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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2007

T C E603B • Composition and Reading in World Literature

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
33655 MWF
11:00 AM-12:00 PM
CRD 007B

Course Description

"Thinking," explains the philosopher Martin Heidegger, does not bring knowledge as do the sciences, does not produce usable practical wisdom, does not solve the riddles of the universe, and does not endow us directly with the power to act. So, what value does it have, this pure life of the mind?

Thinking, a famous running back used to say, is what gets you caught from behind. The athlete's response to the philosopher's insight is that to confuse thinking with action (or even with wisdom) is to find yourself hesitating just long enough to go down. Antonio Machado discloses the same dilemma of consciousness in his little poetic parable: Four things a man has / that are no use at sea: / anchor, rudder, oars, / and the fear of being drowned. To be at sea in the poet's sense is to know that the instruments of seafaring become valuable only when you know exactly what they cannot perform and when you know your own mind well enough to dispense with it. To be fully at sea, then, is not just to be portless and all, all alone (as Coleridge's Mariner puts it) but to have abandoned one's last desperate belief in the utility of commonsense.

Common sense is very beguiling, promising as it does transparent meanings, self-evident values, solutions to fear, instruments of navigation. Thinking, on the other hand, is never causative; it is not a prelude to something else, a bachelor's degree, say, or a steady income.

If thinking is the object of this course, it is because our putative subject: world literature from antiquity to the present, lets us ask what the life of the mind, when it takes the material form of writing, is worth. Many of the texts for this course are traditional ones, and in the first semester they will be mainly about the matter of Troy and will be thematically concerned with questions of heroism and nationalism, empire and cultural transmission, doubt and belief. By the end of this course you will have read many of the so-called greatest works of so-called Western civilization. But the central purpose of the course is to develop reading skills for life, especially as regards poetry. To this end I will introduce you to many interpretive methods that are not traditional, but to do so effectively we must examine, at least at first, texts that have enjoyed a long history of having been read. That is, many men and women have searched in these texts for anchor, rudder, or oar; and these texts have been left complexly entailed to that legacy of thought.

Grading Policy

Five or six papers per semester, totaling 20-30 pages. Grade is based on papers (70%) and class preparation/participation, which may include announced and/or unannounced quizzes (30%). Class attendance is mandatory. There is no final exam.


The four Gospels from the New Testament Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Shakespeare, The Tempest A selection of lyric poetry, from ancient to modern Tolstoy, Hadji Murad James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Derek Walcott, Omeros.


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