SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Life and Law
Prof. Frey (German) syllabus
Who decides over life and death? On what basis are people’s actions judged and punished? The notion that we should be governed “by laws and not by men” goes back to ancient Greece—but also the idea that there are always exceptional cases that only a judge or sovereign can take into account. The law that coldly condemns is blind to the individual circumstances, feelings, and stories that make up “life.” How have philosophy and literature negotiated the tension between law and life from Greek antiquity to the present? How does the messy richness of life relate to the orderliness of law? When does law serve life, and when does it restrict it, oppose it, kill it? Is law humane or inhuman? Readings: Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Antigone, Deuteronomy, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Codex Justinianus, Augustine’s City of God, Dante’s Inferno, Hobbes’ Leviathan, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure; short texts by Luther, Kant, Kleist, Poe, Melville, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Kafka; critical theory from Carl Schmitt, Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Roberto Esposito.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Scenes of Instruction
Prof. Garcia (Comparative Literature) syllabus
When is instruction the imparting of knowledge or skills? When is it a directive, an order, or a mandate? What does it mean to offer, seek, follow, or refuse instruction? What figures show up in scenes of instruction, and what personas emerge from them? If mechanisms and venues of instruction proliferate today, whether in the form of fitness drills, how-to videos, flash mobs and MOOCS, in what ways can the literatures of the past provide assistance in navigating the promises and hazards of instruction? We explore texts that enact instruction or bring some version of it into representation. How do texts imbue their lessons, advice, and directives with urgency? What desires collect around instruction? What is the relationship of instruction to subjection? More basically, what counts as valid instruction in different historical epochs and what imperatives drive individuals to secure or elude it? We pose these questions in relation to writings by Euripides, Plato, Melville, Nietzsche, Freud, Louis Althusser, and Christopher Isherwood, among several other writers.
SPRING 2016 CORE -UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Utopias and Distopias
Prof. Kotsonis (Russian and Slavic Studies) syllabus
Considers how writers and other artists over the past two millennia have imagined perfect and just societies and, more recently, how they imagined perfectly unjust and nightmarish societies and implied what would restore them. Readings: Plato’s Republic, Xenophon’s Anabasis, More’s Utopia, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, Wells’ Time Machine, Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Sinclair’s The Jungle, Zamiatin’s We, Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984. Films: Starship Troopers, Demolition Man.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Action
Prof. Halpern (English) syllabus
What does it mean to perform an act? What are we doing when we do something? The term “action” covers everything from picking up a pencil to leading a political revolution. Action is a way of intervening in the world and changing it, in minor or major ways. Both ethics and politics involve acting in relation to others. Philosophers have found action interesting because it bridges the mental and physical worlds, beginning as intention and ending with some sort of embodied execution. The English word “act” complicates things still further, since it can mean not only “to do something” but also “to pretend to do something; to play a part.” Acting in the “serious” sense is always haunted by dramatic or play-acting. And because drama is the art form that relies on people actually doing things onstage—or rather, pretending to actually do things onstage—it is also an art form that has thought through questions of action in sophisticated ways. We read a variety of works by philosophers, playwrights, theologians, filmmakers, and economists in order to get a sense of how action has been understood from the classical era to the present day, including Aeschylus, Aristotle, Augustine, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Smith, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Beckett.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Violence, Non-Violence, and World Religions
Prof. Jassen (Hebrew & Judaic Studies) syllabus
The twentieth century was the bloodiest century in history. It witnessed two world wars and countless local and regional conflicts. The twenty first century began with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Since then the world has been engulfed in an endless cycle of terrorism and war that seems only to be getting more violent and ruthless. And yet, in contrast to previous periods of history, we live in an era of unprecedented peace. The twentieth century gave rise to many of the most successful non-violent protest movements. War kills fewer people; violent crime has dropped to record lows; individual rights are more common than ever across the globe. As the world moves toward a more peaceful existence, religious violence is on the rise. A recent Pew Research Study shows that 33% of the 198 countries and territories analyzed in the study had “high religious hostilities” in 2012, up from 20% in 2007. We explore how different religious texts and their authors imagine the role of violence and non-violence in the world. Reading include Gilgamesh; Sun Tzu’s Art of War; Jewish, Christian, and Muslim texts; and the writings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—On Beasts and Books
Prof. Kay (French) syllabus
