College Seminar I
Bryn Mawr College
Fall 2004

Questions, Intuitions, Revisions:
Telling and Re-Telling Stories About Ourselves In the World

Anne Dalke (English House, ext. 5308,

This course was co-designed by faculty members in English and Biology to explore the variety of ways in which we are all continually reaching for new understandings. Materials to be handled in the class include fairy tales, the nineteenth-century satire Flatland, Bertold Brecht's play The Life of Galileo, Jonathan Lethem's novel Motherless Brooklyn and reflections on topics ranging from linguistics and neurobiology to the culture of Bryn Mawr. In addition to long-established elements of inquiry--acting, enacting, observing, experimenting, reading, talking and writing--we will explore visual culture, the new potentials of the web and other aspects of developing information technology. Together, we will apprehend this wide range of literary, cultural and scientific stories, intuiting, imagining and revising what they might mean, continuously telling and re-telling them in an attempt to "get it less wrong." Students will be expected to contribute to the education of their colleagues as well as to people beyond the College by participating in an on-line forum and putting some of their writing on the web.

Images in this syllabus were created by
Sharon Burgmayer,
Janna Stern, and
Rachel Grobstein.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
Jallaludin Rumi

I. Reading and revising ourselves

The stories we tell ourselves, particularly the silent or barely audible ones,
are very powerful. They become invisible enclosures. Rooms with no air.
One must open the window to see further, the door to possibility….
How to tell a story without fashioning it along the prefabricated lines? . . . .
we are immersed in an old story and cannot see what is happening."
Susan Griffin. A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War.
New York: Anchor, 1992. 284, 324.

"I wrote the story first. It was a true story. But it seemed too simple.
So then I wrote the counter narrative: a second voice, second thoughts."
Susan Griffin. Reading at Bryn Mawr. February 2, 1999.

Week One
Introduction to the course
Reading an image

Tracy Chapman. "Telling Stories."

Patricia Hempl. "Memory and Imagination." I Could Tell You Stories. New York: Norton, 1999. 21-37.

Mary Catherine Bateson. Composing a Life. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989. 1-34, 232-241.

Paul Grobstein. This Isn't Just MY Problem, Friend: Some Thoughts on Science Education, Education, American Culture, and What to Do About It. (August 21, 1991.)

Anne Dalke. "Turtles All The Way down: Class As Persistent Critique." Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach: Meditations on the Classroom. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. 115-137.

Andrea Friedman. "Meta/phor" and "Sediment Core."

Draft A, 4-5pp: Compose your own life of learning.

Week Two
Selected excerpts by Charles Darwin, Soren Kierkegaard, Virginia Woolf from Nothing Begins with N: New Investigations of Freewriting. Ed. Pat Belanoff, Peter Elbow and Sheryl I. Fontaine. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.

In-class writing workshop on Draft A

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. "Little Briar Rose" and "Cinderella." The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales. Trans. Margaret Hunt. Revised James Stern. New York: Pantheon, 1972. 118-122, 64-71.

"Yeh-Shen." Myths, Legends and Folktales of America. Ed. David Leeming and Jack Page. New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.

Anne Sexton. Transformations. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.

Draft B, 4-5 pp: Write a fairy tale (maybe re-compose your life of learning as a fairy tale?).

Week Three
In-class writing workshop on Draft B

Bruno Bettelheim. "Reflections: The Uses of Enchantment."The New Yorker (December 8, 1975): 50-114.

Juana Rodriguez. Guidelines for Revisions.

Paper #1: Using Bettelheim's methodology (or another), analyze your fairy tale.

Week Four
In-class writing workshop on Paper #1

II. Ordering and Re-ordering the World

"Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world."

--Albert Einstein, in Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld. The Evolution of Physics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1938. 33.

Bertolt Brecht. Galileo. 1952; rpt. New York: Grove, 1966.

Draft A: drawing on Brecht's play, reflect on why we are both motivated and reluctant to revise the stories we tell about the world. What provokes us to this activity? What prevents us from engaging in it? How does it profit us, and what are its costs?

Week Five
In-class writing workshop on Draft A

They Might be Giants. "Particle Man."

Edwin Abbott. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. 1885; rpt. New York: New American Library, 1984.

Richard Monastersky. "Recyling the Universe: New Theory Posits that Time Has No Beginning or End. The Chronicle of Higher Education. June 7, 2002.

Michel Foucault. Preface and Forward. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. 1966; rpt. and trans.New York: Vintage, 1973. ix-xxiv.

Draft B: Drawing on Flatland and Foucault, reconsider and revise your reflections about why we (refuse to?) revise the stories we tell about the world.

Week Six
In-class writing workshop on Draft B

Daniel Dennett. Chapters 1-3. "Tell Me Why," "An Idea is Born" and "Universal Acid." Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995. 17-84.

Paper #2: Draw on Dennett's ideas to (once again) revise your reflections about why we (refuse to?) revise the stories we tell about the world.

