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Description   |   Syllabus

Catastrophe, Conflict, Scandal: Long Form and the Decoding of Reality
UC Berkeley
Spring 2013

Description

In this seminar, we will turn our attention to the longer forms of storytelling, beginning with a thorough study of the best that has been achieved in that realm, with an eye toward getting at the possibilities of longer form reporting and writing. Our premise is, that with long form in particular, "you write with your ears." That is, what you read and hear determines in large part what and how you come to write. We will be reading and studying articles, books and some films, many though not all concerning catastrophe, conflict and scandal: the fall of a dictator, the concealing of a massacre, the onset of a plague. We will delve into the structure of narrative, the establishment of voice, the shaping of story, the creation and use of suspense. Those whose work we will study include Banks, Defoe, Eggers, Boo, Bowden, Grossman, Holland, Kapuściński, Mailer, Malcolm, Garcia Marquez, LeBlanc, Orwell, Pontecorvo, Taibbi, among many others.



Syllabus

Catastrophe, Conflict, Scandal: Long Form and the Decoding of Reality

Spring 2013, Journalism J298, Tuesday 3-6, North Gate 104

Mark Danner


Main Class Requirements: At the heart of this course is the work we will do around the table during our weekly meetings. This is a seminar — a discussion class - and its success depends on student participation. The main class requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Participate fully in discussions

*Do all reading and writing assignments

A student's record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the thoroughness of his or her preparation, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.

Schedule. All classes will begin promptly at 3:10 pm Tuesdays in North Gate B-1 and will conclude at 6 pm. Class sessions will be divided by a 15 minute break. Note that we will not meet on February 5: that session will be rescheduled. 

Reading. Our primary reading will draw largely from books and articles, and will generally consist of one book and several long articles a week. Following is a list of the books we will read:

Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor

Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote

Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman

Dave Eggers, Zeitoun

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, News of a Kidnapping

Mark Bowden, Killing Pablo

Matt Taibbi, Griftopia

David Grossman, The Yellow Wind

Heidi Holland, Dinner With Mugabe

Russell Banks, The Darling

I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies, either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them. 

Writing. Students will undertake one or two short assignments, for which you are meant to draw on the assigned reading and on class discussions. There will also be a final paper, the details of which we will discuss in class. To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest a close reading of two works: George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language," easily found on the internet, and Strunk and White's little manual, The Elements of Style. 

Office Hours: I will hope to meet with each of you individually at least once during the course of the term. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at mark@markdanner.com. My writing, speaking and other information can be found at my website, markdanner.com.

Grading.  Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work.

Recommended Textbooks

William Strunk Jr and E.B. White, The Elements of Style

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story

Norman Sims and Mark Kramer, Literary Journalism

Ian Jack (editor), The Granta Book of Reportage

Syllabus and Notes

(Class summary notes by course assistant Sonia Fleury)

January 22, 2013 — Introductions: How To Teach, And Not Teach, Longform. Writing With Your Ears. The Reading List.

Introduction to longform writing (writing with your ears, creating narrative structures through experience, and how this differs from the short-form practice of "sailing close to the shore"). 

Discussion of George Orwell's "Marrakech": narrative structure (5 "scenes"); narrative "motor" (human emotion, author's internal conflict, withholding/suspense, accusation, second person); use of sight/inability to see as a proxy for power. Orwell's themes: socialism; fascism as a final phase of capitalism; the decline of colonialism (death, insects, corruption); liberation/revolution (final scene/sentence). 

