And here’s one more concept course, but the great thing about this one is that I’m actually teaching it next year, with Bill Turkel. (Bill said in response to my last two posts, “I think your idea of ‘concept courses’ is great, except I think we should only teach concept courses, all of us, and standardized syllabuses and canons be damned.”)
There are mad and beautiful things beneath the skin of the world we know, that you only see when you look at things on a planetary scale.
— Warren Ellis, Planetary
Here’s a second concept course, though the idea is neither new nor mine, and maybe it’s not really a concept course if several people have done it. Still, I would really like to try this someday.
Every single event is the offspring not of one, but of all other events prior or contemporaneous … it is an ever-living, ever-working Chaos of Being, wherein shape after shape bodies itself forth from innumerable elements. And this Chaos, boundless as the habitation and duration of man, unfathomable as the soul and destiny of man, is what the historian will depict, and scientifically gauge, we may say, by threading it with single lines of a few ells in length!
–Thomas Carlyle, “On History”
Last fall, Bill Turkel had a great blog entry calling for “concept projects” in academic history: like concept car prototypes or catwalk fashions, these would be imaginative efforts that need not prove wholly workable or utilitarian, but that might serve to get ideas into circulation, push the boundaries of the form, or, a la Thoreau, simply “affect the quality of the day.” A similar staple of my old Boston gaming / blogging circle was the Game I’d Like To Run post: basically these were trailers or elevator pitches for mental movies, never-to-be-written novels, and genre mashups that we had no real intention of constructing, but were fun to imagine and share.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about a handful of “concept courses,” probably because the school year just ended and so right now I’m about as far from facing a real classroom as the calendar lets me get. My next couple of posts, then, will be ideas for university classes that are interesting (to me at least) to think about and with. How they’d really work in practice, how they’d get approved by an education policy committee, whether I’d be qualified to teach them, are all of less importance than the notions themselves, the fragile but lovely potential of shiny soap-bubble ideas.
Here’s the first:
In time, those unconscionable maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guild struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following generations … saw that the vast map was useless, and … delivered it up to the inclemencies of sun and winter. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are tattered ruins of that map, inhabited by animals and beggars.
–Jorge Luis Borges, “On Exactitude in Science”