Self and Story: Studies in Psychology, Literature, and Writing
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Who do you say you are, and why? How and why do people continually adjust and adapt their claims about themselves—their origins, preferences, values, and actions—to suit different audiences and occasions, at times even overhauling their identities completely? We will apply the practices and insights of psychology and the literary arts to the topic of self-narratives, both formal and informal: how they function, the many and varied forms they take, and the highly influential role they play in shaping our understanding of human experience. In the process, we will explore how self-stories can both expand and limit people’s thinking as they interpret their past, narrate their present, and plan their future.
Through a variety of small- and large-group seminars, lectures, and experiential workshops, we will use psychology as a lens to examine, investigate, and theorize about our own identities and experiences. Recent innovations and activities in the field—for example, James Pennebaker’s groundbreaking work on narrative therapy—will be explored via video conferences with leading social psychologists. Specific topics may include self-determination, willpower, the nature of happiness, and the notion of the double.
At the same time, we will explore the world of literature with a focus on considerations of the self. Of particular importance will be autobiographical narratives and the rich and intricate issues of memory, authority, persona, and truth that face every self-portraying writer. These accounts—ranging from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's feminist classic "The Yellow Wallpaper" to Frank McCourt’s contemporary memoir, Angela's Ashes—embody a particularly critical function of self-stories: to open windows onto times, places, and social and political settings that differ sharply from our own. Writing assignments will include response papers, summaries, short narratives, reflective journals, and a substantial memoir-essay.
This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:
education, literature, psychology, social work, and writing.
Class Size: 50
Scheduled for: Weekend
Sat/Sun 9a-4:30p: Jan 14/15, 28/29, Feb 11/12, 25/26, Mar 11/12. First meeting is Saturday, January 14,9a, Seminar 2 A3105.
Located in: Olympia