Reflective Essay Workshop

The fundamental element of a reflective essay is the work that the writer does with evidence and analysis of that evidence.  Our goal in this workshop is to provide feedback and additional insight into the authors readings of their own experiences to deepen and extend their thinking about the evidence they provide.

1. examine the author’s evidence and the context for it.  Is there any additional information that you need for clarity or understanding?  Any information that you think the author should include or edit out?

2. Before you move on to the analysis, look at the evidence that the author provides, think carefully about the array of ideas that it could support.  What do YOU think that it’s evidence of?  Write these in the margins.  Note important ideas or terms that you think stand out and suggest these ideas.  Things to look out for: the author’s development of specific cognitive processes; the author’s developing skills as an reader, writer, thinker (which?  identify these); the author’s struggle with difficulty, and the strategies that he/she used to overcome it; the author’s integration of a new value into his/her worldview; etc.

3. Read the author’s own analysis.  Locate the place where they connect elements from their evidence (a term, a specific idea, etc.) to the claim that they make about the effect of the experience, quote, etc.  If you can’t see a connection articulated, suggest a place and a way that he/she can draw this connection.

4. Finally, based on your suggestions and the author’s analysis, write a possible “thesis statement” for the author.  What do you he/she should contend marks h/er development as a reader, a writer, or a thinker?  What does the evidence and analysis suggest could be the conclusion to draw about the ways that narrative conveys truth?

Preparation for Reflective Essay Workshop

Since you’ve just finished the brain-breaking task of your final papers, I don’t expect you to bring in a full draft of your reflective essay.  Far from it!!  Instead, I’d just ask that you take an hour or two and undertake the following tasks to prepare a short piece to bring with you to class:

  1. Consider the two questions for the reflective essay carefully.  Which of these are you most interested in?
  2. With the question in mind, look back over your blog posts, your comments, your tweets.  You’re looking for moments in these that document PROCESSES rather than CONTENT. A couple of things to look for:
    • If you’re considering the first question (“practices that I’ve developed”), you might look for sections with phrases like “I think”; “I feel”; “I was bothered by”: “I’m learning that”; “I used to think”.  If you’re considering the second, then you’re probably looking for the appearance of terms like “reality” and “truth” and “real” and “fake” adjacent to lots of verbs that describe what these concepts are doing, or how you identify/describe them.  You’re not limited to these, of course.  But they’re a place to begin.
    • Identify moments when your thinking changed.  What differences can you note between your first and last blog post?  your first and last tweet?  see if you can find the places in between that marked those changes.
    • which statements from that past 14 weeks seem surprising to you now?
  3. KEEP TRACK OF WHERE YOU FIND THESE QUOTES (which post, tweet, etc.), because I’ll ask you to cite them.
  4. Cut and paste them into a document, along with their citations, so you have plenty to work with.
  5. Choose TWO that strike you as the most “meaty” (ie., have the most for you to work with).
  6. For each, engage in a close reading, and write at least a paragraph that documents what you see here.  What words, images, or ideas in the quote seem most relevant to you?  What do they indicate to you?  What larger contexts/questions/debates/themes do they hook into?  Finally, how do they begin to provide evidence for either the practices you’ve developed (question 1) or your expectations of narrative’s representation of truth and/or reality (question 2)?

Please bring 2 copies of your 2 quotes/close readings with you to class on Monday, and we’ll do some work with them.

Checklist for Final Paper

As you move toward the finish line for your paper, here’s a handy-dandy checklist to make sure that you’ve hit on the points we’ve discussed in class.  As a reminder: all drafts, final version, and presentation worth 50% of the overall grade.  Due to my calendar error, your paper is due Monday, April 22 @ midnight!  (And don’t forget, if you get desperate: as per the syllabus, everyone is entitled to one extension if you need it.  It requires that you negotiate that extension with me at least 24 hours in advance, however, so think ahead.)

Nuts and Bolts

  • 17-25 pages
  • 12-25 relevant sources (relevant=special attention to the important and oft-mentioned authors/theorists and critical sources in the field/scholarly conversation; depending upon your topic and chosen text(s), some of these—probably no more than 1/4—may be reviews or less-formal critical or scholarly secondary sources.)
  • MLA style internal citations and bibilography, to the extent that these are provided in the latest MLA guide.


