Seminars for 2015
- The Storytelling Animal: Evolution, Cognition, and Narrative. Mr. Abecassis. We are always immersed in various narratives. Myths, legends, epics, fairy tales, poetry, popular songs, fictional prose, theater, movies, television, and computer games saturate our lives. Narrative thus must play a defining role in human evolution – past, present, and future. We will examine in this course the current anthropological, psychological and cognitive statements concerning the origins and functions of narrative. Side by side these theoretical statements, we will read two exemplary narratives, Homer’s The Odyssey and The Arabian Nights. We will also examine the hypothesis that computer games may alter the nature of our traditional relationship to narrative. Writing assignments will include critical responses to articles and books about the cognition and narrative and interpretative essays about works of fiction. The final assignment will be a short five-page research paper based upon one of the interpretive essays.
This course title borrows from Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal, How Stories Make US Human (First Mariners Books, 2012).
- Punk: Poetics, Politics & Provocations. Ms. Auerbach. What does the word “punk” even mean? Is it a history, an attitude, a style of music, a t-shirt from the mall, a way of navigating through the world, or a strategy to make a difference? Is it simply being true to oneself or is it about questioning authority regardless of what that authority says? Is punk sweet or violent? Drug-addled or sober? Colorful mohawks and spiked leather jackets or black t-shirts and jeans? Since the dawn of punk, there has been lively conversations about these very questions, and in this ID1 course we will step into this dialogue and chime in with some ideas of our own. Through writing, reading, listening, and discussion, we will attempt to get a grasp on this enormous subject, and trace some of the ways that the punk subculture has made its mark on the mainstream.
- Tolkien. Mr. Chinn. This course considers some of the major works of J.R.R. Tolkien, the ”classic of the 20th century,” from a variety of perspectives. For example, we will examine Tolkien’s narrative technique, his use of visual description, his invented languages, his legendarium, his ethics, as well as the historical context of the works. Writing assignments will include explanatory commentaries and interpretive essays based upon these commentaries. The final assignment will be a short (ca. 5 page) research paper based upon one of the interpretive essays.
- Can We Be Reasonable? Language, Music, and Emotion in Public Discourse. Mr. Cramer. We study the arts, in part, to learn about communication. There’s no better time for that than now. While many people won’t listen to the results of rational or scientific inquiry, political power and commercial success are often built through emotional manipulation. In this course we will step back to examine how communication—the transmission of ideas and emotion between people—takes place in music, language, and society. Our study of music used in persuasive contexts, often in conjunction with words, will give us entry into a number of important questions: What are emotions, why are they useful psychologically, and how do they relate to other subliminal processes and to conscious, rational thought? What are the sonic features by which music conveys emotion and other subliminal states? To what extent are these features present in linguistic communication and in public discourse? What makes a society’s habits of discourse, even when irrational, so strong, so hard to break, and so easy to exploit? While considering these questions, we will attempt to improve as communicators through class discussion and written assignments. Writing will include analytical prose in academic style along with informal writing that may exhibit other styes and purposes. Music studied will include 17th- and 19th-century operatic expressions of tensions involving family and state; weeping music from the rainforest of Papua New Guinea; jazz representations of 1950s coolness; hip hop; Copland’s mid-20th-century “American” sound together with more recent film scores and commercial soundtracks descended from it; and more. Students without previous knowledge of music should take this course; musicians are also welcome.
- I Disagree. Mr. de Silva. The most important skill in any relationship—personal, professional, political—is knowing how to disagree. Why? In this seminar, we consider the problem of living with difference. What does it take to be the one juror out of twelve who votes innocent? What are the dangers of living with people who agree with you? How does a scientific community confront troublesome new ideas? A religious community? Is it weak to compromise? Do you enjoy being right? Do you prefer being wrong? It is an unfortunate fact that the word “disagreeable” is usually taken to mean “unpleasant.” In this seminar, we will rehabilitate the word and revive the noble art of disagreement. Participants will be expected engage with the wider college community as we grapple with these questions.
