The Arts of Our Times

Harvey Mudd College
Humanities 1, Section 2
Jacobs 134, MTWF 10:00
Fall 2009

Professor Bill Alves
Office: Parsons 1273
Phone: x74170
E-mail: alves
Office hours: MTWF mornings 8:30-9:30, Tuesdays 1:00-2:00 and by appointment
Office hours are subject to change -- please check the schedule posted on my door.

Claire Angelici
Office: Parsons 1276
Office hours: Mondays and Tuesdays 1:30-4:00

Required Texts

Texts Available at Huntley Bookstore:
  • Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.
  • Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Required Reading and Listening on Sakai

The Course:

Communicating effectively, clearly, and with grace is a crucial, even indispensible skill not only for future classes in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts, but throughout your college career and beyond. However, this skill is inextricable from clarity of thought through interpretive, creative, and critical reasoning. That is, one cannot communicate clearly without being clear about a topic in one's own mind and effectively communicating that interest to one's audience. In this course we will practice expressing our original, creative interpretations of the arts of our culture and time with clear and compelling writing and ideas.

The last fifty years have been a time of upheaval and explosive change, and this excitement is reflected in contemporary literature, music, and visual arts. We will explore the connections between these dynamic arts, as well as between the works of art, our society, and ourselves. Ours is an era when traditional boundaries have crumbled -- boundaries between past and present, East and West, and popular and fine arts (though this course in general will not cover pop forms such as rock or techno). In addition to reading of novels, poems, stories, and articles, we will also view works of visual art and have regular listening assignments (though no previous musical or artistic experience is expected).


Reading and Listening: It is your responsibility to complete all readings prior to the class meeting when they will be discussed. Be sure to bring the appropriate text to class so that we can refer to it during discussion. It is just as important to complete all listening assigments prior to the class meeting when they will be discussed. You do not have to be a musician to develop important critical insights about what you hear, but you do need to listen carefully, to take notes on what you hear, and to listen more than once to each selection.

Participation: Because this class is conducted as a seminar, it is necessary that you attend and speak up regularly. We want to see evidence that you are intellectually engaged in this class, though we recognize that your engagement might differ in character from someone else's. Your day-to-day contributions to class discussion will certainly be important, of course, because they will show us that you have been reading and thinking about the assignments. But your peer-editing efforts and other forms of engagement with your classmates will also help determine this portion of your grade. We will feel free to reduce your final grade if you amass more than three unexcused absences during the semester.

In order to fully facilitate everyone's participation in discussions, there will be no open computers during class. Also, please make sure your cell phones are switched off.

Writing: Although we do not require the purchase of a writing guide or manual as a part of this course, it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with the guidelines for MLA format and style, which can be found online, here, for example.

A crucial resource for this class is the HMC Writing Center, which provides a good opportunity for you to get feedback on your work at each stage of the writing process, from working out ideas to polishing a final draft. This is a resource that can be helpful to all writers, from novices to experts. The center is open Sunday through Thursday evenings from 7-11 PM, and is located in TG 106. You may schedule an appointment through their website, or you may simply drop in during normal hours. If you'd like an appointment outside of normal hours, contact the director, Wendy Menefee-Libey, at menefee YOU ARE LIKELY TO FIND YOUR WRITING CENTER VISIT MORE VALUABLE IF YOU COME EARLIER THAN THE NIGHT BEFORE YOUR FINAL DRAFT IS DUE. You can find many helpful links here.

In addition, here are some tips to help you with common issues that come up in this class:

Papers: During the semester, you will write three thesis papers, the last of which will have a research component. Timely completion of interim assignments for the paper, such as thesis proposals, outlines, annotated bibliographies, and rough drafts, and participation in peer editing will also be evaluated as part of the paper grade. The papers will be read by myself or the class tutor. In addition to writing three papers, you will also revise them for credit. At the end of the semester, you will turn in a portfolio that consists of the three revised papers and a two-page introduction. Your portfolio will be assessed by your instructor and by an outside reader drawn from the Humanities 1 staff. Two short essays reacting to the listening assignments will also be required, though they will not form part of your portfolio.


