We are pleased to recommend three new courses at The Graduate Center in Spring 2014 for students interested in biography:
Anthropology 81000 / Comparative Literature 78200 - Life Histories, Self & Other
Wednesday, 2 - 4 pm, 3 credits
Prof. Vincent Crapanzano
This seminar will focus on the expression of self and other in life-historical texts and oral accounts. We will read exemplary life histories, ranging from Saint Augustine’s Confessions to Milarepa, The Biography of a Tibetan Yogi by way of Montaigne, Kierkegaard, Woolf, Blanchot, and Barthes. Particular attention will be given to how the other figures in these narratives: the way it constitutes the self, the subject, and subjectivity. Is it opaque, transparent, friendly, inimical, seductive, internalized, frozen, or dead? How does it figure in the intimate surround of the self-narrator? Attention will be given to modes of self-reflection and objectification, to bad faith, the unsayable and the unsaid, to solipsism, exceptionalism, and the moral challenge self-narratives pose, including those generated by the ethnographic interview. Theoretical readings will include, Hegel, Freud, Sartre, Bataille, Lacan, and Foucault.
English 87500 / MALS 71000 – Forms of Life Writing: Notebooks and Other Irregular Accountings
Tuesday, 2 - 4 pm, 3 credits
Prof. Wayne Koestenbaum
In this seminar, we will read autobiographical texts that work irregularly, spasmodically, haphazardly, with interruptions, in fragments, in abject states of disassembly, obeying the periodicities of the day, the commute, the mental lapse, the aside, the list, the epistle-without-addressee. These literary adventures — or accidents — go by many names: notebook, journal, pillow book, essay, treatise, poem, letter. We might hesitate to call them anything in particular; we might, instead, apologize for their existence, and wish they would shape up. Or we might feel loyalty toward these wayward creatures; without wishing to corral them into a category, we might believe that they deserve congregation, that they have chartable and treasurable resemblances, and that they are inspiring models for contemporary composition.
Our readings may include The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, Emily Dickinson’s “Master Letters,” Henry David Thoreau’s Journals (online transcripts of his manuscripts), Franz Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value, Francis Ponge’s Soap, Georges Perec’s La Boutique Obscure: 124 Dreams, Susan Sontag’s Reborn: Journals & Notebooks, 1947-1963, Toi Derricotte’s The Black Notebooks, Hervé Guibert’s Mausoleum of Lovers: Journals 1976-1991, Hilton Als’s The Women, Aaron Kunin’s Grace Period: Notebooks, 1998-2007, Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too, Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s A Dialogue on Love, Marie Chaix’s The Summer of the Elder Tree, and Beatriz Preciado’s Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era.
In lieu of a final paper, students will write each week a two-page essay in response to specific assignments. These essays may exercise the freedom to be autobiographical and to engage in irregular accounting.
History 74300 - Writing Women's Lives
Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 pm, 3 credits
Prof. Blanche Wiesen Cook & Prof. Barbara Welter
This course explores writings about 19th and twentieth century U.S. women. Students choose from an extensive reading list of biography, autobiography, scholarly monographs and articles, and theory. They are free to concentrate on topical or chronological areas of particular interest to them. Guest lecturers will discuss their work and experience, and the students are encouraged to consider global as well as U.S. contemporary and historical issues in women’s lives today. Learning Objectives: The student should be able to analyze and criticize major examples of writing women’s lives; be familiar with the trajectories of women’s lives and the influences of such traditional “markers” of historical inquiry as religion, region, class, ethnicity and gender, which remained the same or changed over time; be able to identify important primary sources in the historical construction of a woman’s life, as well as major secondary sources in the field; be aware of controversies and contested interpretations of United States history, in terms of women, the context, and their choices; and be able to understand and be able to document the role which American women played in economic, political, intellectual, cultural and social movements in the United States, including but not limited to the usual “women’s issues.” The recommended text for an overview is Women’s America: Refocusing the Past. Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, Seventh Edition, 2011.
We are pleased to announce that visiting professor Annalyn Swan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, will teach a class sponsored by the Leon Levy Center for Biography in Fall 2014:
Life Writing: The Art of Biography
Prof. Annalyn Swan
“Life Writing: The Art of Biography” will be a sustained analysis of what makes biography, at its best, a genre that combines the strengths of both non-fiction and fiction—the precision of historical and biographical scholarship with the insight and narrative thrust of a good novel. The course will explore the biographer’s (and autobiographer’s) craft through a range of subjects and styles. It will also provide students the opportunity to write a biographical introduction to, or chapter about, a person who fascinates them.
As literary genres go, biography has always been something of a stepchild—and understandably so. Far too many people approach writing biography as a nuts-and-bolts recitation of a person’s life. But the best biography is as different from this pedestrian approach as Jane Austen is to pulp fiction. Great biography tells the tale with panache, while never straying from scrupulous historical and biographical research. It contains, in short, the best of fact and fiction.
The genre can take a number of different forms, from group portraits, to autobiography and memoirs, to the classic tale of one central figure. The course will begin with excerpts from Telling Lives, a collection of essays about the biographer’s art that will serve as a foundation for the semester-long discussion to come. The seminar will then trace the crafting of the form through fourteen weeks of close intellectual and stylistic analysis of different biographies and autobiographies. Throughout the semester there will be oral presentations of c. 20 minutes on that week’s reading. In week seven, students will submit a five- to seven-page book review that is a more sustained analysis of any one of the works on the reading list. For the main assignment, due the final week, students will choose a figure (or group of figures) to write about. They will research their subjects over the course of the semester and, at the end of the course, submit a 12- to 15-page “Introduction” to, or chapter from, the biography that they would write, in which many of the themes discussed in the course will be encapsulated.