The story of Layli & Majnun is without a doubt the most globally-circulated and adapted love story to have emerged from West Asia. Together we will read Nezami Ganjavi’s (d. 1209) twelfth-century narrative of Layli & Majnun in English translation. We will use this story as an entry point into formative debates on ethics or akhlaq, socially subversive poetry, mystical and profane concepts of love, and representations of animals in literature. These debates were part and parcel of Muslim societies that developed diverse ideas and practices of spirituality. This class will help you develop more imaginative and nuanced reading practices and use academic writing as a medium for critical thinking. Intrigued yet?
What will you gain in ten weeks?
- How to read academically
- Academic reading is produced in a collective and collaborative setting. In fact, this syllabus itself exists thanks to the intellectual generosity of my colleague Prashant Keshavmurthy and his virtual reading group with whom I read and discussed Layli & Majnun. In a group setting, we become critically aware of our assumptions and learn that our ideas develop in generous and patient interactions with others. This model of reading is not only a component of a university education, it’s also vital for one’s ability to operate in life.
- A critical meditation on alterity
- What does it mean to live outside normative models of ethical behavior? What does it mean when a social outcast who is likened to wild animals composes delightful and moving poetry? What happens when two lovers adopt wildly different languages through which to communicate their love for one another? Layli & Majnun is a radical tale of being other in society.
- How to read & appreciate poetry
- Poetry is seen by many in the U.S. as an academic or niche pursuit. However, in the cultures of West, Central, and South Asia, poetry occupies a central place as a mode of social and literary expression. Appreciation for poetry cuts through religious, social (literate/illiterate), economic, and national lines. It makes it all the more important to be able to read poetry as a major component of a cultural heritage shared among millions of people worldwide.
How’s this course good for your life?
In “Neoliberalism: The Idea That Swallowed The World,” Stephen Metcalf writes, “‘neoliberalism’ is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.” According to this logic, this course is only valuable insofar as it may help you become more marketable, on purely transactional terms.
What we are witnessing in our world today is the utter moral bankruptcy and the slow death of the age of the capital market. This experience is no doubt traumatic and devastating to millions of people. To best respond to it, we must learn how to create robust alternatives to corporate capitalism and its system of value-making. In this course, through slow and patient debate on issues that are central to human society, we can learn how to insist on the distinction between price and value and on the centrality of humanistic inquiry and intentional empathy in any healthy and thriving society.
How will I evaluate you?
Discussion posts 15%
Presentations (2) 20%
Final Essay 25%