FALL 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Democracy, Knowledge, and
Prof. Schwartzberg (Politics)
Introduces students to classic works both defending and criticizing democracy, asking how we should characterize equality among democratic citizens, and whether this equality hinders or helps us to produce knowledge and to make wise decisions. Beginning with democracy in ancient Athens and key works of Greek political thought, we move to classics of modern political thought, focusing on questions of representation, deliberation, and expertise, concluding with the implications of these arguments for racial inequality in the United States and the argument for the importance of racial integration as a means both of realizing racial equality and of improving the quality of democratic decision-making. Readings: Aristophanes' Wasps, Plato's Protagoras and Republic, Aristotle's Politics, Rousseau's Second Discourse and Social Contract, Tocqueville's Democracy in America, DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk, Anderson’s Imperative of Integration, selections from Mill, Dewey, and Hayek.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Mixed Constitutions
Prof. Monson (Classics)
The American constitution is based on a system of checks-and-balances, where executive, judicial, and legislature powers are divided into separate branches of government. Where does this system come from? Had it been tried before? What historical forces could topple it? We examine the historical models that inspired or admonished the framers of the constitution. The concept of the “mixed constitution,” combining aspects of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, goes back to Athens in the fourth century BCE. We trace its evolution from there through the Roman Republic, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the English Civil War, to the American Revolution. The theory of the mixed constitution began as a critique of radical democracy, especially by Plato and Aristotle, but it is better known through the work of Harrington, Montesquieu, and Madison as a form of opposition to monarchical tyranny. Through the ages people with quite different ideological perspectives have engaged with one another’s writings on the mixed constitution to find a solution to a timeless problem: how to balance the competing interests that make up complex societies in order to steer between tyranny and anarchy. This dialogue remains an important part of our intellectual heritage. Reading: Plato’s Statesman, Aristotle’s Politics, Cicero’s Republic and Laws, Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, excerpts from Augustine, Bodin, Harrington, The Federalist.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Sex and the City
Prof. Cornish (Italian)
Our notions of romance originated in the medieval phenomenon sometimes called “courtly love,” a usually illicit and often fatal passion between unequals, such as a queen and a knight, at a feudal court. Late medieval Italian poets translated this aristocratic paradigm into the urban setting of the city-states of the Italian peninsula. In the recuperation of antiquity that started with Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, love poetry and political thought were made to overlap. Dante’s heavenly Beatrice and unhappy Francesca are tales of love in cities. Petrarch’s Laura, met in Avignon, parallels his idea of Rome. The ten young narrators of Boccaccio’s Decameron tell tales of sex, marriage and adultery in their city of Florence before it was decimated by the plague The English poet Chaucer adapts the whole of this Italian tradition in his tragic romance, Troilus and Criseyde, set in the doomed city of Troy. In the Renaissance, Machiavelli applies his political insights to a plot of seduction in his play, The Mandrake, modelled on Roman comedies. We follow the thread of sex and the city from ancient texts—Plato’s Symposium, Aristotle’s Politics, Terence’s Andria, Ovid’s Art of Love, and Augustine’s Confessions and City of God—to the noble Parisian prostitute of Verdi’s Traviata, an urban sex-worker with a Platonic idea of self-sacrificing love.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Arts and Publics
Prof. Blake (English)
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 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and 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 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—The Body in the Ancient Mediterranean
Prof. Bubb (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World)
Modern understanding of the human body is built upon millennia of philosophical inquiry and scientific endeavor. Beginning with the pivotal social and scientific understanding of the body in the ancient Mediterranean, we trace the evolution of theories of human physiology and their reception in medieval Christian and Muslim thought. We also examine the concomitant cultural attitudes to the body, which both inform and are informed by the scientific theories. Are the soul and the body distinct? Do they have different fates in the afterlife? How should a corpse be handled? In what ways are the body and social status connected? How do these answers evolve over time and across cultures? How are differing beliefs and norms reconciled or superseded? Reading include ancient Egyptian medical texts, Homer’s Iliad, and works from the Hippocratic corpus and from Empedocles, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Tertullian, Galen, Soranus, Ibn Tufayl, Hunayn ibn Ishaq, and Al-Razi.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Justice and Injustice in Biblical Narrative and Western Thought
