How to Do Things with Words: poiesis and praxis


Fall 2013 and Winter 2014 quarters

Taught by

This intensive introductory critical and creative writing program will investigate the relation between writing and doing , between making in language (poiesis) and taking action (praxis) . We will do this by studying the ways in which the arrangements of our words influence the shapes of our thought and vice versa. The objective is to better comprehend the material consequences and political upshots of the choices we make with the language we use both on and off the page.

We will read (and sometimes write) poetry and fiction and drama, in order to sharpen our alertness to the operation of a variety of verbal tactics and strategies. But the primary form in which we conduct our experiments, both as readers and as writers, will be that old stand-by, the essay. Our effort shall be to re-animate this form, prying it free from any knee-jerk reflexes, worn-out proficiencies, and straight-up allergies we might have by reconnecting ourselves to the form’s roots in the French word for “attempt,” essai , as one of the essay’s progenitors, Michel de Montaigne, will so helpfully remind us. The wager here is that the essay itself is a kind of laboratory, a space in which experiments in language can be composed, where new forms of thought may be invented, and new actions and practices persuasively proposed.

Our reading will be organized around a handful of case studies designed to expose us to various ways of doing things with words in relation to particular subject matter. These will allow us to build our toolkit together as readers and writers, and they will prepare us to branch out into areas of research we will conduct on our own as the program proceeds. Authors to be consulted range from philosophers to poets to scientists to fiction writers, such as Hannah Arendt, Anne Carson, Charles Darwin, and Franz Kafka. Case studies to be considered are likely to include: metamorphosis, metaphor, tricksters, slogans chanted in Tahrir Square, the commodity form, pencils, cargo containers, the placebo effect, LCD screens, and how to think in an emergency. The short of it is this: we’ll be reading and writing (and re-writing) a lot, both in class and out of it, on the page and on the screen. No experience necessary, some assembly required, all students welcome. But whoever you are, be sure to bring a notebook and a good pen to our first class. The only way to do this right is by writing.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

critical and creative writing and the humanities.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning: Access to web-based tools required, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.


Date Revision
December 23rd, 2013 Winter fee removed ($150).
November 12th, 2013 Winter fee added ($150).
August 30th, 2013 New opportunity added.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Fall); 16 (Winter)

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 50% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 24


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 10438
So - Sr (16 credits): 10439

Go to to register for this program.


Accepting New Students

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 20283
So - Sr (16 credits): 20284
(1-16 credits): 20635

Go to to register for this program.

Need Help Finding the Right Program?

Contact Academic Advising for help in answering your questions, planning your future and solving problems.