ENGL 115 (S15D50): STORIES, IDENTITY, AND PROGRESS

PAUL WATKINS

Location: Cowichan (700), classroom 220
Class Hours: Wed. 4:30 pm– 7:20 pm
Office Hours: Mon. 12:30-2:30 pm or Thurs. 1-2 pm
(or by appointment)
Email: paul.watkins@viu.ca
Phone: Local 3543
Office: 306

“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are”
-Thomas King

This course aims to introduce you to university level writing and research by exploring select essays, stories, songs, speeches, and documentaries, and concerns a question of particular relevance to first-year students: what should guide how we navigate our place in the world? The course suggests that we can only begin to understand the self in relation to other cultures and histories. You will learn how to be better writers and academic listeners as we explore questions of storytelling, history, identity politics, popular culture, and social protest, crossing disciplinary as well as media boundaries, and engage in acts of writing, thinking, and re-writing (remix) that inform the assimilative work of culture and academic practice. The stories we tell matter and shape our reality. One of the major stories that we continue to tell ourselves is the story of progress. We will examine what defines progress, relating questions of rapid population growth and technological development to the practice of university reading and writing. In this course students will develop their voice through written and technological communication skills, analyze discourse, engage with pertinent social issues, and learn how various rhetorical strategies, particularly juxtaposition and point of view, are essential to developing a critical voice.

Texts:

  • Diana Hacker, A Canadian Writer’s Reference (5th ed., Bedford Books)
  • Robert Bringhurst, What is Reading For? (RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press)
  • Thomas King, The Truth About Stories (Anansi)
  • Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (Anansi)

Evaluation:

Participation 5%
Online Writing Prompts 10%
Short Essay (500-750 words) 10%
Open Book Midterm 15%
Creative Read-Mix / Read-Write 5%
Research Essay
Annotated Bibliography 5%
Essay Workshop 5%
Final Paper (1500-1800 words) 25%
Final Exam 20%

Assignment Breakdown:

  1. Participation (5%)

Since discussion is an important part of this class, active participation and critical thinking about the assigned reading is fundamental to the course. Careful and engaged reading will allow you to achieve success and will prepare you to pose questions, raise problems, and engage with your peers during class discussions. I am an ardent advocate for the dialogical process of pedagogy, and believe that my students should have an equal opportunity to express their opinions with their peers and instructors.

  1. Writing Prompts (10%): Due Periodically

There will be six in-class writing prompts, but only the top five marks will count. See the syllabus for when these writing assignments take place. We will spend around 10-12 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. Short Diagnostic Essay (10%): Due March. 4th 

Option A:

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 three sources using proper MLA or APA citation, including one book source, 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.

Option B:

You are to respond 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. You must incorporate evidence from Bringhurst and Rice (and properly source them) and you are required to bring in one additional source of your choice.

More details will be provided during our second meeting together.

  1. Open Book Midterm (15%): March 18th

There will be an in-class essay on Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories. Details will be provided in class closer to the date.

  1. Creative Read-Mix / Read-Write (5%): Due in Dropbox by April 24th 

“I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that kind which is amusing and poetic; not the cold mathematical kind… the best article on a painting could be a sonnet or an elegy” (Charles Baudelaire, “What is the use of Criticism?”).

Taking up the above Baudelaire epigraph, you are challenged to think about the material being discussed beyond the typical classroom setting and hermeneutic approach. This assignment asks you to remix any class discussion (or assigned work) and turn it into a new creation. As Baudelaire states, the best way to critique a work might be a poem, or a painting; or perhaps, given the age we live in: a song, a DJ mix, a creative journal, a one act play, a twitter intervention, a photography project, a podcast, or a blog. If you have a blog, you might decide to remix a writing prompt with relevant hyperlinks and images. If you decide on an entirely written response, I am looking for around 350-500 words. There must be some written component (at least 200 words) that explains the efficacy and process of your creative read-mix / read-write. 60% of the mark will be for the creative piece and 40% of the mark will be for the analysis.

