DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

EN 4271: RESEARCH WORKSHOP

Lecturer: Assoc Prof Robbie Goh, ellgohbh@nus.edu.sg

Module Description:

The module familiarizes students with the aims, techniques, principles and analytic procedures used in research in literature.  In the first part of the module, students will be introduced to and tested on methods of obtaining and organizing research materials – this will include stylesheets, bibliographies and bibliographical information on CD-ROMS and the internet, and the construction of an academic argument such as would be offered in a research proposal.  The second part of the module will familiarize students with the critical approaches and assumptions commonly used in existing scholarship – students will be tested on their ability to understand, assess and critique existing scholarly articles, as well as to apply acquired reading strategies to a small set of ‘core’ texts.

Module Aims:

The module is intended to prepare students to engage in research.  Accordingly, it aims at familiarizing students with research conventions, expectations, theories and methodologies.  It also provides opportunities for exercises in which these skill may be practiced and developed.  The module assumes that a comprehensive sense of the contexts (social, political, economic, productive, personal) in which literary texts are written, is a crucial prerequisite for conducting good research, and thus the module will attempt to stimulate critical thinking about the ways in which scholarly texts rely on and invoke these contexts.  While this obviously resembles the metacritical activity which is the central aim of a critical theory course, this module does not have the time and scope necessary for a thorough grounding in theory; instead, it will approach these issues from the more practical (as opposed to theoretical) exercise of critiquing scholarly essays and the premises they employ.  Another of the module’s main exercises will be the construction of a viable research proposal, not necessarily identical to the dissertation the student will eventually undertake, although it is expected that the latter will draw on the work and thought which goes into the former.

Primary Texts:
There will be no “primary texts” as such, to avoid too onerous a workload, and also to encourage thinking about criticism and research methodology, rather than knowledge of a literary text or texts per se.  Although for reasons of consistency the seminars will refer regularly to certain representative texts, for examination and assignment purposes students are free (and indeed encouraged) to apply their critical insights to any reasonably well-known literary work in English.

Seminar Readings (these are the only readings that will be referred to at length, and of which familiarity will be assumed, in the course of the seminars)

Bloom, Harold  Part I (“Charting the Territory,” pp. 3-80) of A Map of Misreading.

Eagleton, Terry “Mutations of Critical Ideology,” chapter one of Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory.

Frye, Northrop  “The Archetypes of Literature” in Fables of Identity

Goh, Robbie B. H. “Textual Hyde and Seek: ‘Gentility,’ Narrative Play and Proscription in Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” Journal of Narrative Theory 29: 2 (1999)

Levinson, Marjorie “Introduction” and “The New Historicism: Back to the Future,” in Rethinking Historicism: Critical Readings in Romantic History.

Seidel, Kathryn Lee and Alvin Y. Wang “Asians and Aliens in Cyberculture Film and Fiction,” Hybridity 1: 1 (2000)

Sultana, Rebecca  "Mimics without Menace: Interrogating Hybridity in Bharati Mukherjee's Fiction," in Asian Diasporas: Cultures, Identities, Representations, ed. Robbie B. H. Goh and Shawn Wong
 
 

Supplementary Readings (will not be cited or referred to in any detail during the course of the seminars - they're here to help if you need them,
otherwise don't worry too much about them)

Lukacs, Georg  “Chapter One: The Classical Form of the Historical Novel,” The Historical Novel.

Abrams, M. H. Chapters II (“Imitation and the Mirror”) and III (“Romantic Analogues of Art and Mind”) of The Mirror and the Lamp

Kenner, Hugh  “Pope’s Reasonable Rhymes,” ELH 41 (1974)

Said, Edward W. “Conrad: The Presentation of Narrative” in The World, The Text and the Critic

Patke, Rajeev  “Singapore and the Two Ulysses” The Arts 6 (1998)

Albert Guerard “The Nigger of the Narcissus” in Conrad the Novelist

Lodge, David  “What is Literature?” (pp. 1-8), “What is Realism?” (pp. 22-26) and “Ernest Hemingway” (155-159) in The Modes of Modern Writing

Jameson, Fredric “Romance and Reification: Plot Construction and Ideological Closure in Joseph Conrad,” chapter 5 of The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act

Veeder, William “Children of the Night: Stevenson and Patriarchy,” in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde After One Hundred Years, eds. William Veeder and Gordon Hirsch.

De Man, Paul  “Symbolic Landscape in Wordsworth and Yeats” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism

Deleuze, Gilles “Literature and Life” (pp. 1-6), “Lewis Carroll” (pp. 21-23) and “The Greatest Irish Film” (pp. 23-26) in Essays Critical and Clinical.

Goh, Robbie B. H. “Sydney’s ‘Queer Space’: Urban Compartmentalization, Anxiety, and the Negotiation of Social Cosmopolitanism” Hybridity 1: 1 (2000).

