I would prefer hophead wrote this, but it is not necessary.

I’d like you to explain what you found challenging about reading the American voices we’ve read this term, especially in specific comparison to contemporary American voices.

Maybe you’d like to compare Lincoln’s soliloquy about suicide to some of Sylvia Plath’s more recent poems on that subject (Edge)– I’ll be interested in reading how the poetry differs, and not so much the difference between, say, the methods of suicide being discussed. Please don’t focus exclusively on the differences in subject matter they discuss—stick with the way each of them chooses to express himself (or herself).

Some of this essay will assume that you find more difficulty in reading the older texts—that’s only natural. Material written close to you (in time, and in place, and in culture) is by definition easier to relate to, but it would be a shame if that were the only standard we applied to judging the quality of writing, because that would mean that people would need to rediscover every wise approach all over again in every generation. I prefer to think that we can learn a lot by taking the trouble to understand the wisdom of the past. Of course, as Emerson tells us, it is foolish to revere the wisdom of the past for its own sake, or to show it such respect we stop thinking critically about it, but we should be willing to take the trouble to read it carefully, if only to see whether we want to reject or accept it for ourselves. So explain what about the older writing you found difficult or challenging, or that made you think about the subject matter in an unaccustomed way, and what (if anything) paraphrasing their language did to make you think about their subjects in a new or different way.

So that’s what I’m asking you to do for your final essay—distinguish some writing (in any genre or genres you choose) written close to our time from some piece of writing of the American past that we have read this term, and focus on the style of writing rather than the different content. To do this, you will have to avoid almost all praise, both for the contemporary example you choose and for the historical text you choose. Don’t praise, analyze. Tell me what the writers are doing, how they’re doing it, what the techniques they’re using tell us about their writerly strategies. Closely read each text, and try to divine what the writer was trying to do.

If either writer (the new one or the old one) seems difficult to you, analyze what he or she was trying to do in being difficult (if he or she was) or whether the difficulty was not so extreme in the writer’s own context. (What about the changing audiences do you suppose was responsible for the writers’ strategies, do you suppose? Where did each writer present problems for the reader, and how did you as a reader solve some of those problems?)
There are faxes for this order.