Monday, March 10, 2008

Guide To Writing English Papers, by F. Porpentine, age 20 1/2

Been visiting my parents over spring break, and have uncovered more undergraduate snark. I reproduce it without comment, except to note that the Elvis Studying Karate Department was more commonly known as Literary and Cultural Studies, and I spent three years mocking it, having spirited arguments with the professor who created it, and ultimately double-majoring in it. What can I say, they had good parties.

I have noticed that a striking number of the hits on this blog seem to come from students who are seeking advice on writing English papers, most often ones about "The Vine" or Lady Windermere's Fan. So, here it is. Go on and take it, I dare you.

Guide to Writing English Papers

1) Avoid Cliffs Notes. Are you really willing to entrust your grade to a company that can't punctuate itself properly? This does not, of course, apply to cases where you have to write about an extremely serious and difficult book, such as Sila's Marner or Ulysse's.

2) If you can't think of a topic, try a comparative paper. Compare the most disparate works you can think of, and give your paper a punchy title: "Dante, meet Bronte" "Quentin Tarantino and the Quest for the Grail." Such papers practically write themselves if you have a good imagination.

3) Do not use the word "postmodern." That's like wearing a sign that says "Kick Me, I'm Retro." At the better Ivy League schools, the hot new critical perspective is environmentalism. ("The Song of Roland, which is printed on recycled paper, exemplifies the medieval Christian epic.") If you're looking for something really fresh and origianl, try Neo-Freudianism ... with an ironic edge.

(Ignore this advice if your paper is for the Elvis Studying Karate department. They are clueless.)

4) If you have to write a paper about a truly evil work of literature (defined as "a book about fishing" e.g. Moby-Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, Trout Fishing In America) make it easy on yourself. Have a few stiff drinks, watch a good movie, and write your paper at the same time. Don't concern yourself with the actual content of the paper. Your professor will probably do the same thing when he grades them.

5) It is okay to make statements that have no bearing on reality. For instance, if you maintain that fathers in a patriarchal society have to sacrifice their children because otherwise the ambiguities in the contextual fabric of the family would be too much for the human soul to bear ... I promise your professor will not go home and ask her husband, "Honey, do you ever think about sacrificing our child?" She will merely praise the ingenuity of your argument. This goes double if she is a member of the Elvis Studying Karate department.

6) If your professor (not to mention names, of course) is in the habit of frequently checking his gold pocket watch, consider writing your essay on Oriental rice paper with a fountain pen.

7) Don't capsize the professor's personal boat. If he keep saying that English Renaissance plays don't have characters, for instance, it is not your place to disagree. Write about linguistic patterns or something. If you must mention the Duchess of Malfi, call her a "figure."


Bardiac said...

I love these! And the last is just so true. If the prof doesn't think there's such a thing as X, then don't write about X! (I had that situation in one of my exams; the prof was known to HATE a certain two words used in combination, words that were so commonly used in combination that it just flows from the mouth. But not my mouth during that exam!)

Fretful Porpentine said...

Hee! At least you only had to avoid two words. I must say that writing an eight-page paper about The Duchess of Malfi without, you know, being allowed to talk about the Duchess or Antonio or Bosola or Ferdinand was one of the hardest things I did as an undergrad, although it was probably good discipline, on some level.