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CHID 390 B: Colloquium in the History of Ideas

Against and Between: Art and Writing Beyond or Between Genres

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
PDL C101
Caroline Simpson
Caroline Chung Simpson

Syllabus Description:

CHID 390: Against and Between: Playing with Archives, Genres and History


In this course, we will test the limits of the usual archives, genres and histories we rely on to understand creative expression. Although this course includes texts that can easily be placed in more or less distinct genres or modes of representation—such as fiction, photography, and video—, as well in distinct cultural ‘moments—the internet age, the late nineteenth century, the war on terror—, we will not be so concerned with approaching any of them merely according to their proper formal or historical placement. By placing each of our texts in entirely new and often perhaps unexpected formations or relationships, by creating new archives or arguing for new connections, we will try to cultivate an ‘anti-methods’ or ‘anti-genre’ habit. If I am forced to specify a single, ideal outcome, I’d say the goal is to ‘play.’


We’ll take a two-step approach to each day’s materials. First, we will start by fleshing out what we think we know or have been taught about or simply assumed about the proper historical placement or understanding of each one of our ‘texts.’ What terms or arguments would you expect to rely on to understand each one? You may sometimes find that you have no way to understand a text; that is useful to know as well. The second step will be to consider these texts as parts of the ‘new archive’ they’ve been placed in that day. This new archive may render both the historical and academic methods relatively useless, or we may find something in those institutional approaches still abides. Above all, we will use this quarter to explore the imaginative rewards of crisscrossing, or indeed ignoring, realms of history, creative forms, and social concerns by pairing texts/performances/artifacts we have learned to see as exclusive and un-related.


Not surprisingly, our texts/topics will be widely cast and may include: the Occupy Movement as performance art; “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville; early “vernacular” photography; citizen journalism; the Abu Ghraib photos; subversive immigrant and slave writings like The Wells Fargo Phrase Book, slave petitions, and captivity narratives; Instagram and Snap Chat; Hito Stehryl’s writing on the politics of the ‘poor image’; Walter Benjamin’s writings on technology’s impact on art as a political intervention; Net-artists like Jennifer Chan and Kapwani Kiwanga.



So this is the syllabus. Actually, I hope what I’ve offered is the beginnings of a sort of anti-syllabus, particularly when one considers the fuller meaning of the word. There’s the well-known meaning, cited in 1., below.


syl·la·bus ˈ/siləbəs

noun: syllabus; plural noun: syllabi; plural noun: syllabuses

  1. an outline of the subjects in a course of study or teaching.

"There isn't time to cover the syllabus"


curriculum, course (of study), program of study, course outline; More

timetable, schedule, calendar

"the Film History syllabus for next semester has been posted"


And then there’s the entirely forgotten meaning defined in 2.


  1. 2. (In the Roman Catholic Church) a summary of points decided by papal decree regarding heretical doctrines or practices.


If I argue that the latter is in some meaningful sense the origin of the compact you, as students, make with the former, then the need for an anti-syllabus, a pushing back against regulative, normative and exclusionary discussion and thought in academia, becomes all the more useful.


And yet…this must also be said:



There is Some Required Work:


Sign-up to Jumpstart class discussion twice (20% total): Anything goes here, so long as you offer our group a specific direction to head in, a point at which we might grab hold of the work under discussion. Common approaches that often work: offering a set of pointed questions about a few of the works; making connections (perhaps provocative ones) to other works we are discussing; broaden our conversation by making us aware of other practices that you feel need to be included in the mix; ask the class to ‘make’ something or ‘create’ something that will re-position us as readers/viewers of these works. After class, I will send you my take on how you did. Understand, your grade will not be based on how well you entertained us (not that that’s not welcome) but I also value difficult questions and differences. Learning need not always feel good for those of us learning or guiding the learning.


