UN513 The Ways of Knowing
Carol Hurd Green
Also offered as EN 627
It is now, however, perfectly clear that neither the future nor the past are in existence, and that it is incorrect to say that there are three times—past, present, and future. Though one might perhaps say ‘There are three times—a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future.’ For these three do exist in the mind, and I do not see them anywhere else: the present time of things past is memory; the present time of things present is sight; the present time of things future is expectation.
—Augustine, Confessions, Book 11
Memory believes before knowing remembers, believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.
—William Faulkner, Light in August
I am accused of tending to the past, as if I made it, as if I sculpted it with my own hands. I did not. This past was waiting for me when I came, a monstrous unnamed baby, and I with my mother’s itch took it to breast and named it History. She is more human now, learning languages everyday, remembering faces, names and dates. When she is strong enough to travel on her own, beware, she will.
—Lucille Clifton, 1991
Coming at a time of transition in students’ lives, this course reflects on the workings of memory and the transmutation of memory into narratives that express values and explore identity—on the level of nation and culture and on a personal level, in literary and historical texts, films, and public memorials. We will read, observe, reflect upon, and create memory texts of a variety of kinds with the goal of developing a series of reflections and essays that explore the memory of the past in order to give meaning to the present and to aid in discerning the future; we seek also to understand that, and how, we live in history. Throughout the course we will explore the ways in historical events and the variables of gender, race, ethnicity, and class influence the construction of memory and interpretations of experience (our own and others); observe the languages available for the expression of memory; and seek ways in which the process of remembering can unfold toward an understanding of the multiple possibilities ahead. Guided by the meditations of Thich Nhat Hanh and others, we seek to create an attitude of mindfulness that allows us to live fully and peacefully in the present moment, to understand the many shapes of that moment, and to find peaceful spaces for productive reflection.
The success of this course depends on the full cooperation of all of its members: active participation in the conversation, careful reading of texts, attendance, and on-time submission of assignments are expected. Absences, except in the case of illness or emergency, will have a negative effect on all of the other members of the class, and will affect the individual’s assessment. If you are not going to be present for class, please let me know in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The course requires several pieces of writing, of a variety of kinds. All assignments are due as specified in the syllabus.
Reflection papers are what the name implies: relatively brief, two to three pages, and thoughtful responses to questions raised by the texts—not synopses. They should incorporate both critical analysis and personal response and will form the basis for in-class discussion. Note: one reflection paper is optional, see syllabus.
You will also be expected to attend and to write brief, one to two page, reviews of at least two of the talks and presentations at Boston College that are listed on the syllabus, or that may be announced during the semester, drawn primarily from the Humanities Series and from the Globalization Series.
There is one oral history assignment that will not need to be written up formally, but you will need notes to present it in class.
Finally, you will write three-, four-, or five-page essays that investigate the relation between events and ideas remembered and the construction of identity. One of these may be based on one of the course texts; the other two should draw on personal experience. These essays will allow greater scope for exploring the ideas and memories that have contributed to the individual whom you have become and for speculation about the vocational choices that you will make in the future.
Evaluations of the written assignments will focus on matters of style and expression: your ideas are not subject to judgment but your expression of them is. (This is an English class, after all...) All papers may be revised; they will be presented as a portfolio at the end of the semester—due April 22, accompanied by a final reflective essay and a personal and historical timeline that stretches back as far as you like and forward at least five years into the future.
- Class participation and presentations 30%
- Reflection papers 20%
- Essays, includes the final essay 40%
- Reviews 5%
- Final 5%
- Carroll, James, American Requiem
- Ehrenreich, Barbara, Nickel and Dimed
- Mason, Mary G., Life Prints
- Morrison, Toni, Beloved
- Nussbaum, Martha, For Love of Country
- Maya Lin: a Strong Clear Vision
- Black Is, Black Ain’t
- Roger and Me
There will also be several handouts.
Introduction, course structure
- Meditation: each class will open with a meditation, initially from the packet of meditations (handout) and subsequently with readings chosen by class members.
- Process: collaboration with your past—public and personal history—through the construction of memory texts, collaboration with colleagues, and the making of narratives.
- Memory and narrative: telling your story and telling it to someone else. Martin Luther King, from the Nobel Peace Prize Address; Thich Nhat Hanh, selections from Peace Is Every Step, and Living Buddha, Living Christ.
Living in history: the national and the cosmopolitan. Where do we—as citizens—live now? pp. 3–21, 111-144 in Martha Nussbaum, For Love of Country. Constructing public memory: memory and memorials. Martha Minow, selection from Facing History, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness; Marita Strunken, Memorializing Absence (also see web sites cited in Strunken article); Robert Lowell, For the Union Dead; NY Times, Boston Globe, articles on rebuilding in New York City.
Reflection due. Film, Maya Lin: a Strong Clear Vision; The Reluctant Memorialist. Choosing two of the readings from January 21 (Nussbaum, Minow, Strunken) define two questions that arise for you in each essay and reflect on the reasons why you are asking these questions, or, offer your own reflective vision, describe and comment, of an appropriate memorial for the World Trade Center site.
