Making Powerful Arguments
GENS 176: Making Powerful Arguments teaches students to write and speak persuasively, with the support of rigorous, research-based evidence. You get to choose a course that interests you, and participate in thought-provoking debates guided by our expert faculty.
About registration: Students will register for their spring seminar after registering for the rest of their spring courses. On Nov. 10th, students will be emailed a survey asking for their top 5 ranked choices. The survey will remain open for one week before the registrar starts placing students in sections on Wednesday, Nov. 17.
Data and Decisions: Arguments, Intuition, and Equity
Section A: MWF 1-1:50 p.m.
With increased access to increasing amounts of data, we ask more of ourselves in letting that data drive our decisions. But how do our preconceptions about that data shape our justifications for our actions? This class will explore the use (and misuse!) of mathematics and data across multiple disciplines. Examples will be studied from theories of randomness, statistical inference, medical decision making, and voting theory and equitable political districting. Students will study how their own experience and preconceptions shape their arguments, and how best to address issues of difference and equity in data-driven outcomes.
Writing Politics in an Age of Crisis
Section B: TTh 2:30-3:50 p.m.
An activist manifesto, a pop song, and a piece of investigative journalism walk into a bar to argue about politics. A public opinion survey, a quantitative study, a political philosophy treatise, and a piece of speculative fiction join them. Which is right? Which provides the most accurate depiction the political question at hand? Which is most objective, and is that an important goal when writing about politics? What counts as compelling evidence in each approach, and are some types of evidence better than others? Which is most persuasive to readers? Which is most likely to galvanize social change?
This class examines different ways that people make written arguments about the many urgent political crises facing the world today. Its goals are twofold: (1) To help students become better citizens and scholars, skilled at critiquing the strengths, limits, contributions, and potential dangers of different ways of writing about pressing political problems. (2) To help students become better writers in a moment when powerful, persuasive, and ethical political writing is more needed than ever before.
Examining a wide variety of texts, we will explore the how and why of different approaches to knowing and writing about crises such as climate change, white supremacy, and economic inequality. What do each of these different approaches illuminate and obscure about their subject? What makes each one compelling? Or dangerous? We will also reflect on the politics of writing about politics, debating questions of ethics, accountability, privilege, appropriation, and representation.
Language, Community, Ecology
Section C: TTh 10-11:20 a.m.
Language and symbolic communication have often been held up as a central feature of human identity, a source of community, connection, and ethical relation. In this course, we will explore this assumption by considering the place of language in a more-than-human world that urgently demands greater responsibility and connection between humans and other creatures. We will engage the similarities and divergences between human communication and that of other types of animals, discuss the biological emergence of self and consciousness, and explore the ways that different cultures have considered the relationship between language, community, and human being. We will also consider how these questions might shape contemporary practices of dwelling in the world, relating to others, and responding to global climate crisis. Course texts will include work by Octavia Butler, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Peter Godfrey-Smith. Assignments will include several pieces of short writing, regular class discussion, and a final research project.
Other Places, Other Gazes
Section ZC: MW 7:30-8:50 p.m.
This course will study how different people experience places differently. The main question it will ask is the following: What dynamics shape divergent registrations of the same place? Foregrounding this question, we will examine various depictions of places, including intimate spaces such as the home in Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma, nationally and culturally defined spaces in E. M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India, and an “alien” planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. We will supplement our discussions with readings from theoretical, historical, and philosophical texts, such as Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. Primarily exploring the role of race in these works, the class will also address linked issues of class and gender as it examines the disparities among such experience. The course will focus on texts from a wide geographical and cultural range, as well as various media, including theoretical and philosophical texts, movies, and literature.
Radical Reactions: Chemistry that Changed the World
Section D: MW 2:30-3:50 p.m.
This course will explore major breakthroughs in chemistry that have shaped the 19th and 20th centuries. Students will study, discuss, and write about the often radial social, economic, and political changes that are brought about by scientific advancements. The complicated sets of factors motivating these breakthroughs will also be interrogated. A special emphasis will be placed on understanding the intersections between chemistry, medicine, industry, and power. Whenever possible, the myth of scientific creation will be measured against the historical record in the hopes of elucidating the legacy of these discoveries. For example, how can a chemical reaction that has saved untold millions from starvation also be used to make bombs? These topics will be addressed through the examination of argumentative writing from the natural science, humanities, and social sciences. Students will experience how evidence is used to support thesis-driven arguments across different disciplines and will develop their ability to do the same.
