Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Play in the City 2013: Sailing The Sylla-ship

Anne Dalke's picture

"Play in the City:"
An Emily Balch Seminar @
Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2013

Anne Dalke & Mark Lord

Class Members

Semester's calendar

On-line course forum

Protected reading file

Notes toward class discussion

Writing Conferences

Instructions for Preparing Final
& Checklist

"Forms are Conveyers (?) of Meaning"
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

"Imaginative play...creates a person...who believes in possibilities....
'What is adaptive about play may be...the willful belief in acting out one’s
own capacity for the future' “ (Taking Play Seriously, New York Times, Feb. 17, 2008).

These two seminars will address the question of how we construct, experience, and learn in the act of play. We will consider how play is both structured by the environment in which it occurs, and can re-structure that space, unsettling and re-drawing the frame in which it is performed. Our primary playground will be the city of Philadelphia: designed on a grid system, and filled with small side streets and parks, this nearby metropolis will serve us well as a place open to exploration, interpretation and reinterpretation. It is a space where we might also shape and re-shape our own identities in play.

We will visit Philadelphia a lot--sometimes in a large group, sometimes alone or in pairs, exploring various playgrounds, performances and events (some travel expenses and admissions costs will be provided by the College’s experiential, community-based Praxis program). The playbook we’ve assembled so far includes a range of  experiences, including the Live Arts Festival, the Magic Gardens of mosaic mural artist Isaiah Zagar, Eastern State Penitentary, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibit of Modern Art and the Metropolis.

In class, we’ll describe and respond to our play in the city, with assistance from assigned readings, viewings, and other interactive experiences. Using writing as a crucial means of critical reflection, we will think out loud together on a public playground called Serendip Studio , where we will create on-line events in a range of forms. These occasions for writing may include weekly letters to one another, and conversations among ourselves, as well as multi-draft essays. We will also play repeatedly with the question of who our audience might be, sharing our writing with one another, responding to (and receiving responses) to one another's creations, as well as giving feedback to, and getting it from, the instructors in bi-weekly conferences. Our key concept of play as taking place within a grid, which it both reveals and re-layers, will aid us as we work and re-work our writing—and ourselves.

This process has already begun. The instructors have initiated this on-line discussion of various dimensions and inspirations for this course; students who enroll (or are playing with the idea of doing so) are welcome to join our conversation. Come look behind the curtain, and chime in, if you will….

Our Planning Conversation.....

Syllaship ("because a bus isn't big enough")

The Pocket Style Manual is a reference that covers grammar and mechanics, as well as citation and documentation formats; you can purchase it at the bookstore.  Writing With Sources covers the rationale behind citation practices, explaining why sources are important and must be acknowledged in academic writing; the ESem program will provide copies of this text for each of you, as well as copies of Zadie Smith's newest novel, NW. The remainder of our (verbal) texts will be available on-line.

Week One
Day 1, Tues, 9/3:
examining our current site, locating our sites of departure,
creating an architecture of serendipity....

Wed, 9/4 (by midnight): first paragraph-long posting:
register yourself on Serendipcreate 
a public profile with a (playful?) avatar, and introduce yourself on-line by explaining the image

Day 2, Thurs, 9/5: what is a city? what is its relation to our identity? and to our mental life?
Lewis Mumford, “What Is a City?” Architectural Record (1937),
George Simmel, "The Metropolis and Mental Life" (1950), 
Sharon Zukin, The Cultures of Cities (1995) and Big Think Interview (2010)

Sun, 9/8 (by midnight)--first 3 pp. on-line essay:
select a visual representation 
of your own relation to "the city,"  and then describe what we are seeing... 

Week Two
Day 3, Tues, 9/10:
"rendering" one another's essays-->
where are the overlaps, where the disjunctures?
how are our experiences of the city like/different/predictable/surprising? 

Wed, 9/11 (by midnight): second short posting, a story or personal
reflection that occurred to you while reading Henig and Sunstein

Day 4, Thurs, 9/12: what does play have to do with our intellectual life?
Robin Henig, Taking Play SeriouslyNew York Times (Feb. 17, 2008).
Cass Sunstein, So Much for (August 12, 2013).

11 a.m.-4 p.m, Sat, 9/14: First Trip to Philly, via the Paoli Local,
to attend The Quiet Volume, as part of the Live Arts Festival.
Bring a small journal and record what happens on the trip (what do you see
outside the train window?) as well as to what happens @ the festival...

