Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

The "small wonders" to which our course will attend are moments of present time, depicted in the verbal and visual media of the modern age: newspapers, novels and stories, poems, photographs, films, etc. We will move between visual and verbal media across a considerable span of time, from eighteenth-century poetry and prose fiction to twenty-first century social networking and microblogging sites, and from - sculpture to photography, film, and digital visual media. With help from philosophers, contemporary cultural historians, and others, we will begin to think about a media practice largely taken for granted in our own moment.

Course Requirements

Class Format

This course offers a close examination of a coherent set of short texts and/or visual works. The selections may be the shorter works of one or more authors (poems, short stories or novellas), or short films and other visual media.


Readings are organized under the following topics: The Digital Present, The Lyric Present, the Pictographic Present, The Photographic Present, The Cinematic Present. Please see the Readings page for a list of Readings.

MIT Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism — use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgment — is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgment for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Website on Plagiarism.



Augustine. "Time and Eternity."

Using whatever media you have available in class today (pen and paper, chalk and blackboard, laptop, smartphone, etc.), take 5-10 minutes to document the present moment in time. What do you see and hear around you? What is the "atmosphere" like? What are you thinking and feeling at this moment? When you have finished, we will reflect on similarities and differences between accounts, and consider how and to what effect various media are used to record or evoke the passing present.

The Digital Present

Mayer-Schonberger, Victor. "Of Power and Time - Consequences of the Demise of Forgetting." In Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.

Bell, Gordon, and Gemmell, Jim. "Vision." In Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything.

Jameson, Fredric. "The End of Temporality."

The Lyric Present

Swift, Jonathan. "A Description of the Morning", "A Description of a City Shower", "The Progress of Beauty", "The Lady's Dressing Room", "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed", "Strephon and Chloe".

Hunter, Paul J. "Journalism: The Commitment to Contemporaneity."


Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Effusion XXXV", "Frost at Midnight", "The Nightingale", "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison", "Dejection: An Ode".

Wordsworth, William. "Lines, Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey."


Wordsworth, William. "Residence In London."

Keats, John. "Ode to Melancholy", "Ode to a Nightingale", "To Autumn".

The Pictographic Present

Sketches by Constantin Guys.

Baudelaire, Charles. "The Painter of Modern Life", "To a Passer-by".

Kern, Stephen. "The Present."

The Photographic Present

Images from Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey.

Braun, Marta. "The Expanded Present: Photographic Movement."

Canales, Jimena. "Introduction" and "Conclusion."

8 Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography.
The Cinematic Present

Edison, Thomas and Lumiere Bros. Landmarks of Early Film, Vol. 1.

Benjamin, Walter. "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility."

Gunning, Tom. "The Cinema of Attractions", "An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator".


Vertov, Dziga. The Man with the Movie Camera.

Charney, Leo. "In a Moment: Film and the Philosophy of Modernity."

11 Student Project Presentations
12 Student Project Presentations (cont.)