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Week 3 Seminars - Summer Classics 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.

Week 3 | July 15–20

Morning 10 a.m. to noon

Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition

Rebecca Goldner and Raoni Padui

One of the most relevant and controversial political thinkers of the 20th century, Hannah Arendt wrote important books on totalitarianism, the nature of revolution, violence, and evil. Arguably her most wide-ranging and important work, The Human Condition examines the relationship among human labor, work, and political action both concretely and historically. Against what she saw as the philosophical tendency to begin with contemplation and theory, Arendt tries to explain human action from the ground up. In doing so she hopes to ask fundamental questions of how the activities in which we engage in everyday life illuminate what it means to be a human being.

Dante’s Purgatory

Eric Salem and Cary Stickney

Hell is easiest to like, but one needn’t begin there. All three parts of Dante’s Divine Comedy have their own logic and beauty—their own comic flavor, too—and all are, of course, for and about us, who live in the here and now. But that aspect is clearest in the Purgatorio, which transpires over a series of earthly days and nights on a mountain (perhaps in New Zealand?). Not, in other words, amid desperate wails and perpetual darkness or supernal harmonies and nearly blinding light, nor among people whose existent identities are somehow forever fixed. As we discuss the central canticum at the walking pace of six or seven cantos per day, we seek to understand if and how human beings can change.

Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away

Claudia Hauer and Krishnan Venkatesh

We address Flannery O’Connor’s only two novels, in order to encounter the full power of her literary artistry, along with the startling sophistication of her theological and philosophical thought. O’Connor’s novels are, as her friend William Sessions put it, “dense and violent texts” that illustrate O’Connor’s deep sense of mystery, her complex perspective on prophecy and choice, and her keen eye for the grotesque aspect of the human condition. Written in the 1950s, as American Catholics struggled to come to terms with the atomic age, O’Connor’s novels take up questions of technology, metaphysics, and faith, all of which help us understand more fully the contemporary predicaments that continue to plague American life today.

Thomas Mann’s Short Fiction

John Cornell and Susan Stickney

Is the artist ever an integral member of society, or does he always stand apart, observing? Is his type of sensuality the cause or the effect of his ambiguous place in the world? Can his deeper knowledge of human things save him from becoming a charlatan or a monster? These are a few of the questions that Thomas Mann’s stories raise, though his irony challenges any comfortable answers. In this seminar we read and discuss several short masterpieces from the span of Mann’s long creative life, beginning with his early novella Tonio Kröger, followed by the highly acclaimed Death in Venice, and concluding with Mario and the Magician, which was written in the shadow of fascism.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Art and Letters

David Carl and Maggie McGuinness

Here in Georgia O’Keeffe’s chosen home, we have the opportunity for a particularly rich encounter with her work. The seminar addresses paintings, drawings, and watercolors spanning the course of O’Keeffe’s career. We read her letters for insight into how O’Keeffe regarded her own endeavor, paying particular attention to the work that arose out of her affinity for the New Mexico landscape. We also visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. By paying close attention to the particularities of individual works, we not only hope to articulate a clearer understanding of O’Keeffe’s artistic vision but to allow that vision to help us newly see the subjects—from blossoms to high-rises to the mountains we see out our windows—she found so compelling.

Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji

Natalie Elliot and Patricia Locke

Murasaki Shikibu’s magnificent novel is set in the Japanese imperial court, full of political intrigue and erotic passion. The Shining Prince, Genji, experiences the transitory nature of love and life, and his story challenges each reader with nuanced aesthetic and ethical ideals. Where do we go when we follow Genji’s exploits, whether tender and brutal, tawdry or grand? What happens when we have a second hero give us an alternate perspective? Does Genji lead us to withdrawal or to some new engagement with the world? We immerse ourselves in what is arguably the world’s first novel, written early in the 11th century CE. Given the length of the unabridged text, participants are asked to read the book in its entirety before the seminar begins.

Afternoon 2 to 4 p.m.

Into Africa with Joseph Conrad and Chinua Achebe

Michael Golluber and Tom May

Joseph Conrad and Chinua Achebe provide deeply contrasting perspectives on Africa—the former from a European viewpoint of explorers coming into this rich and mysterious continent, the latter as a native African, illuminating its people and their rich life from within. Both authors tell unforgettable stories of flawed heroism and tragedy. Reading Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart side by side affords us the opportunity to learn new and strange things not only about Europeans and Africans, colonialists and natives, but also about ourselves. We conclude our reading with Achebe’s assessment of Conrad in his controversial essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,” using it as both inspiration and foil in our own efforts to assess the very different effects of these two haunting novels.

From Noir to Neo-Noir

David Carl and Lise van Boxel

From Noir to Neo-Noir explores how the Cold War sensibility of Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly inspired a new generation of filmmakers to further develop the themes, tropes, and styles of film noir to create a new—and uniquely American (and Californian)—form of filmic storytelling. We examine Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, featuring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, and Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential, and we end the week with the Coen brothers' inversion and explosion of noir conventions in the cult classic The Big Lebowski and look at the further evolution of noir into the 21st century in Rian Johnson’s Brick. In these movies, we begin to see how the place where a movie is made itself becomes a character, as Los Angeles takes center stage as an essential element in many works of noir and neo-noir filmmaking.

Learn more about Film at Summer Classics

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

Observing Ants: Mind, Complexity, and Society

Phil Bartok and Linda Wiener

Careful observation of ant and termite colonies reveals astonishingly complex and coordinated behaviors, so much so that one might think that some higher order intelligence must be at work. Eugene Marais’s The Soul of the White Ant and Deborah Gordon’s Ants at Work offer deep insights, based on decades of systematic and creative fieldwork, into the nature of instinct, learning, complexity, and social organization. But while they have much to teach us about organisms and their “minds,” Marais and Gordon also show us how to be careful observers of the natural world. Inspired by their studies, we use the morning sessions to undertake our own field work, both as a class and individually, and return to their texts in the afternoons. Participants need to be able to walk at least one half mile and be prepared for working outdoors.

Learn more about The Science Institute