What is at stake in politics and government? Why do political events unfold as they do? Why do politicians and public officials make the choices they do? Theories of politics and government, statistical analyses, and archival research take us only so far. Many say that the best way to capture politics and government—and especially the personal and emotional nature of politics—is through fiction.
In “Politics and Fiction,” students read some of the best extant fiction writing on American politics and government, past and present. The reading list is based on the quality of the texts, rather than on focusing particular authors, addressing particular subjects, or covering particular time periods. Fortunately, particular topics and time periods do come into play. The books’ subjects range from accounts of 19th century America, to works on Vietnam and the 1960s, to novels about city and state, and to contemporary lobbying and radicalism.
Students are asked to read critically, that is to uncover the assumptions of and perspectives of each text with respect to ideology and partisanship, to consider how politics function and the political system operates, to think about the role played by individual and social psychology, and to assess what the relevant institutions are each case. What are the political foundations and philosophic premises of the texts? What is the author’s writing style and the effect of that style on the reader’s understanding of the text?
Vietnam and the 1950-1990s
Graham Greene, The Quiet American ISBN: 0140185003
Philip Roth, American Pastoral ISBN: 0375701429
Tim O'Brien, In the Lake of the Woods ISBN: 0140250947
Local and State Politics
Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men ISBN:0156031043
Edwin O’Connor, The Last Hurrah IBSN: 978-0316626590
Christopher Buckley, Thank You for Smoking ISBN: 0812976525
Ward Just, The American Ambassador ISBN: 978-0618340781
Book Reviews, two (1500-2000 words): 2 x 15 = 30 percent (graded)
Editorial memos, six (600-750 words): 6 x 5 = 30% (high pass, pass, low pass, fail)
Class Participation: 30% (includes quality and quantity of discussion, attendance)
Presentation/Discussion leadership: 10% (high pass, pass, low pass, fail)
The two book reviews and the six editorial memos are to be posted to the class (and your group’s) Canvas website.
Each of your two book reviews is to be revised, with the help of your classmates. The first draft of the book review is due by 9:00 p.m. the Sunday before the Monday the book is to be discussed, to be posted on your team’s Canvas website. The revised draft is to be posted by 9:00 pm on Thursday after the second class day, Wednesday, of discussion.
The book reviews are to be graded on their understanding and analysis of the text, their use of evidence from the text, and their coherence and polish. The first draft will be evaluated on a high passpass/no pass basis and will count for one-fifth of the book review grade (3 points). The second and final draft will count for four-fifths of the paper grade (12 points).
The editorial memos, which are to be posted by Wednesday at noon, are to be your reactions/remarks on the book review written by one of your teammates. You are not responsible for a comment paper on the two weeks when you are writing your book reviews, but you may make a presentation and also write an editorial memo. The comment papers are to be your own considered comments (with textual evidence and text page number) with respect to the book review’s ideas, its argument, its organization, its composition (such as transitions, phrasing, syntax, and grammar), and any other matters you think relevant to improving its overall quality. The editorial memos should reflect evidence of a careful reading of the text. Your grades on the comment papers depend on the seriousness, thoroughness, and accuracy of your comments. First and foremost, they are to be written to help your classmate write the most effective book review possible.
Late book reviews and late comment papers will either be penalized, depending on how late they are submitted, or not accepted.
You are responsible for attendance and participation. Your regular presence and engagement in class discussion is expected. Your participation will be graded on the quality of your contribution matters more so than merely the quantity, and should reflect a thorough reading of the text and be relevant to the discussion on hand. Your instructor may call on you if you are shy or remain silent during class discussions.
Three tardy appearances (coming more a few minutes late to class or regularly coming late to class) counts as one absence. Early departures or absences within class are counted as tardies. Four or moreabsences total—whether excused or unexcused—will result in a 2 percent reduction in your overall course grade, with another 2 percent off for each additional absence. Seven or more class absences may result in automatic failure.
