Scarry’s essay was inspirational for me, in spite of Miller’s sometimes crucial, sometimes unnecessarily harsh, objections to her idealism. I agree with Miller’s disappointment and perplexity over Scarry’s conclusion—that the “cause of justice and beauty might be advanced by teaching the footnote” (146-147)—and I certainly agree with his suggestion that Scarry’s institutional affiliation may have influenced the shape of her argument:
Scarry has chosen to give her audience and then her readers a glimpse of a life of the mind that is lived by only the smallest fraction of the profession—a life of endless speaking engagements, of listening to Said lecture one night on social responsibility and on Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte the next, of reading Plato and Hobbes, Orwell and Rawls, of contemplating truth, beauty, and justice. (148)
I think this a vital point that Miller raises—that there exists a significant discrepancy between the teaching load of an Ivy League tenured faculty member, and the teaching load of an adjunct instructor or teaching assistant working at a non-Ivy; and furthermore, that this discrepancy in workload translates into a discrepancy in the experience of both the English department and academia as a whole. I believe this issue is critical to any discussion on the future of literary studies, and I appreciated Miller’s brief but salient notes on this topic.
It was from then on that Miller and I diverged: his criticisms of Scarry’s idealism (while sometimes appropriate, as in the previously mentioned instance) seemed confusing and contradictory given the idealism of his own proposal to restructure the argumentative essay into a free-form, liberating reflective essay. His main grievance is with the conventional college/argumentative essay that produces a very formulaic and redundant kind of writing, essentially closing off the reader to unfamiliar or new concepts. Miller calls for an essay that serves as “a means for slowing thought down; as a technology for generating reflection; as a practice of entertaining other possibilities than the ones that seem the easiest to defend and substantiate” (150)—is that not what Scarry called for in her own essay, albeit in a more romanticized fashion? I understand that Scarry’s essay was something of a prompt for Miller’s text, but aside from calling out her occasional naiveté, I’m not sure why she was the center of Miller’s diatribe. The essays appeared, to me, to be more similar than different (although I wonder if Miller would balk at such a comment).
I have not yet introduced the final research paper to my students, but currently they are working on their close reading assignment:
Close Reading Essay
Length: 1,800-2,100 words / ~ 6-7 double-spaced pages
For this essay, you will look at one of the works we have read (or watched) and perform a close reading on a selected passage, ultimately making an argument about the meaning of the text.
In a close reading, you should search for some meaning behind the words themselves, some meaning that is perhaps not on the surface of the text itself but is implied, hinted at, or perhaps even inadvertently conveyed by the work. Your job is to show how your interpretation, your explanation of the work’s meaning, can be supported by details of the text itself—this involves using plenty of textual evidence to support your claims. Throughout your paper, stay very close to the text, explaining or “unpacking” important meanings that might be missed at first glance. Avoid simply paraphrasing what is said in the passage. You will of course have to include summary in your paper, but ensure that you are interpreting or saying something about the summarized passage.
Some topics that you may want to explore include:
- The significance of a particular image, scene, or description
- A structural or linguistic feature of the text, such as the uses of repetition, word play, metaphors, similes, or descriptive phrases
- How a particular character is portrayed, and what the author is trying to say via that portrayal
- The significance of certain characters and their interactions with other characters
- Some ideological message that the author is conveying via the language, characters, scenes, etc.
Note that if you decide to analyze a film, the same concepts apply but you must think in terms of scenes and images.
Remember to structure your paper in good writing format, with an introduction clearly identifying your thesis; body paragraphs in which you present your analysis and include textual support; and a conclusion that closes your essay effectively by offering further insight into the implications of the analysis.