The November workshops demonstrate IWT practices that show rather than tell how writing identifies texts’ multiple meanings. These workshops present writing strategies that allow the reader to make both personal and intellectual connections to the texts; support close, imaginative reading; and help students develop an appreciation for the intersections between related but different texts.
November 2014 | Writer as Reader Workshops
1. “The Only Weapon”: Schooling in Speculative Fiction
“Imagination,” Jules de Gaultier writes, “is the only weapon in the war against reality.” In popular parlance, the schoolhouse is more a space of reality than of imagination, of preparation rather than transformation. As much as teachers and students of vision wish otherwise, school is a space of domesticated knowledge, indeed, too often of domesticated people. In this workshop, we turn to speculative fiction as a means of reencountering the wildness of learning and arriving at new perspectives of its high stakes—high in a different way from those texts more preoccupied with “this-worldly” scenes. We will pair Ender’s Game and Alice in Wonderland—books that take the schooling of a boy and a girl far outside the exercise book and Scantron test, to military exercises and tests of madness, to lethal play. What happens as young people learn new ways of thinking about the world? What is lost, and what is gained? What does their learning serve, and whom? And what is the role of language, and particularly of writing, in their learning, and ours, and in that of the people we teach, whatever their fields of work, play, and battle may be? “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down the rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—. . .”
Texts: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Workshop Leaders: Alfred Guy and Alice Lesnick
2. Different Kinds of Evidence: Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate
Much has been made of the Common Core’s emphasis on reading informational texts. Instead of asking what percentage of our curriculum should include informational texts, how can we find dynamic works of nonfiction that foster inquiry and critical thinking? Enter Peter Balakian’s Black Dog of Fate, an astounding work about the Armenian Genocide. Balakian brilliantly structures the book to combine personal memoir, history, poetry, and activism in a coherent and moving whole. Using different kinds of evidence—historical records, legal documents, and narrative—he creates an absorbing account of this largely-forgotten nightmare of 20th-century history. In this workshop, we will look at the compelling interplay between form, genre, and evidence, and how these components contribute to the coherent work of the text.
Text: Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian
Workshop Leader: Jeff Berger-White
3. The Craft of Freedom: Lucretius, Martin Luther, and Writing to Read Theories of God(s)
One of the many early definitions of “freedom” the Oxford English Dictionary provides is: “Liberation from the bondage or dominating influence of sin, spiritual servitude, worldly ties, etc.” This emphasis on freedom of the will pervades the works of both Lucretius and Martin Luther, but from very different perspectives. Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura combines Epicurean philosophy, physics, and ethics in a genre unheard of for all three fields: poetry. As pleasure (Greek hedonē) lies at the heart of Epicurean philosophy, Lucretius innovatively works in the genre that was considered most pleasurable. And, within this epic poem, not only does Lucretius examine the way atoms move and collide, but he also retells the creation story, focusing on “things,” rather than higher powers: “That is why all things cannot be born of all things,/ Because in each dwells its distinctive power.” Martin Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian, on the contrary, offers a particular reading of St. Paul that argues the opposite of Epicurean atomism and divine obliviousness to humanity. For Luther, God is felt everywhere in the world and humans cannot choose to do good without divine influence.
This workshop will place these two disparate texts in conversation with one another, using their common concern for freedom and humanity as the focal point for our conversation and writing. We will explore the ways that writing-based teaching practices help us to create a dialogue between this unlikely pair of writers and theorists. How do we teach ancient and religious texts? How might writing help us, as teachers, to imagine the worlds of these works? Possible additional writers whose works we’ll examine include: John Milton, the Stoics, Albert Einstein, Wangechi Mutu, and others contemporary, classical, and ancient.
Texts: On the Nature of the Universe by Lucretius (trans. Ronald Melville) and The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther (trans. Mark D. Tranvik)
Workshop Leaders: Jennifer Eyl and Erica Kaufman
4. "In the American Grain": William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Lorine Niedecker, and What is Meant by an “American Voice”
This workshop tracks what is particularly "American" about poets William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, and Lorine Niedecker. We will read these poets to interrogate how they respond to the American idiom and to their environment. We will ask such questions as: in what ways has poetry changed and developed in America? How has poetry kept in touch with changes in diction? How have media and song lyrics affected poetry and the way we engage with language? How did the violence of slavery and the Civil War influence and direct the ways we write and speak? This workshop will not only lead students toward an understanding of language as a living organism that effects the way they live, but it will also explore the ways that poetry can enlarge the world by keeping the language alive.
Texts: In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams and handouts
Workshop Leader: Eléna Rivera
5. David Shields’s Black Planet: Basketball, Race and the Rhetoric of American Manhood
David Shields’s fanatical sports memoir, Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season, met with accolades and excoriation when it was published in 1999. In this workshop, we will attempt to divine the virtues and values of Shields’s book while also examining the work of other writers and filmmakers who have taken basketball seriously as subject matter and as inspiration. Sherman Alexie, John Edgar Wideman, Thomas Beller, Dwyane Wade, and Spike Lee will provide complements and counterpoints to Black Planet’s meditations on the culture of American sports and our larger culture’s scripts on race, masculinity, and sex. We will also confront sharply divergent critical assessments of Shields’s work, raising questions about the uses and limits of sportswriting and broadcasting (and perhaps memoir) as we go. Why is it worth writing and thinking about sports and sports figures? And what might sports tell us about our culture’s beliefs and desires?
