Your work in this course will culminate in two main writing projects—both of which will address, in different ways, the problem of originality.
Your first project will take up the question of how to make creative use of the work of others. What distinguishes an original use of texts from mere plagiarism? We’ll look together at a number of cases in which the line between intellectual theft and re-use is surprisingly hard to draw, and I will ask you to compose an “original plagiarism”—a piece in which you use texts made by others in a way that makes a point of your own. This work will take us up to spring break.
After break I’ll ask you to think about what it means to make a distinctive use of language, to have a style of your own. We’ll read several attempts to describe what style might consist of besides an ability to express ideas simply and clearly, and as your second writing project, I’ll ask you to conduct an “experiment in style”—to craft a text whose meaning depends in strong part on its form.
As we progress through the term it will be my job as your teacher to explain these projects more fully than I can now. Your job will be to keep up with the readings, to take active part in our conversations, and to meet deadlines as a writer. You can expect to have a significant piece of writing—a response to a reading, a draft or revision of a project—due each week of the semester.
To do well in this course, then, you will need to keep up a regular pace of close reading and thoughtful, imaginative writing. There will be few “big” papers, but there will be a steady stream of small, important ones. The key will be to work consistently, thoughtfully, and hard. But if you do, I think you’ll find that such work can turn into a kind of intellectual play. Over the course of this semester, we’ll talk together about a series of interesting and unusual texts, and you’ll be asked to experiment in varied and creative ways with your own writing. In short, it should be fun. I’m eager to work with you!
For details on the work I’ve described here, see Writing Projects and Schedule.