Writing about Literature: Evil: An Act of Freedom or Fate?
The self constantly looks for that moment where it is the agent of its path, a moment that affirms its indissoluble autonomy and its existential freedom. That precise moment defines many a character we will examine in our readings and in the movies. In a breath of fresh air, they inhale freedom, and their actions thereon translate an evilness that cannot be dismissed, as they come face to face with their human limitations. Can we understand evil as an assertion of freedom in the face of our unwavering fate? Or is it merely a byproduct of our struggle against fate? Does committing evil become a 'collateral damage'? or the essence of that freedom? Does (self-) destruction become an automatic result? Finally, does our perception of evil differ, across time and space? In this class, we will address these issues through close reading and writings about literary, philosophical and film texts from a variety of cultural contexts: from Classical Greece to Elizabethan England to Twentieth-Century France and Egypt. We will examine how various characters in literature and film express and exercise their freedom, and how in the course of their actions, evil unfolds. Eventually, the aim of the class is to demonstrate whether we can understand evil through its relation to freedom and fate.
Required readings in order:
Sophocles. Oedipus, the King. Shakespeare, William. Othello. Camus, Albert. Caligula. Sartre, Jean-Paul. The Flies. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Mahfouz, Naguib. The Thief and the Dogs.
Theory (available on class website):
Camus, Albert. Selections from The Rebel. ----. Selections from The Myth of Sisyphus. Freud, Sigmund. Selections from Civilization and Its Discontent. ----. Selections from The Interpretation of Dreams (on the Oedipus Complex). Nietzsche, Friedrich. Selections from On The Genealogy of Morals.
The Dark Knight (Batman). Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008 (US). Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Dir. Kenneth Branagh, 1994 (UK).
Class assignments and grading
You will be required to write 2 short essays (2 pages) and 2 long ones (4-5 pages) and give a presentation.