ENGL 115 (F14N08): WRITING AND REMIXING A LIFE

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Location: BLD 345, classroom 103
Class Hours: Tues. & Thurs. 1:00 pm – 2:30 am
Office Hours: Mon. & Wed. 10:30 am-12:00 pm (or by appointment)
Email: paul.watkins@viu.ca
Phone: Local 2118
Office: 345/ 222

“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself”
-Frantz Fanon

This course aims to introduce you to university level writing and research by exploring select essays, works, songs, and speeches from Emerson to Obama, and concerns a question of particular relevance to first-year students: what should guide how we design our lives? The question of your destiny and identity may seem especially open at the beginning of your university career, but one lesson that we can take from the selected readings and exercises of this course is that it never closes. The course suggests that we can only begin to understand the self in relation to others. The beauty of always having our identities sounded in relation to others is that we must concede there is no authenticity: no one way to be a human. Various readings will remind us that one’s identity in relation to a larger community is a project always to be remixed. You will learn how to be better writers and academic listeners as we explore questions of gender, race, form and production, crossing disciplinary as well as media boundaries, and engage in acts of writing, thinking, and re-writing that inform the assimilative work of culture and academic practice. The central objective of this course is to help you understand critical reasoning and persuasion while you develop the reading, thinking, and writing skills required for a scholarly research paper. You will leave this course with a better understanding of academic culture and perhaps with answers to the pertinent questions about how you want to shape your own life (in relation to others), within and beyond the walls of academia.

Texts:

  • Diana Hacker, A Canadian Writer’s Reference (5th, Bedford Books)
  • Robert Bringhurst, What is Reading For? (RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press)
  • English 115: Writing a Life Coursepack / Selected E-readings
  • The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms (Bedford Books)

Evaluation

In-Class Writing Prompts 10%
In-Class Diagnostic Essay 5%
Short Essay (500-750 words) 10%
Seminar Presentation with Three Questions 15%
Research Essay
Annotated Works Cited Assignment 5%
Outline with Thesis Workshop 5%
Final Paper (1500 words) 25%
Final Exam 25%

Assignment Breakdown:

  1. In-Class Writing Prompts (10%): Due Periodically

There will be six in-class writing assignments, but only the top five marks will count. See the syllabus for when these writing assignments take place. We will spend around 10 minutes of a given class on these and they are intended as prompts to test students’ ability to critically engage with the text or texts assigned for that day (prompts for days on which secondary and primary materials are assigned will ask you to think about intersections between these texts). Each assignment is marked out of 10. Please note that your grade is based on quality rather than quantity. Please take time to formulate your ideas rather than writing for the sake of writing. All in-class writings are open book unless otherwise specified by the professor. 

  1. In-Class Diagnostic Essay (5%): Due Sept 11th and Sept 16th

You will be asked to write an in-class essay that responds to the question: What is reading for? Robert Bringhurst suggests that oral traditions are comparable to written ones, but then asserts that words on the screen are never as meaningful as those in ink. By contrast, in “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine: Hip-Hop Pedagogy as Composition,” Jeff Rice contends that we can venture to undertake critical projects grounded on the logic and style of hip-hop, essentially making academic writing more accessible and playful for students. Rice emphasizes the intertextual and hypertextual nature of reading, showing how texts synthesize meaning, opening up the possibilities of digital reading, digital archiving, and e-literature. You will be asked to consider both Bringhurst’s and Rice’s arguments and to, most importantly, formulate your own position in regards to reading in the twenty first century. The in-class portion on September 16th serves as a draft that you will take home and edit. A finalized typed-up short essay (along with the original in-class version) is due on September 16th. More details will be provided during our second meeting together.

  1. Short Essay (10%): Due Sept 30th 

Hip-Hop music and culture is a chiaroscuro of social consciousness and mainstream commodification, a chameleonesque art form that adapts to every environment it encounters, a personal saviour and communitarian mobilizer born out of a disenfranchised youth movement in the postindustrial urban nightmare of America’s neglected ghettos. The short research essay (500-750 words) asks you to research and write about the origins of hip-hop music, or to focus on a particular “hip-hop” moment. You are to include four sources using proper MLA citation, including two book sources, one digital source, and one recording. This assignment will teach you the value of summary, how to formulate a thesis, and incorporate evidence from multiple sources. There will be a 45-minute Workshop for short essay peer review practice on September 25th.

More details will be provided in class.

  1. Seminar Presentation: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and University Writing (15%): Oct 14th and Oct 16th

The purpose of this exercise is to understand how to conduct university research and collaborate in groups. You are to present 10 minutes of material with an additional 5 minutes at the end of the presentation for class discussion. You will be graded on clarity, comprehension, class discussion, and your method of analysis and approach.

