Honors | Genius (HON)
H203 | 13076 | Marc Weiner
The course examines one of the most cherished, pervasive, and
contested concepts in the history of Western civilization: the
genius. What is a genius? Is he (and until the early 20th century,
it was definitely a “he,” and not a “she”) someone who masters a
craft and then transforms it, or a natural force that transcends the
mundane rules and limits of mere mortals? Is he a vessel through
which a greater power speaks, or a dynamo of original and
intentional creation? Is ingenious creation always spontaneous, or
can it be gradual? Is the genius always an artist, or does he show
up in other areas of human activity? Do we associate a given kind
of genius with a given national provenance? And finally, who
decides who’s a genius and who’s not, or in other words, when does a
genius turn into a charlatan?
The course is intended to raise all of these issues through
examination of a number of different kinds of works (essay,
philosophical treatise, poetry, short story, review, music drama,
political manifesto, cultural criticism, and the novel), with
special emphasis given to those from German-speaking Europe. We
will begin with the figure of the inspired poet in classical
antiquity and the divine artist in the Renaissance, and then proceed
to the ways these figures were represented and discussed in European
Romanticism, to the exalted creator in 19th-century philosophy and
psychology, and finally to the assumptions accompanying the figure
in modern culture.
There are three (3) writing assignments, the first two ca. 5-8 pages
in length each, and the final paper ca. 10-12pp. Paper I should
concern a summary of and a response to a given aesthetic work (on
the syllabus) as a hallmark of genius; Paper II should assess any
one (or at most, two) theories of genius (also discussed in class);
and in the final weeks of the course, preceding exam week, students
will give a short presentation in which they describe an independent
research project, the subject of which will have been agreed upon by
the student and the instructor no later than three weeks
beforehand. These projects will form the basis of the final paper,
which will be due at the time scheduled for the final exam (in place
of the exam). Sessions will occasionally begin with a short quiz.
All texts will be read in English translation. No knowledge of
German is required. No credit given in Germanic Studies. However,
the course counts toward the College’s distribution requirement in
the Arts and Humanities.
Grades will be computed as follows:
Participation = 50%
Quizzes = 10%
Writing Assignments I & II = 10% each
Final Paper = 20%
A student may have up to two (2) unexcused absences; every absence
thereafter will lower the final grade by 1/3 (e.g., for three
unexcused absences, a grade of “A-“ would be lowered to “B+,” for
four unexcused absences “A-“ would be lowered to “B,” etc.).
Nonetheless, credit is not given for attendance alone, but solely
(Note: Most of these texts are readily available in other editions
Students are not required to purchased the texts listen below, but
may use any edition they wish.)
Freud, Sigmund. Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood.
W. W. Norton, 1990.
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf: My Struggle.
Educa Books, 2006.
Hoffmann, Ernst Theodor Amadeus. The Golden Pot and Other Tales.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009.
Mann, Thomas. Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian
Leverkuhn as Told
by a Friend.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche contra Wagner,
and Selected Aphorisms.
Dodo Press, 2008.
Weininger, Otto. Sex and Character.
Biblio Life, 2009.