I’m taking a pedagogy class as part of my PhD program at Emory. Here’s a draft of the syllabus I’m writing for that class, a class that would be Interdisciplinary Studies 201: Special Topics. It’s rough and unpolished, but it’s also, now, public.
we make america
CULTURAL INTERVENTIONS AND EXPRESSIVE SCHOLARSHIP
You may have been taught to write without an “I,” to remove your voice from your argument, to write objectively. You may have been taught otherwise to write subjectively, to hold writing as a function of self-expression, to see the writing of others as perspectives, opinions. My first request to you is to suspend your disbelief of writing as an action that can be so sundered. My second is that you forget everything you’ve ever learned about writing.
These requests are impossible requests. The struggle we will have trying to fulfill them is the heart of our inquiry, pointing toward another anxious term: culture.
If you’ve ever talked to another person, read a book, watched a television, listened to something broadcast (or narrowcast), etc., you’ve known what is like to feel the impalpable pressure of culture. You might have an indication that it is a legion thing, something fragmented, sometimes widespread, sometimes a delimitation of groups and behaviors and ideologies. You probably have heard people talk about “today’s culture” and how it is fallen or at least different than “yesterday’s culture.” You probably have heard that there might be a distinction between CULTURE and NATURE, and that there are many smart people who believe one or the other is responsible for the things we do. You might see culture as a point of local pride, a home for people who don’t live at home, or the thing that distinguishes certain people from the people around them. You might see culture as a divisive thing, an apple named Eris, something people war about. As with writing, I have a request for you: believe everything you’ve ever heard about culture.
Another impossible task, but one that inches towards what kinds of things you’ll learn and experience and say over the next fifteen weeks.
In this class, you will
- figure out the stakes for writing, how it is both a function and producer of culture, and practice it individually (journaling, blogging) and collectively (projects)
- seek the ever receding origin of THE WAY THINGS ARE today, here
- read carefully with equal measures joy and skepticism a few texts, works, and movements that have stood against the conventions of their time and place
- have conversations, make friends and enemies, develop a collaborative set of goals and projects that will be meaningful to you and others
In fifteen weeks, you will be able to
- answer questions like “Why should anyone care about writing/culture/liberal arts?” intelligently but never with absolute certainty
- understand how to identify the forces at work on your imagination and how to FIGHT BACK
- write—and I mean this loosely—with eloquence and potency things that can disrupt
- make america (or any other place) with others
What is the point of scholarship anyway? Why write (or do anything that expresses)? In this course, we will interrogate what a culture might be, what it means to be a part of one, how one comes to be. We will not study American culture as something that is a fact or a list of characteristics, but as process that we are a part of. And so, this class will undergo a journey, sometimes literally, of cultural landscapes in the United States—including phenomena like subversive art, protests, and reinstitution of historical traditions. Possible focal points include hacker culture, occupy, tumblr-core hip-hop, performance art, martial arts, and broadcast media. This class will be workshop and experience driven, where we share our work and author things collaboratively. There will be field trips. Students will be treated as coconspirators and will be able to shape what instances of cultural intervention we dive into.
possible texts, works, artifacts, and experiences
Woman, Native, Other, Trinh T. Minh-ha
Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar Games
D.A.I.S.Y. rage, Kitty Pryde
Promethea. Allen Moore
“Creolization as Cultural Continuity and Creativity in a Postdiluvian New Orleans and Beyond,” Nick Spitzer
HTMLGiant, posts by Seth Oelbaum
Hung Ga Chinese New Year celebration and martial arts training
Gender Trouble, Judith Butler
A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
A Hacker Manifesto, McKenzie Wark
The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau
Shoplifting from American Apparel, by Tao Lin
Pop Corpse, by Lara Glenum
All that Glitters…, Fahamu Pecou
Atlanta Prison Farm
Vectors online scholarly journal
Last Week on Earth with Ben Gleib, Ben Gleib
TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, Hakim Bey
(These texts are some introductory suggestions. The “theory” books will be the basis for excerpted selections for reading. The events or situations will be multimedia experiences that will require students to take part in the action when possible. Also, I plan on instituting the method of choosing a few key topics/texts and having the students decide with me for the rest, according to my schedule of what kinds of things we will be talking about when)
what is mainstream
In this unit, we will examine things that may be connected to “mainstream” culture, specifically looking at cultural products that come from corporate, government, religious, and familial institutions. Possible places to focus: economic policy (as received by television), MTV Video Music Awards, racial attitudes (from, say, films and tv shows), and the concept of the “All-American” family.
Counterpoints might be Hacker Manifesto, Kitty Pryde, Fahamu’s art, GTA.
In this unit, we will examine how the local negotiates the mainstream. Possible foci: Cajun Music, Foodie culture, NATURE (camping field trip???).
Counterpoints: traditional Chinese Martial Arts in the USA (and maybe Chinese New Year celebrations in Atlanta (FIELD TRIP!), Atlanta Prison Farm (FIELD TRIP), Foodie culture.
Actually this section will be almost all field trips.
In this unit, we will look at examples of scholars and artists protesting. Foci: Occupy, VICE magazine, punk rock.
Counterpoints: DragonCon, pro wrestling, indie lit (Tao Lin, Lara Glenum).
In this unit, we will try to place ourselves inside of culture. While we will still read things, we will be focused on “writing,” both as a class, in small collaborations, and individually. We will be our own counterpoints.