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(Printable version of this syllabus here.)

Writing Seminar:  War and Rumors of War

T-Th, 11:30 - 12:50, Dalrymple 38

Instructor:  John Sheehy

Office Hours

Course Description

The twentieth century was the bloodiest century in history: for the first time techology made it possible for armed forces to engage in routine attacks on civilian populations, to kill indiscriminately and from a distance, to destroy entire cities from the air, to threaten the annihilation of humanity itself. Our experiences with war in the last century have set the stage for the wars we fight today; more than that, our responses to today's conflicts are predicated on ways of thinking about war, and about human conflict generally, that developed in the preceding century. In this course we will attempt to understand the wars of the last century, and the ways of thinking they have engendered, by looking at various cultural reactions to them: these will include books like Heller's Catch-22 , Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel , James Crumley's One to Count Cadence , and films (as we have time) like "The Best Days of Our Lives," "Full Metal Jacket," "Breaker Morant" and more.


American recruiting posterOn Writing

Our approach to writing this semester will be informed by two simple ideas, often recited but even oftener forgotten: first, that writing is an act of communication between the writer and his or her audience; second, that writing is a process , not a product . Consider the first idea: a writer must always know his or her audience -- and the best way to learn to know them is to talk to them. So in this class all of your writing will be read by a number of people, and all of those people will be asked to respond to it . Now, consider the second idea: we often think of a paper (or a dissertation, or a novel) as the product of some brief and fevered inspiration; we also often assume that other people's words somehow explode onto paper, in perfect order and making perfect sense, the first time they sit down to write -- and we call ourselves talentless (or at least uninspired) because ours do not. Nothing could be further from the truth: writing is a process of thought, and that process requires revision. So in this class you will be asked to rethink each of your papers several times in light of the comments you receive from your readers, and you will be given the chance to make all of your writing as good as you can make it.

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