English 287: Great Books (Fall 2005)
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Our course in Fall 2005 is designed to enable students to get practice in thinking through, privately and in group discussion, sophisticated literature from a variety of times and places, and at the same time to acquaint themselves with some of the acknowledged masterpieces of literature in the Western Tradition.
Please consult the more detailed discussion of the Goals of the Course in order to get clear on the implications of this apparently simple statement.
In the course of the semester, we will read through and discuss 10 works of various kinds from different subcultures within the larger Western Tradition.
Period (first appearance)
Type (one set of classifications)
||Dark Age/Archaic Greece (around 800-750 BCE)||heroic epic poem||Heroic Age Greece (c. 1200 BCE)|
||Early Imperial Rome (19 BCE)||national foundation epic poem||Heroic Age Mediterranean (aftermath of Trojan War)|
||Late Medieval Italy (1306)||allegorical dream vision||Late Medieval Italy (c. 1300)|
||Enlightenment France (1759)||philosophical tale||mid-18th-Century France|
|Charles Dickens: Hard Times||Mid-Victorian England (1854)||novel||Victorian England|
|Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness||Late Victorian / Early Edwardian England (1899/1902)||modernist novella||London, Brussels, the Congo River|
|Friedrich Dürrenmat: The Physicists||Switzerland (1962)||comic drama||Switzerland, late 1950s (or early 60s)|
||(U.S., 1963)||postmodern satiric novel||America and the Caribbean, the 1950s (or perhaps the early 60s)|
|Milan Kundera: The Book of Laughter and Foregetting||(France, 1979; in Czech)||postmodern comic-satiric novel||Czechoslovakia, early 1970s|
|J.M. Coetzee: Waiting for the Barbarians||(South Africa, 1980)||modern novel||the remote frontier of an unnamed "empire," mid-to-late 20th Century|
For information on which editions to acquire, and where to get them, see Texts for the Course.
Although we will primarily be taking up these works individually, we will also see how a number of the later ones are (among other things) "carrying on a conversation with" some of their predecessors, and that this contributes in an important way to their overall meaning.
The table above gives you a chronological picture of the order in which our works emerged in history. In our course, however, we will follow the order in which the texts are listed in the or the Course Schedule.
The readings this semester have been selected around an interrelated series of highly contemporary topics: weapons of mass destruction, torture, empire, the role (if any) of providence in human history, the pressure of economic imperatives and modern states on the quality of human life. These topics have been a perennial focus of controversy and "inter-generational conversation" in the Western tradition, a conversation that has been conducted in important part through the medium of literature. Our readings consist of a combination of acknowledged classics (from the so-called "Western canon") and of celebrated modern works.
The course grade will be based on a series of quizzes, regular participation in discussions on the course message boards, a series of short writings you'll bring to class as a basis for class discussion, and two out-of-class essays.
For important details, see Grades.
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Contents copyright © 2005 by Lyman A. Baker.
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This page last updated 12 January 2005.