Methods of Literary and Cultural Criticism: essay 2 Due Tuesday, November 6, at the beginning of the class, in hard copy

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Methods of Literary and Cultural Criticism: ESSAY 2
Due Tuesday, November 6, at the beginning of the class, in hard copy

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, 1931 / Jacques Derrida as Jacques Derrida, n.d.
Note: For this assignment, the emphasis is on grounding your claims in close reading. Attend to minute matters of word choice, syntax, and sentence structure. Be fanatical about this shift in scale. IF YOUR ARGUMENT IS NOT BASED ACTS OF CLOSE READING, YOUR PAPER WILL BE RETURNED TO YOU UNGRADED.
From the syllabus:
Two critical essays. (3-5 pages, normal-looking font.) These are sharp critical engagements with one or more texts covered in class: academic papers in the standard form, denuded of excess verbiage, bold of argument, and shined, prosewise, to a glistening polish. These can make use of your own earlier blog posts. I will hand out prompts, but you are free, always, to break from those strictures and compose your own questions and topics.
Please construct a well-organized, revised, proofread essay of no fewer than three full pages using the following topics as a starting point. Remember that a successful essay will begin from close readings, and work upward to make an interlocked series of points (an argument). In excellent papers there is nothing besides readings, argumentative claims, and hinges between arguments.
Further directions:

  1. Begin writing this paper the night before it’s due.

  2. Think in ungrounded abstractions.

  3. Write filler.

Link formal observations to analysis of content. Connect local observations to larger claims. Cite properly (use MLA style). Sharpen your argument until it cuts. Be fearless.


  1. Dracula and language 1. This is an essay about systems of communication in Dracula and the movement (or barriers) between them. In Saussure’s terms, what is a “structure” or “langue”? Build your answer to this question in reference to the proliferation of languages, idioms, scripts, and dialects in Dracula.

  2. Dracula and language 2. Using Jakobson’s diagram of speech acts and terminology for understanding circuits of communication, analyze one or several particular instances of communication in Dracula, either successful or not; use the terminology of Jakobson to draw out the complexity of the speech acts you identify.

  3. Dracula and language 3. Drawing on Foucault’s discussion of discourse and power in The History of Sexuality, analyze the function of confession in Dracula. This is about the relationship between power (in Foucault’s terms) and the process of (compulsory?) coming-into-discourse.

  4. Dracula and language 4. Use the work of Derrida to evaluate the distinction between speech and writing in Dracula.

  5. An elaboration on Question 4: Use Bolter and Grusin’s discussion of “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation” to make an argument about the function of the proliferation of media forms in Dracula.

  6. Yet another elaboration on Question 4: If you prefer, you might instead examine Dracula’s quality of hypermediation through the concept of translation – as the translation from one idiom or system into another-- in which case you should have recourse to Derrida’s discussion of translation in “Letter to a Japanese Friend.”

  7. Hypothesis: Dracula is a fantasy of reverse imperialism. Make an argument evaluating this proposition. For this topic you will need to engage directly the article(s) by Stephen Arata and/or Moretti.

  8. A meta-critical topic. Perform a critical reading of Arata’s article on Dracula. In what ways might we ask questions or work against the scholarly method Arata models in this readerly performance? Here you will look closely at his use of sources, his assumptions about authorial intention or lack of it, the way his strategies map out on the Richter diagram. You’re close reading the close reader.

  9. With recourse to essays by EITHER Derrida or Foucault, perform a sustained close reading of no more than a single short paragraph of Dracula, focusing on tiny units of meaning. You might make reference to any number of larger themes or problems we’ve discussed in class, but your argument should be grounded in the minute texture of the paragraph itself. Advanced approaches will link these “themes” to one or more of the theories we’ve engaged so far.

  10. Derrida and Foucault both implicate their own mode of address into the unfolding of their arguments: in other words, they open the question of how the form of their writing or discourse relates to their arguments about those things. Drawing on either Foucault or Derrida’s texts, perform a sustained act of reading on that piece of writing, paying attention to the relation between the argument’s content and its form of presentation.

  11. On the final page of Dracula Harker makes a surprising admission:

We were struck with the fact, that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document. Nothing but a mass of typewriting, except the later notebooks of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing's memorandum. We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story. 

Perform a close reading of this final page or so of Dracula, using reference to our theoretical readings to evaluate the problem of verification in the novel. How do the processes of verification and authentication work in the novel? What are the goals of these processes, and does the novel meet those goals?

  1. Related to the above: In “Letter to a Japanese Friend,” Derrida describes how the term “deconstruction” came to appear in his own thought. Why is it such a delicate matter to define this term? How does Derrida handle the representational dilemma that defining “deconstruction” presents to him?

  2. Is Count Dracula a capitalist, or an anticapitalist? Refer to Eagleton, Marx, and/or Raymond Williams to work on this question.

  3. Pick a short piece of Dracula (as little as a phrase or a sentence, no more than a short paragraph) and read it “deconstructively,” attending to the pitch of its anxieties and apparent desires, and to the way in which those desires, in their very overweening desperation to establish authority and grounding, undo themselves. Remember that, in contrast to hermeneutic models, in which the reader “discovers” a “hidden” meaning, a deconstructive reading posits that the text has always-and-already revealed its own undoing. You are just noticing it.

  4. Perform a fanatically close reading of one of the novel’s many sex scenes to evaluate the complicated function of desire in the novel. In what senses do these scenes show us that “will” or “intention” is perhaps not so obvious as our stereotypes suggest? Advanced approaches to this topic will relate its claims about the novel to one or several theoretical texts we’ve evaluated.

  5. Dracula and social form. This novel is in many ways about the conflict between one form of social life (feudalism) and another (capitalism). (This was also Marx’s concern; see Eagleton.) In what ways to matters of social class (aristocrats, professionals, etc.) and social form (capitalism, feudalism, etc.) inform this novel about vampires, sex, and death?

  6. Use any of our conceptual writers -- Bolter & Grusin, Moretti, Derrida, Marx, Freud, Foucault, and or Marcus & Best-- to evaluate the methodological dilemmas entailed with “surface reading,” book mapping via Google books, or data-mining books as “information.” Can/should literature be dealt with as information? What is gained and/or lost in this process of conversion from (what Marx calls) quality into quantity?

  7. “[L]anguage bears within itself the necessity of its own critique” (Derrida). Write an essay that takes this seriously.

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