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Freedom, Disobedience, and the Absurd in Literature

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
July 14, 2014 - August 01, 20143M-F 12:45-3:35POpenChristopher Carr10677

Course Description

Dostoevsky once wrote: "There is nothing more seductive for man than the freedom of his conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting for him, either;for nothing has ever been more unendurable to man and human society than freedom!" At first glance, the contemporary reader might swiftly dismiss Dostoevsky's proclamation, for surely we are free. In many situations, from political debates to friendly conversations, citizens of the western world are quick to trumpet the levels of freedom that they enjoy. In America, especially, we constantly cite our founding fathers and founding documents as proof of the liberties that we possess. But how much freedom do we actually experience in our lives? To what extent are we bound by societal, economic, cultural, or familial constraints and to what extent do we choose to be bound by them? Do humans, by nature, want freedom, or do we prefer safety and conformity? To what extent can we create meaning in our lives? How do we deal with the absurd, which arises out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual's search for meaning and the meaninglessness of the universe?

We will investigate questions of freedom, disobedience, and the absurd by examining the various limitations (for example: social, economic, racial, technological, among others) that we willingly place on our own freedom. The selected stories and essays (by authors such as Plato, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Camus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Ellison, among others) will enable students to explore the complexities of freedom and obedience, both in extreme conditions, such as imprisonment, and in the more subtle circumstances of everyday life.

There will also be a significant focus on writing in this course. Our readings will serve as the raw materials and models from which students will craft their arguments, focusing on idea, organization, and style. Students will work on all aspects of the writing process: prevision, vision, and revision. "Prevision" will include techniques on idea generation, such as close reading, personal response papers, freewriting, and outlining. "Vision" will include the organization of ideas into a specific claim and a series of questions, or thinking moves, that students will use to structure their papers. "Revision" will include incorporating methods such as reverse outlining, argument mapping, integrating sources, and paper workshops. Thus, in addition to providing a foundation for further study many fields, such as literature, philosophy, and political science, this course will also strengthen student's analytical and writing skills.

1. Investigate the complex nature of human freedom, disobedience, and the absurd, both in literature and in contemporary life.
2. Analyze an essay or short-story based on the three levels of reading: summary, analysis, and application.
3. Map arguments across a variety of rhetorical modes.
4. Compose cogent, thesis-centered essays on topics related to the course themes.
5. Break away from the five-paragraph essay structure commonly taught in high school and confidently approach the task of writing and re-writing a college-level essay.

No prerequisites required.