A college course: Film, the Arts, and Your Autobiography

Hey, friends, here is the syllabus for a brand new class.  It is taking its maiden voyage, this very semester.  As you can see, it is called Film, the Arts, and Your Autobiography.

The class focuses on three things.  It is alternatively encouraging and bullying on the subject of literacy, or people’s partial or somewhat lack thereof.  Next it pretends to engage in and with modern social/media platforms.  Finally it addresses how the disciplines of history, and the forms of the documentary film, can contribute to the autobiographical project.

A key objective, young people, is to establish differences between legitimate autobiographical impulse and some pretty epidemical age and income-specific narcissism/exhibitionism.  Take that, if you dare!



Film, the Arts, and Your Autobiography

F-566 HFAC, Tues, 12:00-1:50, Thurs. 12:00-2:50

Course Description: This class will explore the ways in which art experiences contribute to the formation of each individual, of each family, and of societies generally.

Students will explore the part played by images and stories in their own lives.

They will also gather and generate media in order to establish or refine their own autobiographical and family historical regimes.


Course Objectives:

  1. Identify and categorize the wide range of edifying art and media that is available to individuals, for all of the naysaying, sky-is-falling discourse that generally prevails around here.  Categories explored will include the Popular, the Popular-Celebrated, the Canonical, the Serendipitous, the Sittin’-On-the-Dock-of-the-Bay, the Personally-Evocative, and the Liken-it-to-Yourself Cumulative.
  1. Establish and understand the wheat/chaff, gold/dross possibilities in each of these categories.
  1. Compile an archive of texts and textual experiences that pertain to these categories; OR, explore and establish an alternative set of categories, and identify the books and films and such that pertain thereto.
  1. Establish a literacy regime: what are some of the things that I need to read and see, and how am I going to make sure that I get around to reading and seeing them?
  1. Understand the disciplines of history, and the place of autobiography therein.  Identifying the differences between autobiography and narcissism.
  1. Consider the place of prose, poetry, photography and film in the historical and autobiographical project.
  1. Establish an historico-autobiographical regime: how—when, where—will I account for myself, and for my loved ones?  What technologies and media platforms are available to me, and most useful for me, as I pursue this project?

Class Calendar:

Week 1           Introduction; Family History in the Present Tense

Screen: To Sweep the Earth as if with a Flood (2014; http://bit.ly/1oOioKV )

Discuss: technology and the gospel, the spirit of Elijah, inward-turned, great works reading lists (BYU, Harvard Classics, Modern Library, David Denby’s Great Books, Guardian/Observer, Time, etc.), literature as an entrée to everything

Week 2           High and low, fast and slow, and accounting for it all

Screen: Stone Reader (2002)

Discuss: self-interviewing, the key questions, Thomas Carlyle’s heroes and Robert Burns’ mouse

Read: On Heroes, introduction, “To a Mouse,” “The Cotter’s Saturday Night”

Week 3           The Proustian Text

Screen: The Railrodder (1965), The Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes (1968); Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

Discuss: Marcel Proust, intellectual, intertextual and indeterminate montage, identifying personal touchstones

Week 4           Platforms, Applications, Venues & Sites

Screen: Wall-E (2008)

Discuss: Technology, as end and as mean, Blogs, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, Texting, Tumblr, Twitter; correspondence, journals, photographs, digital photographs, Vines

Week 5           Narcissism

Screen: Portrait of Jason (1967), This Is It (2009); Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011)

Week 6           Not narcissism, but charming or even poignantly youthful self-absorption, leading to the knowing of the self

Screen: Flawed (2010), Only the Pizza Man Knows (2007); Sherman’s March (1985)

Discuss: the stages of moral and emotional development, self and other, the concept of the auto-frag

Week 7           The Other, pt. 1

Screen: Shoah (1985)

Week 8           The Other, pt. 2

Screen: Shoah , cont’d, concluded; Foster Child (1985)

Discuss: Great Men and Huddled Masses, trauma, fundamentalism and pluralism, centres and margins

