Week 1 Seminars - Summer Classics 2019

Choose up to two seminars from the choices below in order to spend the week delving into one or two seminar topics in-depth. A seminar includes a morning series of classes or an afternoon series of classes in a given week, with the exception of the Science Institute, which meets both in the morning and in the afternoon. The week begins with registration and a reception on Sunday. Seminars run Monday through Friday.

Week 1 | July 7–12

Morning 10 a.m.–noon

Aristotle’s Politics

Michael Grenke and Lise van Boxel

Aristotle’s Politics is one of the most fundamental works ever produced on the topic of politics. The work offers a comprehensive theoretical framework for thinking about all kinds of politics and for thinking about exactly what constitutes the political. In addition to this theoretical framework, Aristotle offers many practical insights about adapting theory to accommodate the particular circumstances that each citizen or people may find itself in. This work offers a rich and lasting education in how to think well about politics and, consequently, in how to practice politics responsibly.

Virgina Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and To the Lighthouse

Claudia Hauer and Krishnan Venkatesh

Virginia Woolf has much to tell us about the ways in which women’s individual goals interact with society’s expectations. First we delve into her famous essay “A Room
of One’s Own,” where she explicates the hurdles faced by women as they attempt to write and pursue the arts. Then we read To the Lighthouse, a novel featuring Mrs. Ramsey, Cam Ramsey, and Lily Briscoe, all women exploring their creativity while fulfilling their roles in a man’s world. As Woolf brings us into the lives of these and other characters, she delivers a tale of art, relationships, memory, and love.

George Eliot’s Middlemarch

Steven Isenberg and Mike Peters

The setting is England in the 1830s, where society edges uneasily toward change, as seen in the ethos of its countryside. At the novel’s center are marriages where strain and strength emerge from differences in age and romantic outlook, duty and ambition, idealism and practicality. While all characters bear the mark of their class, gender, and upbringing, they are ultimately stamped by individuality. The tale of their vivacity and fates is shaped by the narrator’s exceptional intellect and sensibilities. Even as it portrays the visible dilemmas within marriage, the novel’s hallmark is psychological depth and the heart’s secrets. Henry James saw George Eliot as having achieved a “deeply human little world” and “a contribution of the first importance to the rich imaginative department of our literature.”

James Joyce’s Ulysses

Grant Franks and David Townsend

This luminous and difficult work follows the lives of Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and Molly Bloom through a single day in Dublin, in thematic and symbolic imitation of Homer’s Odyssey. Questions of love, friendship, body, mind, and spirit are presented through a rich texture of language and image that grounds philosophical, psychological, and spiritual questions in the beautiful. Will we find our way home in this reawakened myth?

Greek Tragedies and Comedies

Eric Salem and Cary Stickney

Euripides was in his time the most celebrated of Athenian tragedians. Women were often at the center of his plays, and there was a rumor that Socrates had collaborated with him. More than 30 of his plays survive, as opposed to seven each by Sophocles and Aeschylus. How does Euripides’s work differ from theirs? And why did the great comic playwright Aristophanes take such particular delight in mocking him? Were Aristophanes and Euripides somehow rivals, contesting the same territory? Perhaps comedy always mocks tragedy, but does Aristophanes protest too much against some allegedly new Euripidean element? (There was also a rumor that Plato’s favorite bedside reading was Aristophanes.) We address these and other questions regarding the sometimes contentious but always enduring relationship between comedy and tragedy.

Obliquely on the Way: The Book of Chuang Tzu

Topi Heikkerö and Ian Moore

The Book of Chuang Tzu is second only to Tao Te Ching in the hierarchy of Taoist classics. In addition to presenting profound and provoking philosophical inquiries, it is also a strange and beautiful literary work. Chuang Tzu (c. 369-286 BCE) writes about “the Way” (Tao) and other themes that can’t be directly addressed, such as the need for non-striving and non-doing (wu wei) and for a life of wandering (yu) without reason. How does one broach such topics adequately? Riddling anecdotes, paradoxes, and crazy humor seem to be some of the author’s tactics. We carefully read the most important chapters of the book (the “inner chapters”) and then spend the remaining two sessions discussing a selection of the significant “outer chapters.”

Afternoon 2–4 p.m.

John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty

William Kerr and Julie Reahard

Mill’s On Liberty is one of the foundational texts of classical liberalism, a tradition expressly attempting to reconcile humanity’s dual political and private natures.
Mill offers a “very simple principle” to set a boundary between the two realms:
“That principle is that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others … Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” On Liberty is an exposition of this principle and a discussion of its practical implications (and, possibly, a demonstration that the principle is not so very simple).

Italian Cinema Neo-Realism

David Townsend and Krishnan Venkatesh

What is the foundation of human dignity? Is there any point at which life is no longer worth living? Explore three Italian films that challenge us to address these questions and others. Arguably one of the greatest films ever made, Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) brings to life post-war Rome, shattered but resilient. By employing concise, observant understatement, it tells a simple story with tremendous power. Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957) features one of cinema’s most unforgettable performances, Giulietta Masina as the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold. Tree of the Wooden Clogs (Ermanno Olmi, 1978), set in rural northern Italy around 1900, follows a group of peasant families through their daily dilemmas during a period of revolution. By the end of its three hours you feel as if you have lived for several decades among its cast of non-professional actors.

Learn more about Film at Summer Classics

Morning and Afternoon
10 a.m.–noon and 2–4 p.m.

The Origins of Probability

Guillermo Bleichmar and Peter Pesic

In the 17th century, various thinkers began to explore the possibility that chance might be subject to rules that could be studied mathematically. The analysis of simple games of chance eventually led to the discipline of probability, which would forever alter our conception of causality, nature, and the place of human action in a world of random possibilities. We study the rise of this probabilistic world view in texts by Pascal, Fermat, Huygens, and Laplace.

Learn more about The Science Institute