10 December 2004

Terror, In A Handful Of Words


THE LITERATURE EXAM FROM HELL

Second Edition

Time: 3 hours

Instructions: Answer all of the following questions as instructed. Failure on more than two questions will result in the removal of English from your vocabulary, if you have ever indeed possessed it, and ritual public stoning. Write in grammatical English. Pay no mind whatsoever to the inevitable prospect of your impending doom, and please try not to evacuate your bowels during the examination period. Good, er, luck. And now, get ready to shizzle your poetical nizzles.

1.   Translate the entire tale of Cervantes' Don Quixote into the language of William Faulkner-- and translate the entire story of Faulkner's The Sound And The Fury into the language of a mid-tempo R&B tune. Of the latter, make sure the tune is catchy.

2.   You have been contracted to compile one volume of a multi-volume anthology of drugs in literature. What would the title of your volume be, and what texts might it include? Condition: Your title must make use of at least one word from either Greek or Latin. (Publishing companies, after all, want to sound authoritative and official.)

3.   Explain the relationship between the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and recent seasons of The Sopranos. Assess the extent to which the former is a pretext for the latter.

4.   Complete the following joke as creatively and as comically as possible: "A priest, a rabbi and Philip Larkin walk into a bar...."

5.   Complete the following joke as creatively and as comically as possible: "Samuel Pepys, Henry James and Whoopi Goldberg walk into a bar...."

6.   Perform a philological analysis of the phrase "ass-munching windbag," and assess the value of its contributions to English literary history. Do so without mentioning either Henry Miller or Maya Angelou.

7.   Did Sylvia Plath give head? Why or why not? Support your conclusion with specific reference to her poetry.

8.   Summarize the entirety of Dante's Inferno in no more than three words. Contrast this, in no more than two words, with the Inferno to which you are headed should you fail this examination.

9.   Identify your ten favourite ways to kill a mockingbird. Suggest what Harper Lee would subsequently tell you to do with yourself after reading your list.

10.   Justify Margaret Cavendish. (And do not play with typographical alignments as a previous examinee did.)

11.   Prove, as concisely and as concretely as possible, that Thomas Hardy's greatest literary inheritor is, in fact, Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry.

12.   Write the finest pantoum ever composed-- about the removing of one's pants. Make sure it's a leg-itimate pantoum.

13.   Translate the complete text of the Bible into functional, idiomatic Welsh-- except for the Book of Job, which you should translate into contemporary Sanskrit.

14.   Perform a lucid and insightful exegesis of the following sight poem, and suggest reasons for its exceptionally persistent relevance to contemporary cultural thought:

          You put your right foot in,
          You put your right foot out;
          You put your right foot in,
          And you shake it all about.
          You do the Hokey-Pokey,
          And you turn yourself around.
          That's what it's all about!


15.   Situate Jonathan Swift within a critical context that includes the following authors: Oscar Wilde, Stephen Fry, Quentin Crisp, Langston Hughes and Paul Verlaine. Do so in a way that Swift himself would appreciate.

16.   Explain the misprint that occurred with Michael Ondaatje's novel In The Shin of A Lion, and determine the implications of this alteration on current conceptions of Canadian fiction.

17.   Discuss the literary career of Virginia Woolf-- in Stevie Smith's terms.

18.   Explain, in as much detail as possible, the effects on international literary history had William Shakespeare been born a Canadian. Contrast this hypothetical situation with the equally implausible possibility of an Australian Shakespeare.

19.   Explain as precisely as you can how you might profitably teach the poetry of Wallace Stevens to a group of nine year-olds without confusing the bloody hell out of them.

20.   Who did more fucking, Edmund Spenser or Barry White? Support your conclusion with preferrably crust-free evidence. How might the two be effectively used in tandem with one another to help you get your groove-thang on?

21.   Write the sonnet that will make every woman's heart melt. Sorry, ladies-- unless you're vagitarians, you're probably, er, screwed on this one.

22.   Write the sonnet that will make every man's heart melt, if he has one. Sorry, gentlemen-- what's good for the goose....

23.   Provide the design specifications for the first-ever Mallarmé clock. Explain how it would wake people up in the morning, and speculate upon the tortures that will eventually be visited upon it by night-owls irritably facing daybreak, especially if they are hungover.

24.   Assess the extent to which the resolution of the crisis in the Middle East depends upon an accurate unriddling of the primary lessons of either Beowulf or Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno.

25.   Imagine Graham Greene and Samuel Johnson and a chicken jitterbugging outside a Turkish bath in nothing but their towels (the chicken, too). Now assess the prophetic implications of what you've just imagined.

        OR (if above is beyond your imaginative capability)

        Write the story of Tom Jones-- the singer, not Henry Fielding's lad-- as a Samuel Richardson novel. (Those of you opting to do this question are advised to ask for extra examination booklets immediately.)

26.   Perform a teleological analysis of this line from Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers: "Slof tlif, sounded the geysers of his semen as they hit the dashboard (surely the sound of upstream salmon smashing their skulls on underwater cliffs)." Additionally, how also might this sentence provide a meaningful way of reinterpreting the Irish Potato Famine of 1848?

27.   Write the first poem that is, in fact, a human tear, and explain the difficult publication history that poem would eventually have.

28.   Assess the significance of Robert Lowell's occasional experiences with writer's block on his fate in the afterlife. Those particularly inspired might dare to question why the great modern elegist hasn't been much elegized himself.

29.   Write the first novel that loves its readers as much as its readers are supposed to love it. Then describe your novel's emotional state after the world rejects it utterly. Then place into appropriate context the historical tendency for chronic alcoholism among novelists, providing you can take your hands off of that bottle.

30.   Understand and describe literary joy in a single, perfect word. Then deal with the fact that by naming that joy you've made it oh so horribly mortal.

POTENTIALLY SOUL-REDEEMING BONUS QUESTION:

      Speculate upon the impact on nineteenth century literary history if either Charles Dickens or Geoge Eliot had discovered the benefits of a double-ended dildo. Speculate also upon the impact on twentieth century literary history if either Allen Ginsberg or Marianne Moore hadn't. Do so without once invoking the tired phrase, "two heads are better than one." Extra-extra bonus points if you can transform your notes on this matter into the first ode to interpenetration. Regardless, please be certain to keep your pencil in plain sight and on top of your desk at all times.
Submit your completed examination paper to the attending proctors before you run home to begin what will surely be the longest period of sustained prayer in your life. (Be glad that the examiners kindly opted to exclude Milton from this year's exam, so make sure that your prayers are both thankful and beseeching.) Although we assure you prayer will likely not help, we are also fairly sure that it cannot possibly hurt.

      UPDATE (12/12/04): Unsurprisingly, RK's been first out of the gate with his answers, brave soul that he is. The Not-So-Good Doctor's answers are on their way now in. Both sets-- and those of any others of you hearty and hale, or foolhardy and aled, to take Ahabic stabs at this-- will be posted here shortly.

      UPDATE (12/13/04): Excellent! Cbeck has courageously thrown his answers into the lot, and I'm told another set of answers are soon to make their way through. Colour this blog IMPRESSED.      And, by the way, I don't know why there'd be any doubt about this, but apparently there is: Yes, you are free to pass on or link to this exam should any of you see fit; it's really no different than any other post on this site. And, of course, any of you still wanting to toss your answers into the ring are welcome to do so. Cheers.

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