Here’s a famous description of how critics and intellectuals talk with each other, from the poet and scholar Kenneth Burke:
Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.
~Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, University of California Press, 1941/1974, pp. 110-111.
For your first project this semester, I’d like you to add your voice to a recent critical discussion whose form strikes me as being very much like what Burke describes here. In this case, the subject is Richard Curtis’s 2003 movie, Love Actually, and the writers in the “parlor” include:
- Orr, Christopher. (2013). “Love Actually Is the Least Romantic Film of All Time”. The Atlantic (Dec 6).
- Rosenberg, Allysa. (2013). “Love Actually Isn’t a Romantic Comedy or a Christmas Movie. It’s a Tragedy.” ThinkProgress (Dec 6).
- Dreyfuss, Ben. (2013). “Why Love Actually Matters.” Mother Jones (Dec 9).
- Green, Emma. (2013). “I Will Not Be Ashamed of Loving Love Actually .” The Atlantic (Dec 10).
- Orr, Christopher. (2013). “Love Actually: Still Awful.” The Atlantic (Dec 11).
Your assignment is to add your own thoughts to this ongoing discussion, “to put your oar in”. The trick in doing so is to understand that while the subject you’re writing about is Love Actually, the point of your writing should be to respond to what these four other viewers (Orr, Rosenberg, Dreyfuss, and Green) have had to say about the film (and to each other). You’ll thus need to do something more than simply agree or disagree with them. That’s boring. You’ll need to push the discussion forward somehow—to notice something about the film, or about what one of these critics has said about it, that hasn’t been brought up yet. You might might consider bringing a new voice—a different critic, a different movie—into the mix. But don’t feel you need to have the last word. You won’t. Remember there will be 41 other people in this course also writing about Love Actually. You will thus surely depart “with the discussion still vigorously in process”— but you can try to leave having said something that other viewers of Love Actually might remember, might want to respond to. If you do, you will have succeeded.
You should shoot for a final piece about 1,500 words long. (If you end up writing more, don’t worry. ) You must analyze at least two or three scenes from Love Actually, and you must show that you’ve “caught the tenor of the argument” about it. You don’t have to quote or summarize each of the critical essays above, but you should respond directly, and at some length, to at least one or two. Most important, you have to have a point of your own to make. You need, that is, to make it clear how what you have to say adds to or differs from what these other writers have said about the film.
This is a complicated and ambitious writing project, and so I am giving you several weeks to work on it. First, I’ll ask you to carefully view (or re-view) Love Actually, and come to some beginning sense of what you make of it (X1, Monday, 9/03). Then I’ll ask you to summarize what Orr, Rosenberg, Dreyfuss, and Green have had to say about the film, and how their views differ (X2, Monday, 9/10). Doing that should put you in a good position to write a full first draft of your own response essay (X3, Monday, 9/17). After we workshop those drafts in class, you’ll write a second draft (X4, Monday, 9/24) —which you’ll discuss in conferences with your TA and me. Then you will refine and submit a final version of your piece for a letter grade (Tuesday, 10/02). My expectations for this final piece will be high.
See Specs for details about format, fonts, spacing, etc. We’ll talk about other logistics as we come to them.
Good luck! I look forward to reading what you make of Love Actually—and the debate about it.