Tips for generating paper topics – O’Hara
GENERATING A TOPIC:
There you sit, Berrigan in your lap (well, his book, actually), and you’re thinking, “What is there to say about The Trial
of Catonsville Nine
that is new or unique?
What has not been already said?”
The answer is twofold.
First, while some professional critics have written about Berrigan and his play over the past 40
years, not too many have, and in any case you have an advantage over others insofar as you live now
, amid new social,
political, economic, and cultural landscapes, and you have the unique perspective of a new generation, so you can bring
new ways of seeing the play
to your paper in terms of the “present.”
Second, you have an opportunity to integrate,
update and respond to previous critical interpretations and reviews, recognizing their arguments, interjecting your own
ideas, resolutions, negotiations and observations along the way.
In the end, don’t be intimidated by the critical work
“out there” on Berrigan or whomever . . . instead, use those works as launching pads for your own argument, or as a
place to begin refining your own view/perspective on the author or play.
Part of inventing a good topic—something original and denfensible, something that will sustain 5 or 10 or 20 pages of
argumentation or explication—involves paying attention to the “relevance factor” of your papers.
Remember that all
writing is there to be read and should not be seen as a futile exercise to “prove” you understand something.
are impatient with work that makes them ask “so what?” (or more specifically, “Who cares about how Shakespeare uses
bird images?” or “Why is it important that King and Gandhi can be compared to one another?” or “So what if Conrad’s