Week 9           Work

Screen: Window Water Baby Moving (1959), Home Movies (website); Leviathan (2012)

Discuss: hierarchical notions of art and artmaking, decorative and domestic arts, St Therésa/Dorothea Brooke as models, or as us

Week 10         Artifactual options; the documentary film and the autobiographical project

Screen: Listen to Britain (1942); In the Street (1947), House, After Five Years of Living (1955), Notebook (1963); The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968)

Discuss: documentary genres, the fact and implication of archive, identifying and cataloguing your family photos, and films, things…

Week 11         Rest, recreation, and enrichment: supplementary screenings

Screen: “For Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With” (1968), Daguerreotypes (1976); Le Quattro Volte (2010)

Week 12         Autobiographical and familial cinema as an alternative to every mainstream idiom

Screen: Wavelength (1967), Strangers in Good Company (1990)

Discuss: commerce and art, abundance and sparse, Domesticity as Mean, Genealogy as Summation


Week 14         Autobiographical Cinema

Screen: Home Movies (2012)

Discuss: and so …

Week 15         Final presentations, consisting of a report on the great big interview that you have been conducting with yourselves during the whole of the semester


Our assignments relate to three overall, general objectives, which are these:

  1. Each student will establish a coherent, purposeful auto-bibliography, made up of books and films, museums and National Parks and such, that they have read and seen and known.
  1. Each student will establish a coherent, purposeful reading/seeing/visiting plan, in order to insure that her heretofore scattershot literacy efforts firm up into something much more useful.
  1. Each student will initiate and begin to establish a story archive that comprises narratives from her past, as well as from her own family history.  In other words, each student will begin her autobiography, as well as taking upon herself the writing of her own family history.

These general objectives will be accomplished by performing these specific tasks, which is to say, by completing these specific assignments:

  1. Complete and post a reasonably thorough list of books read/films seen/world heritage sites visited: Goodreads, I √ Movies, UNESCO, etc. Due on Tuesday, September 16.
  2. Students will read two autobiographies, chosen from any of the categories listed below.   They will submit a 1000 word review of each. These reviews are due on Thursday, October 2 and Thursday, November 6. Students will also read and annotate 200 pp. worth of material from the oral histories category. Annotations are due upon completion of the readings, during the last third of the semester. These oral history books will be on reserve at the HBLL library.
  3. Identify and annotate a trans-media list of 100 personal touchstone texts (10 buildings, 10 books, 10 stories, 10 poems, 10 movies, 10 songs [short form, contemporary/ popular], 10 classical compositions/recordings, 10 albums/CDs, 10 paintings, 10 photographs). Annotations are to describe something of the nature and quality of each of these texts, as well as indicating why they are significant to you. Each one should be 75 to 100 words. This assemblage is due on Tuesday, October 14.
  4. Complete a personal technological profile: what platforms are you on, and how often are you on them; describe and then critique your conduct on each platform. Each platform report should be from 75 to 150 words. The tech profile is due on Tuesday, October 21.
  5. Identify 100 autobiographical incidents, 100 account-worthy events from various of the times and places in your life. You may, occasionally, also draw from the lives of family members and ancestors. (Say, two out of every ten titles.) Fashion potential titles for these 100 incidents. A list of titles is due on Tuesday, October 28.
  6. Start a family media register. What photographs, films, tapes, cards, recordings, journals, daily planners and artifacts have you got? Where are they? And in what shape? And what are you going to do about it all? A detailed first stab at this list, together with an approximately 500 word plan of action for further detailing, organizing, preserving and disseminating the whole thing to your other family members, is due on Tuesday, November 18.
  7. Complete and submit an advanced draft of the genealogical survey/self-interview, as assigned in week 2, and as outlined below. This draft is due on Tuesday, December 2.
  8. Complete and submit one 1000 word autobiographical sketch, or anecdote, or fragment, or narrative. This is to be taken from the 100 titles assignment, given in week 9. It is due on Tuesday, December 9.

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