Honors | Ideas and Experience - Modern
H212 | 0003 | D. Gray
1:00-2:15pm TR WH 112
This section is COAS Intensive Writing and requires that you also
register for COAS W333.
Meanings of Modern
Our study and discussion in this seminar will revolve around two
meanings of the word modern. First, modern as meaning, Of this time,
contemporary, in the present; as in, "The modern idea of patriotism."
Second, modern as meaning, Different from, maybe better, or maybe
worse, than, the past; as in, "After World War I modern citizens found
it difficult to be patriotic in the old-fashioned way."
Obviously, anything that is modern, in the sense of contemporary, in
its own time is likely to be old-fashioned fifty or a hundred years
later. It will be taken by the modern people of the next age as part
of the past from which they think themselves, for better or for worse,
to be different.
That shift out of, and sometimes back into, the modern is what we will
read, talk, and write about in this course. We will consider some
literary works and other writings in several periods of history and
ask: What made them modern in their time? How are their ideas and
ways of expressing them are different from ours? How can we, and
should we, make them modern again by reading them in the light of our
own, modern ideas and attitudes?
We will start with some stories of our own time (or pretty near): Tom
Stoppard's play Arcadia (1993), and part of a film (The Music of
Chance: 1990) and some fiction by Paul Auster.
Then we will read (and act out part of) Shakespeare's King Lear (1605)
in the context of excerpts of writing by Galileo, Francis Bacon, and
John Donne. The questions here: How was Shakespeare modern? What is
our modern understanding of Shakespeare?
We will ask the same questions about writing of two other historical
periods in which people talked self-consciously about the modern.
First, the turn of the 18th into the 19th century in Europe (and a
little in America): excerpts from writings by Jonathan Swift, Samuel
Johnson, Tom Paine, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and novels by Jane
Austen (Persuasion: 1818; and parts of the 1990s movie) and Honoré de
Balzac (Père Goriot: 1835). And then 20th-century Modernism: excerpts
from writing by Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, and
Sigmund Freud; and Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (1912), Virginia
Woolf's To The Lighthouse (1927), some poems by T. S. Eliot and short
stories by Ernest Hemingway.
If there is time I would like to close with some more writing written
in our own time. Whether or not we manage to consider some of this
writing together in the course, I will invite (but not require) all
the participants in the seminar to choose some contemporary writing as
the subject of their final papers.
This final paper will be a ten- to twelve-page discussion of the
modern in a piece of writing or a writer which each student will
choose for herself or himself. Two other papers, each about five
pages in length, each considering writing in one of the historical
periods we will briefly consider. In addition, most weeks I will ask
that each student write a short, one-page response to the reading and
discussion of the course as it moves along.