The “I” of the Beholder (LIT4386.01)

Franny Choi

From Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts, to Hanif Abdurraqib’s essays on pop music, to Saidiya Hartman’s writing on archives of the transatlantic slave trade, many writers have taken up the task of looking at history, art, and culture by first looking inward. This 4-credit class will explore autotheory, first-person cultural criticism, and other critical writing with a distinctly personal bent. What does it mean to perform criticism from a subjective standpoint? How do our personal histories inform our critical practice, and how are we (as writers and as people) shaped by the process of critique? As part of our inquiry, we will explore how queer and trans writers like Nelson and Paul Preciado have taken up autotheory and delve into the history of first-person theorizing as a Black feminist practice, from Sojourner Truth to bell hooks. Students will read, analyze, and discuss several essays per week and write 3-4 critical-creative response papers. For the final project, students will write, workshop, and revise a 2,000-3,000-word piece of first-person criticism or autotheory.


Learning Outcomes:
- Read a wide range of autotheory and first-person criticism, with a focus on contemporary works
- Consider first-person theorizing as a feminist practice shaped by race, class and coloniality
- Discuss artistic and rhetorical devices employed by writers of creative nonfiction
- Write critical essays that engage lived experience as a source of knowledge


Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Please submit a writing sample (max 7 pages) of critical writing, creative nonfiction, or both via this form, by May 9, 2024. Students will be notified of their acceptance into the course by May 14, 2024.
Corequisites: Students are required to attend all Literature Evenings and Poetry at Bennington events this term, commonly held at 7pm on most Wednesday evenings.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
W 2:10PM - 5:50PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 15
Course Frequency: Every 2-3 years

Categories: 4000 , All courses , Four Credit , Fully In-Person , Literature , New Courses , Updates
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