  • A clearly articulated argument that identifies a specific approach to the text and defines its terms. It should also tell us something new, whether that be a surprising reading of a classic text or cultural phenomenon, or the first interpretation of a neglected work or idea.
  • An explanation of why your argument matters, and to whom.  (One way to get there is to ask the question: what’s at stake in your argument?  What would it change if people agreed with you? What new avenues of research or intellectual engagement would it open up for others to pursue?)
  • A detailed description of at least one critical conversation that you’re entering (a synthesis of the five most important scholars discussing the evolution of narrative; three competing views of episodic television, etc.), and a specific discussion of what you intend to add to that conversation.
  • Close, attentive work with primary and secondary sources.  I expect to see you using close readings of the primary sources to support your argument, and quoting or paraphrasing the secondary sources as well.   You might want to refer back to the models of of secondary source integration that we discussed in class.


  • A consciously-chosen and articulated approach that leads your reader, in linear fashion, through the various components of your argument.
  • Each segment of your argument should have a clear relationship to the ones that precede it, and to the argument as a whole.

[Suggestions: The following can be useful cognitive tools for organizing your paper, and examples of all of these can be found in the secondary sources we’ve read for class.]

  • Chapters or segments.
  • Footnotes.
  • “signpost” language.  For example: “If, as I described above, x is true, then what I will explain next…”; “To review: x, y, and z are important parts of the frame that I’m constructing for this novel.  My own reading, then, will make use of these specific components…”; “At the beginning of this paper, I discussed x; I want to return to that here in order to…”
  • captions for screenshots


In other words, a stellar final project will possess:

  • a clear, original thesis that contributes a compelling idea to an existing critical conversation
  • a thorough synthesis of the scholars, writers and thinkers who contribute to that conversation
  • a variety of original interpretive work, grounded in specific passages or scenes from the primary text(s)
  • a variety of references to relevant secondary work
  • a logic and design that allows the reader to follow your train of thought and see the ways in which your are aligning your analyses of primary and secondary sources to support your argument.
  • a cogent and readable style that coheres to standard grammatical and syntactical conventions

Information on Hayles

Next week, as you know, we’ll be convening at EMPAC in Troy to hear Katherine Hayles’s lecture on technogenesis (her theory about the incursion of scientific/digital incursions into the studies of the humanities).  You can read the brief description here, as well as the Berkshire Stage write up.

Logistics: The talk technically begins at 6, and the box office recommends that we show up a bit early in order to make sure that we get seats.  My plan is to be there @ 5:30; please come when you can (I realize that this will depend on your schedules, transportation, etc.).  If you need transportation, please let me know.  [The good news here: it will be an early night for all of us!]

By tomorrow, I’ll post some information about a short Hayles piece that I’d like you to read in preparation for her talk.  Keep an eye on Twitter, and then check back here for the update.

Reading Chronic City

If you’re not familiar with Jonathan Lethem, it might be good to get a sense of him before, or as you’re diving into, Chronic City.  You can browse around his author page here, where you’ll discover that he’s a prolific writer and reader of fiction, non-fiction, essays, and critical work on the authors he most values.  Famously, Lethem is fascinated with Philip Dick, a late 20th century writer who’s contributions to the public include the text that inspired Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and Spielberg’s Minority Report.  Dick hovers on the edge between science fiction and postmodern literature (for people who like a firm and definitive boundary between those two), and placing Lethem on that same edge might buy us some useful interpretive approaches.

Some of Lethem’s works have received intense critical acclaim (he won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1999 for Motherless Brooklyn, and following critical and commercial success for 2003’s Fortress of Solitude, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005).  Chronic City, on the other hand, occupies a more ambivalent place in the critical reception. It was adored by one NY Times Book Review, but panned by the doyenne herself, Kakutani; lauded by author Hari Kunzru in BookForum, dismissed bythe Washington Post.