- Telling Stories: Form and Function of Narrative in Everyday Life. Mr. Divita. We tell stories to endow life events with a temporal and logical order; we tell stories to establish links between ourselves and the communities in which we participate. Stories thus serve as a primary element in the relationship between language and identity. In this course we will investigate this relationship by examining the linguistic particularities of everyday narratives while thinking about the varied functions that they fulfill. We will look, for example, at the autobiographical narratives that emerge through psychotherapy and the narrative arc of makeovers on reality television. We will look at personal narratives of the everyday—such as Facebook status updates, tattoos, and David Sedaris’ anecdotes about learning French—and larger cultural narratives such as the War on Terror. During the semester, students will have the opportunity to collect their own storytelling data, recording and analyzing narratives from a pool of subjects in order to investigate the representational and interactive dimensions of this vital discursive practice.
- Walking: Poetics, Politics, Practice. Ms. Dwyer. Place one foot before the other. Repeat. Walking is our most basic form of locomotion. Yet walking does more than get our bodies from one place to another. Journeys on foot are associated with maturation, education and meditation. Nature has long been a source of inspiration for the walker, be it in the Romantic quest for the Sublime or in today’s weekend escapes. The bustling city of the nineteenth century, in turn, engendered its own aesthetics of walking in the figure of the flâneur, the slow-moving man-about-town who observes urban modernity.
How are walking, thinking and writing connected? How have walker-writers reflected on the city? What does it mean to experience nature? Who is left out of certain practices of walking and why? What happens when barriers are erected or property lines drawn? How can walking become an act of protest or defiance? These are among the questions we’ll explore by reading literary, essayistic and theoretical texts. Using their own most basic form of locomotion, students will move through “the city” and “nature,” reflecting on those experiences in writing.
- The Literary Trial. Ms. Eisenstadt. Most of the classic western texts that portray legal trials display an uneasiness with the process of law. In some texts the law is clearly not on the side of moral right; in others the question of moral right is unclear. This course investigates this unease as it appears in various genres: historical accounts, scripture, novels, movies, plays, and operas. We explore each work on its own, but also try to frame questions about the relationship of law and literature. Authors include the Gospels, Plato, Shakespeare, Melville, Miller, Koestler, Arendt, and Kafka.
- Japan as Utopia and Dystopia. Mr. Flueckiger. Depictions of Japan, whether by foreigners or Japanese themselves, have often made claims about the radical differentness from other countries of Japanese ways of organizing society and of seeing and knowing the world. These claims have varied widely in their idealizations or condemnations of Japan, at times depicting the country as aesthetically refined, socially harmonious, and technologically advanced, and at times as plagued by such ills as military fanaticism and environmental degradation. In this course we will explore such images of Japan through literary, philosophical, political, and other writings, with an emphasis on the historical contexts and intercultural frameworks within which these images have come into being.
- Pomona Goes Green. Mr. Gorse. The Earth Charter (2000) states: “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.” How do our choices—as individuals in our daily lives, and as members of the planned community of Pomona College—affect this future? How does the concept and goal of “sustainability” unite academic, artistic, pragmatic, and social endeavors? In this course, we will investigate these questions, using Pomona College as our case study: how can we make this a more sustainable “campus,” and how can and should our campus be a model for our global future? In our search for answers we will read authors, including Italo Calvino, Leo Marx, Alan Trachtenberg, and William McDonough; write about campus spaces, student organizations and initiatives; and engage the dynamic interdisciplinary field of “Environmental Analysis.”
- Personal Identity and Free Will. Mr. Green. The problem of personal identity concerns what is required in order to survive through time. The origins of the problem are religious. If material bodies do not go to the afterlife, what does? Is it souls, minds, or something else? But it is not just a religious question. In the movies, people are beamed to other planets. What do we think happens to them? And when memories can be stored on computers will we be able to outlive our bodies? The problem of free will concerns what is required in order to be responsible for what one does. This has become a more pressing issue as neuroscience has gotten better at locating the physical sources of decisions in the brain. Indeed, some scientists claim they have shown that the brain makes decisions before the person is aware of having done so! If they are right, we may have to abandon our legal standards of responsibility and significantly revise our understanding of ourselves. Students who take this class will gain extensive experience analyzing and writing about arguments. They will also see themselves and our legal institutions in a new light.
