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Ideas for Final Project/What is Writing Today?

(1) When the professor, Roger Allen, first described the final project for this seminar, I was fresh off of reading The Naqib’s Daughter, and I thought it would be interesting to compare the strong female characters in that novel to the victimized ones in Season of Migration to the North (and probably other novels in the seminar).  There’s not a lot of new ground to plow there, however, and I’ve since learned that one of the people in the class has been reading for months in preparation for writing a major treatise on women in Islamic fiction. 

(2) Then I thought about finding some software that would allow me to do a really elegant timeline.  It’s a constant challenge, in reading these works, to understand the historical & political events in the background, and in many of them that understanding is really important.  (So are geography and social customs, but the one is too simple and the other too vague to focus on).  A timeline would allow me to incorporate and organize information about the authors’ lives and works, the countries’ history, and events in the novels–and relate them all to each other.  The events in Sudan, for example, that form the background of Season of Migration, overlap some with those in Egypt, in the background of Miramar.  And Saleh and Mahfouz overlap, too.  It would help me a lot to see how all those elements match up.

This doesn’t seem like a terribly significant intellectual exercise, but it would use my technical skills and would help me solidify the base from which I would teach some of these works.

(3) Another thought: there is absolutely gorgeous sun imagery in a lot of these novels.  I’m not at all sure it could be a paper topic–what be the meaning of comparing images of the sun in the writings of Saleh, al-Kuni, and al-Shaykh, for example–but I’d like doing it.  This is an approach I advise my students to take when they’re writing about a single novel, to find a point that interests them, starting gathering passages, and see where the interpretation leads them.  I’m not sure this approach can be as valid, though, when comparing a group of works.  Still, the sun is a major element of Middle Eastern life and literature–much more so than European.  Does it get corresponding attention from American writers of the southwest?  [Am I relying too heavily on dashes?  I love using them but fear they could get annoying.]

This topic, if practical, would focus me on a different kind of literary analysis than we’ve been doing in class so far.  It seems dangerous to try (because it might fall apart), but intriguing. 

(4) And finally, this morning’s idea for a project topic: madness as portrayed in several of the works in this course.  That’s a thing I tend to think and talk about in the class and in ancillary conversations, and my Madness in Lit elective is a place where I could incorporate one of these novels right away.  Season of Migration and Story of Zahra offer rich material.  Maybe Bleeding of the Stone, though I’m not sure the meat-obsessed figure is sufficiently convincing from a madness standpoint.  Maybe one of the two remaining works would be relevant, too.   This topic would give me a chance to think through my own course and its subject matter more thoroughly. 

Topics 3 & 4 would allow me to do something else I’ve been thinking about, which is to explore the style and format for writing about literature in the 21st century.  How does/could formal writing change with the availability and increasing expectation of  Web 2.0 concepts?  Is the long, linear, individually authored, text-only essay a dinosaur?   I’d like to try a piece of serious, analytical writing that incorporates elements other than text (links at the very least, perhaps images, embedded sound or video) and perhaps enables commentary or contributions from others.  So I guess I’m talking about a wiki or a blog.  WordPress or Wikispaces would work.  Probably WordPress; I don’t think I’m really going to inspire others to create accounts and add onto my efforts. 

I think I need to take these ideas to Roger Allen and see what he thinks.

  1. Bobbie
    July 15, 2010 at 10:22 am

    I have been reading your posts with great interest. I want to read just one of your assigned books. Which one would you recommend? On the topic of ideas for final projects I really am drawn to your last idea. (“Is the long, linear, individually authored, text-only essay a dinosaur?”) I can imagine exciting possibilities for “serious, analytical writing that incorporates elements other than text (links at the very least, perhaps images, embedded sound or video) and perhaps enables commentary or contributions from others.” Just think it would be fascinating to see how students might become absorbed in this challenge of the new. The idea of adding visual and musical elements would be fabulous and the creative edits would require a level of engagement that is rarely achieved in a text only essay. The idea of adding the voices of others might be a secondary effort…part of a rubric of critical evaluation/feedback. You could slide the timeline idea into the mix for a specific aspect of the essay. I would think that focusing on the assignment in a way that ties back to one of your specific DA courses makes the most sense. Soldier on and keep me posted…literally. Bobbie

    • July 17, 2010 at 3:48 pm

      Hi Bobbie.

      Thanks for this comment. I’ve enjoyed your emails from the learning conference, too.

      When I met with Roger Allen, the professor, he supported the focus on madness and was also interested in the format issue. I think he would have supported any of the ideas, but I agree that this one does the most for my current teaching interests.

      So far, if you were going to read one novel, I’d suggest *Season of Migration to the North*. It’s intriguing on the first read and fascinating on the second, and it will be a major focus of my final project. I still haven’t read the last two novels, so I’ll let you know if it gets displaced from the top of my list.


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