Guidelines for Reader Responses

Approximately every other week, Reader Responses covering the current reading assignment will be due. Reader Responses should be 2 pages in length, typewritten in 12-point type, double-spaced with 1-inch margins on all sides, stapled together, and each page must be numbered. Each Reader Response will consist of three principal parts as described below:

  1. Identify some feature within the text (e.g., imagery, theme, incident, passage, narrative structure, framing device, style, sentence construction, message or moral, etc.) which happens to strike you as strange, unfamiliar, remarkable, or problematic, and explain what it is that you find so unusual about that particular element or how it differs from what you might have expected.

  2. Consider how that feature is operating within the text, what function or purpose it might be serving within its immediate context or within the broader narrative as a whole, and why it might have been represented in this particular manner rather than some other way.

  3. Then explain how this feature helps you to interpret the general meaning of the text as you explore the particular implications and consequences of your new understanding.

Final Paper Assignment

Length: 8-10 typed pages, double-spaced in 12-point type, stapled, with pages numbered.

Choose one of the following topics and write a complete, well-developed, and coherent argument, which defines the applicable significance of any key terms you use, supplies evidence and illustrative examples from the texts to support your claims, and provides clear and consistent criteria for making judgments and drawing inferences. Your treatment should discuss in depth three of the works studied this semester. (You may allude to any number of other works incidentally for the purpose of providing examples or counter-examples for your main argument.) You are encouraged to do further research, and any information or insights you receive from outside sources should be fully referenced with footnotes and bibliography.

  1. The term "Genre" refers to the stylistic, structural, and thematic conventions that distinguish one type of narrative from another. The critic Hans Robert Jauss has defined genre as an "horizon of expectations" that authors and their audiences bring to their encounters with narrative material, the set of pre-conceived assumptions and collective ideologies that shape the ways in which stories are told. Genre may thus be said to reflect the dominant ways in which societies organize information and assign meanings to experience at specific historical moments in particular places. Choose two works in different genres from different historical timeperiods to discuss the differences between the corresponding societies and their conventions. Consider why some genres fall out of fashion and are no longer produced while other genres only become available after certain historical, technological, or philosophical developments have taken place. Explain some of the possible reasons for these changes in taste.

  2. Perspective, in all its variations and permutations (e.g., external / internal, divine / human, objective / subjective, impersonal / personal, public / private, singular / multiple, sincere / ironic, omniscient / solipsistic, totalizing / partial), operates as one of the central framing techniques for orienting narrative, inasmuch as it limits what information is available and possible to know at any particular moment as well as how information gets divulged over time. Through your observations about how different perspectives operate in different narratives, consider how assumptions about perspective change over time and from one place to another. If perspective is one of the governing conditions for acquiring new knowledge, think about the ways in which the organization of knowledge gets restructured through revolutionary changes in perspective. Discuss the social, political, moral, or theoretical implications for these changes in the structure of perception.

  3. If media are the delivery mechanisms for telling stories, with their own special operating procedures, their own organizing systems, and their own technologies of production, consider how different media shape the stories they transmit. Which possibilities are made available and which are abandoned in shifting between different media: oral patterns of storytelling, manuscripts, printed books, newspapers, films, cartoons, or video games? (Choose three different media for the purposes of comparison.) Note that the singular of "media" is "medium."

  4. Watch the same half-hour television news program (local, national, or cable) at the same time every night for a week (5 nights) in order to observe the patterns by which information is organized, arranged, and distributed. Examine how random events and novel occurrences are formatted into familiar, predictable, and recurring categories, each with its own pre-existing discursive model. Consider the elements of narrative structure involved: framing devices, perspectives, agents, rules of evidence, premises, biases, causal structures, episodes, functions, characters, moves, openings, complications, developments, conclusions. Observe how narrative interest is created, how much time each story is allocated, where in the program it is located, which persons get to tell which stories, how the program gets punctuated by commercials. Then discuss how models of desire - desire for novelty, desire based on lack, desire for consumption - keep getting created and satisfied within the program.

  5. Events are random, haphazard, and unforeseen occurrences. It is their very novelty and unexpectedness that make events noteworthy. Discourse, on the other hand, is a fore-ordained and pre-determined logical structure that gets super-imposed on narrative in order to make sense of experience. It is the regularity, familiarity, and predictability of discourse that make narrative comprehensible. Consider how these two opposing functions of story-telling are balanced and combined in three different types of narrative (epic, tragedy, history, romance, novel, Bildungsroman, horror story, detective fiction, fairy tales, science fiction) and how different meanings are generated by the different discursive structures employed.