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In my department, oral exams kick off with a presentation by the examinee. The chair of your exam committee compiles a list of discussion topics, after soliciting ideas from you and the other committee members. Then, a week before the exam, you pick up the finished list from the graduate director's office, choose one, and prepare a fabulously brilliant little talk. Earlier this week, I sent my chair the following possible discussion topics:
1. William Labov and his associates have done extensive ethnographic and statistical research on the social location of the innovators in language change. That research indicates that much linguistic change "originates in a central social group, located in the interior of the socioeconomic hierarchy" (Labov 2001). However, this research has concentrated mainly on the vectors of phonetic changes in casual spoken language. Consider the complications of the complexity of literary forms; the volatile political, cultural, and aesthetic relationships that have obtained between "high art" and "mass culture"; and the complex matrix of supposedly different "brows" of authors, readers, literatures, and markets. Given these concerns, discuss the viability of applying Labov's insight or trying to replicate this kind of investigation in a study of genre trends and innovations in the modern British novel.
2. One recent trend in literary analysis and cultural history has been the pursuit of what Jonathan Rose calls "a history of readers" -- an interest in recording, cataloging, and analyzing reading practices among various audiences and with respect to various bodies of literature. Discuss the usefulness of new models of communication developed in cognitive science and linguistics (such as Herbert Clark's treatment of communication as "joint activity") in augmenting these literary-historical analyses, and vice versa.
3. Another trend in literary studies is analyses which attempt to constitute genres and aesthetics in terms of the kinds of emotional and physiological responses they generate in their readers. Discuss the usefulness of this approach for (some of) the literature on this list, and discuss ways in which research in other disciplines on comprehension, affective response, and interpretive/cognitve biases might supplement or problematize these literary analyses.(planning)
all about the log | discussion | genre references | language | literature | narrative gaps | planning |
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