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Facing the Facts: An Exploration of Non-Fictional Prose

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Our streaming thoughts....  Course Notes
Instructions for weekly postings and for papers 
Instructions for Preparing a Final Portfolio of your semester’s work
#1, #2, #3 and #4

"The roominess of the term nonfiction:
an entire dresser labeled nonsocks"
(David Shields, Reality Hunger:
A Manifesto, 2010)

here's a way to remember it:

You can only say no once.

Fiction = not true

Nonfiction = true

English 219 @ Bryn Mawr College
Fall 2010, TTh 2:30-4, Anne Dalke
English House Conference Room II

"Nonfiction seems to me photographic; it poses the same challenge of finding form and pattern in the stuff already out there and the same ethical obligations to the subject....In essays, ideas are the protagonists, and they often develop much like characters down to the surprise denouement" (Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost) .

Nonfictional prose genres, which may well constitute the majority of all that has been written, are very seldom the focus of literature courses. This class will address that gap, by exploring the use-value of the category of non-fictional prose in organizing our experience of, and our thinking about, literature. Might our attending to such texts alter our sense of what literature is?

We will begin with a range of theoretical texts that problematize the distinction between “fact” and “fiction," seeking
a way beyond  "segregationist" constructions. We'll move on to review a sequence of alternative possibilities that play along these boundaries between “non- fictional” and fictional prose: an explicitly individualized memoir, a cultural history that aims to express a more shared subjectivity, and a philosophical text that claims (or @ least aims for!) maximal consensus.

Since the list of potential texts is inordinately vast and variegated, we will pause @ mid-semester to select together what we intend to study for the second half of the course. Throughout we will also focus explicitly on the genre of the academic essay, considering its rhetorical evolution under the pressure of the digitalization both of the archives and of contemporary cultural production. As part of this exploration, students will be expected to post weekly on-line reflections and monthly 4-pp. papers on the world wide web. Students will also have (@ least) 2 writing conferences over the course of the semester.


T, Aug. 31: What ARE we talking about?
What’s non-fiction? What’s fiction? What’s a fact?
What’s prose? What’s poetry?

Craig Dworkin, “Fact,” Poetry (July/August 2009).

Th, Sept. 2: Given the fictional nature of “fact,” how might non-fictional prose (nonetheless) be a useful category for organizing our thinking-and-experiencing of literature?

Read the texts below; introduce yourself on the course forum,
and share some initial thoughts...

Patricia Hampl. "Memory and Imagination." I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory. New York: Norton, 1999. 21-37.

Horst Zander, "Factional Discourse." Fact-Fiction-"Faction": A Study of Black South African Literature in English (Narr, 1999): 403-407.

Michiko Kakutani, Texts without Context, New York Times (March 17, 2008).

T, Sept. 7 & Th, Sept. 9:  David Shields, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010).

T, Sept. 14 & Th, Sept. 16: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragiccomic (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

By 5 p.m. Fri, Sept. 17: writing conference and 4-pp. paper due on-line

T, Sept. 21 & Th, Sept. 23: Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Penguin, 2005).

T, Sept. 28 & Sept. 30: Arne Naess, The Ecology of Wisdom [electronic resource]. Ed. Alan Drengson and Bill Devall (Counterpoint, 2008).

by MIDNIGHT Sun, Oct. 3: 2-p. reflection due on-line about where to go and how to get there

T, Oct. 5
class deliberations about our reflections

by 5 p.m. Wed, Oct. 6: 2 more pp. due on-line,
incorporating others' ideas about our shared exploration

Th, Oct. 7:
reflections continued and texts selected!

FALL BREAK: Oct. 12 & 14

T, Oct. 19: Reading Around in Dictionaries: use three different sources to research the etymology and meaning of a series of key terms (some possibilities: fact/fiction; real/imaginary; true/false; nonfiction/documentary;
doubt/trust; gullible/skeptical; (in)credulous/(un)believable.

War of the Worlds (sound recording). 1938; reproduced Radio Spirits, Inc and Norman Rudman, 1998; also available in seven segments on youtube.

Th, Oct. 21:   F for Fake (VHS), dir. Orson Welles. 1973; reproduced by Public Media: Home Vision, 1993.

T, Oct. 26: The Thin Blue Line (DVD), dir. Errol Morris. 1987; reproduced Troy, MI: Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2000.

Th, Oct. 28: Tarnation (DVD), dir. Jonathan Caouette. Wellspring Media, 2005.
By 5 p.m. on Fri, Oct. 29: 4-pp. paper due on-line 

T, Nov 2- Th, Nov. 4: Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon,  9/11 Commission Report -A Graphic Adaptation. Hill and Wang, 2006.

T, Nov. 9-Th, Nov. 11:  Anat Berko, Path to Paradise: The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers.  Potomac, 2009.

T, Nov. 16-Th, Nov. 18: [selections from] Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Sacks. Crown, 2010

Nov. 23: [selections from] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Ballintine, 1997


T, Nov. 30: Sagan, continued

Th, Dec. 2:
  Robert Coles, The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination. Mariner, 1990.

By 5 p.m. on Fri, Dec. 3: 4-pp. paper due on-line

T, Dec. 7: Coles, continued

Th, Dec. 9: Final Performances

By 12:30 p.m. on Fri, Dec. 17: Final Paper-
a portfolio of your semester’s work

Student Webpapers: #
1, 2, 3, 4