Course Description

Contemporary thought has been struggling to comprehend and proffer an understanding of the underlying logic of community in our globalized world. What does it mean to belong in a world that is so interconnected, where information, people and goods have been able to travel relatively freely, depending on one’s origins? What reasons or properties do we cite when considering belonging to a community? Since this course roughly begins with the period of Enlightenment in the Western world and the aftermath of the French Revolution, we will explore this question of Community as it relates to the capacity of Reason lauded by Enlightenment thinkers such as Descartes and Kant. We will examine the role that the irrational, the unreasonable, the mad, the monstrous, and the spiritual plays in our shared and particular histories, especially as it struggles against the forces of so-called Reason when we try to comprehend a concept of Community. We will ask ourselves: how and when do spirits and monsters enter into our logic and what might they represent? When do we exclude the irrational, the unreasonable, and what is left behind? How and when does the rational turn on us and become irrational and unreasonable? Who decides what is normal and what reasons do they give? What are the consequences of our rationalistic and scientific ways of being in the world? And what is shut out, what are we missing, and what drama does this create? As we’ll see, these questions are consequential to concrete historical events, both past and current, and will inevitably touch upon such issues as race, colonialism, ideology-formation, political movements, mechanized warfare, the Shoah, the absurdity of Mutually Assured Destruction, and the current religious fanaticism taking hold on multiple continents. The goal of this course is to mine and to contextualize our current ways of thinking and to ask if what we take to be enlightened thinking is truly in our best interest. More importantly, we will ask what kind of society or community such thinking might create. We will end by examining the limits of Reason when it confronts Nihilism and examine the way in which the imaginative world of poetry, art and dreams offer a new way of thinking about the world we live in and our relationship to others.

Required Text:

  • The Norton Anthology of World Literature. D, E, F (Package 2). Third Edition. ISBN: 978-0393933666 / Available in the Baruch Bookstore.
  • Marjane Satrapi – The Complete Persepolis (Pantheon, 2007). ISBN: 978-0375714832 / Available on Amazon and Baruch Bookstore.