Your interpretive and meta-reflective reading practices, then, will become critical as you work your way through the book.  As you work through the characters, the events, the references, I’d suggest that you also keep your eye on the ball of “realism,” or, as Kunru notes:

At times, Chronic City is almost a caricature of the type of writing James Wood skewered as “hysterical realism.” The irritating names, the hyperactive plotting, the relative lack of interest in psychology, and the general atmosphere of conspiracy and connectivity are all hallmarks of a genre that (pace Wood) vastly expanded the possibilities of the postwar novel but has now ossified into a repertoire of gestures, most of which Chronic City seems compelled to repeat…The issue with Chronic City is not so much “realism” (which is in no sense a monopoly of books that lay claim to psychological depth or plausibility of narrative event) as affect. The “systems novel” (Tom LeClair’s useful term, lacking the pejorative connotations of “hysterical realism” while claiming much of the same territory) derives its force from a fierce intellectual engagement with the large-scale structures and networks that govern contemporary life. Often it is written explicitly against the humanist claim that the individual subject is the only window through which it’s possible to understand the world. Clearly, Lethem’s ambitions lie in this direction—his title asks us to focus on macro-scale phenomena and suggests a grand analysis.

To this end, Lethem’s novel brings us full-circle to Wood, and where we began our conversation 12 weeks ago.

Blog and Tweet and Draft, Oh My!

Welcome back from break, #eng576ers!  A few ideas for your interactions this week as we anticipate a rousing workshop on your rough drafts.


If you haven’t already sent out some tweets about your work on your draft this week, tweet out any of the following:

  1. My most recent epiphany regarding my topic is _____________.
  2. I began with _________ idea, but now I’m moving on to ____________.
  3. A quote/image/scene you’re working with intensively.
  4. The theorist/critic ______________ would say this about my primary text: “________.”

Blog Post

I’d like you to make two moves in your blog post this week: the first is analytic, and the second is meta-reflective.

First, I’d encourage you to choose one of the prompts above to begin to talk the status of your project as it stands.  What are predominant quotes/images/scenes that are beginning to shape your approach to your primary text/texts? Which secondary sources (authors, titles, arguments) are playing a role in shaping your analysis, and in what way?  What is your new working thesis or research question, and what are the next steps that you’ll take in approaching it?

Second, check-in with the development of your thinking, noting what important moves you’ve made thus far, and how these might help you as you go forward. A few ideas:

  • Choose a moment at which the idea for your paper took on a more substantive shape, or changed directions significantly.  What, specifically, occurred (something you read, a connection that you made, etc.) that moved your idea from one place to another? In what ways did your reactions to that occurrence refine the concept? How might you use this same process to guide your progress as you go forward?
  • How are you approaching the difficult cognitive work of analyzing your secondary texts, and then synthesizing a core set of ideas and arguments that frame your work with your primary text?  (If you’d like some additional terminology, you might consult Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  • What have been the skills that you’ve depended on thus far to move your paper forward?  Choose one or two and describe how they have helped you make progress in your draft.


We obviously can’t read through your entire draft on Wednesday, but there are some key pieces that I’d like you to pull from your draft and to bring with you to class, so that your colleagues can give you some feedback. Please bring the following:

  • A few paragraphs from your paper where you work through the analysis, or “close reading” of a piece of your primary text.  This should include a specific example and an interpretation of the quote/scenes, etc..  It should also explain how the piece exemplifies larger patterns in the work, and moves toward your argument about the text itself.
  • A few paragraphs where you work to bring secondary critics/theorists to bear on your terms, critical frame, etc. for your analysis.  It should show us how you are putting these critics into conversation with each other (where do they agree or disagree?), and move toward identifying your own contribution to their claims.
  • A few paragraphs of your choice that highlight a particular thread or idea that you’re still working through, or would like some feedback on.

Updated Schedule and Rough Draft Alert!

If you check out the newly-updated schedule, you’ll see that I’ve moved things around a bit, to give you more time to make the move from your exploratory draft to your rough draft.  We’ll do a bit of work on this as well in the moved-up “draft workshop,” but in the meantime, here are the moves that I’d like to see you make in your rough draft:

  • evidence of a preliminary literature review (3-5 sources)
  • evidence of an emerging theoretical position (at least 3 sources)
  • a handful (at least 3) close readings of specific passages and/or scenes
  •  a preliminary thesis/argument that positions your interpretation of these passages/scenes with reference to the lit review and the theoretical position
  • a preliminary attempt at articulating the stakes/implications of your argument.  What intervention is it making into which conversation?  What will your interpretation of the text change or highlight about it, and what expectations/assumptions will change because of it?

Draft should be 10-15 pages, and include your working bibliography.