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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 in Weeks 2 and 3, which meets both in the morning and in the afternoon. If you take any other two seminars, morning and afternoon, you will receive a discount for immersing yourself in an intensive week. Seminars run Monday through Friday. Optional evening events—lectures, panels, socials—will be added throughout the week.
I suspect that good readers are even blacker and rarer swans than good writers.
—Borges, This Craft of Verse
Jorge Luis Borges is not only one of the 20th century’s greatest Spanish-language poets but also one of the most important fiction writers of all time. With brilliant storytelling and innovative style that consistently rank him alongside Kafka, Woolf, and Joyce, Borges helped raise Latin American literature to international attention and created a new genre: short prose pieces that defied conventional categorization and revolutionized the possibilities of literary fiction. As we read some of Borges’s most famous “fictions,” we witness a prodigious mind exploring ideas about history, infinity, personal identity, relationship to the divine, and the importance of literature in human life.
Week 3 | July 19–24 | Afternoon 1–3 p.m. MT
No other poet can compare with Dickinson in originality of thought and expression, and no other poet has such deep philosophical insight into such a wide range of emotional states. Her greatest poems are terse, densely knotted in thought, explosive. One of her poems begins, “My life had stood—a Loaded Gun,” and, indeed, her poems often feel not like poems at all but like loaded guns, subversive and dangerous, not for children or the squeamish. Dickinson’s themes are the classic ones: love, death, God, and meaning (is there really anything else to write about?). During this week we study three poems per class, taking them slowly and letting them unfold in their astonishing brilliance.
Week 3 | July 19–24 | Morning 10 a.m.–noon MT
Though 17th-century Japanese writer Matsuo Basho was a master of various forms of poetry and refined prose, he is perhaps best known as a haiku (hokku) poet. Journeying on foot was central to his art and to his inner quest, and we begin our seminar week by reading a variety of his travel journals, culminating with The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Oku no Hosomichi). In this, his most well-known travel journal, Basho describes a 1500-mile journey in the northeastern Honshu in a manner that weaves haiku into delicate prose narrative. Throughout, a sensitive depiction of nature commingles with deep insight into the human soul.
Week 2 | July 12–17 | Afternoon 1–3 p.m. MT
“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son, Achilleus.” So begins Homer’s epic poem, set in the tenth and final year of the Trojan War. Insulted by Agamemnon, Achilleus stays back from the fighting until his companion Patroklos is killed by Hector. He then joins the battle to avenge Patroklos’s death, knowing that doing so means he himself will die at Troy. In the course of unfolding the story of Achilleus’s anger, the Iliad presents a vision of human life that invites us to think deeply about the nature of honor, friendship, civic life, familial ties, and mortality.
Week 1 | July 5–10 | Morning 10 a.m.–noon MT
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is an almost overwhelmingly various text. Among many other themes and problems, it poses questions about the contours of the contiguity between human beings and what is “other” to them—whether it be object, animal, god, or a fellow person. In doing so, it recounts or invents more than 250 myths, each rich in its own poetic resources and each asking its own questions. It also admits many interpretations, providing fertile ground for a nearly endlessly branching conversation; one may not even be able to decide whether the work is predominately tragic or comic, serious or ludic. Perhaps it is this fecundity and flexibility, combined with the power of its poetry, that has made Metamorphoses so foundational to Western literature.
Dostoyevsky is among the most powerfully affecting of Russian novelists, and The Brothers Karamazov is his greatest work. Set in Russia during the late 19th-century period of social and political unrest that ultimately led to the 1917 Revolution, it is in various parts murder mystery, family saga, psychological study, morality play, and philosophical and theological inquiry. Dostoyevsky presents an imaginative tableau of characters who fully inhabit their vivacity, as do the intense circumstances and eternal questions that overhang the work. Testimony to its richness and reach is the fact that a wag, when once asked for a recommended reading list for a course on fathers and sons, responded, “Read The Brothers Karamazov for an entire term.”
Flags in the Dust is Faulkner’s first novel in the Yoknapatawpha chronicles. It is directly connected to his later novels, especially The Unvanquished, As I Lay Dying, and Sanctuary. It is in many ways the essential key to the underlying Southern theme of most of his novels. Young Bayard Sartoris returns from World War I to the city of Jefferson unscathed, but his twin brother died in an aerial dogfight. Bayard cannot come to terms with his own survival. This is the South. It cannot come to terms with its survival from the Civil War. Did it survive? Or does it live on in a half-death? Nowhere else in Faulkner’s corpus is the problem revealed so clearly.
Week 2 | July 12–17 | Morning 10 a.m.–noon MT
Love in the Time of Cholera is the story of two lovers who are alternately brought together and pulled apart during a period of radical cultural change in South America in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. Against the backdrop of a love affair which sustains itself over five decades hovers the constant threat of cholera which plagues this Caribbean port city. In Spanish “colera” can refer to both the disease and the emotion of passion. This passion/disease allows our two lovers to confront the conflict between the realities of physical love and the ideals of spiritual love. As the events of the novel span the lifetimes of its two main characters, the work also develops into a sustained reflection on death and dying, and the values—both real and illusory—that sustain us through life.
