ENG1013/INTC1013: Words to Live By: Literature, Morality, and Entertainment
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COURSE DESCRIPTION: The didactic and moral content of English literature often seems in conflict with modern notions of reading as a form of entertainment or imaginative escape. What happens, for instance, if we derive pleasure or enjoyment from a text meant instead to reform our behavior or provide examples of how to act? And what does it mean if we discover moral or ethical models in literature we expected instead to amuse us or divert our attention from serious topics? Does literature have ennobling effects? By the same logic, can artifice inspire immorality, or distract us from what truly matters? And what becomes of the reader who resists or is already estranged, because of religious or cultural identity, from a text?s prescriptive intent? We will approach these questions from different cultural and aesthetic vantage points, all variously concerned with how certain literary and artistic forms inscribe their audiences in the stories they tell, scripting a specific moral response in the process. Our investigation will ground itself in readings from classical antiquity before considering the interrelation of artistic form and moral meaning in specific contexts. We will track anxieties about the spiritual consequences of imaginative diversion and departure; reconsider the relationship between religious art and secular forms of entertainment, and the utility of the sacred/secular distinction more generally; explore the different ways in which visual, textual, and performative mediums exert a hold on our minds (and bodies); and assess how these concerns are implicated in contemporary debates about the problematics of reading and moral exemplification. Many of our readings will be drawn from early English poetry, prose, and drama, though no previous exposure to this period or its literature is assumed, and a wide range of critical and theoretical texts will help students situate unfamiliar material. Requirements include informed class participation, ungraded response papers, regular postings to an online discussion forum, a short critical essay, and a final project. “Interpreting the Creative” (INTC) courses within the Yeshiva College core curriculum provide students with foundational tools for appreciating, understanding, and interpreting works from various domains of the creative arts—literary, visual, musical, theatrical and other performing arts.¶ INTC courses teach students to: ▪ Understand how creative works shape and enhance our perception and understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. ▪ Apply multiple interpretive frameworks to analyze and compare different kinds of creative works. ▪ Write and defend theses about works of art, and in some cases create works of art.
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