In weeks 2, 3, and 4 you will work on preparing two documents. One of these is a 250-word paragraph of imitative prose in which you attempt to write in the style of one of the assigned eighteenth- or nineteenth-century periodicals essays about a twenty-first century topic. The other document should be an “ideas with related research” document developed following the template provided below. Each of these documents will be a record of possible topics, inspired by the reading you completed for the course, that you think would be viable topics to explore in both a future seminar paper as well as a public-facing writing project. The purpose of this assignment is to get you in the habit of writing regularly and to give you opportunities to practice careful reading skills. The grade assigned for these documents is a completion grade; you will receive full credit for submitting two typed documents that meet the minimum length requirements and demonstrate a good-faith attempt to produce an imitative paragraph as well as to conduct substantial, reliable, and original research.
What is an imitation prose paragraph? It’s a paragraph where you model the stylistic and conceptual elements of a source text. Here’s an example:
The original paragraph is from Joseph Addison’s essay, “[On Westminster Abbey]”
When I am in a serious humour, I very often walk by myself in Westminster Abbey; where the gloominess of the place, and the use to which it is applied, with the solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people who lie in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy, or rather thoughtfulness, that is not disagreeable. I yesterday passed a whole afternoon in the church-yard, the cloisters, and the church, amusing myself with the tomb-stones and inscriptions that I met with in those several regions of the dead. Most of them recorded nothing else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day and died upon another: the whole history of his life being comprehended in those two circumstances, that are common to all mankind. I could not but look upon these registers of existence, whether of brass or marble, as a kind of satire upon the departed persons; who had left no other memorial of them, but that they were born and that they died. They put me in mind of several persons mentioned in the battles of heroic poems; who have sounding names given them, for no other reasons but that they may be killed, and are celebrated for nothing but being knocked on the head.
I notice several things about this paragraph that I really appreciate: it begins by describing the conditional mood of the speaker and an action the speaker takes when in that mood. It complicates that mood (a kind of melancholy, or rather…). It gives several details about the actions the speaker really took in that mood, just yesterday: church-yard, cloisters, tomb-stones, etc. It has two interesting flourishes of phrasing: “amusing myself” and “regions of the dead.” From here, the paragraph moves to more reflective rather than a descriptive, general, even philosophical observations, with some nice parallelisms: “he was born upon one day and died upon another,” “but that they were born and that they died.” It concludes by turning this evocative observation about tombstones, life and death, all people, into a quick observation about literary conventions.
Here’s my attempt to model that paragraph:
When the daily grind finally burns me out after who knows how many weeks of nonstop go-go-going, my body always tells me what my mind hasn’t yet had the time to realize. The old muscle-spasm under my right shoulder blade starts to slice like a hot steak knife, or I come down with what feels like it will be a terminal case of the common cold. When it happens, I take to my bed, and although I may be sick and miserable, I cannot be said to be unhappy. Yesterday, I spent the whole day in just this condition, sprawled out with the cats, the curtains shut, the door closed, the electric blanket on full blast. The dishwasher waited to be emptied. The emails waited to be answered. The cats, the curtains, the door, and the blanket all seemed to purr in their way, as if the passing of time might best be marked not by a series of varying events but by the low-humming monotony that characterizes states of absolute constancy. I started to think that the cats with their purring might be mocking me. My present conditions were, perhaps, not those under which burnout could be cured but rather, the conditions that caused it occur in the first place. The monotonous time of the sickbed is the same as the time of the endless, repetitive routines of work. I remembered that there was a novel I wanted to read, Tommy Orange’s There There. I picked it up, and I lost myself in its world, following along with its characters and their traumas as they loved and lost and suffered and died. And I wondered what it means to read this way—to mistake reading as an escape when it may just be a different version of the same old, same old.
You’ll see that my paragraph is not a perfect imitation by any stretch of the imagination (or even, I would argue, the best piece of writing I’ve ever produced ;)). But I have tried to model some of what I saw and admired in Addison’s essay. For this assignment, you should feel free to experiment with your imitations, too. They can be as close or as distant from the original as you like in terms of sentence style and conceptual moves, about the same topic taken up in the original paragraph or about an entirely different topic altogether. The point, however, is to look closely at how another writer has put words and ideas together in order to think more carefully and critically about how you put words and ideas together in your own work.
