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PWR 2KDC: Contemporary Mythic Thinking: Regenerating Alternative Futures

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What myths do we believe in? Where do they come from? What do they serve? What other myths speak differently to those shared concerns? Mythos, or the deeply held, animating story of values we believe in to orient ourselves in the world—can be a useful lens for considering alternative possible ways of knowing and acting. By critically reflecting on these frame stories—from Thor to Thanksgiving, Metaverse to MAGA, Skeleton Woman to Santa Claus—we may uncover their fascinating back stories and release their potential for healing.

“Cultural and personal healing are [both] essential for healing the planet. Institutional and cultural stories we’ve bought into are the largest barriers [to that joint healing].” Spoken at a 2022 Sustainability Conference panel talk on designing a regenerative, restorative world, this quote features two main principles of contemporary mythic thinking (CMT). On the one hand, the internal and personal stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we do require constant deep reflection; on the other hand, the cultural stories we have bought into for so long require rethinking as well, as they inform our personal stories, choices, and actions.

In our work we will consider a range of case studies: a peace-making community center to replace prisons based on Native circle mediation practices; Donna Haraway’s simian/cyborg reframe of science as a deeply mythic discourse; Estes’ folk stories of self-destructive ambition and relational healing; and Bojack Horseman episodes of inverted underwater worlds and intergenerational family trauma. As CMT specifically focuses on more inclusive, collaborative, and out-of-the-box ways of critically engaging our situating stories, you have access to a range of inter-disciplinary connections among ecology, psychology, sci fi, design, engineering, cultural studies, and the arts. In addition, we do collaborative hands-on activities across genres in writing and speaking to practice how to better share your stories orally, visually, and rhetorically by repeated rehearsals and feedback loops.

In the past, students have: 1) deconstructed the myth of Scalia and Textualism to expose its deep contradictions; 2) analyzed the ways the writers of the tv show Community oversimplified Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, thus leaving BIPOC character narratives under-formed; and 3) used both quantum physics and psilocybin research to interrogate dominant notions of time and space through the sci-fi films Interstellar and Arrival. The hope is that your research project will be of deep personal value to you, and you will then be able to share your insights and growth as witness in turn, so that others may be able to learn from you. In classic myth, this is known as the hero’s return.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) Students apply CMT to a contemporary problem, select appropriate sources and fields of study: gendering of embodied AI as feminine; motherhood values in S. African and American folk contexts; the myth of sustainable climate projects vs indigenous reciprocity.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages)  Most students end up: 1) applying a CMT lens to a contemporary problem; 2) deconstructing and contextualizing a dominant myth or narrative/ or restoring an old myth for its current value; 3) then offering a different/fuller/regenerative set of concluding considerations more in line with the mythos of the shared world that is wanted.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) Students rewrite their WRI for a live researched presentation to the class with three major draft rehearsals. The DOR will be given as part of a panel in a three-day CMT Conference format that allows the class to engage directly with the work in the context of the other presentations.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(mixed visuals and texts map) As a final review, students create a map that not only situates their academic work in light of their own family, community, and personal value stories, but also in context of their panelists’ research and the class’s overall materials and themes.