10/12-14 FALL BREAK

Week Seven
In-class writing workshop on Paper #2

III. Apprehending and Absorbing the Storyteller

"The Brain--is wider than the Sky--
For--put them side by side--
The one the other will contain
With ease--and You--beside--

The Brain is deeper than the sea--
For--hold them--Blue to Blue--
The one the other will absorb--
As Sponges--Buckets--do

The Brain is just the weight of God--
For--Heft them--Pound for Pound--
And they will differ--if they do--
As Syllable from Sound"

Emily Dickinson. 1896; rpt. The Complete Poems.
Ed. Thomas Johnson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.

Michael Polanyi. The Tacit Dimension. New York: Anchor, 1967. 3-25.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. "Introduction: Who are We?" "The Cognitive Unconscious" and "The Embodied Mind." Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999. 3-44.

Lisa Belkin. "The Odds of That: Coincidence in an Age of Conspiracy." The New York Times Magazine. (August 11, 2002). 32f.

Draft A: Collect data on tacit understanding.

Week Eight
In-class writing workshop on Draft A

Lev Semenovich Vygotsky. Thought and Language. Trans. Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1962. 1-7, 119-153.

Steven Pinker. "An Instinct to Acquire an Art" and "Chatterboxes." The Language Instinct. New York: HarperPerennial,1995. 15-54.

Draft B: Interpret the observations you have made.

Week Nine
In-class writing workshop on Draft B

Oliver Sacks. "The Last Hippie" and "A Surgeon's Life."An Anthropologist on Mars. New York: Vintage, 1995. 42-107.

Paper #4: What new questions does your explanatory theory raise?
What new experiment need you now design, to elicit a further set of observations?

Week Ten
In-class writing workshop on Paper #4

IV. Revising Culture's Story

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change.

Earthseed: The Books of the Living
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

Leslie Marmon Silko. "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective." Critical Fictions, ed. Philomena Mariani. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991. 83-93.

Clifford Geertz. "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight." The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic, 1973. 195-240.

Draft A: Tell the story of some aspect of culture with which you are familiar.

Week Eleven
In-class writing workshop on Draft A

Ray McDermott and Hervé Vareene. "Culture as Disability." Anthropology and Education Quarterly 26, 3 (1995): 324-348.

Hervé Varenne. Extra Burdens in the Search for New Openings: On the Inevitability of Cultural Disabilities. (November 17, 2003.)

Harriet McBryde Johnson. "Unspeakable Conversations, Or How I Spent One Day as a Token Cripple at Princeton University." New York Times Magazine. (February 16, 2003). 50-79.

Harriet McBryde Johnson. "The Disability Gulag." New York Times Magazine. (November 23, 2003). 59-64.

Amy Harmon. "Neurodiversity Forever: The Disability Movement Turns to Brains." New York Times. (May 9, 2004). 1, 7.

Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical. (March 18, 2002).

Draft B: Describe the disabling aspects of your ("hometown") culture.

Week Twelve
In-class writing workshop on Draft B


Week Thirteen
Jonathan Lethem. Motherless Brooklyn. New York: Vintage, 1999.

Lethem, continued

Paper #4 (not to write, but for class discussion): What is abling, what dis-abling, about the world Lethem portrays? What different forms of abling and dis-abling might Lionel contend with in your hometown? Drawing both on the novel and your earlier account of your culture, explore how we might go beyond abling and dis-abling.

V. Re-vising and re-visioning Bryn Mawr

If resistance is always the sign of a counter-story, ambivalence
is perhaps the state of holding on to more than one story at a time."

Barbara Johnson, The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race, and Gender.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. 2

Week Fourteen
Helen Horowitz. "A Certain Style of Quaker Lady Dress" and "Behold They Are Women!" Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Knopf, 1984. 105-133.

The Women of Summer: The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, 1921-1938 (videorecording). Dir. Suzanne Bauman. New York: Filmakers Library, 1985. (55 mins.)

Rita Rubinstein Heller. "An 'Unnatural' Institution." "The Women of Summer: The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, 1921-1938." Dss. Rutgers University, 1986. 1-36.

Selections from Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin. (October 1921-May 1935).

Draft A: Write the story of Bryn Mawr, as you now understand it.

In-class writing workshop, in which we re-write our stories of Bryn Mawr: what disabilities are generated by what we see being taught here?

Reading week
Ursula K. LeGuin. Bryn Mawr Commencement Address (1986). Dancing At the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places. New York: Harper and Row, 1989. 147-160.

Anne Dalke, Paul Grobstein and Elizabeth McCormack. Theorizing Interdisciplinarity: Metaphor and Metonymy, Synecdoche and Surprise. (June 2003.)

Paper #5, to conclude: how might we revise the Bryn Mawr Story? This might take the form of a fairy tale, or a montage, or a poem; it could be collaboratively written.

ALL WRITTEN WORK DUE BY 12:30, Friday, December 17, 2004

Course Requirements:
Weekly web postings
Weekly paper drafts
Bi-weekly individual writing conferences
Final Portfolio

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