Travel and Self-Discovery in World History
Section E: MWF 9-9:50 a.m.
This section will explore both fictional and non-fictional accounts of travel from various times and regions of the premodern world. We will consider travel primarily as a series of encounters that result in self-transformation. In addition, we will reflect on the ways in which engaging with texts from radically different contexts is itself a kind of journey of self-discovery. The reading list will include at least one epic from the Ancient Mediterranean world, as well as medieval European pilgrimage (including Dante’s Inferno) and other travel narratives, accounts of encounters between Islam and Christianity, and texts from medieval and early modern Asia (including Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North). We will conclude by considering travel narratives from the twentieth century. While the syllabus will emphasize the original sources, we will also introduce ourselves to some of the scholarly traditions that have grown up around them.
The Genesis of Non-Violence
Section F: MWF 11-11:50 a.m.
We will consider the role of non-violence in the struggle to become fully human in two steps. First, we will consider the genesis of non-violence articulated in Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written within the Birmingham Civil Rights Campaign of 1963 and published in 1964. What is at issue in this genesis is amplified by the interrelations between King’s Letter, the 1964 publication of James Baldwin’s “The Uses of the Blues” and “The White Problem,” and the publication in 1965 of The Autobiography of Malcolm X based on audio recordings between Malcolm X and Alex Haley in 1964 before Malcolm’s assassination. Second, we will consider the relevance of this genesis for the possibility of non-violence today as introduced in the 2020 publication of Judith Butler’s The Force of Non-violence.
Students will be given a weekly question for each assigned text upon which they will submit written "short answer" on Canvas following each Monday's class discussion that they will then have the chance to revise on the basis of class discussion on Wednesday and Friday. These weekly revised short answers will then directly lead to the writing of two papers during the semester. There will be a library research project to prepare students for turning to the historical context of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." And finally, there will be a small group collaborative project in the final month of the semester leading to small group oral presentations to the class as a whole in which the semester's work on non-violent resistance will be applied to a contemporary problem at Whitman College.
Imagining Plato’s Cities
Section G: MWF 11-11:50 a.m.
As he sketches his philosophical ideas, Plato also paints a portrait of his city, its people, and of Socrates, and asks readers to think with him about a succession of mythical and imagined cities. In this course, we will read selections from Plato’s dialogues and other contemporary accounts of Athens and its people, and interpret these ancient accounts along side more modern attempts to reimagine Plato’s cities in art and literature. This course is grounded in philosophical and literary examination of platonic dialogues, but also ventures into history, literature, art, and social theory. We’ll cover a wide range of themes, all the way from Plato’s use of mathematical examples to discussions of gender and sexuality, humor and satire, and…, well…, spaceships. Examples of works we’ll examine include Plato’s Republic and Symposium, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes’ Clouds, Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, Raphael’s The School of Athens, and David Halperin’s One Hundred Years of Homosexuality. This seminar will be of particular interest to students curious about philosophy, history, classics, drama, science fiction, education, and gender and sexuality.
Concepts of Nature
Section T: MW 2:30-3:50 p.m.
What is “nature”? How can and should human beings think about and relate to the more-than-human world? In what ways have our concepts of nature shaped our relations with this world? What concepts do we need to employ in order to communicate the urgency of our current environmental problems? How might new concepts of nature provide for new ways of situating ourselves in the world? This course explores concepts of nature from a variety of cultural contexts and in different genres of reflection about the topic. We examine historical sources of widespread contemporary concepts of nature as well as historical and contemporary alternative perspectives on nature in philosophy, literature, science, and art. Throughout, students will learn both how to write persuasively and how to use writing as a means for reconsidering one’s own and others’ underlying assumptions about “nature.” The course is discussion-based and writing-intensive, with in-class writing and opportunities for revision of writing.
Miniature Worlds, Miniature Objects
Section H: TTh 11:30 a.m. -12:50 p.m.
This First Year Seminar will explore our desire to represent and envision the world in miniature as well as our ability to comprehend that which is, by nature, small in scale. “Miniature Worlds, Miniature Objects” will ask how and why miniature objects, images, and representations draw us in, inspire a sense of wonder, or ask us to look more closely. The course will interrogate the ways that miniatures embody and constitute cultural, artistic, and scientific forms of knowledge. What information is lost, gained, or distorted when something is made miniature? What do miniature objects reveal about the historical context in which they were created and how has their meaning changed over time? How has the miniature been conceptualized in different places and times? Case studies may include dollhouses and architectural models, theme parks, souvenirs, maps, miniature paintings and books, images of microscopic organisms, and miniature worlds featured in literature and film.
