- Monday, October 3 by 10 pm to Blackboard
You will choose one of two formats for this take-home exam: choose two of the three short essay prompts to respond to; or respond to the long essay prompt. No matter which format you choose, your exam should be 5-6 double-spaced pages long (1600-2000 words). While I encourage you to talk through these prompts with others in the class and with me, this exam must be done individually. Therefore, I expect your responses to differ substantially from anyone else’s in the class.
Details & Requirements
The formal requirements for your exam are minimal:
- 5-6 pages double-spaced (1600-2000 words)
- If you choose the short essay option, this means each response should be about 800-1000 words long.
- Citations and format according to some established citation style (MLA and Chicago style are generally the easiest for text. See the assignment page on our course site for links to online resources about how to format your paper using these styles).
- Answer the prompts fully, compellingly, and effectively.
This exam is worth 25% of your final grade in this course. You will be graded on the complexity, originality, specificity, and overall success of your responses, as well as on the overall presentation and polish of your writing. Because doing this kind of writing is difficult and takes practice to do well, you will have the chance to revise this exam for a potentially higher grade if you choose.
Some questions I’ll be asking of your writing as I read it:
Short Essay Option
Do your essays respond to the prompt fully, even though they are short? Do your responses invite and engage with complexity? Are they specific and original? Do they have central frame or logic, rather than merely consist of lists of observations and/or summaries? Do they privilege analysis over observation and/or summary? Is your writing clear, polished and effectively organized?
Long Essay Option
Do you make a compelling and effective case for your interpretation of your chosen text? Does your argument invite and engage with complexity? Is it specific? Is it original to you, or have we already worked through it entirely together in class? Is it an argument about the text’s meaning (or one of its meanings), rather than a collection of loosely organized summaries or observations about the text? Is your writing clear, polished and effectively organized?
Short Essay Option
- You are given a considerable amount of flexibility in deciding how to craft your responses. As a writer, it’s up to you to decide how to frame your response and what information to include in order to respond as compellingly and as effectively as possible. Plan responses that are organized strategically, that rely on specific passages from the texts you are writing about, and that demonstrate your mastery of the concepts at issue. Your responses should have a consistent logical, conceptual, and/or thematic frame; they should not simply consist of lists of observations and/or summaries.
- If you’re responding to the prompts fully, it should be difficult to limit your answers to around 1000 words. Come as close as you can, however, because learning how to manage the scope of your argument is also an important skill. This will mean leaving some of your ideas out. Decide what you can reasonable tackle – and tackle well – in this short amount of space.
- There is no need to waste time and space on lengthy introductory or concluding paragraphs. Just dive right in to your analysis as quickly as possible.
Long Essay Option
- Writing a successful close reading paper takes time and practice. Doing it well is more difficult than it seems. If you’re asking the right kinds of questions of your chosen text, your analysis should – in a clear and structured way – bring out and emphasize the complexity of the text you are writing about, not “solve” or do away with this complexity. Our goal here is to invite complexity, NOT necessarily to make things simpler.
- If you do this, it will be difficult to stay within the word limit because you will have so much to say. Come as close as you can, however, because learning how to manage the scope of your argument is also an important skill. This may mean leaving some of your ideas out. Decide what you can reasonably tackle – and tackle well – in 5-6 pages. The more specific your topic, the better off you’ll be.
- On the other hand, if you find that you are struggling to write 1600 words about your text, that is likely an indication that you are not digging deep enough, that you need to ask different kinds of questions, or that you should shift the focus of your argument and/or idea. If you find yourself in this position, I strongly recommend you come talk to me. I can help you.
- You should organize your essay around one central idea, as opposed to providing a list of claims and observations. Remain aware of the need to make specific claims rather than vague generalizations, building your argument around specific passages, pages, scenes, or other textual elements. I expect you to present an original thesis and to work closely through the text on your own, NOT to synthesize and then regurgitate interpretations we have worked through in class.
Short Essay Prompts
Choose 2 of the following 3 prompts:
- Briefly discuss what Marshall McLuhan means by the phrase “the medium is the message.” Then, put another one of the secondary sources we have read so far in this class (Gitelman and Pingree, Johnson, Price, Pressman) in dialogue with McLuhan. How does this author respond to McLuhan’s assertion? How, if at all, do they extend or change or build on it? How, if at all, do they criticize it? The idea here is to show how this author is in conversation with McLuhan (explicitly or implicitly); how you frame this conversation is up to you.
- What does it mean to think about books as forms of media, or to focus on how books mediate information and experiences? Begin your response to this prompt by briefly answering this question, choosing at least one of the secondary sources we have read so far (McLuhan, Gitelman and Pingree, Johnson, Price, Pressman) to support your answer. Then, choose 1-2 specific scenes or moments from EITHER The Raw Shark Texts OR A Visit from the Goon Squad that demonstrate/apply your answer to the question and analyze how they do so.
- Briefly discuss what Jessica Pressman means by the phrase “the aesthetic of bookishness.” Then, answer the following questions: Is A Visit from the Goon Squad a “bookish” text? Why or why not? If so, how does it complicate or extend or build on Pressman’s concept? If not, how would you choose to describe/explain the novel’s engagement with digital technology? Choose 1-2 specific scenes or moments from the text that exemplify your point(s) and analyze how they do so.
Note: Your responses should demonstrate breadth of coverage of the course readings so far. This means that you should incorporate as many different course readings into your responses as possible. In other words, it’s not a good idea to discuss the same reading(s) in both of your responses.
Long Essay Prompt
- Write a close reading of EITHER The Raw Shark Texts OR A Visit from the Goon Squad on a topic of your choice. Close reading is a specific method of literary analysis. Doing a “close reading” means you will make an original argument about your interpretation of the text that is based in specific evidence from that text. In a close reading paper you are trying to answer the question: “so what?” So you’ve found a specific pattern in the text (as you have all done): so what? What does this pattern mean, in terms of the text as a whole? Why/how is it important to our understanding of the text as a whole?
Note: The final project for this class consists, in part, of doing a close reading of a specific text (Only Revolutions). One way to approach this exam is as a way to practice this method of reading and writing, since you will be asked to do it later on in the course.