The History and Future of the Book

Essay Topics #3

University of Saskatchewan
Department of English
English 204.6

Professor Ron Cooley
Professor Allison Muri


Due: Monday, March 15
Length: approximately 2000 words
Instructions: Write on one of the topics below:

  1. On poems as material objects: George Herbert's "Easter Wings" is not the only one of Herbert's poems that attempts to be what it describes. Consider how the presentation of words on the page contributes to the meaning of poems like "The Altar," "Paradise," and "The Watercourse" and "Jesu," as well as "Easter Wings." You may wish to consider whether there are reasons a Christian devotional poet would be particularly drawn to such shaped, emblematic or hieroglyphic poems.

  2. on the representation of books & knowledge: Explicate William Alabaster's poem "The first beginning of creation" OR Ben Jonson's "To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare." What is the meaning of writing and/or knowledge and/or books in the context of this poem?

  3. on William Blake: Examine "There is No Natural Religion" by William Blake, as a printed poem, and as a colour facsimile of his original illuminated work. How do the illuminations change or augment or reveal/obscure the poem's meaning?

  4. on pulp fiction: Pulp fiction has been described as "garbage," for "people who move their lips when they read," as "shallow and formulaic; the characters ... cardboard cut-outs" and "worthless." It can also be seen as literature for "recent immigrants, the poor, the working classes—those customarily denied meaningful access to advanced literacy or the means of cultural production" (Jay Hopler, "Watching the Detectives: Reading Dime Novels and Hard-Boiled Detective Stories in Context," Journal of Social History 36.2 (2002) 459–66). Which description is most applicable to Dashiell Hammet's "The Girl With the Silver Eyes"?

  5. on censorship and the freedom to read: in 2002, a patron of the Toronto Public Library challenged a scholarly book by art and photography critic at New York University Allen Ellenzweig. The book The Homoerotic Photograph: Male Images from Durieu/Delacroix to Mapplethorpe features 127 duotone photographs. The complainant said the book verges on child pornography. One copy remains in the library’s collection. Defend the decision to a) challenge the book's presence on library shelves; or b) keep the book on library shelves. This book is available on reserve in our library (TR681 .M4E44 1992).

  6. on "Alphabets": Explicate Seamus Heaney's poem "Alphabets" in terms of the history of writing and print culture. What does Heaney say about the history of writing and human knowledge, and about the influence of writing on the formation of individual identity?

  7. on "The Garden Court Motor Motel": Examine Thomas King's "The Garden Court Motor Motel." Is there a message here about book culture versus oral history?