BC 1154.001, Spring 2001

Prof. David A. Goldfarb

T-Th 9:10-10:35 a.m., Milbank 227

What is death? This question, which is the historical root of many current issues in the humanities, can only be answered by first asking what is human existence. What is consciousness, what is the nature of Being, and what is the “I” that lives and dies? In what ways do ideas and theories about death seek to avoid death, and in turn, what other currents in modern thought might be traced back to concerns about death? In this course we will consider ways of answering these questions in philosophical works by Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Daniel Dennett, and Jane Gallop, literary texts by Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Carlos Fuentes, and Samuel R. Delany, a film by Derek Jarman, and other works.

16 Jan.—Introduction, diagnostic essay: “Is all human activity on some level a struggle with death?”

18 Jan.—Discussion of diagnostic.

23 Jan.—Plato, Phaedo. Journal: Write a short summary of Plato’s arguments.

25 Jan.—Journal: Write a short response to one of the arguments presented in the Phaedo.

30 Jan.—Descartes, Meditations. Journal: Prepare a detailed outline of the arguments in one of Descartes’ meditations.

1 Feb.—Journal: Outline a short response to one of the arguments presented in the “Sixth Meditation.” You may need to draw on material from other meditations to make your point successfully.

6 Feb.—Plato and Descartes, cont’d. Work on a draft of Paper I for next class.

8 Feb.—Peer revision of Plato and Descartes essay in class to be handed in at the end of class.

13 Feb.—Open discussion of drafts.

15 Feb.—Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych. FINAL DRAFT OF PAPER I DUE.

20 Feb.—Journal: Select a passage that you think contains an important aspect of the meaning of the entire text, and explain why in 1 or 2 pages.

22 Feb.—Mann, Death in Venice.

27 Feb.—Journal: Select a recurrent motif, word, or image that you think contains an important aspect of the meaning of the entire text, and explain why in 1 or 2 pages.

1 Mar.—Fuentes, The Death of Artemio Cruz.

6 Mar.—Fuentes cont’d. Journal: In one or two pages analyze the voice and perspective of the narrator. What does the narrator know? What does the narrator not know? How is this information conveyed to the reader?

8 Mar.—Bring a draft of Paper II to class for peer review, to be handed in at the end of class.


20 Mar.—Open Discussion of Paper II.

22 Mar.—Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained, ch. 5. FINAL DRAFT OF PAPER II DUE.

27 Mar.—Dennett (continued) and Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water, (1993 edition, 3-15).

29 Mar.—Selection from the Marquis de Sade, Philosophy in the Bedroom.

3 Apr.—Selection from Roland Barthes, Sade, Fourier, Loyola.

5 Apr.—Jane Gallop, Thinking Through the Body (1-20).

10 Apr.—Gallop continued. Journal: In one or two pages, propose a theory of the body for Gallop in comparison to the theory offered by Plato in the “Phaedo” or Descartes in the “Meditations.”

12 Apr.— RESEARCH PAPER PROPOSAL AND BIBLIOGRAPHY DUE (earlier submissions strongly encouraged). Prepare a bibliography for class discussion including a combination of about ten books, essays in anthologies, and articles in scholarly journals that you might use to develop the thesis of your final paper. We will discuss what you’ve found and how you found it as well as your proposals in class.

17 Apr.—Derek Jarman, Caravaggio (Film screening. Location TBA).

19 Apr.—Peer reviews of Research Paper drafts to be handed in at the end of class.

24 Apr.—Jarman--discussion.

26 Apr.—Conclusion, RESEARCH PAPER DUE.

Grades will be weighted as follows:

      Paper I:  Plato and Descartes    15%
      Paper II:  Close reading         20%
      Research Paper Proposal           5%
      Paper III:  10 p. Research Paper 25%
      Journal and Daily Assignments    20%
      Participation                    15%

The class will be structured as a workshop. Class participation will be taken very seriously in the determination of your final grade. You are expected to do all the reading carefully and to make arguments on the basis of it in class and in your assignments.