- Anima, Anime, Animal: Animating Theory for the Japanese Image. Mr. Hall. In this seminar, we bring together disparate theories of subjectivity, image, and animal to map out new reading practices for the Japanese image. We rely on pivotal texts from Japanese animation (for example, the work of artist tabaimo, of epic narrators Miyazaki Hayao, Otomo Katsuhiro, and Nakamura Ryutaro, of animetric deconstructionist Kon Satoshi, or of abject abstractionist Kurosaka Keita) to explore how Japanese anime both reflects and prompts new ways of thinking about depth, speed, and horizon. We also ponder new formulations of human animality and machined humanity. Traditions of critical theory we examine include dromology, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, science studies, and queer theory, The seminar requires weekly writing submissions that encapsulate recent innovations in theories of the image. We also experiment with writing that brings into verbal expression the complexities of the perceived image. The seminar requires regular, mandatory screenings in addition to our classroom time.
- Gaming the News: A survey of Television, Film and the News-Gathering Industry. Mr. Horowitz. From their very beginnings, film, television and the web have placed newspapers and themselves under intense scrutiny as providers of capital, partisan politics, amusement and “hard” news. This self-examination has come in a wide variety of critical, dramatic, comedic and satiric forms. Films like “The Front Page,” “His Girl Friday,” “Network,” “All the President’s Men,” “Wag the Dog,” “In the Loop,” and “Nightcrawler,” and TV series like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The West Wing,” “Newsroom,” “House of Cards,” 24-hour news channels, and personalities like Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver have all contributed to the dissemination, probing, ridicule and confounding of the boundaries of information, propaganda, managed news, and entertainment. Our readings, viewings, writing and discussions will be in service of making some kind of sense of all this. All video assignments will be available on the video channel of our course’s Sakai site, allowing you to view them according to your schedules. Writing for the class will include critical analyses of assigned films and programs, reactions and responses to our readings, and a research paper—hopefully provoked by your intellectual curiosity and our viewings, readings and in-class discussions.
- Education and Its Discontents. Ms. Karaali. Thinking people have long debated what makes a good education and just what education is good for. In this course, we will tackle these two enduring questions, engaging with classical and contemporary arguments about education and clarifying our understanding of the goals of (a liberal arts) college. We will study the history of schooling in the United States, survey the philosophical underpinnings of education, and investigate the purposes of educating the young in the arts, the humanities and mathematics. We will read excerpts from the Western canon and other thinkers from around the world, as well as historical surveys and essay compilations arguing for diverse points of view. You will thus begin college with a critique of the notion and institutions of education, and develop a stance that will guide you as you consciously and purposefully move forward in your lives.
- Muslim Literary Landscapes. Ms. Kassam. In this seminar, we will read works by and relating to Muslims from different parts of the globe alongside critical literature in order to extend our knowledge of Muslims. Through reading, discussion and written projects, students will develop their understandings of the socio-cultural, historical, religious and political backgrounds of the issues taken up by the authors. By the end of the semester, students should be able to conduct research, read critically, write clearly and have a reasonable grasp of some of the issues faced by Muslims.
- The European Enlightenment. Mr. Kates. European society in the eighteenth century was riddled with inequalities of all kinds: religious bigotry and political despotism, as well as new forms of racism, slavery and class strife. The writers and artists associated with the European Enlightenment suggested radical ways to address these problems. These proposals encompassed both the political and social realms, imagining new forms of friendship and marriage, as if those relationships might constitute analogies to politics itself. In doing so, they blurred the lines between the government and the social, the political and the private and established a moral foundation for our modern era. Readings will include primary works from the period by such authors as Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu and Richardson.
- Cult and Culture. Mr. Kirk. What do cult, culture, and cultivation have in common? The three words evidently descend from the same root, but the things that they name seem to belong to entirely separate spheres. The wager of this seminar is that, at least in this case, etymology is the royal road to truth. At the basis of activities as various as anxiety, worship, inebriation, romance, and the experience of art lies one thing: cultus, the rite of cultivation. Literature, philosophy, and film will be our sources. To be considered: the cult of wine in Euripides’s Bacchae, medieval courtly love, the religion of capitalism, Heidegger’s analysis of anxiety as disclosive of being, Goethe’s Faustian bargains, Tarkovsky’s post-apocalyptic Stalker. We will also wonder about those cultivations that are hidden, i.e. the oc-cult: James Merrill’s ouija-board-dictated Book of Ephraim, Roman Polanski’s classic horror film Rosemary’s Baby, Ariana Reines’s new poem Mercury. Finally, another wager: if the cultic basis of our modern life is a secret we keep hidden from ourselves, this can only mean that the realm of the occult has expanded to include everything that we do.
