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Summer Classics Seminar - Week II

The 2017 program information posted on this page is an example of the type of seminars offered through St. John's College's Summer Classics program. 2018 Summer Classics seminar offerings will be announced on February 1, 2018. Online registration begins on February 1, 2018.

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.

July 10–14, 2017

MORNING 10 A.M. TO NOON

Classical Western Novels

EVA BRANN AND JANET DOUGHERTY

These four Westerns of the twentieth century have all become classics of the genre. They are good reads but by no means light literature. Life and death, cowardice and courage, love and loss, will be our large themes illustrated by some memorable characters. We might also ask what distinguishes this genre. We will read Owen Wister’s The Virginian, Jack Schaefer’s Shane, Charles Portis’ True Grit, and Elmore Leonard’s Valdez is Coming. Serious fun.

Vladimir Voinovich’s The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Ivan Chonkin and Nikola Gogol, The Government Inspector

SHERRY MARTIN AND MIKE PETERS

Voinovich’s satiric masterpiece (1969) ought to be better known. The seminar will follow the “adventures”—mostly misadventures—of the kind-hearted but dim-witted Private Chonkin and the bizarre characters he meets when he is sent to the small village of Krasnoye on the eve of World War II to guard a downed plane. Although sometimes compared to The Good Soldier Schwejk and Catch 22, the satire of this novel is less dark. It does, however, highlight, in often hilarious ways, the effect the Soviet system has on both officials and ordinary citizens. Voinovich’s spiritual ancestor is Gogol, whose drama The Government Inspector (1842) is both a comedy of mistaken identity and a satire of political corruption in Imperial Russia. The play’s cast of characters also allows us to laugh at human greed and idiocy.

Plato’s Symposium

JUDITH ADAM AND WARREN WINIARSKI

One of the most poetic dialogues is Plato’s report of a “dress-up” dinner party, which begins with the dismayed observation that Eros, the god of love, has not been praised by poets of the past. The partygoers propose to remedy this omission by their several speeches. These speeches take the form of what looks like an ascent from the erotic effects of bodily beauty to what transpires in the souls of lovers, to what might be the true causes of that experience of love, and ultimately to the question of the nature of love itself. The ascent thus raises the question of the god himself. In reading the dialogue, you may keep in mind your own experience.

Elena Ferrante: The Neapolitan Novels, vol. 1 and 2, My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name

ERIC SALEM AND CARY STICKNEY

The Neapolitan Novels of Ferrante are a beautiful example of the universality of the particular. The first begins with the disappearance of Lila, the narrator’s oldest and dearest friend, who grew up in the same building and in the same poverty-stricken neighborhood of Naples. Her disappearance seems almost expected. The narrator, perhaps more in anger than in sorrow, wrestles with questions of identity: who was her friend? And why was she who she was? The chronicle of their friendship and of their parallel but also divergent lives is a rich and subtle story, taking us from early childhood to Lila’s brilliant and disastrous marriage in Volume One, My Brilliant Friend, and to some of its many consequences in Volume Two, The Story of a New Name.

“If Not Now, When?” Three Essays by Dogen

PATRICIA GREER AND KRISHNAN VENKATESH

The greatest philosopher of Japan and of Buddhism, Dogen is also one of the world’s most brilliant writers. He is a fusion of poetic wit, wily logic, and stabbing insight‒but he is also a very dense, difficult writer who keeps his readers on their toes and constantly undermines complacency and easy answers. We will study three seminal works: in the “Instructions to the Tenzo (monastery cook),” Dogen finds the secret of living well in the preparation of food; in the dazzlingly imaginative “Painting of a Rice Cake,” he investigates the significance of studying for the spiritual seeker; and in the startling “Waters and Mountains Sutra,” he strives to understand what it is to think in a universe where everything is in flux.

Goethe’s The Metamorphosis of Plants

ROBERT ABBOTT AND SUSAN STICKNEY

Goethe describes the moment that eventually gave rise to his book in the following way: “It came to me in a flash that in the organ of the plant which we are accustomed to call the leaf lies the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal forms.” To see such unity in diversity requires an imagination grounded in the observation of detail. In this seminar we will observe a variety of flowers— the plant form Goethe most often addresses in his book—by dissecting them and looking through lenses, as well as sketching and employing our imaginative faculty to see if we can see as Goethe did. Perhaps we will be able to say along with him: “I cannot tell you how readable the book of nature is becoming for me; my long efforts at deciphering, letter by letter, have helped me; now all of a sudden it is having its effect, and my quiet joy is inexpressible.”

AFTERNOON 2 TO 4 P.M.

Bach’s The St. Matthew Passion

ANDY KINGSTON AND DAVID TOWNSEND

Both the music and drama of this unsurpassed oratorical work will be examined carefully and analytically as we attempt to understand how the choruses, chorales, arias, and recitatives imprint the mind, heart, and spirit with pure wonder and awe. Bach’s masterpiece presents the human drama of the Passion, one that inspired Mendelssohn to champion it in the 19th century and renew its power and wonder for a universal and secular audience.

FILM AT SUMMER CLASSICS
The Western: The Cowboy and His Role in Shaping the American Vision Through Cinema
“Expanding the Tradition”

DAVID CARL AND LISE VAN BOXEL

In the segment titled Expanding the Tradition, we will look at how the Western movie develops from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, a period of radical change in American society, from the post-Korean era to the tumult of Vietnam. The Western movie, during this period, reflects changes in American culture and the shifting portrayal of the cowboy, from noble hero of the community (in Hawks and Ford) to solitary loner and mysterious stranger. As American society struggles with its sense of self-identity throughout the 60s, the line between lawman and criminal, hero and villain becomes increasingly blurry in the movies that try to reflect our national struggles.

Learn more about Film at Summer Classics

MORNING AND AFTERNOON
10 A.M. TO NOON AND 2 TO 4 P.M.

THE SCIENCE INSTITUTE
Alan M. Turing: Computation, Machines, and the Limits of Thought

GRANT FRANKS AND ALAN ZEITLIN

No technological change characterizes the modern landscape more than the ubiquitous presence of computers. No writing was more pivotal in the development of the modern computer than Alan M. Turing’s brief (36 page) paper from 1936 “On Computable Numbers.” With the help of extensive supplementary materials, we will read and demonstrate the propositions Turing develops concerning the universal computing machine (the “Turing Machine”) and the lurking issue in all computing, the “Decidability Problem,” the computer programmer’s analogue to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem in formal logic. We will work through Turing’s paper and reflect upon its significance for computers and for the humans who use them.

Learn more about the Science Institute