The Craft of Writing: The World in Pictures – Writing as Perspective
R1A - 002 | CCN: 15501
Hannah Airriess and Alex Bush
In 1968, with the publication of the Whole Earth Catalog, Stuart Brand widely distributed the first full-disk image of the earth as photographed from a satellite in orbit. This zoomed-out perspective on the world immediately became central to new ways of thinking about the earth as a unified system. From economic globalization to the global climate movement, this view of the planet in extreme long shot is crucial to picturing the world as a single unit. In this course, we will examine the media history behind envisioning the world, looking at the role of visual technologies in shaping the way the planet is understood today. In particular, we want to examine the notion that global consciousness has not emerged naturally, but is a product of culturally specific ideas informed, in part, by media depictions of the world.
Readings and screenings will cover media going back to the emergence of cinema in 1895, among other entertainment forms and institutions—such as World’s Fairs and museums—that built an idea of a world that transcended national and geographical separations. We will then move through narrative cinema, satellite television, video installation, and digital visualization technologies like Google Earth and Google Maps. Throughout, we will attend to questions of cultural and political power, and how they are distributed in ideas of the global. Your readings, while not always voluminous, will be challenging (but rewarding!), and we will use class time to help you work through the ideas in your own written and spoken words with the support of your classmates.
Careful and consistent reading of both written and visual texts is fundamental to writing, the most important skill you will develop in this class. We believe that you can neither write effectively without reading analytically, nor read effectively without writing analytically. You should engage the material with this in mind. In their representation of the world, our texts raise the question of perspective, which is also a critical component of essay writing. To construct—or understand—a compelling argument, you first need to consider perspective and its building blocks, such as distance, objectivity, context, and framing. These ideas will be central to our discussion and homework.
Both class time and assignments will be dedicated to learning how to write effectively using appropriate media vocabulary in two main writing projects: a film review and an analytical essay. We will also have brief in-class writing assignments to help you build toward these longer pieces. Writing frequently from a variety of perspectives, and putting that writing into perspective with the help of your fellow students, will help you learn how to do it confidently and competently. Moving forward, we encourage you to think consistently about perspective as you approach writing during your career at Berkeley. The writing techniques you will acquire in this course will be useful in any academic discipline and beyond the academy.