Comparative Literature 30C: Topics for the Second Essay

Due Date: September 8, in class.

General Instructions: Write a five-page (1400-1600 word) essay on a topic related to Notes from Underground, Paris Spleen, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, The Glass Key, or the works we have read by Borges and Bishop. This essay should have a clear, unified topic and an identifiable, arguable thesis statement backed by solid evidence. The same rules of evidence, argumentation, and sources of the first essay apply to the second as well. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, make sure you narrow its focus and make a strong thesis. Following are some suggestions for topics. If you choose a suggested topic, make sure you narrow your focus considerably.

  1. Class and Social Standing.
  2. The issue of class or social standing appears in almost every work we have read, either explicitly or implicitly. Choose one or two works and examine this problem. What is Dostoyevsky trying to say by having the Underground Man keep a servant and attempt to fight duels? Why does Baudelaire describe so many encounters with beggars? What attitudes does this reveal? Be careful not to fall into easy judgments about egalitarianism and remember that subtlety and nuance are paramount in good literary criticism.
  3. Memory, Narrative, and the Self.
  4. Borges, Rilke, and Bishop link memory (and stories based on memories) with an idea of the self. However, memory can be lost, fragmented, compromised, or even overwhelming--what does this connection say about the role of literature? Examine how memory works in relation to narrative and subjectivity in one or more works by these authors.
  5. The Artist.
  6. All of the authors, but especially Doestoyevsky, Baudelaire, and Rilke, examine the role of the artist in an increasingly bourgeois society. What position should an artist (meaning poet, novelist, or visual artist) take with regard to society at large? Is an artist a reformer? What obligations does a true artist have to society, to his or her patrons, or to art itself? Must an artist be alienated from society?
  7. Self-consciousness, continued, and the Fragmentation of the Self.
  8. Works from earlier in the course often hold out the hope of an integrated, unified, and intelligent version of self-consciousness—works from Dostoyevsky onward tend to describe self-consciousness as ultimately despairing and fragmented. Choose one or two works and determine the nature of self-consciousness and subjectivity for that author (or authors)—to what extend has modernity destroyed nineteenth-century confidence in the conscious self in that instance? Do memory and narrative play a role in the construction of the self?
  9. Free Choice.
  10. Your own topic involving a work or works from the two weeks of the course, based on an important theme or concept.