FALL 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Vision, between Nature and Culture
Prof. Iampolski (Russian & Slavic/Comparative Literature) syllabus*
Pictures are part and parcel of modern life, and due to the advance of technology, technically reproduced images have become ubiquitous. The image has accompanied humans from the birth of civilization and can be traced even farther back in evolution, and images are part of the overall communication process that living beings maintain among themselves and with their environment. To understand images as they are today, one must go back to their origin in the animal kingdom. Starting with some premises from evolutionary biology, we address the physiology of human vision and establish a connection between the biological foundations of the image and the emergence of culture, e.g., pictures in Neolithic caves and the use of imagery in tribal art. We move to the use of images in ancient cultures, and finally into high art, the domain that emerged in Europe during the Renaissance. Readings include: Boas, Warburg, Panofsky, Foucault, Simmel, Benjamin, McLuhan, Kittler, Kracauer, Cavell, Eisenstein, Debord, Baudrillard.
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Doubles and Masks
Prof. Miller (French)
Among the more significant activities of human beings is that of giving shape to fears and desires through art. All cultures participate in this form of emotional exteriorization, including creating through myth and literature “doubles” and through sculpting in textures and words various types of “masks.” Focusing on doubles and masks in several different cultures, we chart the meaning and impact of the archetypal masked figures of the commedia dell’arte in French and Italian theatre, the explosion of the “carnivalesque” in South American magical realism, the obsessive concern with the grotesque (the monstrous mask) in French romanticism and Victorian novels, animal doubles in fairy tales, and aspects of zombification and ghostly doubles in North American literature and ethnographic film. Readings: Sophocles’ Oedipus, Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters, Molière’s Imaginary Invalid, García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, Freud’s Uncanny, Rank’s Double, Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Morrison’s Playing in the Dark and Beloved, Mouawad’s Scorched. Films: Modern Times (1936), Hunchback of Notre Dame (1956, 1996), Les Maître Fous (1955), La Belle et la Bête/Beauty and the Beast (1946, 1991).
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Value
Prof. Poovey and Prof. Cannon (English) syllabus*
Can you put a price on sex? art? love? life? Is time money, or is daydreaming time well-spent? Would you accept a pound of flesh as payment of a debt? Is there such a thing as a free lunch, and what would it taste like? We explore different—and often conflicting—conceptions of value spanning literature, philosophy, economics, anthropology, and social theory, focusing on three fundamental principles: Value is not inherent in things but the result of a social process; value is often determined at the intersection of different conceptions of productive potential; value is conceptualized or measured in different, and often conflicting, ways. We consider important texts in the Western tradition that raise questions about the sources of value and their multiple uses in spiritual, economic, and social life. Readings include: Aristotle’s Politics, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Marx, Ben Bernanke.
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Arts and Publics
Prof. Blake (English) syllabus*
Civic values and public purpose are intricately bound up with the arts. Whenever a case needs to be made that the arts matter, we tend to speak (usually, in very general terms) about how the arts contribute to education, or self-expression, or community life, or public deliberation, or the moral and social reform of individuals and institutions. On the other side, those who question the public value of the arts might complain that the arts are elitist, or overweening, or out of touch, or too political, or not political enough. How did we come to think about the arts in these terms? What are some of our assumptions about public life, such that it makes sense for us to promote the arts as having an important public cultural role, or alternatively distrust or dismiss them for not properly or effectively living up to that role? And, ultimately, what is at stake: Why does it matter if the arts matter? Readings from the Classical period through the present day, with a specific focus on drama and theatre.
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Travel Literature
Prof. Halim (Comparative Literature) syllabus*
When, how, and why have we come to associate travel with leisure and transnationalism, both involving a degree of privilege? What does such an association preclude in our own times? Where, for example, would we factor in exiles and migrant laborers? What are the complicities between tourism and neo-colonialism? If we take the long view, what might we uncover about the relationship between travel and imperialism, and about the role in that relationship of ethnography, the guidebook, or the museum? If mass tourism is a product of the modern era, what were earlier travelers, particularly from what we now think of as the non-Western world, after? What were their motives? What were the concepts through which they perceived a world that pre-dates the nation-state and how did they travel in that world? In what way are their texts different from modern texts we associate with travel (ethnography, the travelogue, the guidebook), who are their addressees and what writing conventions are at stake? We address these questions through literary, theoretical, and critical texts, from the fourteenth to the late twentieth century. Readings include: Said’s Orientalism, Ibn Battuta’s Travels in Asia and Africa, Lane’s Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Tahtawi’s Imam in Paris, Ghosh's In an Antique Land, Kincaid’s A Small Place.
