Critical Paper #2/Paper Abstract
An Abstract is a short paper (1-2 pages) that briefly outlines an approach to a given paper or topic. It should give a theoretical framework for discussing a writer or theme, and should briefly explain what works you intend to discuss. It doesn’t have to have an ironclad thesis, but should clearly state your intention, interest, and assumptions. It’s okay to say “I hope to find X in the works of Y,” or “I want to explore the connection between X and Y,” but avoid phrases like “I want to use Culler’s theories to find different ideas between several of the authors in class.” For example, the abstract below is for an article I published earlier this year in Oklahoma Humanities:
I would like to propose an article on the "It's a Mystery" theme for the Winter/January 2016 edition of Oklahoma Humanities. The article would be entitled (tentatively) “M.R. James’ Warning to the Curious.” James is a largely-forgotten (but still widely admired) early 20th century writer of ghost stories who envisioned the terrors of the hidden world where we least expected to find them—in the raw material of daily existence. In a short essay written toward the end of his life entitled "The Malice of Inanimate Objects," he writes,
“there [are] days, dreadful days, on which we have had to acknowledge with gloomy resignation that our world has turned against us. I do not mean the human world of our relations and friends…[but] the wrong of things that do not speak or work or hold congresses and conferences. It includes such beings as the collar stud, the inkstand, the fire, the razor, and…the extra step on the staircase which leads you either to expect or to not expect it.”
For James, true horror resided in modern life itself, which we assume is well-ordered, reasoned, and devoid of messy superstition. Yet we are constantly stepping over cracks and avoiding ladders, since the old world manifests itself through the most mundane means to remind us that magic still exists; that is, the power of the human imagination to populate our world with angels and demons. In James’ stories, he creates terrors where we least expect to find them, and reminds us that human nature is never conquered. To quote Goya, “the sleep of reason produces monsters,” and the 20th century produced some spectacular ghouls—all while reason dozed in a dream of progress.
On the last week of class, bring a 1-2 page abstract to read to the class (you don’t need to bring copies for everyone). I want everyone to hear your theoretical approach to the texts and what you hope to explore. This way, we can give you feedback and you might even inspire your fellow classmates. Please feel free to e-mail me a draft of your abstract early if you want feedback or if you feel like you’ve hit a dead end. NOTE: I will not let you turn in the final paper until you present an abstract in class. This is to help you and make sure you’re on the right track (it’s not punishment). So please let me—and the class—help. Don’t skip class and just turn in a paper on the due date.