Note: These topics are not mandatory. You may devise a topic of your own or pursue an idea that has occurred to you through your own reading of a novel or participation in class discussion. If you want to pursue an idea of your own regarding material in the class, please consult with me first so that I can offer assistance (where possible). I encourage you to develop the skill of coming up with your own paper topics, for most upper-level courses at EIU may require you to do this. That said, feel free to choose from the suggestions below.
Topics will be added to this list throughout the semester.
1. Review the definitions of "dystopian fiction" offered by critics Darko Suvin, Erika Gottlieb, and Keith Booker. (These definitions can be found on the class handout "Who’s in Charge of This Sinking Ship?; or, Key British Leaders in the Postwar Era," which we discussed at the beginning of the semester.) Consider how the fictions, films, or music studied so far in our course relate to or dialogue with these officially defined notions of the "dystopia."
2. Write a paper arguing how Crash represents what J. G. Ballard calls "the death of affect" (from his 1974 introduction to the French edition of Crash). In what ways does Ballard illustrate this claim? What are the larger consequences of his style of representation?
3. In an interview with Martin Amis, Ballard clarifies his presentation of sexuality in Crash thus: "But the pornography was used for serious purposes—cautionary purposes." Considering the variety of nastiness we receive in Crash, what do you make of Ballard's defense? Does his satire work? Is Ballard the author (vs. Ballard the character) trying to suggest something more profound about the state of satire?
4. Even though all of the characters presented in Crash are heavily flawed in a variety of ways, there does appear to be a distinction between the male characters and female characters. Write a paper where you consider the function of gender in Crash.
5. Do some light research on the term "state of the nation" novel. Discuss either Crash or Dead Babies as a "State-of-the-nation" novel. How does Ballard or Amis assess 1970's Britain?
6. In The Postmodern Condition (1979), Jean-Francois Lyotard defines one of the key characteristics of postmodern art and culture as the mish-mashing of styles or the breakdown of established meanings or established rules of genre and form. Is punk or post-punk music such an illustration of Lyotard's reading of the contemporary? For example, how might we consider the music of Joy Division as a postmodernization of the blues?
7. In "Repressive Tolerance," Herbert Marcuse claims that modern Western democracies function much like dystopian, oppressive states that condition and control their subjects to be obedient to the status quo. He states that one way to challenge this system of indoctrination and control is to "rupture" it:
For the facts are never given immediately and never accessible immediately; they are established, "mediated" by those who made them; the truth, "the whole truth" surpasses these facts and requires the rupture with their appearance. This rupture—prerequisite and token of all freedom of thought and of speech—cannot be accomplished within the established framework of abstract tolerance and spurious objectivity because these are precisely the factors which precondition the mind against the rupture. (99)
Write an essay where you discuss Marcuse's essay alongside some of the punk or post-punk music of this course. What visions of society emerge from Marcuse and punk/post-punk music, and how might we consider this kind of music as an attempt at rupture? Is it successful? (It may be helpful to limit your focus to one band; say, Marcuse and Sex Pistols, or Marcuse and Joy Division, Marcuse and Au Pairs or Siouxsie & The Banshees, the music dialoguing with Crash, and so on.)
8. In "Repressive Tolerance," Herbert Marcuse claims that it is the "task or duty of the intellectual...to break the concreteness of oppression in order to open the mental space in which this society can be recognized as what it is and does" (Marcuse 81-82). Given the social focus of Crash and Dead Babies and Passion of New Eve, how does Ballard or Amis or Carter attempt to accomplish Marcuse's goal? What methods or techniques are used to attempt this opening of awareness? Focus your study ideally on one text.
9. Discuss the theme of gender in Carter's Passion of New Eve.
10. Given the variety of views we have studied concerning the Falklands War, assess the meaning of the war. Why is "the Falklands" so important to our novelists (David Mitchell), filmmakers (Shane Meadows), and musicians?
11. In "From Great Expectations to Lost Illusions: The Novel of Formation as Genre," Marianne Hirsch argues that the bildungsroman presents us with a protagonist whose needs and desires clash with the views and judgments of an unbending social order. However, she claims that the spirit and values of the social order eventually become manifest in the protagonist, who is then accommodated into society. In light of this critical view of the genre, do either Black Swan Green or This Is England fulfill Hirsch's expectations of the bildungsroman? Or, consider Carter's Passion of New Eve: Is this novel some kind of radical critique of the bildungsroman?
12. Martin Amis has argued that our contemporary age has witnessed a curious transformation of norms and structures, not the least of which is our use of humor: "Among the many mysterious processes under way in this century is a breakdown of genre so that comic novels can take on quite rugged stuff….comedy is a much looser form than it once was.” He has even claimed, "If you start off with the premise of me being a comic writer, you are taking an interesting line because there are clearly things in my novels that shouldn't really be in comic novels. And there are people who don’t like that, who just want the comedy."
Write a paper where you analyze the use and construction of humor in Amis's Dead Babies. What does it mean to see this novel as a "comic novel"? What are the larger ramifications of this "breakdown of genre"?