SHORT ESSAY ASSIGNMENT


Write an essay of five or six pages in which you compare and contrast any two of the texts we have read (up to and including Hemingway's A Moveable Feast) on the basis of their particular conceptions of the artist. As we have been stressing in class, each of these texts engages with the broad "modernist" project of reinventing artistic practice, artistic value, and the role of the artist in light of what was widely perceived to be the failure or bankruptcy of established artistic attitudes and institutions.  In some cases -- in some of the manifestoes, for example -- a particular idea of the artist is advanced quite explicitly and aggressively.  In other texts, such as Eliot's The Waste Land, an idea of the artist emerges more indirectly.  Indeed, this distinction between an explicitly declared artistic agenda and an implicitly represented one might in itself be seen as marking an important contrast in the way different writers conceived of the role of the artist.  But there is nothing to prevent you from choosing any of the texts we have read (or looked at; you may write about a painting if you like).

To complete this assignment, you will need to:

1.  Choose two texts that especially interest you

2.  Study the texts carefully, and consider the ways they conceive of artists.  It may help to think in terms of some of the recurring oppositions we have discussed in class, such as:  genius vs. luck, intelligence vs. stupidity,  traditional vs. modern, violent vs. peaceful, logical vs. irrational, official vs. disreputable, rich vs. poor, successful vs. struggling, social vs. individual, patriotic vs. international.

3.  Begin to formulate your thesis.  Decide whether you should primarily emphasize the similarity of the two texts' ideas of the artist, or the differences.  A comparison/contrast essay typically begins by acknowledging what it does not seek to emphasize.  For example, if you are going to argue that Stein and Hemingway have similar notions of what an artist should be and what social role an artist should play, then you might begin by noting how very different and even antagonistic the two writers were.  In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes Stein as an egotistical and undisciplined writer, too lazy to edit, too indifferent toward her readers; he sees himself, by contrast, as a supremely diligent editor of his own work, always paring things down to the necessary elements, never expecting a reader to do the work of separating the good work from the bad. Starting from this point of contrast, you could then observe that despite their seeming antagonism, Stein and Hemingway in fact had very similar ideas about writing and writers. By the same token, if you are going mainly to emphasize the contrasting notions of the writer in Hemingway and Stein, you should start off by noting certain basic similarities of affinities.  This use of comparison to set up a contrast, or of contrast to set up a comparison, helps to focus your reader's attention and to provide a motivation for the main business of the essay.

4.  Draft an introduction in which you set up your argument, and start gathering textual evidence to support it.  Find the specific phrases or passages that will help you to make your comparison or contrast clear and convincing.  Remember, however, that even the most powerful and relevant passages won't simply do the work for you; you need to think about how you can present and interpret these passages most effectively.

5.  Draft the main part of your essay.  Once you've set up your comparison or contrast with an introduction, the main body of your essay will typically follow one of two organizational schemes.  Either you will discuss the first text (A) for about two pages, covering a few main points (1, 2, and 3), and then the second text (B) for about two pages, addressing the same main points in light of the different text -- so that the scheme is A1A2A3B1B2B3; or, you will take each main point of comparison or contrast in turn, addressing both texts before moving on to the next point -- so that the scheme is A1B1A2B2A3B3.  Either of these basic schemes is fine, but be sure you know what your organizational framework is.

6.  Draft a conclusion.  Try not to simply rehash what you've already said.  Take your thinking a step further; don't turn your brain off as soon as you complete the main body of the paper.  Use the final paragraph or so to suggest a larger implication of your argument.

7.  Revise the whole essay:
            proofread it for typos and other errors
            check to be sure you have acknowledged any sources you consulted
            be sure the essay is paginated
            put a cover sheet on it with your name, the title of the essay,
                the date, and the words English 104.401.02A Short Essay Assignment
            staple it (no loose sheets accepted!)

8.  Submit no later than 1:30 on February 14