Much adored papers.

About a month ago I promised to reminisce over my favourite papers of my undergrad.  Now that I can almost entirely safely claim to be done all the writing of my undergrad career, I can fairly fulfill this promise.

My apocalypse paper is not making the list.  I have ambivalent feelings towards that one…

On Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 55” (“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments”).  For “Tradition and Innovation: An Introduction to British Literature.”

This was  the first essay I wrote during my undergrad,  and I was determined to write the best darned paper I could in four pages (I much less cynical then).  Nostalgia aside, this was the essay where I discovered how much fun sonnets are to read, and much more fun than novels to write on: at least seven of my other papers have been on sonnets since then.  (I think this paper was also foreshadowing of how my literary loyalties would develop, but I wasn’t paying attention)

On Thoreau’s Walden and Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.”  For “Introduction to American Literature.”

Walden annoys me; everything Melville does delights me.  Besides being an extremely fun paper to write (something about defending Melville’s narrative practices as more ethical than Thoreau’s), I think this was the first paper in which I made use of real literary criticism: identifying logical inconsistencies and considering the implications of the writers’ narratives rather than a “here’s a poem, here’s how it works/what it means” sort of argument.

I fear to read the paper now; it’s probably not as decent as I recall.  However inconsistent and incomplete it is, though, I’ll like it for being one of those moments where studying literature became (once again) more interesting.

On Jonson’s The Devil is and Ass and Measure for Measure. For “Shakespeare’s Comedies.”

My affection for this paper far exceeds the writing quality of it.  I probably could have done — or could now do — much more with the subject, the use of allegory in the two plays. (Reading it over, my definition of allegory is limited, but, I notice I did attempt to use it to assess the plays’ poetics.  Neat.)   This was the first paper I wrote on Jonson, however, so I’ll always be obliged to list it among my favourites.

I also notice I referred to Jonson as “Benjamin Jonson.”  How cute.

On Jonson’s Timber, or Discoveries and “To Penshurst.” For “16th and 17th Century Literature.”

This list is comprised mostly of papers that I recall fondly in spite of their flaws.  As when I thought (and wrote) that Jonson was writing about Sir “Phillip” [sic] Sidney when the poem is about Philip’s brother, Robert (Philip being already deceased by the time Jonson wrote the poem).  I have always read my footnotes since then.

Still, Timber is amusing, with its desire for Donne’s hanging and the blotting of Shakespeare’s lines: it’s difficult not to enjoy writing on Jonson’s criticism.

On Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “In Goya’s greatest scenes.” For “Modern Poetry and Poetics.”

I grow disheartened when readers who love Ginsberg have never heard of Ferlinghetti.  His poetry is intelligent and playful, and provides endless avenues of discussion (in “Goya” there’s the problem of mimesis, the role of art in trauma recovery, commentary on existentialism and relativity and the permanence of poetry).

Also, I like this paper because, yes, it’s a decent little paper.  I can read it without cringing (too much).  Sometimes, editing works.

On Tamburlaine I and Tamburlaine II. For “Christopher Marlowe.”

Another paper I can read without too much cringing (my writing seems to have improved by third year), but I think I enjoyed writing this one mostly because, writing on historiography in both the plays and early modern writing in general,  it allowed me to read a lot of historical material both from and on Elizabethan England (I learned a lot while writing this paper).

The research also proved useful this year while working on my apocalypse paper.  I had most of Katherine Firth’sThe Apocalyptic Tradition in Reformation Britain, 1530-1645 noted, summarised and annotated in way that made sense to me. (I built on my research this year!  I’m almost beginning to be a real academic!)

On Jozef Grabski’s “Titian’s Venus of Urbino. A Commemorative Allegory of Marital Love.”

This was a satisfying little essay to write.  Grabski’s article is interesting (proposing Titian’s painting as an allegory of mourning), and so (I narcissistically hope) was my Freudian response (the painting as an allegory of melancholy). Too, I think I’m still astounded at how painless this paper was to write: three hours, including reading the article, and it’s decently written.  Inexplicable.

On Dryden’s An Essay of Dramatick Poesie.  For “Literary Criticism.”

I spent hours editing this paper for concision, then spent two weeks worrying I had edited too much out of it (that I’d removed the grammatical and logical connections that led to my conclusions).

The essay (apparently) made sense.  I celebrate it as my first step in learning concision.

On Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.  For “Psychoanalysis and Early Modern Drama.”

This is the paper I enjoyed writing most this year (even if I admit to being the tiniest bit terrified of presenting it).  It’s on Marlowe, so it’s automatically fun (also, frustrating: Marlowe’s works always make me doubt any critical argument I make about them), and the article the play was paired with equally so (Barabas as a deterritorialising/deterritorialised psychopath).  As with the Tamburlaine essay, I learned quite a bit while working on this paper, this time about Lacanian theory, and some Zizek (is this the point of writing assignments?)

12 May 2009 ~ St. Catharines


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