 

Texts: 

  • George Orwell, "Marrakech," (New Writing, 1939) (http://www.george-orwell.org/Marrakech/0.html)

Suggested Reading: 

  • John McPhee, "Structure: Beyond the Picnic-Table Crisis" (The New Yorker, January 14, 2013) (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/14/130114fa_fact_mcphee)

Assignments: 

  • Read Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor (Vintage, 1989)
  • Read George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language (1946)
  • Read "Prologue: The Exhumation" from Mark Danner, Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (Vintage, 1994), and predict/outline how the rest of this long-form piece might be structured
  • Send Professor Danner the names of writers, longform articles, and books you have read and admired or have aspired to read

January 29, 2013 —  Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor (Vintage, 1989 [1978]), 176

Discussion of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," and the consequence of people's inability to think, write, and express themselves (ready-made phrases clog our minds and obscure our true, intended meaning). What one writes dictates how one thinks. Lessons: write with…simplicity, clarity, active verbs.

Discussion of Kapuscinski's The Emperor (structure: three distinct, polyphonic sections with an authorial thread throughout). Focus on narrative propulsion (suspense/contrast—that was then, this is now, how did we get here?). The discussion paid particular attention to whether or not the facts contained in the book can be trusted (e.g. what is veracity? Where is the line between literature and journalism? Is Machiavelli's The Prince a comforting comparison?), and what this book is really about (Haile Selassie, or the nature of power more generally).

Texts:

  • George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" (1946) (https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm)
  • Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor (Vintage, 1989)

Suggested Reading:

  • John Ryle, "At play in the bush of ghosts: tropical baroque, African reality and the work of Ryszard Kapuscinski" (Times Literary Supplement, July 27, 2001) (http://www.richardwebster.net/print/xjohnryle.htm)
  • Jack Shafer, "The Lies of Ryszard Kapuscinski: Or, if you prefer, the "magical realism" of the now-departed master" (Slate, January 25, 2007) (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/press_box/2007/01/the_lies_of_ryszard_kapuciski.html)
  • Ryszard Kapuscinski (Wikipedia) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryszard_Kapu%C5%9Bci%C5%84ski)

Assignment:

  • Read Mark Danner, Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (Vintage, 1994)
  • Read Robert Fisk, "Journalism and 'the language of power'" (Al Jazeera, May 25, 2010) (http://www.aljazeera.com/focus/2010/05/201052574726865274.html)

February 2, 2013 — Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote (Vintage, 1994) + Robert Fisk, "Journalism and 'the language of power,'" Al Jazeera, May 25, 2010)

Discussion of Fisk's "Journalism and the Words of Power," paying particular attention to what he inherited from Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Is the arc of shared understanding about history simply a roof beneath which stories fit? Have we become fools who cease to look? Language borrowed from the government provide journalists a panoply of euphemisms from which to choose when writing about, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian "conflict."

Discussion of Danner's, The Massacre at El Mozote, focusing on how the book came to be written beginning in the fall of 1992. The class discussed the evolution of the narrative, from one that had at its center the fragile state of Salvadoran politics at the time of the exhumations, to a story in which this fact is largely absent. The class also discussed the challenges of writing the book (e.g. what to do when the one adult who survived the massacre has told the story so many times that she is no longer recalling the event itself, but rather her iterations of it, or when some sources (e.g. the military) are impossible to speak to, or are actively involved in misleading the journalist). The task became to tell what happened at El Mozote. The class also focused on the use of official declassified documents as tools for describing the complicated political situation motivating U.S. aid to El Salvador in the 1980s.

Texts:

  • Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote (Vintage, 1994)
  • Robert Fisk, Robert Fisk, "Journalism and the Words of Power," Al Jazeera, May 25, 2010

Suggested Reading:

  • David Halberstam, The Powers That Be (University of Illinois Press, 2000)

Assignment:

  • Read Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Vintage, 1995)
  • Read Sylvia Plath's poetry 
    • o "Daddy" (1962) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hHjctqSBwM)
    • o "Lady Lazarus" (1962) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tvSDw84ArQ)
    • o "Medusa" (1965) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S63laZCOGQA) 
    • Read David Grann, "A Murder Foretold: Unravelling the ultimate political conspiracy" (The New Yorker, April 4, 2011) (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/04/04/110404fa_fact_grann) (presentation by Sonia)

February 12, 2013 — Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Vintage, 1995) + David Grann, "A Murder Foretold: Unravelling the ultimate political conspiracy," The New Yorker, April 4, 2011

