Summer 2022

June 6 – July 5, 2022

Life Writing in Crisis: Memoir as Presence/Survival/Endurance/Resistance – L&L/CP

Prof. Mark McBeth
ENGL B6409 section 1WW (class 7519)
TU TH 6:00 – 9:15pm

Life is a chance, a story is a chance. That I am here is a chance.
Gerald Vizenor

Memories, after all, are not bound by order.  They are bound by association.  The text of association, therefore, is one that more accurately reflects how we conceptualize our own lives, how we tell our own stories, and how we organize our inner narratives.
—Same Meekings

Every object has a story.  He teaches me to listen to the stories things tell, to appreciate their history.  He has many notebooks, little black notebooks filled with faded yellow paper.  I understand from him that the notebooks are a place for the storage of memory.
—bell hooks

In this course, we will pause and craft into words our recollections of how we thrived during this period and how writing might act as a means to process what we have experienced and learned.  Normally, we accumulate memories over long periods of time—the drips and draughts of life moments fade . . . or, sometimes, remain indelible in our minds. Those memories help us learn how to cope in the world; they help form our identities; they, sometime, remind us of our resilience. “Survivance,” a portmanteau of survival/endurance or survival/resistance, will compel us in this course to compose our sense of resilience over the past two years, to put into words how we have kept our composure (or maybe not).

In the past two years, we’ve no doubt accrued an abundance of day-in-day-out impressions that will stick with us.  The duress of the pandemic, heartbreaks of social unrest, and the apprehensions of constant breaking news have created a constant barrage of memory-inducing scenarios.  These accruals of memory have also been accompanied by extended periods of shelter-in-place so we’ve had plenty of time to reflect about what’s happening in the immediacy of our lives. Furthermore, the circulation of writing has created a collective discourse about living through crisis, and we will consider how the labor of life writing—of composing personal experience— helps create public discourse and, perhaps, resists the dominating narratives fed to us through media (what Henry Giroux has called “pandemic pedagogy.”)

As a project for this course, you may want to develop a piece of writing (or multimodal composing) that directly addresses the duress of the past two years or, alternatively, that addresses how you distracted yourself from all the breaking news.  So you can choose to dwell in our current crises (as a colleague says, “staring into the sun”) or point our attentions into a completely different direction.  

This course will pose the following inquiries and invite you to explore them how you choose through words, image, or a combination of the two:

  • What do you most want to remember about the years 2020-2022?
    • What do you most want to forget about the years 2020-2022?
    • What do you remember about making money or not making money during this period?
    • What do you remember about learning and/or teaching during this period?
    • What small occurrences stick with you from this period? 
    • What traumatic moments happened?
    • What joyful moments occurred?
    • How do you remember and want to record you despondency, your succor, your apprehensions, your relaxations, and/or your ennui? 
    • How does your composing of this experience align or depart from the narratives that predominated the media?

Finally, as a collective project for this summer course, we will develop a textual and visual time capsule, an archive of our individual experiences of this period that  coalesces into a collective chronicle of what living looked and felt like in this strange period. 

Possible Readings:

Brainard, Joe,  I Remember.
Couser, G. Thomas, “In My Father’s Closet: Reflections of a Critique Turned Life Writer”
Dekel, Mikhal,  Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odysseey
hook, bell,  Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work
“Writing Autobiography” (80-87)
“Class and Politics of Writing” (97-107)
Foss, Megan,  “Love Letters”
Giroux, Henry.  Race, Politics, and Pandemic Pedagogy: Education in a Time of Crisis.
González, Rigoberto, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa
Hildalgo, Moraga, “Toward Homeostasis in Digital Transition: A Community College Writing Center”
Jay, Karla,   Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation
Madrazo, Christen.  “Parenting in Front of a Live Audience of In-laws” (New York Times)
Moraga, Cherrie.  Native Country of the Heart
Raboteau, Emily.  “Lesson Plans: Homeschooling in a Pandemic”. (New York Times)
Rankine, Claudia.  Citizen
Vizenor, Gerald, Manifest Manners: Narrative on Postindian Survivance
Wallace, Ann E.., “Long Haul Writing: Creating Community Amid Crises”
Waterston, Alisse,  My Father’s Wars: Migration, Memory, and the Violence of a Century

Course Objectives:

  • We will study the use of memory to inscribe the momentous.
  • We will read and analyze memoirs and how authors have chosen to construct them.
  • We will experiment with how language can reflect experience.
  • We will experiment with how image can reflect experience.
  • We will construct our own written recollections.
  • We will curate our words and images into a collective souvenir. 

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

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