Sunday, April 11, 2010

Evolution of a Thesis, Development of a Curriculum: Part One - The Books

Over the past few weeks I have gone on a bit of a book buying spree. I have boasted about happily advertised the number of books that I've bought, and there's been some interest in what, exactly, I plan on doing with all of these texts, which are currently stacked in massive piles in my spare room:
The books generally serve to fill three purposes. Many are texts for the comprehensive exam, a required part of a master's degree in English. Most of the others are intended for use either in developing my thesis or in building a course curriculum for next fall. Then, of course, there are the others that I picked up for my own interest. The following lists are partly for my own record-keeping, and partly for reference for anyone interested in the topic. Buckle up folks, this may take a while.

The Comps Books
 The books in this section are for the comp exam. I'll be reading all of these over the course of the summer and early fall. I'm torn between excitement and fear, as I'm sure most people are who face such a pile. They are in no particular order.
  • Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works.
  • Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God.
  • Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs.
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.
  • Herman Melville, Billy Budd and Other Tales. - Includes "The Piazza Tales."
  • Walter Benjamin, Illuminations.
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire.
  • W.B. Yeats, The Tower.
  • Ben Jonson, The Alchemist and Other Plays. - Includes "Bartholomew Fair."
  • Henry James, The Ambassadors.
  • Edward Said, Orientalism.
  • George Herbert, The Complete English Poems. - Includes "The Temple."
  • H.D., Trilogy.
  • Elizabeth Barret Browning, Aurora Leigh.
  • Judith Butler, Gender Trouble.
  • Samuel Webster, The Duchess of Malfi and Other Plays. - Includes "The White Devil."
  • bpNichol, The Martyrology, Books 1&2
  • Adrienne Kennedy, The Adrienne Kennedy Reader.
  • William Apess, A Son of the Forest and Other Writings.
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost.
  • Emily Dickinson, Final Harvest.
  • Alaine Locke (ed.), The New Negro.
  • Leslie Marmon Silko, Cermony.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales.
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch.
  • Anne Radcliffe, The Italian.
  • Phillis Wheatley, The Poems of Phillis Wheatley.
  • Alan Grossman and Mark Halliday, The Sighted Singer. - Includes "Summa Lyrica."
Not pictured or not yet purchased:
  • William Shakespeare, King Lear and Measure for Measure.
  • Poems: Alexander Pope - "The Rape of the Lock"; William Wordsworth - "Tintern Abby," the 1799 Prelude, "Resolution and Independence" and "Ode: Intimations of Immortality"; Samuel Taylor Coleridge - "Frost at Midnight" and "Dejection: an Ode."
  • Four essays on Composition and Rhetoric: "Writing and Collaboration" by Kenneth Bruffee, "In the Turbulence of Theory" by Lester Faigley, "A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing" by Carolyn Miller, and "A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures" Ed. by Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis.

