Wednesday, August 19, 2009

English 449/559 Writing the Humorous Essay

Professor Diana Joseph Office Hours: M&W 2-4
English 449/549 E-Hours: T&F 9-12
Email: Office: Armstrong 201L Phone: 389-5144

Writing the Humorous Essay

1. Humor question: What is humor?
(An answer to this question often entails answers to questions regarding the object and the response. This is the central question of any humor theory.)

2. Object Feature Questions:
a. Are there any features frequently found in what is found funny?
b. Are there any features necessary for something to have in order to be found funny?
c. Are there any features that by themselves or considered jointly are sufficient for something to be found funny? (Answering this question affirmatively would amount to discovering the holy grail of humor theory.
—from "Humor" at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”
—E.B. White

This course involves the study of techniques used by humorists such as satire, irony, sarcasm, exaggeration and understatement. Through readings and analysis, we will explore the uses of humor, its purposes and effects, its pay-offs and pitfalls. Discussions will include questions concerning ethos, tone, voice, language, audience, pacing, set-ups, summary/scene, developing anecdotes, and answering the “so what.” We will write imitations, respond to prompts, collect material that will turn into full-length essays, workshop pieces in large and small groups, and offer specific and detailed feedback on peers’ writing. By the end of the semester, graduate students will have written 5 full-length essays; undergraduate will have written 3 full-length essays.

Texts and Materials
No text
Money for copying, approximately $30

Participation is not merely showing up for class—that’s called attendance. I define participation as your active engagement with the class demonstrated through thoughtful contributions to class discussion, evidence of preparedness, and helpful feedback during workshops. Because this class relies so heavily on participation, you can’t sit silently and expect to do well (that’s called intellectual freeloading.) But I also don’t want one voice to dominate class discussions. Expect to listen as much as you talk. I don’t want to give reading quizzes but I will if it seems like people aren’t reading. Finally, each of you will offer an assessment of your peers’ workshop responses; I will take this into consideration when determining participation grades.

Prompt Journal=25%
For each piece we read, I’ll give you a prompt. Prompts must be typed and double-spaced and keep in a folder that you’ll turn in for a grade. I’ll assess your prompt journal according to the strength of the work; evidence of your effort; and originality. You will have at least 3 opportunities to workshop one of these prompts.

Essays/Reflective Narrative=50%
I don’t grade creative work; I do grade your ability to explain what you’ve come to understand about craft. On Finals Day, undergraduates will turn in 3 full-length essays; graduate students will turn in 5 full-length essays. All students will turn in a reflective narrative, a formal essay that discusses and describes in depth and detail the use of craft in their creative work.

Course Policies
*Each absence over 2 will lower your final grade by 10%. I do not distinguish between excused and unexcused absence.

*Participation is 25% of your final grade; if you’re not here, you can’t participate. If you fail to turn in workshop material on the day it’s due, you lose your workshop spot—and participation credit. If you don’t come to class on the day of your workshop, it won’t be rescheduled—andyou lose participation credit. Frequent tardiness will affect your participation grade.

*All coursework must be completed to pass this class.

*Writing done for this class is considered public text.

*Assignments are tentative and subject to change.

*Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated; it may result in failure of the class.

*I’m available for help outside class during my office hours or by appointment.

Due Dates
“The Humorology of Power”

Monday, August 24
"Green Porno"

George Carlin

Flight of the Conchord

David Sedaris

Tucker Max

Wednesday, August 26

“Conversations My Parents Must Have Had While Planning to Raise a Child”

“Comments Written by Actual Students Extracted From Workshopped Manuscripts at a Major University”

“Things I Have Written in Cover Letters”

“Conversations I Imagine My Ten-Year-Old and Seven-Year-Old Have About Me When They See Each Other in the Hallway at School”

Internet Age Writing Syllabus and Course Overview

Monday, August 31 “Mick Jagger Wants Me” by Susan Jane Gilman
“Shame on Me” by Steve Almond

Wednesday, September 2 “Chicken in the Henhouse” by David Sedaris
“Rooster at the Hitchin’ Post” by David Sedaris

Monday, September 7 NO CLASS/LABOR DAY

Wednesday, September 9 Workshop
Monday, September 14 Workshop
Wednesday, September 16 TBA
Monday, September 21 Workshop
Wednesday, September 22 Workshop
Monday, September 28 Workshop
Wednesday, September 30 Workshop
Monday, October 5 Workshop

Wednesday, October 7 “No Wonder They Call Me a Bitch” by Ann Hodgman
“Billy Sim” by Chuck Klosterman

Monday, October 12 Meaghan Daum
“Shooting Dad” by Sarah Vowell

Wednesday, October 14 “The Fourth State of Matter” by JoAnn Beard
“The Braindead Megaphone” by George Saunders

Monday, October 19 Workshop
Wednesday, October 21 Workshop
Monday, October 26 Workshop
Wednesday, October 28 Workshop
Monday, November 2 Workshop
Wednesday, November 4 Workshop
Monday, November 9 Workshop

Wednesday, November 11 excerpt from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers

Monday, November 16 “Ticket to the Fair” by David Foster Wallace

Wednesday, November 18 Prompt Journal Due
“Six to Eight Black Men” by David Sedaris

Monday, November 23 small group workshop
Wednesday, November 25 small group workshop
Monday, November 30 small group workshop
Wednesday, December 2 small group workshop

FINALS DAY Essays/Reflective Narrative Due

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