Summer 2021

June 7 – July 1, 2021

Visual Rhetoric:  If You See Something, Write Something – L&L/CP

Prof. Mark McBeth
ENGL B6408 section 1WW (class #12070)
M W 6:00 – 9:15pm

The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. – John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Inquirer to Artist: When did you start being an artist?Artist: When did you stop?

In the 21st century with the advent of varying technologies and a proliferation of social media, meaning-making and meaning-deciphering demand a deliberate and artful interweaving of visual habits, rhetorical strategies, and subjective positionings within the act of interlocution (FleckensteinVision, Rhetoric). Said in a different way, one must concurrently exercise visual knowledge, textual know-how, and audience sensitivity to understand meaning and to convey one’s ideas successfully in a world where the alphabetic and the optic converge to make things happen.  

In this course, students will recall how the ideas of John Berger, Walter Ong, and Marshal McLuhan forecasted our current relationships between literacy, visual culture, and technology.  We will explore how current artists, such as Wangechi Mutu, Patrisse Cullors, and Nao Bustamente, use their craft to explore the interrelationships between knowledge and the means of conveying messages; equally, we will investigate how certain academic opportunities have emerged that offer new possibilities for intellectual production (i.e., digital dissertations, online journals). We will read writers/artists who have confronted the challenges of visual culture and have risked genre-bending (For example: Claudia Rankine; Lynda Barry; Maia Kobabe).  We will divine how these burgeoning contexts might change the classroom and education more broadly (think Cathy Davidson). Most importantly for the participants in this course, these inquiries will demand that we challenge our own creative abilities to compose with divergent sets of practices, media, and insights.  Participants will do both low-stakes and high-stakes pieces of experimental critical composing that merge the visual, digital, aural, and performative (. . . maybe also the gustatory, olfactory, and haptic.)

Works Cited (& Potential Reading List)

  • Barry, Lynda.  Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.  New York, NY: Drawn & Quarterly, publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.
  • ___.  What It Is: Do You Wish You Could Write? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. 
  • Berger, John.  Ways of Seeing.  New York, NY: Penguin, 1972.
  • Bustamente, Nao.
  • Cullors, Patrisse.
  • Davidson, Cathy.  Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.  New York, NY: Viking, 2011.
  • Fleckenstein, Kristie S.  Vision, Rhetoric, and Social Action in the Composition Classroom.  Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2010.
  • Halberstam, Judith.  The Queer Art of Failure.  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, 2011.
  • Kobabe, Maia.  Gender Queer: A Memoir.  Lion Forge, 2019.
  • Mavor, Carol.  Pleasures Taken:  Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs.  Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995.
  • McLuhan, Marshal.  Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1964.
  • Mutu, Wangechi.
  • Rankin, Claudia.  Just Us: An American Conversation. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2020. 

Mark McBeth Professor English, John Jay College of Criminal Justice/Ph.D. Program in English & Ph.D. in Social Work, The Graduate Center/CUNY

Workshop in Fiction – CW

Ms. Dalia Sofer
ENGL B3000 section 1YY (class #10997)
TU TH 6:00 – 9:15pm

In this course we will read and discuss your manuscripts—short stories or excerpts from longer works. Together we’ll explore point of view (the door to the house of fiction, as described by the critic James Wood), and the elements that form a story, including character, setting, style, and language. We’ll talk about the possibilities of fiction—how, for example, the writer’s voice and language may differ from those of a character, or how setting can evoke character, or vice versa. We will also consider structure—the form a story takes, and its many potential configurations. Ideally you will each submit two pieces for discussion throughout the course. In each class, we’ll discuss three students’ works, and fellow students will provide written notes and critiques; I will do the same.

My primary goal in this course is to focus on your intention, and on whether your piece successfully delivers that intention. I am less interested in the “formulas” of narrative than in its essence, its ability to convey—through character, form, and most of all, language—what is unique to your vision. We’ll explore ways to sustain narrative tension while allowing a work of fiction the freedom to be what it wants to be, and we’ll talk about roadblocks and successes. Occasionally, time permitting, we may also take detours to read stories or essays (classic or unconventional) that may fuel our conversations.


Dalia Sofer is the author of the novels Man of My Time (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020)—a New York Times Editors’ Choice and Notable Book of the Year, and The Septembers of Shiraz (Ecco Press, 2007)—selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, published in sixteen countries, winner of the Sami Rohr Choice Award, a finalist for the Jewish Book Award, and longlisted for the Orange Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.  A recipient of a Whiting Award, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the Sirenland Fellowship, and multiple residencies at Yaddo, she has contributed essays and reviews to various publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The LA Review of Books, and The Believer.

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