This course deals with the “puzzle of the self”—that is, what is a self and why should we care about such a thing? We will grapple with this puzzle not only by consulting status quo literary forms like myths, poems, short stories, and novels (e.g. Bhagavad Gita, the Buddhist Suttas, the Mohawk’s Skywoman, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, Borges’ “The Circular Ruins,” Ellison’s Invisible Man, Kafka The Metamorphosis), but also by engaging philosophy construed as literature in its own right (e.g. Plato’s Phaedo, Republic, Timaeus, Augustine’s Confessions, Descartes’ Meditations, Rousseau’s Confessions, and Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality). Related metaphysical positions such as solipsism will also be treated as will politically relevant notions of social constructionism with regard to race and gender.
The project of the class will revolve around what educationalists refer to as “self vs. shelf.” The task is to incorporate, as much as possible or reasonable, reflections on the nature of your own experience, past and present, with the positions and issues that stand out for us as a class in both the readings and our discussions.
The reading load will be reasonable, often no more than thirty pages per week. There will be a writing assignment for most every class which, on the whole, will culminate in a final essay on what you think “you” are. Class time will be spent mostly in small group and whole class discussion (think “seminar” here). There will be occasional lectures “as needed,” though most of the “teaching” of the course will take the form of the professor’s “authoritative contributions” to class discussion.
TEXT: No Textbook Required – readings will be available on Canvas.