Sun, 9/15 (by midnight): second 3 pp. essay, describing your trip into Philadelphia: What was your experience of play in the city? (You are welcome to use images as well as words to represent this.)
How has your sense of the city (= what you wrote last week) been jiggled and jostled by this excursion?
Reflect on which one of the five essays we've read so far intersects most intriguingly with what you experienced this weekend. Put yourself into dialogue with that essayist: what emerges when you "talk" with one another?  How might what you yourself have noticed/seen/heard/smelt/tasted/touched in-and-around Logan Circle complexify what the essayist has said?

By class time on Tuesday, print off and read carefully the essays written by the others in your writing group. Then write out, carefully and deliberately, in long hand, one paragraph from each of the other student essays you have been assigned to read, and bring these with you to class. 

Week Three
Day 5, Tues, 9/17:
giving one another the gift of a paragraph from an essay each of us has authored, and describing what came up for you in the writing.

Wed, 9/18 (by 5 p.m.): make things out of Terry Tempest Williams' rendered/broken/ fragmented text (shades of The Quiet Volume) and post them on line.

By midnight, look at ALL the examples and respond to one of them (not your own!) with a simple sentence beginning "A MOSAIC IS... "--a provisional definition based on the inspiration of specific pieces, reading the work of your classmates and describing mosaic based on/inspired by what you have looked at.

Day 6, Thurs, 9/19: Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World. New York: Vintage, 2009. pp. 2-31.
The Breaking Project (Serendip Studio), esp. Breaking Glass--but go exploring in this 'digital eco-system'!

Fri-Sun, 9/20-9/22: Second Group Trip to Philly (again  via the Paoli Local), to see The Magic Gardens and explore (in groups of four, with maps) the street mosaics of Isaiah Zagar. If you want to learn a little bit more about Zagar's mosaics, see
Isaiah Zagar, Experience
About Isaiah
Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens

Sun, 9/22 (by midnight): third  "web event,"
creating your own mosaic (in images, words, other forms, or a combination) to represent what emerged out of your experiences in South Philadelphia. In giving you this assignment, we are asking you to think, spatially, about weaving things together, making a whole out of fragments. What shape and what structure can best enable you to express your ideas?

Week Four

Day 7, Tues, 9/24:
view all the mosaics on-line, and bring yours (or a photograph of it) with you to class.

Wed, 9/25 (by midnight): fourth short posting--post, as a "comment" to a mosaic
made by one of your writing partners, a description of its structure

Day 8, Thurs, 9/26: Mary Flanagan, Introduction to Critical Play and Chapter 5, "Performative Games and Objects,” Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press, 2009), 1-15, 149-187. Read the introduction carefully, attending to her definitions of terms. Chapter 5 will give you the opportunity to practice a different kind of reading: attend carefully to the introductory and concluding material of the chapter, but just "read around in" the detailed examples of artistic play which Flanagan describes in between. Let yourself get interested in one of the artists, or artistic movements, she describes, do 10 minutes of research to learn more about this one phenomenon, post that information on-line and bring it with you to class.

Sun, 9/29 (by midnight): fourth "web-event"--> 3pp. reflecting on some selected dimension of your trips into the city, in terms of some selected dimension of Flanagan's language.  Focus on the structure of your essay, and be mindful of the writing strategies you are using.

By class time, respond on-line to the essays posted by both your writing partners.
Ask yourself what part of Flanagan's material they used, and how;
what part of their city experience they selected, and how they used it;
how they structured the relationship between the two; and
how they organized their paper to represent that relationship.
Ask yourself, too, how these selections and decisions correspond w/ your own experiences and understanding.

Bring copies of your posted responses to class with you (we will use these in small group work).
Bring also three questions you think might be helpful for each of your writing partners,
arising from your response to their essays.

If you have not done so already, post on Serendip a report on the "10 minutes of research" you did on an artist or movement who/which (according to Mary Flanagan) "plays critically": images and active links are especially appreciated!

Spend @ least 1/2 an hour looking through the information that we have all put up.