Discussion of Malcolm's, The Silent Woman, about the aftermath of the death of Sylvia Plath, with a focus on what themes recur in Malcolm's books: what is writing? What does it mean to be a non-fiction writer? How does a biographer approach her subjects? What does she do with their stories? Malcolm writes about the "journalistic conscience," and our inability to ever "know the truth of what happened" in a nonfiction piece. She draws lines and then knowingly crosses them. Who is the "good" biographer? Is there such a thing? To whom does the biographer owe an allegiance? Who "owns" the dead, and who controls their legacy? What is Truth? 

Discussion of Grann's, "A Murder Foretold," about a death in Guatemala, with attention paid to the way the story unfolds, and structure creates suspense by withholding information. In an interview with the student, Grann explained the maddening process of writing the piece—nothing was as it seemed (his experience mirrored the telling of the story), sources misled him many times, and reporting was especially difficult in a place where the institutions of power are by their very nature corrupt. The class discussed the linear nature of the story, and the absence of the general population from the piece: this is a story about elites—how does that affect the intended audience's reception of the piece? 

Texts:

  • Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Vintage 1995)
  • David Grann, "A Murder Foretold: Unravelling the ultimate political conspiracy," The New Yorker, April 4, 2011 

Suggested Reading:

Assignment:

  • Read Dave Eggers, Zeitoun (Vintage 2010)
  • Andrew Nikiforuk, "Highway to Hell," from Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (presentation by Alex)
  • Read Barry Bearak, "The Day The Sea Came," (Parts I & II), The New York Times Magazine, November 27, 2005

February 19, 2013 — Dave Eggers, Zeitoun (Vintage, 2010) + Andrew Nikiforuk, "Highway to Hell," + Barry Bearak, "The Day the Sea Came" (Parts I & II), The New York Times Magazine, November 27, 2005

Discussion of Eggers' Zeitoun, which opened with a look at articles about Zeitoun's arrest for domestic violence after Eggers wrote the book (comparison to The Executioner's Song about Jack Henry Abbott and Norman Mailer), and whether this affects the reader's perception of the story told. The class discussed the methodology of the book, which began as a series of interviews with people in disaster areas (Voice of Witness Project). The class discussed the highly literary narrative structure (including the development of Zeitoun's character through exposition), and debated the effectiveness of this technique. The class explored Eggers' character development strategies, and also talked about the intersection between Hurricane Katrina and The War on Terror.

Discussion of Nikiforuk's "Highway to Hell": the author was assigned to the business beat, but he noticed so many junkies, so much traffic, and so much crime happening beneath the high rises that he wrote this story about Calgary, Canada, and the price it has paid for being at the center of the country's bitumen market. The author spent two weeks in Calgary and stayed with a family in a trailer park. He described the assignment as akin to covering a war. The class discussed this in the context of the current debate over the building of the Keystone Pipeline. 

The class tabled the discussion of Bearak's article.

Texts:

  • Dave Eggers, Zeitoun (Vintage 2010)
  • Andrew Nikiforuk, "Highway to Hell," from Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent 

Assignments:

  • Read Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year 
  • Read Annie Dillard, "Total Eclipse" (presentation by Holly)
  • Read Susan Sontag, "The Way We Live Now"

February 26, 2013 — Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (Norton Critical Edition, 1992 [1722]) + Susan Sontag, "The Way We Live Now" + Annie Dillard, "Total Eclipse"

Discussion of Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, with a focus on the unique narrative style of the book (purportedly biographical, narrated in the first person, but may be from the perspective of Defoe's uncle). The class also discussed Defoe's purpose in writing the book (propaganda?), given the historical context (quarantine during a public health crisis) and Defoe's deep involvement in social/political life. Students also discussed the sources Defoe used to write the book (e.g. bills of mortality, government regulations, uncle's diary), and the unique creation of suspense (the Plague itself as a character).

