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Showing posts from April, 2012

Microlecture: What is an Argument?

A short guide to the five most (probably) common arguments in literary studies. Learn these, and you'll never be stuck for an argument again! (Maybe).

A brief summary of the above:

1. Argue for the relevance of applying a theory. If we apply theory X to text A, then we find P. Always remember to specify why P is interesting.

2. Argue for a certain relationship (revision, subversion) between a text and its form. Text A is form X, but departs from X in ways P1, P2 (etc). Always remember to specify why the text is manipulating its form/genre in this way (e.g. is it a female writer appropriating a 'masculine' genre?)

3. Argue for the relevance of a historical context. Features P1, P2 (etc) are present in text A, because of context X. Always remember to delve into precisely how the text responds to its historical context, and be aware that this kind of argument is particularly suitable for combining with others (#4 especially).

4. Argue for the conservatism or radicalism of a …

April Notes and Thoughts

1. Religion, Affirmation, Nietzsche. Coming to the end of a research module on Jim Crace this week, I asked a group of students in a class exercise to discuss whether they thought the two novels we had studied were affirmative. As self-consciously atheist novels, Being Dead and Quarantine (I've blogged about them before, here and here) raise the problems of loss, gain and continuity in a secularised world, and the question was intended to provoke reflection on such matters as the absence of religious consolation and the relationship between atheism, value and nihilism.

However, one student hit back with the classic, and more intelligent, critical answer: that is, it depends what you mean by affirmation. Whether she realised or not, this was a much more profound point than the one I had raised. It is not just that theism affirms one content and atheism affirms another (equal or perhaps lesser) content, but rather that the very forms and logics of affirmation change.

I mentioned tha…

Homo Sacer

Having just finished Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it: in fact, I found it frustratingly repetitious and - given Agamben's reputation - even a little disappointing. Anyway!

The study draws the concept of 'bare life' from the Roman idea of a homo sacer - a person who may not be sacrificed, but may be killed. Over the course of his argument, a series of figures - the wolf-man, the exile, the bandit, the refugee - join homo sacer in a relation persistently described as an inclusiveexclusion, or a life that marks a threshold, hinge or indistinction between zoe (natural, organic life) and bios (the qualified, political life of a citizen).

I actually found it much easier to think of 'bare life' not as what it was in itself, or even through these sometimes enigmatic figures like homo sacer, but merely as the object of sovereign power. I reckon one does not need to wade through Roman canon law to get at the heart of this book, b…