Beard, John “Science Fiction Films of the Eighties: Fin de Siecle Before Its Time,” Journal of Popular Culture 31: 1 (Summer 1998)

Booth, Wayne C., Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph Williams, The Craft of Research.

McNeill, Patrick, Research Methods.

Altick, Richard D.  The Art of Literary Research, 3rd ed.

Guerin, Wilfred L et al, A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature.

Goldsmith, John A. et al.  The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career (has useful sections on "Writing Your Dissertation" as well as tips on the academic profession).  The department owns 2 copies of this book, and grad students and EN4271 students can borrow it - please go to the department general office counter, ask for Ms Sally Cheng and ask to borrow the book, saying that you're an EN4271 student.
 

Class Schedule (Semester I 2005/2006) - Revised 19 August 2005
Seminar 1 (8 August)    Introduction – course goals, methods, assessment

Seminar 2 (15 August)   Stylesheets, Bibliographies, Resources

Seminar 3 (22 August)  The Scholarly Report (proposal, article, thesis etc) – aims, goals, structure, style, evidence

Seminar 4 (29 August)  History and Historical Studies (Readings: M. Levinson)/Ideology, society, political economy (Readings:  T. Eagleton)

Seminar 5 (5 September)     Ideology, society, political economy (Readings:  T. Eagleton)/Language: narrative structures, typologies, forms  (Readings: N. Frye)

Seminar 6 (12 September)   Language: narrative structures, typologies, forms  (Readings: N. Frye)/Language: style, figure, symbolism (Readings: R. Goh, “Textual Hyde and Seek.”)

[mid-semester break 19-22 September: individual consultations on students' proposals]

Seminar 7 (26 September)  Language: style, figure, symbolism (Readings: R. Goh, “Textual Hyde and Seek.”)/Unconscious traces (Readings: H. Bloom)

Seminar 8 (3 October)  Unconscious traces (Readings: H. Bloom)/Othering: gender, class, race, sexuality (Readings: Seidel and Wang)

Seminar 9 (10 October)  Proposal presentations and discussions

Seminar 10 (17 October)  Proposal presentations and discussions

Seminar 11 (24 October)   Proposal presentations and discussions

[No seminar 31 October - Deepavali public holiday]

Seminar 12 (7 November)   Proposal presentations and discussions

[Reading Week: 11-17 November; Exams begin 18 November]

Assessment/Assignments:
1.   In-class participation (10 percent of final grade)
2.   Stylesheet exercise and research journal (15 percent)
3.   Proposal (20 percent)
4.   Scholarship review/critique exercise (20 percent)
5.   Final (open book) examination  (35 percent)

Assignment list:

Stylesheet exercise: to format a short body of academic text according to prescribed stylesheet.  Goal is to raise questions about the consistent and logical presentation of academic text.  This assignment will be “bundled” together with the research journal, since they collectively constitute a building exercise for the proposal itself.

Research journal: to maintain a workbook of thinking, methods, themes, search tools, bibliographical choices, priorities, etc, relating to the proposal.
Journal is to be maintained in softcopy form, from the start of the module, and printed out and handed in together with the stylesheet exercise (no handwritten material will be accepted).
While obviously a certain degree of “tidying up” of the actual messy process of research refinement is expected and indeed required, it is important that the journal be a reflection (however “tidied”) of the choices and logic behind the final proposal.  (Think of this in terms of a maths question: the proposal is the answer to the question, but the “working out” of the question is also vitally important, and must be assessed).
Journals will no doubt be individualized to reflect the different personalities and methods of scholars, and there is no rigid set format for this.  The important thing is to prove a methodical, logical, diligent research procedure.  Decisions and choices are crucial – the final proposal (and the thesis) cannot do and contain everything related to a topic, so the journal should explain and justify what is left out, as well as what is finally chosen.  As a guide (but only as a guide – the final arbiter is research logic and diligence), the journal might include the following parts:
- statement/commentary on the selection and refinement of the final topic: how the topic was chosen, what considerations went into this, the refinement of the topic and what was left out, etc.
- scholarly theories, assumptions, approaches: what kinds of ways were finally chosen to deal with this topic, and why?  Which thinkers/theorists are shortlisted, and their relative pluses/minuses.  What kinds of problems might be anticipated.
- search methods, tools/instruments, terms; and final results (which might take the form of a select bibliography); what gets included, what doesn’t, and why.

