Final Take-Home Essay Exam

            What do you believe?  How should literature be read and interpreted?  Which methods do you advocate and which do you eschew (or prohibit--you're the boss!)?

        Before you write, think carefully about theoretical assumptions for every method you will use, and be alert to those which are harmonious, as well as those which are mutually exclusive.  Don't attempt to combine methods based in theories that do not accept each other's principles unless you can explain how the conflict can be resolved.

        Prepare as long as you like, and use the course readings and any other resources you find helpful while actually writing the essay (i.e., this is "open book"--what else would it be?).  Spend at least two hours writing a statement of your critical principles and the interpretive methods resulting from them which you believe are legal to use and should be used to interpret literature.  Feel free to take longer to write as the spirit moves you, but remember, "moderation in all things."  In the course of writing the essay, feel free to criticize the short-comings of any theories or their interpretive methods if you believe they lead to bad practices.  However, the end result should be a set of practices you can defend and theories you can explain.  For theories you have decided you will not use, please spend at least some time explaining why you will not use them, whether because of their assumptions, their methods, or both.  You do not have to "cover" all the theories in equal detail, but you should at least pay some attention to all of them and special attention to those you plan to use.

        You should connect your discussion to specific authors we have read including, and in addition to Tyson, and to the terms of art they use to describe texts, reading, and interpretation.  You should offer examples of specific types of texts which would reward use of the kinds of interpretive practices you will use, and you can (and perhaps should) specify that some interpretive practices work better for certain types of texts than for others.  If you are writing papers for other English literature courses, you could do worse than to name the topic of one or more of them, and to say what critical method you will use in them, as examples of your critical theory in actual practice.  The mental effort thus expended obviously also would be rewarded twice by also helping to create well-written introductions of those other papers.

         If you are looking for a stopping place, you can follow the advice of Emily Dickinson's persona and "Stop there!"  If you want to look further, discuss the importance of these founding theories to the way you view the world, literature, and your own role as a reader and interpreter and author of literature.  That is the "metaphysical" consequence of studying critical methods, and it is the highest learning I can offer you.  Of course, after you stop writing, you might want to edit the resulting draft for clarity and coherence.  Because my personal critical bias is Post-Modern, I do not insist that you achieve "unity" (the traditional third element of that triad), but clarity and coherence seem indispensible to any civilized communication.

        The resulting essay will be evaluated on its demonstration of your theoretical self-awareness, your coherent deployment of critical methods and their terms of art, and your ability to exemplify (briefly!) their use in clear and coherent prose.