ENG 101: “The Ethics of Immortality”
Is there a difference between living forever and avoiding death? This writing course aims to complicate the meaning of life and of death, but mostly, it’s about what it means to be human. The major goal in the course is to develop a coherent, concise theory of writing that allows you to understand writing as transferable and useful for communicating in various contexts. This theory will be grounded in the concepts of Audience, Genre, Situation, and Conversation and will help to situate your evolving theory about immortality within a larger scholarly context. Writing in this course will consist of short responses and introspective reflections alongside robust argumentative and creative essays. We will examine some examples from film and written texts which will help shape our views on writing in general and about the ethical aspects of life and death.
SOME MAJOR ASSIGNMENTS
Hypothesis of Immortality/Theory of Immortality
- This pair of essays flanked the beginning and end of the course and set the course up like a science experiment (many of the students were interested in science majors/careers) that began with a 500-word hypothesis (“what do you think immortality is?”) which engaged prior knowledge, and concluded with a 1,000-word theory (“what do you think immortality is now?”) which compared their initial thoughts with what they had learned over the semester.
Hypothesis of Writing/Theory of Writing
- Correlative to the Hypothesis/Theory of Immortality (which engaged the course theme), this pair of essays included a 500-word hypothesis of writing (“What do you think writing is?”) and followed up at the end of the semester with a longer theory, in the form of a letter, which asked students to consider their thoughts on writing through the key terms we dealt with in the semester: audience, genre, rhetorical situation, and conversation. I adapted this for my Spring 181 course.
Vampire Visual Group Analysis
- This was a fun group project where students, in teams of 4, set times to view and analyze their given vampire-related TV show or film (True Blood, Interview With a Vampire, Blade, and The Vampire Diaries). The students had to consider the ways in which the media conveyed the notion of immortality, humanity, and personhood (after using the Yale OpenCourses lectures for a point of departure) through the figure of the vampire. Students were also asked to present their findings to the class with a visual aid, and to engage in conversation with other teams.
- Students worked in pairs to consider the impact of naming and memorialization for buildings around the campus, including those named after figures with not-so stellar legacies. Students found this highly engaging as they were able to evaluate the living history of their own institution and write about it. A few have even decided to follow up with educating the larger student body about these issues.
Artificial Intelligence Proposal
- Students, working in teams, were given a set of [slightly fictional] proposals dealing with companies creating products for life-extension and artificial intelligence. With the teams the students were to develop a counterproposals to the presented ideas, citing their reasons why said proposal would not work and also presenting their own concept.
Creative Pitch Proposal
- This project, was in some ways, an extension to the counterproposal project. However, students, here (at the end of the semester) had the opportunity to create their own short proposal for a film, TV show, novel, or product which dealt in some way with an idea of immortality. This gave students a chance to test their own developing knowledge about our writing-centric key terms and about immortality, and channel it into an idea that they created on their own. In class, the students held a pitch speed dating-style event where they were challenged to sell their ideas to their classmates in pairs.