Syllabus

ENGL 115F: First-Year Writing Seminar

Imagining the Internet: Representations of Digital Culture

Dr. Brian Rejack

Office: Commons 225G

Email: brian.j.rejack@vanderbilt.edu

Required Texts:

Pat Cadigan, Tea From an Empty Cup (1998) –lots of used copies on Amazon

Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965)

William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl (1995) –I’ll explain ordering details

Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget (2009)

David Rossenwassen and Jill Stephen, Writing Analytically.

Rudy Rucker, Software (1982) –in the collection, The Ware Tetralogy at the bookstore, or for free online as a PDF

Course Description:

Way back in the digital dark ages of the early 1980s, long before Facebook, Google and Apple shaped the way we view the internet, William Gibson imagined what a massive array of networked computers might someday look like. He called it “cyberspace,” in his novel Neuromancer, and described it as “a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators.” This course will examine fictional and nonfictional “imaginings” of the internet, like Gibson’s prescient one, to think critically about what “digital culture” means, and about the connection between such texts and the culture they represent. By analyzing a wide variety of materials—cyberpunk novels by Gibson and Pat Cadigan, films such as The Matrix and eXistenZ, nonfictional responses to the digital from its infancy to its relative maturity, and pop cultural documents ranging from Futurama to cell phone commercials—we will broach questions about the aesthetic, social, philosophical and practical ramifications of digital culture. What might analyzing these representations of the internet teach us about how we experience our “consensual hallucination” everyday? To answer this question we will both interpret literary portrayals of new media, and evaluate ourselves as writers in a digital age. New communications technologies have undoubtedly changed how we write; we will attempt (often in more than 140 characters) to take stock of some of those changes. In addition to regular participation in class discussions, assignments will include three formal academic papers, and several blog posts, in-class writing workshops, and writing journal entries.

Goals:

You will learn about a particular niche of contemporary literature concerned with technologies of computing and their cultural meanings. We will understand this grouping of texts by reading them closely, formally and analytically (variants of the same thing), as well as in relation to the larger context of digital culture. As such, you will practice a particular approach to studying literature. Our analysis will take shape through repeated, differentiated acts of writing, which will orient you to college writing writ large (pun intended) and writing in a specific discipline (English). To summarize, you’ll learn about a slice of computer culture, you’ll learn how to read texts like good budding literary critics, and you’ll learn how to write about them through various forms of written expression.

Coursework:

In addition to careful reading of assigned texts, the work in this course will be those forms of written expression alluded to above. Indeed, the question of form will be one that we repeatedly raise as we contemplate how the internet and other new technologies influence the way we write. Even as digitization takes us further and further from the material immediacy of paper, we become increasingly reliant on textual communication: blogs, tweets, status updates, emails, and text messages all ask us to communicate via the written word, even if those words are just the projected imaginations of ones and zeros.

Papers

The first and most prevalent form of our writing will be the academic essay. We will discuss at length writing as a process—as a mode of thinking, not merely as the broadband transmission of thought to page. To develop your processing power, you will write 3 longer papers this semester, each of which will go through at least one significant revision. The final paper will be a research-based project of your devising. We will develop the necessary skills for finding, evaluating and engaging with secondary sources as a means of forming and refining a sustained, well-organized argument.

Class Blog

As a complement to your formal academic papers, you will also contribute to our class blog. In addition to regular reading of and commenting on your peers’ posts, approximately 4 times during the semester you will be responsible for creating a blog post. We’ll talk about the expectations for this kind of writing and how it differs from the formal papers, but for now suffice it to say that “informal” does not equal sloppy, inconsequential, or intellectually lazy. An important lesson to learn as developing writers is how to shape one’s writing depending on audience and intent, a skill that writing in different contexts helps to hone.

Peer Review

Lastly, we’ll do lots of in-class writing and workshops with your writing, so be prepared to share your work with others and to read and respond to each other’s work. Since good writing functions like a conversation, it always helps if you do some conversing during the writing process. We will have 5 dedicated peer review sessions during the term. During each session, three papers will be up for review. That means everyone in the class will read those three papers for that session. During the session, each person’s paper will get 15 minutes of discussion. Everyone will have one paper treated to this Creative Writing model of “workshopping.” More info to follow before our first session.

______________________________

Reading Schedule

*This schedule will evolve during the semester. For up to date readings, assignment dates, etc., consult the web version located conveniently on our course blog.

