Assignments

Examples of student work are available for this course.

The journals are meant to be a series of articulate analytic encounters with the topics and texts of the subject. I ask you to submit them on the class mailing list so that you can respond to each other as you are moved to do. On a few occasions, I will offer guidance about what issues to confront. But the open-endedness of the task is essential. If you are sorely in need of a series of questions to shape your entry, draw on these "Questions of Mastery":

  1. How is the "mastery" of the "mastermind" shown, in this instance?
  2. Is there any indication given as to how the mastery is attained?
  3. What are the limits of the mastery, or the sacrifices which attainment demands?
  4. How is the mastery employed?
  5. On balance, is the mastery to be commended or condemned?

The journal writing and presentations are assigned during the sessions indicated below.

Examples of Journal and Final Presentation Assignments
SES # ASSIGNMENTS
12 Our task, still, is to construct the parameters of the "Masterminds Paradigmatic Crime Solver" (MPCS 1.0). To which end (based on the small and eccentric sample we have encountered, plus any other data you have available - other books you've read, movies, TV shows, etc.) create two lists: the Five (no more, no less) crucial attributes of MPCS, and the THREE attributes most to be avoided by MPCS. And one other thing: we agreed that "databases" are inevitably vital. What sorts of databases did our sleuths employ?
16 This week, focus especially on The Tailor of Panama (although if you want to say something about Bond, that's fine, too). Some thoughts that might be worth grappling with: 1)inevitably, "fluence." See if you can pin down what the book makes in the way of a definition. Or use the two I could find from the Oxford English dictionary. 2) What about the title? Why "tailoring"? Why "of" (not "from" or "in")? 3)How do you read the ending-is it an act of self-destruction (like Mickey's suicide)? Of betrayal (of Harry's family)? Of loyalty (to Panama, into which he bravely or stupidly enters)? In an interview with LeCarre about Tailor, he says he starts with a character, and then "the process [that follows] is empathy, fear, and dramatization." Empathy and dramatization are clear enough-but "fear" is a bit of a jolt, to me. He also says he starts out with an image of the last view the reader will have - so that final scene is crucial, as I expected. He accounts as one of his "bad habits" the tendency to spend "way too much time on the first hundred pages and then start again. It's a principle of mine to come into the story as late as possible."
23 Since the "master detective program" gimmick worked so well, I will presume to try it again: Based on our reading, and/or on your observation of scientists here at MIT, list and define Five attributes that seem often to coincide with considerable scientific achievement. Make a few remarks about how these factors contribute. Then list Three factors (either internal or external) which resist or reduce or limit scientific achievement. Again, comment briefly on how these factors operate.
26 Summarize your findings about the life of MIT grad students.
29 Final Presentation Assignment

Your task will be to find a "mastermind," interview him/her, define his/her mastery, the tactics and processes needed to attain it, and whether that mastery produces limitations (remember Watson's puzzled list about Holmes).

The underlying task is to formulate your own personal definition of "mastery." First characterize your "master": define his/her excellence and the standards by which it can best be measured. How does the mastery show itself? How is it used? How was it attained? Then assess the purposes/outcomes of the mastery, and its apparent limitations. In the end, is it admirable or worrisome, or some of each? What sorts of "costs" seem to be involved in attaining/employing the mastery?

Length

15 minutes. Handouts and multimedia are encouraged. Don't read your presentation to us-nothing is more tedious. We will discuss questions if they arise. All presentations are due on the final session.


Examples of Student Work

Titles Student Samples
Hawthorne Analysis (Courtesy of Rose Grabowsky.  Used with permission.) (PDF)
Faustus Analysis (Courtesy of Rose Grabowsky.  Used with permission.) (PDF)
Unthinking Scientists (On Hawthorne and Frankenstein.) (Courtesy of Lindsay Hays.  Used with permission.) (PDF)
The Role of Supporting Characters in Dr. Faustus. (Courtesy of Lindsay Hays.  Used with permission.) (PDF)
Hawthorne Journal. (Courtesy of Olga Stroilova.  Used with permission.) (PDF)
Hawthorne and Frankenstein Journal. (Courtesy of Zachary Weston.  Used with permission.) (PDF)
Thoughts on Caligari and Faustus. (Courtesy of Zachary Weston.  Used with permission.) (PDF)