In addition to writing an imitation paragraph, you’ll need to prepare an ideas with related research document. That document should identify an idea (or a set of very clearly-related ideas) that you think you could pursue in order to produce a longer, more substantial piece of writing: something that would be suitable for both a public-facing essay and a seminar paper. Based on my imitation of Addison’s paragraph about his visit to Westminster Abbey, I might prepare the following ideas and related document:
Idea: An essay or article that considers the “escapist” mode of reading and its relationships to routines, repetition, and time—focusing in particular on reading in sickbeds (and/or representations of sickbeds and sickness in literature)—in order to think more about how reading itself often figures as a kind of disease. What can the disease of reading tell us about the history of literature as well as our own current cultural moment in literary history?
Key terms: reading, disease, sickness, disability, escapism, labor
Sources that look promising:
Moshfegh, Otessa. My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Penguin, 2018.
Moshfegh’s novel, a hit in 2018, follows the story of a protagonist who tries to spend an entire year sleeping. It was reviewed in the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Slate, and NPR, among others. Moshfegh has also given a lot of interviews. I would read these materials to get a sense of what critical angles had been used to assess the novel—how prominently have they focused on the trope of reading as disease? Found by searching: Google (previously known).
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The New England Magazine 5 (1892): 647-656.
A classic short story about taking to one’s bed, commonly appreciated for its feminist sentiments, but may be worth revisiting to see if there’s something new to say about this text. Scholarship on Perkins is also likely to lead me to interesting sources about the history of rest cures. Found by searching: Google (previously known).
Torgerson, Beth. Reading the Brontë Body: Disease, Desire, and the Constraints of Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
A scholarly, book-length study of the works of the Brontë sisters. Might consult for both additional literary sources to discuss as well as historical details. Found by searching: WSU Libraries’ Quick Search.
Blackwood, Ashleigh. “Toxic Texts and Reading Remedies: Literary Medicine in Eighteenth-Century Print Cultures.” Literature and Medicine 2 (2016): 278-298.
A scholarly article that looks like it will provide me with a good roadmap for uncovering additional sources as well as the history of associations between reading and sickness or disease. Found by searching: MLA International Bibliography database.
Gyenge, Andrew. “Reading the Sick Critic: Death, Disease, and Revolution.” Cultural Critique 88 (2014): 189-202.
Another scholarly article that looks okay, but not especially relevant to my topic. However, it links ideas about contemporary work cultures to critical trends (via a discourse of death and diagnosis), which might be useful for me to think about more. Found by searching: MLA International Bibliography database.
As you can see, this document has several components: a short synopsis of an idea, a list of key terms associated with the idea, and a briefly-annotated list of 5 sources—including primary texts, scholarly articles, and a scholarly monograph—that I might follow-up on reading should I choose to write more about this idea. These sources were discovered based on a preliminary search through: my memory (previously known), Google, and the library’s databases.
Please prepare your ideas with related research documents following this model and paste it on the next page following your imitation paragraphs each week. Your ideas with related research documents should include:
- a short synopsis of your idea (70-100 words)
- a list of key terms associated with the idea (5-8)
- a briefly-annotated list in MLA style of 5 sources, which mustinclude the following:
- 1-2 primary text or texts
- 1-2 scholarly article or articles
- 1-2 scholarly monograph or monographs
- You also need to describe what resource you used to find each source, and you should be sure that at least two of your sources in every document were discovered by searching in WSU Library’s databases.
Below, you’ll find a template you can use to prepare your imitation paragraph and ideas with related research documents for submission. You can cut and paste what follows and place it into your own Word document. Then complete the document, save it, print it, and staple it (if more than one page). Your imitation paragraph and ideas with related research documents are due in hard copy at the beginning of class sessions on Weeks 2, 3, and 4. This assignment is graded for completion. Complete assignments that meet the full requirements will be given a grade of 100. Incomplete assignments will receive a grade of 0-50.
Imitation and Idea with Related Research Assignment #:
The paragraph I’m imitating is from,
[Please transcribe your paragraph here.]
[Please provide your paragraph here.]
Idea with Related Research Document [please begin on new page]:
Sources that look promising: