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syllabus, a potentiality.

ckosarek's picture

Our coursework so far has given us a smattering of samples across the nonfiction genre. We've dissected graphic memoirs, criticized criticisms of copyright law, tried to define the nature of reality in a genre that is (let's face it) not exactly real. In light of this, I think it would be interesting to look at reality from a scientific and psychological perspective. If something is a work of creative nonfiction but focuses on scientific "facts," what does that work become (faction? fiction?)? Or if a work focuses on a specific case or example - an isolated incidence - , can it be a "factual" representation of an illness or phenomena as a whole?  While we explore the line between fact and fiction from a scientific/psychological standpoint, I would also recommend using the opportunity to explore medium as well. We've already done some exploration of medium in this course (i.e. Bechdel, Shields), and I see the second half of this semester as a chance to continue that exploration in an effort to discover what forms "nonfictional prose" encompasses. 

With this in mind, here is my syllabus: 

1. Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach - I've read Roach's book, Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and was intrigued with how Roach combined personal anecdotes with her own untraditional research to result in a sort of scientific narrative that read as factually true and was palatable to a wide audience. Bonk is supposed to explore sex in a scientific and humorous way and would, I think, be useful in discussing where fact and creative license collide. 

2. Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin by Norah Vincent - Using her own experience in the mental health system as a commentary on the system at large, Norah Vincent's memoir combines objective fact with subjective experience in the way that Roach's book does (Vincent's, however, is much more intimate). Further, her psychiatric trauma was brought on by her living as a man fox six months for another journalistic project. This book seems to raise a number of questions regarding reality and fact: is Vincent's illness valid if it was brought on by "invalid" (i.e. Vincent is not a man and was only masquerading as one) circumstances? Can Vincent's subjective experience speak for the mental heal system as a whole? And, of course, when is personal perception deemed "insane" and why?

3. MTV's "True Life: I Hate My Face" - I thought this one could be a good link to both our exploration of medium as well as a strong follow-up to Vincent’s book. This hour-long episode of “True Life” follows two women as they struggle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a mental illness in which a person perceives that he or she is hideously deformed despite appearing normal and even attractive to outsiders. This episode calls into question the reality of perception and where perception goes from reliable fact to an unintended, pathological lie.

4. The Secret Life of Germs: What They Are, Why We Need Tem, and How We Can Protect Ourselves Against Them by Philip M. Tierno – If we’re going to spend time talking about subjectivity and its place in nonfictional prose, it would be useful to have a book of “hard scientific facts.” What makes Tierno’s investigation of our bacteria- and virus-ridden world different from Roach’s investigation of sex? Is Tierno more trustworthy because he puts in more “facts”, or is he just more subtly subjective?

5. Twelve Diseases that Changed Our World by Irwin W. Sherman – Furthering our exploration of medium, I thought it would be interesting to look at a “history” and discuss why Sherman is reliable in his retelling of events in which he personally did not take part. Is he more trustworthy because he is objective and because he wasn’t actually there?

6. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs AND Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asberger’s by John Elder Robinson – These two memoirs were written by brothers and both contain accounts of their shared father. However, Burroughs’ account depicts a disturbed and distant father, while Robinson draws quite a different father figure in his memoir. As we close the course, the juxtaposition of these two volumes would facilitate a final discussion on where perception lies among facts.






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