Discussion of Dillard's "Total Eclipse," with a focus on the author's use of dualities (familiarity/unfamiliarity, memory/forgetting) to describe a particularly shocking natural event. How does Dillard describe trauma? What is the role of her husband in the piece? 

Discussion of Sontag's "The Way We Live Now," with a brief comparison to Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" and "Childhood"—the self-consciousness of grieving/dying. Sontag describes the way humans ritualize death in a moment of shame (AIDS epidemic in the 1980s), and the way communities construct themselves in moments of catastrophe.

Texts:

  • Daniel Defoe, Diary of the Plague Year 
  • Annie Dillard, "Total Eclipse" 
  • Susan Sontag, "The Way We Live Now"

Assignments:

  • Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers

March 5, 2013 — Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Random House, 2012)

Class discussion of Boo's nonfiction account of a Mumbai slum, with a particular focus on the politics of global capitalism, development, and "Westernization" present in the book. The class also debated the effectiveness of the narrator's absence from the story, despite her requisite presence in interviewing/observing the individuals she describes. Students also discussed India's current political climate, corruption, and the way these elements figure in Boo's account.

Texts:

  • Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Assignments:

  • Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night (postponed until March 19, 2013)

March 12, 2013 — Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers (Rialto Pictures, 1966)

Class watched and discussed Pontecorvo's "The Battle of Algiers," with particular attention paid to the film's historical context (Algeria's war of liberation against France). The class examined the structure of the film (point of view, exposition, the way the viewer is told what an insurgency is, etc.). The film develops the theme of its main character's political awakening and radicalization. The class compared elements of the film to the State Department's rhetoric about fighting insurgents in Iraq and the Middle East after 9/11.

Assignments:

  • Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night (carried over from March 12, 2013)
  • Michael Herr, Dispatches (Everyman, 2009 [1977])
  • Tom Junod, "The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama"
  • Pankaj Mishra, "Death in Kashmir" (presentation by Zahid)
  • o Background: Arundathi Roy, "Land and freedom," The Guardian, August 22, 2008 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/aug/22/kashmir.india)

March 19, 2013 — Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night (Plume, 1995 [1968]) + Michael Herr, Dispatches (Everyman, 2009 [1977]) + Tom Junod, "The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama" + Pankaj Mishra, "Death in Kashmir"

Class discussed Mailer's Armies of the Night and "new journalism," whose methodology of filtering experience through the writer's consciousness contrasts sharply with the cold, methodical, relentlessly empirical style prevalent in journalism at the time. Students discussed Mailer's character in the book—the vivid depiction of his own vanity, and the way this revelation of his shortcomings becomes a commentary on the politicized, intellectual milieu of the late 1960s.

Class discussion of Herr's Dispatches touched on contrasting the methodology of war reporting during the Vietnam War with war reporting in places like Iraq, where American journalists are dependent on soldiers for access to certain areas. Being embedded in Vietnam allowed Herr to explore the effects of war on the human psyche—violence, extremity of experience. The class also discussed Herr's writing style, which uses simple diction, rhythm, and an almost musical beat.

Discussion of Junod's "The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama" addressed the author's tone of savage irony, and the innovative decision to address the piece direction to its subject. The class also discussed the politics of drone warfare, and the relationship between American citizenship and drone strikes abroad.

The class discussed Mishra's "Death in Kashmir," with attention paid to Kashmir's unique political situation, and the fact that Kashmir is often described only in relation to Pakistan and India, never on its own terms. Here Mishra embeds the unfolding of a particular event within a complex historical context, and uses narrative exposition to write about something he doesn't know.

Texts:

  • Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night
  • Michael Herr, Dispatches
  • Tom Junod, "The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama"
  • Pankaj Mishra, "Death in Kashmir"

Assignment:

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, News of a Kidnapping (Vintage, 2008)
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (Vintage, 1989 [1956]) (postponed until April 9, 2013)
  • Maureen Orth, "Nightmare in Neverland," Vanity Fair, January 1994 (presentation by Christy)

April 2, 2013 — Gabriel Garcia Marquez, News of a Kidnapping (Vintage, 2008) + Maureen Orth, "Nightmare in Neverland," Vanity Fair, January 1994

The class opened with a brief discussion of each student's proposed final paper topic.

