Inventing the Self

November 21: Nancy K. Miller’s Breathless

November 4th, 2013 · Comments Off on November 21: Nancy K. Miller’s Breathless


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Annotated Bibliographies

October 29th, 2013 · Comments Off on Annotated Bibliographies

The next phase of your research projects will be to compile an annotated bibliography–a list of sources you plan to cite, with a short explanation of what roles they’ll play in your essay.

Cornell University’s library offers a good overview of the genre of the annotated bibliography. It’s worth checking out.

For your annotated bibliographies, you should do the following:

1. Create a full list of works you will cite, in alphabetical order, following MLA Guidelines–or the citation style best suited to your discipline  (most likely APA or Chicago).

2. Write a few, concise sentences that explain how and why these sources will help you make your argument. For example, a source might help you establish motive or illustrate a point; it might provide background information or a counter-argument you want to address. Describe the source’s content as well as its functions in your essay. It may or may not be relevant to offer some details about the author (field of study, previous works, status, etc.).

3. Name the discipline and methodology of the source–and explain how and why these impinge on the role it will play in your project.

4. Conclude each entry by listing which of Mark Gaipa’s “8 Ways to Engage Sources” seem relevant for the source at hand. Feel free also to devise your own categories if none of Gaipa’s seems to apply.

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Agnes’s Jacket

October 23rd, 2013 · Comments Off on Agnes’s Jacket

The title of Gail Hornstein’s book refers to a jacket that belonged to Agnes Richter, who was an inmate of the Hubertusberg Psychiatric Institution near Dresden, Germany. It was probably some time in the 1990s when she embroidered the jacket in a script that has beguiled art historians and language experts, who haven’t been able to decipher what seems to be some kind of narrative logic in the embroidered words.

Agnes Richter's jacket. The Prinzhorn Collection, University of Heidelberg.

Agnes Richter’s jacket. The Prinzhorn Collection, University of Heidelberg.

Hornstein describes the jacket as a condundrum that symbolizes the difficult of understanding the first-person experience of people diagnosed with mental illness–which is, of course, the project of her book:

Agnes Richter’s jacket has only rarely been displayed to the public, but its mysterious text has long fascinated art historians. The language appears to resemble Deutsche Schrift, a nineteenth-century cursive script now unintelligible even to highly literate German speakers. However, even experts in this and other arcane scripts find it difficult to make out the letters, many of which are jagged or broken. In addition, much of Agnes’s text is on the inside of the jacket, and these parts, having been worn against the skin, are now faint or unraveling. The significance of the many other colors–blue, red, orange, yellow–remains unknown. Nor is it at all clear where to locate the beginning, middle, or end of the narrative, or to decide the direction in which it should be read: Neck to waist? In circular fashion around the sleeves? Inside first, then outside? (ix)

Later in her introduction, Hornstein asks “What  if the mad are trying to tell us something?What if their ‘ravings’ contain important information? Just because they’re difficult to deciper doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make them out” (xiii). Of course, if the embroidery is a transcription of Richter’s suffering–or of voices she heard–it’s likely that it her “narrative” has beginning, middle, or end. Nonetheless, Hornstein claims, “everyone who sees the jacket thinks sense can be made of it” (x).

People can see the jacket because Hans Prinzhorn (1866 – 1933), a German psychiatrist and art historian, collected art created by inmates of various asylums in German, Switzerland, and Austria. The Prinzhorn Collection houses and displays his collection.



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Guidelines for Feedback on Proposals

October 18th, 2013 · Comments Off on Guidelines for Feedback on Proposals

Write each member of your writing group a short letter in response to his or her proposal draft. Be sure to address the following questions in your letter:

1. Has the writer included two or three paragraphs and included the elements listed in the proposal guidelines (an explanation of the project topic and genre, a list of texts, and a description of methodology, and a research plan)?

2. What is most intriguing about the project?

3. Is there anything about the proposal that confuses you or leaves you wanting to know more?

4. Does the project seem manageable? Can the writer accomplish the aims s/he articulates? Are the methodology and the genre a good fit for the questions and texts the writer proposes to explore?

5. Can you suggest any sources, ideas, or questions that might be helpful to the writer? If not, can you suggest ways to focus it further?

6. Which of the  paragraphs is strongest? Which is weakest?

7. Is the writer’s sentence-level prose clear and readable? Is it free of typos and errors with regard to punctuation and grammar?

