Cultures of Life and Death

Portfolio 100% of overall unit mark

Comprising three elements:

  1. Critical essay (3000 words)
  2. Close analysis of a theoretical extract (1000 words)
  3. A response paper in which you explore the ways in which one of the topics or texts we have discussed on the unit has changed your thinking about either (a) another text you have read or viewed or (b) a contemporary cultural issue or concern (2000 words)

See below for detailed descriptions of what is required for each element.

Element one: Critical Essay (3000 words)

You must choose one question from the list below.  Your answer must demonstrate your ability to (a) produce a close critical analysis and evaluation of the theoretical material with which you engage, (b) a close textual analysis of at least one of the novels or films that we’ve studied. This means that your answer must pay close attention to questions of mediation, form, genre and aesthetic effect.

The purpose of this assignment is to evaluate your ability to present and develop an argument in relation to the question you choose that:

(a)  accurately describes and critiques the theoretical material at issue,

(b) evaluates relevant theoretical arguments and their political and ethical implications and,

(c) identifies and evaluates the significance of particular literary and cinematic forms and genres in relation to the mediation of particular ethical and political dilemmas and debates.

Questions.

  • Fredric Jameson argues that “an aesthetic of cognitive mapping” is an issue of “form”. Discuss Jameson’s account of cognitive mapping and its contemporary crises with close reference to at least one novel or film studied on the unit, and at least two of the theorists we have studied, one of which must be Fredric Jameson. 
  • How far do you agree with Giorgio Agamben’s assertion that the “camp is the hidden matrix of politics” and to what extent is this claim borne out in at least one of the novels or films we have studied? Your answer must provide a close analysis of Agamben’s argument and make close reference to at least one other theorist.
  • Imogen Tyler argues that ‘the relentless dehumanisation of others is central to neoliberal governmentality’. Discuss this claim with close reference to at least two of the theoretical pieces and at least one novel or film studied on the unit.
  • How far do you agree with Peter Singer’s assertion that the “sanctity of human life is in deep trouble” and needs to be replaced with a new utilitarian ethic? Discuss this claim with close reference to at least one novel or film studied on the unit, and at least two of the theorists we have studied, one of which must be Peter Singer.
  • Why does Fredric Jameson argue in his critique of the political dimensions of dystopian fiction that ‘late capitalism seems to have no natural enemies’? How far do you agree with this view of the genre? Discuss this claim with close reference to at least one novel or film studied on the unit, and at least two of the theorists we have studied, one of which must be Fredric Jameson. 
  • How far do you agree with Zygmunt Bauman’s characterisation of the impact of consumerism, digital culture and virtual connectivity on human relationships? Discuss with close reference to at least one of the novels or films studied on the unit and at least two of the theorists we have studied, one of which must be Zygmunt Bauman.  
  • Emily Apter describes contemporary culture as “a delirious aesthetics of systematicity held in place by the paranoid premise that ‘everything is connected’”. ‘Discuss this claim with close reference to at least two of the theoretical pieces and at least one novel or film studied on the unit.
  • To what extent do you agree with Donna Haraway’s envisioning of the emancipatory potential of the cyborg and the notion that advanced technology itself contains emancipatory possibilities and lends itself to emancipatory social projects? Discuss with close reference to at least one of the novels or films studied on the unit and at least two of the theorists we have studied, one of which must be Donna Haraway.
  • According to Boris Gunjevic, the Gospels are an example of a ‘subversive…socio-literary genre.’ With close reference to at least one novel or film and to the work of at least two of the theorists that we have studied, critically assess his argument. Do you agree that the messianic elements of your chosen cultural text are subversive and politically radical?

You may construct a question on a topic of your choice in dialogue with your tutor. Your tutor must agree to the wording and your answer must engage with at least two theoretical essays and at least one novel or film studied on the unit.

Element two: Close analysis of a theoretical extract (1000 words)

Instructions

Produce a close analysis of an extract chosen from a selection of theoretical texts studied on the unit. (Please see separate document entitled: Portfolio, Element 2, Theoretical Extracts, for this selection). Your analysis must:

  1. Demonstrate your understanding of the ideas and concepts developed in the extract
  2. Discuss the significance and implications of the ideas/arguments presented in the extract
  3. Identify the potential limitations or problems with the ideas/arguments presented in the extract

You are encouraged to engage critically with secondary material on particular theorists and theoretical concepts where appropriate, but the purpose of this element of the portfolio is for you to demonstrate your understanding and ability to critique the material.

Element three: Response Paper (c.2000 words)

This element requires you to explore the ways in which one of the topics, theoretical texts or our consideration of a novel or film has changed your thinking about (a) a particular contemporary cultural issue or (b) a personal experience or (c) another novel, film or TV programme that we haven’t studied on the unit.

We are also happy to see creative responses to this element of the portfolio, for instance in the form of a short story or video response. However, whatever format you choose, must:

  • identify the element of the unit that has inspired the response
  • demonstrate your understanding of that element, and,
  • clearly express how your thinking has changed.

This means that if you choose to produce a creative response to this element of the portfolio, you must provide a short reflection of around 750 words that fulfils the criteria listed above. You are advised that material used in one assignment must not be re-used in another. Unless your assignment instructions specify otherwise, this means that you should not write on the same text in more than one exam question or assignment, either within or between units.

Guidance on size of submission: 6000 words

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcome 1:  Critically evaluate the context within which questions concerning the limits of life arise and are understood.

 Learning Outcome 2:  Critically analyse conceptual positions within debates about the limits of life.

Learning Outcome 3: Critically analyse forms of cultural narrative in the light of conceptual debates. Learning Outcome 4: Critically evaluate the ethics of representation

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