This seminar will explore listening (and the related phenomena of attentiveness, empathy, care, responsiveness and their opposites) in a range of contexts: within families, between friends, between teachers and students, doctors and patients, psychotherapists and clients, interviewers and interviewees, and more. In general, we will move between casual contexts (eg., everyday conversation), professional or deliberate conversation (e.g., medical or research interviews), and those involving extreme experiences (e.g., interviewing genocide and torture survivors; talking with cancer patients and others with highly stigmatized illnesses or “disabilities”). The instructor has been interviewing Holocaust survivors for over forty years, so there will be particular attention to listening (and not listening) to people who have experienced devastating trauma, abandonment, and loss. Listening is not sentimentalized. Both its promise and its limits are considered throughout.
While conceptual distinctions and theory will play a role, the seminar will build as much as possible “from the ground up.” Thus, we will draw on our own experiences as listeners and listenees, relevant first-person accounts about listening and being listened to, close analysis of interviews done by others, and a good deal of arts exercises—e.g., improv and role play—along with representations of listening/not listening from drama, film, and fiction. Other ways to explore the dynamics of listening include respectful eavesdropping, participant observation (as an anthropologist would do), and our own interviewing. While our topic is listening between people, listening to music, to poetry, or to “nature” will also occasionally figure in. We will have a number of special guests.
As a new and experimental course, students should be prepared to participate and contribute creatively throughout, including working with the instructor and each other to help frame assignments, materials, and in-class exercises. This is not a course for people who simply want to “receive something.”
The seminar is partly supported by a grant from the UMS Mellon Institute on Arts-Academic Integration. This will enable us to attend, on occasion, relevant UMS concerts, plays, and other performance events.