FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Utopias and Dystopias
Prof. Kotsonis (History/Russian & Slavic Studies)
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.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Meaning
Prof. Barker (Linguistics)
What is meaning? What has it, and how do the things that have it get it? How has our conception of meaning developed over the centuries? And how do our attitudes towards meaning shape who we think we are? The creation of meaning is one of the supreme activities of the human race. We study the meaning of texts, primarily, but not always, texts involving language, in two different ways: by engaging with philosophers and linguists who have introduced influential ways to think about meaning, from Aristotle to Francis Bacon to Wittgenstein to David Lewis; and by showing how these various conceptions of meaning provide new ways of interpreting important texts, from prehistoric cave paintings to music to comics and computer programs. Finally, we confront the implications of deep learning and neural nets (Siri, Alexa, and the like) for our conception of ourselves. Does the fact that these machines can answer questions accurately mean that the human race no longer has a monopoly on meaning?
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Revulsion, Nausea, and Disgust
Prof. Samalin (English)
We explore the peculiarly central role disgust has played in modern thought and writing, from the grotesque satires of François Rabelais and Jonathan Swift, through Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist Nausea, and on to Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy. Tracking the different meanings and values attached to the experience of disgust at different historical moments, we analyze how the roles played by our most seemingly reflexive, hard-wired forms of sensory and emotional response can change and evolve. At the same time, we contrast our literary readings with philosophical, sociological, psychoanalytic, and scientific texts, starting with the aesthetic theory of the Enlightenment and Charles Darwin’s speculations on the evolution of vomiting, and moving on to more recent psychological accounts of revulsion. Prerequisite: strong stomach. Readings include: Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, Zola’s Belly of Paris, Sartre’s Nausea, Clarice Lispector’s Passion According to G.H., Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood, Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Literature and Automatic Invention
Prof. Cipani (Italian Studies)
Italian poet and futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti once described the ideal creative process as the unforeseen result of a “seemingly severed hand that writes.” The idea of using automatic procedures for literary purposes is not unique to Marinetti’s era. This course aims at outlining a tradition of text-generating methods across genres and time. We will encounter two broad groups of ‘text machines’. The first works on the assumption that certain mental states lead to a hidden repository of higher content. Psychic automatisms, dreams, trance-like states, inner dictation, and glossolalic runs are all means to explore an unconscious ‘other side’ — and often, a hypothetical superior realm mirrored in the hidden self. This ‘inherited automaton’ relies on the mind’s own automatic action. The second type foregrounds a procedural framework of made-up rules and constraints — the construction of a formal apparatus, sometimes very elaborate, of admissible elements and combinations. By running the wheels of such prosthetic automaton, the author seeks to obtain surprising stylistic and narrative results, all the while putting the text in communication with its countless dynamic possibilities. Along with the various contributions to each of these ideal directions — the inner and the outer automaton — the course explores attempts to articulate connections between them. Readings include: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Sandman, William James The Hidden Self, Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Freud’s The Creative Writer and Daydreaming, Henry James’s The Jolly Corner, Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, Kafka’s In the Penal Colony, Breton’s Soluble Fish, J.L. Borges’ Library of Babel, Stanislaw Lem’s The First Sally, John Cage’s Composition as Process, Italo Calvino’s Castle of Crossed Destinies.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Recognition in Literature
Prof. Kennedy (Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies)
Across all cultures, stories are fashioned to withhold information at first, holding our attention through suspense. They then produce disclosures at crucial moments of denouement. This dynamic movement from ignorance to knowledge, which creates meaning, is deemed essential in the Poetics of Aristotle, especially when it takes the form of the the recognition of something previously unknown. It exists in all literatures independently of Aristotle’s prescriptions. This sort of discovery is essential to both high literature and low, across genres, epochs, and artistic media. Tracing an arc from the ancient world to the present day, we then see how the epistemology of modern storytelling, across cultures, disturbs the familiar patterns of clear and comforting revelation associated (often mistakenly, in fact) with classic genres. Reading: Aristotle’s Poetics; Homer’s Odyssey, Sophocles’ Oedipus; Genesis; Mark, Luke, John; Shakespeare’s King Lear; Arabian Nights; Kalidasa; Recognitions of Shakuntala; Voltaire’s Candide; Dickens’ Great Expectations; Auster’s City of Glass, Mahfouz’ Search; Barnes’ Sense of an Ending, excerpts from The Qur’an. Films: Reed’s Third Man, Axel’s Babette’s Feast, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Altman’s Gosford Park, Nolan’s Memento.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Materialism
