Jason I enjoyed what seemed like your personal attention to what ever we were struggling with. I found it fascinating what other people had to say on the topic, such diversity. I came away with the belief that their is no right way  to understand consciousness, mind and self. In the end we are all entitled to our own thinking regarding self. But that it is helpful if we can stand on the shoulders, or in some case on the bodies (with citations of course) of those who have gone before us. Thanks to you and my fellow classmates  for making it an interesting learning experience and broadening my understanding of the within of me and the without around me.

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Course review

This course’s reading lists provided a good balance of books in what is a broad and ambitious subject to tackle. In fact, just as Liz pointed out, I would not have read many of the readings on my own but am glad that I did. My idea of a course on the self was more about studying it through the lens of psychology and philosophy and I wouldn’t know where else to look for material that are just as important for exploring this subject. So the off-the-beaten track readings are what definitely kept the course interesting with those unexpected insight from books on fugue, South Africa’s reconciliation commission, Viegner’s list. Class discussion was interesting as well and I particularly like that our students’ mixed professional, age and cultural backgrounds colored our views of the topic even further. It might well be so, since in real life some topics aren’t as straightforward as we think they are, so keeping in mind the possibility of multiple interpretations comes in handy. Also a handy thing to have been taught in this course was introduction to academic writing. It did digress from the subject but I cannot say that I did not need it. All in all I enjoyed the class for having expanded my horizon and uncovered nuggets of insights into ways of looking at the idea of self.


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I am about to complete my first semester at graduate school. It is encouraging to see peers of the same age, and older. This class was not what I had in mind for a first semester offering. Neuroscience and philosophy…anyway it was interesting and although a fair bit of it was challenging for me to understand and get my head around, on the whole I did enjoy the class and my fellow students. The course load was daunting in the beginning but the content opened me up to a new perspective on life, which is one of the reasons I choose to torture myself (sic) . The class instruction and structure for me is what helped me to understand the content, it was very well executed. I hope everyone has a pleasant and safe summer.

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About this course

I should probably be evaluating this course on the basis of whether or not I learned anything in it that shifted my views about selfhood. Instead I’m going to evaluate it using the secret, selfish criteria by which I habitually judge all courses, namely: Did this course give me an excuse to read exciting books, and did it give me ideas about additional exciting books upon which to geek out after the course was over?

Honesty compels me to admit that I did not love the Damasio, Noë and Lieberman books, but I’m not sorry I read them either. In five or ten years, when some huge technological breakthrough with implications for mapping consciousness is made, I may actually have the background to sort of understand it. And when I’m browsing the new nonfiction table at McNally Jackson and notice a new book by Naomi Eisenberger on the neuroscience of social rejection, I will chuckle knowingly.

I had been meaning to read something by Siri Hustvedt for a while and hadn’t gotten around to it, so this course conveniently rectified that oversight for me. On my own, though, I would probably have started with an earlier novel than The Blazing World and would not have looked at The Shaking Woman at all. Both were well worth reading and I’m glad for the exposure to them.

There Was This Goat and 2500 Random Things About Me Too were unclassifiable gems that would not even have been on my radar otherwise (and I like to think that my radar is pretty good!). These two books, for me, made the course worth the price of admission by themselves.

If anyone is so burned out on coursework right now that the thought of summer reading makes you want to puke, I apologize, and you have my blessing to give the finger to the rest of this post and go lie on a beach towel in the sun. But I already have a completely overambitious summer reading list all lined up about which I am TOTALLY PSYCHED, and some of it is an outgrowth of this course. I didn’t make it through Samuel Delany’s memoir The Motion of Light in Water fast enough to include it in my paper, but I feel sure it will be part of some sequel that’s still to come, so that’s getting finished first. A couple of my paper’s background sources, Paul Robinson’s Gay Lives and Cynthia Carr’s biography of David Wojnarowicz, are so interesting that I would read them just for kicks, and I have ridiculous fantasies of being able to just “sneak them in” before they’re due back at the library. But first I want to actually finish the other landmarks of gay quasi-memoir that I fronted like I’d actually read* in my paper, like the last hundred pages of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis and Gertrude Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Oh my God, that reminds me…Proust. As mental preparation for writing ONE SENTENCE about Proust in the paper, I found my copy of Swann’s Way and sort of…laid hands on it a lot, as if to absorb its essence by osmosis. The bookmark was still in it, at page 272, from my first attempt at reading it about a thousand years ago. In Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home, which I wrote about, there are also Proust references – including allusions to the later volumes of In Search of Lost Time which made me SO JEALOUS AND COMPETITIVE because Alison Bechdel has totally read all of Proust and I haven’t. And isn’t early summer, when everything is still sort of hazy and fragrant outside, the ideal time to read Proust? Really, he is the ultimate beach read! Or maybe sitting outside in a café garden, drinking artisanal iced tea while gentle breezes sway the fronds of a lilac bush hanging over the table…

