LITS2306 EXAM ADVICE, 2008-2009

1.    Given that the term paper examines your knowledge of Module One, the final exam is based on Module Two.  Of course, some information discussed in Module One may inform what we did in Module Two, so it might be important to recall some of that as well.  But your focus should be on Module Two.

2.    There are SIX questions in all to choose from.  You are required to answer TWO.  Here are the instructions as they will appear on the exam:

  • Answer TWO questions.
  • In each answer, you should refer closely to the arguments advanced by the theorists in question.
  • Do not repeat substantially the same material in both answers.

3.    Each question asks you to compare the views of at least TWO theorists studied on one topic.

4.    Each question corresponds to the Topic addressed in a particular week of Module 2.  These were:

  • Week 8: Ancient Thought II: Plato, the Sophists and the Rhetorical Tradition

    • Plato (The Republic) [NB: this will not be on the exam since there was a question on Plato on the term paper];

    • Plato (Phaedrus) on the dangers of rhetoric and the abuses of the Sophists ;

    • 'Longinus' on the sublime in literature, its five sources, and the significance of rhetoric for an alternative perspective on literature quite different from the philosophy of literature advanced by both Plato and Aristotle;

  • Week 9: Early Modern Thought II: the Development of a 'Counter-Modernity':

    • Montaigne on the flaws of both rationalism and empiricism and the inevitability of relativism, if not skepticism, vis-a-vis all our truth-claims;

    • Vico on the rhetorical nature and the historicity of all truth-claims (philology / poeticism / rhetoric);

    • Herder on human identity as the product of the historical development of a particular culture and language (historicism / hermeneutics);

    • Some key terms which came up in our discussions during this and the previous week include:

      • Hermeneutics
      • Historicism
      • Philology
      • Poeticism
      • Relativism
      • Rhetoric
      • Skepticism
  • Week 10: The Reader/Critic II: the Subjective Nature of Criticism:

    • Pater on the impressionistic nature of criticism;

    • France on the criticism of literature as an occasion ultimately to talk about oneself;

    • Rosenblatt on reading as a necessarily subjective exercise and literature as an opportunity, accordingly, for self-exploration (our interpretations say as much about ourselves as they do about the text before us);

    • Brathwaite ("Caribbean Critics") on the impact of the critic's identity on his/her interpretation (English critics impose, he argues, a Eurocentric sensibility on West Indian literature);

  • Week 11: The Author II: Literature as a Form of Self-Expression

    • Schleiermacher on hermeneutics as a quest to grasp the author's subjective thoughts via the (objective or public) language in which his/her thoughts are necessarily communicated;

    • Ong's rejection of the 'intentional fallacy' and on criticism as a quest to enter the 'interior' of the author;

    • Brathwaite ("The African Presence in Caribbean Literature") on the four ways in which an African identity, which persists in the culture of the 'folk' and is handed down from generation to generation, necessarily manifests itself in Caribbean literature written by persons of African descent;

  • Week 12: Literary History II: the Historical and Cultural Specificity of Literature

    • Taine on literature as the product of a particular race, place ('surroundings') and time ('epoch');

    • Spitzer on the link between linguistic change over time, linguistic variation between cultures and the historical and cultural specificity of literary texts: criticism as a hermeneutical quest to grasp the author's thoughts by paying close attention to his 'style';

    • Brathwaite ("History of the Voice") on the link between the development of a specifically West Indian literature and the consolidation of what he calls 'nation language' (what others terms pejoratively 'dialect') out of the fusion of the various official languages of the slave-master, the African languages of the slaves, and the languages of the various indigenous inhabitants of the region;

  • Week 13: Representation II: Literature and the 'Discursive Construction' of Reality:

    • Henry James on the role played by the author's particular 'point of view' especially in the narrative construction of reality;

    • Booth on the rhetorical nature of prose fiction, especially the role of point of view;

    • Achebe on the racist construction of Africa, Africans and all things African in a quintessential colonialist novel like Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

5.    I would advise you to revise THREE of the topics listed above (or, obviously, a minimum of TWO); in each case,

  • familiarise yourself with the topic in question by

    • consulting my handouts from Module 1 on the key topics (representation, literary form, the author, literary history, the reader) addressed by literary theorists;

    • consulting the relevant PhilWeb page devoted to that topic; and

    • studying some of the secondary sources listed there;

  • choose two of the theorists listed for that week and

    • carefully read the primary sources in question in conjunction with my own summaries / notes;

    • carefully study and try to remember the argument advanced in each essay;

    • consult secondary sources for any light that these may shed on the views of the theorist in question (for suggested readings, consult the relevant PhilWeb pages devoted to the theorists in question); and

    • compare and contrast the point of view of each theorist;

Remember that the goal is not merely to paraphrase the argument of a particular theorist but to marshall that information in order to answer the particular question asked. 

6.   Some additional useful advice:

  • One way to get a handle on a particular theory is to consider the implications of the argument in question for your own work as a theorist and critic: how has it changed how you think about the nature of human identity, or the nature of knowledge, or the criticism of literature, etc.?  How has it also accordingly changed what you do as a literary critic? 

  • Another way to grasp a theory is to study a practical application of it.  For example, if you are trying to come to grips with the meaning of the term 'realism,' it might be useful to compare what Ian Watt has to say in "Realism and the Novel Form," the theoretical preface to his The Rise of the Novel, with any of the other chapters which are devoted to studies of particular novels written in the eighteenth century and which, as such, exemplify the particular approach to literary criticism which he is advancing.

  • Last but not least, remember that the secret in doing well in any exam is to anticipate the kind of questions which may be asked.  To this end, prepare thoroughly: study the PAST EXAM PAPERS in this course and try, in the case of each topic and each theorist, to recall my emphases (and even hints), to put your finger on the main issues at stake and, thus, to figure out the kind of question which may be asked of you.


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