Week Five
Day 9, Tues, 10/1:
reading our essays

Wed, 10/2 (by midnight): fifth short posting, of a paragraph describing what caught your interest in The Philadelphia Inquirer; tracing @ least 5 steps/critical links in the path you took from that initial point of interest; ending by saying where you propose we go this coming weekend, to pursue that interest further

Day 10, Thurs, 10/3: Come to class having practiced a one-minute "elevator speech":
be prepared stand up in front of us all and explain why we might want to go with you to
your selected site: what might we find of interest there? how might that trip enlighten us?
what questions will we bring? what questions will we bring back?

Sat or Sun, 10/5-10/6: Third Group Trip to Philly,
via R-100 (Norristown High Speed Line & Market Street El
(record in your journal
how your experience of this mode of travel differs from that on the Paoli Local),
to sites you have selected to visit in small groups

 10/6 (by midnight): fifth 3-pp. web-event--
Re-do your writing assignment from next week, reading your experience in the city through one of the lenses Flanagan (and/or one in her range of artistic examples) has provided. The lens should "thicken" and sharpen your perception this time 'round, enabling you more fully both to structure and to investigate your exploration of some part of the city.

Week Six
Day 11, Tues, 10/8:

our first tastes of Zadie Smith:
a short teaser of her reading the opening to NW
four video tours of NW: KilburnWillesden LaneCamden Lock, and 37 Ridley Ave
interview in The New Yorker (July 23, 2012), discussing
Permission to Enter (short story excerpted NW, The New Yorker, July 23, 2012, pp. 56-69)
there are @ least two other ways to access this story:
go to Canaday--> Tripod--> The New Yorker on-line--> Connect from Bryn Mawr;
or read pp. 201-245 in your gift copy of NW!

7:30 Wed, 10/9 Zadie Smith's reading in Goodhart Hall

Wed, 10/9 (by midnight): sixth short posting,  using the same 4 questions we  used to
analyze Zadie Smith's writing, to analyze the writing of your two writing partners:
post on-line, in response to the first paragraph of both your partners' essays,
your answers to these questions:
1) what is happening in the first paragraph?
2) what is happening in you when you read it? what's your experience?
3) what "work" is your classmate doing? (what "work" are you doing, in response?)
4) how is she "playing"?  (how are you "playing," in response?)

Day 12, Th, 10/10:
begin reading Zadie Smith, NW

Sun, 10/20 (by midnight): post sixth 3-pp. essay, your mid-semester course evaluation-->
imagine that this course is a city in which you've been playing:
what have you seen?  what have you done? what's your interaction been? what are you hoping for?
think about form-and-content; how are you structuring this account?
how can you organize your essay so that it illustrates what you want to say?
what data have you to report, to illustrate your claims-and-ideas?

FALL BREAK (finish reading NW)

Week Seven
Day 13, Tues, 10/22:
Zadie Smith, NW

Wed, 10/23 (by midnight): seventh short posting,
post a paragraph describing what you are curious about in NW/
what you might write about/how you might focus this in the text;
also: read all the self-evals, come w/ a sense of the larger picture (not just your own)

Day 14, Thurs, 10/24:
mid-semester evaluations
writing groups to brainstorm shared areas of interest and curiosity

Sun, 10/27 (by midnight): seventh 3-pp. web-event, analyzing NW by using a critical lens

Week Eight
Day 15, Tues, 10/29: 
Jamaica Kincaid. "Girl." Rpted. from At the Bottom of the River.
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1983.
Critical Approaches: Definition of Marxist Criticism. VirtuaLit Interactive Fiction Tutorial.
Margaret Waid. Jamaica Kindcaid's "Girl": A Marxist Reading.
continued discussion of Zadie Smith's NW, through the lens of Marxist theory....

Wed, 10/30 (by midnight): eighth short posting: how might you "grow"/
complexify your last paper, using a Marxist (or some other) critical lens?

Day 16, Thurs, 10/31: meeting in writing groups to explore ways to grow your paper...

Jennifer Lawrence Janofsky, "'Hopelessly Hardened': The Complexities of Penitentiary Discipline at Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary." Buried Lives: Incarcerated in Early America. Ed. Michele Lise Tarter and Richard Bell. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012. 106-123 [in our password-protected reading file].

By Sun, 11/3: Fourth Trip to Philly (via R-100) for an audio tour of Eastern State Penitentiary
--and 1/2 an hour alone in a cell, with all electronics and other aides, including writing, turned off

Sun, 11/3 (by midnight): eighth 3-pp. web-event, re-writing your essay on NW through a sharpened lens

Week Nine
Day 17, Tues, 11/5:
closely reading our excursion to Eastern State--what can we bring into focus?