Justice and Reconciliation
Section I: MW 2:30-3:50
Adopting the definition put forward by Hannah Arendt that reconciliation is “a coming to terms with the reality of the past,” this seminar examines the ways we are implicated in history in a manner that extends beyond the categories of victim, perpetrator, and bystander. It starts with the assumption that violence is a central feature of our social world, exploring through a succession of linked concepts and case studies, the ways that individuals, communities, and nations have sought to come to terms with violence. The seminar poses the question what “coming to terms with” means—as justice, as political solidarity or shared responsibility, as repair, and as healing.
Concepts and case studies include: political apology, focusing on Canada’s Indian Residential Schools; arguments for reparation in response to the Tulsa race massacre; the Nuremburg Trial’s legacy in relation to retributive justice and Holocaust memory culture; reparative humanism and forgiveness as an aspect of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and local justice and non-vengeance in Rwanda’s gacaca courts. Drawing from Comparative Genocide Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies, the seminar incorporates a variety of sources and media, emphasizing narrative and first-person accounts to forefront the cost of violence to both victims and perpetrators.
A National Mosaic: Canadian Multiculturalism
Section J: MWF 9-9:50 a.m.
The melting pot and the mosaic are images that have frequently been used to characterize attitudes toward the blending of populations in, respectively, the United States and Canada. While neither notion adequately expresses the complex realities of either country, the difference between these images reflects the existence in Canada of an official multicultural policy recognizing the right of all members of Canadian society to affirm their distinctive cultural traditions. Our task in this course will be to explore this policy and its impacts in Canada, as reflected in a variety of works, ranging from philosophical treatises and historical case studies, to literary texts and creative works. Has this official policy been successful in encouraging greater appreciation for and acceptance of diversity in Canada? Has it empowered marginalized populations to affirm their rights? What work remains to be done? And what alternative models have been born of the successes and failings of multiculturalism? Starting with Charles Taylor's philosophical classic, "The Politics of Recognition" (1992), we will read novels by David Chariandy and Jen Sookfong Lee reflecting immigrant experiences, a cultural essay by Thomas King, and a theatrical work by Tomson Highway. We will also consider recent events in Canada, including the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to address the traumatic legacy of residential school system, the presence of the Black Lives Matter movement north of the border, and continued efforts by French-speaking Canadians to protect their linguistic heritage.
Living a good life when you’re not in the Good Place
Section K: MW 1-2:20 p.m.
As you read this, news headlines are filled with stories about the the Covid pandemic and vaccine and mask mandates, a water shortage and multiple fires in the West which are a direct result of human caused climate change, continued fallout from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and warnings about a genocide in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. We are, in other words, pretty far from living in The Good Place. So what are we to do? How do we try to live good lives when we’re living amidst so much struggle? In this course, we’ll consider this question, using the NBC sitcom The Good Place to help orient our discussions. Some of the topics that we will discuss include what obligations we have toward others and toward addressing structural wrongs present in our society, why and how friendships matter in a good life, the role of trustworthiness in our media-infused lives, and whether it even makes sense to think about the notion of a good life at all. In addition to discussing episodes from The Good Place, we will read a mixture of philosophy (including When Doing the Right Thing is Impossible by Lisa Tessman) and fiction (including short stories by Ursula K. LeGuin and NK Jemisin).
Whose Music? Authenticity, Text, and Musical Experience
Section L: TTh 2:30-3:50 p.m.
Musical activity nearly always requires multiple participants. Some of these participants are obvious (a band might require several instrumentalists, an audience, and a composer/arranger), while others are less so (teachers of both musicians as well as audience members, concert presenters/venues, instrument makers, influential musicians, critics). This seminar will examine different ways in which these participants interact, with a particular emphasis on understanding primacy: who gets emphasized, and why? Who gets left out, and what are the consequences thereof? How do various modes of organizing these interactions ramify? Are there other frameworks through which music might be usefully conceptualized? A variety of music will be addressed, including selections generated by the class. Course activities will include reading, writing, close musical listening, and talking about music. No prior musical instruction or experience required; necessary musical concepts and vocabulary will be introduced in class.