Bring this letter to class. We’ll workshop your drafts in class, and you’ll exchange letters toward the end of the workshop.

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October 16th, 2013 · Comments Off on Proposals

In two or three paragraphs, your proposal should introduce your topic, identify your genre, and articulate the intellectual or scholarly motives for the project. (See Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Academic Essay” on motive.) Your proposal might include a hypothesis, but that’s not necessary.

Be sure to include the following (in whatever order is logical within the framework of your proposal):

1. A list of texts you plan to discuss in the project.

2. A description of the methodology you plan to use–and why you plan to use it. You might want to name works whose methodologies will be models for you.

3. A practical research plan–how you will find the material you need: academic databases, bibliographies of works on your topic, course readings, readings for other courses, useful online materials, etc.

Research Databases

The Graduate Center has subscriptions to a variety of electronic databases that will help you with your research.

Three databases will be especially helpful for your projects: The MLA International Bibliography (which will help you find articles about literature), PsychInfo (which will help you find articles about psychology), and EBSCO (a general database that encompasses many fields of study).

The second is the library’s collection of electronic journals. Project MUSE and JSTOR will be especially helpful, but you might also find PsycArticles and Psychology Collection useful.

Of course, you should also use the library’s online catalog to search for books.


You’ll submit a draft of your proposal to me and to your writing group by Friday, October 18 (via email). We’ll workshop these proposals in class on October 23. Based on the feedback you receive, you’ll revise and submit your final proposal to me by Wednesday, October 30.

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Clarissa Dalloway and Lowboy

October 15th, 2013 · Comments Off on Clarissa Dalloway and Lowboy

I thought it might be interesting to compare John Wray’s representation of Will’s psychotic experience in Lowboy with that of Septimus Smith, the  shellshocked character in her novel Mrs. Dalloway. This is a famous passage from Woolf’s novel,  in which Clarissa and the shellshocked Septimus Smith–strangers to each other–seem to share a perceptual experience “drumming” through London:

Everything had come to a standstill. The throb of the motor engines sounded like a pulse irregularly drumming through an entire body. The sun became extraordinarily hot because the motor car had stopped outside Mulberry’s shop window; old ladies on the tops of omnibuses spread their black parasols; here a green, here a red parasol opened with a little pop. Mrs. Dalloway, coming to the window with her arms full of sweet peas, looked out with her little pink face pursed in enquiry. Every one looked at the motor car. Septimus looked. Boys on bicycles sprang off. Traffic accumulated. And there the motor car stood, with drawn blinds, and upon them a curious pattern like a tree, Septimus thought, and this gradual drawing together of everything to one centre before his eyes, as if some horror had come almost to the surface and was about to burst into flames, terrified him. The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames. (205)

Compare Woolf’s passage with from this scene from Wray’s novel,  in which Heather Covington (aka Rafa) and Will fail to divest him of his virginity:

Blood was rushing to Lowboy’s head like steam from a boiler as he let himself be dragged into the dark. Heather Covington was a few steps ahead of him, whispering to herself affectionately, moving carefully along the tunnel’s concrete seam. The last feeble light lapped against her. He could just make out her feet in their cellophane leggings, rustling with each step she took, as though she were picking her way through fallen leaves.

The tunnel was wide and straight and the lights of the A took a long time to fade. It got warmer and tamper and soon it go too warm to breathe. The world is inside me, Lowboy said to himself, and I am inside the world. He opened his mouth but no air entered it. (63)

Notice how both Septimus and Will feel the world’s stimulus in their bodies. In both cases, the conflict that drives their psychotic quests involves an embodiment of world crises. They feel their bodies as vehicles for the crises. Following from our conversations and readings in class, it seems these representations of psychosis involve acute forms of the relation between “brain, body, and world” (in Noë’s words) or “organism and object” (in Damasio’s).

Of course, both characters experience the disruption of “basic human needs” and a worsening of symptoms under the care of medical professionals described by McCarthy-Jones.



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Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics

October 6th, 2013 · Comments Off on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics

Hi everybody. In class, somebody proposed the idea of creating a graphic novel as a research project. (I think it was Sabrina.) It doesn’t sound like anybody feels qualified to do that, but Scott McCloud did. He wrote a book of literary criticism about comics, entitled Understanding Comics–and he did it using the comics form. I’ve put two chapters of the book on our readings page, and I’m including a few pages on this post.

