Honors | The Force of Character
C200 | 23090 | Eyal Peretz

Comparative Literature Fall 2006
CMLT C-200 (23090) Honors Seminar
Prof. Eyal Peretz , 2nd Eight-Weeks TuWTh 4:00-5:30pm, LI 851
* Intensive Writing and A&H credit*

What is character? What is a character? What does it mean when we
say of someone, that he or she is a character and what do we mean
when we say they have character? Why is it that the great literary
characters - Antigone, Hamlet, Ophelia, Quixote, Ahab, Oliver Twist,
Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando - stake a claim on our memory, or even
haunt us? What is the origin of the force they exert on our
imagination? What is it, then, this class will ask, that we try to
name by the term “character”? For it is indeed a term that is highly
elusive, at once seeming to be absolutely clear and at the same time
mysterious. It seems to hold the very secret to the adventure that
is our life, marking the way we are in the world, what drives us to
do or not do certain things. Yet at the same time we use it very
casually, almost without consideration. In raising these questions,
this interdisciplinary course will investigate works of literature,
theater, cinema, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. Character, this
course proposes as its starting point, has always designated a
relation to certain force beyond human will and meaning. We will
examine how the understanding of the nature of this force has
changed by paying attention to two main eras, classical Greece and
the modern period from Shakespeare to Freud and Hollywood movies. If
for the Greeks the concept of character – whether in its ethical or
its literary mode - seemed to mark a relation of the human to a
higher order to which s/he needs to conform, for the
moderns “character” seems to mark the very disappearance of higher
forces and the abandonment of the human to a world without guarantee
of meaning.

Readings and viewings include works by Aristotle, Sophocles,
Shakespeare, Molière, Diderot, Kant, Melville, Dickens, Baudelaire,
Freud, Benjamin, Preston Sturges, Joseph von Sternberg