Dr. E’s 10 Commandants for the End-of-the-Year Reflection Letter

  1. Thou shalt not compose a self-reflection essay that is nothing but description and/or narrative. Narrate, but mostly reflect.
  2. Thou shalt not recount aimlessly meandering stories about your experiences. Instead, boil your stories/examples down to the essential information, and present them in crisp, accurate language in one or two sentences. Be direct, concise, and purposeful.
  3. Thou shalt not save all self-reflection for the essay’s final paragraph. Instead, reflect throughout the essay on each narrative as you present it.
  4. Thou shalt not organize your essay by responding directly to the guiding questions on the assignment prompt. Instead, reflect on the questions. Then, after that, step away from the questions and formulate your essay independently, keeping your responses in the back (or forefront) of your mind.
  5. Thou shalt not organize the essay like a list. Instead, make sure that each new paragraph complicates and pushes forward the central idea in the previous paragraph.
  6. Thou shalt not try to say EVERYTHING. Instead, focus on individual moments that can metonymically stand in for other, similar experiences in the course.
  7. Thou shalt not make generic statements about your progress. Instead, be specific; choose examples that give expression to your uniqueness. The self-reflection essay is a personal essay, and Dr. E wants to see you in it.
  8. Thou shalt not be negative. Instead, focus on what you have accomplished. Dr. E does not care how much progress you have made, only that the progress was meaningful.
  9. Thou shalt not focus on what you might have done. Again, Dr. E only cares about your progress.
  10. Thou shalt not settle for superficial reflections. Linger over your experiences; dig deep, and discover something about yourself through the writing process.

Self-Reflection Paragraph Template

Paragraphs are mercurial animals, and they can take many shapes. However, if you would like a template for guiding your self-reflection essay’s paragraph composition, I recommend the following template.

First sentence: formulate a statement about your progress — what has evolved (e.g., my critical thinking skills) and how much it has evolved (e.g., “While I believed that you could skip parts of a book, skimming the pages for the gist of a story, I’ve learned that every word, every detail, informs the overall shape of a well-wrought work of literature”)

Next one to two sentences: provide a brief narrative/example that concretizes your progress (e.g., place a sentence from an early essay beside a sentence from a later essay)

Next four to six sentences: reflect or comment on your progress in relation to your narrative/example. Looking back, what have you learned from that experience? Why is that experience or lesson valuable? In other words, why are you telling the reader about this specific evolution?

***

From a structural standpoint, this template puts you in a position to reflect on your experience by providing a statement about your progress and then an example that places that progress on display. It obligates you to respond, lest your reader be left wondering “why did you just tell me that story? What was the point?”

Dérive Project: Phase 6 (Self-Reflection)

“Write everywhere.”
— anonymous graffiti on Paris’ walls during May 1968

Now that you have completed your dérive, I would like you to reflect on your adventure. For the final phase, please write a 600-word personal essay that thinks about the implications of your experience of the creative process during the Dérive Project.

The form of this assignment hearkens back to the Reader’s Autobiography. (Under “Categories,” you will find archived all of the documents associated with that assignment.) For the Dérive Self-Reflection, you should focus on a concrete, narrowly determined story about your creative collaborative process. While this story should be conveyed through a personal narrative, most of the essay should reflect on the significance of that narrative in relation to your Dérive Project.

The subject of your essay is open to your own discretion. Various possible approaches to the writing assignment are listed below. Please note that, to achieve a concrete and narrowly determined focus in your essay, you should only focus on one prompt:

  1. Describe some of the most interesting, difficult, or rebellious choices that were made during your executed dérive, then reflect on their success or failure in relation to the SI’s elaboration of the practice.
  • How did your dérive decolonize space?
  • How did it construct a situation that transformed everyday life? How would you describe this situation? What was transformative about it? What kind of alternative to the neoliberal order did it produce, even if only for an evanescent moment?
  1. Some students have reported undergoing powerful experiences during their dérives. This personal essay could be an opportunity to narrate that experience and think more deeply about its significance. Citing specific experiences, what has this project let you discover about space, power, and/or the creative possibilities of subversion?
  2. What did the dérive teach you about situationism? Considering the information that you encountered during this project’s research phase, how did the practices of psychogeographical analysis and experimental “drifting” clarify, enrich, and/or explode your initial understanding of this avant-garde movement’s philosophy?
  3. The dérive is a tactic of the contemporary global justice movement. Now that you have organized one, what can you say about its political potential? How would you characterize the politics prefigured by this practice? Does this practice reserve the power to intensify an individual’s participation in everyday life, renew a collective sense of interconnectedness, and/or empower groups to manage their own affairs?

Your personal essay should engage with no fewer than two sources from the literary material that you encountered during this assignment’s research phase. Sources should be cited following MLA conventions.

On Tuesday (5/2) and Wednesday (5/2), I have set aside the full class period to work on your Self-Reflection Essay.