In The Ambassadors, Henry James posits that an American man who wants to learn about women must travel to Europe. But Mr. Strether, the novel’s protagonist, is on a mission. The woman he intends to marry has sent him to Paris to recover her son from what she believes to be a life of debauchery. Strether’s fascination with European ways opens up possibilities he never before could have imagined. In this highly acclaimed turn-of-the-20th-century novel, James explores the subtlety of human relations while contrasting the refinement of Europe with the upright morality of America.
Thomas Mann set out to write a short, satirical piece on life in a sanatorium. Twelve years later, he ended up with a novel of more than 700 pages, The Magic Mountain, published in 1924. Just as its central character, Hans Castorp, comes down with a bit of a bug while visiting a sanatorium, only to be diagnosed with tuberculosis and persuaded to remain there for seven years, Mann appears to have been held in a greater grip by the elements of the novel than he first realized. And just as pilgrims brought together on a journey often share a single goal but little else, Mann’s characters, thrown together on the mountain, share disease and a confrontation with death. This commonality throws into sharp relief their differing inclinations and world views, ultimately shedding light on the intellectual and spiritual conflicts of pre-war society.
Week 1 | July 5–10 | Afternoon 1–3 p.m. MT
A wonderful beach read that will also get one through the long winter nights, Moby-Dick is surely a major contender for the title of Great American Novel of the 19th Century, and together we discuss it 27 chapters at a time, tackling the epilogue on the seminar’s fifth day. As a former whaler himself, Melville writes brilliantly both about what he knows and about what we all don’t know: who we are, where we are, and what we are really doing. There is no other book like it.
Week 2 | July 12–17 | Morning 10 a.m.–noon MT or Afternoon 1–3 p.m. MT
Milkman Dead, so named for his extended years at his mother’s breast and for a mistake on his grandfather’s post-slavery identity papers, is on a quest. When that quest begins, it seems to be a search for treasure, but, as Song of Solomon unfolds, Milkman discovers a family, national, and racial history full of ghosts and blood. He must learn to speak to strange and powerful women, and, ultimately, he encounters his own bare self. Milkman’s inchoate and almost half-hearted mission to find something—a sack of gold—that he believes he is owed becomes an exploration of what it is to be a person in the grips of history and a meditation on the nature and uses of freedom.
This luminous poetic work, The Waves, interweaves the lives of six characters—Bernard, Jinny, Louis, Neville, Rhoda, and Susan—from childhood through maturity, through their own voices and thoughts. As we explore every corner of the resulting literary tapestry, a beautiful pattern emerges in the warp and woof, one of complementary and analogous color. A genre-smashing book that has been listed among the dozen best novels of the 20th century, The Waves may be Woolf’s most accomplished work.
The genre of autobiography was effectively inaugurated by Augustine’s Confessions, a stunning account of the life of an African teacher and leader struggling to find his identity and calling during the turbulent decline of the Roman Empire. Through deeply moving personal narrative, the author investigates the meaning of sensation, childhood, idea, free will, time, the practice of reading, and the very nature of language. As it charts the emerging life of a great soul, this great book challenges its readers to distinguish love from lust, freedom from fate, and truth from appearance. You are cautioned that your relationships to family, friends, children, and parents—as well as your sense of love itself—may be altered as you explore what it means to be a human being in the world.
Week 2 or Week 3 | July 12–17 | Morning 10 a.m.–noon MT
Tales of the Hasidim, by Martin Buber, represents a Jewish storytelling tradition of great moral and theological depth, an attempt to express a view of the world as filled with divine presence, where human righteousness arises not from duty but from a kind of fundamental joy. Poignant, enigmatic, and often filled with a strange humor, these brief parables and tales give glimpses of a mysterious and forgiving wisdom. In the words of the Baal Shem Tov, regarded as the founder of Hasidic Judaism, “The world is full of enormous lights and mysteries, and man shuts them from himself with one small hand!”
In this seminar we carefully read and discuss the influential opus magnum of Martin Heidegger’s late thought: the four lectures he delivered to lay audiences in the late 1940s under the title “Insight Into That Which Is” (also known as the Bremen Lectures). In these lectures Heidegger analyzes such wide-ranging themes as the meaning of mortality, art, and technique; the dangerous effects that planetary technology is having on our relationship to the world; and the true value of non-objectified things. Prior acquaintance with Heidegger’s thought is not required.