Text: Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season by David Shields
Workshop Leader: Brian Schwartz
6. Modernist Indian, Postmodern Navajo
American Indian culture attracted many poets and artists to the Southwest in the early and mid-20th century. For writers, the poetics of American Indian music were particularly affecting, and a diverse range of poets and critics went to great lengths to represent in English verse what they were hearing and feeling. In doing so, they were taken back to basic questions about the nature of poetry as a verbal art, and challenged to examine their assumptions about what constitutes the “primitive.” In this workshop, we will use writing and performance strategies to engage print texts and sound recordings that have attempted to capture and “translate” Navajo song: recordings collected by Laura Boulton, translations by Washington Matthews and Jerome Rothenberg, and poetry by Eda Lou Walton and Luci Tapahonso.
Texts: Digital packet provided by the workshop leader
Workshop Leader: Derek Furr
7. Self-Reliance and Deliberation: Testing the Limits of an American Life
“A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions . . .” So writes Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841 in "Self-Reliance", an essay that expresses the transcendental notions inherent in the American Renaissance, as exemplified and applied further in the writings and practice of Henry David Thoreau. Where Emerson counsels his reader to shun both institutional affiliation and “explanation” in favor of the muse of one’s own “genius,” his friend and neighbor, Henry David Thoreau, extolls a life lived “deliberately”—one in which “philosophy,” “poetry,” and a “course in history” are no match for a day spent alert and alive to the sounds of nature.
What is somewhat problematic—or at the very least ironic—is that both Emerson and Thoreau seem confrontational, even oppositional, to the respect for authority that forms the foundational or bedrock assumptions of much American pedagogy. In this workshop we’ll read Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” and Thoreau’s chapter “Sounds,” from Walden, using various writing-to-read practices to explore the spirit of their independent and deliberate thought and action, and to examine both the difficulties, and the possibilities, of bringing these ideals into our own teaching methods.
Texts: “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and “Sounds” from Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Workshop Leader: Rachel Cavell
8. “Intelligent Machinery”: Alan Turing and the Origins of Artificial Intelligence
In 1948, Alan Turing wrote the seminal paper “Intelligent Machinery,” in which he explored whether it was possible for “machines to show intelligent behavior.” Here Turing refutes philosophical arguments against the possibility of “thinking machines.” His arguments hinge on larger questions of free will and definitions of intelligence that have been explored by philosophers as far back as ancient Greece. Through writing-to-read practices, we will explore Turing’s arguments and the possibility of artificial intelligence, its philosophical implications, and the resistance of religious and legal institutions towards “heretical thinking.” Workshop participants will develop strategies for exploring the network of philosophical, scientific, and historical questions raised by a juxtaposition of modern, contemporary, and Enlightenment texts.
Texts: “Intelligent Machinery” and “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” from Mind by Alan Turing, and handouts
Workshop Leader: Alexios Moore
9. The Great War: Telling the Story Visually
This year marks the centennial of World War I and the beginning of modern warfare. Joe Sacco, cartoonist and award-winning graphic journalist, looks at the war through the lens of his latest masterwork, The Great War, which features 24 feet of individual panels depicting one crucial day: the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916. There is no text in Sacco’s work, and the details unfold as they would for an ordinary British soldier. In this workshop, we will pair Erich Maria Remarque’s classic, All Quiet on the Western Front, with Sacco’s visual storytelling to find new ways to explore the strategies used by each of these authors to make an event that was unimaginable live in the imagination of their readers. We will put Sacco’s images in creative conversation with Remarque’s text, investigating the surprising power of the ink drawings. What can we identify about these two very different approaches? What assumptions do we bring to an event as well-documented and fictionalized as this war? How do the imaginations of the graphic artist and the novelist make this event relevant to our own experiences?
Texts: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque; The Great War by Joe Sacco (excerpts provided in workshop as well as original book for viewing)
Workshop Leader: Rebecca Chase
10. Shame and Shaming: Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
Kafka’s Metamorphosis and The Bluest Eye grow out of vastly different cultures, and are written in very different literary styles, and yet they explore similar emotional realities when it comes to issues of shame and shaming. Kafka and Morrison embody the cultural and personal experience of sensitive individuals forced to come to terms with their place in an environment that, for various reasons, rejects them. This workshop focuses on the following questions: What are the implications of viewing Gregor and Percola as up against similar constraints? How do the two novels differ in their psychological/cultural analyses? How do the family structures in each novel reflect and differ from each other? What can we learn from the different conclusions about culture and human emotion that each writer draws? How do the aesthetic choices each author makes affect meaning? How can we help students find personal, cultural, and theoretical meaning from these texts and the similarities and differences between them?
Texts: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Vintage, reprint edition, 2007); Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka (trans. Michael Hoffman).
Workshop Leaders: Irene Papoulis and Sharon Marshall
Please click here to register for November 2014 workshops.
Fee: $250 for tuition, morning coffee, lunch, and workshop materials. IWT encourages teachers from the same school to participate by offering a 10 percent discount to schools sending a team of three or more teachers to any of the workshops.
Cancellation Policy: No refunds can be given for cancellations made later than a week before the event.
All workshops take place at Bard College on Friday, November 7, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Check-in is from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m.
For more information on workshop registration and fees click here or email Autumn Seguin, IWT Program Associate.