The deadline is Monday (5/8). On that date, please submit your essays to uni.sophomore.english@gmail.com by 6:00 PM.

Dérive Project: Phase 5 (The Dérive)

At last, the time has come to execute your dérive. For this climactic Fifth Phase of the Dérive Project, lead your classmates on an experimental walk through the campus area surrounding Kenney Gym based on your Phase IV analysis of the psychogeographical data visualized through your psychogeographical maps.

I have set aside one class day for each group’s dérive.

  • Group 1: Monday (4/24)
  • Group 2: Tuesday (4/25)
  • Group 3: Wednesday (4/26)
  • Group 4: Monday (5/1)

Your dérive may take up the entire class period. (Time is bourgeois — a collection of arbitrary increments deployed to subject our bodies to the routine pulsations of the capitalist work [or school] day. Nevertheless, you should allot time for your classmates to make it back to their next class.) Please note, however, that we are also scheduled to discuss Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy on those days, so if your dérive only takes 20 minutes, we can use the time that remains to continue our exploration of that book. (With some creative planning, we might even convene class discussion in an environment other than Kenney 202.)

Please also keep in mind that, for the Situationist International, the dérive is a kind of play, but it is serious play. Its purpose is the decolonization of urban space and the construction of a situation that transfigures everyday life into a work of art. At a minimum, in the final analysis, you should be able to provide a substantial and compelling account of how your group’s dérive aimed to achieve these ends. The participants should walk away from the experience with the sense that they have gained something valuable, even profound.

As an experiment, I would like you to think about this dérive as an act of writing. In effect, as your bodies move through space, they inscribe the urban terrain with invisible lines that disappear through their own realization. It becomes “poetry” as British poet W.H. Auden described it in his poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” — that which

makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper [ . . . ].
[It] survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

Dérive Project: Phase 4 (Organize)

Now that you have studied, analyzed, and mapped out the psychogeographical space of the urban area surrounding Kenney Gym, your small group is ready to prepare for its group dérive.

Considering the operative flows of power charted through your psychogeographical analysis — powers that manage your experience of the campus environment — you might begin by discussing which areas you want to avoid, which areas you want to explore, and what itinerary will facilitate this exploration in the most exciting, disorienting, and/or empowering way(s). In other words, how can your group transform this familiar urban area into something new, perhaps even something counter to its designs, by following a trajectory through space? How can you create a situation that turns everyday life into a work of art?

As the artists orchestrating this work of art, your group might further ponder: what specific effects — emotions and feelings — should this dérive produce? What behaviors should it encourage? Will the dérive’s itinerary meticulously direct these effects? Is the dérive designed to discover certain unanticipated affects and behaviors in the process of its execution? Do you want to integrate opportunities for chance and improvisation?

The Situationist International, first and foremost, was committed to rehabilitating the social relations that connect us together. In that spirit, please conscientiously think about your classmates as you plan your dérive. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t orchestrate anything that makes group members feel unsafe. Further, you might ask yourself whether an itinerary excludes participants based on ability. Not everyone, for example, will physically be able to scale a wall. In a group of dériveurs jumping over bushes, a person who can’t clear the hurdle will only encounter again the alienation they already felt in that space.

The dérive is about disobeying psychogeographical rules, but not in a juvenile, reactionary manner. “The Land of Do-As-You-Please,” as we now know, is the society of voluntary cooperation, not disorder. In seeking to discover behaviors and effects forbidden within a space, the dérive fulfills a social responsibility to make daily life more open, more inspirational, and more enjoyable for all who inhabit it.

Dérive Project: Phase 3 (Cartography)

“The squiggles are important.”
— Grace Sumitro, 2017

Now that you have conducted preliminary research into the psychogeographical laws and effects that constitute the urban space around Kenney Gym, you are ready to begin the next module for the Dérive Project.

For Phase III, I would like your group to construct a psychogeographical map based on your psychogeographical fieldwork in Phase II. On 4/10, during Sophomore English, Geography Information Systems Specialist James Whitacre will give a presentation in the library about the mapmaking program ArcGIS Online, which your group will use to make its psychogeographical map.

You will then have three days of class (4/11, 4/12, and 4/13) to visualize the data that you have collected during your research. The map should record not only the trajectories that your group followed but also the affective networks that were discovered in the course of your wanderings. Chances are, when everyone in the group pools their data together, the results will be messy. No order or master design will be immediately visible. However, in the process of constructing this map, your group should come to recognize the lines of power that subtly and systematically decide your migrations in space before you have had a chance to consciously make a choice to embark on them.

This process of mapmaking is not unlike the writing process. For example, while the interconnectedness of a literary work’s minutiae might be not immediately apparent, writing about it often teases implicit connections to the surface. Through repeated engagement with the material, you learn to see the data anew, with greater complexity and clarity.

The deadline for your group’s psychogeographical map is at the beginning of class on Monday (4/17).

Later, this map will form the foundation of your group’s dérive.