This is not actually going to happen. But there will be other weird followups to my paper reading this summer. I noticed ridiculously late in the writing process that all four of the memoirs I was analyzing were by writers who were also visual artists. What if the “anti-narrative” iconoclasm I wrote about is attributable not to these writers’ being queer, but to their being artists, who tend toward iconoclasm anyway? Do I now need a control group of memoirs by straight-identified artists from the same period? Well then, why not finally read Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a book I am deeply embarrassed not to have already read? (Even Maud Casey has read it!) And Robert Christgau’s Going Into the City, although he’s a rock critic and not an artist, could maybe also sort of work. And Nancy K. Miller’s But Enough About Me, although really the time period is too early…

Oh, and Percival Everett’s novel Erasure! Greil Marcus is teaching that book in one of his CUNY courses this fall, the one I’m not taking because it seemed excessive to register for two courses by the same visiting instructor, so I’ll have to read it on my own. But it looks like a fascinating variation on some of the same questions of art, outsider status and self that Hustvedt dealt with in The Blazing World, this time as they concern a black novelist rather than a female artist.

Actually, this is all a bunch of rationalization. The fact is that I just want to read these books, whether they fit under any nice rubric or not. But isn’t that sort of the definition of a course? I.e., an overarching rationale for the reading of a bunch of books that you wanted to read anyway?

If anyone is still with me…what are you guys going to be reading this summer?? I would honestly love to know.

*Scholarship = the ability to seem knowledgeable about stuff you haven’t read all the way through, or at all

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Reviewing Self

While perusing the available MALS classes that fit into my strange work schedule, for the spring semester. I was lucky enough to see this introductory course and instantly found the topic area intriguing.

I have found that the readings and general  information about forms of writing as well as basic mechanics Professor Tougaw provided us with was so thought provoking. I found myself challenged in class and I thoroughly enjoyed the varied perspectives of my fellow students. As someone who isn’t normally gung ho about contributing in class I found our group and Professor Tougaw unpretentious and  supportive.

I truly enjoyed my experiences in Room 7395 this semester, and plan on revisiting the authors and topic areas of redefining mental illness, and the nonscientific development of self. I particularly enjoyed Tarnation, and the deconstruction of the film in particular brought me back to my Communication Studies days at NYU.

So thank you everyone, for making my semester informative and just a sincerely cool experience.

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Final Essay Checklist

Before handing in or uploading your final essay on May 27th, I suggest (strongly) that you to examine the questions below. Ideally,  the answer to all of the questions below will be “yes.”

____ I have a really good title for my paper.

____ I have numbered my pages.

____ I have double-spaced and formatted my paper properly.

____ I have proofread meticulously and purged my paper of all spelling and punctuation mistakes.

____ My sentences are well-crafted and not just correct but stylish.

____ My paper includes secondary research; it is appropriate to describe it as a “research paper.”

____ My argument is crystal clear, and it is indicated at the beginning.

____ I have a strong argument, and everything in my paper supports the argument.

____ My paper would make sense to a reader who is reading it for the first time; I offer enough explanation for a reader to follow my discussion.

____ I use subheadings when appropriate/ necessary. (If you do not need subheadings, that is fine—you can still answer yes to this question, because they are not needed.)

____ The logic and connection between my points is very clear.

____ The balance between sections of my paper is appropriate, and I spend the right amount of time on each point.

____ There are no gaps or major omissions in my discussion/ argument.

____ My paragraphs are unified, with one idea per paragraph—and my paragraphs are not too short or too long.

____ My paragraphs are indented properly.

____ I have strong transitions (or “stitching) between sections and between paragraphs.

____ I avoid jargon and slang, and the tone of my writing is appropriate.

____ My citations are complete and correct, and my Works Cited page is absolutely perfect.

___   I have picked ONE citation format and have kept it consistent throughout. I have used The Purdue Online Writing Lab (or another reference) to verify that my citations follow the latest guidelines.

