Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

First Agenda Item Set

While I won't post any more reminders, please note that any time an exercise is due, you are expected to post an Agenda Item, on your own blog, an Agenda Item, by midnight on Monday. Thus, by January 29, you are asked post five short blog entries -- one for each assigned readings.

Students in my other class have reported no trouble at all following these online tutorials. Tutorial 1 shows you the basics of blogging at SHU, and Tutorial 2 focuses in particular on posting an Agenda Item (using the MT Quickpost link you'll find on every page on my website.)

If you would like help with these tutorials, please feel free to set up a visit during my office hours.

Permalink | 29 Jan 2007 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Ex 1: Taste and Canon

This is a diagnostic paper -- what we will use as "before" when we get to the end of the semester and reflect. Employing direct quotations from the assigned readings, write a brief essay (following MLA style; 2-3 pages, not counting the Works Cited list) that applies literary criticism to this story.

You should submit it to I will e-mail the class the course ID and password that you should use.

Assume that I have read all the works and that I have them handy; no summary is necessary, and quotations should generally be very brief -- only a few words at a time, woven into your own sentences; not whole paragraphs stitched together with "Another quote that I found interesting is..."

I am definitely not looking for a collection of observations that occurred to you as you read.

Unlike a general survey course, where I woud accept almost any comment you want to make about the week's readings, for this course I am looking for your ability to defend a thesis that applies the week's topic in literary criticism.

Questions such as "Was Melville a feminist?" or "Does symbolism contribute to the effectiveness of 'Benito Cereno'?" are pointless. They are simple yes/no statements, and the author already knew the "right" answer before sitting down to write the actual essay.

A productive thesis statement requires not merely a question, but rather a claim -- a non-obvious statement that takes a stand on a complex issue.

"Melville's feminization of the ethnic other is a reaction against threats to the masculine world of 'Benito Cereno' from uncertainty; yet the utter helplessness of the male characters before the feminized forces of nature exposes the limitations of the masculine world-view."
For the critical exercises, I would much rather that you reach for the stars and occasionally stumble, rather than choose completely safe topics and never stretch your abilities.

Permalink | 31 Jan 2007 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Ex 2: Author Intent 1

Choose either ''The Yellow Wallpaper'' or ''Ode on a Grecian Urn.''

Permalink | 7 Feb 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ex 3: Author Intent 2

Of the four literary texts covered in the textbook, choose one that you did not focus on in Ex 2.

Permalink | 14 Feb 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ex 4: The Work and the Reader

Choose any of the four works covered in the textbook, choose whether you are going to write on either formalism or reader-response, and defend a thesis as usual.

Permalink | 21 Feb 2007 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Portfolio I

What is your portfolio?

It begins with a richly-linked blog entry that introduces your reader to blog entries that you have created, and discussions from your peers' blogs in which you have participated, as part of a reflective statement on your progress so far.

Examples of portfolios from previous classes have included a no-nonsense list and a more personal essay. Either format is fine, but however you present your work, it's important to me that you specify where each of your posts falls amongst the categories listed below. The same post can count for more than one category, but if you keep re-using the same handful of posts that's probably a sign you can do a little better next time.

Submit your portfolio either by creating the reflective cover entry via the MT Quickpost link (as you do whenever you create an agenda item) or by posting the URL to your cover entry in a comment on this page.

