Arlt 100g Existentialism, Death and Meaninglessness Summer 2011



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ARLT 100g Existentialism, Death and Meaninglessness Summer 2011

Class # 05435200R Session 054 10:00-1:35pmMWEDNESDAY THH214

Professor Edwin McCann, MHP 205F (mailbox in MHP 113); mccann@usc.edu

Office hours Monday 3:00-4:30 p.m.


We will study some of the major works of recent (nineteenth and twentieth century) literature and philosophy concerned with the question of the meaninglessness of human life in the face of the basic fact that we all must die. The threat of meaninglessness seems to have intensified in the modern period, due in part to the increasing bureaucratization and reliance on technology exhibited by modern societies, and more particularly to the decline of religious belief and other traditional sources of meaning. Special attention will be paid to existentialism as a systematic attempt to come to terms with the threat of meaninglessness.
Learning objectives

  1. Students will gain familiarity with key works of nineteenth and twentieth century literature and philosophy bearing on the issues of death and the meaning of life

  2. Students will sharpen and develop their skills at writing expository, analytic, and critical papers.

  3. Students will be introduced to methods of philosophical and literary analysis

  4. Students will sharpen and develop their skills of critical evaluation of arguments


Course requirements

  1. Regular attendance and participation in discussion. If more than two class sessions are missed without excuse, the overall course grade will be lowered one notch (e.g. if the graded course work merits a B, the final course grade would be B-); if more than 4 class sessions are missed, the final course grade will be lowered two notches (e.g., B goes to C); if more than 6 class sessions are missed, the course grade will be F.

  2. Extemporaneous writing assignments (short in-class essays, one page or less, on prompts set either at the beginning of class (topic concerns reading due that day), or sometime later in the class session (topic concerns that day’s lecture and/or discussion). There will be 10 such assignments; the two lowest grades will be dropped, and the average of the top 8 grades will account for 25% of the course grade.

  3. Two 4-6 page critical/analytical papers on set topics. Each counts for 25% of the course grade.

  4. One take-home final examination. Counts for 25% of the course grade.

Academic Accommodations:  Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30am-5:00pm, Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.


Communicating with the instructor

Send e-mail to mccann@usc.edu. Important: the subject line should begin with ARLT and should include your last name, as in ‘ARLT Smith can we meet?’



Books for the course

  1. Robert Bretall, ed. A Kierkegaard Anthology (Princeton U.P.)

  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Basic Writings of Nietzsche tr. and ed. Walter Kaufmann (Modern Library Classics)

  3. Albert Camus, The Stranger, tr. Matthew Ward (Vintage)

  4. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (Grove Press)

  5. Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Grove Press)


Schedule of class meetings and readings reading listed for a given date must be completed by that date; extemporaneous writing assignments will presuppose this)
WEDNESDAY 5/18 Introduction and overview; screening of Carol Reed, The Third Man (1949, 104 minutes)
MONDAY 5/23 The experiential, intellectual, and spiritual problem of death and the meaning of life.

Reading:

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (novella)—complete; access at http://www.classicallibrary.org/tolstoy/ivan/index.htm;

Leo Tolstoy, Confession (autobiography)—chapters 1, 3-11, 16; access at http://www.classicallibrary.org/tolstoy/confession/index.htm

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On the Sufferings of the World’ from Studies in Pessimism; access at http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/schopenhauer/arthur/pessimism/chapter1.html

Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On the Vanity of Existence’ from Studies in Pessimism; access at http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/schopenhauer/arthur/pessimism/chapter2.html


WEDNESDAY 5/25 The Enlightenment challenge: Hume

Reading: David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (complete); access at



http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/dnr.htm

David Hume, Hume, ‘Of Suicide’ and ‘Of the Immortality of the Soul’; access at



http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/suicide.htm
MONDAY 5/30 University holiday—no class meeting
Tuesday 5/31 Last day to drop class without a mark of ‘W’
WEDNESDAY 6/1 Kierkegaard on the aesthetic, ethical, and religious life; the knight of faith; the teleological suspension of the ethical.

Reading: Selections from Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, ‘The Diary of a Seducer,’ Bretall pp. 36-80, from The Point of View for my Work as an Author, Bretall pp. 324-339, and from Fear and Trembling, Bretall pp. 118-134.


MONDAY 6/6 FIRST SHORT PAPER DUE
MONDAY 6/6 Kierkegaard on truth as subjectivity, and despair as the sickness unto death.

Reading: Selections from Kierkegaard’s Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Bretall pp. 193-231, 252-258, and from The Sickness unto Death, Bretall, pp. 341-371


WEDNESDAY 6/8 Nietzsche on perspectivism and the natural history of morals.

Reading: Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Preface, Parts 1, 2, 3, 9 (Kaufmann pp. 192-266, 391-427)


MONDAY 6/13 Nietzsche on morality and its overcoming.

Reading: Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Kaufmann pp. 451-599


WEDNESDAY 6/15 Two films about alienation and nihilism.

Required viewing: BEFORE this class session: Jean-Luc Godard, Breathless (À bout de souffle, 1960, 90 minutes); screened during class: Jim McBride, Breathless (1983, 100 minutes)


MONDAY 6/20 Camus on nihlism: fiction.

Reading: Camus, The Stranger


WEDNESDAY 6/22 Camus on nihilism: theory; and Nagel’s criticism.

Reading: Albert Camus, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ pp. 4-60, 75-78; access at



http://radicalebooks.blogspot.com/2009/09/myth-of-sisyphus-by-albert-camus.html

Thomas Nagel, ‘The Absurd’ in Journal of Philosophy 68 (1971): 716-727; access at



http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.usc.edu/stable/2024942

MONDAY 6/27 Existentialism: a solution to the problem of meaning?

Reading: Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’; access at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/works/exist/sartre.htm
Tuesday 6/28 Last day to drop class with a mark of ‘W’
WEDNESDAY 6/29 Theatricality and the futile search for meaning.

Reading: Beckett, Waiting for Godot and Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead


MONDAY 7/4 University holiday—no class meeting
Tuesday 7/5 Last day of classes for Session 054 (our last class session is 6/29); take-home exams due by 12:00 noon


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