Prof. Weiler (School of Law)
Issue of justice and injustice and other normative concerns. Each week pairs a core reading from the Hebrew Bible or the Christian New Testament with another work in the Western tradition to explore a broad range of complex normative issues. Often God will be “on trial”: Was the Deluge genocide? Is Abraham guilty of attempted murder and child abuse? Was Jesus guilty as charged? Was Socrates? The themes are all of relevance to contemporary issues: communal responsibility vs. individual autonomy, ecological crisis, ethics vs. religion, freedom of speech and thought, genocide, rule of law and civil disobedience, the Other, punishment and retribution, religious intolerance, sanctity of human life, sex and gender. Readings include: Aristophanes’ Clouds; Plato’s Apology; Xenophon’s Apology; Sophocles’ Antigone; selections from Hebrew Bible, Christian New Testament, Aristotle, Maimonides, Aquinas, Luther, Kant, Kierkegaard, Mill, Thoreau, Kafka, Camus.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Getting a Life
Prof. Velleman (Philosophy)
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 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—The "Normal"
Prof. Freedgood (English) & Prof. Jarcho (English)
Can we define "normal" without recourse to the “deviant”: the queer, the child(ish), the ill, the non-white, the unproductive or unprofitable? We explore the notion of the normal historically, understanding that what is perverse or abjected in one time and place may become valued or at least accepted in another. Our modes of inquiry will be literary, historical, philosophic and cultural, enabling students to engage with ideas across a range of disciplines and providing a strong basis for further humanistic inquiry. Topics include recent cultural theory on whiteness, fatness, sickness, and childhood; and a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art will help us frame some ideas about normal in various kinds of representations, portraits and still-lifes in particular. Our goal is to make everyone and everything usefully strange, or newly weird: especially everything—from Normcore to normal se—that seems, well, normal. Reading include works by Plato, Smith, Marx, Freud, Foucault, Stein, Woolf, Nella Larsen, George Schuyler.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Unbelief in Western Thought
Prof. Guillory (English)
For most of the Western tradition, people have believed in gods or God. Not until the nineteenth century was it socially or intellectually acceptable to express disbelief publicly, as in the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s notorious assertion, “God is dead.” Yet the expression of unbelief can be traced to the founding moments of Western philosophy, most famously with the execution of Socrates by the Athenian state for supposedly teaching atheism to his disciples. Beginning with the account of Socrates’ trail in Plato’s Apology, we examine what Nietzsche calls the “shadow” of Western thought, the condition of unbelief. How and why have people come to doubt the existence of God? What kinds of arguments have thinkers made in defense of unbelief? Can human society exist without religious belief? Or is it true, as a character declares in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, that “without God, everything is permitted.” Readings from Plato, Lucretius, Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, Montaigne, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Bacon, Pascal, Hume, Diderot, Sade, Shelley, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Freud.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Scenes of Instruction
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.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 403, Texts and Ideas: Antiquity & the Enlightenment
Prof. Chazan (Hebrew & Judaic Studies)
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;
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 403, Texts and Ideas: Antiquity & the Enlightenment
Prof. Rubenstein (Hebrew & Judaic Studies)
Beginning with the collision of the "Judeo-Christian" and Hellenistic traditions and their encounter in the Christian Scriptures and Augustine, we see Enlightenment thinkers grapple with the fusion of these traditions they had inherited, subjecting both to serious criticism and revising them as a new tradition—science and technology—rises to prominence. Reading from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, Sophocles, Plato, Augustine, Montesquieu, Pope, Voltaire, and Rousseau.
FALL 2017 CORE-UA 404, Texts and Ideas: Antiquity & the 19th Century
Prof. Renzi (College Core Curriculum)
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.