the text? Here are a few that I have noticed but you are welcome to choose your own:
    • “drift”
    • “haunt”
    • “wander”
    • “map”
    • “float”
  3. Read Glissant’s essay “For Opacity” (on “the right to opacity,” as previously discussed in class) and develop an argument about the way problems of opacity vs. transparency function in one of our primary texts. As we have touched upon in class, there are many ways to interpret what is transparent or opaque (visual, linguistic, moral, psychological, technological, scientific, etc). How does the text challenge the way you think about opacity and transparency? What different kinds of opacity and transparency operate in the text or across different texts? How do technologies or different forms of media or urban spaces stucture transparency and opacity? What aesthetic or moral values attach to these terms?
  4. Pick a sense (sight, hearing, touch etc.) to trace throughout Americanah or to compare/contrast between Americanah and an earlier primary text. Develop an argument about the significance of the way that that sense functions and the way that you interpret that sense in the context of the work’s larger themes or concerns. What aspects of the city or nation or race or gender does this sense provide access to and what aspects remain untapped? How does this sense collide or conflict with other senses? How do different authors use the same sense in different ways? How does your reading go beyond the obvious or what we might expect of that sense? What does reading through the lens of one sensory modality achieve or reveal or conceal?
  5. Develop an argument based on close reading of scenes involving different kinds of transportation in our primary texts (trains, subway, cars, planes, motorcycles, ambulances, walking, running, etc.). What are the similarities or differences in terms of vantage point, pacing, mood, spatial and temporal dimensions, etc.? What is surprising or counterintuitive? What questions or problems (philosophical, ethical, aesthetic, political) does this engagement with modes of transit raise? What different versions of the city or space come into view? What techniques must an author employ to narrate that which is in motion? How do these modes of transit bring people together or tear them apart? How do they enable access to knowledge (of others, of the city, etc.) and how do they prevent it?
  6. Choose A or B on city sites:
    1. Compare a single scene or city site from Americanah and one other primary or secondary text 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 sites or spatial features throughout one primary text and develop an argument about its function. Possible sites to look at from one or two works:
      • City streets (alleys, roads, highways, bridges)
      • Architectural features and sites (doors, fire escapes, verandahs, rooftops, bedrooms, bathrooms, windows, barriers/blockades, balconies, stairs, elevators, houses and apartments, offices, parks and green spaces, institutions— educational, clinical, cultural, etc.)
      • Squares and plazas
      • Stations
      • Bureaucratic spaces
      • 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/imagined or artificial or fictionalized spaces (such as stories within the story, films, books, artworks, or news stories)
      • Forms of violence, variously defined
      • Stores/bookstores/other sites of commerce
      • Social gatherings/parties
  7. Develop an argument about different kinds of frames and framing techniques in our primary texts. Possible considerations: narrative frames, window frames, door frames, picture frames…

Tips and Important Considerations [this list was provided for Paper 1 as well]:

  • 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, 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