JOURNALS: Good papers start with good preparation. Too often instructors spend a great deal of time attempting to correct problems in student papers without considering what went into them. Often when we read books for a class or project, we do not know exactly what we are looking for, what to underline, or what to take notes on. In this class, we will work specifically on the skill of reading for evidence by keeping journals that will be collected periodically. Most good writers keep journals in some form. You should take notes on the reading and class discussion in the journal. The journal will also be a place for daily assignments, which will be discussed in class. All this preliminary material will be of value to you when you write your papers. One should never begin an essay by staring at a blank page.

The journal may be in any form comfortable to you and your writing process. If you are not sure what to use, I recommend sewn, hardbound notebooks, because these are the most durable. If you write on a computer, you may consider taking notes on a computer, but be sure to bring an updated printout of everything you do in the journal in class every day in case they are to be collected. If you prefer to take notes in your books as you read, photocopy a sample of the kinds of things you have underlined and insert the copies with your notes for each text in the journal. If you do take notes in books, it is also a good practice to go back over them and keep an annotated list of the most useful passages in your journals.

Another purpose of the journal is to be sure that everyone is well prepared for class discussion, and so that class discussion will be of direct value to the papers. Journal collection days will not generally be announced in advance, so be sure that, no matter what format you use, you bring the complete journal with all notes, assignments, and previous comments to class every day. While you may receive feedback for late journal assignments, they will not count for credit, since they will not have served the purpose of preparation for class discussion.

The journals will be not be graded so much on the specific quality of the writing or even the soundness of your ideas recorded in them. The journal is a risk-free place to try things out and keep track of your writing process. They will be graded, however, on seriousness of effort and completeness. When I respond to the journals, I will not mark everything, but will make general observations and will note things that seem symptomatic of larger issues. If you want more specific feedback on individual journal assignments, you may request it, but remember that the assignments are preparation for discussion in the seminar. Everything that goes into your writing should be collected in the journal.

Paper I: A brief argumentative paper comparing the views of Plato and Descartes topics that will be fundamental to the course. You will be offered a selection of questions and key passages and will select one as the topic of your essay. Please bring a completed draft to class 8 February 2001. The final draft is due 15 February 2001.

Paper II: Close reading of a literary work--Select a passage from “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” Death in Venice, or The Death of Artemio Cruz, that illustrates an important aspect of the meaning of the whole work, and explain how and why in an essay of about five pages. Alternately, you might look at a repeated word, motif, image, or concept, but still you should take one appearance of it as central. It is highly recommended that you do not choose a passage that was discussed extensively in class, unless you are taking a very different approach to the same passage. You may develop one of the passages you worked on in the journal assigments. Please bring a completed draft to class 8 March 2001. The final draft is due 22 March 2001.

Paper III: Write a research paper of about 8-10 pages using at least three of the works studied in the course and at least three external or critical sources. Of the three works from class, one should be a creative work and one should be theoretical or philosophical. One must also be from the readings covered in the latter part of the course (Sade or later). A wide range of topics is permitted, providing that the paper engages the fundamental issues of the course developed in class discussion.

In the paper, you should demonstrate mastery of the skills we have studied thus far: logical argument, use of text as evidence, close reading, conscious application of a theoretical framework to a text for study, and in addition, you should demonstrate that you can apply the material beyond the context of the course through the use of secondary sources. A formal proposal and prospective bibliography will be due 12 April 2001. Please bring a completed draft to class 19 April 2001. The final draft is due 26 April 2001.

All papers should be typed, double spaced, and properly annotated, following the format for parenthetical documentation in the MLA Handbook, 5th ed. If you do not own the MLA Handbook, you are strongly advised to purchase it at the bookstore. You should also acquire a copy of Rules for Writers, 3rd. ed., by Diana Hacker, which outlines the basic rules of documentation in MLA format and contains other useful information about writing in general. Daily assignments and journals may be handwritten unless otherwise indicated. You will receive a more detailed description of the papers and proposal during the course of the term.

You are encouraged to consult secondary materials. We learn to make good arguments by analyzing the good arguments of others. However, you will be writing about the works on the reading list, and you must substantiate your arguments with evidence from the texts themselves. If secondary sources figure into your paper, appropriate citations must be provided. FAILURE TO PROVIDE PROPER CITATIONS IS A COMMON FORM OF INADVERTANT PLAGIARISM. All your assignments will be graded primarily on the basis of evidence and argument, with attention to form, grammar and documentation as elements thereof. We will discuss each assignment in greater detail in class.


25 September 2005