Threads of The Scarlet Letter
Section M: MWF 9-9:50 a.m.
Section Y: MWF 11-11:50 a.m.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter, has proved to be an enduring classic for American readers into the early 21st century. Once a centerpiece of high-school and college syllabi, this seemingly simple tale of a controversial woman, her heartless husband, and her gutless lover turns out to have spoken volumes about its historical precedents and subsequent historic periods. It has spawned pop movies about teenagers’ alienation, avant-garde plays about abortion access in Black American communities, operas about xenophobia and feminist ideas of inclusivity, and manga adaptations. In this class, we will examine your reactions to reading the book, and then study its history and later creative interpretations of it. By learning about the colonial religious controversy that inspired Hawthorne, and also by reading, watching, and listening to adaptations of his story, we will use our writing processes to determine for ourselves how (if at all) this classic tome by a dead white man remains relevant for today’s young readers.
Music and Expressive Intent in Film
Section N: TTh 10-11:20 a.m.
Music plays an important role in the expressive intent of most films. Even without deliberate consideration from its audience, music shapes the expressive meaning behind a film’s scenes. Through its presence or absence, its deployment within the story’s soundscape or outside of it, and its use of pre-existing works loaded with cultural meaning—to name just a few techniques—music often clarifies and augments the expressive intent of films.
This course will explore the ways in which the film industry has deployed music to its expressive ends throughout its history. As we hone our analysis and argumentation skills, we will learn to analyze these expressive techniques and provide evidence that supports our interpretation of the film's meaning. Drawing from nearly a century of films, we will explore blockbuster hits and independent projects, Disney cartoons and live-action thrillers, and we will foreground underrepresented directorial voices. We will engage with the composers and directors of these films through their own writings as we weigh their conceptions of their work against our own analysis. After learning the varied techniques available to modern film composers, students will pick their own films for analysis, identifying the expressive techniques in the music that inform and enhance the film.
Section O: MWF 1-1:50 p.m.
We often talk about “pollution” when discussing the environment. But what is pollution, and how does it impact the environment? Is the problem of pollution getting better or worse? What exactly is “better” and “worse”? Arguably, the problem of pollution began with human civilization. But it was in the 20th century, with the development of modern industry—especially the chemical industry—that our modern conception of pollution began, as well as the reaction to it: the rise of the environmental movement. In this course, we will examine the story of pollution from historical, scientific, and political perspectives. We will examine how risk assessment attempts to grapple with “better” versus “worse”; interrogate how government regulations have fared in reining in pollution, as well as how such approaches have impacted marginalized communities within the US and globally; and look to the what the future might hold for pollution, with the emergence of both circular economies and new threats. We will examine these topics through careful reading of texts from science, social science, and journalistic sources. Students will examine how evidence is used to development arguments, and will engage in writing and library research to develop their own skills in argumentative writing.
Social and Economic Inequality
Section Z: TTh 11:30 a.m. -12:50 p.m.
This section explores themes related to social and economic inequality. By the end of the semester, all participants should have thought, read, conversed, and written about questions such as: What is inequality and how is it measured? Do we live in a more unequal world when compared to our ancestors? Is some sort or amount of inequality desirable in society? If so, what kind of inequality is desirable and how much of it is acceptable? Why does inequality arise or grow? What should be done about inequality and who should do it? We will read academic papers on inequality and observe how inequality is reflected in popular culture – specifically in movies, songs, social media, and literary fiction. The course combines aspects of history, morality, economics, and politics. The goal is for students to conceptually clarify their ideas, think theoretically, test these theories against data, debate with an open and honest mind, and write succinctly about their findings.
Changing the Blueprint of Life
Section P: MW 2:30-3:50 p.m.
What is CRISPR and can it really cure diseases or enable designer babies? What are GMO crops and how are they made? Can genetically engineered mosquitoes safely stop the spread of disease? Will genetic engineering come to revolutionize the 21st century in the same way that computer engineering did in the 20th century? In news stories and popular culture, we hear much discussion and rhetoric about these topics, but are often not provided with actual scientific evidence or contextualization of the issues from multiple perspectives. In this course, we will explore the biological principles that have enabled genetic engineering technologies and the impact that these approaches are having on medicine, agriculture, and the environment. We will also confront the ethical, social, economic, and political implications of the use of genetic engineering solutions to address major problems faced by the inhabitants of planet earth. Students will learn how evidence is used to support arguments and will deepen their own ability to craft evidence-based arguments.
