Daniel S Friedman
Instructor-initiated and department-approved systematic study and offering of specialized subject matter. Topics vary and are announced in preceding quarter.
ARCH 498 J IF, WHEN, AND HOW TO THE TEACH 'THE WIRE": ARCHITECTURE, ETHICS, AND URBAN IDENTITY IN CONTEXT
“By the time ‘The Wire’ reached the end of its run, commentators went from posing the coy question, ‘Is “The Wire” the best show on television?’ to making the bold statement, ‘”The Wire” is the best show on television’ — boldness that soon seemed spineless once seemingly everyone defaulted to calling it simply, ‘The best show in television history.’ In the two years since ‘The Wire’ concluded, a pitched battle of ongoing praise has upped the comparative ante. If likening Simon repeatedly to Dickens and Dreiser, Balzac and Tolstoy and Shakespeare hasn’t proved adequately exalting, Bill Moyers lately freshened things up by calling Simon ‘our Edward Gibbon,’ while the literary critic Walter Benn Michaels went so far as to suggest that the beauty and difficulty of watching ‘The Wire’ in English — the multifarious 21st-century English of Baltimore detectives and drug dealers — compares with that of reading Dante in 14th-century Italian. It should go without saying that Duke; the University of California, Berkeley; and, next term, Harvard, are offering courses on the series, seminars focused not merely on the sophistication of its storytelling but also on its sociological and political perspicacity.” —Wyatt Mason, “HBO Auteur,” in The New York Times Magazine, March 21, 2010 [italics mine]
Our aim in this special edition of ARCH 498 is to explore problems of urban ethics and identity through the twin lens of academic literature and popular culture—through well established if oddly juxtaposed readings in the discipline, and through the precarious but vastly more pervasive medium of television. This structure seeks to frame the contemporary realities of city life within the distinctive values and vocabularies of the built environments discourse—a convergence of thinking, writing, and practice in architecture, planning, urban design, and adjacent academic perspectives, not least sociology, history, and philosophy. The primary “text” of this course is Season Three of the five-season, sixty-episode HBO television series, The Wire—an award-winning, sui generis masterpiece of American social realism, which gives our work an experimental flavor. To ensure that our use of this “text” is in itself a primary subject of critical inquiry, our point of departure will be Walter Benjamin’s essay, “The Artwork in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” among the 20th century’s densest, most complex, and most influential analyses of artistic representation.
What gives our values and vocabularies legibility is ethics, which dwells alongside practice in the realm of action. The word “ethics” derives from the Latin word ethicus and the Greek word ἠθικόςz, meaning “manners” or “character.” The Oxford English Dictionary variously defines “ethics” as “the science of morals [and] the department of study concerned with the principles of human duty”; “the rules of conduct recognized in certain associations or departments of human life”; “the moral principles or system of a particular leader or school of thought”; “the moral principles by which a person is guided;” and “in the wider sense, the whole field of moral science, including . . . the science of law.” The American Heritage Dictionary goes a little further, specifying the subject of ethics as “the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and . . . the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.” Ethics typically manifests the measure of certain human qualities and attributes, such as virtue, responsibility, and public benefit. In a practical sense, ethics is the problem of deciding the right thing to do given a set of changing circumstances, thus everyday ethics presupposes a relationship between choice, consequence, and accountability. Identity, from the Latin identitas, “sameness,“ is “the quality or condition of being the same in substance, composition, nature, properties, or in particular qualities under consideration; absolute or essential sameness; oneness”—“the sameness of a person or thing at all times or in all circumstances; the condition of being a single individual; the fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else; individuality, personality” (OED). In a cultural and political context, identity embodies the complex social calculus that defines relations between individuals and groups, and relations among individuals themselves, one to another—name, family, race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, nationality, region, and neighborhood (not to mention dress, manner, speech practice, profession, and institutional affiliation). Thus whenever we talk about identity, we are also always already talking about difference, which in some philosophical traditions opposes identity, and in others constitutes it.
LEARNING OBJECTIVES & COURSE REQUIREMENTS
Our aim in this course is to simultaneously engage problems of ethics and identity in the context of the contemporary city, which by any estimate serves as the locus of the relation between identity and difference. These themes intertwine throughout The Wire, which we’ll use as a double case study, both in its capacity as a social narrative and in its capacity as a self-standing, cinematic tour de force. Throughout this course, you can expect to analyze, evaluate, and critique key terms and ideas that describe some of the defining problems of our era, including environment, information, urbanization, capital, equality, and justice.
Your responsibility in this session of ARCH 498 will be full and open engagement with the topic; academic diligence in support of the course’s experimental structure; completion of all assigned readings; active and sustained contributions to constructive dialogue; engaged listening; and demonstrable commitment to the discourse. The seminar meets at 6 P.M. on Tuesdays in Gould 208J, located in the Department of Architecture offices. Attendance is mandatory.
Additional requirements for the course include one formal 30-mintute presentation in class on an appropriate theme, developed and refined in the form of a final 5-page paper, due to the instructor on the final day of class. On the first day of class, the instructor will randomly assign each student one of eleven topics from the class schedule: “authority,” “representation,” “power,” “duty,” “agency,” “honor,” “judgment,” “love,” “virtue,” “justice,” and “conscience.” Final evaluations will reflect effort, attendance, group work and contributions, conceptual and technical execution of your in-class presentation and paper, intellectual hospitality, commitment to the productive investigation of the topic, and attention to the responsibilities of academic inquiry.
In addition to the ten regularly scheduled Tuesday evening meetings, all students in this course are required to participate in a special screening of Season Three of The Wire—all twelve episodes—on Saturday, January 11, 2014, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., in six two-episode segments, each running 110 to 120 minutes, with ten-minute breaks between every segment. Please wear comfortable clothes and bring a cushion or pillow; the instructor will provide breakfast, lunch, dinner, and refreshments.
Student learning goals
To explore problems of urban ethics and identity through the twin lens of academic literature and popular culture
To integrate the intellectual traditions surrounding ethics, urban planning, architecture, and social justice within a framework of practice and community engagement
To explore the relationship between popular culture, representation, and urban identity through cinematic verisimilitude
To broaden the traditional architectural vocabulary in response to complex and seemingly intractable social, economic, and cultural disparities
General method of instruction
Assigned readings, discussions, and student presentations.
In addition to the ten regularly scheduled Tuesday evening meetings, all students in this course are required to participate in a special screening of Season Three of The Wire—all twelve episodes—on Saturday, January 11, 2014, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., in six two-episode segments, each running 110 to 120 minutes, with ten-minute breaks between every segment.
Class assignments and grading
One formal 60-mintute presentation in class on an appropriate theme and reading (or series of readings), to be developed in consultation with the instructor and refined as a final 5 to 10 page paper, due on the final day of class.
Final evaluations will reflect your effort, attendance, and participation; the conceptual and technical execution of your in-class presentation; your intellectual contributions and commitment to investigation of the topic; attention to the responsibilities of academic inquiry; and the quality of your final paper.