Wed, 11/6 (by 10 p.m.): ninth short posting--a selected re-organization, in 2-3 paragraphs, of our "collective first draft" of "reading Eastern State," using only the sentences supplied by your classmates.

Day 18, Thurs, 11/7: Jonah Lehrer. "Urban Friction." Imagine: How Creativity Works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012. 175-212 [in our password-protected reading file].

By classtime, read and mark the postings made by the other members of your writing group:
* circle what interests you,
* box what puzzles you/what you are curious about,
* underline the introduction of each new lens, and
* write a word in the margin identifying the p.o.v. it expresses.

Sun, 11/10 (by midnight): ninth 3-pp. web-event, closely "reading" Eastern State Penitentiary
(though a distinctive lens/with a particular point-of-view)

Week Ten
Day 19, Tues, 11/12:
Read the essays written by the members of your writing group; print them off and bring them along.

Also read Diane Ackerman, Chapter One. Deep Play. New York: Random House, 1999.

[See also Clifford Geertz. Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973.]

Wed, 11/13 (by midnight): tenth short posting, weighing
in on our in-city "finale": when-and-where do you want to gather?

Day 20, Thurs, 11/14: John Dewey, Preface and "The Live Creature," Art as Experience (1934; rpt. New York: Perigee, 1980. vii-viii, 3-34.

By Sun, 11/17: Fifth Trip to Philly, to see 17 Border Crossings, which Thaddeus Phillips will be performing @ 140 N. Columbus Blvd, near the Race Street Pier on the Delaware River. You have six performances to choose from:
Nov 13 at 7pm, Nov 14 at 7pm, Nov 15 at 8 pm, Nov 16 at 2pm and 8pm, and Nov 17 at 2pm.

Sun, 11/10 (by midnight): tenth 3-pp. web-event,
describing a moment of deep play, defining deep play, describing what deep play would be in critical writing, and how deep play would change your writing.

Week Eleven
Day 21, Tues, 11/19:

Reading 17 Border Crossings
--with help from Borders and Boundaries, Invisible to Most.

Wed, 11/20 (by midnight): eleventh short posting
: a paragraph reflecting on what emerged for you in our class conversation: report on the current state of your thinking about 17 Border Crossings, "The Live Creature," and/or Deep Play--what are you thinking now?

to view some objects from the College's Special Collections

The Power of Patience.

Albert Barnes. Preface and Book I: Introduction. The Art in Painting. 1925; rpt. Merion Station, Pa: The Barnes Foundation Press, 1997. x-xii, 3-19.

By Sun, 11/24: Sixth Trip to Philly, to visit The Barnes Foundation. Reprise your isolating experience @ Eastern State, by spending @ least 1/2 hour alone with one work of art.

Sun, 11/24 (by midnight): eleventh 3-pp. web-event: a full, thoughtful response to that art work 
(if an image of the painting is electronically available, please insert it into your web event).

Week Twelve
Day 23, Tues, 11/26:
Sheena M. Joyce, et al. The Art of the Steal. New York: IFC in Theaters, 2010. 101 minutes [on reserve in Canaday; also available in Carpenter, in HC's Magill Library and streaming from Netflix; all other texts below are in our password-protected reading file].

Roger Kimball. "Betraying a Legacy: The Case of the Barnes Foundation." Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003. 34-46.

"The Barnes Foundation, RIP. Notes and Comments." The New Criterion. January 2005: 1-3

"The Barnes: New Home, New Problems." The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 29. 2004. H1, H8, H9.

[A current parallel?] Ronnie Polaneczky, A condemnation abomination. Daily News. November 24, 2013.

