As part of Georgia Tech’s Serve Learn Sustain Initiative, I have recently contributed an overview of “Understanding Local History and Contexts” to the SLS Big Ideas resource page. I have also written about how to teach avant-garde literature in the composition classroom. In short, I argue that confusing, disorienting texts by authors and artists like Gertrude Stein, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Jenny Holzer defamiliarize everyday strategies for communicating, which helps students understand the relationship between form and content.
COURSE DESCRIPTIONS AND SYLLABI
Taste: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Spring 2017 / Syllabus
There’s no accounting for taste. Or is there? In this course, we will analyze and contextualize the concept of taste, linking our sensory perceptions to our shared beliefs about beauty, value, and social hierarchy. Throughout the semester, we will also analyze and practice strategies for communicating your ideas to a range of audiences across a variety of platforms. In particular, we will think about what modes of communication best enable you to articulate arguments. Using a WOVEN approach to communication that considers the interrelationship between Written, Oral, Visual, Electronic, and Nonverbal modes, this course will give you practice in analyzing the rhetorical strategies of others and discerning the most successful strategies for articulating your own ideas. Our texts will help us engage a series of questions: where do our beliefs about the delicious and the disgusting, the beautiful and the ugly, come from? Is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder? Who is trashy, who’s classy, and why? What is the relationship between aesthetic value and social power? What criteria should we use to evaluate art and literature? How do you explain what makes something attractive or repulsive? How is taste related to beliefs about race, gender, sexuality, and class? What’s the deal with food porn?
Resting on a founding assumption that the legacy of slavery has shaped US culture, this class will explore how writers, artists, and performers respond to and remake that legacy. Students will analyze contemporary representations of the antebellum past in literature and art, and will develop critical thinking skills by researching the historical context that writers and artists respond to in the current moment. The course is structured around a few key questions: how are contemporary communities shaped by the legacy of US slavery? How do writers and artists reimagine the traumatic past in order to comment on contemporary issues of injustice? And finally, how have communities in Atlanta framed the legacy of slavery as historians, artists, and activists? By analyzing the rhetorical strategies and implicit arguments artists and writers make about how to represent a past that is at once inaccessible and immediate, we will hone cultural literacy and expand our repertoire of of interpretive and creative strategies. The course will consider the affordances of creative genres for responding to the social and material legacy of slavery and the ways representations shape our understanding of the contemporary world.
This course will give you practice in analyzing the rhetorical strategies of others and discerning the most successful strategies for articulating your own ideas. We will develop our own rhetorical and analytic skills by exploring a central question: what is an avant-garde? That is, what are the unwritten rules about what literature, music, and art can be? And how do artists break those rules to create new possibilities for communication? In this course, we will explore the rule-breaking work of poets, fiction writers, filmmakers, and visual artists in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century. As we consider different strategies artists use to reimagine what art can be, we will also explore how artists communicate new ideas to their audiences in unconventional ways. By analyzing how avant-garde creators make claims through multimodal communication, we will also make our own claims through non-traditional communicative strategies.
Gender and Sexuality, Spring 2014 / Syllabus
Over the course of your lifetimes, U.S. culture has undergone remarkable shifts in the everyday experience of sex and gender: it is more and more common for straight couples to live together before marriage. It’s also increasingly common for them to divorce later. The Defense of Marriage Act, which made sure that gay marriages would not be recognized by the federal government, has been instated and overturned. Ellen DeGeneres came out on TV. Will and Grace paved the way for Kurt and Blaine. Transgender communities are increasingly visible. Reality competition shows run the gamut from The Bachelor to RuPaul’s Drag Race. In this course, we will look at writing about gender and sexuality, working towards an understanding of the role writing itself plays in the beliefs we share (or don’t) about what men and women are, what counts as sex, and the importance of sexuality to our identities.
The American Dream, Fall 2013, Fall 2012 / Syllabus
Building on what you already do well as writers, this course will focus on formulating academic problem statements; writing for specific audiences; developing research topics and writing research papers; responding to written arguments and developing your own argument; discussing and editing other people’s writing; editing and revising your own writing; and controlling a range of prose styles. The course theme will help us develop paper topics and focus class discussion; our object of study is the idea of “The American Dream.” We will trace this concept from its coinage in the 1930s to the 2008 financial crisis. In addition to considering contemporary issues such as US higher education through the lens of the American Dream, we will examine the ways cultural figures from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Martin Luther King have critiqued and reimagined the concept in order to make claims about what American life should be. By the end of the semester, students will have a working definition of this concept and be able to make arguments about the role it plays in American culture and politics.
American Girls, Spring 2013 / Syllabus
From Honey Boo Boo to Hannah Horvath, girls are having a moment in American culture. Our class will look at literary representations of girls and femininity across the last century in order to wrestle with a few questions: how has the concept of girlhood changed over the last century? How does the concept of girlhood or girlishness shape American culture? What does the figure of the girl reveal about how we think about gender, labor, independence, and sexuality? In the last hundred years, women entered the voting booth and the workforce, but they also sat down on the psychoanalyst’s sofa and went to the mall. The novels, plays, and poems on our syllabus will help us map the role of femininity in these many social changes. In doing so, the course will also provide an overview of 20th century literary development in the United States. Focusing on both the formal features and cultural politics of our readings, our class will help students develop close reading and critical writing skills. Writing assignments will supplement our class discussions: short essays will focus on formal analysis and a longer assignment will ask students to explore the relationship between one work and its broader social context.
Queer Literary Studies, Fall 2011 / Syllabus
This course is designed to be an introduction to queer theory through close reading and critical writing. A major goal of the class will be to discern what makes a literary work “queer” and what it means to read “queerly.” Through close formal analysis of plays, novels, and short fiction, students will develop a definition of queer reading practices. We will supplement our readings with short selections from landmark works of queer theory in order to link literary forms to the development of gay and lesbian identity and the critique of heteronormativity. Complementing our exploration of queer methodology, writing assignments will encourage students to think critically about how culture shapes our gender, racial, and sexual identities and, in turn, ways those identities emerge in—and are challenged by—cultural forms. By the end of the course, students will be able to map the relationships between fictional representation, gender and sexual identity, and conceptions of the modern self.