Climate Change: Earth Time, Human Experience
Section Q: TTh 2:30-3:50 p.m.
During the last four decades, numerous scientists and repeated studies have accumulated evidence pointing out the potentially devastating aftereffects of creating energy from underground hydrocarbon resources. Weather instabilities, flooding, and wildfires of the last decade suggest these consequences are now apparent, palpable, and arriving with greater frequency and growing power. Concurrently, art and writing in genres accessible to the majority of the public illuminates messages about human-caused climate change and its damage to ecosystems and their dependent human communities. After a brief exploration of how Earth history contextualizes the evidence of anthropogenic climate change, we examine the styles and efficacy of science-focused writing asking, what makes writing about the science of climate change and its consequences effective? How can art and writing about carbon capture affect public consciousness and societal decision-making? What roles do beauty, anger, nostalgia and suffering have in effective writing? This course explores non-fiction, visual art, poetry, and novels, from indigenous, marginalized, scientific, and global perspectives as a method for developing student writing.
Between Languages: Perspectives on Multilingualism and Language Diversity
Section ZB: TTh 1-2:20 p.m.
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” One could argue, therefore, that knowing a second language expands the limits of your world. This seminar will teach you to make strong analytic arguments both orally and in writing as you explore broad questions about language and multilingualism. What do we mean when we talk about a “native language” or a “mother tongue”? What is the purpose of national or official languages? Why do certain global languages become dominant, and how do minority languages express unique positions on the world? What does being between languages tell us about migration, border crossing, and the complexities of identity? Why do some writers choose to employ two or more languages in their poetry or prose? Do technologies like Google Translate hinder language study, or enhance it? To inform your arguments on these issues, this course will incorporate film and television series in French, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew; indigenous and bilingual poetry from Canada and Central America; and academic research on multilingualism from linguistics, cognitive science, and education. A community-based project will allow you to interview language teachers and learners in local schools. No language other than English is required!
The Social Gaze
Section R: TTh 11:30 a.m. -12:50 p.m.
What is the “social gaze”? How can it help you to better understand the world around you? This course introduces you to themes and concepts that are key to understanding and writing about major social issues. Merging scholarly readings of important thinkers with a selection of classic and contemporary films, documentaries, and TV series, this course encourages you to view real-world situations, such as inequality, mass incarceration, collective movements, the digital revolution, and climate change, through a social gaze, bridging a strong connection between what the scholarly texts tell us about social and cultural issues, and what film, television, and visual media reveal. Thus, visual materials will familiarize you with key features of the social gaze about current social and cultural issues and help you to develop and use your own social gaze. So, you will not only be reading and discussing texts about, for instance, what social deviance is, how social ties are established, or the different types of stigma, but also you will simultaneously “see” how these phenomena occur in the selected visual materials. Throughout the semester, along with class discussions, there will be a series of workshops in which you will work on your analytical and writing skills, from topic selection to argument formulation to writing and editing of a final paper on a social problem of your choice.
Section ZA: TTh 10-11:20 a.m.
Some scholars suggest that because Homer had few literary precursors he looked to the stars for inspiration and influence. More recently, poet Fred Moten cites the composer Cole Porter as a source for his poetry collection The Feel Trio. According to Greil Marcus, even the Sex Pistols did not escape the grasp of influence, as he traces the British punk band's influences back to the Knights of the Round Table. Does this suggest there are no authentically original works of art? What does "original" even mean? How do these concerns shape our ideas about creative influence, identity and inheritance? We will use the study of influence as a lens through which to read and discuss poems, music, paintings and film. In the first part of this seminar, we will identify themes and stylistic patterns between works by a variety of writers, musicians and artists. In the second half, students will be invited to create their own self-directed reading list in order to trace thematic, stylistic, and formal influences of one of their favorite texts from outside of class.
Feeding the Future
Section S: MWF 10-10:50 a.m.
