Built Life & the Written Self  (© 2014, Rapp) 

The Arete Project Summer 2014

Professor Jennifer Rapp

The self is also a creation, the principal work of your life, the crafting of which makes everyone an artist. This unfinished work of becoming ends only when you do, if then, and the consequences live on. We make ourselves and in so doing are the gods of the small universe of self and the large world of repercussions.

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby


After sex & metaphysics,—


What you have made.

Frank Bidart, “The Third Hour of the Night”

This summer you are making The Arete Project: what it is, what it will be, what it might become. Labor on the farm and action within self-governance will entangle you immediately and tangibly in the material, practical, and felt repercussions of creation. The class this summer—focused upon creation of the self and the written word as a terrain of such creation—will offer another dimension to this season of making.

The course is offered from my belief that the best forms of intellectual engagement also entangle us immediately and tangibly in the material, practical, and felt repercussions of creation. This belief is coupled—for me, without contradiction—with the ancient Greek and classic Daoist conception that “useless” forms of engagement are the hallmark of the highest modes of apprehension and knowledge. That is, to be without “use value” or “practical application” makes the object or mode of education exemplary. This course arises from my commitment to both orientations toward the life of the embodied mind. Namely, it must have actual stakes and consequences for how one lives while yet allowing for the opening of spaces untethered to the actual. In this commitment—as with all others I hold—there is no expectation that you will or should agree with me. I merely state it up front to give you a sense of where I come from.

How does reading and writing with/through/against/in spite of/in celebration of the written word forge the self? De-create the self? Move us into something for which “self” language no longer suffices? And, how can our embodiment through the written word contribute to a broader sense of built life, that is, a life shared in common with others? Or, as expressed in another gem from Rebecca Solnit: “Books are solitudes in which we meet.” What kind of meeting is this? What kind of solitude? And, why do we amble, walk, run, fly, struggle, crawl, and meander in order to meet there? There is so much to be done, why do we –or would we—or should we—make books an integral part of built life?

These questions are intended merely as instigators of the imagination, to kindle the heart and the paths the mind might take from such fire. I am here as a co-tender of the fire, in collaboration with all of you, to help create a space and time in which you can partake in the creaturely processes of creation, processes which the life of the mind contributes to vitally.

As already introduced in the course invitation, our reading list features, for the most part, pairs of texts and authors who speak from and to the focal questions of the course, to both generative and unraveling ends:


Week One: Plato and Oliver

Phaedrus, Plato

American Primitive, Mary Oliver


Week Two: Euripides, Baldwin, Winterson

The Bacchae, Euripides (C.K. Williams translation)

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeanette Winterson

with special guest appearance by Carole Maso: “Break Every Rule”


Week Three: Dickinson and Weil

The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Franklin edition)

Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil


Week Four: Murdoch and Woolf

“The Sublime and the Good” and “The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts” from

Existentialists and Mystics, Iris Murdoch

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf


Week Five: Nietzsche and Carson

The Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche

Glass, Irony and God, Anne Carson

with special guest appearance by Flannery O’Connor, “Revelation”


Week Six: Lorde and Moore

The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde

Self-Help, Lorrie Moore

possible guest appearance by Angela Carter, Burning Your Boats


Weeks Seven-Eight: Rich, Diaz, Davis

On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, Adrienne Rich

Diving Into the Wreck & The Dream of a Common Language, Adrienne Rich

Drown, Junot Diaz

can’t and won’t, Lydia Diaz

depending on what happens in Week 8, potential additions from poets Claudia Rankine

and Juliana Spahr


The Shape of a Week

We will try out the following schedule and adjust if/as needed:

 Every day: 1:00-1:30 =

This time is being set aside, post-lunch to give each of us a chance to re-group our focus from the morning and prepare our sense of presence and energies for the afternoon, however you need to do that. [If/as needed, this window can also help accommodate those of you who end up helping in lunch clean-up.]

Monday, Wednesday, Friday = entire group meets together with JR

1:30-3:00 Part I

3:00-3:30 Break for tea/coffee/quick dip in the pond

~3:30-4:45 Part II

Tuesday and Thursday= split into two groups, with JR

1:30-3:00 Group 1 (or however you end up naming yourselves)

3:30-5:00 Group 2 (ditto)

Please note: Typically speaking, you will have “new” reading to prepare for every Monday, Wednesday and sometimes Friday. Small group classes on Tuesday and Thursday will not have new reading preparation, and will involve review or re-engagement of the reading.


Modes and Forms of Evaluation

Your work in this class will not be evaluated within a “letter grade” system. [If you do need a letter grade for the purposes of accreditation and gaining/transferring credit for the course please talk with me and this can be arranged readily.]

I will offer and encourage 3 modes of evaluation of your “creation(s)” in/through the course:

1) With me: written feedback and one-on-one meetings

2) With a comrade in the course: we will incorporate forms of peer review into the class meetings

3) With yourself: I will introduce you to methods of evaluation for your own work and engagement in the class (e.g. internal fire assessment)


Assignments: Reading and Writing

The specifics for reading assignments and writing (preparatory, exploratory, formal prose, creative, etc.) will be given to you on a weekly basis. Typically you can expect to write and turn in something every week – the weekly handout will explain the form and content of these more formal written assignments. Additionally, during the week as our discussion of the texts evolves and grows, I may ask you to prepare shorter, discussion-specific responses to (or evocations regarding) particular readings.

The primary assignment for the summer will be to create an expression engaging “built life and the written self” that will be revealed/submitted during the final week of the program. There will be both an individual and collective version of this assignment. Our shorter and intermittent engagements during the summer will help you develop this more robust work. My hope is that each person leaves the farm with a dropped-in, chewing on the marrow of the bone, pliantly potent written expression of who they are at this moment on this planet.


JR’s Role and Offering

I tend to take a “less is more” approach to what is commonly called “teaching.” I am not a huge fan of the words “teacher” or “teach,” mostly because they sound unpretty as words off the tongue when, in fact, what gets glossed with those words can be an encounter of gorgeous beauty and rare experience. So, I tend to regard myself as a guide, a passionate reader with longer (though not necessarily better) experience, and a fellow wayfarer through the written word. I have spent two decades committed to a vocation in the humanities, broadly construed. In the past decade, I have expanded my studies to encompass a re-embrace of bodily-centered knowing, relationality, ethics, and joy. All of this I am here to share with you in whatever ways will be of most benefit.

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