Prof. Shaw (English)
Why is materialism a dirty word? Through what logic has it come to be associated with crass monetary gain and excessive bodily pleasure? When did these associations begin, and why? What other senses of materialism (as a philosophy of the everyday, and as a critical corrective to idealism) lurk underneath these pejorative, immediate associations? How might they be activated? To undertake this project we examine conflicts between Christian idealism and a range of materialist philosophies—including Epicureanism, experimentalism and Marxism. Materialists became infamous for directing their attention at bodies rather than souls, at terrestrial matter rather than divine will, and at the letter rather than the spirit of scripture. We follow their lead and pay close attention to a range of texts and objects in this course. But in doing so we also consider just how various materialisms could be, how their realist correctives operated at different scales and in different contexts: from the atomic to the economic; from the corporeal to the textual. Readings include Lucretius, Virgil, Ovid, Saint Paul, Luther, Machiavelli, Castiglione, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Cavendish, Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, Hooke, Leeuwenhoek, Diderot, Hegel, Wordsworth, Balzac, Marx, Stein, Ponge, Hejinian.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Abandoned Women
Prof. Barbiero (Classics) [Syllabus]
The abandoned woman is a figure ubiquitous in literature. She appears in texts of many genres throughout time, as well as in both music and the visual arts. What accounts for her perennial fascination? How does her depiction change, and how is she transformed in the pen, piano, or paintbrush of women versus those wielded by men? What can female abandonment teach us about aspects of our existence such as the fundamentally human experiences of suffering, loneliness, and the desire to belong? What light does this trope shed for us on literature and the literary canon, particularly as these pertain to the reception of ancient material in later ages? What does it teach us about gender and its constructions? Works include: Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Euripides’ Medea, Vergil’s Aeneid, Ovid’s Heroides, Dante’s Inferno, Rousseau’s New Heloise, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Atwood’s Penelopiad.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Happiness
Prof. Konstan (Classics)
The goal of life is happiness. Or is it? What is happiness? Is it just doing whatever you want? Is it an emotion? Can happiness conflict with other priorities, like kindness or love? Is unhappiness an illness? Is happiness attainable by all, or does it depend on external goods? Can the oppressed be happy? If there were a happiness drug, would you take it? We examine these questions through works on philosophy, psychology, and religion, poetry and fiction, life stories, movies, self-improvement exercises, and more. Readings include selections from Aristotle, Lucian, Freud, Unamuno, Aldous Huxley, Martha Nussbaum, and others.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Why Art Matters
Prof. Hopkins (Philosophy)
We treat ‘art’ as a term of prestige: what filmmaker, composer, or novelist would not like her work to be considered art, as opposed to, say, ‘mere entertainment’? But does anything justify this treatment? What, if anything, does art have that its less glamorous cousins do not? Put another way, What is the point of art? What does it offer us? What place, if any, should it have in our lives? Is art a particular kind of craft, that of stirring noble emotions? We consider questions and answers on art from several important thinker. Is art the object of a distinctive kind of pleasure? Does it offer us a special way to make sense of ourselves? Does it both reveal and help reconcile us to the fundamental nature of reality? Is our relation to great works of art a mirror of, and model for, our relations to other people? Authors include Aristotle, Kant, Schiller, Nietzsche, R. G. Collingwood, Susanne Langer, and Iris Murdoch; and we test their proposals by considering particular works of art to which they might apply from a variety of art forms and periods: Ancient Greek tragedy; modern poetry and prose; the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe, Poussin, and Picasso; the music of Schubert and Wagner; the buildings of twentieth century New York; the conceptual art of On Kawara; and films. We also put the very idea of art in historical perspective: Are some right to claim that that idea, and perhaps even art itself, is an invention of the European Enlightenment?
