The Craft of Writing
R1B-002 | CCN: 24617
The Splitting of the Worlds: Self/Other, Occident/Orient, New World/Old World, Civilization/Barbarism, First World/Third World
M/W/F 6:00pm-7:00pm, Dwinelle 229 ///
In this writing and composition class, we will work to perfect our command of writing college-level academic papers in the US-American tradition. Mastery of this unique genre of writing requires familiarity with a set of conventions as well as constant and deliberate practice. Learning to write – and learning to write in such a unique style – is not unlike training for a sport: abstract, theoretical knowledge pales in comparison to the importance of actually performing the task at hand. One does not learn the butterfly stroke simply by hearing an explanation of it; at some point, it is necessary to jump in the water, to try, to fail, and eventually to know how to swim. At some point, one comes to know how to swim as if by reflex, as a kind of habit. So too we will train to write and read like the scholars that we are in the process of becoming. By the end of the semester, we will have begun to develop not theoretical or abstract knowledge, but a true intuition, a habit, a practice of writing.
We will devote roughly the first half of the semester to developing techniques of reading. What is the best way to confront a complex, difficult and long text in a limited amount of time? How do you highlight and take notes on a text in order to successfully come back to it later? What is the best way to situate a text in a broader academic conversation? How do you find new sources for your research project within the universe of the library? During the second half of the semester, we will shift our attention to writing and begin to work towards the final research paper. We will work on summarizing the positions of other authors for the purposes of writing a college paper. We will discuss the appropriate form of a thesis statement. We will work on articulating clear and cogent arguments in support of our positions.
But because there is no such a thing as reading or writing in the abstract, because one cannot learn to read or write unless one reads or writes something, our class will be guided by a specific intellectual enquiry relating to the preeminence of world-splitting models of thought in a wide array of disciplines. From treatises of international law to psychoanalytic theories, passing through political texts and critical denunciations of them, a great many of the discourses that inform our modern consciousness are organized by polarities – such as that between the “West” and its “Oriental” other – conceiving of the world as a space fractured along a powerful axis of difference. In some contexts, writers conceive the world as partitioned between the space of “civilization” and “primitive barbarism”, while other perspectives are premised on the division of the “Old” and the “New World” (think only of New York, New Orleans, New Spain). Twentieth Century global politics, sociality, and later developmental economics have made the distinction between the (industrialized) “First World” and the “Third World” (perpetually in “development”) a key vector of their intellectual enterprises. More recent critical interventions have shifted the register to the more politically correct idioms of “Global North” and “Global South”, but they have not discontinued their deployment of a conceptual framework postulating a thoroughgoing dichotomy of the world. Whether the “world” refers to geopolitical space, economic terrain, psychoanalytic imaginings, or cultural manifestations, these different worldviews share in their conception of a stark boundary dividing the world in two.
This class will survey texts and theories that deploy just such conceptions of the “dichotomous” world, as well as several authors in whose voices discourse becomes aware of its own deployment of these partitioning schemes. Most notable in this latter regard are Edward Said’s seminal Orientalism and Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which Is Not One, texts which reveal the power operations of a long history of discourses premised on the division between “West” and “Orient”, “self” and “other”. However, we will also read New World, post-colonial and post-modern scholars such as Anibal Quijano—who reckons with the ambivalent status of a Latin America whose collective identity is, ironically, defined by its difference from an always more Latin Europe – and Patricia Clough—who questions configurations of sex, gender, sexuality and politico-economic subjectivity that rely on the suppression of non-dualistic modes of inquiry, plurality, and multiplicity to re-produce discourses of “sameness”, or indifference, that masquerade as iterations of the differences on which “Western” dominance depends.
One key inquiry of the class – beyond tracking and analyzing the existence of these dichotomous worldviews – is to study the relation between them. Related as these discourses might appear (it is no secret that the positive side of the polarity most often resides with the European, the individual “self”, the male, the white, the “civilized”…) it soon emerges that they are not immediately reducible to one another. The Orient is not the same as the New World is not the same as the gendered and racialized other is not the same as unreason. In an increasingly integrated world, where once isolated discourses encounter one another ever more often, how do conceptual schemes that organize the world according to their chosen axis of difference confront frameworks that divide the world along different axes, even as they still share in dichotomist thinking? What are the philosophical and psychological origins of this tendency? What are its power effects?