Humanities 161

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Humanities 161

Media Aesthetics: Image, Sound, Text

Winter 2002 (Sound/Composition)

Section 06: Tuesday/Thursday, 3pm


Rebecca Zorach

Collegiate Assistant Professor

Gates-Blake 217


Office Hours: Th 1-3pm (and by appointment)

Writing intern

Anne Stephenson

Office hours by appointment


The particular emphasis of this three-quarter Humanities core sequence falls on issues in aesthetics, and especially on the problem of “the medium.” We will analyze a wide range of texts, images, objects, musical compositions and films, asking how the experience of formal and conceptual meaning is shaped by the medium through which a given aesthetic object is presented to us. We will raise such questions as: What constitutes a medium? Can artistic media be distinguished in a rigorous and systematic way from non-artistic media? What, for instance, is the difference between sound and music? What does it mean to call a painting a "composition" or an "arrangement"? When is a speech-act a poem, or a song? When is a song a poem, or a poem a song? What happens to objects when we “translate” them into other media--poems into songs, sound into paint, the spoken word into text? The course encourages students to examine the relationship between the kinds of meaning fostered by various media and the analytical methods through which those meanings can be elucidated. Each quarter of the sequence will array a mix of objects and media for examination but will also carry a particular thematic emphasis. Winter quarter will focus on sound, and in particular on the issue of composition--on what it means for sounds, words, and works to be "composed."


You are expected to attend and participate in all class sessions. Since participation constitutes a substantial portion of your grade, you should come to class having read the assigned texts carefully and prepared with ideas and questions about them. Each week, half of the class will be expected to email a “response paragraph” (half a page of writing based on your reactions to the readings and/or class discussion) to the instructor and writing intern. You are also expected to attend and participate in four writing workshops led by the course intern; your contributions to these workshops will make up a significant part of your grade for the course. The practical purpose of this course is to help students develop the reading, writing and analytical skills they will need to pursue successful academic and professional careers. A number of assignments are designed to aid in this task. You will write four formal essays: three 3-page essays, and a 5-page essay. The due dates are noted on the syllabus. Assignments will lose 1/3 letter grade per day late. In addition to the essays you will write frequent short response papers on the reading assignments. The grade distribution is: participation

(workshops, attendance, class discussion, emailed discussion questions and response papers) 35%; essay #1 10%; essay #2 15%; essay #3 15%; essay #4 25%. For the third paper you will have the option of a creative topic or a rewrite of a previous paper. In addition to your meetings with the writing intern, you will be required to meet with me early in the quarter; and expected to take advantage of my office hours throughout the quarter.

Papers (2 copies!) are due by 5pm through the mail slot of Gates-Blake 217.
Texts available for purchase at Seminary Coop Bookstore and on reserve at Regenstein Library

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Case of Wagner, ed. Kaufman

(Random House, 1967)

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, ed. Donald B. Gibson (Penguin, 1996)

Samuel Beckett, Krapp's Last Tape, and Other Dramatic Pieces (Grove, 1969)

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience

David Bordwell, Film Art: An Introduction, 6th ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2000) (optional)
Packet on Regenstein Electronic Reserve (through library website or “External Links” on course website at Hard copies of packet articles are on regular reserve at Regenstein Library.
Slides (available for viewing at:
Week 1 Tu 1/7 Introduction: Sound and Voice

Berio, Sequenza III for Voice (CD)

Th 1/9 Composition: Part and Whole

Schoenberg, “The Relationship to the Text”

Call and Response (CD)
Week 2 Screenings of Martin Arnold, Passage a L’Acte in Cobb 307 (M 1/13 at 11:30 and 12:00; T 1/14 at 1:30 and 2:00)
Strongly recommended: Adaptation (at various venues in Chicago)
Tu 1/14 Composition: Blues

Handy, “St. Louis Blues” (CD)

Handy, “Blue Diamonds in the Rough”

Mondrian, Broadway Boogie‑Woogie

Th 1/16 Composition: Blues, Theme & Variation

Blues from Bessie Smith to the Beatles (CD)

Barthes, “The Grain of the Voice”

Hughes, “The Weary Blues” (xerox)

Arnold, Passage à L’Acte (video)

Week 3 Tu 1/21 Composition: Poetry

Wordsworth, “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge”

Williams, “This Is Just to Say”; Koch, “Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams”

Brooks, “We Real Cool”

Bishop, “Sestina”

Dove, “Parsley”

Whistler, Arrangement in Black and Gray (slide)
Th 1/23 Philosophies of Composition

Poe, “The Raven”

Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”

Week 4 Screenings of Aria & Tristan in Cobb 307 (W 1/29 at 11:30 and 12:00; F 1/31 at 3:00 and 3:30)

M 1/27 Essay #1 due
Tu 1/28 Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy
Th 1/30 Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy

Week 5 Tu 2/4 Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy

Excerpts from Aria and Tristan and Isolde (video)
Th 2/6 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Week 6 Screening of The Piano for sections 01 and 06 (to be arranged)
Tu 2/11 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
Th 2/13 Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Selected Sorrow Songs, with Anderson and Robeson

Williams, “The Pain of Word Bondage”

Week 7 M 2/17 Essay #2 due
Tu 2/18 Rhythm, Meter, Rhyme, and Line: William Blake

Blake, Songs of Innocence

Th 2/20 Blake: Poetry, Song, and Image

Blake, Songs of Experience

Oh Rose Thou Art Sick (Performed by Allen Ginsberg)

Week 8 Tu 2/25 Blank Verse and Free Verse

Milton, Paradise Lost, “The Verse” and lines 1-26

Dickinson, #505; Lorde, “Echoes”

Campion, The Piano

Th 2/27 Indeterminate Sounds

Cage, "Composition as Process"

Cage, 4'33'' (performance in class)

Cage, TV Köln

Oliveros, Sonic Meditations

F 2/28 Essay #3 Due

Week 9 Screenings of The Conversation in Cobb 307 (T 3/4 at 9:00; M 3/10 at 11:00; F 3/7 at 11:00)
Tu 3/4 Radio (1)

Adorno, “The Radio Symphony”

Cheever, “The Enormous Radio”

Th 3/6 Radio (2)

Beckett, Embers and Act Without Words 1

LL Cool J, “Can’t live without my radio”

Week 10 Tu 3/11 Film Sound

Coppola, The Conversation (video)

Chion, “On the Acousmêtre”
Th 3/13 Conclusion
Week 11 M 3/17 Essay #4 due

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