W Jan

12

Introductions
F Jan

14

“A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” by John Perry BarlowBrief selection (first 9 paragraphs) from “Mother Earth Mother Board” by Neal Stephenson

M Jan

17

MLK DAY. NO CLASSES. But make sure you start reading!
ADD/DROP PERIOD ENDS, JAN 18 AT 11:59 P.M.

Part I: When We Imagined Where We’d Go—Two Novelistic Examples from Cyberpunk

 

W Jan

19

Neuromancer (1-95)Writing Analytically (Chapter 1)
F Jan

21

Neuromancer (99-131)Writing Analytically (254-7). Selection from Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker. “Plagiarism is Not a Big Moral Deal” by Stanley Fish. Discuss plagiarism.

M Jan

24

Neuromancer (132-193)Writing Analytically (Chapter 3)
W Jan

26

Neuromancer (194-232)Writing Analytically (Chapter 4)
F Jan

28

Neuromancer (232-261)
M Jan

31

Paper #1 Draft Due.Article on “The Singularity” in NYTimes

Chapter from Mind Children by Hans Moravec

W Feb

2

Software (Chapters 1-9)
F Feb

4

Peer Review Workshop
Group 1: Read Writing Analytically, Chapter 9
Group 2: Read Writing Analytically, Chapter 10
M Feb

7

Software (Chapters 10-19)
W Feb

9

Peer Review Workshop
Group 1: Read Writing Analytically, Chapter 10
Group 2: Read Writing Analytically, Chapter 9
F Feb

11

Software (Chapters 20-28)

Part II: Where We Imagine We Are Now—Contemporary Reflections from Non-fiction, Film, and New Media

M Feb

14

Paper #1 Revision Due.
Read “Apple Wants to Own You” by Jack Shafer
Watch Futurama, “Attack of the Killer App” in class.
W Feb

16

You Are Not a Gadget (Part 1: 1-72)
F Feb

18

You Are Not a Gadget pages 133-7, 141-7, 152-92

M Feb

21

Agrippa, Book of the Dead
W Feb

23

Explore Google Variations. Read William Gibson’s NY Times editorial and WSJ Interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt
F Feb

25

Digital: A Love Story
This review will be a good place to start if you want a bit of context. And here is the walkthrough for you gaming noobs.
M Feb

28

Galatea (instructions on Interactive Fiction will occur beforehand)
Download an Interactive Fiction interpreter: Windows, Mac. If those don’t work for any reason, go here for some other options.
Download the game, Galatea. Play, enjoy!
Walkthroughs for Galatea. Once again, consult these only after extensive play on your own.
Read Writing Analytically (Chapter 17)
W Mar

2

Discuss The Matrix
Writing Analytically (Chapter Eight)
F Mar

4

Discuss eXistenZ
Paper #2 Draft Due.
SPRING BREAK, MARCH 5-13. DEFICIENCY REPORTS DUE MARCH 9

Part III: What We Imagine We Are—Bodies, Texts and Selves in Cyberspace

M Mar

14

Peer Review Workshop
W Mar

16

Writing Analytically, Chapter 13
From Interface Culture, by Steven Johnson
F Mar

18

Writing Analytically, Chapter 14
From How We Became Posthuman, by N. Katherine Hayles

LAST DAY TO WITHDRAW
M Mar

21

Peer Review Workshop
Screening of The Social Network, time/place TBA
W Mar

23

From Mechanisms, by Matthew Kirschenbaum
F Mar

25

Discuss The Social Network
M Mar

28

Paper #2 Revision Due
Library Visit (Meet at Central Library by Information Desk. If you’re late, we’ll be in room GLB 211).
W Mar

30

“The Migration of Forms: Bullet Time as Microgenre”by Bob Rehak. Find it using your new-found library research skills!
Discuss Research Paper
F Apr

1

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1-50)
M Apr

4

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (51-108)
W Apr

6

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (109-146)
F Apr

8

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (147-201)
M Apr

11

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (202-230)
W Apr

13

Annotated Bibliography Due
F Apr

15

NO CLASS
M Apr

18

Paper #3 Draft Due. Screening of Videodrome, time/place TBA
W Apr

20

Peer Review Workshop

Patchwork Girl Buy here or here

F Apr

22

Patchwork Girl
M Apr

25

Discuss Videodrome

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