Discussion of Marquez's News of a Kidnapping focused on Marquez's approach to telling a specific story about a set of hostages in Colombia in the context of the country's drug-related violence. The class discussed the moral ambiguity of the United States' role in simultaneously fueling the drug war (through demand) and providing military support to fight for the war on drugs. The class analyzed Marquez's extremely detailed descriptions of captivity contrasted with the opulent milieu of the Colombian elites negotiating for the hostages' release.

Discussion of Orth's "Nightmare in Neverland" touched on the author's methodology for writing the piece (she made a timetable, looked at affidavits and police reports, spoke to lawyers). The students debated whether the legal system is made for vastly rich, powerful, manipulative eccentrics, and discussed the power of celebrity in context.

Texts:

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, News of a Kidnapping
  • Maureen Orth, "Nightmare in Neverland"

Assignment: 

  • Mark Bowden, Killing Pablo (Penguin, 2002)
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (Vintage, 1989 [1956])
  • Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, "Trina and Trina," The Village Voice, 1993

April 9, 2013 — Mark Bowden, Killing Pablo (Penguin, 2002) + Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (Vintage, 1989 [1956]) + Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, "Trina and Trina," The Village Voice, 1993

The class opened with a brief discussion of the remaining student's proposed final paper topics, below.

The class compared Bowden's Killing Pablo to Marquez's News of a Kidnapping—two very different approaches (audience, complexity of story, perspective, characterization). Students debated the effectiveness of Bowden's simplifying technique (diffuse information, more telling than showing), and discussed the ways the author could have gone beyond the legend of Pablo Escobar. The class also discussed the history of US-Colombia relations in the 1980s and 1990s as context for the book.

Discussion of Marquez's Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor focused on the effectiveness of the author's first-person man v. nature account, and the way Marquez created suspense despite the knowledge the narrator survives (precision of description allows the reader to suspend disbelief). The class did close readings of the prose to better understand Marquez's technique.

Discussion of LeBlanc's "Trina and Trina" focused on an analysis of the relationship between the journalist and the subject, and the ways this affected the way she wrote the piece. Specifically, how does LeBlanc's desire to help (even "save") Trina, and her ultimate realization that she could not do so, figure in the piece—and more broadly, what does this relationship mean for journalists writing about particular kinds of subjects?

Texts:

  • Mark Bowden, Killing Pablo
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor
  • Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, "Trina and Trina" 

Suggested reading:

  • Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx (Scribner, 2004)

Assignment:

  • Matt Taibbi, Griftopia (Spiegel & Grau, 2011)
  • Michael Lewis, "Wall Street on the Tundra," Vanity Fair, April 2009
  • Michael Lewis, "When Irish Eyes Were Crying," Vanity Fair, March 2010
  • Basharat Peer, "Kashmir's Forever War," Granta 112: Pakistan (Autumn 2010) (presentation by Talal)

April 16, 2013 — Matt Taibbi, Griftopia (Spiegel & Grau, 2011) + Michael Lewis, "Wall Street on the Tundra," Vanity Fair (April 2009) + Michael Lewis, "When Irish Eyes Were Crying," Vanity Fair (March 2010) + Basharat Peer, "Kashmir's Forever War," Granta 112: Pakistan (Autumn 2010)

Class discussion of Griftopia focused on the effectiveness (or otherwise) of Taibbi's attempt to show that the financial crisis is evidence of a society that is rotten to its core. Particular attention paid to Taibbi's particular kind of "vernacular" and its effect on the reader (Rhetorical? Condescending? Effective?). 

