- Spring 2020
- TR 12:30-1:45pm, Morrison Hall 205
- Instructor: Alan Jacobs
Max Weber famously wrote about “the disenchantment of the world,” but historians and theorists from Charles Taylor to Jason Josephson-Storm have shown that the world never stays disenchanted, that we oscillate between a world drained of magic and a world full of it. Is there a way out of this oscillation? There are perhaps three: the “technological sublime” (when technology becomes “magical”); a reabsorption of the human into “Nature”; and what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “this-worldly Christianity.” The purpose of this course is to explore these three alternatives for our future. We will explore the possibilities through reading fiction, theology, and philosophy.
Follow the links to the PDFs and print them out and bring them to class on the days that we’re studying them. It is important for many reasons (some of which I will explain to you) that you use paper texts rather than reading on screens.
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, MIT annotated edition
- Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines
- The Dark Mountain Manifesto (PDF)
- Helen Macdonald, H Is for Hawk
- Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home
- Isaac Ariail Reed, “The King’s Two Bodies and the Crisis of Liberal Modernity” (PDF)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
- C. S. Lewis, Miracles
- N. T. Wright, “Jesus is Coming — Plant A Tree!” (PDF)
- W. H. Auden, Selected Poems
- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
- Pop reading quizzes on most of your assigned readings, worth a total of 40% of your final grade. Quizzes will ordinarily be given on the day that a work or passage is assigned, though I reserve the right to issue a quiz at any time. Note that this is a reading-heavy course, and for that reason it is not a writing—heavy course.
- Three take-home essay exams, each of which will require you to explicate a passage (chosen by me) from our readings, and each of which will be worth 20% of your final grade. Typically you will receive three passages and will choose one of of them to explicate, which you will do in somewhere around 1200 words. You will receive your passages around 72 hours before the exam due date.
- Borderline grades will be determined by class participation.
- Further policies may be found here.
How We Got Here
1.14: Introduction to course and its prequel
1.16: More introductory comments
One: Technology and Sublimity
1.21: Shelley, Frankenstein Volume I
1.23: Frankenstein Volume II
1.28: Frankenstein Volume III
1.30: All essays about Frankenstein in our edition
2.4: Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Part I
2.6: Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Part II
2.11: Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Part III
Two: Back to Nature
2.13: The Dark Mountain Manifesto
2.18: MacDonald, H Is for Hawk, Part I
2.20: H Is for Hawk, Part II; First exam due 2.21
At this point things get rather complicated because Always Coming Home is a very strange book and cannot properly be read in the way that other texts for this class may be read. I will therefore be making rather general suggestions. Just make sure you familiarize yourself with the entire book, though you need not (and perhaps should not) read everything in order.
2.25: Le Guin, Always Coming Home, focusing on the introductory passages, the poems, and the appendices
2.27: Always Coming Home, focusing on Stone Telling’s story (all three parts)
3.3: Always Coming Home, focusing on Pandora
3.5: Always Coming Home concluded
Three: This-Worldly Christianity and the New Creation
3.17: Reed, “The King’s Two Bodies”
3.19: Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, Prologue and Parts I and II
3.24: Bonhoeffer, Part III
3.26: Bonhoeffer, Part IV
3.31: Lewis, Miracles, Chapters 1-10
4.2: Lewis, Miracles, Chapters 11-17
4.7: Wright, “Jesus is Coming — Plant a Tree!”; Second exam due 4.8
4.9: Auden, “Memorial for the City,” “In Praise of Limestone,” “Friday’s Child”
4.14: Auden, “Horae Canonicae”
4.16: Continued discussion of “Horae Canonicae”
4.23: Robinson, Gilead
4.28: Continued discussion of Gilead
4.30: Concluding the course
5.7: Third exam due