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Arts of Freedom - Our First Night Together

jschlosser's picture

Class 1: Arts of Freedom                                                                    August 31, 2015


I. Writing Invocation


Trayvon Martin’s name sounds from the car radio a dozen times each half hour. You pull your love back into the seat because though no one seems to be chasing you, the justice system has other plans.


Yes, and this is how you are a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on.


Citizen, p. 151


Let’s begin by writing for ten minutes. You can write in response to this quotation, to Citizen as a whole, about your feelings this evening – anything so long as you keep writing for ten minutes. We’ll then have time to share whatever you have written. (You don’t have to share what you write if you don’t want to do so.)



II. Questions inspired by Rankine

Here are some questions that Rankine has inspired for me with which I might suggest we begin.  

What does it mean to be a citizen (or non-citizen) in the United States today?

What are the promises of citizenship?

What are the obstacles to freedom?



III. Questions for the semester

These questions from Rankine lead me to the set of broader questions I'd like to consider across the semester.

What are the arts of freedom?

How were these “arts” political and how did they include areas of life we might not consider political today?

Whom did these arts include and exclude?

How have these arts of freedom been transformed by claims to freedom by those excluded?

How might these arts of freedom translate to contemporary issues, including areas of radical unfreedom in the present United States created by poverty, racial injustice, and incarceration?



IV. Our activities this semester


Writing practices in “Arts of Freedom”

1)    Writing to center and process – beginning of every class meeting

2)    Writing to orient and invoke – an “experimental essay” twice during the semester

3)    Writing to reflect and continue the conversation – reflection posts after class meetings



Reading practices in “Arts of Freedom”

1)    Reading to expand imagination and heighten perception – Rankine, Tocqueville, DuBois, Alexander . . .

2)    Reading to inhabit and acknowledge (if not fully understand) other subject positions – historical as well as contemporary

3)    Reading to populate and complicate our own conversations – during class, on Serendip, within our own minds


Listening and speaking practices in "Arts of Freedom"

1) Learning these concepts and arguments by talking through them -- spirit of experimentation

2) Developing our capacities to learn from one another -- listening and responding

3) "Crafting conversation" -- holding this space together here and elsewhere



V. Returning to Rankine . . .


What is an image – figurative or actual – that has captured your attention? How might this function as an art of freedom? A practice of freedom?


[Discussion in pairs, then as whole group]


As we discuss, let's keeep in mind how we can learn from one another in this space. Let's also try to generate as many potential "moments" of further inquiry and question as possible. We'll have plenty of time to become more specific and evaluative as the semester proceeds.



VI. Next time


No class on September 7, but for September 14:


1)    Read selections from Tocqueville (pp. 3 - 17 and 31 -110 of Library of America Volume)

2)    Consider: What are the “arts of freedom” according to Tocqueville? What specific practices – political, social, private, aesthetic, etc. – support freedom? What broader beliefs or ideas?

3)    Experimental essay writers: Bring copies of your essays – single-spaced – for students to read and mark while you present your own essay.