Eng 500: Short Response Essay on Canons and "Culture Wars"
Choose from one of the three topics below and write
a short response paper (about 900 words) on it. These topics all
deal with cultural politics and its effects on graduate study, as reflected
in our readings on the history of English studies, canonicity, and literary
history. You may do further reading for this paper, but it is not
The paper should be prepared according to the conventions of MLA style
and is due on Wednesday, October 13. You must submit it in the form
of an electronic file (either through email or a floppy disk). Do
keep a hard copy of your own, in case either the transmission of your electronic
file is unsuccessful or I misplace the floppy disk you turn in.
1. We have read and discussed several selections on the history of
the profession, its effects on the current shape of English studies, and
the relation of literary studies to the larger society. Write an
essay that examines how this reading and discussion have changed your perspective
on literature, academia, or graduate study. Be careful to narrow
your focus sufficiently, so you can develop your position adequately in
3 or 4 pages. Some examples: you might reflect on critiques of Matthew
Arnold's influence on literary criticism; you might discuss the role
of literary education in the expansion or maintenance of empire; or you
might weigh in on the so-called conflict between research and teaching.
2. Discuss the role of value and evaluation in literary studies.
How has our reading on the politics of canon-building or the contingencies
of value affected your understanding of the "masterpieces" of literature?
3. It has been said that the task of writing literary history
is both impossible and inescapable. Discuss its complexities from
a selected perspective. Some possibilities: How do our
readings demonstrate that "the procedural decisions literary historians
make are themselves historically determined" (Patterson 189)? Another
angle: What, in your view, is the relation between literary and extra-literary
history? Yet another: Reflect on the problems of the relation between
dominant and sub- cultures in literary history.