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PWR 2SO: The Rhetoric of Imperfection

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Catalog Number: PWR 2SO

Instructor: Lynn Sokei

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: PWR1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

Did you feel the pressure to appear perfect for college applications? And now, having made it through the gate, do you still feel the pressure to be perfect via “impostor syndrome” a.k.a. our university’s “duck syndrome”?

In daily life, social-media tools allow us to photoshop and airbrush. In the future, genetic tools might allow us to choose spotless fruit and perhaps spotless human beings. But research shows that perfectionism can be the gateway to unhappiness: deep unhappiness. 

In this course, we’re going to discuss ideals of perfection and consider how someone or something being less perfectly anything is not necessarily negative or a loss. When we move away from the need for (absolute) perfection, as we see in the useful approximations to zero in math or in the wabi-sabi asymmetries in art, what do we gain? This is the core question of this course.

Your quarter-long research project will address ideas of perfection and imperfection in their myriad incarnations: the rationale of asymmetrical (religious) architecture; the impact of imperfect monuments; the conditional use of heuristics in computer science and other fields; the utility of paradoxical concepts; the imperfect endings to TV shows, films, and works of fiction; case studies of educational settings deemphasizing perfectionism and emphasizing “grit”; and, generally, case studies where aiming for optimal (not perfect) outcomes is the goal.

PWR 2 Assignment Sequence

Research Proposal 

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words; reflective memo of 250 words): This proposal launches you into your main research topic for the quarter. You’ll discuss possible topics with others and conduct initial library research to assess the number and variety (beyond printed text) of available sources. This research should help you outline and tease out what hasn’t been claimed about your topic—thus revealing your particular take on things.

Written Research-Based Argument 

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages; reflective memo of 250 words): This will echo and build on the RBA skills you developed in PWR 1 (or a similar course). You will likely search for additional sources, including visual text, to present a well-structured and compelling argument based on our topic of imperfection. At the end of this process, you will then write a short, ungraded reflection about the assignment.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support; reflective memo of 250 words): You will give an oral presentation on your project that includes multimedia (audio clips, video clips, slides, etc.), then you will answer questions from your peers. Preparation for this final presentation will include visits by undergraduate oral communication tutors (OCT) from the Hume Center who will give interactive workshops on public speaking at different times of the quarter.

Genre/Modes Assignment 

We will have a (fun) watercolor activity allowing you to present features of your research in an engaging, visual form.