  • The Reflective Cover Entry: Post a blog entry that contains links to all the entries that you plan to submit for your portfolio. For the benefit of an outside reader (that is, someone who doesn't know what a blogging portfolio is), introduce each of these links and explain why they are significant. (For example, see "Favorite Blog Entries: Journaling Mode.")
  • The Collection: Your blogging portfolio is supposed to be a collection of your best weblog entries. For the purposes of this class, a "good" blog entry is one that demonstrates your intellectual engagement with the assigned readings, and/or the questions raised by your peers. I will accept a bulleted list of entries, but please write for an audience that does not know or care about your homework requirements. (Thus, no boring titles or links such as "Chapter 4 Blogging.").
    1. Coverage. Ensure that you have blogged something for each of the assigned readings (for a C-level grade, at least brief agenda items for each assigned reading; for a higher grade, demonstrate your intellectual involvement with the assigned readings, perhaps by linking to peer blog entries that mention your work). (If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.)
    2. Depth. Some of the "coverage" entries you selected above should also demonstrate your ability to examine a concept in depth. Do some original online research, and link to the precise pages where you got ideas that helped you formulate your ideas. If you prefer to use a library book, quote a passage that you found interesting. Here are a few examples (from a literature class) of a blog entry that goes above and beyond the standard "what I thought about the book" blog entry: Fitting in in the Diamond Age and Forced Reading-- Beloved Character.
    3. Blog Carnival Entry: A relatively new concept among mainstream bloggers, although the basic idea will be very familiar to anyone who has joined a Facebook group. In a blog carnival, someone chooses a topic and a date (not too far in the future). Several people agree to write new blog entries on that topic, and the carnival host collects all the links and introduces them to the blogosphere. (The idea is that one of the participants will volunteer to be the host next time -- a month or a week later -- and the process will continue; but for this portfolio I'm only asking for a one-shot deal.)
      • Examples of blog carnival host page include a simple list or a series of paragraphs.
      • In keeping with the brain-strengthening activity that I consider valuable in a seminar class, each individual entry that is part of the blog carnival should be a "richly linked blog entry." (By that, I mean simply a blog entry that uses links, not just as add-ons or throw-aways, but a blog entry in which the links are a deep, integral part of both the structure and the content.)
    4. Interaction. Of the "Coverage" blogs entries included above, some should also demonstrate your ability to use weblogs to interact with your peers. For instance, you might disagree (politely) with something a peer has written; link to and quote from the peer's blog entry, then carefully (and respectfully) explain where you disagree. Rather than hurl accusations in order to make the other person look bad, cheerfully invite the other person to explain their perspective. Quote passages from the texts your peer has cited, or find additional examples that help unveil the truth. (These may or may not include some entries you have already included among your "Depth" entries.)
    5. Discussions. Blogging feels lonely when you aren't getting any comments; you will feel more motivated to blog if you enjoy (and learn from) the comments left by your readers. Your portfolio should include entries (which may or may not overlap with either the "Interaction" or "Depth" entries) that demonstrate that your blog sparked a conversation that furthered your intellectual examination of a literary subject.
    6. Timeliness. A timely blog entry is one that was written early enough that it sparked a good online discussion, before the class discussion. A timely blog entry might also be an extra one written after the class discussion, if it reacts directly to something brought up in class. The blog entries that you write the night before the portfolio is due won't count in this category. And don't try to change the date in your blog entries -- I know that trick! ;)
    7. Xenoblogging. "Xeno" means "foreign" or "guest" so xenoblogging (a term that I coined last term) means the work that you do that helps other people's weblogs. Your portfolio should include three entries (which may or may not overlap with the ones you have already selected for "Coverage") that demonstrate your willingness to contribute selflessly and generously to the online classroom community. Examples of good xenoblogging:
      • The Comment Primo: Be the first to comment on a peer's blog entry; rather than simply say "Nice job!" or "I'm commenting on your blog," launch an intellectual discussion; return to help sustain it.
      • The Comment Grande: Write a long, thoughtful comment in a peer's blog entry. Refer to and post the URLs of other discussions and other blog entries that are related.
      • The Comment Informative: If your peer makes a general, passing reference to something that you know a lot about, post a comment that offers a detailed explanation. (For example, the in the third comment on a recent blog entry about the history and culture of print, Mike Arnzen mentions three books that offer far more information than my post did.)
      • The Link Gracious: If you got an idea for a post by reading something somebody else wrote, give credit where credit is due. (If, in casual conversation, we credited the source of every point we make, we'd get little accomplished. But since a hyperlink is so easy to create, it's not good practice -- or good ethics -- to hide the source of your ideas.) If a good conversation is simmering on someone else's blog -- whether you are heavily involved or not -- post a link to it and invite your own readers to join in.
    8. Wildcard: Include one blog entry on any subject -- related to online writing or not, serious or not -- that you feel will help me evaluate your achievements as a student weblogger.
Permalink | 22 Feb 2007 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (9)

Ex 5: Critical Analysis of ''Everyman''

Apply material from Keesey, Ch 4 to a critical analysis of ''Everyman'' (as presented by SHU).

From the SHU box office. (It's my understanding that student tickets are generally pretty cheap.):


A New Musical Adaptation

When God sends Death for Everyman, Everyman summons his assets, attributes, and accomplishments to accompany him. Will worldly good go with him? Will Beauty? Kinship? In this new look at the English 15th century morality play, we come face to face with final judgment through the eyes of Everyman and, as T.S. Eliot says, “…wait for his escape…bound and helpless in a hut to which his enemies are about to set fire.”


February 23, 27, 28 at 10:30am

February 23, 24, March 1, 2, 3 at 8pm

February 25, March 1 at 2pm

Admission price is $12.00 each. Tickets can be reserved on the form below or by

calling the Box Office at

(724) 838-4241 or extension 4241

Permalink | 28 Feb 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Project Proposal

Could be a traditional paper; a website; a creative work; I'm open to just about anything. We will agree on evaluation criteria and a timeline. Final project is due April 12. You are encouraged to work with a partner. (I actively discourage groups of three, because in my experience they almost always fall apart.)