Keep a Critical/Creative Journal (20%): I am asking that you keep a log of your ideas about our readings and discussions. At the very least, you should make some notes on your initial reaction to and questions about the readings, as well making comments and assessments after each discussion. Really good journals will, of course, go further than this, incorporating a wide range of thoughts, ideas, experiences, encounters, etc. I want you to go deep, however you do that, which is why it counts for almost as much as your final project. I will collect your journals at the start of Week 7, or thereabouts, and return them to you with my thoughts and a grade by Week 10. (Your journals are, by the way, a really convenient way to tease out some questions and comments to add to our discussion. Which leads to the next requirement….)


Daily participation (15%): Talk. Every day. Talk to each other, not just me. In fact, forget about me. Regularly. This is your class. I picked the opening topics. You decide how to deal with these ideas and what’s important to debate or know. Please, don’t leave me alone with my self.


Proposal/Rough Draft for Work Shop (10%): You will be assigned a day late in the quarter to work shop your final project idea with the class. You’ll need to send a written proposal/draft/excerpt to the class, via the class email list, at least two days before you are scheduled. The class will discuss your idea with the aim of helping you to refine your ideas and clarify any areas that you are unsure about. The more you have, the more we can help.



Final Project (35%): This can be anything. Really. Critical, creative or somewhere in-between. It can be purely linguistic, or purely visual, or purely performative or entirely musical, or a combination thereof. Whatever you decide. The only criteria is that your project address something relevant to one or more of the works or practices we have discussed. It’s not necessary to include any of our works. They may simply be catalysts for you, as they remind you of other works or practices we’ve missed or prompt your own creative work. It’s simple, really: engage with and expand on what you’ve taken from our discussions in your own unique way. This should be a substantial piece, both in its ambitions and its approach. Don’t settle for simply completing the assignment, or plowing your way through a 5-7 page expository essay. Step out and live a little. If not now, when? Make me help you.



Required Texts:

All readings are accessible via URL embedded in the syllabus text. The rest are available in the “file” section of our class Canvas site.




Course Schedule



Week 1: Introductions and The Case Against the Old Ways and Means


Monday, March 27: Introduction to Course; Q & A about the Course; Sign up to Jump-Start Discussions



Wednesday, March 29:

Walter Benjamin famously responded to the question of whether the then new visual technologies of film and photography were in fact ‘art’, by proposing that we first ask how newer means of producing and distributing art are fundamentally and constantly redefining art itself. Along the same lines, Roland Barthes proposes that it is high time for us to question what’s at stake in the creation of institutional archives. Let’s use these to start the show.


Roland Barthes’s, “From Work to Text”



Abridged version of Walter Benjamin’s Artwork essay:


And because W Benjamin can be ‘tough,’ a synopsis of his longer argument:




Week 2: Truer Bills (What does this phrase mean? How is it relevant?)


Monday, April 3:

Modern writing is almost uniformly understood according to its generic placement: novel, poem, legal brief, autobiography, and so on. It may be that falling in line behind these categories of writing imposes limits more than we realize. It may be time to experience the explosion of intent and effects ghosting just about any piece of writing. Offered for discussion is a range of written documents that call into question the ground rules of any genre. My hope is that these readings will push us to think anti-generically and trans-historically, such is the bar we’ve set ourselves.



“Belinda, or the Cruelty of Men with Faces like the Moon” (1783 Petitiion)



Excerpts from Wells Fargo: An English-Chinese Phrase Book (1875).






Thursday, April 5:


“Of Thumbs”, “That Our Mind Hinders Itself” and “Of the Custom of Wearing Clothes” by Michel de Montaigne


“Discourse on the Logic of Language” by M NourbeSe Philip


Week 3 Politics as Art/Performance

Let’s consider, at least for one day, these potentially useful caveats: Never assume politics destroys art without considering that art has no meaning without politics.


Monday, April 10:


The Occupy Movement:

Michael Taussig’s, “I’m so Angry I made a Sign” and WJT Mitchell’s “Image, Space, Revolution: The Arts of Occupation,” from Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience.


Note: Both above essays may be found in “File” on our class Canvas site.



Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener”,-90,841



Wednesday, April 12:


Kapwani Kiwanga’s Afrogalactica (View her short piece in link below before class)

Center for Political Beauty:


Info about:


Activist works of:



Week 4 The Progress of Visual Regression and Redundancy

What do we make of the resurgent pleasure in not just hand-drawn visual narratives but also clearly amateurish or dated visual technologies? Most of these practitioners have available to them far more sophisticated forms of visual technology, so how do we account for our enjoyment in visual obsolescence?



Monday, April 17    Lartique’s Early Vernacular Photographs


Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image.”



Virginia Hefferman’s, “Images” from Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art.


Note: Hefferman essay may be found in “File” on our class Canvas site.




Wednesday, April 19          Lynda Berry, Excerpt from What it Is: “Notes from

an Accidental Professor”



Folk Art of Clementine Hunter





Week 5: Is The Internet: The Same Old, Same Old?

Let’s reconsider W Benjamin. Can his statement help us here, not just to be more thoughtful about NetArt as a new medium for art, but also, and more importantly, to think about how social life and culture on the internet is changing our understanding of not just perception but the body itself.



Monday, April 24                           Jennifer Chan



Tabita Rezaire


                                    And Let’s Remember to Add Benjamin and STIR….



Wednesday, April 26          Kenneth Goldsmith’s “The Social Network”

and “Lossy and Jaggy” from Wasting Time on the



Note: Both chapters may be found in ‘File’ on our class Canvas site.



Week 6 The Undoing of Information Packages

And what of expressive practices that wend far from their authors’ intended circuits and effects? What do make of such expressions, whether initially motivated by glee or power, when they become unmoored from their situational logics and, as they say, go viral?



Monday, May 1                     Abu Ghraib



Citizen Journalism:




Wednesday, May 3                          Wikileaks



                                                Fake News




Week 7: Preparing Your Drafts/Outlines for Work Shopping


Monday, May 8                     Short Class Session to Answer Any Questions

                                                Or Concerns About the Workshop Requirements.


Wednesday, May 10            NO CLASS-Day off to work on Workshop Drafts

                                                I am available to meet with you if you’d like.



Week 8:


Monday, May 15                   Workshop Two Student Drafts


Wednesday, May 17            Workshop Two Student Drafts



Week 9:


Monday, May 22                   Workshop Two Student Drafts


Wednesday, May 24            Workshop Two Student Drafts






Monday, May 29                   NO CLASS-MEMORIAL DAY HOLIDAY


Wednesday, May 31            NO CLASS-Writing Day



Additional Details:

Against and Between:
Art and Writing Beyond or Between Genres
This course will exclusively sample recent forms of representation or that to some lesser or greater degree confound or cross generic categorization. That means we won’t be doing the usual scholarly heavy-lifting. We won’t, for starters, be unduly concerned with honoring the traditional view that such genre-blurring acts must always be understood as originating in the European modernist art movements of the early twentieth century. Yes, those fine art movements certainly loom large in attempts to situate and make sense of later experimental forms of expression—and at times they are unquestionably helpful—, but such a strict sense of cultural and historical determinism too often dead-ends in the modernist/postmodernist cul-de-sac. In this course, I am asking that we attempt to understand more recent instances of experimentation in, and as products of, their unique historical contexts. I am asking that we crisscross worlds of history, creation and social concern. Recent texts/topics will be widely cast and may include: the Occupy Movement as art; early “vernacular” photography re: Instagram; “Bartleby the Scrivener”; lyric writing; Walter Benjamin’s writings; captivity narratives; the Abu Ghraib camera phone photos-cum-documentary; and Net-art. In addition to discussion, seminar sessions will incorporate student questions (from reading responses) and, at key points, impromptu group/break-out exercises. Formal writing requirements include reading responses (two), a critical journal, and a final longer project that may draw or build on any of the former.
CHID 390 B
Professor Caroline

Catalog Description: 
Investigates the theoretical and practical problems of interpretation and knowledge production in a topic chosen by the instructor. Primarily for majors. Prerequisite: CHID 101.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
September 5, 2021 - 4:52pm