| Ideas & Human Experience: Figuring Evil
H212 | 0003 | Kearns, C.
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This course COAS Intensive Writing and also requires registration in COAS
W333 section #0275.
MW 5:45-7:00 Collins LLC, CRB
You do see, surely, that our conversation is on the subject which should
engage the most serious attention of anyone who has a particle of
intelligence: in what way should one live one's life?
--Socrates in Plato's Gorgias
Better to rein in Hell than serve in Heaven.
--Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost
The moral imagination of the West has wrestled with the problem of evil from
the time of our earliest documents. In Plato's Gorgias, for example,
Socrates maintains that "to do wrong is the greatest of evils." Similarly,
in civil Disobedience, Thoreau writes: "If I have unjustly wrested a plank
from a drowning man, I must restore it to him though I drown myself….Is
there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded?" In such
books, evil is portrayed as a kind of violence against the self. Augustine
thus says to his God in the Confessions, "Your punishments are for the sins
which men commit against themselves, because although they sin against you,
they do wrong to their own souls …."
Other voices in the western tradition have, however, questioned conventional
representations of evil. In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche counters
that 'doing wrong' is always a matter of interpretation, and he argues that
traditional morality was created by the weak to dominate the strong. Against
those who say violence must be renounced in order to avoid harming one's own
conscience, Nietzsche maintains that all religions are systems of cruelty.
He observes: "Man could never do without blood, torture, and sacrifices when
he felt the need to create a memory for himself." Likewise in the writings
of poe and Baudelaire, perversity and evil function as creative values. In
these books, evil is represented as a kind of realization or fulfillment of
the self. Thus Baudelaire writes in "Correspondences" of perfumes "corrupt,
rich and triumphant,….Which sing of the transports of the mind and the senses."
In our class we will follow these and other arguments by investigating how
evil is depicted in some of the best writings of the Western tradition.
Although our texts will be of various kinds, our approach to them will be
literary and critical. We will ask what strategies our writers use to
represent evil, and we will try to determine what effect they intend their
portrayals to have on their audience. Through group discussions, individual
reading journals, and short course papers, we will evaluate the relative
merits of the figurations of evil we encounter in our texts.
Genesis (selections), Job, Gorgias (Plato), Oedipus Tyrannus (Sophocles),
Confessions (Augustine), Paradie Lost (Milton), Hamlet (Shakespeare), Faust
(Goethe), Civil Disobedience (Thoreau), "Beneto Cereno" (Melville), "Ethan
Brand" (Hawthorne), "The Imp of the Perverse" (Poe), Flowers of Evil
(Baudelaire - selections), Notes From Underground (Dostoyevsky), On the
Genealogy of Morals (Nietzsche), Heart of Darkness (Conrad), "A Good Man is
Hard to Find (O'Connor), "The Deluge at Norderney" (Dinesen).
Weekly Reading Journal 15%
Four 5-page papers 15% ea. (60% total)
One revised 5-page paper 25%