English R1B

Reading & Composition: Documents

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
15 Fall 2008 Josh Weiner
TTh 5-6:30 225 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

"Georges Bataille, ""The Big Toe""; Alexander Pope, ""The Rape of the Lock""; Samuel Richardson, Pamela; Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cenci; Walter Benjamin, Berlin Childhood Around 1900; Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida; Films: Funny Games (Haaneke, 1997), Tarnation (Caouette, 2003) "


"The document is a fragment that takes on a life of its own. An idea, a perception, an image gets uprooted and reframed, sculpted or distorted, and formed into something new. The result has an aura of 'the real'. Think of documents like your passport, drivers license, or credit card, in which are embedded your photograph, your signature, an authenticating secret number. The document plainly isn't the real thing (it isn't you but it has your photo), nor exactly a piece of you (a document is signed but not a fingerprint or a fingernail), but it's yours. It's official; you can use it; and it makes sense to other people.

This class will attempt to teach you composition as the production of documents in this sense: to embed your images, a signature style, even a secret � and work these into a communicating form. We will look at an eclectic selection of materials, each of which attempts this documenting thrill of the real, often without even pretending to be historically verifiable.

This feeling of the real is almost always connected to the ways sexuality and power by turns animate, inhibit, and get managed by the text. We will trace this thrill aimed at in both the contemporary documentary and the contemporary thriller back to the surrealist notion of the document. Our central text for theorizing this document-effect is an 18 th century epistolary novel that tries to write 'to the moment' of the happenings it describes. We will also explore a romantic true-crime drama, several kinds of autobiography, and a theory of the photographic document. By way of coda, we will consider some visual art (Raymond Pettibon and Cy Twombly) where image and text work together to produce this effect. "

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