Honors | Ideas & Experience II (HON)
H212 | 30224 | Colin Johnson

Tuesday, 4-6:30 pm
Sycamore 003

On Being Together and Alone

For a very long time now artists, critics and philosophers have
puzzled over the undeniable yet often antagonistic relationship
between the individual and society.  For the most part, these
thinkers have approached their work as an exercise in definition
writing.  Thus, they have asked questions like “What is an
individual?” or “Is society something more than a group of
individuals?”  Our goal this semester will be somewhat different.
Instead of trying to resolve the question of what makes an
individual, and rather than trying to determine what role the
individual can and must play in the context of society, our goal
will be to investigate the pleasures and frustrations of solitude
and sociability.  To this end, we will begin by asking ourselves
what it means to be “together” or “alone.”  We will also ask
ourselves what we gain from each of these conditions and why, at
various moments, we long to escape from one into the other.
Although these general questions will inform our discussion
throughout the term, individual readings will raise a series of
related issues that merit close consideration.  These include the
significance of feeling small in a really big universe, the intimacy
of friendship, the limits of self-interest, the place of “the
minority” in the American national tradition, the importance of
emotion in politics, the meaning of suicide as a “social fact,” the
erotic yet unsettling experience of sleeping with your unconscious,
the relationship between privacy and privilege, and the difference
that race makes, so to speak.  Readings may include all or part of
the following texts:  Genesis, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Jean
Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, the Federalist Papers, The
Declaration of Independence, the Seneca Falls Declaration of
Sentiments, Marx and Engel’s Manifesto of the Communist Party, Henry
David Thoreau’s Walden, Émile Durkheim’s Suicide, Sigmund Freud’s
Interpretation of Dreams, W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk,
and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.