Jeff Johannes and Maria Lima

  Fall 2002

Thursdays  9:55-10:45 a.m. (Wadsworth 204)

Office Hours:      
Johannes :   W 1:00 - 2:15p                                     Lima : R 11:00a - 12:00N
                and by appointment                                         and by appointment
                Mathematics Department                                  English Department
                South 326A  x5403                                         Welles 218 C x5242

Our course will explore how reality is represented. Aristotle's Poetics is one of the first texts that have tried to understand the nature of such representation.  Since then, art is supposed to imitate life.  The notion of mimesis (imitation), however, raises very important issues that will structure the semester:

(1) The commonsense division that defines the real as the physical and the empirical, and the unreal as the metaphysical has been contested.  Plato regarded our familiar reality as mere shadows of perfect ideas.  Modern philosophers, on the other hand, hold that "the real" is inaccessible to us, since we can only re-present it through many arbitrary systems, including language.
(2) What counts as real then?  For most inhabitants of Edwin A. Abbott's Flatland (1884) only what can be measured exists, and the one who dares to think otherwise ends up in prison.  For "it is as natural for us Flatlanders to lock up a Square for preaching the Third Dimension, as it is for you Spacelanders to lock up a Cube for preaching the Fourth."  As the editor of Flatland concludes, "we are all liable to the same errors, all alike the Slaves of our respective Dimensional prejudices" (Abbott, "editor's" introduction).

(3) In all the science fiction/fantasy we read (or see), we will try to identify whose reality gets represented and why. Contemporary theorists have also emphasized the extent to which representations are much more than plain "likenesses." They are always someone's version of reality and may serve to reinforce systems of inequality and subordination.  The more interesting texts will both reproduce the dominant ideology and challenge some of those beliefs.

Evaluation: Since the goal of this course is not to find the "right answers" (you will not be penalized for arguing with us), this course is non-graded until the very end of the semester. Your final grade will depend upon active and engaged class participation, your presentation, and progress in writing critically (your reading journal).  This is the only course at Geneseo where you will be allowed to drop until the last day with no penalty or record on your transcript.

Your reading journal is a place for you to make connections between the readings, the films, the art work in Brodie, your own life experiences (other readings, films and performances also count as experience), class discussions and other courses.  The best learning, you will realize, is inter-disciplinary in nature. Your entries will explore issues (WHY questions) rather than offer summaries of the readings (films).  You can choose both the format and length of each entry.  It is important, however, that the entries reflect active and critical engagement with the material. Reading continues before class as you work out replies to your questions and ours; in class as you exchange and modify views; after class as your reconsider earlier readings and write about what has been meaningful to you.

(1) Abbott, Edwin A. Flatland
(2) xerox packet

(1) The Matrix
(2) A.I.

Both movies will be shown in the dorms at various times between October 3 and the 17th.  It is YOUR responsibility to see them at least once since you have to write an entry on each.

Schedule of Readings

8/29  the idea of the course
      getting to know each other
9/5 Flatland -  Preface and Part I

9/12 Flatland - Part II (Sections 13-17)

9/19 Flatland - Part II (Sections 18-22)

9/26 Flatland - Introduction

10/3 Plato's "Allegory of the Cave"

10/10 The Matrix

10/17 --Students' presentations of their choice of visual art that challenges reality

10/24 Hermann Hesse's "Conversation with the Stove" and A.I.

10/31 Octavia Butler, "Speech Sounds"

11/7  James Tiptree Jr., "Women Men Don't See"

11/14 Joanna Russ, "When It Changed" (1972)

11/21 Jorge Luis Borges, "The Secret Miracle" (1964)

11/28 Thanksgiving Break

12/5  Reading the university and the world as texts

Final Day:  Students' presentation of favorite reading journal entry
      Wadsworth 204