2012-13 Catalog

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Offering Description

Self and Story: Studies in Psychology, Literature, and Writing


Fall 2012 and Winter 2013 quarters

Steve Blakeslee English, writing, literature , Mark Hurst psychology
Fields of Study
literature, psychology and writing
Preparatory for studies or careers in
education, literature, psychology, social work, and writing.

Who do you say you are, and why? How and why do people continually adjust and adapt their claims about themselves—their origins, preferences, values, and actions—to suit different audiences and occasions, at times even overhauling their identities completely? We will apply the practices and insights of psychology and the literary arts to the topic of self-narratives, both formal and informal: how they function, the many and varied forms they take, and the highly influential role they play in shaping our understanding of human experience. In the process, we will explore how self-stories can both expand and limit people’s thinking as they interpret their past, narrate their present, and plan their future.

Through a variety of small- and large-group seminars, lectures, and experiential workshops, we will use psychology as a lens to examine, investigate, and theorize about our own identities and experiences. Recent innovations and activities in the field—for example, James Pennebaker’s groundbreaking work on narrative therapy—will be explored via video conferences with leading social psychologists.

At the same time, we will explore the world of literature with a focus on considerations of the self. Of particular importance will be autobiographical narratives and the rich and intricate issues of memory, authority, persona, and truth that face every self-portraying writer. These accounts—ranging from Frederick Douglass’s slave narrative to Thoreau’s Walden to Marjane Satrapi’s contemporary graphic novel, Persepolis —embody a particularly critical function of self-stories: to open windows onto times, places, and social and political settings that differ sharply from our own. We will create a supportive group environment in order to write freely and fearlessly about memories, thoughts, and emotions. Students will also learn to recognize and articulate elements of traditional story form, such as settings, premises, and plot progressions involving conflict and resolution. Writing assignments will include response papers, summaries, short narratives, reflective journals, and a substantial memoir-essay.

While this program focuses on particular topics, questions, and materials, it is also designed to systematically help students acquire the skills and abilities in the areas necessary to effective college-level study: reading (and rereading), writing (and rewriting), thinking, listening, speaking, and working together. We will consistently keep in sight both the “what” of our subject matter and the “how” of our approach to learning about it. The program will include many activities for students to undertake as individuals, but the larger aim is always to pursue a collective inquiry about the nature of selves and stories, pursuing knowledge and understanding together.

In winter quarter, we will deepen our consideration of such topics as self-determination, willpower, the nature of happiness, and the notion of the double in both psychology and literature.  Winter's literary texts will include works by Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Online Learning
No Required Online Learning
Greener Store
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
November 26th, 2012 Description updated.
April 26th, 2012 New program added.