Honors | Ideas and Experience - Modern
H212 | 0009 | Remak
4:00P-5:20P MR ME CRC
This section is an Intensive Writing course and requires registration in
We will read and discuss some of the great texts, literary and otherwise,
from mid- 18th to mid- 20th century, asking ourselves: what do they have
to say about the relationship between the individual, male and female, and
the collective units (family, community, society-at-large, culture,
nation, religion) of which she and he are a part? Rousseau's, Discourse on
Inequality (1755) had a tremendous influence on the American and French
Revolutions (The Declaration of Independence, 1776, the Declaration of the
Rights of Man 1789) and the subsequent rise of socialism and communism: in
it he traces the downfall of man, originally an independent, happy, and
good human being, through the formation of monopolistic social units like
the family and society which develop their privileges at the expense of
the weak. The French Revolution elicited an eloquent conservative
reaction from Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France
(1790). Buchner's, Woyzeck (1835), depicting a poor soldier driven by
existential cares and apocalyptic hallucinations to murder his
common-wife, translates Rousseau's exploitation of the individual into a
personal tragedy and prepares us for Marx, the founder of modern socialism
and communism (selections from On Society and Social Change).
The quandaries of women find powerful expression in Shelley's, The Cenci,
(1819), John Stuart Mill's, The Subjection of Women (1861),
Dostoevski's Notes from the Underground, Part II (1864), and Kate
Chopin's, The Awakening (1848).
The dehumanization of the individual playing the success game of society,
and his Christian rehumanization on the deathbed, are the subject of
Tolstoy's Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886).
Simultaneously, on a more political/economic level, Ibsen's truth-seeking
hero, a public health physician, is beleaguered by the Establishment, its
vested interests, and turncoat liberals, but defies the odds (An Enemy of
the People, 1882). While Nietzsche shatters all taboos, especially
Christianity, with his philosophy of strength (selections from Beyond Good
and Evil, 1886), Dostoevski and Freud precipitate the inward revolution by
their discovery of the uncharted depths of the human psyche (Notes from
Underground, 1864; Civilization and its Discontents, 1930), which also
marks the work of Kafka (Letter to his Father, 1919, and other letters).
We end with a realistic but courageous assessment of our existential
plight culminating in a pragmatic ethic (Camus, The Plague, 1947).
So much for the sequence and rationale of our readings. I do not like
pinning ourselves down to a day-to-day schedule laid down months in
advance. I prefer to find out more about our group, its backgrounds, and
its interests before making such specific projections. After the first two
or three meetings you will get a two to three week projection of the
schedule; later on it may cover a longer period of time.
I will do my best to introduce you to the different historical and
cultural contexts of the works we will be reading. Your own secondary
readings (not of the texts but about the texts) will be kept to a minimum.
I firmly believe that it is far better to read great texts twice (the
first time to get a personal impression of the whole and for sheer
enjoyment, the second time for purposes of closer analysis and
note-taking) than to read twice as many texts once or to read a lot about
the texts. Close reading should not be a racetrack. For some of the texts,
especially in the earlier stages of the course, I will distribute advance
pointers on particular questions raised by the text that are worth keeping
in mind as you read it; for others, particularly in the later stages of
the course, you will be on your own, for ultimately the purpose of all
education is to enable you to think independently but responsibly. For the
same reason, we may not discuss all major aspects of every text: the idea
is for you to transfer some of the insights gained from text portions
discussed to others not discussed.
Grades are, unfortunately, a mandatory reality in the transfer-oriented
American education system, and I will have to give them at the termination
of our course. But grades also have acquired a pernicious justification as
ends in themselves, a competitive fixation that stymies and mechanizes
what should be the fascinating interchange of ideas, the joy of
discovering and expanding your deeper self, your higher potential. If
Honors students are not self-motivated, who will be? Yet you are entitled
to critical assessment of your ideas from me as well as from your fellow
students. Hence, I will give no formal grades and no examinations in this
seminar, but you will receive, to the best of my ability, very specific
and sometimes elaborate, written observations on your writings from me,
and oral commends from myself as well as, through class discussion, from
your fellow students. There will be six or seven home-written essays of
about four to six pages throughout the semester. I usually xerox my final
comments on your papers before I return them to you so I have something to
jog my memory at the end of the semester.
An Honors seminar should be more than just another course. I encourage
your exchange of ideas, formal and informal, with other students.
Throughout the semester, I will appoint small teams (about 4 students) who
will be given a focused question, will get together informally out of
class and present, as a group as well as individually, their collective
and individual ideas about certain texts. This will be followed by
questions, agreements, and disagreements with the "team" from the other
You are expected to take notes (observations, summaries of thought,
questions) on all your readings, whether you take an active part in the
discussion or not. From time to time I may ask to see your notes, so
please write them, separately from the text, on one side of the page only.
Regular class attendance is absolutely essential. If occasionally you are
not prepared for discussion, just tell me before class and I will not
embarrass you, but do not skip class unless there is an emergency and tell
me about it beforehand if at all possible. Pace yourself: do not read
texts or start papers at the last minute.
Please be sure to own your personal copy of all texts and in the
particular edition ordered.
Feel free to talk to me any time during the fall, spring, or summer.