university of sussex international summer school

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					International Summer School 2009
FROM CRITICAL READING TO STYLISH WRITING

Tutor: Dr. Cathy Bergin (c.j.bergin@sussex.ac.uk)

Course Description
The aims of this course are to refine creative writing skills and improve academic
composition, giving students tools for the creation and critical understanding of different texts.
Each session will be dedicated to a particular style of writing and will involve the careful,
critical analysis of exemplary fragments of prose. The types of expression under discussion
will include descriptive, persuasive and explanatory writing, and will broaden out to cover
processes of editing and paraphrasing information, processes crucial to academic
presentation.

To get a real sense of what defines different types of composition, and to enrich your study,
we’ll be deconstructing examples of literary, philosophical, scientific and historical prose,
unveiling the structure and motifs of each piece. Some will be examples of contemporary
literature and argument, others chosen from different eras, to give a background to the styles
of rhetoric and prose you encounter in literature and academia. Students will be invited both
to critique and imitate these pieces, and will be set creative exercises relating to them each
session, to be completed in a course journal. Classes will involve close textual analysis,
group discussion, and individual contact with the instructor to discuss writing projects and
development.

All primary sources (extracts of texts to be studied) will be provided in the form of a
Course Reader.

Assessment
    2000 word essay – 40%
    Creative journal – 40%
    Course report on class participation – 20%


                                     Week-by-Week Guide

Week 1: Arts of Description

The course begins by looking at your basic motivations for writing well, and introduces some
styles of effective descriptive and narrative presentation that engage with and entertain the
reader. We will move from a discussion of the formal criteria for writing, such as planning,
structuring and disciplining your ideas, to analysis of specific descriptive strategies,
concentrating on literary style.

Session 1: Why are you Writing?
Course introduction, followed by a discussion of your experience of and motivations for
writing. We’ll look at ways of finding sources for your ideas and arguments, choosing the
audience you want to capture, and battling with the anxieties and frustrations of writing itself.
Formal advice will be backed up by literary justifications for writing.

Extracts from:
Raymond Carver: ‘Fires’
George Orwell: ‘Why I Write’

Session 2: Setting Scenes
A discussion of methods of description and introduction, detailing the styles you can use to
describe place and character in a way that will captivate the reader and set-up a narrative.
This will be relevant to defining contexts, events and ideas in and beyond literary writing.
Extracts from:
Bruce Chatwin: On the Black Hill
Ian McEwan: Enduring Love
F. Scott FitzGerald: The Great Gatsby

Session 3: Presenting the self
Techniques of autobiography and biography aimed at improving your ability to commentate
on details and events relating to the personality and life of yourself and others. We will
discuss styles of composition that present the self historically, dramatically and informatively,
for different purposes: literary and professional, private and public.

Extracts from:
(Ed. Russell Davies) The Kenneth Williams Diaries
Sylvia Plath: Journals

Week 2: Arts of Narrative
Week 2 offers the chance to study techniques of historical and documentary writing. We
follow the ways in which historians present sequences of events, distil information relating to
place, person and time and engage the reader with a particular version of historical ‘truth’.
Particularly important within this week is the comparison of styles and registers of history: the
use of facts, statistics, and evidence competing with the function of metaphor, analogy and
sentiment in the re-creation of historical contexts.

Session 1: Narrating historical events
Historians attempt objectivity, but often have moral and ethical concerns which shape the way
they represent events form the past. We will look at three descriptions of bombing missions in
the Second World War, from different perspectives, and investigate the way emotive and
moralistic writing intersects with factual commentary.
Extracts from:

Arthur Harris: Bomber Offensive
John Hersey: Hiroshima
Alexander McKee: Dresden 1945

Session 2: Narrating historical place
Another way of reaching an understanding of historical writing is to look at differing depictions
of a place, and registering the strategies of metaphor, sentiment and drama involved in
recreating a historical scene or site. Here we look at changing depictions of the same city, to
demonstrate the ways informative, emotive and creative writing works together to inform
historical portraits.

Extracts from:
Peter Ackroyd: London: A Biography
Walkowitz: City of Dreadful Delight

Session 3: Historical controversies
To show how the art of persuasion always bleeds into the ‘objectivity’ of historical accounts,
we will look at two pieces of historical writing regarding the issue of the abolition of the Slave
Trade in Britain.

Extracts from
Seymour Drescher: Capitalism and Antislavery: British Mobilization in Comparative
Perspective
Chris Brown Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism

Week 3: Arts of Persuasion
The concept and practice of argumentation will be interrogated in Week 3. Perhaps the most
important and common skill in academic writing, the ability to communicate a point-of-view will
be examined and developed. Our source material will range from the careful structure and
rhetorical flourishes of classical debate, through to the polemic and bombastic opinions of
modern-day journalism, our aim being to isolate the rhetorical strategies applied in texts to
persuade, convince and manipulate the reader towards a certain way of thinking. On a more
sober note, we will take in the precision and accountability of scientific writing, noting the
importance of accurate referencing, clear presentation of data and the way popular science
meshes these skills with techniques that entertain and engage the reader

Session 1: Journalism and Polemic
In this series of analyses, we’ll deconstruct the methods by which investigative and ‘political’
writing convinces the reader of certain viewpoints.

Extracts from:
Naomi Klein: No Logo
Michael Moore: Stupid White Men

Session 2: Scientific Information and Argument
Here we’ll look at the skills of reporting information, conclusions and ideas within a scientific
context, focusing on the way fact and opinion are woven together in scientific discourse.

Extracts from:
Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species
Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time
Richard Dawkins: Unweaving the Rainbow

Session 3: Critical and Polemical Review-writing
For this session, we’ll look at a series of essays, reviews and polemics on popular culture:
music, film and book reviews in particular, to look at strategies of thematic distillation,
polemical persuasion and the presentation of opinion.

Review extracts to be provided in course reader.


Week 4: Personal Profiling

Sessions 1 and 2

The course ends with a series of individual meetings, allowing for discussion of your progress,
both in terms of the original, creative pieces and the critical, theoretical essays you have
produced. During these meetings, you will be given a report on your contribution to the course
as a whole, and advice on ways you can improve your writing techniques and your
comprehension of literary and scientific writing.

				
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