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—The Birth of the Human
Prof. Geroulanos (History)
We consider the history of a complex and highly popular fantasy that the idea that humanity and modernity can be traced to a prehistoric moment when “the human” was born out of the animal. Supposedly a moment when humanity can be glimpsed at its most basic, today it is most often identified with a movement “out of Africa,” but also with claims about the origin of language, nationalist theories of a communal purity, theories of representation in cave art, and theories about tool use and human posture. This obsession with reconstituting prehistory is closely tied to modern colonialism and racism, postwar universalism, and even anticolonialism, and also speaks ways that European and American intellectuals and scientists produce knowledge about humanity. Because their analytical tools and priorities project this highly speculative moment of a “cradle of humanity” backwards in time, it has often been synonymous, even identical, with the way thinkers have defined humanity, and suffers from ideological and usually fantastical components. Readings include: Genesis, Tacitus’ Germania, Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, Montaigne’s “On Cannibals,” Condorcet’s Outline of a Historical View of the Progress of Mankind, Hegel’s Philosophy of History, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Darwin’s Origin of Species, Wagner’s Artwork of the Future, Frazer’s Golden Bough, Freud’s Totem and Taboo, Bataille’s Cradle of Humanity.
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Getting a Life
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.
FALL 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.
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 400, Texts & Ideas: Topics—Mapping the Renaissance
Prof. Tylus (Italian) syllabus*
Early modern men and women found themselves at the intersection of colliding ideas about the worlds they lived in. They both looked back to antiquity and the Bible, and ahead to new and unpredictable changes regarding religion, geography, and science. A Janus-faced moment, the Renaissance was rooted in the past and anticipatory in many ways of our own time. As we see from ancient texts, such anxiety about the unknown was not entirely new. As we move from the city of Ur (in modern-day Iraq) in 3000 b.c.e. to early modern Mexico in 1700, from a story about a powerful king facing his own mortality to poems by a mestiza nun, we read a variety of texts about borders, journeys, literal and figurative exile, and how one might best leave one’s mark on the world. We also consider the relationship between the literature and art of the period, and one assignment will be based on a direct study of a sculpture or painting at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Readings: selections from the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, Gilgamesh, Homer’s Iliad, Vergil’s Aeneid, Tornabuoni’s Sacred Narratives, Columbus’s Four Voyages, Leon-Portilla’s Broken Spears, Tasso’s Jerusalem Liberated, Shakespeare's Tempest, excerpts from Sappho, Petrarch, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 403, Texts & Ideas: Antiquity and the Enlightenment
Prof. Chazan (Hebrew & Judaic Studies) syllabus*
Focuses on the understanding of knowledge and truth in antiquity and the Enlightenment. Divergent perspectives on knowledge and truth have important implications for society and the individual. They lead to alternative notions of how society should be ordered, who should exercise power in society, the goals of individual endeavor, and the nature of individual fulfillment. Key texts from antiquity and the Enlightenment will be read and analyzed with these issues uppermost in mind. Readings: Genesis, Exodus, Luke, Acts, Galatians; Sophocles' Antigone; Euripides' Bacchae; Plato's Apology and Symposium; Augustine's Confessions; Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus; Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration; Lessing's Nathan the Wise; Montesquieu's Persian Letters; Voltaire's Letters Concerning the English Nation; Paine's Age of Reason.
FALL 2016 CORE-UA 404, Texts & Ideas: Antiquity and the 19th Century
Prof. Levene (Classics) syllabus*
Every society places demands on individuals: it could not do otherwise and still remain a society. But what happens when those demands are inconsistent? Can—or should—an individual determine the right course of action by reason alone? Or should one simply obey—but then, whom should one obey? What happens when people’s moral judgements differ from the expectations of those around them? How can one maintain a society in the face of such conflicts? From the first moments of Western literature those questions are explored; they became all the more insistent in the unprecedented political, social, intellectual and economic upheavals of the 19th century. One effect was the increasingly central role given to art, seen as the dynamic force able to create a cohesive society. Our study includes Richard Wagner’s remarkable music-drama The Ring of the Nibelung, perhaps the most significant and influential art-work of the era (studied primarily as a text, though there will be opportunities to hear the music as well). Other readings include selections from the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian New Testament, Homer’s Iliad, Sophocles’ Antigone, Plato’s Gorgias, Vergil’s Aeneid, poetry by (among others) Tennyson and Matthew Arnold, Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, Wagner’s Art and Revolution, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality.
FALL 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.