Time Travel

Course Description

“Time” is one of the most important concepts we use to organize our understanding of the world. Heraclitus famously observed that no one steps into the same river twice, and we typically think of our lives as journeys through time. Almost any story we might tell, whether of growth or decay, success or failure, involves some orientation within time. Yet, as much as we generally think of time as flowing in one direction, we are also fascinated by the idea of time travel, of returning to the past or visiting the future.

In this course, we will read the work of artists who explore the nature of time as inspiration for writing our own pieces dealing with temporality. We will read short stories, poetry, and novels drama as we consider various questions related to time: What is the relationship between memory and identity? How do literary texts portray the past and imagine the future? How do disruptions in narrative time, such as flashbacks, affect our experience of a given text?

This is a writing and thinking intensive course: we will practice (re)writing a number of genres for different audiences and revising our work throughout the semester.

Course Goals

By the end of this class you will

  • Develop a framework for interpreting the significance of time in literature
  • Understand how genres function through conventions, ranging from structure and paragraphing to tone and mechanics
  • Write in several genres, adapting your writing style to different audiences
  • Consider writing as an ongoing process, which includes generating ideas, drafting, revising, and polishing
  • Practice critiquing others’ works in constructive ways through peer review workshops
  • Develop strong research skills by analyzing primary and secondary sources and synthesizing them with your own ideas

Required Texts

Octavia Butler, Kindred

Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Sherman Alexie, Flight

Course Assessment

Participation/Daily Assignments

We will free write or do other impromptu writing assignments during most classes. Completing these will count toward your participation grade. You will post short writing assignments on Blackboard before each class session. These will be completion grades: you will receive a zero if you do not turn them in on time, but will otherwise receive full credit. Similarly, I will not give a letter grade to first drafts of your three major writing assignments, but if you do not complete them on time you will lose participation points. Commenting on others’ work before and during our peer review sessions will also count toward your participation grade.

Personal Narrative

After reading personal narratives in class, you will write one of your own. You will write about a memory that you find meaningful, beautiful, harrowing, tragic, hilarious, or otherwise interesting. You can write about any experience, whether a childhood memory or something that happened yesterday. As in the pieces by Carver and Sedaris, you will need to use vivid details, plausible dialogue, and rich descriptions. You can choose the extent to which you want to fictionalize this piece: it might be closer to the memoir end of the spectrum, like “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” or it might be closer to the adaptation end of the spectrum, like Flight. It might be realistic or contain fantastical elements. One goal of this assignment is for you to write something very different from typical academic writing, which will allow you to take risks unavailable to you within the constraints of an academic paper. This piece should be about 1,000 words.

Film Analysis: Memento

You will analyze the significance of time in Christopher Nolan’s film Memento. You might focus on any number of issues related to the theme of time in the film: Why does Memento unfold in reverse chronological order? What is Leonard’s understanding of the relationship between memory, meaning, and selfhood? How do the audience’s perceptions toward the characters shift as the film progresses? This is not a film review, but rather an interpretive piece, so you do not need to summarize the plot of the film. I will provide you with two scholarly articles about the film, which you must incorporate into your argument. Whether you agree or disagree with these scholars’ arguments, you must succinctly explain what they are arguing. If you disagree with their arguments, then you must explain why they are flawed. If you agree with their arguments, then you must explain how they support your own argument. You should accurately summarize the scholars’ arguments, but do not simply repeat them without offering a contribution of your own. Your analysis should consider traditional literary elements of the film, such as setting, dialogue, plot, symbolism, and character development, as well as its audio-visual nature: how do the cinematography, lighting, editing, and score contribute to the film’s view of time? This piece should be about 1,500 words.

Literary Criticism

Building on the interpretive skills you developed in writing your film analysis, you will make an argument about the role of time in one of the texts we have read in class. Although your argument should be grounded in the primary text on which you choose to focus, you will need to incorporate some secondary sources. There is no minimum number of required sources; you should use as many sources necessary to make your argument. However, you should interact with the arguments of other scholars, both those whose position supports your own and those with whom you disagree. If you choose to write on one of the longer works of prose—Flight, Kindred, Brave New World—you should focus on that text. You may write about more than one poem or short story, but you will have to clearly explain why you chose to put them in dialogue. Your argument should include both close readings of important passages and broader analysis about the role of time in the whole work. This assignment should be about 2,000 words.

