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The fourth RCAH Parents College will be held from Friday, July 31, through Sunday, August 2, 2015.
Interested in attending? Contact Dawn Janetzke via email or phone at (517) 884-0383 by April 1, 2015. Enrollment will be limited to 20 participants.
The previous topics have been sacrifice, forgiveness, and charitable giving & humanitarian work. We discussed philosophical arguments, analyzed famous paintings, watched contemporary film, and put our heads together from virtually morning until night.
This year’s topic is fear. There is no shortage of literature that dramatizes fear and no shortage of scientific studies explaining its causes and effects. Our primary goal is to use some of these resources to prompt you to explore your own thoughts and experiences in discussions and in short fiction. By the end of the three-day Parents College each of you will have written a short story or two. We will do this in what writers call a workshop, a very specific kind of collaborative artistic practice that many of you already know well and I am sure you will enjoy.
Fear comes in many forms, and we won’t be able to consider all of them. There is fear in battle, described by Thomas Hobbes in 1651 in Leviathan as “fear of violent death.” There is fear of the other, that is, those who are different from us in some perceived way, whether it is political, religious, racial, or cultural. Rainer Fassbinder captures this frightfully well in his 1974 film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. There is simply fear of the unknown or fear of the dark. There is that sinking feeling in your stomach which Freud likened to the fear that may come over us when we are swimming in the ocean and realize that it is a long way to the bottom. There is fear of heights, fear of enclosed spaces, fear of open spaces, fear of spiders, fear of technology, and many other fears we call phobias.
Some scholars study fear from a biomedical perspective, analyzing the body’s response to real and imagined dangers (Daniel Gardner, The Science of Fear, 2009). Other scholars approach fear from a cultural and political perspective: what triggers fear in one culture may be viewed as perfectly harmless in another (Joanna Bourke, Fear: A Cultural History, 2005), and sometimes fear can be manufactured and exploited for political advantage (Corey Robin, Fear: The History of a Political Idea, 2004).
When small fears multiply, they can become panic. When someone uses fear to coerce, we talk of terror and even torture. Franz Kafka’s The Trial (1914) is a classic in this genre. When fear seems generally to pervade our life without having a sharp edge or focus, we talk of anxiety. W. H. Auden’s The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (1947) is still the most famous and accomplished poetic meditation on fear as anxiety in English.
How we cope with these different forms of fear can tell us a lot about a person. For example, how we face our fears, even if we don’t overcome them, can help us understand bravery and cowardice (Chris Walsh, Cowardice: A Brief History, 2014).
I suspect that many of these examples resonate with all of you. Where should we begin? In battle, in the dark, in prison? One common fear that has emerged lately is fear of vaccinations. The recent outbreak of measles in the U.S. has been tied to the rising number of parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their children against this highly contagious disease because they fear the vaccine more than the disease. Fear of vaccines is the flipside of fear of the diseases they are supposed to protect us from. Albert Camus wrote about this in his novel The Plague (1947). Jose Saramago wrote about a different kind of epidemic, an epidemic of blindness, in his novel of that name published in English in 1999.
With all of these topics and texts to choose from, it has been hard to narrow things down. But narrow we must. I have chosen two texts that deal with fear. One by Eula Biss, On Immunity: An Innoculation (Graywolf Press, 2014), is a new book that focuses on the trend not to vaccinate children against infectious diseases like measles and other diseases. The other text is a collection of short stories by Mary Hood, How Far She Went (University of Georgia Press, 1984).
Between these two books and some selected articles, handouts, and film, I think you will have the necessary information and some very good models to compose your own fear-some short story. I have been talking with several folks who could come spend some time with us as we discuss this topic and workshop our stories. I’ll have more about our guests soon.
Our class meetings and writing workshops will be held in the RCAH classroom spaces. However, because of University building renovation and cleaning schedules this summer, participants will live and eat in Owen Hall just across the river on Bogue Street, a five-minute walk from Snyder-Phillips Hall. The housing and meal costs will be relatively inexpensive (approximately $35 per person for a single room, $25 per person for a double, and $75 per person for 3 meals a day over 3 days). There will be no tuition charged.