- The TV Novel. Mr. Klioutchkine. How does a television series relate to our everyday experience and to our understanding of the culture we live in? How did a nineteenth-century serialized novel relate to its readers’ perception of the world around them? What can these genres tell us about ourselves? In this seminar, we will explore these questions as we understand the links between the serialized novel and the original television series, the novel’s present-day popular incarnation. We will read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot (1867) before focusing on the television series Mad Men.
- Reading and Writing the Academy. Mr. Menefee-Libey. In this course we will read, discuss, and write about how higher education is organized into disciplines like political science, art history, and biology, and how scholars value rigorous work guided by those disciplines. We will focus heavily on writing as one of the most important academic practices. Writing is how scholars rigorously record our work, clarify our thinking, communicate the results of our work to colleagues, and develop our disciplines. You will write a lot for this seminar, and you will learn how to collaborate with peers to revise, develop, and refine your writing in ways I hope will be useful for the rest of your academic careers. We will focus on climate change as a recurring case study of how disciplined and rigorous work on a topic differs from non-academic work on it.
- Science and Religion: Enemies, Friends, or Strangers? Mr. Moore. In present popular culture, people often present science and religion as opposites, and similarly oppose “faith” and “reason.” But are science and religion necessarily opposed? Historically, science and religion have worked in harmony (indeed, many of the early scientists in Christian Europe were clergy!). So why are they so often seen as opposed at the present? In this course, we will explore the rich varieties of ways that people connect or separate science and religion. We will start by examining three contemporary positions that might be characterized as extreme (in at least some aspect) as a way of staking out the territory. We will then pull back and consider more deeply the historical and intellectual roots of the relationship between science and religion, considering carefully the overall patterns in the evolving and complex relationship between religious and scientific thinking. We will also look at some specific ways in which science and religion are currently entangled, and close by reading and discussing faith statements made by present-day scientists. In the process, we will explore some of the range of human thinking about the topic and help you gain the tools and background for thoughtfully developing your own perspectives on this issue. We will also strive to build community of scholarship in this class where we can discuss possibly emotional issues freely, openly, and safely, but where we can also face intellectual issues squarely and probe them deeply.
- The Economics and Politics of Food. Ms. Novarro. You have heard the saying “you are what you eat”, but have you ever wondered what exactly you are about to eat and why you are eating it? In the United States, the government has increasingly tried to pass legislation with the goal of getting people to eat healthier foods. How effective are laws such as requiring calorie counts on menus, banning or taxing sugary beverages, and requiring schools to provide a “healthy” lunch? On the other hand, the government has had a long-standing practice of protecting the sugar industry while subsidizing farmers growing corn and soy. While the resulting higher sugar prices may support a goal of healthier eating, extremely cheap (and genetically modified) corn syrup would seem to do the opposite. Finally, how have government regulations regarding what must be included and what can be left off food labels influenced the chemicals and ingredients used in food products? Food policy is really the confluence of many different policies, each with a particular objective. When considering the potentially conflicting rules as a whole, what is the net effect on obesity and health? In this seminar, we will explore these questions from economic, political, biological, and psychological perspectives. We will read several texts and shorter articles that will aid in a critical analysis of current and past government food legislation.
- Science and the Public’s Health. Ms. Fu O’Leary, Mr. O’Leary. The relationship between science and health is fascinating for its complexity. For example, the development of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by Midgley and co-workers in the 1920s was a public health advance because these non-flammable and non-toxic compounds provided the public with access to cheaper and safer home refrigeration. The environmental impact of these compounds wasn’t revealed until 50 years later, when CFCs were found to deplete skin-protecting ozone in the upper atmosphere. A single technological innovation had led to a huge downstream unintended consequence. Coincidentally, Midgley was also involved in the development of the gasoline additive tetraethyl lead, an example where science advanced a technology in spite of serious known adverse health effects. Issues regarding the protection of human subjects, balancing short-term benefits with long-term costs, individual choice versus the public good, and decision-making under uncertainty are key to the development of sound science and effective public health policies.