Let your instructor know in advance if you know you will be late for class or if you have to leave early (e.g., job interview, court appearance). Also let him know ahead of time if you have miss assignments for extraordinary reasons or cannot otherwise participate as expected.
• As a student in the class, you are expected to demonstrate the following:
- intellectual engagement in the texts and topics of the course - honesty, responsibility, self-motivation, and hard work
- self-reflection and on-going assessment of your own learning
- respect for your fellow students and teacher
• Specific student assignments:
- reading the week’s assigned text in advance of Tuesday’s class
- participating in class discussion (including attendance) - making oral presentations
- writing book reviews and comment papers
- keeping up with the course’s Canvas site and your own email
• Email correspondence is welcome and convenient. Please format your emails as business correspondence (with a title/greeting and signature), and I shall try to get to you emails within 24 hours—and usually much sooner—unless I am indisposed. I may also answer on Canvas should you voice a general concern, one that it might be more useful to share with the class rather than keep to personal email.
• Your instructor is available during office hours, and by appointment if you can’t make office hours. He will be usually available a few minutes before class, as well.
• Computers, mobile ‘phones, and other electronic devices need to be turned off unless with the express permission of your instructor: using devices in class counts as a tardy, and after the third violation it will count as an absence from class and the student may be asked to leave the classroom.
• Misconduct will detract from your participation grade. Misconduct is any behavior disruptive to learning and includes the following: activated cell phones, iPods, laptops, etc.; personal conversations in class; studying for another class; or exhibiting other behavior as interpreted by your instructor. Inappropriate classroom behavior may also result in your dismissal from the classroom (with that class day being counted as an absence).
• Students with disabilities may request appropriate academic accommodations from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Services for Students with Disabilities, 471-6259, http://www.utexas.edu/diversity/ddce/ssd/ Please inform the instructor of your condition by the 2nd week of classes.
• Special arrangements for the assignments may be considered on an individual basis in exceptional circumstances, but only if you discuss this with the instructor in advance.
• By UT Austin policy, you must notify your instructor of your pending absence at least fourteen days prior to the date of observance of a religious holy day. If you must miss a class, an examination, a work assignment, or a project in order to observe a religious holy day, you will be given an opportunity to complete the missed work within a reasonable time after the absence.
You are to read the book assigned the preceding week, thus on the Monday and Wednesday classes for which the book is assigned and discussed, students will have read the book (and be starting the next week’s book).
Each week—not including weeks one and two—will proceed as follows, except for the two longest books that will take up three class days instead of two.
By Sundays at 9:00 p.m., book reviewers post their reviews on their team’s Canvas website.
On Mondays, two students (not the book reviewers) will select passages from the text, no more than three, and read from a few sentences to a paragraph or two out loud to the class, and say what it signifies for them. Each presentation should last five-to-ten minutes in all, but it should be tightly composed and professional: direct and to the point.
After both students have done so, they will open class discussion with a question (one each) based on the text and the presenting student’s reaction to/interaction with the writing.
On Wednesday by 12:00 p.m., noon, the students in each team will submit their editorial memos on their teams’ online forum—responses to each “thread” that is a book review—in response to their teammate’s first draft of her/his book review. Students may give feedback on the ideas, organization, clarity, omissions, and/or other points they think relevant. Note that these comments themselves need to be well-argued, substantiated (page numbers, examples, quotations, etc.), and precise so as to be the most helpful to the book reviewer—as an editor would to a young writer for the newspaper/magazine/blog.
The students who write editorial memos are not those writing the book reviews, of course, and vice versa.
Part of Wednesday’s class will involve you meeting in your teams to go over the book reviews that have been printed out and brought to class by the reviewer.
By Thursdays at 9:00 pm (at the latest) the students writing the book reviews post their polished copies on their team’s website. The class will be taken up with further discussions about the text as well as about, where appropriate or relevant, the writing process.
When the books do not coincide with one per week, then the schedule will be adjusted accordingly.