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:


Departmental Learning Goals:
Students who successfully complete the Great Works courses should be able to

  • interpret meaning in literary texts by paying close attention to author’s choices of detail, vocabulary, and style
  • discuss the relationship between different genres of literary texts and the multicultural environments from which they spring
  • articulate a critical evaluation and appreciation of a literary work’s strengths and limitations
  • present their ideas orally
  • write critical essays employing
    • a strong thesis statement
    • appropriate textual citations
    • contextual and intertextual evidence for their ideas

Your course grade will be calculated according to the following breakdown:

  • Participation = 15%
    • In-Class Discussion & Activities (7%) / Blog Posts (8%)
  • Article Close Reading = 5% (see due dates on schedule)
  • Paper 1 = 20%
  • Paper 2 = 35%
  • Oral Presentation(s) = 15%
  • Reading Quizzes = 10%

 It is your responsibility to keep up-to-date with your standing in the course. If you would like to know, make an appointment with me ahead of time. I don’t always have calculated grades on me.

Every absence beyond three will lower your course grade by one half step (an A- becomes a B+, a B+ becomes a B). I do not give excused absences since you have up to three absences to use at your discretion. Still, if you know you will miss a class (e.g. for a religious observance or event of personal importance), let me know as much in advance as possible. Class will begin and end at the scheduled time, and late arrivals and early departures are very disruptive. Therefore, every two late arrivals or early departures (more than 15 minutes) will count as one absence. If you arrive late to class, it is your responsibility to speak with me at the end of the session to make sure you are recorded present and to find out any information you may have missed. Any time you are late or depart early by more than fifteen (15) minutes, you will be counted absent. Any assignments (reading quizzes, etc.) missed due to late arrival or early departure cannot be made up. Students with more than 4 absences will be required to speak with me privately and will be subject to a WU grade. From the official Baruch College attendance policy: “If a freshman or sophomore is absent in excess of twice the number of class sessions per week [in this case 4], the instructor must give the student a WU grade, which counts as an F. The instructor may give a junior or senior a WU grade if she/he has excessive absences. Attendance and lateness clearly play a role in class participation. Instructors have the right to weigh attendance, lateness, and class participation in determining grades.”

Participation and Reading:
Regular attendance and active participation are required for success in this class. You have to complete reading, viewing, and writing assignments before class so that you are always prepared to participate in the discussions and do the in-class work. In addition, on many occasions you will be given time in class to work individually or in groups to respond to some questions about the day’s reading or writing topic and present your ideas to the class. If you have not done the reading or other preparatory assignments, this kind of work will be impossible (not to mention very uncomfortable) for you. You will also be expected to write at least one Blog post per week. These are to be posted no later than 8pm the day before the class they are due.

Extra Credit:
Throughout the semester I’ll be alerting you to potential extra credit opportunities. These will involve a visit to a museum, a talk, a concert, etc., and an in-class presentation. While there is no minimum length, your talk should be clear and instructive. It should address what your visit included, necessary background, and its relevance to the course materials. Visuals are highly recommended, especially if you’ll be speaking about art; if music is your topic, recordings will of course be necessary. The point is for you to engage with media outside the classroom and to employ what we learn in class to what you encounter in the city. While you are welcome to present on anything throughout the semester, the only limit is that it must be relevant to what we are currently doing in class. So, for example, a presentation on Surrealist art would not be appropriate during our first weeks. Please come see me well in advance to schedule your presentation and to run by your idea. Extra Credit will only count up to an extra 3%, but I am tough here, 3% is rare. This all depends on the effort you put into your presentation.

Academic Honesty:
Anyone caught cheating on a quiz, test, or on any assignment, including especially plagiarism, will fail the course immediately and be referred to the college for further disciplinary action. Plagiarism occurs when you claim to be the originator or producer of words, opinions, facts or numbers that belong to an author whose work you found online or in a book, magazine, newspaper, etc. All the work you submit for this class must be original work you produced explicitly for this class, unless otherwise agreed upon between professor and student. If you are having trouble with an assignment please come see me instead of trying to take a shortcut. For more information on Baruch’s honesty policy:

Accommodations Policy:
Baruch College is committed to making individuals with disabilities full participants in its programs, services, and activities through compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. It is the policy of Baruch College that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall be denied access to or participation in any program, service, or activity offered by the university. Individuals with disabilities have a right to request accommodations. If you require any special assistance or accommodation, please let me know as soon as you can, ideally during the first three weeks of the semester.

CUNY as a Sanctuary Campus
As an educator, I fully support the rights of undocumented students to an education and to live free from the fear of deportation. If you have any concerns in this regard, feel free to discuss them with me, and I will respect your wishes concerning confidentiality. Furthermore, I am committed to making CUNY a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants, not just in word but in deed, through the campus community refusing to allow ICE to enter our campus and refusing to cooperate with and working to prevent any government attempts to ascertain the immigration status of members of our community or to detain or deport undocumented immigrants. For more details about what this means, please see Chancellor Milliken’s statement of December 14, 2016.

Ethical Participation
I ask that we all be respectful of one another and the wonderfully diverse opinions, ethnic backgrounds, gender expressions and sexual orientations, social classes, religious beliefs, and ethnicities among us. In the same spirit, written work in this course should employ inclusive language, which shows that the writer honors the diversity of the human race by not using language that would universalize one element of humanity to the exclusion of others. For example, use ‘men and women’ or ‘people’ instead of the generic ‘man’; use ‘they’ or alternate ‘he’ and ‘she’ instead of the generic ‘he.’ Furthermore, all students shall be referred to by the names and pronouns that they use (e.g. she, he, they, ze, etc…). If you have a name that differs from the one that appears on the roster, please inform me before the second class period in any way you feel comfortable so that I can use your correct name and preferred pronoun.