Self and Story: Studies in Psychology, Literature, and Writing
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 expressive writing, or Dan McAdams’ research on life narratives—will be explored via video conferences with leading social psychologists. Specific topics may include personal meaning and values research; prospection; illusory processes, including self-delusion; self-determination theory; free will and 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 examinations and expressions of the self. These accounts—ranging from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's feminist classic “The Yellow Wallpaper” to Jean-Dominique Bauby’s contemporary memoir, The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly—embody a critical function of self-stories: to open windows onto times, places, settings, and world views that differ sharply from our own. 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. Writing activities and assignments will include intensive workshops, response papers, summaries, reflective journals, and a substantial memoir-essay. Join us for this eye-opening inquiry!
Fall Anticipated Credit Equivalencies
3 - Psychology
2 - Literature, 19th-century to present
2 - Writing
Course Reference Numbers
education, literature, psychology, social work, and writing.