Discussion of Lewis's two articles focused on a comparison with Taibbi's book. Lewis' tone may be more "polite," but while Taibbi approaches his subject matter as an outsider trying to teach you something, Lewis adopts a tone of "mocking amusement" and confidence that may condescend to readers.  

Discussion of Peer's "Kashmir's Forever War" touched on an interview Talal conducted with the author, who when asked about the meandering structure of the piece, said the "reporting dictates the piece." When asked why he inserts himself frequently into the piece, Peer responded that the article required it. Criticism of the author's abrupt insertion of historical exposition as a "major weakness" of the piece, especially when compared to Mishra's "Death in Kashmir," which the class read on March 19.

Texts:

  • Matt Taibbi, Griftopia
  • Michael Lewis, "Wall Street on the Tundra"
  • Michael Lewis, "When Irish Eyes Were Crying"
  • Basharat Peer, "Kashmir's Forever War"

Assignment:

  • David Grossman, The Yellow Wind (Picador, 2002 [1988])
  • Final Paper Description Due: Three or four sentences sketching out your final paper proposal

April 23, 2013 — David Grossman, The Yellow Wind (Picador, 2002 [1988]) + Dror Moreh, The Gatekeepers (Sony Pictures Classic, 2012)

The class began by watching Moreh's recent documentary, The Gatekeepers, about the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service. The class then discussed the film in the context of Grossman's The Yellow Wind, a book about the relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, written primarily for an Israeli audience. Students analyzed the thread/narrative in both the film and the book, as well as the strengths/weaknesses of their respective techniques in describing the same conflict. The conversation expanded to include a discussion of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what the long, gradual deterioration of a political situation looks like (and how it is most effectively depicted).

Texts/Film:

  • David Grossman, The Yellow Wind
  • Dror Moreh, The Gatekeepers

Suggested Reading:

  • Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape (Profile Books, 2008)

Assignment:

  • Heidi Holland, Dinner with Mugabe (Penguin, 2010)
  • V.S. Naipaul, "The Return of Eva Peron" (Knopf, 1980)
  • Muhammad Abu Samr, "The Palestinian 'Wailing Wall'" (available here at p. 99: http://history.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/JQ_30.pdf) (presentation by Hasan)

April 30, 2013 — Heidi Holland, Dinner With Mugabe (Penguin, 2010) + V.S. Naipaul, The Return of Eva Peron (Knopf, 1980) + Muhammad Abu Samr, "The Palestinian 'Wailing Wall'"

The class began by discussing final paper topics in greater detail.

Discussion of Holland's Dinner With Mugabe began with an assessment of the author's goals (and the complications involved) in writing a psychological portrait of a dictator. Mugabe as an enigma—unknowable, even through Holland's carefully researched book about him. The class debated whether Holland's account would have benefited from more detailed explanations of Zimbabwe's history/politics, but agreed that sometimes a book's flaws are its most interesting parts.

The class discussed Naipaul's sweeping, controversial essay about Argentina ("The Return of Eva Peron"), and the assumptions he makes about the culture being stagnant and sterile. Naipaul traces the society's collapse into violence through detailed descriptions and anecdotes. The class was asked to pay careful attention to the "windows Naipaul is peeping through" (e.g. literary traditions, fairy tales, films, artists, dinner parties), and the way this creates a framework for exploring the way Argentinians talk about themselves contrasted with the way the society is rotting from the inside, according to the author.

Hasan prefaced his presentation of "The Palestinian 'Wailing Wall'" by noting how difficult it is to find a good long-form journalism piece written by a Palestinian in the United States. Samr begins his piece by talking about the history of Palestine, its treaties, etc., but instead makes the wall the history and his subject. The author explores the heterogeneous composition of neighborhoods in the West Bank, and uses the stories of the people who live in them to paint a portrait of life before and after the wall was built.