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Subversion
Prof. LaPorta (French)
In early modern Europe, a subversive book was the surest way to create a best-seller. A thriving book market emerged thanks to so-called bad books and their readers, with a vibrant clandestine press. In order to unpack the meanings of subversion over times and places, we work with police archives that are ripe with the futile attempts to reign in the circulation of manuscript materials even and especially at the pinnacle of French absolutism. We discover medical students who smuggled books from Holland into Paris in the late 1600s. Most notably, and most importantly, we analyze literary works from various genres (plays, novels, narrative poetry, essays, filmic adaptation), produced by authors from the 11th to the 21st centuries, concluding with the world of mark-up language to inquire on the place of the humanities today. Readings include: Marie de France’s Lais, Christine de Pizan’s Book of the City of Ladies, Montaigne’s Essays, Molière’s Bourgeois Gentlman, Havel’s Garden Party, Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Topics—Arts of Attention
Prof. Vatulescu (Comparative Literature)
How does art capture, hold, and train our attention? How have artists, thinkers, spiritual masters, philosophers, and scientists understood attention across time and cultures? Today, attention and attention disorders have captured scientific and popular thought. Turning their “attention to attention” like never before, scientists identify a variety of attentional capacities and modes as well as a contemporary addiction to “narrow-focus attention.” Predating modern science, literature and the visual arts excelled at describing human attention and complexly engaging it. We plumb the rich offerings of many traditions, including writing by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Buddhaghosa, Epictetus, Josef Czapski, Zora Neale Hurston, Kobayashi Issa, Nazik al-Malai’ka, Hisham Matar, Marcel Proust, Wislawa Szymborska, Virginia Woolf, Lu Xun, and films by the Lumiere Brothers, Dziga Vertov, Satyajit Ray, Isaac Julien, and others. These are paired with readings from cognitive studies, psychology, philosophy, and disability studies, to help bridge the art/science divide and offer a more multifaceted understanding.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 400, Texts and Ideas: Exile and Belonging in Ancient and Modern Literature
Prof. Waters (Irish Studies)
We consider issues of place and displacement, exile and belonging, individuality and community, and citizen and state, as these are manifest in works of classical and modern literature. Reading widely in a variety of literary forms, we ask how different cultures and societies have created forms of identity through inclusion and exclusion, paying particular attention to enduring philosophical, psychological, and political structures that shape our theme across more than twenty-five centuries. Readings: Exodus, Sophocles’ Oedipus and Antigone, Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, Padraig O’Conaire’s Exile, Inaam Kachachi’s American Granddaughter, Moshin Hamid’s Exit West.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 402, Texts and Ideas: Antiquity & the Renaissance
Prof. Gilman (English) [Syllabus]
The "Renaissance" understands itself as an age bearing witness to the "rebirth" of classical antiquity. In art, philosophy, and literature it also assumes the task of reconciling the cultural inheritance of Greece and Rome with the Christian tradition (itself entering into a moment of crisis as allegiances split between the Catholic church and the "reformed" church of Luther and Calvin). Our first task is to look at antiquity; our second, to explore the ways in which European culture between 1400 and 1700 invents the modern by making itself conversant with the past. Readings: Homer's Odyssey; Sophocles' Antigone; Plato's Phaedo and Symposium; Vergil's Aeneid; Genesis, Exodus, Job, Luke, Acts, John; Augustine's Confessions; Castiglione's Book of the Courtier; Machiavelli's Prince; Erasmus's Praise of Folly; Montaigne's Essays; More's Utopia; Shakespeare's Tempest.
FALL 2022 CORE-UA 404, Texts and Ideas: Antiquity & the 19th Century
Prof. Renzi (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.