Topics for Final Paper, REL 407/507 Narrative Selves

Double-spaced, 7-9 pages. Be sure to provide page references for all ideas and statements as appropriate (See the "Paper Writing Guidelines." You may use footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical notation to indicate page numbers for textual references. A general rule of thumb: If you have one main idea in a paragraph, and you are indebted to some outside source - readings, lectures - then one reference will help the reader to check for accuracy and fairness should a question arise). Some of the paper topics are designed around a dialogue or a creative, imaginative situation. Referencing your ideas for these topics is just as important as for more conventional topics.

Due in class, Tuesday, March 11.

Be sure to write your name, the name of the class, and the title of your topic at the top of the page.

You may write on your own topic if you wish. However, you must: 1) Submit a one-paragraph description by email to the instructor. 2) You must submit your topic by Tuesday, March 6. 3) You must obtain approval from the instructor.

I also strongly encourage you to read the essays on my Writing web pages, especially "Four Keys to Writing in the Humanities," "Paper Writing Guidelines," "Checklist for Papers," and "Writing: The Bridge between Consciousness and Unconsciousness."


Topics (Select one of the following topics)

1. It can be argued that Zhuangzi takes the reader through a progression from the understanding of diverse perspectives (perspectivalism) (pp. 32-33); to the dissolution of boundaries through the mutual interpenetration or transformation of things with one another p. 44); to the realization of the oneness of all reality with oneself (p. 38). Show how this kind of development might be applied to the case of Joan Frances Casey in The Flock, to the story of Jacob Singer in Jacob's Ladder or Aoki Shinmon in Coffinman. In what ways don't they fit this paradigm?
2.Use the Ten Oxherding Pictures as a framework for the author's autobiographical development in Coffinman or An Interrupted Life. Discuss six to eight of the oxherding pictures to identify key points in the author's development. Address the question, what are some of the possible limitations of using the oxherding pictures as a narrative framework for the development of Coffinman?
3. Select two thinkers we read from the first five weeks (i.e. through Shinran) and have them analyze reality as it is presented in the film Jacob's Ladder. For example, Zhuangzi might comment upon the nature of dream-like reality (see "butterfly episode" pp. 44-45), and Jacques Lusseyran might comment on the relation between inner and outer reality. This is a complex topic, so one of the challenges will be to fit your analysis into the page length guidelines.
4. Sandy Gunther argues that there are three realities/narratives inhabited by Jacob Singer in Jacob's Ladder. Vietnam, New York, and Transcendent. Examine this view from the perspective of one of the thinkers we read for this course. How accurate is Gunther's analysis? Where might it be lacking? Or, how might it be augmented.

5. Select two authors we read for this course; compare and contrast how they might define the relation between spiritual freedom on the one hand and socio-economic and political freedom on the other. Discuss how this affects the development of their own life story.

6 & 7. Etty Hillesum in a sense chose to be multidimensional: to live and work with the Jewish people in Amsterdam and Westerbork yet continue to work towards her dream of becoming a writer and a scholar; to enter the realm of intense spiritual inquiry while affirming her identity as a woman, a sexual being, and a human being with diverse intellectual interests. Her early death leaves us with a mystery as to the ultimate destiny of her life. Choose one of the following topics in relation to these circumstances: a) Discuss the ways in which she did or did not resolve the possible narrative tension between these diverse strands while she was alive. How was her spiritual transformation influenced and/or effected by this tension? b) Provide additional autobiographical narrative or journal entries that might reflect her further journeys had she lived. Be sure to document your paper with quotations and page references regardless of whether you choose do a) or b)

8 & 9. Before the war, Etty Hillesum was a talented, well-educated, upper middle-class woman. In the short span of two years during which she kept her diaries, she underwent a profound transformation. Choose one of the following topics: a) Identify three turning points in her spiritual development and discuss their significance. You might want to examine them in relation to the changes in her inner and outer lives, or you might elaborate upon her relationship to key figures in her life. b) Imagine that you are a woman who comes to know her through correspondences. Provide a series of letters that reflect your understanding of who she was and possibly who you are. (You may but are not required to draw upon the second half of the volume we read for the course, Letters from Westerbork). Be sure to document your paper with quotations and page references regardless of whether you choose do a) or b)

10. Take any one author and discuss the balance of passion and compassion in the development of his or her life and thought. For example, how is the passion for justice tempered by compassion? Or, how is erotic passion related to her compassion? Is there a moment in which the passion for justice, erotic passion, or vocation, on the one hand, and compassion, on the other, come together in a seamless whole? If so, how do they come together. If not, how might they eventually be brought together. Or will there always be some tension between them? If so, why?

11. Near Death. You have a terminal case of liver cancer. Several months have passed since the diagnosis and now the end is near. Your lover/partner is far away and is unable to share this time with you, caught in a foreign land with an invalid passport. You are writing a letter to your lover/partner expressing what the past has meant to you, what you have learned as you struggled with the illness and impending death, and how you now see life and death. Write this letter drawing on the works we have read. You may combine insights from more than one text if you like, but it is recommended that you restrict your sources to two or three sources and not try to do too much.

12. Analyze the life of one of the following figures we studied - Joan Frances Casey, Aoki Shinmon (Coffinman), or Etty Hillesum - as if it were a piece of music: a symphony, concerto, jazz improvisation. Identify themes, variations, silences and climax (spiritual experiences) , movements, and primary melodies and secondary harmonies. Devote one page at the end describing how this musical analogy helps one to understand the significance of religious or life-altering experiences in relation to the problem of death, love, and meaning. You may want to choose a specific musical composition as the musical narrative frame for your account, such as Beethoven's Appassionata or Miles Davis' So What.

13. Scenario: You have just suffered a loss in a relationship (death of family or friend; breakup of friendship, romance, or marriage). Somehow, this loss has led you to think about the life of the self in a way different from before. There is a mentor in your life who is currently overseas, and you wish to communicate the difficulty of the loss, what you have learned through this loss about the brokenness of life/self as well as possible illumination (currently unfolding or peeking through on the horizon).
Drawing on two or three of the texts/films we studied in this course, write a letter that describes your reflections and communicates your learning process to your mentor. Include as part of your reflections at least one paragraph about the significance of listening deeply (to others, to your own inner voice, to the deeper currents of life).

14. Write a series of letters between Etty Hillesum and Joan Frances Casey that reflect their individual development and mutually developing friendship. Recast Joan Frances Casey's life so that she is undergoing her experiences during World War II. For the purposes of this assignment you may allow the care and understanding of multiple peronality disorder/dissociative iderntity disorder to be as advanced as one finds it in The Flock despite the fact that, historically, such was not the case in the 1940s.

For topics 11, 13, &14, you should write the paper in a normal "letter" tone, as if you were really writing a letter. However, you still need to include page references and citations for ideas from the readings and films, and you can work in more distanced or academic reflections by using direct quotations or by setting them off in the letter, using rhetorical devices: "I remember reading . . . ," "When I was in college we studied . . ." and so forth.