Week I: July 7 - 11
Morning: 10 a.m. to noon
Dante’s La Vita Nuova and Purgatorio sing and reflect upon one of the most celebrated love stories in all of literature. La Vita Nuova recounts in verse and prose two stations of Dante’s encounter with Beatrice Portinari: first, on a bridge in their native Florence when both are in their ninth year and, second, when she first greets him, it ends with her early death and Dante’s resolve to write of her “that which has never been written of any woman.” Purgatorio realizes the poet’s desire to sing of Beatrice “in a more noble way,” culminating with their visionary third meeting in the Earthly Paradise. Beatrice rewards Dante’s arduous ascent of Mount Purgatory with the gift of joy, the elevated feeling that he is prepared for by the conversations he has had with Virgil and the penitent souls encountered along hispilgrimage. We will accompanyDante on his ascent and share hisliberation and illumination. Please read the first five cantos of Inferno before reading the Purgatorio.
Augustine’s Confessions is a work of intentional shamelessness, an account to God, but before us, of his soul’s journey toward faith. It is parent to a not always worthy progeny, such as all “True Confessions.” It tells of his guilty loves, ardent friendships, a really formidable mother, of his philosophical experiments, beloved teachers and his sins of obtuse omission and willful commission. Our readings end with the most accurate description of the space of imagination and the most original analysis of time in the Western Canon.
This term has been used to define and explain our current era, but it is not new. Our seminar will explore the issues that arise when different or unfamiliar cultures and civilizations come into intimate contact. We shall do so through two timeless and yet, well-timed, novels, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India and Brian Moore’s Black Robe. Forster’s work focuses on British officials and their families in colonial India and Moore’s with Norman priests in 17th -century French Canada. The dramas are of collision and clash between outsider and insider and even among insiders—beliefs, sensibilities, and behavior run against each other in ways that expose and alter the character of individuals and the groups to which they belong.
The Discourse on Method is one of the founding documents of modern philosophy. In this short work, Descartes argues that philosophy must begin with as few presuppositions as possible. The foundation of philosophical reasoning, and of all proper scientific inquiry, must be absolutely certain. For Descartes, this foundation is consciousness itself. That we think is something we cannot doubt, since doubting is itself a kind of thinking. Upon this foundation, and in conjunction with specified rules of inquiry that constitute a method, Descartes argues
both for the existence of God and for a science that will render us the masters and possessors of nature.
Eugene Marais, a South African journalist, philosopher, and naturalist, spent years observing and experimenting with the animals in his native South Africa. This book, an early 20th-century classic of nature observation, combines all his strengths as he tells of the life of a termite colony, gleaned from many years of his own observations and struggles to understand. It raises important fundamental questions about the nature of life from insect to human. This class will combine reading and discussion of The Soul of the White Ant with our own observations of insect and termite colonies near the college.
Afternoon: 2 – 4 p.m.
The Hamlet is the first novel of the “Snopes trilogy.” It portrays the ascendancy of the Snopes clan in the hamlet of Frenchman’s Bend. The Snopes represent a new class in the south of what might best be called “snortherners”— southerners who act like northern carpetbaggers. Led by Flem Snopes (pronounced like phlegm), they replace the southern gentleman and make money the master of the south. The new south is sometimes soulless, sometimes insane, and often comical. The Hamlet is Faulkner’s ironic masterpiece.
Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are a seamless mixture of technical mastery and unashamed engagement with a beloved enemy: the selfish vulgar, comic, and horrifying side of mortality. She never laughs at any but the flaws she knows are also her own but she never pretends that they are less than lethally serious flaws, if not recognized, nor that they are in any simple sense separable from whatever makes human beings most worthy of love. We will read five of the pieces of her Divine Comedy: portraits of souls falling to rise.