We will grade papers on a High Pass, Pass, No Pass basis. We will award final grades of High Pass, Pass, and NC based on the number of points you accumulate during the semester. You need at least 75 points to pass the class. The portfolio must pass in order for you to pass the class. Also, all three papers must be turned in in order to pass. To finish the course with a High Pass, you must do exceptional work in all categories. Point values are as follows:

First Paper10
Second Paper15
Research Paper20
Interim Revisions10 (5 points each)
Listening essays8 (4 points each)

Submitting Written Work: All work must be submitted on time and in a proper format. Extensions will be granted only in case of illness or emergency. Late papers will be penalized 10% per day late, though late papers will always get some credit, no matter how late.


Monday Tuesday Wednesday Friday

Introductions; overview of the course.
Modernism and the arts.
Discussion of writing issues
listening: Babbitt: Philomel,
reading: Hollander: "Philomel",
Schiff: "Ah, for the Days When New Music Stirred the Blood"
listening: Cage 4'33"
Cage: Indeterminacy
reading: Cage: "Music Lovers' Field Companion"
Burroughs: Excerpt from Nova Express
reading: O'Hara: Three poems,
O'Hara: "Jackson Pollock"
art: Jackson Pollock
reading: Barth: "The Literature of Exhaustion,"
Borges: "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," "The Library of Babel",
listening: Crumb, excerpt from Black Angels
reading: Robbe-Grillet: "The Secret Room,"
"A Future for the Novel"
listening: Young, excerpt from High Tension Line Stepdown Transformer
Riley, excerpt from Rainbow in Curved Air
art: minimalism
reading: Fink: Repeating Ourselves chapter 1
listening: Reich: Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ
Glass: Two excerpts from Einstein on the Beach
Listening essay 1 due
reading: Barth "The Literature of Replenishment"
Paper 1 thesis due
reading: Barth "Lost in the Funhouse"
listening: Zorn: Excerpt from Spillane
listening: Adams: Excerpt from Harmonielehre
Del Tredici: Excerpt from Final Alice
Paper 1 outline due
listening: Corigliano: Movement 2 from Symphony No. 1
Peer editing
listening: Harrison: Threnody for Carlos Chavez
Reich: Two Excerpts from Drumming
Volans: Movement 1 from White Man Sleeps
art: Postmodern art
Paper 1 due.
reading: Calvino: "Levels of Reality in Literature"
reading: Calvino If on a Winter's Night a Traveler p. 1-76
reading: Calvino p. 77-131
listening: Anderson: "New Jersey Turnpike,"
Dresher: Slow Fire
reading: Calvino p. 132-168
listening: Daugherty: Sing Sing
reading: Calvino p. 169-260
Listening essay 2 due
Calvino discussion
Paper 2 thesis due
reading: Murakami: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle p. 1-31
reading: Murakami p. 32-67
reading: Murakami p. 68-134
Paper 2 outline due
reading: Murakami p. 135-240
Peer editing
reading: Murakami p. 241-279
reading: Murakami p. 280-313
art: Postmodern architecture
Paper 2 due
reading: Murakami p. 314-386

Fall break

Fall break

reading: Murakami p. 387-418
reading: Murakami p. 419-492
Revision 1 due
reading: Murakami p. 493-606
Research topic due (by email).
Library research workshop.
(Meet in Honnold Library.)
Paper 3 annotated bibliography due
film: Koyaanisqatsi
film: Koyaanisqatsi
film: Koyaanisqatsi discussion
Revision 2 due
Paper 3 thesis due
film: Reich Three Tales
film: Reich Three Tales
film: Reich Three Tales
film: Reich Three Tales discussion
Paper 3 outline due
Presentations preparations
Presentations preparations
Presentations preparations
Peer editing
Paper 3 due at Prof. Alves's office by 12:00 noon No class.
Presentation workday. No class.
Presentation workday. No class.

Thanksgiving break

Presentations peer response due
Peer editing of portfolio introduction
Portfolio due.
Course evaluations.

Page maintained by Bill Alves; last updated on June 29, 2009.