Tue - Sat, 12 - 6PM / 212.937.6580 / 540 W 21st St. New York, NY 10011
McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Internet-Age Writing Syllabus and Course Overview.
WRITING SYLLABUS AND
BY ROBERT LANHAM
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Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era
M-W-F: 11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
Instructor: Robert Lanham
As print takes its place alongside smoke signals, cuneiform, and hollering, there has emerged a new literary age, one in which writers no longer need to feel encumbered by the paper cuts, reading, and excessive use of words traditionally associated with the writing trade. Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era focuses on the creation of short-form prose that is not intended to be reproduced on pulp fibers.
Instant messaging. Twittering. Facebook updates. These 21st-century literary genres are defining a new "Lost Generation" of minimalists who would much rather watch Lost on their iPhones than toil over long-winded articles and short stories. Students will acquire the tools needed to make their tweets glimmer with a complete lack of forethought, their Facebook updates ring with self-importance, and their blog entries shimmer with literary pithiness. All without the restraints of writing in complete sentences. w00t! w00t! Throughout the course, a further paring down of the Hemingway/Stein school of minimalism will be emphasized, limiting the superfluous use of nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, gerunds, and other literary pitfalls.
Students must have completed at least two of the following.
ENG: 232WR—Advanced Tweeting: The Elements of Droll
LIT: 223—Early-21st-Century Literature: 140 Characters or Less
ENG: 102—Staring Blankly at Handheld Devices While Others Are Talking
ENG: 301—Advanced Blog and Book Skimming
ENG: 231WR—Facebook Wall Alliteration and Assonance
LIT: 202—The Literary Merits of Lolcats
LIT: 209—Internet-Age Surrealistic Narcissism and Self-Absorption
Required Reading Materials
Literary works, including the online table of contents of the Huffington Post's Complete Guide to Blogging, will serve as models to be skimmed for thorough analysis. Also, Perez Hilton's Twitter feed.
LECTURE AND DISCUSSION
The Writing Is on the Wall:
Why Print/Reading Will Go the Way
of the Pictograph
Four weeks will be devoted to discussing the publishing industry and why―with the exception of wordless celebrity glossies―the print medium is, um, boring and, furthermore, totally dull.
Reading is stoopid
This fundamental truth may seem obvious to today's youth, but this wasn't always the case. Students will examine why former generations carried around heavy clumps of bound paper and why they chose to read instead of watching TV or playing Guitar Hero.
Printing words isn't good
for the environment
Students will evaluate why, as BuzzMachine founder Jeff Jarvis articulates, "Paper is where words go to die." Paper is also where rainforests go to die, which, needless to say, isn't good for the Hyla rhodopepla tree frog. Thus, while older generations wax nostalgic about curling up by the fireplace with a good book or the Sunday paper, students will be encouraged to remember The Lorax (the animated anti-logging-industry television special, not the book).
Curling up with
a good book/newspaper
Students will explore the dangers of curling up by fires with books and newspapers. That paper could catch fire should an ember unexpectedly pop out. And all that curling is not good for people's backs. Especially since most readers of books, magazines, and newspapers are elderly and are thus already more likely to suffer from back ailments.
The Kindle Question
Is Amazon's wireless reading device the Segway of handheld gadgets? Should it be smaller, come with headphones, and play MP3s instead of display book text? Students will discuss.
I Can Haz Writin Skillz?
This section of the course is a workshop where students will work to perfect their tweeting, blogging, and short-form writing skills.
Grammar and Technique
Navigating the ever-changing landscape of Internet slang and chatspeak is essential to creating effective tweets, instant messages, and text messages. Students will practice using emoticons to create powerful dialogue and to establish dramatic irony. They'll learn to gracefully integrate complex expressions into their IM writing, substituting the trite LOL ("laughing out loud") and "meh" (the written equivalent of a shrug) with more-advanced expressions like BOSMKL ("bending over smacking my knee laughing") and HFACTDEWARIUCSMNUWKIASLAMB ("holy flipping animal crackers, that doesn't even warrant a response; if you could see me now, you would know that I am shrugging like a mofu, biotch"). Students will be encouraged to nurture their craft, free of the restraints of punctuation, syntax, and grammar.
140 Characters or Less
Students will acquire the tools needed to make their tweets come alive with shallow wit. They'll learn how to construct Facebook status updates that glitter with irony, absurdity, and dramatic glibness. When tweeting, for instance, that "John is enjoying a buttery English muffin," why not add a link to an image of a muffin with butter oozing from its nooks and crannies? Or why not exaggerate a tad and say that there's bacon on that muffin, even if there's not? It's called poetic license when writers do it! Students will be encouraged to show honesty and vulnerability in their tweets: "Lydia is lounging about in her underwear at 401 Park Street apartment #2, feeling guilty about telling her boss that her uncle died but enjoying the day off." There's no such thing as oversharing when you're a writer.
No postprint writing class would be complete without a comprehensive overview of blog writing. Students will work to make their blogging more vivid using the fundamentals of the craft, such as imagery, foreshadowing, symbolism, and viral paparazzi photos of celebrity nip slips. Students will practice posting viral YouTube videos with eye-catching headlines like "Check this out," "BOSMKL," and "Doesn't this CRAZY cat look like she's giving that ferret a high-five?" Students will learn time-saving tricks, like how to construct an 800-word blog entry in 30 seconds using a simple news article and copy-and-paste. And, as an exercise in the first-person narrative form, students will blog intimate details about their lives, their studies, and their sexual histories (with pictures), with the intent of being linked to by gossip sites and/or discovered by future employers.
LECTURE AND DISCUSSION
The Industry—Getting Published
Students will learn inside knowledge about the industry—getting published, getting paid, dealing with agents and editors—and assess why all the aforementioned are no longer applicable in the postprint, post-reading age.
Students will analyze the publishing industry and learn how to be more innovative than the bards of yesteryear. They'll be asked to consider, for instance, Thomas Pynchon. How much more successful would Gravity's Rainbow have been if it were two paragraphs long and posted on a blog beneath a picture of scantily clad coeds? And why not add a Google search box? Or what if Susan Sontag had friended 10 million people on Facebook and then published a shorter version of The Volcano Lover as a status update: "Susan thinks a volcano is a great metaphor for primal passion. Also, streak of my hair turning white—d'oh!"
Attendance: Unnecessary, but students should be signed onto IM and/or have their phones turned on.
Evaluation: Students will be graded on the RBBEAW* system, developed to assess and score students based on their own relative merit.
A+ = 100–90
A = 89–80
A- = 79–70
A-- = 69–60
A--- = 59–50
A---- = 49–0
Instructor: Robert Lanham, star of the vblog series Writer's Block: Embrace It—Stop Wasting Time and Live!
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* Raised by Boomers, Everyone's a Winner