  1. Annotated Bibliography (5%): Due April 8th

In preparation of your final paper, you will create three entries for an annotated bibliography. You are to choose three critical texts—articles, books, films, recordings—but two must be academic andone must be a book (digital books are fine). 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%): Due April 15th 

You will come to class with the introductory paragraph that will provide your essay’s projected argument (with a thesis). You will also include an outline (in point form with topic sentences) that shows a critical engagement with secondary criticism. 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 in (or uploaded to Dropbox) to me at the beginning of class. More detailed instructions will be provided.

  1. Final Paper (25%): Due April 22nd

Option A:

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. As we’ve observed throughout this semester, 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.

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. Your final paper requires you select a year before 2011 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 essay. 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; and Kanye West starts experimenting with Auto-Tune on College Dropout. What do theses samples tell us about how the world was changing in 2004? More detailed examples and instructions will be provided in class.

Option B:

Don’t say I never give you any options!

Since we have been discussing stories, identity, and progress in relation to various communities, periodic crises of the modern world, civilizations, race, technology, and so on, you also have the option to write a research essay on a topic of your choosing, so long as it relates to one of our core themes of identity, stories, or progress. 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 aid in helping you think through the complex problems we face today.

The final research essay will be around 5 pages in length (1500-1800 words), not including a works cited list. You are required to actively engage with three academic 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.

Note: I am open to the idea of you writing a research essay vis-à-vis a digital platform such as a WordPress or Prezi. Before undertaking such an endeavor, please see me in my office hours to discuss strategies and to obtain approval.

  1. Final Exam (20%): April 29th

Class Schedule:

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

Feb. 4
Introduction; Course Outline; Standards and expectations; departmental grading policies; listening to and discussion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “A Christmas Sermon Peace”; A Canadian Writer’s Reference (WR) “Planning” 3-6; reader-response criticism; Reading to form an interpretation (541-547).

Feb. 11
Approaching an essay assignment; Begin discussion of short essay assignment due March 4.; Intro to critical thinking, reading, and writing; A Canadian Writer’s Reference (WR) “Academic Writing: Writing About Texts” (67-77); Using appropriate language: WR 159-62; 165-69; Discuss: Robert Bringhurst, What is Reading For?
Writing Prompt #1

Feb. 18
Hypertext; Discuss research essay; Inclusive language: WR 162-64; Summary  versus synthesis; WR 153-58.

Discuss: Rice, “Hip-Hop Machine” and Bringhurst.
Discuss: Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves” (lyrics), Nina Simone’s version, and Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” (poem/article)
Writing Prompt #2 

(lyrics).

Feb. 25
IN CLASS SESSION AGAIN. WRITING PROMPT TO TAKE PLACE IN CLASS. Introduction to using and evaluating sources: WR 346-57; Constructing reasonable arguments WR 78-91
Discuss: Thomas King Part I and II (pg. 1-60).
Writing Prompt #3 

All King audio, here.

March 4th
Short formal five-paragraph essay due (500-750 words); Evaluating arguments: WR 92-100 (Logical fallacies).
Discuss: King Part III and IV (61-119).

March 11 
Avoiding fragments and run-ons: WR 212-22
King Part V. Watch documentary film, Reel Injun.
Writing Prompt #4

March 18
Midterm. Finish film and discussion.

March 25
Library orientation with VIU research librarian in Lab. Room 1:30 @ 4:30 pm. Read sample student research paper: WR 435-40
Workshop day for research paper—check-ins on research, incorporating sources, developing/clarifying thesis statements, and drafting outlines.

April 1
Paragraphing: WR 32-45; WR “Revising” 20-28
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part I and II
Writing Prompt #5

Audio of A Short History.

April 8
Review apostrophe usage: WR 278-81; WR, The Comma (259-269)
Discuss: Wright Part III and IV.
Annotated Bibliography Due.

April 15
Peer-Review Workshop for research paper
Discuss: Wright Part V.
Writing Prompt #6.

April 22
Watch documentary film Surviving Progress; exam review.
Essay Due.

Creative Read-Mix / Read-Write is due in Dropbox by April 24th (by 5pm).

April 29
Final Exam

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

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