Reflective Argument

Your portfolio will include a reflective argument, in which you defend the thesis that you have met the course goals, drawing on the work in your portfolio as evidence. Before you turn in your portfolio at the end of the course, you will write a draft of your reflective argument, which should explain the major revisions you made to each assignment and how those changes make your pieces more effective. You must cite examples from your portfolio as evidence to convince the reader that you have met the learning outcomes for the course. Your revisions should not be limited to correcting sentence level or grammatical errors, but should involve the overall structure of your piece. You might eliminate sections that were unsuccessful and replace them with something better, or change the sequence of paragraphs in your piece. Like any academic argument, your reflective argument should have an introduction and conclusion which frames your claims, a clear thesis statement, strong transitions, and specific evidence. This assignment should be 1,000-1,250 words.

Final Portfolio

Throughout the semester we will discuss revision strategies. At the end of the course, you will revise your work and submit it as a final portfolio. Your portfolio will include 1) a second draft of your reflective argument, 2) a third draft of your personal narrative, 3) a third draft of your film analysis, 4) a third draft of your literary criticism, and 5) any relevant process materials, such as outlines, peer review feedback, etc. You should submit your portfolio as a single PDF document.

How grades are calculated

20%     Participation/Daily Assignments

10%     Personal Narrative (2nd draft)

10%     Film Analysis (2nd draft)

10%     Literary Criticism (2nd draft)

10%     Reflective Argument (1st draft)

40%     Final Portfolio

Final Exam

There will be no final exam for this course. During finals week, I will hold mandatory conferences to discuss your revisions as you finalize your portfolios.

Tentative Schedule
DW=Daily writing

BNW=Brave New World

Date Topic Reading Writing
T 1/12 Course Introduction
R 1/14 Time and Memory 1.      Raymond Carver: “My Father’s Life”

2.      David Sedaris: “Me Talk Pretty One Day”

DW: write about a time you were overjoyed
T 1/19 Flight pp. 1-53 DW: write about a time you were completely terrified
R 1/21 Flight pp. 54-106 DW: write about a moment that changed your perspective
T 1/26 Flight pp. 107-181 DW: what is the purpose of time travel in Flight?
R 1/28 1.      Jorge Luis Borges: “Funes the Memorious”

2.      Percy Shelley: “Ozymandias”

3.      Czeslaw Milosz: “An Appeal”

1st Personal Narrative draft due
T 2/2 Revision Strategies I 1.      “Shitty First Drafts” Anne Lamott

2.      “The Maker’s Eye: Revising Your Own Manuscripts” Donald M. Murray

DW: write about an experience that reveals something important about who you are
R 2/4 Workshop Workshop drafts Comment on peer drafts
T 2/9 Kindred p. 9-51 DW: how do you plan to revise your personal narrative?
R 2/11 Kindred p. 52-107 2nd Personal Narrative draft due
T 2/16   Kindred p. 108-188 DW: how did writing your personal narrative help you work toward the course goals?
R 2/18 Kindred p. 189-264 DW: how does Kindred’s use of time travel differ from Flight’s?
T 2/23 Interlude: Audio-visual literacy An Introduction to Film Studies p. 54-89 DW: how does interpreting a film differ from interpreting a written text?
R 2/25 Selections from Film Art: An Introduction 1st Film Analysis draft due
T 3/1 Revision Strategies II 1.      “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers” Nancy Sommers

2.     How to Write Anything p. 432-449

DW: how do you plan on revising your film analysis draft?
R 3/3 Workshop Workshop drafts Comment on peer drafts
T 3/8 Spring Break No class 2nd Film Analysis draft due
R 3/10 Spring Break No class
T 3/15 Interlude: Academic Prose They Say, I Say p. 1-77 DW: how did writing your film analysis help you work toward the course goals?
R 3/17 They Say, I Say p. 78-159 DW: how does academic prose differ from other genres?
T 3/22 Capturing the Present James Baldwin: “Sonny’s Blues” DW: what is the relationship between the blues and suffering in “Sonny’s Blues”?
R 3/24 1.      T.S. Eliot: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

2.      W.H. Auden: “As I Walked Out One Evening”

1st Literary Criticism draft due
T 3/29 Workshop Workshop drafts Comment on peer drafts
R 3/31 Workshop Workshop drafts Comment on peer drafts
T 4/5 Imagining the Future BNW pp. 3-71 DW: how do you plan to revise your literary criticism assignment?
R 4/7 BNW pp. 72-139 DW: what might the future might be like one hundred years from now?
T 4/12 BNW pp. 140-197 2nd Literary Criticism draft due
R 4/14 BNW pp. 198-259 DW: what is the significance of the opposition between happiness and truth in Brave New World?
T 4/19 Jorge Luis Borges: “The Garden of Forking Paths” DW: how did writing literary criticism help you work toward the course goals?
R 4/21 1.      Czeslaw Milosz: “How It Should Be In Heaven”

2.      W.B. Yeats: “Sailing to Byzantium”

1st Reflective Argument draft due
T 5/6 Final portfolio due

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