In “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine: Hip-Hop Pedagogy as Composition,” Jeff Rice contends that we can venture to undertake critical projects grounded on the logic and style of hip-hop: projects, for example, that apply the notion of sampling (cut, paste, whatever). For Rice, the notion of whatever, encompasses “an indifferent or oppositional student reaction to course demand” (457) that stems from cognitive dissonance. It is from this space of cognitive dissonance—the whatever—that Rice suggests as an opportune moment for the “invention strategy for research-based argumentative writing” (453). Ultimately, hip-hop provides an understanding of how the process of sampling and re-mixing need not only apply to hip-hop, but that, in fact, as a general methodology, hip-hop provides a framework for the research essays we will be writing in this course. The hip-hop technique of sampling demonstrates how we can piece together seemingly unlike artifacts/evidence in order to support a larger argument and formulate new knowledge.

On our third meeting, we will read Rice’s “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine” and gloss the article for the argumentative approach Rice advocates we perform as engaged scholars. In groups of 4-5 you will present on a specific year before 2010 and dig through archives (in the library, on the internet) for moments that stand out (cuts, samples, whatever moments) and find at least three samples, each from a different discipline (e.g. film, music, literature, sports, science, technology, disasters and responses to them, and so on) and/or approach (text, sound, image) to include in your presentation. Thinking of how these moments intersect and juxtapose one another, along with the dissimilarity of these “cuts,” will allow you to create a “mix.” For example, you could focus on technology in relation to a literary text, a musical example, and a scientific innovation and see what might bind these disparate movements/moments/temporal sources together. Let’s take 2004: Facebook was launched; Scientists in South Korea announce the cloning of 30 human embryos; Kanye West starts experimenting with Auto-Tune on College Dropout; and Vancouver poet Wayde Compton experiments with turntable poetry in Performance Bond. What do theses samples tell us about how the world was changing in 2004? More detailed examples and instructions will be provided in class.

As a group you will pose 2-3 questions to the class, and hand in 3 questions with all group members’ names. You might want to consider how popular culture shapes our lives—in the process making visible the tenuous borders between academic and popular culture. The idea is to spark discussion rather than tell the class what they should know. Open ended, thought provoking questions are encouraged. Creativity through media, performance, or whatever else is encouraged but not necessary. Please ensure that such creative ventures are tasteful and serve as learning aids rather than detracting from the material’s focus. All members of the group will share the presentation mark. Presentations will be graded based on clarity, comprehension, class discussion, analysis and approach (creative or interactive). 

There will be a sign up sheet in class to ensure each group focuses on a separate year.

  1. Annotated Bibliography (5%): Due Oct. 23

In preparation of your final paper, you will create three entries for an annotated bibliography. You may choose any three critical texts—articles, books, films, recordings—but at least one of these must be a book. Each entry must consist of a bibliographic citation, in MLA format, for the text you’ve chosen, and a one (max two) paragraph annotation, in which you explain the relevance of this text to your chosen essay topic, defining its theoretical position(s). How would this text be useful to you in the critical project you have undertaken for this course? What are its key points? Going back to our discussion on being engaged close readers, what do you take from it?

  1. Long Essay Workshop (5%): On Nov 13th

You will come to class with the introductory paragraph that will provide your essay’s projected argument (including a thesis). You will also include an outline that shows a critical engagement with both secondary criticism and the primary text(s) you have chosen. On a second page you will provide a works cited list of four to five sources that extend beyond the assigned readings for the course. You do not need to include any of these sources in your final essay, but they should clearly pertain to your argument and/or focus. You will take this outline to class for a workshop in which you will give and receive feedback and advice from fellow students. We will cover best practices in class leading up this assignment. An unmarked version of your essay’s argument (essentially a proposal) will be handed (or emailed) in to me at the beginning of class. More detailed instructions will be provided.

  1. Final Paper (25%): Due Nov 25th

Since we have been discussing identity in relation to various communities, periodic crises of the modern world, gender, race, technology, self-determination, nationalism, and so on, your final essay asks you to write a research essay on a topic of your choosing, so long as it relates to one of our core themes. Essentially, you are encouraged to research a global issue or situation that affects you, or a larger community of people. Identity remains, as Stuart Hall contends, a progression never completed, always in process: “actual identities are about questions of using the resources of history, language, and culture in the process of becoming rather than being” (“Introduction” 4). While our identities then grant us the potential for boundless self-determination, they also expose us to manipulation and potentially subjugation to a variety of historical and social forces (political, economic, technological). Hopefully this course will show you how literary study and academic research and writing have much in common with designing a life, even helping you think through the complex problems we face today.

The final research essay will be around 5 pages in length, not including a works cited list. You are required to actively engage with three secondary sources in the body of this research paper—course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments.

8. Final Exam (25%): TBA

Half grammar/ half essay 

Class Schedule:

Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term progresses.

