Final Project

Final work for the course could be a substantial essay (see prompts below), but I’m also open to alternative projects that, in one way or another, address multiple works that we have read for class. Alternatives could be individual or group projects. If you choose to come up with a project on your own, you’ll need to run that by me for approval.
DUE DATE: Thurs, May 27th, 1pm, via email.

Paper Prompts: Each of the prompts below asks you to think about 3 texts from this semester. Be sure you have a central argument that informs your understanding of the relationship between them. The completed work should be about eight pages (2,000 words).

1) Trace a line of literary influence from Herman Melville’s Bartleby to Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, adding at least one other text.  How do the sources you chose treat the instability of their protagonists? How is the strangeness or violence of these characters connected to modern New York, or, more generally to  the economic and cultural order of modern cities?

2) Trace a different line of literary influence from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” or Kate Chopin’s The Awakening to Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted and Nisi Shawl’s, The Tawny Bitch. Feel free to substitute texts from outside class such as Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar or Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire. Ask yourself what has changed and what has remained consistent when it comes to thinking about and portraying mental illness in young, relatively affluent women over the last one hundred years, or so.

3) Compare 3 different depictions of life in an asylum that we have seen or read this semester. Are there common strategies for depicting these institutions? How has their depiction changed or remained consistent across the sources you choose? Are the depictions you’re discussing tied to specific moments in the history and evolution of asylums? 

4) American Psycho sees mass media and contemporary consumerism as inescapable and productive of madness. Objects in this world of fetishized commodities take on an almost infinite surplus meaning, overwhelming any possibility of defining a stable self that lives apart from endless material yearnings and emotional and spiritual emptiness Seen in this way, it’s not just Bateman who’s deranged, it’s absolutely everyone around him, with their habitual (but also unavoidable) overinvestments in the meaning of goods.

Compare the way that American Psycho depicts such over-investment in the meaning of objects to similar over-investments in at least two other texts. How, for example, is Bateman’s interest in a particular outfit like and unlike Egaeus’ interest in Berenice’s teeth, which is never explicitly commercialized? What about the narrator’s preoccupation with the yellow wallpaper in Gilman’s story? Hannibal Lecter, from the first pages of The Silence of the Lambs, is alert to how consumer goods and media shape the self, and he uses that knowledge to attack Starling’s taste and sense of self. There are many possibilities here.