Because science and health are highly technical subjects that affect all individuals, our course materials will be diverse, and will range from books and journal articles to coverage in the popular press and media. Critical analysis skills will be developed through discussions and writing exercises focused on individual case studies. Specific writing assignments will include 3-5 page position papers and a longer research paper. Case study and writing projects will focus on topics such as birth control, vaccines, pesticides, antibiotic resistance, chemical weapons, cancer chemotherapies, fertilizer production, HIV/AIDS, genetically modified foods, clean water, genomic engineering, and aging.
- The Science of Social Identity. Mr. Pearson. What drives us to connect with others? Why do we love one sports team and despise others? What are groups for? Humans are a highly social species. This course will explore the nature and functions of human social groups and our own place within them, our social identities. We will explore what modern psychological science can teach us about how the human social mind works, and its core vices and virtues, from ostracism and prejudice to empathy and altruism. Readings and written assignments will provide opportunities for in-depth analysis of current scientific theories of human social behavior and their potential for illuminating psychological underpinnings of contemporary social problems.
- Composing a Nation: Music in Paris, 1900-1925. Mr. Peterson. In this course we will explore musical life in Paris in a pivotal 25-year period. Specifically, we’ll investigate how national identity was defined through musical expression. In considering works by composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Lili Boulanger, Satie, Milhaud, and Poulenc, we will pay close attention not only to the important musical genres (symphonic music, piano music, opera, song, and chamber music), but also to broader cultural movements such as Impressionism and Exoticism. We will investigate two notable performances of works by Stravinsky presented by the Russian Ballet in pre-war Paris. And we will explore the disruption caused by World War I and the wartime debates about national identity. Finally, we will examine emerging themes in post-World War I Paris, including the formulation of a post-war neo-classicism and the appropriation of jazz in the 1920s. In writing assignments we will explore themes relating to music and national identity: students will write reflections on compositions as well as short research papers based on different models (the “program note,” for one example). One writing assignment will focus on national anthems (considered from an interdisciplinary perspective).
- Art as A Thing of the Present. Mr. Rey. “Art is now a thing of the past,” wrote the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel in the early decades of the 19th century. With this statement Hegel meant to suggest that art could not continue to fulfill the “spiritual” need it was born to fulfill. The expression of the most essential truths about being art’s original and “highest” vocation would be, from then on, the exclusive task of philosophy.
What function does art fulfill once it is divested of its original mission? Hegel’s statement, and the multiple interpretations to which it has been subjected, will serve in this seminar as a point of departure for an inquiry into the status of art in our times. In class discussions and assignments, you will be asked to place complex philosophical texts in dialogue with the works of a series of Modernist, Pop, Conceptual, and post-Conceptual artists who view the “end of art” as an incentive to posit new and creative definitions of the essence and the function of art. Case studies of individual works (some of them on view in museums in the Los Angeles area) will allow us to explore art’s transformation from a vehicle of quasi-religious revelation into a genuinely critical instrument, an effective means not only of making sense of the concrete conditions that shape various modern realities (capitalism, totalitarianism, post-industrial mass culture, the Internet), but also of intervening in those conditions and of imagining alternatives.
- Possible Worlds. Ms. Rosenfeld. In his Defence of Poesy (c.1580), Philip Sidney distinguished the art of poetry from the disciplines of history and philosophy by suggesting that poetry alone deals in possibility: where the historian looks after “the bare was” and the philosopher considers “what should be,” only the poet, “lifted up with the vigor of his own invention,” builds worlds out of “what may be.” Moving across the disciplines of literature, philosophy, and history, this course will ask, what are the forms, theories, and heuristic functions of possible worlds? We will explore the peculiar kinds of thinking enabled by the creation of possible worlds in readings ranging from Aristotle’s Poetics and Plato’s Timaeus to contemporary game theory, from Thomas More’s Utopia to Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics. Topics may include: potentiality and actuality, fiction, hypotheticals and hypotheses, the golden world, the subjunctive, counterfactuals, utopias and dystopias, parallel worlds, and alternative worlds. Assignments will include pre-draft writing exercises, first drafts, and a series of analytical essays that build in complexity. Our seminar will function as a community of writers: we will convene to explore the problem of possible worlds while also engaging explicitly with the very craft that enables this exploration—the art of writing.
