Course Meeting Times
Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session
Turn-of-the-century eras have historically been times when people are more than usually inclined to scrutinize the present and speculate about the future. Now, the turn not just of a century but of a millennium having recently passed, such scrutiny and speculations inevitably intensify. What will the future that awaits us in this twenty-first century and beyond be like? And how do visions of that future reflect and respond to the world we live in now? In this course we will read and write about how some writers and filmmakers have responded to the present as a way of imagining—and warning about—possible worlds to come. Guided by our reading and discussion, we will scrutinize our own present and construct our own visions of the future through close readings of the texts as well as of some aspects of contemporary culture—urban and environmental crises, economic imperialism, sexual and reproductive politics, the ethics of biotechnologies, issues of race and gender, the romance of technology, robotics and cyborg cultures, media saturation, language and representation—and the persistent questions they pose about what it means to be human at this start of a new millennium.
Texts and Films
Please see readings for more detailed information about the following listed items.
- Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
- Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
- Albert Goldbarth, "The Future" (essay)
- Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto" (essay)
- Ursula LeGuin, "Science Fiction and the Future" (essay)
- Ursula LeGuin, The Word for World is Forest
- George Orwell, 1984 (selections)
- George Saunders, "My Flamboyant Grandson" (short story)
- Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (film)
- Andy and Larry Wachowski, The Matrix (film)
- Andrea Lunsford, Easy Writer (handbook)
Easy Writer is your reference for matters of format and correctness. It will also provide you with guidelines and instruction on the spirit and mechanics of using and citing sources accurately in your work. We will use the MLA in-text citation system in this course. (Please see study materials for online guides on MLA documentation.) It is essential that you also have ready access to a good current college dictionary.
This is first and foremost a writing course, so another primary text for the course will be the writing all of you do and what all of us have to say about that writing. We will spend a good bit of time, both in and out of class, in workshops, learning from and responding to the writing done by members of the class. Our purpose in those workshops will be for you to support each other's writing efforts by offering careful and thoughtful responses as readers, pointing out the writer's successes and offering constructive suggestions for improving the work. What you submit to the workshops will be understood to be work in progress; you will use the responses of readers (including me) to revise, refine, and polish your writing before submitting a final polished version.
Writing successfully depends upon your ability to read with scrupulous care, attention, and insight. Careful reading of assigned material will therefore be the foundation for your writing for the course. You will be expected to have completed all assigned reading on the first day a text is discussed in class; brief and informal in-class writing on those days (as well as on others) will help you to stay disciplined about getting the reading done on time. I have selected readings that I think you will find interesting and fun to read and talk about, and that I hope will inspire you with compelling ideas that will produce compelling writing.
The reading we will do together invites careful scrutiny of the world we live in and indeed an invitation to intervene in it. To accommodate that invitation, your writing will engage with issues in the contemporary world raised by the futuristic visions we will encounter. You will choose a subject you are interested in to researching more thoroughly for one of your assignments. You will also have the option for one of your writing assignments to do engaged or experiential scholarship, to choose a service activity that will involve an organization or community responding to some of the urgent matters confronting us in the present—issues of the environment, privacy in the age of the internet, reproductive politics, biotechnologies, censorship, race and gender inequality, media control, postcolonial politics, or some other subject of your own devising. The MIT Public Service Center will work to help those of you who choose this option find an appropriate project, and you will write about what you did for your writing assignment. And your final writing assignment for the semester will allow you to create your own vision of the future—in fiction, drama, or essay.
During the semester you will write four major assignments, varying somewhat in length but generally between three and eight pages. For each assignment, you will first submit a brief proposal and then the essay itself, as complete and polished as you are able to make it (in other words, a first version but not a rough draft). Your work will be read closely and carefully by me and by members of the class and discussed in workshops; you will also have the opportunity to meet with me in individual conferences to discuss revision possibilities. You will then revise with the support, suggestions, and encouragement of your readers.
In addition to the four formal assignments, there will be occasions for more informal writing. You will keep a Reader's Notebook—a place for you to write informally to explore the reading and films, raise questions, record your responses. Most of the notebook writing will be done outside of class, but occasional brief in-class writing will also be part of your notebook. The purpose of the notebook is to use writing as a way to engage more deeply with the reading and to prepare you for class discussion and for writing your essays. I will collect the notebooks at random, a few at a time, so please always bring your notebook to class with you. For more information on the notebook, see assignments.
Communication Intensive courses are charged with helping you to develop and practice oral communication skills as well. To that end, you will make one formal presentation to the class (more about that later), and you will also have opportunities to practice speaking to a group in more informal ways—by participating actively in class discussion and by serving as a discussion leader for one of the assigned texts.
Using someone else's language and/or ideas without proper attribution is academically dishonest. As members of this class and the larger scholarly community you are expected to abide by the norms of academic honesty. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, failing to acknowledge sources or willfully misrepresenting the work of others as your own will not be tolerated. Everything you submit must be your own work written specifically for this class.
The booklet Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students explains these issues in detail, and you are responsible for understanding its contents. We will work on citing sources in class and discuss ways to acknowledge them properly. When in doubt, consult with me.
Plagiarism can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F or suspension or expulsion from the Institute.
Our semester is compressed and our schedule very tight, so all written work must be handed in on time. No exceptions, unless for real and serious emergencies, in which case you should get in touch with me at once. Extensions for emergencies will be granted only once per student per semester.
I will make time available for conferences as you are working on each essay, in both the planning and the revision stages. You are also welcome to meet with me at any time during the semester to talk about particular writing assignments or any problems you are having or about your work in general, either during my office hours or by arranging an appointment with me at another mutually convenient time.
Your responsibility in the class is to be not only a writer, but also a reader and responder for other members of the class community. It is essential, then, that you attend class faithfully and come to each class fully prepared to participate in discussions of assigned reading and in writing workshops. Lateness for class, if extreme or chronic, will be counted as an absence. You must notify me as soon as possible when real and serious emergencies keep you from attending class. More than two unexcused absences during the semester will result in a lowering of your course grade; so will missing class when you have work up for workshop discussion. Five unexcused absences will result in your being withdrawn from the course. So don't take casual cuts, and come to class faithfully and on time and prepared to participate fully in class activities.
I will evaluate your work by responding as carefully and thoughtfully as I can to all the writing you do for the class, sometimes in writing, other times in conferences or email conversations. I will ask you to submit at the end of the semester a portfolio containing all the writing you have done for the course (at least 20 pages of revised, polished writing) and, if you choose, additional revisions of your essays, so that I can assign you a grade for the course. When I assign grades for the semester, the quality of your writing will be the primary determinant. I will also consider the quality of your oral presentations, the degree and consistency of your effort, the success you demonstrate in revising your work, your attendance and preparedness for class, how actively you participated in class discussion and activities and the quality of your classroom contributions, and how well you served as a reader and responder for other writers in the class. I will let you know at once if at any point your performance would merit a grade of C or below. I will of course be happy to talk with you at any time about your work and your progress in the course.
All required work (notebook and in-class writing, essays and revisions, reading assignments, and conferences) must be completed satisfactorily in order to receive a passing grade for the course. You will receive both CI and HASS credit for this course.
|Writing and reading profile
|Essay I sequence
|Essay II sequence
|Essay III sequence
|Assignment IV sequence
|In-class participation (including workshops and the silent reading session)
We will work very hard together this semester, but I hope we will enjoy ourselves too—I am a firm believer that people learn best when they do. I'm always open to questions and suggestions; I promise to listen attentively and to treat you and your work with seriousness and respect; and I look forward to our learning from each other and to a pleasant and productive semester. Onward into the twenty-first century and beyond!