How will “we” feed all our people? This “big question” is crucial to every society and to the planet as a whole. As the world looks at a population of 10 billion in 2050, the question becomes increasingly urgent. This course looks at how (mainly) European and US thinkers have imagined both the problem and its solutions. What kinds of agricultural developments have worked or might work to solve food shortages? What are the unintended consequences of these? Is food supply or distribution the heart of the problem? Or should be completely revamp society? Together we’ll debate solutions and critique arguments on ideas that may include the Green Revolution, regenerative agriculture, “vat meat,” and vertical farming. We’ll read some science fiction writers’ and some historical communist dreamers’ utopian/dystopian visions of the future; we’ll look at how “scientific” or “technological” agriculture has been argued to be the savior (and destruction) of the planet, and we’ll use contemporary scientific and popular food writings to explore the imaginary and the reality of Future Food. Films may include Soylent Green and Tomorrow. Authors may include Paolo Bacigalupa, William Morris, Harriet Friedberg, and Michael Pollan.
Who Watches the Watchmen?
Section U: TTh 1-2:20 p.m. , W 7:30-10 p.m.
In grappling with possible answers to the question posed by its title, students in this course will examine how different retellings of the same story at disparate points in time are both shaped by and reflective of the cultural and historical eras in which they’re produced. We will do so through close readings of Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986), Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009), and HBO’s Watchmen (2019). There are any number of answers to our central question, though not all of them apply to all of our texts as the answers vary depending on a variety of textual and extratextual factors, even as all three texts spin a version of the same tale. Special emphasis will be placed on developing students’ visual literacy as concerns reading a comic book, a movie, and a TV show and utilizing these newly acquired skills to enhance their ability to create textually supported thesis driven essays.
The Fairy Tale: Enchantment and Change
Section V: MWF 10-10:50 a.m.
The term “fairy tale” gets thrown around in all sorts of contexts, usually to describe something that is so perfect that most of us can hardly dream of experiencing it. But the worlds of actual fairy tales are rarely places we’d want to end up: violence is literal; the vulnerable are targeted; and gaps in logic make it difficult to understand how to navigate life safely. And yet, within the dangerous spaces of these enchanted worlds, those who are most vulnerable find ways to resist oppression, finding ways to use magic as a vehicle for social change. We will begin the semester by focusing on the work of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault in order to consider how the fantastical functions as both enforcer and disrupter of cultural norms. We will then look at contemporary and near contemporary retellings of classic tales and the ways in which adjustments in focus and style allow the tales to become containers for questions that resonate within our current time. Writers will include the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, Kate Bernheimer, Maria Tatar, and others. Assignments will include essays, a class presentation, and a final writing portfolio.
Note: Fairy tales often ask readers to engage with narratives that hinge on violence, including sexual violence. I encourage you to contact me (email@example.com) should you have questions about this aspect of the tales as you consider choosing the course.
Freedom Must Invent, or Creating a Self
Section W: TTh 1-2:20 p.m.
What does it mean to create a self? How is a self projected from desire and agency, individual and community, voice and action? How might that creative process and product be given life by and beholden to others? How can impacting a community be expression and nourishment of individual creativity? What happens when the freedom to create is thwarted? Drawing upon Simone de Beauvoir’s “freedom that must invent its goals”, Audre Lorde’s “erotic as power”, and Langston Hughes’s “dream deferred”, this course looks at the challenges, necessities, risks, and satisfactions of project in creating a self. Course texts offer scholarly frameworks and applications for these ideas, as well as narrate a trajectory toward and from awakening desire and selfhood in literature and film. The course will center female-authored portrayals from Kate Chopin, Sarah Orne Jewett, Nella Larsen, and Shirley Jackson, among others. Through analysis and interpretation of these texts, students will build evidence-based arguments about the complex relationships between constructions and contexts of the self, presenting to the class an immersive and sustained hybrid written-creative project of their own.
Section X: MW 1-2:20 p.m.
The term posthumanism suggests uneasiness with the representation of human subjectivity and doubts about the self-evidence of what constitutes human nature. From Donna Haraway, who championed the self as cyborg, to the hit AMC show The Walking Dead, philosophers, scientists, and artists have encouraged us to question our understanding of the human condition and to envision how we might live differently together in a “post”-human world. In our course, we will ask: how did we become posthuman? Or conversely, and more skeptically, are “we” posthuman? What might it mean to live a posthuman life in the “Anthropocene,” this era in which human activity has become the determining factor influencing climate and the environment? In search of answers to these questions, we will take up four figures—cyborgs, animals, objects, and excluded, racialized human “others”—who will help us think critically about the stakes involved in drawing lines between the human and the inhuman, as well as the promises and pitfalls of the posthuman futures we might strive to bring about.