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Spring 2016 Undergraduate English Courses: Special Topics

358:263 Civilization and Its Discontent

01  MW5  CAC  17173  SIEGEL /JONES SC-105

Civilization and its Discontents

Does civilization make us happy or unhappy?  What do we owe each other?  What are the best ways in which we act as a society, as individuals? What does a society include or exclude?  How does it deal with moments of resistance or contradiction?  Culture has given us many texts dealing with these issues, though none that provides easy solutions to any of them.

From the wars of ancient Greece to the civil disobedience of America’s recent past, society has been shaped by the difficult challenge of reconciling contending values.  This is an introductory course on some of the most influential and most debated texts in Western culture.   This class is based on our sense that it is still urgent for us to reflect together on forms of human expression that have shaped culture for centuries, whether drawn from the canons of philosophy, tragedy, religion, political theory, or political debate.

Among the authors we will discuss: Plato, Sophocles, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Lincoln, and King.  We will also look closely at parts of the Bible, the Koran, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers.

The traditions we are interested in exploring are not unidirectional and simple; they are shaped by discussion, debate, and the clashing of principles and interests.  For this reason, the course is also concerned with the variety of forms through which a culture understands itself.  What is the effect of expressing ideas in a dialogue, as a tragedy, as a narrative, as a parable, as a letter or public address?  How do we as individuals and citizens of a complex and ever-more interconnected world understand and express our own ideas and values to others? 

Through a mixture of lecture, discussion, and short writing assignments students will learn how to read and talk about texts as distant as ancient Greece and as close to us as twentieth-century America. 

Grading/Requirements

Participation (including presentations, quizzes, and other exercises): 30%
Midterm: 20%
Final: 30%
Writing assignments (4 1-2 page papers): 20%.

SATISFIES THE FOLLOWING CORE REQUIREMENTS: AHo, AHp