Never has the political thought of Hannah Arendt been more urgently relevant. We begin with three famous essays from her Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), reading first “Perplexities of the Rights of Man,” which brazenly charges the liberal institution of human rights with complicity in the rise of totalitarianism (of which Nazism is an instance), and then “Total Domination” and “Ideology and Terror,” where Arendt categorizes totalitarianism as an entirely new political modality, distinct even from tyranny and characterized by “radical evil.” We close with the ferociously controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), in which Arendt reflects upon the moral and legal enigmas that arise in the attempt to judge a war criminal whose form of evil she would now call, notoriously, “banal.”
Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel follows its narrator, Marlow, as he travels up the Congo River in search of Mr. Kurtz, an enigmatic ivory trader who has broken off contact with his European colleagues and assumed a god-like role among the Africans. The result is a profound exploration of the psychological and spiritual struggles of the human heart when faced with the temptations of unlimited power, as well as a scathing critique of European imperialism. Eighty years later, Francis Ford Coppola recast Conrad’s novel as a tale of 20th-century war and violence, set in Vietnam. By charting the descent of an American military hero who becomes obsessed with his own “heart of darkness,” Coppola’s film reveals the potential of cinema to build on the vast resources of fiction while returning us to the timeless qualities of Conrad’s prose.
Like its better known sibling in the field of political economy, The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments brings to bear, in the field of moral theory, a combination of comprehensive, systematic thinking, with careful and detailed observation of everyday phenomena. Smith not only shows how to construct an entire moral theory on the basis of our tendency to sympathize with others and our desire for others to sympathize with us, but he fills it out with a wealth of detail and a full complement of subtle and nuanced distinctions: between propriety and merit; between the love of praise and the love of praiseworthiness; and among pride, vanity, and the love of true glory.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the masterful 19th-century interpreter of American politics, remains a guiding beacon for Americans today. He argues that the remarkable success of American democracy is not owed strictly to the nation’s political institutions but also to its culture and traditions, examples of which include religion and the ubiquity of civil and political association. We explore these themes by undertaking a close reading of selections (about 150 pages) from Tocqueville’s masterwork, Democracy in America. Assessing the health of contemporary American democracy is one concern of the seminar, and to that end we focus both on the keys to American success and on certain pitfalls Tocqueville flags, such as corrosive individualism and the “tyranny of the majority.”
We begin with the discovery of galaxies beyond the Milky Way and the expansion of the universe through the observational work of Henrietta Leavitt, Edwin Hubble, and others. Using the current framework Einstein’s general relativity gives us, we study the observations and arguments that imply the existence of dark matter and dark energy. Yet what these really are remains completely unknown at present though they comprise about 95% of the universe, compared to the remaining 5% composed of ordinary matter and energy. Though we have not yet discovered this wider universe, we now know it is there.
Week 2 | July 12–17 | Morning 10 a.m.–noon MT and afternoon 1–3 p.m. MT
One of the most important, surprising, and delightful fields of modern mathematics, topology investigates the properties of geometrical objects that remain unchanged under continuous deformations. We study topology’s beginnings in Euler’s analysis of the problem of the Seven Bridges of Königsberg. We then use the strategic board game Hex to understand the Brouwer fixed-point theorem, a seminal result. We apply this theorem to Nash equilibrium in game theory and economics. Finally, we study how Henri Poincaré used the fixed-point theorem to argue that a given physical state may recur endlessly. Participants should like to play with mathematical concepts and not be afraid of equations.
Week 3 | July 19–24 | Morning 10 a.m.–noon MT and afternoon 1–3 p.m. MT
See a detailed listing for Week 1
Eric Salem and Marsaura Shukla
Heidegger’s Bremen Lectures
Topi Heikkero and Ian Moore
Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
Steven Isenberg and Mike Peters
Hasidic Wisdom Tales
Guillermo Bleichmar and David Carl
Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments
Michael Dink and Jay Smith
Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain
Kathleen Longwaters and Julie Reahard
See a detailed listing for Week 2
David Carl and David Townsend
Henry James’s The Ambassadors
Janet Dougherty and Marsaura Shukla
William Faulkner’s Flags in the Dust
James Carey and Frank Pagano
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick
Eric Salem and Cary Stickney
Arendt Contra Fascism
Christopher Cohoon and Claudia Hauer
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera
Basho’s Travel Journals
Topi Heikkero and Kathleen Longwaters
Virginia Woolf’s The Waves
Litzi Engel and David Townsend
Phil Lecuyer and Peter Pesic
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SCIENCE INSTITUTE
See a detailed listing for Week 3
The Poems of Emily Dickinson
Claudia Hauer and Krishnan Venkatesh
Maggie McGuinness and Ken Wolfe
Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
Judith Adam and Steven Forde
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now
David Carl and Walter Sterling
Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
Andy Kingston and Maggie McGuinness
Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Fictions
David Carl and Caleb Thompson
Topology: From the Seven Bridges to the Brouwer Fixed-Point Theorem
Guillermo Bleichmar and Peter Pesic
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