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PWR 2GME: Dreaming in America: Rhetorics of Memory and Becoming

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In Rem Koolhaas’ 1978 manifesto on New York, he excavates the city’s architectural history to discover that it is the product of delusional fantasy: maps of “New Amsterdam” resemble nothing of old Amsterdam, a world inhabited for millennia by indigenous peoples is named “The New World.” We are, he argues, very much like the surrealists who substituted delusional images for the object world: through systematic and apparently rational means, we manage to find that all evidence supports our beliefs—and in this way remain happily if recklessly oblivious. 

Koolhaas is not new in this idea, rather, a disconnect between America’s ideals or ideality and its reality has been pointed out by writers who have been compelled to live on the other side of the dream  (W.E.B Du Bois, James Baldwin, Gloria Anzaldua, Ocean Vuong, to name a few). For these writers, America’s belief in itself as uniquely free runs hard aground on their experience seeking freedom. There is a strain in American writing, then, that challenges this country to see more clearly where it is and what must change for it to achieve real equality, justice, democracy. These are the voices we will be studying and discussing this quarter.

Texts for the course will span a range of genres and topics including: essays, films/music and documentaries. Each text marshals a different set of rhetorical moves, in the effort to pull readers out of their dream state, out of innocence: by asserting erased histories, refusing to be silenced, telling it how it is... As we read/watch/listen, we will reflect on our own practices of knowing, our own reasons for judging. To what extent are our own beliefs—about race, justice, poverty, freedom in America—the product of a surrealist method (conclusion first, evidence later)? What desires and fears motivate our beliefs, what data feeds them and, not least, what consequences follow? Given the significant position America holds in the world and our potential to shape outcomes, both locally and internationally, how might your research project help you find your place in that ecosystem? In other words, the work you develop in this course will be as much about others’ ways of knowing and living as it will be about your own. 

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) The purpose of this assignment is not to present a thesis but to come to a complex question/problem about a belief that needs exploring. (Two of your sources will be interviews: one with a professor researching your topic and one with someone in a position of power who adheres to the belief under study.)

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) This assignment asks you to research and write your way to greater clarity on the problem in the RP. Specifically, students will be asked to identify a critical example of a PCM that he/she is implicated in, and then research its motives, desires, hopes, system of interpretation, alternatives (i.e. meritocracy, the American dream, policing, our current political system—and then get inside the fantasy, a fantasy supported by an endless number of “facts”). The idea is that students begin to look deeply into the people and structures and systems that assert our reality, their reality, as real, and to ask how real they are? How surreal?

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) For this assignment, you will TELL US A STORY about your research. You can draw on several rhetorical models or one of your own making: you are welcome to incorporate any range of media. Conferences with me and with Oral Communications Tutors along with in-class workshops will help you with this process.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(2-3 pages) Given your research, what next steps would help you develop your work into action and involvement? For this assignment, you will apply for one of the Quarter Fellowships with the Haas Center for Public Service or Haas’ Andrea Naomi Leiderman Fellowship (or the new Knight-Hennesssy Scholars Program).