“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

–Francis Bacon

Notes on the Reading

The texts in this course range from the deceptively simple to the seemingly insanely incomprehensible. However, part of improving one’s reading skill and learning new ideas requires a willingness to be confused, especially if the ideas that one encounters are vastly different from those the reader already holds. It is imperative that you allow yourself the opportunity to ingest and digest these ideas before allowing any subjective intellectual intolerance to impede the flow of ideas presented in the literature.  Furthermore, as you can see, this course is reading intensive (go figure) so be prepared to have your mind blown!  We are spending a week on Man’s Search for Meaning, so you can begin reading Sartre during that time.   Finally, I may add or remove texts to suit any literary/philosophical trends of profundity.

The ultimate goal of this course is to create a thematic tapestry reflecting the human condition of the Western world since the Industrial Revolution.  Keep that in mind as we read the fiction of the course and consider how the fiction may reflect the philosophical principles explored throughout the course.  Ultimately, your PBA amounts to a literary analysis through an existential/psychoanalytical lens.  It is imperative that you have a keen understanding of both the literature and the philosophy to create a happy marriage at the end (your PBA).

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

  • A thematic introduction to the course and the Human Condition as seen through the literature read this term.
  • Themes: Choice, Meaning, Existence, Time, Religion, Relationships, Freedom/Confinement, Suffering, Death, Despair

2. The Encounter with Nothingness by William Barrett
(Excerpt from The Irrational Man)

  • The Decline of Religion
  • The Rational Ordering of Society
  • Science and Finitude

3. Existentialism is a Humanism by Jean Paul Sartre

4. Essays and Aphorisms (excerpts) by Arthur Schopenhauer

  • On Thinking for Yourself
  • On the Suffering of the World
  • On the Vanity of Existence
  • Thing Itself and Appearance
  • The Indestructability of Being

5. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

  • Meaning and the absurd

6. The Stranger by Albert Camus

  • Existential estrangement
  • The irrational universe
  • Life and meaning
  • Existential concepts—Absurdity, Alienation, and Authenticity

7. That Individual by Soren Kierkegaard

  • The crowd and the individual…
  • The first Existentialist
  • Critique of organized religion
  • The relationship between faith and the individual
  • Existential concepts—Despair, Leap of Faith, and Teleological Suspension of the Ethical

8. The Grand Inquisitor by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

  • Religious doubt and debate
  • Existential Concepts—Burden of Freedom

9. The Madman and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (excerpts) by Friedrich Nietzsche

  • Nietzsche and the so-called “death of God” as a call to religious and philosophical renewal
  • Critique of morality
  • God is dead
  • Implications for the meaning/value of human life
  • Existential concepts—The Herd, Ubermensch, Will to Power, Transvaluation of Values

10. The Second Sex (excerpt) and The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

  • Ambiguity and Freedom
  • Personal Freedom and Others
  • Women’s dependency
  • Nuanced existences
  • The source of women’s self-definition
  • Existential Concept—Woman as other

11. Steppenwolf  by Hermann Hesse

  • A search for meaning
  • Complexity of the individual
  • Societal affect on individual
  • Quest for a higher state of consciousness
  • “Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.”
  • Jungian Psychoanalysis

12. Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre

  • The psychological implications of atheism; death as the negation of all meaning and significance in human life.
  • Lived experience
  • Atheistic existentialism
  • Existential concepts—Condemned to be Free, Contingency, For-itself, In-itself, and Alienation

13. Notes from Underground (Excerpt—Part I) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and
The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright

  • The view that the over-examined life is not worth living; excessive rational consciousness as a form of disease; a celebration of the irrational.
  • Guilt and Innocence
  • Philosophical rebellion—against whom or what?
  • The fallacies of rationalism and utopianism
  • Existential Concepts–Subjectivity and Individuality
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