Texts:

  • Heidi Holland, Dinner With Mugabe
  • V.S. Naipaul, "The Return of Eva Peron"
  • Muhammad Abu Samr, "The Palestinian 'Wailing Wall'" 

Suggested Reading:

  • V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River (Vintage, 1989)

Assignment:

  • Russell Banks, The Darling (Harper Perennial, 2005)
  • Marie Brenner, "Marie Colvin's Private War," Vanity Fair, August 2012 (presentation by Veera)
  • Matthieu Aikins, "The Doctor, the CIA, and the Blood of Bin Laden," GQ, January 2013 (presentation by Amna)

May 7, 2013 — Russell Banks, The Darling (Harper Perennial, 2005) + Marie Brenner, "Marie Colvin's Private War," Vanity Fair, August 2012 + Matthieu Aikins, "The Doctor, the CIA, and the Blood of Bin Laden," GQ, January 2013

The class discussed the line between fact and fiction in this "factual" novel, as well as the origin of the book's title (the reference to Chekhov's short story, as well as to The Quiet American). How does Russell Banks create his characters? How does he tell the story of Liberia, a country that replicates a system of exploitation even as it is founded on an ideology of liberation? How does the main character's own issues with Western power and guilt get woven into the broader story of the United States' relationship to Liberia, or even Africa more generally? The class also discussed the temporal structure of the piece (memory, "real time," etc.).

The discussion of Brenner's piece about Marie Colvin centered on war reporting, PTSD, and on the creation of a character in non-fiction piece that may be quite different from the real person. We touched on the way her death transformed her into a model of the heroic (with reference to Janet Malcolm's themes in The Silent Woman). What are the stakes when reporting in a war zone? Do they merit risking your life to report a story to the world? What are the limitations and risks of reporting in those conditions?

Amna's presentation of Aikin's article focused on the way the story became less about the goal of the reporting, an more about the lack of information and inability of the author to access the sources needed to write the piece he intended to write. The class also discussed the ethics of the individual in the article who administered fake vaccinations to a village, thereby setting back decades of progress made by NGOs in villages that agreed to allow an outsider to give vaccinations. The class analogized the CIA planting someone posing as a journalist, and how difficult that would make it for real reporters to access information. The class suggested the author should have explored this element of the piece further.

May 14, 2013 — No class. Final papers due (15-20 pages).

A Longform Sampler

(Or What We Didn't Get to, But Will)

Barry Bearak, "The Day the Sea Came"

Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down                                      
Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire (Holly)                                         
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood                                               
 
Babur, Memoirs (Fareed)
Jay Bahadur, The Pirates of Somalia (Talal)
Peter Boyer, "Frat House for Jesus" (Holly)
Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Holly)                                                      
Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia                                                    
Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote                           
Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year
Annie Dillard, "Total Eclipse" (Holly)                             
Dave Eggers, Zeitoun                                                               
David Grossman, The Yellow Wind
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, News of a Kidnapping (Zahid)       
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (Zahid)
David Grann, "A Murder Foretold" (Sonia, Holly)   
David Halberstam, The Powers That Be
Michael Herr, Dispatches
Heidi Holland, Dinner With Mugabe (Alex)
John Hersey, Hiroshima
Tom Jounod, "The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama"
Robert Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography (Fareed)
Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

Charlie LeDuff, "Robert Frank's Unsentimental Journey" (Hasan)

Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker

Bill McKibben, The End of Nature

Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull (Holly)

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer

Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman

Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night

Norman Mailer, The Executioner's Song

John McPhee, Assembling California

V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River

V.S. Naipaul, The Writer and the World

Maureen Orth, "Nightmare in Neverland" (Christy)

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Richard Lloyd Parry, People Who Eat Darkness

Samantha Power, Chasing the Flame (Holly)

Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth

Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation

Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape

Mark Slouka, "Quitting the Paint Factory" (Sonia)

Susan Sontag, The Way We Live Now

Matt Taibbi, Griftopia

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns (Holly)

Daniel Wilkinson, Silence on the Mountain (Sonia)

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Woodward and Bernstein, All the President's Men

David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster

David Foster Wallace, Both Flesh and Not



© 2017 Mark Danner