The subject of the essays is of your own choosing. We have drawn together many kinds of texts in this part of the course and you are free to use any of them. Remember, however, that this is a 6-8 page essay and that it is better to focus the essay upon a specific text or a specific problem and develop an analysis of some depth, rather than to generalize about the Irish condition. In other words, there is no text too and much danger in proposing too broad a topic. Also, you are under no obligation to fold Irish history into your examination of the literature unless or until you feel comfortable in doing so. You can concentrate exclusively on an interrogation of the literature without penalty. I understand that if you have had no previous exposure to Irish history, working in the space between the history and the literature might prove daunting. If, however, you are a historically-inclined and want to pursue this kind of negotiation, you are free to do so as well. Keep in mind that this is not a research paper. All of the materials of the course are at your disposal, and can be brought into your essay to gloss a certain point, or as support, but the essay is primarily an interrogation of the literature that demonstrates a certain argument in a close analytic reading.
Some possibilities might include:
1. The breadth of literary allusion in 18th c. Irish poetry: what are we to make of these synthetic and cross-cultural allusions?
2. How is this poetry coded as political document? What happens when we read the poetry in these terms? What is the implications of a "secret" literature? A hidden discourse?
3. Is it possible to assess Swift's patriotism? Is it possible to resolve the various affiliations he takes in different political stances? How authentic is it to "speak for" the "whole people of Ireland"? Is it simply exigency or political insensitivity that is at stake here?
4. What is the nature of Swift's irony? Is it corrective, meant to anneal and finally resolve political difference? Or is it finally too eviscerating to be seen as in any way ameliorative of social and political conditions? Is there profound cyncism at the heart of Swift's irony? Or a profound and sympathetic affinity for human beings in all their contractions and complexities?
5. How does Swift's irony act as literary trope? As an effective rhetoric? How does irony manage its subject? What does it introduce at the level of the text? What do Swift's aesthetics/morals/ethics become through the trope of irony?
6. Is it possible to locate Edgeworth in her own text? Where and how is she implicated?
7. What kind of Irishness is being reproduced in Castle Rackrent? For what purposes?
8. How do we negotiate the various documents of the Famine? How do we negotiate historical trauma, cultural memory and forgetting?
9.. How does comtemporary poetry respond to the Famine? What act of commemoration, of filiation or solidarity, of remembering is taking place over 150 years?
10. Is it possible to assess blame? Necessary? If so, why?
As well, you can always do an exegesis of text, or a close reading of a selected passage: even these short pieces can be and need to be broken down, made manageable for the essay. What you would want to do here is to exfoliate the passage, render out meaning as fully as possible, demonstrating the cogency of the passage to larger issues in the text. . If you can point to a particular passage as critical or central to how we think about the piece, you are making good use of these exercises in writing.
You might also find that there is something that you would like to pursue that has not been discussed in class, nor does it appear in the questions from the syllabus. (Often you can find what interests you in the novel by looking back over what you have underlined.) In fact, the essay should always serve to answer your questions, to resolve those issues in the text that puzzle you or that intrigue you. And it's an important exercise to be able to focus these various interests appropriately so that they will serve as an argument that can be deftly addressed in a short essay.
The introduction should articulate the "problem" of the essay as a sequence of causal reasoning ("because of "a", "b" naturally and inevitably, etc.). In other words, you want not only a "problem" but some foregrounding of a complex and reasoned argument in the introduction. Then you want to "worry" this problem, or see how complexly it can unfold, see to what ends it might be brought or what implications it might have. What I am looking for is that you press the speculation, the analysis, the development that inheres to any good argument. And you do want to be able to draw a conclusion: if you've developed an argument to any extent, there will be conclusions that you will want to draw, no matter how tenuous or how qualified they may be. (A very cheap way to find the conclusion--but one that always works--is to ask yourself "So what?" at the end of your discussion: your answer to this question is invariably the conclusion to the essay.)
Remember that the essay is essentially a reading of text: we are bound by the text, it is our limit and our endpoint. Thus is important to draw upon the text strategically to demonstrate how your argument reads and informs the text: you are, in fact, "re-reading" the text for your reader and we need to see evidence of that re-reading.
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