____ My paper is interesting to read.

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Why the Self?

I was very against taking an Introduction to Graduate Studies course but have thoroughly enjoyed the readings and conversations. I signed up for Inventing the Self because it sounded the most interesting and because I immediately started formulating ideas for the final paper. I consider the experience of having Jason as a professor an incredibly lucky one. Amber mentioned how comfortable she felt in class and I think Jason’s exercise on the first day where we went around trying to remember each other’s names was effective in creating a seed of familiarity that would set the tone for the rest of the semester.

I am glad that this course had texts that highlighted the value of interdisciplinary work. I became a huge fan of Hustvedt and Lieberman and am even more positive that I would like to work with neuro-psychologists for future work. I also really enjoyed questioning norms around mental health. I hope to find time to read more works questioning what we think we know.

Thanks everyone!

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Reflecting on class

Out of the choices for MALS intro classes, I was most struck by the write-up for this class, asking about self and consciousness, because I’d never really thought about it so specifically before. The materials in the syllabus were new to me, and the dynamism of the interdisciplinary aspects (science, anthropology, literary, theoretical) was appealing. Over the weeks, I dug the readings each in their own way–Hustvedt and There Was This Goat, especially. The materials were thought-provoking. It’s obvious that people spend their entire careers delving into just small portions of the numerous things we touched upon in class, but I still feel I got a sense of some of the exchanges that are going on in these subjects. In terms of administrative stuff, I found the milestones for the paper helpful toward the actual writing. Each deliverable was integral to getting me to the next place, I think, and prevented me from waiting until the last minute. I especially enjoyed breaking into groups and the two classes where we overlapped with Oversharing.

Looking back, I thought it would be interesting to write here some of what I wrote down in our first class when Professor Tougaw asked us to answer this question: “How do you know your self?” I answered: “I know my self through repetition of certain thoughts, acts, and feelings based on likes, dislikes, and experiences from past, to move from present into future. I also attempt to modify who I am by taking the things that give me pleasure or success, in my mind, based on a mental image I have of what I’d hope my self to be, and retaining them for repeating, while trying to throw away the negatives or failures from being repeated. The sum of the things over time repeated, as reliable, is my self. Always changing, but always this body, this mind, and filtered through these senses, particular to my brain and this landscape internally. Interactions with others also influence this self, many times as a mirror for my weighing successes and failures for improvement/refinement.”

Looking at it now, I do think my notes are prescient of a few things we ended up discussing in the course.

Overall, the idea of multiplicity has really risen to the top for me… that all of us are many selves over our lives, ever-changing. And that time, space, our bodies, all kinds of chemistry, objects, and all of us, one another, affect these selves. Truth/reality versus belief/imagination was also a repeating theme. The class has really shone a light on the complexity of it all, for me.

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Drafts and Cover Letters

Drafts of your research project essays are due Saturday, May 16 (by midnight). Email your draft to me and your writing group. In your email, include a cover letter with the following information:

1. A description of the motive and thesis of your project, explained as simply as possible.

2. Some reflection your essay’s strengths.

3. Questions about aspects of the essay you’d most like feedback on–or what you think needs the most work.

In class the following Tuesday, you will meet in your writing groups to give each other feedback. Please read your group’s essays carefully before class and make notes. We will also conduct some workshop exercises as a class.

It’s optional, but it’s also a good idea to send your draft to your anthology group and ask for feedback. The more, the better!

Writing Groups

Amber, Julia, Jen

Liz, Berni, & Mari

Dag, Yael, Venita, & David

Ayanna, Andrew, Jeff, & Justin

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An Anthology in Need of a Title

Dear All,
To follow up on our discussion in class re. a title for our anthology. We decided that we would go with “Persona” unless there were alternatives.

So if you could post any alternative suggestions in the comments below, we can set up an electronic vote this week. Alternative title suggestions need to be submitted by Monday night. Best, Jason and Carrie

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