Gaming, Narratives and Culture - Books for a Curriculum and a Thesis
These two purposes are lumped together simply because many of the titles work for both purposes. The curriculum I am building is centered around the question: "What is the cultural value of video gaming?" I'll post more insight later about the curriculum's intent and design as I work through it. My current idea for a thesis (subject to slight shifts as I research the topic) is to look at the ways that games tell narratives, specifically looking at the ways that games incorporate player choice and player agency. I intend to try and find precedents within the field of literary theory for how the author interacts with the player/reader and what role the player/reader fills in the act of reading. I'll discuss this more at a later point as well. I've placed the more popularly-oriented texts first, before going into the more theoretical, scholarly works.
  • Steven Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You. - A response to Niel Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, Johnson here argues that the media we consume on a daily basis may actually be making us smarter by presenting us with new cognitive challenges and modes of thought. An interesting conceit, but I'm not sure I'm convinced yet; we'll see how he builds his argument.
  • Steven Poole, Trigger Happy - A relatively early (2000) critical look at the history and development of video games, how they work and how they change the act of expression and the act of ... consumption, perhaps? (I've had difficulty coming up with a broader term for the acts of reading, viewing and playing. I don't like consumption, for it's obvious economic facet, but few other words account for the agency of the reader/watcher/player.)
  • James Paul Gee, Why Video Games Are Good for Your Soul. - A discussion of how games foster learning, Gee develops the ideas that he worked with in his earlier book What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. This book presents an idea for how games should be approached in order for them to be fulfilling and valuable.
  • Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make Believe Violence. - The title says it all. I'm interested to see how he makes his case. 
  • J.C. Herz, Joystick Nation. - Another early (1997) look at the history of the gaming phenomenon. 
  • Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson, Grand Theft Childhood. - Despite the alarmist title, one of the most rational and valuable approaches to the way violence in games actually affects children, as well as how it does not. I love their research strategy, instead of sitting a kid in a white sterile room playing GTA for an hour and then seeing if he punches a rubber clown, Kutner, Olson and their research team actually went and talked to children about games and about violence.
  • Alexander Galloway, Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. - Ah, now we're getting into the theory books. In this book, Galloway tries to build a critical, conceptual framework for thinking about and responding to games. 
  • Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe (eds.), Gaming Lives in the Twenty-First Century. -  Hawisher and Selfe (two important academics in composition studies) look at the development of literacies in gaming environments. A fascinating work born of the recent connection between composition studies and gaming that James Gee outlined (he also wrote the intro for this book). 
  • James Paul Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. - Gee's excellent argument that gaming represents a new and powerful type of literacy, that we learn to read games just as we learn to read texts, has drawn significant interest recently. Gee (who proved himself as a brilliant scholar in his earlier work on genres and literacies) is largely responsible for opening games up as an avenue for serious critical inquiry. 
  • James Paul Gee, Good Games and Good Learning. - Continuing his earlier work, the essays in this book are brief and intriguing, broadly covering a wide number of topics and arguments.
  • Yasmin Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner and Jennifer Sun (eds.), Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming. - In this book, Kafai, Heeter, Denner and Sun return to a topic covered in an earlier work (Barbie and Mortal Kombat) to examine the changing face of gender in games and gaming culture.
  • Ian Bogost, Unit Operations. - Bogost here attempts to build a link between literary theory and computer technology, in order to propose new theoretical frameworks for analyzing video games, and new theoretical modes that can be used to understand other forms of literature and art. This particular book focuses on the idea of discrete 'units' of meaning which operate upon and in relation to each other according to configurative systems and structures. I'm intrigued to find out more.
  • Ian Bogost, Persuasive Games. - Like the above book, Bogost's more recent work is exploring new ways to think about gaming. Here he's arguing for the way that games introduce a new and highly effective form of rhetoric, 'procedural rhetoric' - the ability to model a procedural system in the form of processes rather than words, and therefore make commentary upon those systems in processes rather than words or pictures. It's a fascinating idea, and I have had a hard time setting it aside since I got it. 
  • Lester Faigley, Fragments of Rationality. - While not about games directly, this book is the first instance of someone in the field of composition studies applying a post-modern understanding to the act of composition in the emergent technological world. Very interesting stuff. 
  • Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck. - This 1997 book tries to explore the possibilities for narratives within our changing technological landscape. It is hopeful and yet cautionary: "This book is an attempt to imagine a future digital medium, shaped by the hacker's spirit and the enduring power of the imagination and worthy of the rapture our children are bringing to it." Interesting stuff.
  • Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin, First Person, Second Person, and Third Person. - These three books examine story and narrative in new media and gaming. They look fascinating, though I haven't had time to look them over and get a broad view of their central ideas.
  • Paula Reed Nancarrow et. al., Word Processors and the Writing Process: An Annotated Bibliography. - Not about games or narratives, this 1983 book is nevertheless fascinating for it's broad coverage of the emergence of the word-processor as a tool in Composition studies, and the hopes and fears it engendered in the field.
Not pictured.
  • Dave Grossman, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill. - Grossman was one of the go-to guys for anti-game punditry in the years after the Columbine shootings. Working from Craig Anderson's research (whose methods were later called into question), Grossman makes the argument that violence in media is desensitizing our children to violence (a claim I don't entirely refute), and that games are "murder-simulators" that train children to kill without emotion. It's alarmist and sensational, but I look forward to reading this book anyway.

Other Books Bought
Just for fun, although I have no idea when I intend to read any of these.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
  • T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland
  • Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedies.
  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick
  • Marcel Proust, Days of Reading.
  • and finally... Bullfinch's Mythology 
So. That's all of them. I can't believe I just typed that all out, especially given the other, more pressing matters awaiting my attention, but this will be helpful for my own future reference. 


Morgan said...

Son, you mean to say that you have had a bloggie this whole time and didnt tell me??

Morgan said...

Also, nice blog

Adam Swenson said...

Haha, yes... I had been hiding it behind my alternate internet identity, tatterdemaliot, and disguising it as an ugly site unreasonably titled SalmonTorpedo (it was worth it for the icon).

I'm glad no one found it until now.

Greg said...

I looked through your fancy list. I have literally read none of these books... talk about blatant disregard for the literary canon.