History, memory, and story-telling. Gerda Lerner, Why History Matters. Beginning with place: where do you live now? How do you remember in place? Adrienne Rich, Sources; Elizabeth Bishop, In the Waiting Room; other poems. Dolores Hayden, reflections on place; Patricia Hampl, Memory and Imagination, I Could Tell You Stories (handouts). Reflection, and class discussion: Mapping your Boston College, 1999–2003, maps can be worked on throughout the semester and submitted with the final portfolio.
Opening of Eire-Land: Irish Landscape exhibit, McMullen Museum, through May 19.
Humanities Series: Patricia Hampl, Candlemas Lecture. See end of syllabus for other Humanities Series events.
Pumla Gobodo-Midikizela, talk on South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at Facing History and Ourselves (Brookline). Michael Ignatieff, Digging Up the Dead, The New Yorker (November 10, 1997). Essay, on place.
Re-memorying: Toni Morrison, Beloved. Excerpts from Morrison from Playing in the Dark and Site of Memory (handouts). Selection from Wendy Lesser, Nothing Remains the Same—on re-reading.
March 4 Spring Break
Reflection due. Reading and re-reading, choosing either Beloved, if you have read it before, or another book that you wish to re-read and reflect on your past and current experience of the text.
Memory in visual texts. Discussion of the mapping process. Photographs as the sources of memory narratives. Bring a selection of photographs, either your own or taken by others, that provide a way into narratives of memory and identity. If time permits, we will watch at least part of Marlon Riggs’ Black Is, Black Ain’t; please watch the whole film on your own, it will be on reserve in the Media Center in O’Neill. This can be used in place of one of the reviews of a BC event that you are required to do.
From past to future: memory, education, and vocation. For the three books that remain in this semester’s reading, we will be talking about the ways in which education has shaped your identity—about the ways in which you have learned about work, the ways in which the person you have become, the subject of your memories, and shaping your vocational choices. A group of five will be responsible for shaping and leading the discussion of each book.
Life Choices I: Readings: Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., from The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education; Parker Palmer, selection from Let Your Life Speak; selections from the Red Book. James Carroll: American Requiem. Discussants: Karen Popeo, Michael Overson, Sarah Kate Wilson, Mollie Widen, Tiffany Milloien Reflection (optional). Reading your Boston College transcript as a biography of your intellectual choices.
Memory Potluck -- 6:30 p.m. at my home, 445 Franklin St., Cambridge
Life Choices II: Learning about work: selection from Howard Gardner et al., Good Work: Where Excellence and Ethics Meet; Michael Moore, Roger and Me (film); reports on oral histories about choosing work/vocation. During spring break or sometime before April 1, make time to speak with an older relative or friend about their process of choosing the work that they do: would they recognize it in the term “vocation”?
Barbara Ehrenreich: Nickel and Dimed. Discussants: Meghan Keaney, Brian Gilboy, Katherine Ram, Kim Dugan, Jean Vrola. Essay, on Schooling.
Life Choices III: Mary G. Mason, Life Prints: a Memoir of Healing and Discovery. Discussants: Chrissy Linnemeier, Anna Pascual, Kate Schrinsky, Peter Kilpatrick, Jessica Freeman
Conversation with Mary G. Mason. Essay, on work.
Final reflections. Portfolio due.
Humanities Series reminder
- March 12 - Bell Hooks
- March 26 - Jill Ker Conway
- April 10 - Mary Gordon
Reflection due February 25. Re-memorying: Toni Morrison, Beloved. Excerpts from Morrison, from Playing in the Dark, and Site of Memory (handouts). Selection from Wendy Lesser, Re-Reading (handout). Reading and re-reading: choose either Beloved, if you have read it before, or another book that you wish to re-read and reflect on your past and current experience of the text.
Memory in visual texts: Re-memorying in film: Marlon Riggs, “Black Is, Black Ain’t.” Photographs and discussion.
March 25 - April 1
From past to future: memory, education, and
Vocation I: James Carroll, American Requiem. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., from The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education (handout); Parker Palmer, from Let Your Life Speak (handout); selections from the Red Book. Reflection: Re-reading your transcript, optional reflection paper.
Vocation II: Learning about work: selection from Howard Gardner, et al., Good Work: Where Excellence and Ethics Meet; Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed. Michael Moore, Roger and Me (film); oral histories on choosing work. Essay, on schooling.
Essay on work, due April 22.
Vocation III: Mary Mason, Life Prints: a Memoir of Healing and Discovery.
Final reflections. Portfolio due.
- February 6 - Patricia Hampl
- February 13 - Robin Becker
- March 12 - Jonathan Lear
- March 12 - Bell Hooks
- March 20 - Jill Ker Conway
- March 26 - Mary Gordon
- April 10 - Erica Funkhauser