- Bad Music. Mr. Schreffler. Music is good…or potentially so. Media reports of people and acts that imply music is not good, such as the Taliban movement banning music in Afghanistan, are at once sensational and practically inscrutable to a modern Western worldview—a worldview in which a core trait of music is its goodness. Poets say it’s good for the soul and scientists say it’s good for the brain. Music is thought to “culture” and humanize people—a belief that causes those who do not appreciate music to be viewed with skepticism. Yet there are significant cultural spheres in the world in which music itself is viewed with skepticism and its intrinsic value considered dubious. Music is bad—or potentially so. Even modern Western society does not view all music as good. So how and for what reasons do people identify “bad music”? In this seminar, we will explore notions of “bad music” from various ethical and cross-cultural aesthetic perspectives. Diverse listening examples will provoke critique—often heated—and reflection. In writing and discussions, students will be asked to go beyond the facile conclusion that all judgments regarding music are subjective and to develop and articulate newly informed positions on musical value—to distinguish what one dislikes, what one simply does not understand, and what one may justifiably call “bad.”
- The Idea of Money. Mr. Seery. This course will examine the idea of money, drawing from the perspectives and literatures of many academic disciplines (not just economics): political theory, philosophy, religion, anthropology, history, literature, music, and perhaps a few others. As a class project we will play the lottery, and if we win, we’ll be better positioned to test our ideas against reality. If the schedule can accommodate us, we will take a class field trip to a taping of the game show, “The Price is Right.”
In this class students will write a series of seven very short (two page) formal expository/analytic papers, with re-drafts aplenty; plus a longer (~ten pages) formal research paper, written and re-written over several drafts.
- “Tripping the Light Fantastic”: A History of Ballroom and Social Dancing. Mr. Shay. Social dances—such as waltzes, tangos and sambas—not only encode social and gender roles but also rely on a silent history of cultural appropriation and primitivism. These dances teach their participants how to be a “man” or a “woman” by specifying movements, postures and social behavior deemed socially appropriate to each gender. Millions of Americans have appropriated dances from African American and Latino societies. In this seminar, we’ll contemplate how any history of social dance must grapple with issues of gender and sexuality, race, primitivism, cultural appropriation, religion and censorship. We will consider how early twentieth-century figures such as Vernon and Irene Castle “whitened” and desexualized dances such as the tango, samba and rumba in order to make them safe to perform by elite members of (generally white) high society. And we’ll consider, as well, the century-long exhibition ballroom dance phenomenon (including the recent popularity of television programs such as Dancing with the Stars). In addition to short response papers to particular readings and performances, students will have the chance to explore a topic that relates to the contexts, gender and sexuality, ethnic, or social issues surrounding ballroom and social dance in cultural and historical context. In order to better understand what goes into these dances, students will attend one rehearsal of the Claremont Colleges Ballroom Dance Team.
- First Person Americas. Ms. Wall. Thanksgiving Day tells us a story of life in early America, but there was no single early America and no one story to represent it. It was a kaleidoscopic world, full of different individuals and peoples building lives and families and communities amid wrenching, sometimes shattering, social change. This course uses personal narratives from the many worlds of early America—indigenous, Spanish, English, French, African, multicultural—to explore the messy, multifaceted America they made, sometimes together, sometimes in opposition. In autobiographies, testimonies, travel accounts, captivity narratives, legal documents and other original sources, we can glimpse early Americans trying to make sense of their own lives; and we can follow, imperfectly, the tracks of large social transformations, including conquest, colonialism, disease, the development of racial thinking, economic and territorial expansion and competition, warfare, enslavement, religious conversion, gender relations, environmental change, cultural loss and cultural adaptation. We can never fully understand the past but we can try to listen to the stories people told about themselves and to take seriously what they meant in the telling.
Students will write two shorter essays and one longer essay with a graded first draft. The main burden of work is in analyzing primary sources and class discussion.
Other courses offered by the Writing Program