Critical Paper #2: Theoretical Perspectives
“Are they being called upon to “preach”? To be “salesmen”? To “prostitute” their writing? Must they “sully” themselves? Must they write “propaganda”? No; it is a question of awareness, of consciousness; it is above all, a question of perspective.” (Wright, Blueprint for Negro Writing)
In Chapter 7 of Culler’s text, “Performative Language,” he reminds us that “no one would have ever thought of being in love if they hadn’t read about it in books, and the notion of romantic love (and of its centrality to the lives of individuals) is arguably a massive literary creation…literature is not frivolous pseudo-statements, but takes it places among the acts of language that transform the world, bringing into being the things that they name” (96). As Wright’s quote suggests above, to write is to be aware that what you write changes people’s perspectives as they read it. To be unaware of your audience as a poet in a specific historical context is to not be a writer at all—or as he later says, to be “a lost victim in a world he cannot understand or control” (201). Writing is about control, or at least about shaping the chaotic stuff of life into something that appears to have order, coherence, and meaning.
RESPONSE: So, for your Second Critical Paper, I want you to explore how both Shakespeare and at least one other Harlem Renaissance poet create a “perspective” and an identity in their work. How is each one consciously creating a sense of self that might not have existed previous to the poems’ existence? What related theories, ideas, values, sexualities, biases, and beliefs are they encoding into their works? Likewise, what theories or critical ideas can “uncover” each poet’s theoretical perspective on being a poet in a very specific historical moment? You might also consider how other writers would start thinking about writing—and writing themselves—based on the perspectives of these poems. In other words, how do these poems create ideas and the perspectives that we now take for granted?
THEORY: For this paper, you must use a specific theory to guide your discussion and help you examine and link these disparate poets. Your theory could be a single chapter from Culler (Chs.5, 7, and 8), since each chapter binds together related theories and theorists. Or, you can choose an actual theorist—Greenblatt, Marx, Foucault,
, etc. I will give you a few
handouts over the next few weeks from many of these writers. You are also
welcome to find your own theorist/book based on ideas in Culler or something
we’ve discussed in class (note that on page 139, Culler includes a “Further
Reading” for each chapter, which highlights specific theorists). Butler
ABSTRACT: On the last week of classes, I want you to present a short abstract to the class—3-5 minutes or so—which explains your general approach to the assignment. What theory are you using and why, what poems, and what do you think it will help you reveal about the perspective/identity of each poet? You will also turn this into me so I can look it over and give you feedback. We will discuss writing the abstract in class in a week or two.
REQUIREMENTS: Page limit is up to you, but use common sense. J Must use a few poems from each poet, and not merely one from Shakespeare and one from Hughes, for example. Close reading is paramount, both in the poems and the theory. Introduce the theory before you use it and make sure your audience understands it. Then use it as a lens for your reading. DUE ON OUR FINAL EXAM
DAY, WEDNESDAY DEC.7th by