I’ve been so excited to hear more about your plans for the theses you’re beginning to write.
You guys have real contributions to make to the critical conversations that are happening out there, among literary critics at conferences and in the pages of our magazines and journals. I hope that you will aim high as you write your proposals, asking yourself: What do you really want to figure out about these texts, and how can you bring the insight and experience you have as a reader to understand literature better? This is exciting.
And when you start to feel daunted– because you will feel daunted sometimes, inevitably– know that that feeling is part of the process, too.
As you’re writing the proposal, try to identify more precisely where your knowledge falters. By marking those places now, you’ll know better how to use your research and your writing to shore up the parts that feel shaky.
With that goal in mind, ask yourself: As I’m writing, where do I start to feel like um, I don’t really know what I’m talking about here? Mark those spots! And we can talk about what you need to learn in order to feel confident there, too.
There is no fanciness too fancy for us if we want it (TINFTFFUIWWI).
Speaking of which, I took this photo for you last week at Hogwarts.
And speaking of fanciness of the British variety, this week we’re reading Mrs. Dalloway– and she is pretty fancy.
This is a thing we can discuss if it’s interesting to you: Do you think the novel has a critical relationship to the class structure that invests Clarissa Dalloway with her high position, or does it just accept that structure passively?
And, more generally, where do you locate the politics of the novel? In fact, Virginia Woolf had a pretty active engagement with some political movements of her time, so it would be odd if this novel had no content more important than a fancy lady’s party preparations. Where do you see it demonstrating– or hinting at– the good of literature in relationship to the political world?
As we’re thinking about the exam, too, I want to locate this novel in the context of high modernism in Britain. It will be helpful for you to clarify your understanding of the timeline for the texts you’ve read throughout the major, asking: How do literary writers working in a similar time and place cohere, around what general patterns in form and content? What kinds of categorizations will help you talk about any specific writer in a larger context of literary history?
To help you think about these questions, we’ll compare the literary forms that Woolf devises in Mrs. Dalloway to the painterly forms that Picasso invents in Guernica and The Weeping Woman. You may feel a bit out of your element here, because this isn’t an art history class, and you may not have any specific vocabulary for talking about painting. But take a stab at it, anyway.
So far, you know that Woolf was trying to make the novel do things it had never done before with respect to time, space, character, and plot. How do you see those experiments continuing as you keep reading– what specific passages should we read together to understand what Woolf is doing here?
And how might you use those insights to interpret the paintings we’re looking at this week?
Then, finally. The other two readings are by graduate students. I’ve given them to you as models for ways to think about the kinds of writing you’ll do in the months to come.
What can you learn from Lindsay Turner’s article about Anne Boyer’s poem that you could use as a writer of a thesis? Where do you see her doing things you might want to do, too, to give your reader confidence in you as a critic?
And I gave you the Clune summary because it articulates a way of using a text as evidence that is usually hidden inside critical writing. What can you learn from this, if anything, that could help you through the writing process to come?
I am so glad that we’re going to get to discuss all of these things.