According to the Book of Genesis, human beings have two distinct relationships with other animals: in one version of the creation story Adam gives them names, in the other they are created to keep him company. Whether non-human animals are creatures to which we assign meanings, or whether they are our interlocutors, is thus a dilemma formulated from the outset. It will provide the overall framework for this course in we examine how animals are interpreted metaphorically or symbolically, as if they were texts, and how they are also represented as speaking to us, as if they were producers of texts. We work mainly on written documents ranging from the Bible and antiquity through the Middle Ages and the premodern period (mainly the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), reaching forward occasionally into the contemporary world for current examples. Some materials are literary (like fables and fairy stories), some philosophical, others historical. We also consider visual materials from manuscript illuminations to recent films. And we evaluate the role of animals in cultural practices other than literary or artistic works—for instance, in hunting or in zoos—and discover how, in this sense, they are like texts that we can read and analyze.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Medieval Political Thought
Prof. Stoller (NYU Libraries) syllabus
Medieval political thought spanned three great religious traditions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Across all three traditions it was grounded in a deeply religious perspective on the human condition, one originating in a set of sacred texts that shared a common monotheism and a similar moral ethic. The political thought of all three groups was equally grounded in a set of ancient, pagan texts, drawing on the perspective of the Greeks and Romans, on whose shoulders the medievals believed they stood. Political theorists across all three traditions drew heavily from one another, but each spoke to the unique concerns of its own community. We explore the commonalities and the contrasts among the three political systems and the extraordinary minds that shaped them. Readings will include Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the Qur'an, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Alfarabi, Alghazali, Aquinas, Avicenna, Bacon, Giles of Rome, Maimonides, Marsilius of Padua, and Polgar.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 400, Topics—Life and Death
Prof. Velleman (Philosophy) syllabus
Every person has a life to live, but what is this thing, “a life”, that every person has? To begin with, it’s just the temporally extended existence of the person, the proverbial three score and ten. But a person’s life is more than that, because it follows a natural progression of life-stages, from childhood to adolescence to middle age to senescence. And it’s even more still, since it is partly the creation of the person living it, who can plan it, evaluate it, anticipate its future, and remember its past. We explore these and other aspects of a person’s life through works of literature and philosophy. What makes you the same person throughout the different stages of your life? How does the passage of time color your perception of life? What makes for a good life? A meaningful life? Should you be grateful for having been born, or dismayed at having to die? Readings: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Epicurus’ “Letter to Menoeceus,” Cicero’s De Finibus, Lucretius De Rerum Natura, Dickens’ Great Expectations, Tolstoy’s “A Confession” and “Death of Ivan Ilych,” Kertesz’ Kaddish for an Unborn Child, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, McCullers’ Member of the Wedding, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—On Liberation
Profs. Watson & Escobar (English) syllabus
What is liberation? What is the political form that allows for maximum freedom, and how is it to be achieved? How have the concepts of freedom, slavery and oppression been articulated by thinkers from Plato to Gandhi? We examine these enduring questions through a wide historical and cultural lens, aiming to understand and map out competing ideas around the conditions for freedom (and unfreedom). To this end, we read seminal works theorizing the relationship between the individual and the collective, ideas of sovereignty, the ideal state and the revolutionary nation, and arguments for violence and non-violence. While grounded in Western thought on the topic, we also pay attention to how the struggles and theorizations of the non-West (the Haitian Revolution, the Algerian and Indian independence struggles, postcolonialism and the Tricontinental) have shaped our inquiry into the nature and promise of liberation. Reading: Epictetus’ Handbook, Plato’s Republic, Equiano’s Life, Shakespeare’s Tempest, Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, Mill’s On Liberty, selections from Marx, James’ Black Jacobins, Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 402, Texts & Ideas: Antiquity and the Renaissance
Prof. Ertman (Sociology) syllabus
We explore the ancient foundations of traditional Western culture, starting with the political and social institutions, religious beliefs and value systems of the Romans and early Christians, then turning to the world of the Italian Renaissance. “Renaissance” means rebirth, and during this period Italian intellectuals, writers, painters and sculptures saw themselves as contributing to a rebirth of Western culture by turning for inspiration to the philosophical, literary, and artistic legacy of the ancient world. Readings: Luke, Acts, Romans; Livy’s History of Rome; Plutarch’s Lives; Cicero; Vergil’s Aeneid; Apuleius’ Golden Ass; Augustine’s Confessions; Dante’s Inferno; Boccaccio’s Decameron; Vasari’s Lives; Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy and Prince; Cellini’s Life.
SPRING 2016 CORE-UA 404, Texts & Ideas: Antiquity and the 19th Century
Prof. Renzi (College Core Curriculum) syllabus
Contemporary moral psychology: where it came from, where it’s brought us, how we might move beyond it. Readings: Book of J; Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah; Matthew, Galatians; Gospel of Mary; Euripides' Medea; Aristophanes' Clouds; Plato's Apology and Republic; Xenophon's Apology; Augustine's Confessions; Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto; Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling; Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality; Freud's "Case of Miss Lucy R." and Civilization and Its Discontents.