I’d like you to take a look at McCloud’s explanations of the variety of ways that words and image can work together to produce meaning. Then, choose a panel or page from Fun Home that uses some of these techniques to represent selfhood. Be prepared to talk about your chosen panel or page–and the ways it might show us what’s unique about Bechdel’s chosen genre. What can a graphic narrative do that other forms or representation or inquiry cannot? Those of you posting this week might also want to consider using McCloud as a lens to discuss Bechdel for your reading responses.


mccloud 153mccloud 154

mccloud 155mccloud 156

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A Typical Call for Papers

October 3rd, 2013 · 1 Comment

Hi everybody. I’m posting a fairly typical call for papers for an anthology like the one we’re talking about putting together for this course. This call is for a special issue of a journal, but it’s pretty similar to CFPs for book anthologies.

I’m thinking about creating the assignment by putting together a call like this, where I’d be the editor and you’d be the contributors. I thought it would be helpful for you to see this one. If anybody comes across other CFPs, I encourage you to post them.


Modern Fiction Studies

Call for Papers: Upcoming Special Issue


Neuroscience and Modern Fiction

Guest Editor: Stephen J. Burn

Deadline for Submissions: 1 February 2014


The Editors of MFS seek essays that consider how modern fiction has evolved in dialogue with the neuroscientific revolution. In the aftermath of the so-called “Decade of the Brain” (the 1990s), a new wave of accessible surveys of brain research propounded a neuro-rhetoric that increasingly presents itself as the authoritative mode for addressing the total constellation of experience that once constituted the novel’s natural territory. But while scholars have drawn on the new sciences of mind to retool narratological studies and to facilitate Cognitive Historicist readings of classic literary texts, literary critics have rarely explored the ways that modern fiction has absorbed or contested the influence of neuroscience thought. What implications does the fertile intersection of neuroscience and narrative carry for fiction’s traditional building blocks (character motivation, plot structures, narrative architecture)? How does the novel’s language evolve in response to neuro-rhetoric? In terms of the broader conceptual issues, how is the neuroscientific conception of the self challenged or explored in fiction? What are the epistemological consequences of neural determinism for the novel’s fascination with contingency? How do our notions of genre evolve in a neurocentric age?


Such examples are indicative not exhaustive, and we invite essays that explore how modern fiction has engaged with the new sciences of mind. Essays on individual writers and works are welcome, as well as essays on broader trends and issues raised by literature’s cross-fertilization with neuroscience.


Essays should be 7,000 – 8,500 words, including all quotations and bibliographic references, and should follow the MLA Style Manual (7th edition) for internal citation and Works Cited. Please submit your essay via the online submission form at the following web address:


Queries should be directed to Stephen J. Burn (

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September 23rd, 2013 · Comments Off on Options

Hi everybody. As you post reading responses to Alva Noë’s Out of Our Heads, you might consider doing one of the following:

1. Writing a fictional–but plausible–dialogue between Noë and Damasio, on a topic you’re pretty sure would elicit strong opinions from both.

2. Testing Noë’s ideas against Damasio’s (or vice versa).

3. Responding directly to Noë, as you’ve done with previous writers.

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Struck (at HERE)

September 16th, 2013 · Comments Off on Struck (at HERE)

Hi everybody. Here is some information about Struck, the theater piece we’re going to see on Friday, December 6. Tickets will be $15. Please let me know as soon as possible if you have a conflict. I’ll get you more details about logistics when I have them.


STRUCK, by NACL Theatre

HERE Arts Center, NYC

December 5-21, 2013

Created and Performed by Brett Keyser (actor), Tannis Kowalchuk (actor), Allison Waters (neuroscientist)

Created and Directed by Ker Wells

Dramaturgy and texts by Kristen Kosmas

Lighting Design by Stephen Arnold

Costumes by Karen Flood

Technical Direction by Woodstock Stage and Screen

Co-produced by Cleveland Public Theatre




TIMES HERALD RECORD “A symphonic and turbulent play that weaves through moments of harrowing realism and enchanting vulnerability…”

“Your synapses are going to light up in new and different ways when experiencing this amazing event.” From Christine Howey of struck at CPT – 03.24.13

“Keyser and Kowalchuk are arresting performers who are fascinating to watch.” Andrea Simakis reviews struck for Plain Dealer(Cleveland) – 03.27.13

“…an exceptional piece of literature that also happens to be a show. …unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.” struck @ Cleveland Public Theatre – 03.28.13

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