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Midterm paper


Due in hard copy in your TA’s mailbox by 4:00pm on Friday, November 17. No emailed papers will be accepted; if you leave town for the weekend you will need to finish early or ask a friend to print a hard copy of your paper and submit it on your behalf.


For this paper, the longest and most substantive of the term, you will build upon the writing exercises you have already practiced. Start by selecting one of the themes, problems, or questions from the list below. Note that each topic is linked to one or more of the texts on the syllabus. To support your more general claims, you will need evidence in the form of close reading or textual analysis (for example, analyzing a particular passage or tracing the reoccurrence of a word, phrase, or idea). In addition, you will need to find another text, object, or example that is not on the syllabus to pair with your “primary” text. This text may be in any media and any genre. The amount of attention devoted to your second text is for you to decide; all that is required is that you sufficiently establish your critical framework so that the pairing makes sense.

  • “Plagiarism” (creative appropriation, sampling, remix) and Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence”
  • Organ markets (power, class, biocapital, resistance) and Manjula Padmanabhan, Harvest
  • Speculative fiction and one or more of the following: Manjula Padmanabhan, Harvest; Arundhati Roy, “The Briefing”; China Miéville, “Polynia”; HP Lovecraft, “Temple”
  • Climate change and one or both of the following: Arundhati Roy, “The Briefing”; China Miéville, “Polynia”
  • The hatred of poetry, Ben Lerner, and at least one of the poems on the syllabus
  • Memory and/or memoir and one or more of the following: Virginia Woolf, Dalloway; Joe Sacco, “Trauma on Loan”; Alison Bechdel, Are You My Mother?; Guy Delisle, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Technical details

  • Length: 1500 words (no fewer)
  • You should underline or italicize your thesis statement as a way of reminding yourself that the paper needs a succinct and clearly presented frame.
  • Your paper needs a title that connects to your thesis.


Citation is required and will be assessed as part of your overall grade. You will need to prepare a “Works Cited” that includes your two texts and any additional material that you use. For in-text citation you need only the page number in parentheses. To underscore the importance of citation for this paper, we will reduce grades by one full step (A–>B) if the “Works Cited” is missing (yes, it’s true).

Online guide for MLA Works Cited: <>.

Lethem, Jonathan. “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” Harper’s Magazine, Feb. 2007, pp. 59–71.

In-text example: For Lethem “all ideas are secondhand” (68).


References from lecture on Harvest

PDF file with secondary references used in lecture on Harvest


‘Kidney for sale’

Thanks to Aniela B. for this reference: Shashank Bengali and Mostaghim, “‘Kidney for sale’: Iran has a legal market for the organs, but the system doesn’t always work,” LA Times (October 15, 2017):

“The advertisements are scrawled in marker on brick walls and tree trunks, and affixed to telephone utility boxes, sidewalks and a road sign pointing the way to one of Iran’s leading hospitals. “Kidney for sale,” read the dozens of messages, accompanied by phone numbers and blood types, splashed along a tree-lined street opposite the Hasheminejad Kidney Center in Tehran. New ads appear almost daily. Behind each is a tale of individual woe — joblessness, debt, a family emergency — in a country beset by economic despair. “If I could sell my kidney, I could get out of debt,” Ali Rezaei, a bankrupt 42-year-old air-conditioning installer, said in the shade of a tree across from the kidney hospital. “I would sell my liver too.” ”


What would Barthes think of his Hermès scarf? (The New Yorker)

“Hermès, the French luxury brand, has paid homage to the philosopher and semiotician Roland Barthes on the centennial of his birth, this November, by crafting a limited-edition silk scarf printed with a motif inspired by his book “A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments” (1977). How would Barthes read this object? He read everything, after all—not just books. He taught us to see the whole world as a helix of readable signs, and even after his premature vehicular death, in 1980, his students retained a set of instructions for deciphering the cultural cosmos. How would he have read the choice to emblazon his memory across a silk carré? What would he have made of this bourgeoisification of his thought? And what would he have had to say about the scarf’s eight-hundred-and-ninety-five-euro price tag?…”

From Christy Wampole, “What would Barthes think of his Hermès scarf?” (October 21, 2015)

Reminder: in-class writing exercise (Monday)

In lecture on Monday (November 6) there will be an in-class writing exercise on Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” This is one of the required assignments so attendance will be mandatory.

Jen Bervin, Nets

Shakespeare’s Sonnets 18 and 130, redacted by Jen Bervin in Nets



Secondary references from lectures

Secondary references from lectures, a compiled list, updated throughout the term available online. Note there is a separate file for references from the lecture on Harvest.


Resignified highway sign


BBC Radio: 21C Mythologies

Examples include the Apple icon, the e-cigarette, and the selfie

Site: BBC Radio: 21st Century Mythologies

“How Roland Barthes Gave Us the TV Recap”

from Sam Anderson, “How Roland Barthes Gave Us the TV Recap,” NY Times (May 25, 2012):

“The most reliable and user-friendly source of Barthes’s special variety of fun — the bouillon cube, if you will, of his critical flavor — is his early book “Mythologies,” originally published in 1957. In it, Barthes basically invented what we think of as cultural criticism: he was the first really first-rate intellectual to tell us what our most mundane pop culture actually means. For decades, however, only part of “Mythologies” was available in English. Its recent rerelease in a new and (for the first time) complete translation gives us an excuse not only to reread the book but also to consider some of the larger questions it raises, nearly 60 years later, for those of us still swimming through pop culture, and in particular for those of us who consider ourselves critics of that culture, which, these days, seems to be just about everyone.”

[continue reading on NY Times website]