Thurs, 11/28: Thanksgiving

During Thanksgiving break, begin to prepare for your final city trip, alone, by spending two hours
roaming on-line admist these sites (and related others that emerge during your explorations):

Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis, @ the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
KAWS @ PAFA. 118 North Broad Street.
Maxfield Parrish and Tiffany Studios. The Dream Garden. Curtis Center. 6th & Walnut (off Independence Square).
City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
"Particle Falls": Sensing Change. Public Art by Andrea Polli.
Enigmatic Tiles Inspire Philly rapper's "Toynbee Suite."
Auction of American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists @ Freeman's Auctioneer's.
(1808 Chestnut Street. 2 p.m. Sunday, December 8).
Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Documentary. 2003.
Maria Popova.The Art of Looking: What 11 Experts Teach Us About Seeing Our Familiar City Block with New Eyes.
Brain Pickings. August 12, 2013.
Michel de Certeau, Walking In the CityThe Practice of Everyday Life, 1984.
Carman Papalia, Caning the City, Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry 1, 2 (June 2007).
Explore the four squares (one via the Rittenhouse Square Sound Walk), then re-see them/the city
from two towers of different heights (Christ Church, City Hall Tower Observation Deck, Comcast Center...?)
Philly Art Experience: The Insider's Travel Guide
Anthony Bourdain-Inspired Philadelphia itinerary
Visit Philadelphia: Official Visitor and Tourism Site
Philly is Ugly: A Film by Nathaniel Dodson
UWishunu: Philly. From the Inside Out
Philadelphia Oddities
Consider also: a real estate open house, a music store, Harry's Occult Shop, a Quaker meeting for worship...

Sun, 12/1 (by midnight): eleventh short posting, re-reading the "re-placed" Barnes Foundation:
based on our class conversation, and your own review of the movie and articles about the move,
how might you re-think/re-visit/re-read your experience @ the Barnes? (think of this posting as
the next step in the process of revising your last paper)

Week Thirteen
Day 24, Tues, 12/3
Peter Elbow, The Believing Game--Methodological BelievingThe Selected Works of Peter Elbow, 2008.

Wed, 12/3 (by midnight): twelfth short posting, describing your plans for your final trip into the city alone:
when-and-where will you go, in search of what, using what modalities/methodologies/lenses/p.o.v's & forms of simple, critical and/or deep play? IF YOU HAVE NOT USED ALL 4 OF THE FREE SEPTA TICKETS MADE AVAILABLE TO YOU EACH SEMESTER BY RES LIFE, THEY HAVE AGREED THAT YOU CAN USE ONE FOR THIS TRIP. SO, IF THIS IS STILL A POSSIBILITY FOR YOU, ALSO PLEASE request a Student Activities SEPTA ticket (using this form) by classtime on Thursday.

Day 25, Thurs, 12/5: presenting our plans for these trips, &
workshopping the structure of our revised Barnes papers

Walker Percy, The Loss of the CreatureThe Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to do with the Other. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975. 46-63.

By Sun, 12/8: Seventh Trip to Philly, alone: what else can/do you want to see?
From 3-5 p.m., we will all converge @ Anne's apartment, 903 Clinton 2R, 19107.
Chinese take-out will be provided; please bring with you something from
whatever part of the city you visited, to contribute to a class-wide "mosaic."

Mon,12/9 (by midnight): twelfth 3-pp. essay, re-reading your
experience at the Barnes in a deepened, expanded, "livelier" context

Week Fourteen

Day 26, Tues, 12/10: Susan Sontag. Against InterpretationAgainst Interpretation and Other Essays. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1966: 4-14.

Wed, 12/11(by midnight): 13th-and-last short posting, responding to Sontag's essay
by using one of tools from the "toolbox" we've built together this semester (and
made visible on the board during class...)

Also, imagine: you have been registered for an independent study, "Play in the City II."
Your first assignment is Susan Sontag's essay, "Against Interpretation." What excursion-
or-activity will you assign yourself, to put this theory into action? Please bring this
plan to class with you.

[if you haven't read it: Susan Sontag. Against Interpretation.]

Kristin Hohenadel. City Maps that Orient You Better Than Google Can. Slate. December 2, 2013.

See also Notes for a People's Atlas.

Perhaps also James Elkins, The Ivory Tower of Tearlessness.

Day 27, Thurs,12/12: Our Last Day of Class
making some Philadelphia city maps,
and planning for our independent studies, "Play in the City II."

Fri, 12/20 (by 12:30 p.m.): All Work due, including final portfolio,
including one revised web-event (this will be #13)

Additional sites/resources:
Anne's summer reading notes

Dorothy Alison, This is Our World.

Mike Davis, Preface. Dead Cities and Other Tales (New York: New Press, 2002).

Jacques Derrida, Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of
the Human Sciences,
Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass. 1967.

Paulo Freire, Reading the World and Reading the WordLanguage Arts 63, 1 (January 1985): 15-21.

Student Activities SEPTA Request Form