A few changes to the schedule: Oct 28th material on Macklemore added to Oct. 23 class. Kanye West moved to Oct 28th along with Writing Prompt #5. 12 Years a Slave removed and Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress added to Nov 4 (chapter one) and Nov 6th (chapter two). We will now discuss chapters 1,2,3, and 5 from Wright’s A Short History of Progress. See below.

Sept. 2
Introduction; Course Outline; Standards and expectations; departmental grading policies.

Sept. 4
Approaching an essay assignment; Reading to form an interpretation (541-547); short essay assignment due Sept. 30: A Canadian Writer’s Reference (WR) “Planning” 3-6
Bedford Glossary (BG), reader-response criticism (425-429)
Discuss: Robert Bringhurst, What is Reading?
Writing Prompt #1

Sept. 9                       
Intro to critical thinking, reading, and writing; SASE (Summarize, Analyze, Synthesize, Evaluate); A Canadian Writer’s Reference (WR) “Academic Writing: Writing  About Texts” (67-77)
Discuss: Rice, “Hip-Hop Machine” (coursepack)
BG “Hyptertext” 232

Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads”

Sept. 11
Discuss research essay; Inclusive language: WR 162-64; Summary versus synthesis; Discuss Bringhurst and Rice
Short In-Class Essay (30 minutes)

Sept. 16
WR 153-58; in-class exercise (W2-1 & W3-1); BG “transcendentalism” 523
Discuss Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance
Some time devoted to Group Presentation work
In-Class Essay Due

Sept. 18
Using appropriate language: WR 159-62; 165-69; in-class exercise
Discuss Thomas King, “You’ll Never believe What happened” (online)
BG “folk tale” 185-86
Writing Prompt #2

Sept. 23
Introduction to using and evaluating sources: WR 346-57.
Documenting a single source for short essay assignment
Discuss: Margaret Atwood, “A letter to America” (online)

Sept. 25
Intro to argumentation / persuasion: logical, emotional, and ethical appeals; WR 78-91; BG “rhetoric”
Discuss Barack Obama, “Yes We Can” (online)
45-minute Workshop for short paper (peer review practice)      

     

Sept. 30           
Short formal five-paragraph essay due (500-750 words)
Evaluating arguments: WR 92-100
Logical fallacies in-class exercise
BG “race” 424-425
Discuss: Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” (online)
Writing Prompt #3

Oct. 2
What is plagiarism? WR 357-65 and 376-79
Summary / Paraphrase/ Quotation
Integrating sources using MLA-style documentation: WR 379-98 (and skim WR 398-428 ); in-class exercise; BG “empathy” 138
Discuss “David Suzuki, “The Pain of Animals” (David Suzuki Reader, VIU online)

Oct. 7
Rhetorical analysis as it applies to research essay; Writing formal outlines: WR 12-14
Discuss Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Christmas Sermon for Peace” (coursepack)
BG “anaphora” 19-20 and “oration” 356-57
Writing Prompt #4

Oct. 9
Proposal for research essay due
Library orientation with VIU research librarian in Lab (VIU Library (Building 305, Room 508).
Read sample student research paper: WR 435-40

Oct. 14
Group Presentations Day 1 (Groups 1-3)
Remaining time for Annotated Works Cited

Oct. 16
Group Presentations Day 2 (Groups 4-6)
Remaining time for Annotated Works Cited

Oct. 21
Avoiding fragments and run-ons: WR 212-22; in-class exercise
30 minutes for in-class Research Bibliography
Discuss: Ralph Ellison, “Living with Music” (3-14, online)

Oct. 23
Annotated Research Bibliography (and copies of sources) due
In-class exercise G5-1 and G6-2 in-class exercise (run on/ fragments)
BG “queer theory” 420-423
Discuss Judith Butler on gender.
Discuss: Macklemore, “Same Love” and Angel Haze, “Same Love

Oct. 28
Exercise incorporating secondary sources; citation review and incorporating multiple sources; WR “Revising” 20-28
Discuss: Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves” (lyrics), Nina Simone’s version, and Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” (poem/article)
Wiring Prompt #5

Oct. 30

Workshop day for research paper—check-ins on research, incorporating sources, developing/clarifying thesis statements, and drafting outlines.

Nov. 4
Paragraphing: WR 32-45
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (I)

Audio of A Short History.

Nov. 6
WR, The Comma (259-269)
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (II)

Nov. 11
Remembrance Day, university closed

Nov. 13
Peer-Review Workshop for research paper

Nov. 18
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (III)

Nov. 20
Review apostrophe usage: WR 278-81; exercise p4-1
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (V)
Writing Prompt #6

Nov. 25
Research Essay Due
Watch Surviving Progress 

Nov. 27
Finish and discuss Surviving Progress 
Final Mix. Review terms, reading, and prep for final exam.

Featured image from, here.

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Ph.D. Professor. Writer. Musician. A space for riffings on film, literature, and music.

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