On April 19, each student will have about 10 minutes of class time for a presentation or activity. Your project should include an annotated bibliography, as well an original handout, worksheet, or idea experiment that is designed to help your peers explore a challenging topic in literary criticism. You are welcome to post your work online, submit it as a proposal for a conference paper, include it in your English portfolio, etc.

Permalink | 1 Mar 2007 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)

Ex 6: Genre, Influence, Convention

Apply intertextuality to Pale Fire.

Permalink | 14 Mar 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Term Project Progress Report

An informal, 1-2 page report on your progress. Include a bulleted list of what you plan to do next, and what you plan to produce (that is, what you are going to submit for my evaluation).

You are welcome to post it on your blog, but if you do, upload the URL to the slot on

Permalink | 22 Mar 2007 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Ex 8: Semiotics and Deconstructionist Rhetoric

Apply poststructuralism to Pale Fire.

Permalink | 28 Mar 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ex 9: Ambiguity and Meaning

Apply poststructuralism to any other literary work we have studied (besides Pale Fire).

While catching up on my marking over the break, I drafted this paragraph that I wanted to share with the class.

Undergraduates who are drafting research papers often call too much attention to the mechanics of citing sources and organizing evidence. In the book My Big Boring Academic Study, by the noted researcher Professor H. Pompous Windbag III, it offers a quote on page 221 that supports my point. The passage says, “English professors often ask their students to cut down needless introduction and repetition, in order that each successive revision call less attention to the routine mechanics of writing a research paper, and more attention to the results of the process – namely, a well-defended, original argument.” As this quote shows, Windbag is in agreement with the point I made about how students in literature classes are often so proud of finding a quote that supports their argument that they introduce it with great fanfare, and then after the quote they summarize the point the author of the quote has just made. Windbag feels that this is an unnecessary waste of time that could be spend expanding an original argument, and I cannot agree with him more fervently.

Compare that to the much shorter revision, which I would argue makes the same point far more efficiently:
By calling explicit attention to the quotes that they use, Windbag feels that, in their first drafts, undergraduates inappropriately emphasize "the routine mechanics of writing a research paper" (221), rather than the creative intellectual work that is supposed to result from those mechanics.

Permalink | 11 Apr 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Portfolio II

You might also want to look ahead at the additional requirements of Portfolio III, so that you can plan your time wisely.

Permalink | 12 Apr 2007 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (7)

Term Paper Presubmission Report

More than simply a proposed thesis statement, the Presubmission Report asks you to provide a bibliography in MLA style, a full thesis paragraph, at least one supporting paragraph, and a preliminary conclusion.


Submit this by bringing a printout to class, so that we can do some peer workshopping.

Permalink | 12 Apr 2007 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Term Project

Each student will have about 10 minutes of class time for their term projects.

There are no required readings.

I would like you to blog an informal entry that covers your intentions for your presentation, so that your peers will have a place to post their reactions. You may also, if you wish, blog the academic component of your project.

Permalink | 19 Apr 2007 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (7)

Ex 10: Culture as Context

Apply cultural-historical criticism to Pale Fire.

Permalink | 25 Apr 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ex 11: Remix

Revise one of your earlier exercises, OR produce a creative expression of your critical ability, on any genre, in any form (as long as nobody is likely to get arrested or injured).

Permalink | 2 May 2007 | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Term Paper First Draft

A polished document, 10-12 pages long. I will not mark grammar or MLA style issues, but I will give you feedback that will help make your ideas stronger.

Permalink | 3 May 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (2)

Portfolio III

Yes, this portfolio will be relatively brief. Include an entry on your own term project, reflections on some of your peers' projects, your own term paper, the term paper peer review actifity, and a cover entry that reflects on your accomplishments since January.

Permalink | 3 May 2007 | Comments (10) | TrackBack (10)

Graduating Seniors

I have to get your grades in on Tuesday, May 8. That means the last day you can submit work is Monday, May 7.

I don't think we will have to rearrange any of the other due dates, but if you'd like to meet with me in order to get faster feedback, I'd be happy to save some time for you.

(I'm posting this on March 30... I plan to post more details about the term paper soon.)

Permalink | 8 May 2007 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Term Paper Portfolio

Submit an electronic version to, but also submit a folder with printouts of the feedback I provided on your presubmission report, the peer comments you received from the in-class workshop, a submission note in which you describe the most significant changes you made since I last saw your work, and a revised draft (annotated to call attention to the changes you made since you submitted yoru Full Draft).

Permalink | 10 May 2007 | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)