Proposal: the critical rehearsal for the thesis itself.  (Note that it is expected and probably to your benefit, but not absolutely essential, that you do a proposal/journal etc related to the research topic you are finally likely to undertake for your dissertation.  Research Methodology is explicitly intended to help you with research, the chief piece of which is probably your dissertation; however, this module is not intended to force you into an early and irrevocable decision about your dissertation topic).  Proposal is to take this general form (justifiable and logical variations are possible):

A dissertation title
A brief declaration of the main claims and thesis statements (perhaps 2 paragraphs)
A general description of the project (methods, theories, assumptions, relationship to existing scholarship, qualifications and delimitations, etc)
A justification of primary/main texts (if necessary)
A breakdown of chapters (each chapter description to include a chapter title, section titles if necessary, and a brief description of the scope and aims of each chapter)
A select bibliography (very likely a refinement of the journal biblio.)
Any other relevant material.

As a guide, the proposal should be between 5-10 pages in length (varying quite a bit, depending on topic and existing scholarship, biblio and resources, etc – as with the journal, the length and structure of the proposal will ultimately be guided most of all by the research logic and diligence due to the chosen topic.).  All proposals must be printed – no handwritten materials will be accepted.

Examination:

The open-book exam will be two hours long, with just one question (chosen from two).  You may bring anything whatsoever into the exam hall – by the same token, therefore, you can expect questions which cannot easily be answered with a pre-packaged response taken from notes or a book.  The question and the assessment of responses will emphasize individual thought, insight and reflections on matters of research methodologies, assumptions, theories, etc – i.e. the issues raised in the group discussions in the middle part of the module.

The exam questions will thus specify 1 or 2 of the research topic-types discussed in the seminars (in a re-formulated fashion), and ask for a critical assessment of this topic-type.  Please note that while many of the concerns dealt with in this module overlap with “critical theories,” RM is not a critical theory course, and thus neither in the seminars nor in the final exam will you be required to give (or rewarded for giving) a comprehensive account of the history/methods/claims of a particular critical theory or theories (e.g. “feminism,” or “psychoanalysis”).  Instead, you will be required to show thinking on research issues and assumptions which draw from but also cut across critical theories (e.g. “language in electronic texts”; “comparative cultural/textual analysis in the age of globalization and the internet”).

The aim of the exam is to test your thinking on the research potential, problems, theoretical affinities and disaffinities, strengths and weaknesses, of certain research topic-types.  You are not expected to show considerable knowledge of primary or secondary literature in a particular area (i.e. not required to be an expert or well-versed in, say, “19th C Gothic Literature” or “Yeats” or such); rather, you will be tested on research intuitions, sensibilities, logical processing, and the ability to discuss these in a coherent and useful manner.  The “knowledge” required is really the experience of having thought about textual, theoretical and evidential matters in relation to different research topics and areas.
 
 
 

Scholarship Review/Critique Assignment

Please acquire a copy of the following article:

Sultana, Rebecca  "Mimics without Menace: Interrogating Hybridity in Bharati Mukherjee's Fiction," in Asian Diasporas: Cultures, Identities, Representations, ed. Robbie B. H. Goh and Shawn Wong

Write a report and assessment of this piece of scholarship, identifying and critiquing its major premises, development of ideas and rhetorical structure(s).  In your report, you may wish to address some of these issues and concerns:
a.   What are the article’s theoretical affiliations?  How (if at all) does it site itself in relation to existing scholarship?  What is achieved by this, and/or what problems then arise?
b.   What aspects of its scholarly methodology do you find to be of interest?  Can you suggest ways in which this methodology might have been strengthened/improved?  Any areas of methodological weakness, any gaps?
c.   What kinds of evidence does the article rely on, and in what ways/to what purposes is this evidence used or put?
d.   Can you relate any of the problems or interesting features you’ve identified in this article, to larger problems or debates in related fields of scholarship?  i.e. is your assessment of this article significantly bound to larger issues of theory, evidence, discipline, methodology, etc?  If so, briefly comment on these larger issues, and if possible, suggest how this article might have addressed these in the course of achieving its goals.

Note: this exercise is not asking you to savage the article, or to be polemical, or to choose sides in any theoretical, disciplinary or methodological debates.  Thus, all comments on the article have to be fair, objective, and verifiable by referring to the text.

You’re also not being asked if your own views of the primary material discussed by the article (here, Kogawa’s Obasan and other literary works) concurs or not with those of the article.  In a sense, your opinion and knowledge about the primary literary works is unimportant, or at any rate merely secondary to your engagement with the scholarly text of the article itself.  (i.e. this is not an exercise which primarily tests your knowledge of a particular field of literature).  In other words, you might well be asked to praise a good article’s methods and claims, even if these differ markedly from your own views or claims about the primary literary texts.

You are being tested on the ability to articulate critical thinking on a range of research issues, and to bring this thinking to bear on a specified scholarly article in an objective and even helpful/constructive way.

Suggested length of response: about 3000-4000 words.  Deadline for submission:
 
 
 
 

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