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Al Drake, UC Irvine


Topics for Papers 1-3 (Including Extra-Credit Projects)
Spring 1999

 

First Essay Topics

 

1. With the help of Stephen Jay Gould’s analysis of Lombrosian criminology, analyze Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale, “The Final Problem.” Focus especially on Sherlock Holmes’ scientific crime-fighting method and on Holmes’ odd fascination with the evil, but supremely intelligent, Professor Moriarty. What do these explorations lead you to think about the narrative’s conception of crime? In what relation to normal life does crime stand? How does it originate, and how, according to the story, can it be kept in check?

 

2. Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores the supposed duality of human nature--the capacity of even the noblest human beings for both good and evil. In what ways does Stevenson draw upon nineteenth-century criminological, class, and possibly racial assumptions to explore human nature? Be sure to make some use of Stephen Jay Gould’s analysis of the flaws in criminology.

 

Second Essay Topics

 

1. Carlyle and Arnold have very different ideas about the course of action that must be carried out if Britain’s problems are to be solved. Compare their formulations of a problem-solution model and explain the strengths and weaknesses in these models.

 

2. Compare and contrast John Stuart Mill’s defense of liberty with the opposing cultural commentary of either Matthew Arnold or Thomas Carlyle.

 

3. Compare Marx’s economic and social analysis with that of Carlyle. What do Marx and Carlyle have in common as analysts of capitalism, and how do their solutions to Western Europe’s crisis nonetheless differ?

 

4. In what way does Darwin justify his theory of evolution in terms of its value as a theory about the origin, development, and future survival of human societies? Using our selection from The Descent of Man as your main text, compare Darwin’s social theory in that work to the way he discusses evolution in The Origin of Species and/or to his exploration narrative in The Voyage of the Beagle.

 

5. Use the arguments of Darwin as a basis for criticizing or supporting the arguments of one of the following: Carlyle, Mill, Arnold, or Marx. Alternatively, do the reverse--use the cultural theorist to support or oppose the ideas of the scientific author.

 

Third Essay Topics

 

1. Explore Wilde’s value as a cultural theorist in The Picture of Dorian Gray. One possibility would be to find episodes in which Wilde employs concepts of class, alienation, and fetishism to deal with the actions of Dorian Gray and other characters as well as with the consequences of those actions. How do these categories impose limitations that prevent the characters from understanding their own and others’ behavior?

 

2. We have seen several authors try to deal with the problems of a changing world. What is Freud’s definition of civilization, and how does he describe the obstacles it faces? Is he an optimist or a pessimist about humankind’s ability to live together rationally and peacefully? To deal fully with this question, you must investigate with care Freud’s remarks about the death drive as a counterforce to Eros.

 

3. Examine Marx or Gandhi from a Freudian perspective. In what ways does Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents suggest that Marx’s communism or Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence does not accord with human tendencies? For example, Marx says that human beings’ social relations are ultimately a function of their economic relations. What does Freud say about this kind of economic determinism--can people transform themselves by changing their economic and social systems? Gandhi insists that the force of “truth,” “soul,” or “love” can change the world. How would Freud respond to that claim--how does he understand love, or “Eros”?

 

4. Choose two or three authors from our colonialism section (Carlyle’s “Occasional Discourse,” Livingstone, Froude, Thomas, Gandhi, Darwin’s Beagle if you haven’t already written about it) and examine how they handle matters of race and cultural/political difference.

 

Optional Extra-Credit Projects: Choose one topic. You may do only one project for the quarter and turn it in at the end of Week 10, but that project may come from a topic connected to any of the three papers.

 

A. Herrnstein and Murray’s book The Bell Curve is a contemporary version of old intelligence-ranking theories, so it’s a fitting subject for the first unit. First read one interesting chapter of this book--Chapter 13, “Ethnic Differences in Cognitive Ability” is a good choice--and then read Gould’s Appendix criticizing Herrnstein and Murray’s methods and assumptions. Write a two-page paper detailing the criticisms Gould levels against those authors. Be sure to explain in what way Gould’s criticisms differ from the ones he makes of Lombroso.

 

B. Gould’s demonstration that Bram Stoker’s famous novel was basically a Lombrosian construction is interesting. Watch a film adaptation of this novel (there are several--Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist Nosferatu, Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, Mirisch’s 1970’s Dracula starring Frank Langella and Olivier, Francis Ford Coppola’s recent Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins, and a recent version of Nosferatu, among others) and write a two-page paper exploring how the film presents Count Dracula to a contemporary audience. Does the modern film cast him as a degenerate or atavistic criminal, a sexual deviant, or in some other way linked to the original novel? Or does that kind of characterization seem irrelevant in the modern adaptation? An alternative to watching an adaptation of Dracula would be to watch Interview with the Vampire, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Clearly, this film draws upon Dracula lore, but the treatment is thoroughly modern. In what way? Any other interesting vampire film you’ve seen would be a fit subject, too.

 

C. If you think that twentieth-century America is obsessed with crime and criminals, just try examining the Victorian English. They were fascinated with it. Surf the internet for information about the case--see the link to the Ripper Casebook listed in Website Links and write a two-page paper about this case and all the publicity and theorizing to which it gave rise. Some ideas to explore: the speculation the case aroused about prostitutes, Jews, and social class differences might prove interesting.

 

D. Watch Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1963). Write a 2 to 3-page paper explaining how this film criticizes the assumptions underlying American and Soviet conduct during the Cold War. What view of humanity or human nature emerges from the film?

 

E. Watch Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men (1997). We have read several Victorian theorists on capitalism. Write a 2 to 3-page paper exploring the vision of “corporate America” that emerges from this film. How does the film’s emphasis on gender relations fit into the corporate theme?

 

F. Watch Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light (1961). Write a 2 to 3-page paper explaining how this film examines a Scandinavian preacher’s response to his own loss of faith and to others’ anxiety over having to live in a stark, inscrutable Cold War environment. Is any redemption--or escape--possible with regard to the lost faith or the Cold War?