Question Getting Complex About Things: Literary Arguments with Stakes Now that we have brought our c



Getting Complex About Things: Literary Arguments with Stakes Now that we have brought our close reading to bear on the generation of a literary interpretation, it’s time to kick things up a notch and start thinking about complexity. As we’ve discussed in class, one of the defining habits of mind of academic writers—and one of the hallmarks of academic writing—is complexity. As academic writers, we seek to inquire, to ask hard questions and to remain unsatisfied with easy answers. We reflect on what we observe, examine things from multiple perspectives, and explore how and why the texts we study do the things they do. However, as writers it is very easy to do these things without ever asking why it is we do them in the first place. Many of you have likely never been forced to consider why we make these literary arguments at all, which is to say you may never have thought about how and why literary arguments are, and should be relevant. Answers to this question are in abundance—we may critically read and interpret for pleasure or even entertainment (who doesn’t enjoy solving a good plot puzzle?), or we may read to trace the social or cultural faultlines of another time or place. We may even read to learn more about the way we behave, the way we interact with one another, or the way we dream, solve problems, or deal with conflicts. As a question related to the broader arena of ‘culture,’ these questions can be asked of humanity at large just as easily as they can be asked of the smallest sub-culture, family, or individual. Thankfully, the theme of the course allows us to narrow this down a bit: we’re exploring the figure of the alien in sf narrative and the various roles the alien plays in our larger cultural imaginary (both human and more specifically national or civilizational). For this assignment, your job is to once again perform a reading of an ‘alien invasion’ text—Octavia Butler’s short story “Amnesty”—in relation to a perspective gleaned from the Csicsery-Ronay. In particular, for this assignment you must perform your reading of “Amnesty” in relation to C-R’s discussion of René Girard’s theory of the triangulation of desire in “Some Things We Know About Aliens” (10-12, the section called “The Species that is not One”). While Girard’s (and C-R’s) theory relates to the modern European novel, it also has much to say by way of presenting potential stakes for why we should study stories about aliens. We will discuss this section in detail in class, extrapolating the claims and thinking about them in relation to both “The Universe of Things” and “Amnesty.” But your job will be to make a claim about how Butler’s story enters into the conversation we’ve been shaping about the role of aliens in sf narrative, how her story intersects with the Girardian theory of ‘mediation,’ and why your interpretation of the story is important in these terms. This is to say that, for the first time, you will be responsible for arguing for shaping a context for your reader through which we can come to understand the relevance of your argument. The essay should be formatted to MLA guidelines (including in-text citations and a Works Cited page), it should have an introduction and a conclusion, and it should advance a claim that is now more complex because it includes stakes. It should back up this thesis with evidence from the story itself, and with conceptual evidence (either as summary, paraphrase, or quotation) from Csicsery-Ronay’s reading of Girard and sf. Again, as you write, keep in mind that you goal here is not to spend the paper relating the plot of “Amnesty,” nor is it simply to use the story to ‘prove’ Csicsery-Ronay’s argument correct. You are trying to produce an original reading of the story, using C-R’s insights as a launchpad from which to think about the story in a new way.