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First-Year Writing Seminar: Narrative as Catharsis: A Critical Look

Semester and Year FA 2015
Course Number FIRST-UG410
Section 001
Instructor Diana Anders
Days MW
Time 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Units 4
Level U


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


What does it mean to heal in the wake of violence? It is often taken for granted that telling one’s story can have a cathartic effect. This presumption has grounded both individual and collective approaches to recovery from trauma in a wide range of contexts over the last fifty years. On this model, narrating one’s experience of victimization—be it in a courtroom, documentary film, or memoir—is presumed to help set one free from psychic pain and from histories of oppression and violence. This course will attempt to deconstruct the trope of narrative as catharsis with respect to specific case studies, including truth commissions, war crimes tribunals, feminist anti-violence campaigns, and postcolonial movements. It will explore this theme using different theoretical, methodological and critical “lenses,” such as feminist narrative scholarship, critical race theory, trauma theory, transitional justice, and postcolonial theory. At stake are the presumptions about humans’ ability to heal, their capacity to access the truth, the possibility of recovery following violence, and the power relations at work in different post-traumatic scenes of narration. The course theme will serve as the framework for developing students’ analytic thinking, reading, and writing skills, and provide the basis for class discussions and assignments. In addition to weekly responses, students will be required to write one long and three short analytic papers related to the course theme. Readings may include works by Sigmund Freud, Martin Luther King Jr., Michel Foucault, Frantz Fanon, Shoshana Felman, Desmond Tutu, Veena Das, and Martha Minow.


All Syllabi

Course Type

First-Year Program: Writing Seminars (FIRST-UG)