How to Do Things with Words: poiesis and praxis

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Spring 2018 quarter

Taught by

This intensive introductory critical and creative writing program will investigate the relation between writing and doing, between making in language ( poiesis ) and taking action ( praxis ). We will do this by studying the ways in which the arrangements of our words influence the shapes of our thought and vice versa. The objective is to better comprehend the material consequences and political upshots of the choices we make with the language we use both on and off the page.

We will read (and sometimes write) poetry and fiction in order to sharpen our alertness to the operation of a variety of verbal tactics and strategies. But the primary form in which we conduct our experiments, both as readers and as writers, will be that old stand-by, the essay. Our effort shall be to reanimate this form, prying it free from any knee-jerk reflexes, worn-out proficiencies, and straight-up allergies we might have by reconnecting ourselves to the form’s roots in the French word for “attempt,”  essai , as one of the essay’s progenitors, Michel de Montaigne, will so helpfully remind us. The wager here is that the essay itself is a kind of laboratory, a space in which experiments in language can be composed, where new forms of thought may be invented, and new actions and practices persuasively proposed and collaboratively investigated.

Our reading will be organized around a handful of case studies designed to expose us to a variety of ways of doing things with words in relation to particular subject matter. These will allow us to build our toolkit together as interdisciplinary readers and writers, and they will prepare us to branch out into areas of research we will conduct on our own as the program proceeds.

We’ll be reading and writing a lot, both in class and out of it, on the page and on the screen. No experience necessary, some assembly required, all students welcome. But whoever you are, be sure to bring a notebook and a good pen to our first class. The only way to do this right is by writing.

Program Details

Fields of Study

aesthetics literature writing

Preparatory For

reading, interpretation, analysis, rhetoric, critical and creative writing, and the humanities.


Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning < 25% Delivered Online


2018-01-26Description has been updated.