Second Assignment: (analysis of an eighteenth-century text) due in Discussion Class on 2 or 4 February 2011
The two selections you are reading this week—Kant's "What is Enlightenment?" and Rousseau's Discourse on the Arts and Sciences—are full of contradictions and seeming hypocrisies. "Argue about what you will, as much as you will—only obey!" wrote Kant, while Rousseau became a famous author thanks to a text in which he argued that authors should not be famous and that literature had corrupted humanity. In class, we will discuss these seeming contradictions. In preparation for class, you obviously need to read both selections. You must also do the following:
Write a short paper in which you explore the contradictions and paradoxes in one of the two texts. Your finished paper should be three pages long (double spaced, 1 inch margins, 11- or 12-point font). Papers that are less than two-and-a-half pages long, or more than four pages, will be severely penalized. The paper is due in class on 2 or 4 February 2011. All work submitted late will be penalized 1/3 of a grade for every day late.
Your paper should provide a close analysis of the text you have chosen. Do not simply summarize the entire text!! If your paper's structure is very similar to that of Kant's essay or Rousseau's discourse, then that almost certainly means you have not done enough work of your own. By the end of your paper, you should have explained something about the text that you initially found confusing. You may not be able to "explain away" the confusion, but you should be able to explain the paradox's function. (You might want to think of this in terms of: what work is being done by this contradiction? If this contradiction/conflict were omitted from the text, what would happen?)
You will probably want to begin your paper by identifying a particular paradox within the text. In what ways does it seem contradictory? Pay attention not only to what the author writes, but how he writes: what sort of language does he use, for what audience is he possibly writing? Remember that an author often does not state his assumptions, but that those may well be an important element of his argument. In other words, try to analyze the text’s implicit, as well as explicit, claims. Implicit claims (that is, notions that are implied but never directly stated) may be revealed by casual or passing references, or they may get buried in footnotes.
Because this is a very short paper, you will not have space for extensive quotation. However, you do need to make judicious use of citation in order to substantiate your claims about the text. Remember that not all of us will respond to a given work in the same way. So if you write "Kant's essay is full of insightful comment," make sure that you refer explicitly to at least a few such passages and that you explain why you find them insightful.
Above, I have asked a number of questions. I do not expect you to answer all of them, but I hope that at least one of them will help provoke your thinking about the text you have read. Thinking about what you have read is a crucial first step in writing a paper. For further guidance on paper writing, you may want to see: